Monday, September 28, 2009

Memory of Walking


Days have a rhythm. Some, languid, while others harried—somedays devoted to roaming—but not without a purpose. The purpose discovered in the wandering.

The third floor of this library, filled with non-fiction, exudes purposeful writing. Perhaps no one wants to read what these shelves hold. The quiet of the stacks floats around my soft upholstered chair.

I've spoken too quickly. Several students arrive and they settle down with their phones and books. One is texting. Perhaps tweeting her position in space. They whisper, but their words enter my space like an uninvited guest. Is this the time to eavesdrop on a conversation?

I picked up four books on the second floor —home of fiction books.

I select two books from the list I carry like a talisman — then two other books catch my eye. Titles do act as hooks—I am drawn to The Rabbi in the Attic by Eileen Pollack. Perhaps the title drew me in because today is Yom Kippur. I am not observant, but the holiness of the day doesn't escape into simply another day on the calendar.

My parents didn't observe the day, but when my grandfather was alive my father went to shul with him and recited the prayers he had learned as a boy. I wore good clothes on Yom Kippur, carried no money and walked everywhere —stopping at shul to visit my uncles and grandfather. Did my aunts attend that small place of worship? Later my aunts belonged to temples made of stone with polished floors and coat racks.

You entered my grandfather's shul , the ground floor of a house, and listened to the music of prayer. Some men chanted rapidly while others took more time. No one on the same line, but the prayers wove together into one voice. I stood at the back watching the men move back and forth as they read the prayers. Each body wrapped in a tallit—a sea of blue and white.

Then after the visit I walked somewhere else, usually with my friend Nina. Nina's father was a socialist and atheist, but her mother told Nina that she must respect the day even if her father went to work.


The students just left and a man with a crew cut and a Starbucks cup sits down at the vacated table. He doesn't have a computer nor a phone and writes with a pencil on yellow tablet paper.


I open one of the books and read the quotation on the opening page: "To find the soul it is necessary to lose it." --A.R. Luria


A.R. Luria, a Soviet psychologist wrote books about memory.

Rabbi Isaac Ben Solomon Luria The 16th century Kabbalist, introduced into the Kabbala the concept of tikkun (mending or correcting).

Connection: “ Tikkun Olam refers to the imperative to repair the world” —And that must be grounded in memory —


It is evening and Yom Kippur is over and I have roamed —and thought of the coming year. I am left with the question:

How in the coming year, may I be part of Tikkun Olam?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Composite

Some folks hone in on a particular hobby and spend a lifetime as a devoted follower. Others jump from one endeavor to another in a mad chase to find the ultimate— nothing lasts too long before it pales and they must seek another outlet. Of course it is possible to juggle a number of balls and engage fully in each.

I'm engaged in the juggling of balls. A section in my basement holds the odds and ends of art pursuits. Once I signed up for a bookmaking course, bought the requisite materials, made a hard—backed journal in class and then fell in love with hand made papers to use for the covers. I found a store that sold sheets of paper, each sheet created by an artist. I bought several sheets--rice paper with bamboo embedded in the paper, a rough textured paper I called the paper of many colors and a muted gray sheet with flamboyant streaks of red.

We learned how to hand stitch the papers for the insides of the book. After the class ended I made myself a journal and then I created five more books. I loved the details, selecting the papers, folding the signatures, even the sewing. I disliked having so many materials in disarray. The kitchen utensils vied for space with the awl, thread, boards, papers, and glues. You need a place to leave everything out. The putting away and taking out of the varied materials became a pain. In time I packed it all away and put it in the basement.

My basement art corner is the place of lost pursuits. But there's a commonality.

Several years ago I took a watercolor course and bought the supplies listed as necessary. When I almost added the brown paint stained water to a recipe thinking it was beef broth the watercolors ended up in the basement. I did buy a small box of watercolors. Each color remains in its own pan. Instead of large pieces of paper, soaked and taped to a wooden board, I use a small watercolor pad.

Two plastic boxes, read large, contain a history of possibilities and rejections.

Scratchboard pens, graphite pencils and charcoal, gouache pigments, hog bristle brushes, oil pastels, and odds and ends of my foray into oil painting.

Products remain around the house, an oil painting of the canyons in Utah, a large watercolor of flowers and several landscapes completed in a Chinese Brush painting class. I haven't given up on the Chinese ink drawings because I only do them in class—avoiding the taking out and putting away of materials.

Downsizing. My sketchbook, mechanical pencils, assortment of pens, and small set of watercolors fit me. They travel easily.

When I go into the art store my interest is piqued by all the possibilities. Then I remember how I want to fit everything into a small space and turn away from the air brushes, encaustic supplies, and soft pastels.

I knew someone who loved fish, tropical fish. One day I noticed that the aquariums with their pumps and consistent bubbling sound even invaded the kitchen. When he had a tank built with extra heavy glass he moved his bed into the living room.

"You need to downsize," I said. "Remember your first guppies?"

Now if I could just find a silk screen course given at the right time...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To Change

Changing your mind, deciding that you want to take a different route, not persisting on a path because you started that way—

Changing your mind, applying the brakes when you recognize the futility of your position—

takes guts. We've seen politicians adhere to a position even when the temper of the country dictates a change.

In the past week I've seen or read stories about soldiers suffering the after effects of combat. I've seen photos of soldiers who left limbs thousands of miles away. And I read about the administration wanting to send more troops to Afghanistan. But now I detect that there may be a change.

Mr. President changing your mind is a strength when the handwriting on the wall shows the futility of a decision.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Clutter and Space

Because I'm reading Homer & Langley, E.L. Doctorow's fictionalized account of the Collyer brothers, and because the brother's home was filled with tons of newspapers and found objects, I am stuck on the subject of clutter and space.

When does a collection slip into clutter?

Someone I know collects flamingos. Her bathroom contains flamingos holding a soap dish, two flamingos on either side of the toilet paper dispenser, and small drawings of flamingos as ballet dancers,flamingos as tennis players, and flamingos attired in suits seated around a table.. Everything is in order, each to its own space. The species has not invaded the tile floor and the flamingo shower curtain stays in its place. They have not migrated out of the bathroom.

Migration is what the knick knacks and stuffed animals do at one of my favorite lobster restaurants in Maine. Beanie Babies, piled in a higher and higher pyramid, outgrow one of the tables and take over another table. Customers must make do with less seating.

Salt and pepper lighthouse shakers, lobster magnets, potholders with recipes for clam chowder, wooden lobster shacks, tiny lobster buoys, aprons emblazoned with directions on how to eat a lobster, napkins with fir trees, fir trees for miniature dioramas...spill over the sides of a plastic coated lobster tablecloth.

Paintings, wood plaques, two-dimensional depictions of Maine life and photos cover the walls. Everything is for sale. Each year the wall loses out to more hangings.

This year knick knacks migrated to the tables. The salt and peppershaker shared space with a painted puffin.

How many is too many? If the collection is orderly and everything has a place then the question is ignored. Yes, I know that people like the Collyer brothers suffer from a diagnosed disorder and that they cannot throw anything away even if it means that they lose their sleeping space.

But what about the other collectors? I once had a friend Dennie who wrote poetry and lived in a small apartment with her husband and son. She and her husband were neighborhood organizers. Placards filled their hallway— ready for another picket or demonstration. They believed that no one should take up more space then they needed when people were homeless.

The definition of hoarders may need to be expanded.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Welcome to a New Thesaurus

Words have a past. Now the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, a behemoth costing over $300.00, touts itself as a treasure chest of words, synonyms and the historical progression of words. Yet who can keep up?

Perhaps they'll establish an Internet site to add new words as we coin them. They stopped collecting words in 2003. That means that for six years, and counting, words entered our lexicons unaccounted for in the Oxford complete—yet now incomplete reference book.

Tweeter, tweet. Does modern usage propel them into a dictionary or thesaurus?

Words change. Pronunciations change. A word's grammar changes. Even the meaning of a word may change. A word takes on metaphorical connotations. Bland words, in a different period of time, morph into pejorative words or foul words.

Writers play with words, discarding and replacing, honing and plumping up. Some scrape every adjective out of their prose; some eschew words of too many syllables.

When I entered the sixth grade I discovered my father's Roget Thesaurus and began a love affair with the variety and flavor of words. Instead of writing: The new student walked into the room I discovered a column full of possibilities in Rogets. Now the new student sauntered, loped, rambled, strolled, —even schlepped into the room.

My teacher, Miss (not Ms) Kosel, had assigned one of her weekly writing assignments— I don't recall the topic, but I do remember writing a first draft and then selecting about twenty words for a Thesaurus revision. My definition of revision consisted of finding longer, more complicated sounding words. I replaced my sixth grade vocabulary with new words, some arcane, a few unpronounceable.

Miss Kosel wrote me a note: Linda, put away the Roget. She underlined the twenty words I so laboriously upgraded and wrote: Please replace these with the original words and hand it again.

I still love my thesaurus, but try and exercise restraint.

Words have a past.

We tend to use many of the same words over and over as if the others are unable to carry the weight of what we mean. Is it a word rut or laziness or an emotional tether? I'm not referring to the small words or the filler words like irrespective or phrases like— the way I see it. I knew someone who kept referring to things in the world as being too congruent for her manic personality. She applied that word, like a sticky note, to the aisles of the grocery store, to library shelves, to the people she saw at a mall.

"What does it mean? I asked.
"You know, " she said, "they are all alike. Cookie cutter."

Words--"so many and not enough time."

Welcome to the World’s First Historical Thesaurus—but I'll still hang on to my Rogets. We've grown accustomed to our combined quirks.

That doesn't mean that I'm not anxiously looking forward to thumbing through the Oxford's entries. The question remains—will my local library purchase the thesaurus?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Too Much Sun

The ordinary umbrella dates back 4000 years. I visualize someone complaining about the sun and another soul putting together the first handheld sunshade.

I rather like other names for the humble umbrella:

Bumbershoot and once used
Bumbersol and Bumberbell—
Or a brolly
or a large gamp—

Friday, September 04, 2009



Summer is waning, yellow school buses pick up and drop off students, evenings happen earlier, and the Red Gravenstein apples are ripe. Despite loving Gravensteins I'm not ready for the Apple Orchard. Walking among the apple trees means I've capitulated to autumn.

It's easy to fool myself about holding Fall at bay. I'm still wearing shorts, my arms are bare and my toes wiggle unencumbered in my Teva sandals. Thwarting the turn of the calendar is easy--it just requires a refusal to accept the inevitable. We do that all the time.

When I turned thirty I collected thirty white stones at Race Point Beach in Provincetown. As I placed each stone in my pocket I recollected the year--either my memory or a family story. Recollections--past tense.

Time, fickle and relentless, expands or contracts the same hour. Wait for a response and the seconds elongate and echo. The clock dispenses minutes with a frugal hand.

We need to know the time. Contemporary life is time regulated. As soon as civilized life became complex people wanted to organize their day into time segments.

Obelisks, with their changing shadows, sliced the day into morning and afternoon. Later— markers around the base segmented time into narrower slots.

Now we measure ultramicroscopic parts of seconds.

Could people be satisfied with an outdoor sundial, save in the garden? No.

Once the Egyptians perfected a more portable timepiece it started the quest for smaller portables. Our digital timepieces parse our live into microseconds.

Personally I am fond of water clocks--clepsydras. "These were stone vessels with sloping sides that allowed water to drip at a nearly constant rate from a small hole near the bottom. Other clepsydras were cylindrical or bowl shaped containers designed to slowly fill with water coming in at a constant rate. Markings measured the passage of hours."

I imagine standing in front of a water clock, mesmerized by the passage of time. Do I want to watch the water disappear or appear as the measurement of elapsed time? Either way the inaccuracies of such a device bothered minds now focused on capturing the passage of time--precisely.

Did anyone scoop out some water to delay an odious task or add some water to hasten time? Who hasn't set a clock ahead? What happens to the minutes you bypass?

Chess players in Harvard Square keep turning over a small sand timer to keep play moving. No time to procrastinate--know your moves.

New England Puritan preachers not only delivered hell and brimstone sermons but also placed an hour glass on the pulpit to time their two-hour Sunday sermon.

Queen Victoria, obviously upset by long sermons insisted that an eighteen-minute glass be set on the pulpit in her church. The local newspapers interpreted the timer as an indication of the Queen's displeasure with extended rhetoric.

My mother used a three-minute timer to cook soft-boiled eggs for my father.

We record our days in daily diaries, in journals, and with photos. My first diary came with a small key and tiny lock. "Dear Diary" I wrote, "today I am seven years old."

Did I tell the diary about my whole day? Did I admit to stepping on the line when playing hopscotch or just say I played hopscotch and won? In a few weeks I tired of the diary.


October 2007
The New York Times wrote a story about the Reverend Robert Shields. The good reverend spent twenty-five years "chronicling his life in five minute segments." He recorded every aspect of his life, even his visits to the lavatory.

"Dear Diary, it's Sunday, August 13, 1995...

7:25-7:30 I sprayed, and puddled and piddled and widdled”

He only slept two hours at a time so that he could record his dreams.

When Rev Shields died he left a 37.5 million-word document that fills 91 boxes.

"Mr. Shield’s words apparently exceeded the more than 21 million in the colorful diary of Edward Robb Ellis, a newspaperman who died in 1998, and the 17 million words of Arthur Crew Inman, a reclusive poet who died in 1963. The 19th century London diary of Samuel Pepys was a mere1.25 million words."
New York Times October 29, 2007

Rev Sheilds gave his diary to Washington State University. The terms: The diary can't be read for fifty years or subject to a word count.

"What seems certain is that Mr. Shields believed that nothing truly happened to him unless he wrote it down." Once he started in 1972 he couldn't stop. He said, "Maybe (historians) by looking into someone's life at that depth, every minute of every day, they'll find out something about all people."

Time captured on paper or on a blog—an assurance of how time was spent, our thoughts and ideas.

Half a bookshelf contains my journals-- not daily doings, but thoughts, readings, and recollections.

According to the Guinness World Records a Colonel Ernest Loftus of Zimbabwe kept a 91 year daily chronicle of his life (1896--1987).He began at the age of twelve and continued until his death July 7, 1987. Age--103 years 178 days.

In January I received a gift of a five-year diary. Each page contains enough room for five years of that date. An inch and a half makes for a terse discourse.

Or use the Internet to keep an electronic diary of days. Then you can go back in time by clicking FIND.


Summer is fading, but today it's 80 degrees and I am experiencing time hanging back and refusing to enter autumn.