15 December 2010

San Miguel de Allende

I first heard about San Miguel a dozen years ago when a customer at the bookstore came looking for literature related to colonial Mexico. He had just returned from a Spanish immersion class there and raved about the city. Soon after, I discovered a beautiful little book, The Doors of San Miguel, which captures the essence of this small city that resides largely behind wide ornamental doors along cobblestone streets and narrow alleys. BTW, I met the author there on this trip, promoting his third book about his adopted home.

He is among an estimated 15 thousand ex-pats who have relocated to San Miguel, many after a study holiday there, as there are several Spanish schools, also art schools, as the area is home to many artists. Once a center of silver mining and craftsmanship, most of the mines have been closed, but the city feels, still, like an overgrown pueblo, trapped happily in history. While there is sufficient infrasture to maintain a modern lifestyle, gentrification is slow and constrained in some measure by residents, Anglos and Mexicanos, who wish to sustain the old-world charm.

The pace is slow, an easy ebb and flow like the steady rhythm of breathing, as locals, expats and visitors meander through town. There is hardly a traffic light or stop sign: instead, at every corner, cars slow down to permit pedestrians to pass or to politely allow another car to turn. The pattern is facilitated by stone speed bumps every half a block or so that keep the pace intact. I never heard a car horn blare, neither a siren nor a harsh word.

Behind the many colorful doors are courtyards overflowing with bougainvillea and punctuated of course by water fountains. Winter is a lot like the desert climate it is - cold mornings and nights, very warm sunny days - the spread was roughly 30 degrees each day. Winter lasts barely three months, so few homes have heat, and even our lovely 2-BR flat, upgraded and with modern comfortable furnishings, had one space heater in the wall that barely touched the surface. We slept comfortably under many blankets, but morning showers were a chilly affair, all the better to conserve water. Waste not want not might be the Mexican motto - I was told that few locals have refrigerators, as they prepare fresh foods daily and only what they need, the few scraps saved for their animals, who wander the streets quietly in search of an extra morsel. Mexicans believe that keeping animals indoors in not hygienic. Nor do they believe much in baths, strictly showers, and they wash clothes in old-fastioned scrubbers or at the lavanderia [laundromat.]

Along the wider sidewalks [most are quite narrow] local farmers bring in fresh fruits and vegetables every day and sell them to passers by in plastic containers or bags, cut up on the spot and fresh for feasting [reminded me of Thailand.] Large open air markets cater to the locals and there is a huge daily artisans market where people work and sell lovely wares. Ton't think that the food or handicrafts are unsophisticated - quite the contrary. Dana and I had wonderful meals and some restaurants as elegant as one might find in Europe, and we bought beautiful jewelry and a few crafts. There is also a very elegant design center housed in an old factory, as impressive as anything you might find in a trendy city in the US.

San Miguel feels small, we walked most of it in our travels, centered by El Jardin, which is less a garden than a plaza with the obligatory and beautiful churches. Provincial in the best sense of the word, but you don't feel it when you're up on a rooftop terrace gazing at colorful hillsides and steeples. Many galleries are tucked along downtown streets, there are several local theater groups, late-night bars, some interesting nouveau cocktails [talk to Dana] many yoga and wellness centers. [Dana connected day-one with the local naturopathic community, which includes organic markets and cafe's, and many state-of-the-art practioners - the best of which seems to be LifePath, utterly gorgeous place and filled with the highest level practitioners and programs.]

I see why so many have settled there, and many are retirement folks, so there is a real sense of a mid-life community. The locals at worst tolerate Anglo's, at best appreciate that they bring money and business to their community. We discovered several cafe's and restaurants owned by Americans, as well as galleries, but they employ locals to keep the peace. Small ghetto-like areas have sprouted where many American/Canadians live, others choose to integrate, and we encountered more than a few Europeans as well.

Besides my daily 4-hour study and homework [by week's end I thought my head would explode, but I learned a lot] we wandered, took a guided historic walk, went on the famous Sunday house-tour which benefits the Biblioteca, enjoyed a staged radio-style theatre production of "It's a Wonderful Life" and a couple of group dinners with fellow students and our ex-New Yorker neighbor. We listened to a flamenco guitar, conversed with many waiters and restauranteurs, made friends with the owner of a new wine bar, and I attended a Hannukah party sponsored by the local Jewish group, which included a half-dozen Mexican families who are converting.

We ate lots of avocadoes and fruit, drank local wines, and enjoyed the quiet sounds of city life beyond our gorgeous wrap-around patio above a busy but not noisy street, as well as fireworks in honor of the Fiesta of Guadalupe. We spent a day in beautiful Guanajuato, the capital of the state, an hour's comfortable bus-ride away, where there is a large university, museums, the Cervantes theater, and an elegant central plaza as anchor; a city constructed above ancient tunnels once meant for water and now used to circulate traffic in and around the city. Beautiful place, few Anglo's there, much more developed and sophisticated, but we preferred the simplicity and spirit of San Miguel.

Although we had access to the internet, we had no television and no phones and instead mostly walked in the evenings or relaxed after full days and warm sun. I think that if you visit this city for a day or two as a tourist, you might find it lovely, but its true charms are in staying put a while and getting the feel of it, which is perhaps why so many settle there. It's a long journey, but worth being there, and I plan to return some time soon - the Writer's Conference is in February and seems to be calling to me!

Enjoy photos at: http://picasaweb.google.com/maple57/SanMigueldeAllende#

03 October 2010

Mea Culpa

It's been a while since I posted a blog and will likely be a very long while until I post another. My writing life is very full these days with newsletters, annual reports, public relations material [the day job] and I am also writing a book review blog for a new site, which I'm trying to do every week, so this requires reading as well as the writing. http://www.ocinsite.com/index.php/blog/comments/the_warmth_of_other_suns.

And, I am immersed in writing another novel, which seems to be writing itself, but requires a lot of attention. I've been devoting roughly 2 - 3 hours a day to this story of several characters whose lives intersect although more often metaphorically than in reality, and I am pleased to say I am in the zone. Most of you know I've done this twice before, and each time the writing had a different feeling and a different pace. This time, after many years away from fiction, it is a bit more like jazz - several characters in different decades being written simultandously - more amorphous and in many ways more creative than anything I've done before. I'm loving it. So forgive me this break from the Dispatch - I will return now and then when the spirit moves me - but for now, my "pen" is committed elsewhere. Stay tuned! Cheers.

11 September 2010

Book blogger

I'll be posting less often in the near future because I am writing a book blog for a new website. Check it out: www.ocinsite.com. Look for blogs, look for me. Will be fun to write book reviews. Sadly, few newspapers include book reviews any more and it's hard for great books to find their audience. Maybe this will help.

I'm learning to live 2-weeks at a time now, that's the time between refitting my Invalign braces, the latest adventure of mid-life. Teeth too far gone, too much trouble, they need to be corrected. Will take a year. I'm on day 4. It's wierd but not awful. They say it will take roughly 10 months, which means 20 molds. So I'm thinking of my next year in 2-week increments. Not exactly the Zen day-to-day, but close enough. The only upside is that it makes me feel a little like a teenager - does this mean I also get to be perpetually testy, moody and generally obnoxious? Nah, been there.

Cheers, xx

19 August 2010

Change happens

I started this blog on the subject of change, personal change, life changes, the changes that alter and mostly improve one woman's journey. It's a broad concept that incorporates lots of thoughts and thus works well for a blogger.

But today I write, and with a heavy-heart, of things that simply don't change. Let's take the human race for starters. Despite all the technological advances and toys at our disposal, we still use very little of our brains, tend to be tribal and barbaric, and we don't embrace change, we pretend. I heard on NPR yesterday that an estimated 60 million men are considered to be descendents of Ghenkis Khan [why only men are tracked is an interesting question] and this might explain some of our natures, were it not that this represents barely 3% of that race.

I read this morning that 1/5th of Americans believe our President is a Muslim, despite a clearly Christian heritage and lifestyle. And that's more than believed before. Has to do with his contention of religious freedom and the rights of private enterprise, related to the Mosque planned for lower NYC. This comes right back to the cradle of civilization, the tower of Babel - human beings clinging to the familiar, from faces and skin color to ideology.

That's almost as bad as the 1/4th of Americans who continued to believe that Bush was doing a good job, right down to the bitter end. On the one hand, we employ a high level of selective memory, and on the other, we project extremists to the norm. Inconsistency is predictable.

I believe in change. I believe in Obama, but he is one man, only a man, not a Messiah, and he needs his people, all his people, to buy into the future if we are ever going to be able to carve out a new way of life. I, usually an optimist, find myself despairing. Human beings, like fellow animals, follow the scent they know, and when in crisis, are reduced to the basist of human emotions. This is not a pretty time.

The bell curve principle applies, but if so, then change by design cannot happen because the curve is always rising to a mid-point, and that mid-point is static unless the whole curve shifts. Thus the principle of status quo remains supreme.

90 years ago yesterday American women got the right to vote. 40 years ago the modern women's movement launched women into a new paradigm. We've come a long way, but those in the know know that we've not come nearly as far as we would like, as just as bad as being shephered into lifeboats with children first, we would be catapulted into stormy waters at the first sign of trouble - evidenced by recent rhetoric that perhaps high unemployment has as much to do with so many women in the workplace. A little like Jews this way, always the scapegoats. And so many other minorities. I am pained over the continued struggles of black women. Lesbian women. They've got miles to go before they rest. All women are not created equal. Even if we were, men are always at the door of the cave.

Change it seems wears blinders when it comes to equality.

13 August 2010

Foot in Mouth

This morning was one of those moments... moments we are reminded of our own hubris, or lack of, depending on the circumstance. Just yesterday, I was impressing a neighbor with my very high-minded sense of the world, constructed carefully by watching only PBS news or listening to NPR. [I didn't mention the New York Times as that would have been beyond arrogant to a blue-collar Californian.] He had actually asked me what news I listened to, as he passed my house the other night and, with the shutters on the window at the front-door open to capture the evening breeze, he heard the British accent of the newscaster. Just wondered he asked, perhaps a little embarrased to have eavesdropped. I didn't mention that I hear his baseball games regularly. BBC I answered, and I am fairly certain I raised my chin a bit as I spoke. And then, not satisfied to have simply answered the question, which was sufficient, I went on to tell him that PBS and NPR are my favored news sources because I believe these are the only media that present the case with only a bias towards fully educating the public. I actually said to the neighbor that I prefer these sources as I would never hear about the nasty low-class lives of people who in my view are not news-worthy and, by example, said that I would not expect to hear these two words on NPR: Lindsay Lohan.

Ah, the vicissitudes of life. The lessons the universe hands down to us when we get smug. This morning, I lifted my head, aimed my cable remote at my little TV in the bedroom, through which I am able to listen to several NPR news stations, among other things, otherwise blocked by this crazy hilly SoCal terrain, and nestled back into the pillows to listen for a bit, and then jumped up, truly, as I heard, at the tail end of the lead-in to the morning edition, that Lindsay Lohan will move back to NYC when she completes her rehab!

OMG. Just hours after I pronounced the near impossibility of such a thing, there it is. My trusted high-minded news source succumbs to the gossip of the day. What is this world coming to? More to the point, what was I thinking posturing in this way? Clearly, the message was meant for me - one must be careful before climbing on too high a horse. Humility, that's the ticket.

I turned down NPR and picked up my guide to Buddhism - clearly I need a reset.

09 August 2010

Another Birthday

A friend of a friend heard the following line from her shrink: What makes you think that every day has to be extraordinary? [This is neither a joke nor a hypothetical.]

My immediate reaction is that we [as in middle-class American baby boomers] are basically brats, and good enough is never good enough for us. However on second thought I realize that we have every right to believe that every day and every life should be extraordinary, but the word itself requires reconsideration.

This year I woke up in New York City at the quintessentially upper west side apartment of my deaf friend Carol. I awoke up in my comfy bed, turned on the tap and hot water came rushing out so that I might take a brisk shower and emerge clean and fresh. I opened a double-door refrigerator that protects our food and grabbed a handful of fresh blueberries... while Carol walking the dog, got me a hot fresh bagel, the real deal.

For much of humanity, any of these things are extraordinary.

My children are healthy and forging solid meaningful lives that will benefit others and bring them a lot of satisfaction. I talk to my friends on a regular basis, and see them when I can, and thankfully most are healthy and living mostly fulfilling lives. I earn just enough money doing work that is mostly satisfying and makes use of my [considerable] skills. My wireless internet connection at the moment is "excellent” so I can receive birthday greetings, ditto on the cell phone, which rings enough times this day to make me feel lovable.

Because of where I have chosen to live, I am rarely cold. When needed, I enjoy the warmth of my fireplace or heat running through pipes in the walls.

I make choices for myself. I do not fear for my life. I am occasionally hungry but never starve. I take long walks. I listen to great music. I read great literature. Some or all of these things every single day - is this not extraordinary?!

I read a good newspaper, including a hard-copy of the Sunday NYTimes, the New Yorker, Atlantic and Newsweek, more than enough to digest each week, as well as several on-line news sources that are well-written. And lots of books, books always in piles awaiting my attention. I have had the benefit of a good education so that I can think with some clarity about the world and sometimes hold lofty conversations with other smart folk.

I survive sadness and loss as we all do, and most of our losses are less than most others around the globe. I try not to think too often about refugees, victims of floods and earthquakes and the Taliban, or the plight of the poor and the incredible number of those unemployed, but I think about them enough to serve as witness. I consider this to be important – we need to bear witness and pay attention to what happens to others of our human race. My dear immigrant mother who had such high hopes and ultimately so little would look at my life as extraordinary. The little girl from the Bronx who has traveled and lived in beautiful places, and has the most wonderful friends. Not to mention two master's degrees and a lifetime of interesting work experiences. And the option of working less, from home, and hopefully traveling more, including more time in places like New York/CT and London where the people I love most reside.

I have health insurance, which I pay for, but I can afford to, and if I get sick, I have options. If needed, I can buy pain killers, although I have a personal naturopath, even better. And before too long, I will have access to that great public option: Medicare. One of the blessings of age.

I am learning to speak Spanish, slowly, painfully, as the synapses don’t quite connect as rapidly as they have, but I am learning to do this, and learning is the most natural of highs. Learning, and spending my birthday in the big apple.

We all seek higher levels of self-fulfillment and there is no reason not to aspire to more but, in truth, we all live extraordinary lives. Simple, satisfying, opportunistically extraordinary lives. Every single day. Happy birthday to me. xx

04 August 2010

Battle of the BookWorld

Hot news in the business press this morning - Barnes & Noble is for sale. Stockholders are disenchanted with the giant retailer's performance. Over the past three years, B&N's annual profits have slid from $135.8 million to $75.9 million to $36.7 million. They blame the e-book, even though their own Nook sold 600,000 last year. Still, Amazon is cleaning their clock. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2001, Barnes & Noble was worth $2.2 billion and Amazon $3.6 billion. Now Amazon has a market capitalization of $55 billion and B&N barely $950 million. The times they are a changin.

Here's the good news. In the battle between the behemoths - And one must include apple in this mix, versus Barnes & Noble - new bookselling independents are opening their doors and many [of those left after the last decade's bloodbath] are holding their own, providing what the giants cannot: a truly personal experience, which is what readers crave and thrive on. What is more personal than reading? One of the last truly intimate experiences besides sex, and sometimes, almost as good.

Those of us who love the printed word are happiest when we are reading, talking about books, recommending books, surrounded by books, but in a way that feels like the good old fashioned cozy bookstore, not the giant bookseller. Even Costco, with its vast distribution channel and insane prices, cannot capture a serious reader. And even Kindle, which I confess has many wonderful qualities and will surely become more integral to the reading experience as time goes by, will never capture the minds and hearts of those of us who love to feel the page between our fingers and the indescribable pleasure of holding that bound package in our hands.

My prediction: In a very short time, we will all move from our desktop or laptop computers to some sort of Ipad experience, which will include reading books and magazines and newspapers, and possibly obviate Kindle [I always put my money on Apple] and perhaps move us beyond reading emails and other stuff on tiny phone screens. Giant bookstores will have no place - like libraries, they will become repositories of many forms of media, including opportunities to perhaps sample a book in printed form before downloading to the appliance of choice - but they won't be selling music much bc iTunes has already captured that market quite nicely. The worst news is for malls who may potentially lose that important anchor retailer, but good news for independents on Main Streets throughout the country who will continue to be an important gatekeeper for the literary world, but only if they provide true added value even beyond being the "great good place" we all need to meet and greet when we lift our eyes from the internet or get out of our cars to stretch both legs and intellect.

Someone will buy B&N, of course, believing they will create the new paradigm, and that may be so, but in the interim, perhaps, dare I hope, that as a country we might just be coming closer to the truth that bigger is not better.

Photo compliments of Laguna Beach Books, a thriving community bookstore!

29 July 2010

Friends: Then and Now, Here and There

My old friend Jane has broken her foot. Once, long ago, our lives were seamless; now we visit rarely on Facebook or email, face to face in summer. There is great affection there that distance does not end. I want to show up at her door, prepare her dinner, sit by her side, but she has others and I am visiting for just a short time. Still, my heart reaches out to her, I want to bring her comfort. This is what old friends do in time of need.

Other friends are dealing with less tangible hurts. The woes of children, unemployment, transitional futures. I listen. I sympathize. I proffer a few words of comfort or commiseration. This is all I can do. I am a long-distance friend now. I made a move across country, thusa different sort of friend now. Neither good weather nor bad weather friendship, merely occasional, in the truest sense of the word. We share big birthdays, weddings, seasonal holidays. On summer visits we walk at the beach, dine, sit by a pool, or take a day in the city, a trip to the theater. Good times, albeit few and far between. In between, emails and phone calls and comfort provided long-distance when possible.

My friend Ginger would say that I have exiled myself, and perhaps there is some truth to this. Those of us who make a move suffer the distance, despite the joys of creating a new life. Nothing is perfect, these are the trade-offs of a late-life change. The very essence of change, for better and not.

When I make my way East, I try to see all those most dear, and I am grateful to have so many to visit. I make the effort to visit regularly mostly for me, but also to ensure that they know there is someone who loves them still, despite distance. We pick up conversations as if sentences still hanging from a recent conversation, and for many this is true, as email and Skype and cell phones keep us close. I often wonder what it was like for pioneers who ventured across oceans and vast landscapes without any contact, loved ones left permanently behind. Refugees and holocaust victims who never again enjoy the sound of voices that warm their hearts or see the smiles that sustain their lives. Imagine the wait for letters that never arrive?

Visiting CT, where for 26 years I built home and career, is like walking backward in my own footsteps, and, as if stepping into old shoes, there is great familiarity and comfort. Although, as one might expect, footsteps don’t conform quite as perfectly to my prints these days; perhaps age, perhaps the effect of sandals and flip-flops worn more often now, my arches fallen a bit, my toes spread closer to the ground.

Time together now is what we once called quality time. Quantity is no longer possible. Quantity without quality is acquaintance, not friendship, while quality keeps a friend forever. I miss the spontaneity of a trip to town, a quick cup of tea and conversation, the days and nights of friendship that cement bonds over time. Still, the time we spend together has meaning, and each year we reconvene, picking up where we left off. We raised our children together. We struggled through job losses, kids’ heartaches and missteps, divorces, depression, loss of our parents, illness, joy, and all the joys of the good lives we've had. In our old age we elevate good times in our minds and hearts, and forget those that are best left forgotten. We share values and have shared experience, irreplaceable and unforgettable, and these keep us bonded.

My women friends are my sisters, replacing those I never had, and their husbands my anchors and adopted brothers. These are the people who ground me, the link between childhood and age, east coast and west. If I belong to anyone, I belong to them, although I am the one who left home, returning each summer like a college girl to recharge before returning to my adopted life. Most of them remain in place, cemented to community and family. Many in the same jobs, the same houses. I admire their steadfastness, their connection to community. I slide myself in for a while like a thief and slip away again to another life. So far, it works, but not without the tug on my heart, always.

I have found lovely new friends. Common ground in a sense of place, late life choices, life in transition, shared pastimes. In the current vernacular, we are present. New friends are made largely through work, paid or volunteer, or neighborhood connections. We are friendly companions. Fellow wanderers. True friendship takes time. It is an evolution. Cemented each time we laughed and each tear shed and thus as deeply constructed as bricks with slowly dried mortar, bonds that last forever, no matter the frequency of contact. I suspect I will never have friends in California that match my friends in CT and NYC. But, different is not necessarily less worthy, and lucky the woman like me who has both.

19 June 2010

Facing the Face of Age

When I was 25 years old, a young boy, son of a friend, told me I was middle-aged. I smiled of course, concealing the outrage, and without asking he explained. “If people live to be 72, and life is split up between young, middle aged and old, then 24 – 48 is middle-aged.” Apparently the kid was a math genius. One could not argue the logic, I suppose.

Now that boy would surely find me to be quite old. 62 next month, only a decade from my demise, according to his logic. And while I certainly don’t look or feel 25 or even middle-aged, I am surely not old, and I don’t feel much older than, perhaps, 45. Statistically, all Americans feel themselves to be younger than they are, all except new parents, who feel older. Understood. Been there as well. In truth, I feel quite young most of the time. Oh yes, I look in the mirror and see a woman who looks close to my real age. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself. But my energy levels are quite high. I can walk miles without breaking a sweat, and continue to walk almost every day. I was even able to keep up with my older daughter’s pace while we were wandering Scotland recently, the London girl who walks like her New Yorker mother [something about the apple and the tree.] At Pilates class I keep up with my much younger cohorts. I sleep through the night, most of the time, and sleep well, which is terribly important to me as I get really grouchy when I don’t get enough sleep, which those of you who know me well will attest to. I rarely have bags under my eyes and even the wrinkles, and there are plenty, aren’t too deep. My teeth are moving around and my bite is off but orthodonture will fix that, and would have fixed that when I was a girl if my parents could have afforded that. So I'll compensate for the sins of my youth.

I try not to look back [a sure sign of age] and almost always look forward. I still have a desire for adventure, in fact more so than ever before, and continually scour the Internet for affordable travel. Even a visit back to the east coast is cause for celebration; homecoming, albeit less exhilarating, is as satisfying as distant shores.

I do continue to play the geographical destiny game, that existential dilemma that plagues so many people my age [an expression that I’ve already grown to despise] in which we’re not sure where we truly belong. I ran into an associate the other day who has lived in Laguna Beach 20 years and loved it, but while he longs for a more citified environs, not sure where he will go. I came home from Scotland thinking I want to live in an Edinburgh in a temperate climate, preferably by the Pacific, but not sure such a place exists. What are we willing to give up at this stage of life [another abhorrent expression] and what are acceptable compromises? How do we balance the need for change with the need for permanence and security in the midst of old age? Yes, old age. Ouch.

13 June 2010

Still learning...

My grandfather, dear Poppy, told me long ago that if we aren't learning something new all the time we aren't growing. I took that to heart. But never more so than this last week when I learned to put together a newspaper. Yes, I've written hundreds of articles over the years. I was an education reporter for a year, business reporter for another year, city beat editor for two years, editorial writer on and off for many years. All local, the best journalism training grounds on earth. Learned a lot as magazine contributor as well, but that's another story. I know not to bury the lead, check quotes and pack a punch.

But this week I learned a whole new set of lessons.

An on-line newspaper is another thing entirely. A hybrid between a newspaper and a newsletter: features are brief, more space is devoted to event announcements and a lot of time is spent summarizing press releases that are way too long and terribly written. In three days I wrote roughly 10 short articles and re-wrote another 10 notices, as well as a sports recap, police blotter and recap from the district attorney's office. In between that I researched a few controversial subjects, hunting down comments from people hard to reach. I made sure there was adequate art to accompany key pieces and tried to obtain original photos to distinguish the newspaper from its print competitors. I directed the layout editor on what to delete, how to sequence stories and what headline to use in the email alert. There's a lot to being a one-woman show.

Exhausting. Exhilarating. Fun. Frustrating. Most importantly, I learned some important lessons that will surely serve me well in the increasingly cyberspace- oriented land of journalism.

I'm glad I only have to do this for a month or so. This is not the way I imagined my semi-retirement. Still, I am grateful once again for the opportunity to reach beyond my own boundaries and perhaps contribute something in the process.

And, once again, my adopted home has presented me with an opportunity to make another mark and extend myself just a bit further into the lovely land called Laguna Beach. This place that has afforded me so much, and reminds me daily to always expect the unexpected. A lovely way to move forward into senior citizenship. Who knows what's next!

Check it out at www.stunewslaguna.com.

04 June 2010


Blue has always been a favorite color for me, and especially its purplish variants, although of late I am drawn more to acqua. My parents’ eyes were blue, as were Rusty’s, and my daughters. [Mine, though often thought to be blue, are actually green, but they take on a blue tinge from my frequent wearing of blue clothes.] I have always found blue to be both soothing and startling, not unlike the contrast here in California of lighter blue skies with deep blue waters.

Blue is both simple and complex. It falls on the color line. However, there are multiple meanings and multiple uses.

Bluestockings. Bluenotes. The blueline in hockey. The blueplate special. A blueprint. Blue ribbon…

Blue is the color of twilight and midnight. Blue often symbolizes the Virgin Mary in art. The ancient Egyptians used lapis lazuli to represent heaven. A pure blue is the color of inspiration, sincerity and spirituality. It is also the color of royalty.Blue is now the color of democratic states [an accident of the media, or is it?] Dark blue is the color of truth and moderation. [Note the use by companies like Dow Chemical and American Express, and of course the ubiquitous Microsoft blue screen.] Wednesday's color is blue [also the day I was born.] Blue gemstones that equate to calm are blue sapphire and blue topaz. Lapis lazuli and azurite are said to heighten psychic power. Turquoise is the symbol of youth, both the color and the gemstone. Aqua is the color of high ideals [perhaps this is a message to me to maintain these in the land of leisure.]

Pier One, where I enjoy shopping now and then, is always high on acqua, which I suspect has more to do with its easy compatibility than idealogy. No accident that my everyday dishes are marine blue, my couch an aqua-tan stripe, my soft throw blanket seafoam… Blue is said to symbolize trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, intelligence, faith, truth, and heaven. A lovely color scheme.

It is said that blue provides a feeling of distance – artists use it to show perspective – although I suspect Picasso had more on his mind during his Blue period. Psychics say that the color blue has a distinct energy that allows us to look beyond and increase our perspective outward. And that it contains a cool vibration that is helpful to communication. In the range of spectral colors, blues sit between purples and green, on the darker ends of the scale. This might explain why the blues became associated with melancholy, although supposedly there was a blue tinge to the eyes of those who suffer depression, when first described eons ago. There is also an association with blue devils, as in hallucinations. Seems so odd to me that a word that means everything from heavenly to high ideals can also come to be associated with sadness. And the music, which derives from the emphasis on “blue notes” is perhaps the definitive description of bittersweet.

There is the equivalent of an entire column of meanings for blue and related words in my Thesaurus [I did not take the time to count the number of synonyms, but there must be hundreds.] There seems to me in Southern California a preponderance of blue flowers, including the purples. Do the UV rays sink in more deeply in some way, or bathe plantings in a brighter light? Or is it the soil, as the hydrangea here tend to be more blue than pink.

I have lots of blue/purple flowers blooming in my yard. My house continues to be dominated by blue accents. Shades of blue, has a ring to it, doesn’t it? Thus, whether I sit at my computer or walk on a path on the cliffs above the Pacific, I am warmly embraced by blue. It has become for me the color of warm. So that I am rarely blue.

Photo compliments of L. Byron Cann.

28 May 2010

Technology Travels

Just a few weeks ago, packing for holiday in Scotland, I discover there is more to the to-do list than in the past. Not only the right clothes, essential toiletries and guidebook, but now I have to be sure to charge and carefully pack all necessary technology. I laugh out loud at the lineup of gadgets charging for the trip: Camera, check. Ipod, check. Phone, not usable most of the trip, but ready for the return. And now, added to the technology pile: Kindle, check.

I have gone to the dark side. My daughters presented me with a Kindle for Mother's Day, a thoughtful and generous gift, but I nearly faint when I open the Amazon box, recoiling for the moment at the very idea of this. I who cherish every printed page, love the feel of paper between my fingers and the heft of a well-bound book, read on a machine? But my daughters have sent me a gift of reading, my favorite pasttime, and I cannot refuse. In moments I learn all there is to know to use this remarkable little gadget. 10 ounces that might at some point hold 1500 books! It slips easily into the side pocket of my purse, even the smaller purse I use to travel because is presses tightly to my body and every one of several pockets zips or tucks away, neatly protected from the casual thief. The side pocket usually holds whatever book I might be reading, now it holds them all.

In another few moments I download The Imperfectionists, a new novel recently featured on the cover of the New York Times and thus temporarily out-of-print [which I thought was over-rated.] I hardly ever buy hardcover books, too expensive, but this downloads in seconds for $9.99. A collection of short stories well reviewed, always good to have on a long journey. Another of essays by David Sedaris, as if traveling with a dear friend. Sufficient reading for a week for sure. But at LAX, waiting to board, I am reminded by a friend that I should have read one of those great Scottish mysteries, to set the tone, so I log up, search through the huge selection, and in seconds download a mystery that will be read on the journey across the pond. Remarkable!

I am truly grateful to have such a lightweight reader and will use it surely when I travel and likely when I go out to lunch, which I enjoy now and then, so much easier to sit at the bar without having to prop up a book or turn pages. I am also pleased that I can in fact highlight passages I want to save and shift them to a separate file, and now and again, the built-in dictionary is simply fab. But when I return home, the first thing I do is grab the next book off the pile and savor the feeling of it. [Chang Rae-Lee's The Surrendered, beautiful and powerful.] Every Friday afternoon throughout my childhood, my mother and I went to the library to choose our books. I was allowed only three, as a way of sharing well with others, and because my mother said even I would not read more than three books in a week, true, and this made the choosing both challenge and delight. To this day, I always have at least three books by my bedside waiting to be read [and usually many more] and always feel that flutter of excitement when choosing the next one. What Kindle also allows you to do is drift a bit. I grew weary of the novel so switched to a story, without having to dig another book out of a bag. Transportable and immediate. [New story collection highly recommended: If I Loved You I Would Tell You This.]

In my last days in corporate marketing many moons ago, I established a strategy for new products at Mott's USA that would fit what I defined in 1985 as the three most important trends in the food and beverage category: portability, snackability, fruitability. The result was wonderful products like Mott's Snack Packs and ultimately Jello pudding packs. Trends tend to migrate across categories and surely portability is the hallmark of this generaation and into the future. From cell phones to iPod, we take it all with us - our connections, our to-do lists, our music, now our readings. Resist as many do, I'm afraid I agree with Jeff Besos, CEO of Amazon that the literary technology train has left the station and while I will always favor printed paper, I am glad to have a Kindle as yet another option. When I spend my summer holiday on the east coast, I won't have to trek or mail a pile of books and always have something to read at the ready. The only drawback truthfully is that it means I will have to wait at least two years before I can justify purchase of an iPad!

23 May 2010

On the Road Again: Scotland

I am blessed once again with a week with my daughter in a foreign place. Not that Scotland is as foreign as SouthEast Asia, but there are sufficient differences: Toto, we are not in Kansas any more. Language trips off the tongue with a lilt and an occasional unfathomable sound. People do not smile as they approach, but exude a friendliness that is just under the surface. Ask a question, you get a story. I had expected a sort of small London, not at all, nothing like it. Elegant is the word that keeps coming to mind. A native tells me that Edinburgh is not really a city, rather a large village. That’s it.

Restaurants are small, intimate and the food surprisingly sophisticated. We especially enjoy vegetarian and organic cafĂ©’s and wonderful seafood, beyond the obligatory fish and chips.

Not much traffic except in spots leading to the city’s outskirts where rows of charming houses prevail. Many buses go in all directions, easy to get around, but we prefer to travel on foot, exploring streets wide and narrow, streets leading suddenly to broad vistas of the harbor down below, or to the castle that looms above like the beacon it was meant to be. The residential sections were designed, after forfeiting independence to join the union as the united kingdom, in a way meant to please the King. Street after street of row houses in some sort of limestone, flat facades with very little molding or finish, but tall elegant windows, and doors, often painted in contrasting colors like blue or purple. Repetitive but not at all boring, these rows of small buildings stand like old trees, elegant and proud. However most streets have no trees, not even urns or buckets of foliage, thus rather stark, with wide unobstructed sidewalks, but every few blocks or so, there is a crescent or small park, or one of the several large parks that punctuate the city, with tall leafy trees that bring the green of a very green country to the city.

Because of the generally low roof lines, church spires and monuments and the castle peek to their full height as in punctuation. Beautiful sights. We delight in the botanic garden, the many tiny streets off the Royal Mile that lead you to a stunning city garden or an old school or some other surprise, a 2-mile river walk that leads to the port town of Leith, and in the winding streets leading to Stockbridge, a trendy neighborhood near our flat which is bright and drafty, exactly as you would expect in an old row house in New Town.

There is history here, quiet and regal, unpretentious. I’m told it is a business center for the country and huge Royal Bank of Scotland buildings are in every district. Only a few taller more modern buildings occupy a business area in town, and a few large but recessed urban shopping centers. We stop one rainy day at a huge incredibly comfy movie theater to see Robin Hood, seems right to watch in a place facing similar power struggles way back in the 12th century. California in contrast seems like a psychedelic poster to me from here, 2-dimensional and surreal, and New York too frenetic and closed in.

We spend one full day in Glasgow, just a 45 minute train ride through incredibly green rolling hillsides. Glasgow is much bigger, taller buildings, more eclectic and also marred by poor attempts at development years ago as well as prolonged urban blight. It seems a younger city, Dana feels a stronger vibe here. The university area is gorgeous, the botanic gardens bigger and even more beautiful. Dana is delighted by the herbs growing there and we wander through an orchid show as well. It is a sunny Saturday afternoon and families linger on the lawn, children run around and play or ride their bikes and there is a lovely relaxed ambiance. The Scots seem to know how to enjoy themselves without much fuss.

On the way back to the US, I am delayed in London by black ash. Nothing to do about it, and frankly I don’t mind another day away. I wish I had taken a bit more time to explore. Perhaps I’ve become spoiled, one week on holiday used to be the norm and now it is not enough. Air New Zealand, a wonderful friendly airline with comfy planes and lovely free wine, puts me up at a 4-start hotel near Heathrow and after I check emails for the first time in a week, I read, enjoy a lovely buffet dinner at their hip restaurant bar, watch a bit of TV, try to sleep, prepare for the long ride home, which turns out to be easy. I watch the entire first season of Glee which makes me laugh, a lot.

So, I check Edinburgh off the long list of places I wish to see, now a fond memory of a place that, if it were not for the general gray and often cold rainy weather, one would be happy to live. Someday I might like to go back to the fabulous art, music and theater festivals that happen throughout the summer, must be great, although likely a different vibe. I think I’ll keep the memory of this elegant place just as it was. Now I’ve got my sights set on Turkey. Next year.

Pics at http://picasaweb.google.com/maple57/Scotland#

09 May 2010

The New Fiction in Film

They will release this week yet another film about Robin Hood. According to the New York Times, my definitive source, this film is a "prequel" which goes back into the history of this captivating character. However this so-called history lingers through his marriage to "Maid" Marion, which in this script is no maid, and beyond to the return of the King. So I am forced to wonder, where is the true story and how is it Ridley Scott et al can make whatever they like of Robin Hood, and this is much on my mind given films of late that borrow the title of a known work of fiction, and manipulate the story to another end entirely.

Let us begin with Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, certainly not true to the original, rather a hodge-podge of the title story, Through the Looking Glass, the Jabberworky and a bit of Joan of Arc and Avatar, among other things, and thus in my view not at all Alice in Wonderland and not worthy of the title. Then there was the film of Sherlock Holmes, originally a captivating OCD genius sleuth created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in a series of stories of which many are masterpieces of mystery, turned into an adventure hero with an equally infamous lover and a strained relationship with the no-longer so affable Dr. Watson as played by Jude Law. I am second to none in my admiration and affection for Robert Downey Jr., but please, what makes it all right to compromise such a carefully crafted character? In both cases, I would have minded a lot less if they had given the film another title: Alice would have sufficed, sufficient allusion to the character without bastardizing the source, and maybe Sherlock would have worked to the same end. Not Holmes, that's too representative.

And now we have a new Robin Hood, again no name change, although I discover in my research that Robin Hood is more folklore than original fiction, so perhaps more maleable. In the interest of creativity, I pose this question: it's one thing to contaminate the truth, but what makes fiction sacrosanct? David Shields in his remarkable work "Reality Hunger" poses the possibility that there are no divides between so-called truth and fiction, as the moment something is said or done it's subject to context and memory, thus making it fiction from that moment forward. He's got a point there. So, if the truth is open to revision, fiction surely must be vulnerable to further fiction. I suppose. One never owns words or thoughts or even characters [unless licensed to Mattel] as there is no copyright for intellectual property, but if not illegal, it's still wrong, or at the very least, inappropriate, to appropriate other people's stories, even lore. Revisionism always has an agenda, if only box office receipts. I feel the same way every time a novelist takes a character from another book and writes the prequel, the sequel or the what if? What happened to pride of originality?

For me, Robin Hood is Errol Flynn, and that character might have been drawn even less to the lore, but he's Robin of Loxley in my mind, and the divine Basil Rathbone, as the Sheriff of Nottingham, also my favorite Sherlock Holmes on film. Surely Russell Crowe may bring something entirely new, and perhaps wonderful, to the character, he often does, but couldn't he just be somebody else? Some other fighter for the rights and freedoms of ordinary mortals - surely we need such characters in our world. What is to be lost by fabricating a fabulous new persona? On the other hand, perhaps we can no longer call something fiction at all - perhaps stories cannot be considered proprietary. But we might have to call it original fiction, like original screenplay, fine, but please, let's make it original.

25 April 2010

Another First Day

This is my last week at Friendship Shelter. Possibly my last week as an employee anywhere, which technically I haven’t been for a while [read: contractor] but operated as such – to the office almost every day with a full load of responsibilities and expectations, and a boss. And although I made this decision months ago, it comes now as a bit of a surprise. Here I go again: that first day of the rest of my life.

At nearly 62, one might say I’ve had over 22 thousand first days. Although, in truth, some of those days were decidedly last days and many were in-the-thick-of-it days. Still, thousands and thousands of opportunities to begin again. I’ve always gone in and out of the work-for-someone-else world. Plenty of full-time jobs, and an equal number of part-time jobs [which I have found to be simply full-time jobs squeezed into fewer hours, but one makes a choice.]

There are great pleasures to be found in the workplace – the pleasure of the collegial environment, the sense of shared purpose, support staff, resources. Then there are the obligations – showing up at the same time no matter what your bio-rhythms, the repetition, endless meetings. the frustration of inefficiencies, the occasional watching of the clock… anyone who has worked all their lives, as I have, knows this well. I’ve taken my share of risks over the years. I’ve been able to finagle flexible schedules or cultivated clients in order to live the freelance life, which is what I will do going forward, although not with the same energy or aggression as in the past – I no longer need or wish to work that hard nor do I, thankfully, need to make so much money. The girls are grown and flown. Good investments permit me a pension of sorts [contingent of course on the markets] and social security is within my grasp [thank you Rusty.]

Thankfully as well, I have a lifetime of skill and experience, and four years into my CA life, a network. Thus, a new client in Laguna Beach. The CT client more committed to marketing $ this year. A little bit of writing at very little pay, but this will satisfy the journalism itch. I begin the new life with roughly 15 – 20 hours a week of work to do and money coming in. Nearly perfect, for now.

Of course I will miss my colleagues. I will miss the comforts of regularity. I will find myself at some point before long hustling again for the next project. I will watch my checkbook a little too closely and worry about whether I can support my travel and entertainment habits. I will frustrate my financial advisor with pestering about how I might live this semi-retired life comfortably and die broke – the kids don’t need my money and I don’t wish to have to make more than I absolutely need to. Been there, done that. Still, a delicate balancing act.

And then there’s the question of how I will structure my days. There will be many where I will awaken, shower, dress and go to work, albeit at the kitchen table. However, I might choose to walk before I work. Or read. Now and then I will watch an old movie before I dress, the guiltiest of pleasures. The last time I was freelance, I read five pages of Proust every morning, and this is more than enough to stimulate creative juices. Enough to write a book, which I will. One more. Maybe two. Perhaps teach another class? Ah, the pleasures of starting over. An endless stream of possibilities, if one only looks forward. Yes, each day is a chance to begin again. And every time I do, I see the opportunities ahead. Mostly. A gamble worth taking.

11 April 2010

A Life History

Google Maps I am writing a highly abbreviated life history. Not a memoir, nor an autobio, and definitely not a psycho-analytic revelation. Rather the hightlights of my life. I am writing this for my daughters. Sometimes they ask. Someday they will want to know more. As my parents are long gone, no siblings, no husband, and only a couple of friends who have travelled a long but still partial way on this journey, I thought it would be a gift to my girls to know more about me than they know now.

My mother, who had a heightened sense of her mortality for 14 long years, ntil the cancer claimed her, left me just a few pages of her thoughts. I wish she had written much more. I treasure those few fading pages, not only for the message, but for the oppotunity to remember her, in her words and her handwriting, as I have so little memory now. And when I visit my 94 year old Aunt, I pound her with questions, which she answers with remarkable long-term memory, happy to be asked, as we all wish to be known, and over time, whatever witnesses we have, lose memory or voice.

15 pages later I am just graduating college. I will of course go back and edit. But the joy of this is in the recollection. I am remembering the stories of my own life that have been long forgotten. Dancing in a sudden summer storm at Jones Beach with my cousins while my delighted grandfather watched from the cover of a beach umbrella. The first and only dog. The first kiss. The pleasures of a lead role in camp musical. And the jobs, the many jobs that informed a working life.

The first real job [babysitting didn't count] at just 14, administrative work for a small travel agency owned by Polish immigrant neighbors with wanderlust. Two afternoons after school and all day Saturday, I sat at a small desk in the back, the only light the glare of an old green glass desk lamp, and carefully clipped together matching travel agendas and billings and typed invoices in triplicate [remember those days?] that were then mailed or filed carefully as stipulated by my lovely employers. Ah, the sublime sense of order, I learned that lesson well.

Perhaps my favorite, albeit intensely unsatisfying job, as stock transfer typist in Wall Street - the 5PM to midnight shift. A second job in my early twenties. If you got there by 4:45PM you got free dinner in the cafeteria, but then only two 15 minute breaks during the night, and no conversation, just the drone of electric typwriters and the collective tapping as we typed the names of people on to stock certificates to be held in the vault for the next transfer. Obviously pre-cyberspace. The best part: the long bus ride uptown, through the quiet streets of the Bowery and lower east side up to my apartment on 1st Avenue and 21st Street. I liked the quiet of that part of the city late at night, and the utter silence of my tiny studio at that hour where I had a snack, played the old piano that nearly filled the space and read for a while until the morning city sounds invaded slumber. Only 6 or 8 months of that work, until enough saved to pay for something, not sure what that was, but a means to an end. Another lesson learned - nothing lasts forever, nor does it need to, but satisfying in the accomplishment, however menial.

Of course even my own memory is in question, but, as it is my story, my memory of it will have to suffice. There is great pleasure in looking back, in this way - neither regret, remorse, retribution or healing, but for the remembering of one's own life, the only life we've got. And the pleasure of writing only for yourself and the two people that matter most, the very best part of a life history.

14 March 2010

Once Upon a Time with Television

The morning after the Oscars is a unique event, akin to the Superbowl. Everyone is buzzing. The “office cooler” conversation is alive, albeit largely electronic these days: the internet is humming with the scoop and many are a-twitter. Well, those who actually watched rather than taped. Watch or not, pretty hard to escape the headlines and highlights, which may be enough.

Still, I am stunned when people tell me they didn’t watch because they've taped it instead, as this annual event has been a tradition for me as long as I can remember, truly, when at a very young age my mother permitted me to stay up and watch, although in those early years [and occasionally when my own children were young] I fell asleep too soon. My mother and my aunt Sophie, my cousins and I, curled up together in front of our tiny box and enjoyed the pageantry. I did the same during the Olympics, which I used to watch with my children. Presidential debates. The season finale of Mash and Dallas. Other momentous moments on television, like Obama’s victory, which may be the last television event shared by millions in the moment.

What happened to the shared collective consciousness of our television culture? Remember Thursday night farewells to John Boy? Sunday nights watching for the Archie Bunker mania? How many Friday nights of my young adult life did I stay home to watch Mary Tyler Moore, with excuses of hair washing or laundry, or now, as I recall, I was doing the laundry, as the basement facility in my NYC apartment building was empty on Friday nights while my fellow twenty somethings were out partying. {Yes, I was a geek, then as now] Speaking of twenty-somethings, that show was another must-see, breakthrough television that exposed every neurosis we now take for granted on TV. Speaking of which, remember must-see-TV?, NBC’s Thursday night line-up of Friends and followers, which my daughters hated to miss, despite the no-television on school nights rule [we made exceptions now and then.] Remember Roots?

For seven years I made sure to get to work a bit early on Thursday mornings for a passionate play-by-play with my buddy Michael on the previous night’s West Wing episode. Those characters became as close as friends, our representatives of ideal government and a longed for inegrity, missed terribly during off-season [remember off-season?] Now I get to watch them all over again on DVD but still long for those in-depth discussions the day after.

Not that I enjoy the fact that television has been for so long the centerpiece of American culture and the core of a national community. Nevertheless, the power of the medium is in the bringing together of huge numbers of disparate individuals to learn or enjoy or ponder or cheer or wonder about those things that seem to matter, and to provide the platform for discussion and perhaps enlightenment with friends, colleagues and our children. Now, we forego the discussion in favor of respecting the rights of tapers: we don’t want to spoil the ending do we?

I appreciate the convenience of a DVR. I get it. There are times I cannot enjoy an episode of one of the very few television shows I watch anymore and yes, as they are more and more available via internet, I can catch up on-line. I get it. People no longer wish to be tied to anything, much less a television show. We have reached the apotheosis of instant gratification. But what about that little bit of discipline that goes with making sure to finish homework or get off the phone [or the internet]in favor of the triumph of exquisite figure skating? The joy of watching the winner earn the win. The delight of weekly connection with interesting characters or the enlightenment of 60 Minutes. The extreme pleasure of the morning-after conversation. The joy of watching as a family in the company of all the other families.

Perhaps this is one reason why reality television is so popular – no one wants to miss who gets the axe or who scores the biggest loss. There are some things apparently we cannot wait for, still, but not much. Everything else is always within our reach, in our own time and space. Leaving us all just a bit further apart. And here I thought technology might bring us closer together. Foretells a future where we are all so much in our own space we share little or nothing. A little like reading blogs instead of the newspaper. Oops.

22 February 2010

Watching extraordinary young people on snowboards, gliding high up into the air and twisting their bodies in mind-bending spectacular poses before they land. Sometimes they seem to float, defying gravity. A friend suggests that have different DNA than mere mortals; perhaps this is so. They are more than magicians, their exuberance lights their path.

Watching them lights up my world as well. I exalt in their prowess.

Earlier this evening, I listened to one of my all time favorite writers, TC Boyle, tell Tavis Smiley that he was blessed by no one ever saying no to him. You see, he said, my mother loved me, and she never said no – I wore what I wanted, I did what I wanted. Tavis connected the dots: that uninhibited ability to decide for himself, the freedom to create his own persona, to pursue his own path, had resulted in an often outrageous creative streak, and a willingness, rather a perpetual intent, to write whatever he wanted, however he wanted. Taking risks that satisfied his unwillingness to say no to himself. He answers only to himself and bestows upon himself his own rewards.

For those of us who have an inner voice that more often says no, this is a mantra of sorts.

I have a good friend in CT who cries whenever anyone wins an award – gold medals, Oscars, anything where there is a personal best. She cries because deep down she feels denied the option to take risks and answer only to herself. Her personal path was censored, as so many are, especially those of us of the boomer generation. The battle for most of us is not to challenge our personal best but to do the best we can with what we’ve got.

I often share her tears. I envy those unencumbered by that inhibiting inner voice.

So it comes back to risk. Risk, more often defined as what we have to lose, rather than what we have to gain. The older I get the more willing I am to take the risk, to reach out for not so much a personal best, not in the sense of the champion, but to move beyond the limitations imposed, integrated, deeply ingrained over the years, and thus self-imposed in the end. To break out, be a little bit outrageous [that’s about all I can muster] and not be afraid to fall. So much more to gain than to lose.

They say that one doesn't get older, one gets more so, but this does not have to be so. Colette said we are never too old to become the person we want to be. Although, there is something to be said for aging gracefully.

The Olympics is much more than a bi-annual sporting event. It is a bi-annual challenge to reset our own barre. That incredible spirit of youth that defies risk, that laughs in the face of risk and says ‘come and get me.’ Wow. I am in awe of them, and grateful for the reminder that we only live once. Really, what is there to lose? Always more to gain.

01 February 2010

In Praise of the Music

OMG. The Grammy's. A 3-hour mind blowing concert. Some of the most remarkable talent, big productions [occasionally over the top, of course] the style, the outrageous, the sheer joy of the jubilance of young musicians and the pleasure of the rock. I am transported back to my youth, bouncing around the house to the music, watching every move Beyonce makes, and that wild Lady Gaga, with dear Sir Elton by her side, what a trip. Honestly, I felt like a teenager again. Wild and unencumbered. And reminded once more the power of music, whatever your taste, and even at this exalted age, I just love that rock and roll. All versions of it. I was enthralled with it. And I carried the jubilance with me into a night of sweet dreams and to another day of a slightly quicker step and that sense of possibilities that only the music divines. Wow. Pay attention Oscars and other award shows - it's about the magic, the entertainment. Awards, not so much. Simply the conduit, the conveyer of the art. I continue to be astonished by the sheer imagination of this generation, beyond even what I felt that joyful day in the early sixties when I discovered those boys from Liverpool. In this crazy world of manic politics, angry terrorists, homelessness and loneliness, it is only the music that brings us back to a Nirvana that comes in three minute takes that last all day, and night. I feel it still. Especially this year, the year of the women with incredible pipes and gorgeous bods. Gaga is indeed gaga, with the talent to match, the extraordinary Pink, the stunningly beautiful Beyonce, and the wonderful Fergie and Black Eyed Peas, the amazing friends of Michael Jackson, Carrie Underwood of special note, dear Dave Matthews... and all the rest. You made my day, and then some. And to itunes, my new friend, thank you for the instantaneous gratification.

It's a wonderful world as long as there is the music. Makes everything else possible.

20 January 2010

On Demand

I have migrated to the land of iPod. I was reluctant, not a fan of earplugs, and uncertain why I would want to shutter my mind while walking when I might daydream or ponder the meaning of the universe, much as I love music, or why I might forego the pleasure of total immersion in a book while on a plane.

However, I have discovered the joys of the podcast and the return to my audio Spanish lessons, which, in 30 minute increments, are exactly the time I spend on the treadmill and thus extremely efficient use of time. And I have discovered the joys of podcasting. The opportunity to catch up on programs that I’ve missed while I’m working or simply because radio frequencies are often obstructed by hillsides is truly change I can believe in. Now, I can access my favorite shows whenever I want, via computer or iPod, and I’m hooked.

Although… I’ve been resistant in principle to the on-demand world. The natural outgrowth of my boomer generation’s determination for instant gratification, we now seem to have everything available to us whenever and wherever we want. I don’t DVR and although I have taken one step closer to this personal control of media, I still enjoy the idea, now and then, that I must get home to watch a special show. Remember the many Friday nights we went out late so we could first watch Mary Tyler Moore? I look forward to [some] award shows or Olympics or tennis tournaments and part of the pleasure is the anticipation, which has been neutralized in favor of the I-can-watch-it-later via the recording. Every show or event just another item on the playlist. The very idea of heading home to curl up with something wonderful or stay put to listen just a little longer, is already long gone. Ah, how my mother and I looked forward to Saturday operas broadcast live from the Met. Now we might get to it on Thursday. And I still enjoy the idea that it’s Tuesday night and tonight, when my eyes will no longer focus on a book, I can watch The Good Wife, one of the few decent dramas on TV, although, truth be known, I know own the complete West Wing on DVD [thank you Dana] so I can watch that brilliance whenever I want, and this is awfully nice to know. I confess that I am considering dismantling the television entirely in favor of Netflix and the few television shows worth watching on-line. Ah, the ambivalence.

My boss, a devoted football enthusiast, consoled herself recently with the inability to watch her favorite team in the playoffs because of a Board event, knowing she might watch when she got home, and still enjoy as long as no one snitched the outcome. I suppose it’s wonderful to know that what you want is always within reach, but what’s the trade-off? Certainly we are able to better manage our time because of constant access, but what do we, or more to the point our children, who are acculturated in this technology, lose in personal discipline. The ability to structure our lives and meet the demands as they come, not always as we plan them, is so important to their ability to navigate the world successfully. At least, the world as I see it, which may be the disconnect here.

We no longer have to manage our time beyond the daily work or school clock – what we want to watch or hear is always available, if we’re late we send a text, we can find directions on our phone so why even study the map ahead of time [another guilty pleasure of mine] and we can take classes at our leisure on-line, no worries about rushing to class on time. Will this younger generation fail to learn the fine art of time management and the meaning of being in the right place at the right time? If all or even most of our lives are constructed to our own choosing, how will we navigate through the construct of a larger world, increasingly beyond our control?

Perhaps it is simply that I am rapidly becoming obsolete, approaching life in a context that no longer exists. Which is odd because I am such a fan of technology and delight in its prowess… I’ll ponder this on my next walk. Then again, I’ve got a date with my Spanish teacher in my ear.

Next: The Joys and Woes of the Shuffle.

15 January 2010

Plucking the Poetry

Ah the joys of a great book. I’ve read, and reread portions of The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, an ostensibly simple but fantastically complex and profound study of a modern-day poet-procrastinator-socially inept-loner struggling to write an introduction to an anthology of poetry and doing everything else but. It’s of course a love letter to poetry and to the life of the great poets, but also the study of the human psyche, which in the end is all about poetry.

My dear friend Diane of Diane’s Books sent me the advanced copy and it is now filled with margin notes and folded pages and underlined quotes to be revisited now and then. It’s that sort of book. What you cannot do as well with a Kindle or a Sony electronic reader, nor the amazing Google Books that I’ve recently discovered, where great literature is digitalized so when you’re bored at work you can read a few pages of Jane Austen! I myself have been re-reading Dorian Gray two pages at a time at this gigantic cyberspace library. As fun as that is, there is no thrill of scratching your thoughts in the margins for posterity or circling the tiny number on the bottom of a page to remind you that a passage there is utterly divine.

But this is about the book – a study of life in poetry or poetry in life: Every moment of uncertainty, the challenge of change, the despair of creativity, the pain of loneliness, the jubilation of getting it right and the sheer importance of living in the moment. Lots of little stories within this story, and while it seems on the surface like the stream of conscious reportage of a few months in the life of a writer, it is oh so much more. You will laugh aloud and delight in the telling of tales of great poets’ lives. And you will find yourself nodding in commiseration with his thoughs and with the paralysis we have all felt when something important needs to be done and we just can't do it.

When at last he brings it all together you will rejoice, as we do when we read a truly great poem. This is a book filled with segment after segment, as if stanza’s, that alone are worth the read. Consider this moment as he speaks to a master class, when asked how he achieves the presence of mind to initiate the writing of a poem. “Well, I’ll tell you how. I ask a simple question. I ask myself: ‘What was the very best moment of your day?’ The wonder of it was, I told them, that this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about. Something that I hadn’t known was important will leap up and hover there in front of me, saying I am – I am the best moment of the day. It’s a moment when you’re waiting for someone, or you’re driving somewhere, or maybe you’re just walking diagonally across a parking lot and you’re admiring the oil stains and the dribbled tar patterns. One time it was when I was driving past a certain house that was screaming with sunlitness on its white clapboards, and then I plunged through tree shadows that splashed and splayed over the windshield and though, Ah, of course – I’d forgotten. You, windshield shadows, you are the best moment of the day.”

Of course, reading this passage was the best moment of that day.

Well, that was after this moment, this passage, which I must also share: ...“Horace didn’t say that. ‘Carpe diem’ doesn’t mean seize the day – it means something gentler and more sensible. ‘Carpe diem’ means pluck the day. Carpe, pluck. Seize the day would be ‘cape diem’ if my school Latin services. Very different piece of advice What Horace had in mind was that you should gently pull on the day’s stem, as if it were, say, a wildflower or an olive, holding it with all the practiced care of your thumb and the side of your finger, which knows how to not crush easily crushed things… Pluck the cranberry or blueberry of the day tenderly free without damaging it is what Horace meant – pick the day, harvest the day, reap the day, mow the day, forage the day. Don’t freaking grab the day in your fist like a burger at a fairground and take a big chomping bite out of it…”

What more can I possibly say? Pluck the day. At the very least, bite into a juicy plum and relish the juice on your chin. That too is poetry, in its way. One of those lovely small moments that make the day.