Thursday, December 31, 2009

December 31st

Before 2010 arrives I'm cleaning up my computer.

Over the year I placed 3000 photos on my hard drive. This penchant for taking an excessive number of photos coincided with my purchase of a small digital camera—-a camera small enough to carry into museums, a camera that hung around my neck, but didn't cause a neck strain, a camera that encouraged me to take hundreds of photos of paintings.

Technology changed the way I decided what I wanted to shoot. Did I ever contemplate taking a photo of every Egyptian mummy in the Museum collection or thirty-four photos of Indonesian beaded aprons with a film camera? No. I showed some discernment. Now I'm a free spirit.

And how can I delete multiple photos of an apron? Some of the angles highlight colors; other photos inspire meditations on patterns. What to keep and what to leave, omit, discard, expunge? What to designate as fodder for the trash basket?

Before 2010 arrives I want to create a list of ten. Essayists, writers, musicians, comedians, and ubiquitous commentators proffer opinions on the previous decade or the past year. Soothsayers offer their opinions. The economy will recover, dip precipitously; the ebook will finally drown the printed book, the printed book will gain ascendancy; the Democrats will be the victims of their folly, the Democrats will gain even more seats; in the Antarctic high rise luxury hotels will replace the "Himalayan Hotel" due to climate change, the low recorded temperature exceeds the previous low temperature of —129 degrees Fahrenheit. Opinions will differ from the best way to dye Alpaca fleece— the use of Kool- aid or acid solutions —to directions for creating a zig-zag part in your hair. I foresee an abundance of essays, Op Ed pieces and podcasts.


Simply be like a Coney Island Polar Bear Club Member and take the plunge. Create a list of ten. Ten what? — Ten happenings, some personal, some universal. Do I list them in an order? Do I go first to tenth to first? Or are they all of equal importance?

The absolute joy of reading. I take notes when I read, engage in the act of marginalia, and often copy down lines from the book. Ten favorite books read in 2009.

Dry Storeoom No 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey
“All our lives are collections curated through memory.”

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
“If the book is second hand, I leave all its markings intact, the spoor of previous readers…”

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
“Travel far enough, you meet yourself.”

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
“We are all fixing what is broken. It is the task of a lifetime. We’ll leave much unfinished for the next generation.”

The Indian Clerk by David Leavitt
“The things that you save—you save them, I suppose, so that when you’re old, you can fondle and caress them and feel the breeze of niostalgia brushing your face.”

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
“The wind made the weeds gossip.”

The Wild Marsh by Rick Bass
“Spring’s so close it could be nudged in with a feather.”

The Attack by Yasmin Khadra
“…your most beautiful possessions: the chance to profit from every moment of your life.”

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
“It was as though there was a hoard of quiet in that room, as if any silence that ever entered that room stayed in it.”

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.”

9.• Eating a 1.6 lb lobster at Thurstons in Bernard, ME

8• Hiking —up a mountain or around a pond.

7• At a Bible study one Tuesday
—looking at the person of Obadiah in Amos, ( Hebrew Scriptures).Who or what does Obadiah represent? Obadiah is ambivalent and ambivalence won’t work. This is a universal dilemma—the incapacity to land, to say this I believe.

Walking up to the third floor of Concord Library where three tables are tucked into a small space surrounded by books—setting out my writing implements and writing.

5• Teaching. Blogging.
“To teach is to learn twice.” ~Joseph Joubert, Pensées, 1842

Taking courses—from Egypt in the fall to Russian History and literature and the History of Film in the winter.

Chinese Brush Painting— and it always includes a lunch with members of the class.

Doing anything with my partner—from crossword puzzles and coffee and reading in coffee shops to vacations or sitting quietly in the same room comfortable in the silence.

This year I’m thankful to those I know in person and those I’ve met on line who offered to pray for my daughter’s recovery. I know that the eventual scan that revealed no mutant cancer cells in her body was attributed to the vigorous treatment she received—the chemo, radiation, internal and external; but I know that the outcome was also buoyed up and affected by the prayers of people she never knew.

Nan, referred to a prayer net. I like that phrase. There were so many people who prayed for her or sent good thoughts, but I want to thank several people I’ve never met save online: Nan, Cathy, Marsha, Jan—thank you.

I’m posting this now—and going out with friends to welcome the New Year.

A Happy and Healthy New Year to all of you who have stopped by to read Marginalia, I appreciate your visits. My wish for 2010 is for Peace.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Words, Rhetoric—

Embedded in my DNA, etched in my bones, moves a panorama of my family's liberal background—unions, socialism, revolutionary fervor, marches. I eschewed the narrow confines of the right. So why am I tiring of rhetoric that soars and belies reality? Maybe I'm naive. Maybe I refuse to accept the political realities--the buying of votes with favors.

Do the ends justify the means? An old philosophical conundrum worthy of speculation in dim coffee houses and living rooms. If you do this we'll add this to a bill; if you support this we'll sweeten the pot. What do you need? No, what do you want? Another bridge?


The day after school ended and the summer before I entered Wade Junior High School, I took the train— along with three friends— to Coney Island Amusement park. Our ride from the Bronx took over an hour and involved changing trains several times. We carried brown bag lunches packed with peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches. My mother added four Oreo cookies.

After riding the roller coaster and a ride that turned me upside down we wandered the side streets. A man, barker, stood outside a storefront shouting words of wonder. "Come inside," he said, "and see the Alligator Man, the Siamese Twins and a fire shallower."

"The alligator man must spend twenty hours a day submerged in a tub. He's been written up in Ripley's Believe it of Not. If you don't see him today he may not be alive tomorrow. "

We stood outside wondering if this was our only chance. To return to our Bronx apartments without seeing the Alligator Man, to travel the D train home uneducated about Siamese Twins and to turn down a chance to stare at a fire shallower —and yet we still stood rooted to the concrete.

"Girls", the barker said, " Don't tell me your ages because I know you're too young, but this once I'll let you buy tickets to enter this emporium of wonders,"

"Where do you live?"

When we answered, the Bronx, he sighed and continued. "We'll never come to the Bronx. What do you have there? This, young ladies, is a rare opportunity. Yesterday the Alligator Man stayed in the tub all day and today he's out for two hours. "

I didn't know at that time how words strung together by an able performer, like an aphrodasic, lures the listener.

We bought tickets and entered a small room where a dozen other ticket holders waited for the show to begin.

"Ladies, gentlemen and girls from the Bronx, look straight ahead and meet the alligator man."
A man with a hood covering his face, stumbled across a stage constructed of wood crates. Backstage someone turned up the volume of a musical piece that accentuated suspense. The alligator man, with help from an assistant, unbuttoned his shirt and took it off. His skin was thickened and coarse, darkened, creased and hard looking. He stood there with his arms hanging down at his side. Long arms.

"Now, let's see," said the barker, "what he looks like." The hood, that covering hiding or protecting the alligator man, removed in a slow dance by the barker revealed the alligator man's face.

"Jesus'" said the man next to me.

The entire bottom of the alligator man's face protruded . His profile view resembled a snout.

The barker asked him, "Who would you like to kiss?"

"Point to her."

And an arm lifted and he pointed to the blond girl standing with a sailor.

"I'll blow him a kiss," she said. And then looked in his direction and blew him a kiss. It took me a number of years to realize the humanity in that gesture.

We left there and our hour ride home to the Bronx covered the distance between childhood and something beyond.

Words--cajoling, seductive, promising—yet the reality was tragic.


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Coffee Thoughts


It's in my DNA. It's a part of my soul. I am addicted to coffee shops and cafes. It started when my mother, attempting to lure me into shopping for school clothes, suggested stopping for coffee and a sandwich. "And", she said, "You can read your book while eating." We often split a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

When she got older she frequented a coffee shop with her friends, often for Sunday coffee and breakfast. When she died her friends invited me to the Sunday hangout, Mitzi & Don's, for a celebration of her life—-over breakfast.

"Your mother always ordered a sunny side up on wheat toast with a side of fries, unsalted." I ordered the same breakfast.

I wrote some notes in my Moleskin notebook — interrupted by the regulars stopping to say hello. One of the owners told me that my mother loved his whitefish and she usually had him put some hot water in the coffee because it was too strong.

Today I am seated in my favorite coffee shop. Before starting to type Lauria came by to discuss a new book; the owner's mother, who is visiting from Detroit, stopped to chat. Sometimes I say—I need to get some work done, but today I'm willing to spend time talking as long as there's some time left to read and write.

I even found a coffee shop, Castle Rock Coffee and Candy, in Torrey, Utah —at the juncture of Highway 12 and 24— and sat outside and drank my latté. When the temperature hovered between 90 degrees and 92 degrees and I had used up my allotment of shade I left. (Having hiked for several hours, I thought that I had earned time to write, read or stare ahead.) The cafe is still there—

Chain cafes usually don't appeal to me—unless it's day when other places close for holidays. The sameness of furniture, chairs, pictures —layouts, bathrooms, menu items— create a cookie cutter ambiance.


Doing the same thing, following a routine, holding a set opinion, not changing —

We all follow set patterns, establish ways of doing, cling to perceptions, not changing—

To change requires effort, even altering long held opinions, resisting the ease of the known—

Sometimes an event, an illness, a word heard, forces a person to stop, skid to a halt —

And while in the whorl an examination of life presents itself as a possibility. Imagine the questions asked, the statements uttered?

Do I really believe that?
I'll call.

The box expands and new configurations emerge.

And then when the wave retreats, when the ashes cool, the routine, the set opinion, the long held perceptions cover the shoots.




Time is a dressmaker specializing in alterations.
~Faith Baldwin