Post #91: “Let Us Choose Those Pearls”

IMG_1510Ah! Cocooned, nutshelled, encased, enrobed. I’m here, I’m here, I’m home at lingeringly long last. Fortressed, buttressed, I move tentatively from room to room reacquainting myself, finding myself. The Bibendum ashtray, the Trumpet Call harmonica, the tiny pile of stubby Blackwings. Each object, though odd and unassuming in and of itself, is an essential key, a part of my own soul, my own secrets and my own story, transporting me back in time and place in the wunderkammern of my own little world. I can feel myself unclench as I finally am looking at, connecting to what my eyes should be seeing every day. But please no recriminations. I am looking now. Remembering.

The open arms of my day stretch expansively before me. But then the must dos, should dos, could dos lists start to fulminate and burble in my head. I can feel my heart tighten and my breath quicken. Damn! Must we always be doing something important? Can we sometimes drift, to meld into the world without a thought or a care? Can I be brave enough to allow the world to warm me once again, to nourish me as a steaming cup of hot chocolate?

Like soft caramel, the strands lingering, I pull away.

I bundle into my coat, hat pulled firmly down to my ears, a scarf securely wrapped round and round my neck, a tightly tied up package. Each pocket is carefully checked and filled with emergency rations and supplies: ginger candies and peppermints to the left, notepad and extra pencils in the right, spare change, dried cherries, a collection of acorn tops. All the essentials for survival. My hands are deep in my pockets lightly fingering, checking, rechecking.

The Magellan of the North, I set sail for places unknown.

In a few moments I am standing on the train platform, my feet feeling the bumps and nodules of the edge. In the distance I can see a tangle of bare branches, the limbs reaching upward, a silent trembling yearning for spring and warmth and nuanced greenery. The pigeons swoop in unison, arching towards the overpass as the train itself, sinuous and massive, hums into the station. As if responding to my silent command, the doors slide wide open.

I corner myself next to a window as we set off. The buildings blur before me but my eyes are on the clouds. Today they knot and roil in the sky, softly pummeling the air above, truly an Ice Capades of the air.

As we draw into the terminal, I am buffeted in with the others, unconsciously falling into step, all of us strangely solitary amidst the crowd in our rhythmic march. And yet, when one of our number, a woman with her arms burdened with packages, unknowingly drops a bill from her pocket, a boy leaps forward out of formation to snatch it up, to quickly press it into her hand, then retreat back to continue his path. The day begins.

The streets are still damp from the snows, glowing with a winter garden of neon reflection, the cerulean, the sage, the magenta curling and bursting forth with riotous electric bloom. My feet splashing, I make my way to the library, cosseted safely between the twin lions, Patience and Fortitude. Up the marbled staircase through the carved doors to find a seat at the table, a warm corner. My hands smooth to the polished wood of the chairs. Heads bent over wide open volumes, bathed in the light of the golden reading lamps, thoughts seem to twist and promenade though the air itself, sentences cavort, the words hover and float. It is a joy to join the dance.

Later, an old couple sits together at their luncheon table. He wears a beige sweater, she a beige scarf. She serves him the best portions from the platter. He generously pours out the wine. There is little talk but then really, how much is needed? When it’s time for dessert each digs deep into the sweetness.

Soon enough I find my way downtown, drawn to this place as always. If my eyes lovingly caress the bookshelves, the unruly piles and jumbled stacks that form the essential cartography of my home, this place, this temple to what I love best forms a magnetic bond to my soul. I am at The Strand, home to miles and miles of books. There they are. Shelved shoulder to shoulder in their tattered jackets, brave and stalwart. These second hand volumes, each with a story beyond the story between the covers, are what Virginia Woolf calls “the wild books, the homeless books.” As always, they fairly leap into my arms, grateful once again to be remembered and repeated and most of all read. They are rescued. I am revived.

This is what the day has brought. Marvel upon marvel. Joy upon joy. But I wonder, do I only wish to see what’s beautiful before me? If so, is that wrong? Do I, can I, recreate the world each time I interact with it?

“Let us choose those pearls,” writes Virginia Woolf in Street Hauntings. Quite so. Find what gives you joy, cling to what gives you comfort, spot beauty in unexpected places.

Today I chose to find what Woolf calls “a seat in the warm corner, ” refilling the wunderkammern of my heart, my home, my mind. Wander then and go forth to choose your own pearls.

***

Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Street Hauntings: A London Adventure published in The Art of the Personal Essay,: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. Selected and with an introduction by Phillip Lopate

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Post #88: A Thank You Note

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Dearest All,

Welcome to post #88.

Sometimes I think one of the great miracles of my life is just that I’ve been able to put my fingers to keyboard to type out these small essays every other week. Like most of us my life is a convoluted mixture of the mundane and the significant. Even so, I have still jittered out a piece every other Tuesday, with the regular and rhythmic rat-a-tat tat of a Morse code tap, eighty-eight times in a row. I am never sure I can do it. And then somehow I do.

I do because I need to write. I write as a respite, to jump off the merry go round for a bit and actually think, even if I’m never quite sure what I’m going to think about. I write sometimes simply to bash back fears. I write because I’m not terribly brave and in some ways it’s the bravest thing I’ve ever done.

But today’s post is written for a different reason entirely.

Today’s post is to say thank you.

If you’re reading, and especially good at reading between the lines, every single post relates to something that has actually been happening in my life at the very moment in time each piece is written. Most of those connections are a bit obscure. This one however is very straightforward.

It has to do with winter house terrors involving freezing temperatures, freezing pipes and being frozen with fear about the anticipation of what will happen next.

But I will tell you exactly what happened next. A whole series of people who came and helped: Dawn, our broker from Caldwell Banker, a woman who thought to call with cold weather tips that helped protect us in a house she helped us buy over a year ago, our friend Ralph, the apartment superintendent, who dropped everything to stanch a veritable waterfall in my basement and was at my door before I could sharply exhale breath, and the Robison 3 AM boiler fixers who went above and beyond to help us figure out a water piping system in our basement that resembled nothing less than the snarl of most of my knitting efforts.

Leonardo DaVinci said “Water is the driver of Nature.” I completely agree. But I’ll be honest. I would never have argued the point anyway.

So on this scheduled blog day Tuesday I want to thank all of the kind people above who are so very good and so very decent. We are beyond grateful for your help. And I would like to take a moment as well to thank you, Dear Readers, for your kindness reading along with me, for connecting me, for thinking along with me. You’ve created a bit of a miracle yourselves. What you’ve done is make me feel not quite so alone in the world.

Thank you very much. Until next time then.

As ever, C

Photo: Casey and Annie Rose waiting out the weekend storm.

Post #83: “The Saints and Poets, Maybe”

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We ebb and flow through our days, sometimes roiled with the current, often drifting aimlessly, occasionally caught in the undertow. The days go by like a flash book riffled by a casual thumb, with the occasional pause for Thanksgiving or a graduation, a wedding or a birthday, the first day of school or the last day of work.

So many marvelous moments!

*Black and white checkered sheets draped over the kitchen table, couch pillows cushioning the floor, oatmeal cookie crumbs crushed over everything like the jewels from Ali Baba’s cave, two tiny boys hide identically in plain sight, squeezing their juice boxes into a sweet fountain of stickiness.

*There they are again! Leaping from their side-by-side stroller like miniature superheroes their velcroed sneakers clump on to the carpet and they are off, banging away at the petrified wood with a conga beat! In step they patter up the ramps and down, around the Jade and in-between the Lapis Lazuli. Completely unimpressed by the Star of India, they turn the renowned Hall of Rocks and Minerals into the glittering playground of their dreams.

*With the smile and swagger of the Bambino, the tiny boy in the green striped shirt balances his blue plastic bat on his shoulder and squints at the pitcher. One swing and the wiffle ball bangs off the bookcase, pings off the wall and sails over the couch! Then he’s flying around the makeshift bases with the light-footed grace of the great Jeter, past first, the yellow bean bag, coasting past second, the stuffed bear, a toe touch on third, a copy of Busy, Busy World, his little legs churning, his curls bouncing, his eyes honed on home, the plastic Arthur and Friends plate, and he slides! And there you have it! Another inside the living room home run!

*Will it be turkey with avocado and Russian dressing or tuna with extra virgin olive oil, capers and red onion? Brisket with sour pickle or a goat cheese with kalamatas? Hummus and shredded carrot or fresh mozzarella and tapenade? So many lunch boxes filled and then emptied, emptied then filled. Peanut butter and jelly is clearly for everybody else.

*A doughnut on a plate is sweet but a doughnut hung from the ceiling, hands behind your back, icing coating your nose, your cheeks, your tongue before you manage a bite, a bite, a bite, of double chocolate, Bavarian Kreme, or strawberry frosted is so very much sweeter.

***

Little moments scatter through my memory hither and thither, whenever and wherever.

Once, long ago there was high school performance of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with an arch and scrawny Stage Manager and really a very good Emily, the sound system dicy, the timing a bit off, the blocking a bit stiff, but as earnest and loving and passionate as any show I’ve ever seen. At the end, Emily wishes to rejoin the world of the living if only for a day. Her yearning for the the small, insignificant joys of life, even the mundane and even arduous moments of any day of her time on earth were quietly and exquisitely painful.

She wonders aloud if anyone really understands how valuable, how astonishing even a small, quiet life is. The Stage Manager gently answers, “No. The saints and poets maybe.”

I wonder.

But if not a saint, perhaps those of us who just try to be good? I not a poet, perhaps any of us who just try to put a few words to paper, or work to express ourselves in word or song?

As life flashes by we do remember snatches of wonder. And those moments alone do in fact remind us of how marvelous each life is and how grateful we are to be part of it.

 

 

Post #82: Away

IMG_0502We arrived lost, remained so, didn’t care!

No suitcases, no responsibilities, no rules. We were off on a spree, unfettered, blissfully unprepared, bursting out of the front door, wiggling down the walk, sinuously twisting around the corner, skipping down the street. My quicktime double step whirling away to keep up with his laconic, leggy stride. Hand in hand, together. Just as before. Just as always.

The iced vodka chill of the MetroNorth cars gives way to the stultifying heat of the subways. Then up the stairs to the street. There is no cover. But there are waterfalls of rain sheeting from the sky.

The umbrellas are safely tucked away in the front hall closet. I tilt my face and feel the drops hit me fair and square like tiny bursts of joy. In moments, we are soaked through to the skin. I can’t remember the last time I stood in the rain, soaking wet, hair askew, completely and properly improper.

It is a double decker bus and we find seats on top. We dry in degrees as our clothes steam from the heaters, bumping along the highway.

Independence Hall

A stars and stripes shawl is purchased with the dual purpose of celebrating our independence and for sheer warmth. And that is all.

The Reading Terminal Market

Our eyes devour everything from donuts to oysters, sandwiches to schnitzels, burgers to brisket, cheesesteaks and turkey and ribs and corn dogs.

But we choose exactly the same thing: sweet and delicate salmon curries, elegant and etherial, as our twin plastic forks dig like tiny steam shovels into mounds of rice.

The Rosenbach

A few twists and turns on the streets. Then through the doors to a treasure trove.

Cherished leather-bound jewels, missives from times past, bound together, standing proudly, spine to spine:

*A rare first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
* the earliest surviving work by the young Charles Dickens, a parody of Shakespeare’s Othello from 1832
*Two 15th century manuscripts of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales
*Lewis Carroll’s own first edition of Alice in Wonderland
*presentation copy of Erasmus’s Novum Testamentum from 1519 with woodcuts by Hans Holbein

When I encounter series of volumes printed on Gutenberg’s own press I begin to weep, an acolyte at the altar, a devoted scriblarian to my soul.

Zahav

Each nibble tingles then rolls deliciously across our tongues like the unfurling of of banners on the Fourth of July. A bite of this and a bite of that. So much and yet never enough.

The Barnes Foundation

Like a bottomless tureen of caviar, like a never before discovered cache of Mozart Symphonies, like a whole wardrobe designed by Dior, we sat surrounded in long dreamed of splendor.

Monet, Renoir, Matisse,  Cezanne, Seurat, Modigliani.

With only a slight tip one could be immersed, submerged, subsumed, each image a portal to distant universes that somehow still feel so close.

But then it’s time to go. Back to the bus to the subway to the train to the trudge to return home, wrinkled and rusticated and perhaps still slightly damp. But we will be back.

Up the stairs to the porch. A glimmer of light? A darting shadow? There they are! The cats are waiting to welcome us home!

 

Post #79: “Spacious Pastures of the Spirit”

FullSizeRenderI started this activity for all the wrong reasons.

I don’t just embrace schedules. I am constricted and a bit smothered by them, like a hapless fly caught in spiderweb, oddly proud nonetheless. My day, and each activity in it, is carefully choreographed and timed as I punch and feint through each moment. My joy is magnified as I smugly check things off my lists—only to begin another as soon as all my checks are made.I don’t just make every moment count. I squeeze the daylights out of every second. Again and again and again. Good for me. Good for me?

And so when I found this idea—this brilliant idea— via The Art of Manliness blog I snagged it. There are minutes wasted in every single day, they noted. Time spent waiting in line, a moment or two before an appointment, downtime before dinner (at least when someone else is cooking it). Grab those moments, they implored. Make them count. What if, The Art of Manliness noted, one spent that rattling bagful of minutes reading? A bit here and a bit there? Do those moments add up? They do. Oh yes they do.

And so tentatively I began.

My work, in its various iterations over the decades, has always meant that I essentially read for a living. This makes things a bit harder because reading, which I believe with my whole heart should always been a joy, is sometimes for me a slog. And so, I determined that my special moments of reading book would never been a book I am supposed to be reading and thinking about for work. These stolen moments throughout the day, then, would not be work. They would be just for me.

It wasn’t hard to dig through the pile of night table books to find the first ones to slide into my backpack, nestled between my wallet and my phone charger. I grabbed my reading moments greedily, beginning with Northern Farm by Henry Beston

I read it in tiny gulps, a minute or two here, a few leftover seconds there. Like a hummingbird dipping into a daylily. Weeks later, I came to and end and began another, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepard, then Beston’s The Outermost House, followed by the poems of Rumi. The pile of books is unending.

The interesting things is there shouldn’t have been time to read these books. And yet, by snatching the moments, there were. Was I somehow making time itself burgeon and expand?

By lassoing lost moments, tweezering them in to my tightly stitched scheduling, I found that I was providing myself with something truly extraordinary. I was making these stolen moments not scheduled work but as Rumi said, “spacious pastures of the spirit.” Over and over, even for a few brief moments I could melt into thought.

It’s a gift that each of us can so easily give ourselves. Just find things that you love to read. Find the spare moments to read them.

The words and thoughts will set your spirit soaring!

 

Thanks to the always interesting The Art of Manliness Blog for the idea. Definitely worth a look for any of you have haven’t found them yet. http://www.artofmanliness.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post #77: Shall We Play?

IMG_0003Shall we play?  Say each of the following words slowly, allowing the sounds to tumble over your tongue.  Each will then  slowly dissolve in  your mouth beginning with the sharp tang of a lemon drop, melting down into a mellow sweetness.

You can do it!

fizmer

zwer

snitter

tripple

clumst

apricity

mungle-bungle

whanged

tussock

gormless

nictictating

spicules

adamantine

sibilant

sensorium

asmother

glancous

Well really. Don’t you love the tingle of a tripple on your tongue?  Can you stretch and twist to mungle-bungle?   Grind your teeth to snitter? Hold yourself close to clumst?

Want to trade a glancous for a swer?  Cozy up to apricity? Twitch to nicictating?  You’re on!

Bundle them all into an warm afghan. Knit them into sentences.  Pick and pluck them from the branches of knowledge, take a tentative bite then have your mouth filled with the most extraordinary sweetness!

mumpsimus

nugacity

Canorous

superbious

argle-bargle

paludal

wowser

Each voluptuous word, softened by a dip into afternoon tea, is allowed to casually wend its way into casual conversation, flutter into debate, soar into rhetoric!

So I’ll slap down a fugacious! You whack out a razzia!  I’ll parry with a snollygoster!  You lunge with a wabbit!

My collection of words hangs on the clothesline for all to see and hear, to roll in the wind, buffet and snap in the breeze.  Sometimes a bit wrinkled. Occasionally starched.  But meant to be proudly used and cared for, never ever just simply hung out to dry.

I am the rucksacked etymological  lepidopterist in search of The Great Spangled Fritillary, The Grizzled Skipper, The Silver-Studded Blue.  A glutton who cannot bear to leave the never-ending banquet.  The sweet taste of zenith, the sour of cacoethes, the lingering finish of a paraph! 

I want them all. But like love itself each word is incomplete unless it is shared, lofted to the sky and smartly served across the tightly pulled net. Back and forth and back and forth.   Oh the joy of a great volley!

These sought after gems are cared for and remembered by me,  jotted down on little index cards. Shuffle them, read them, consider them again and again.  Sometimes flipped into the air in a raucous game of 52 pick up.

They flit and float through my mind, they sing in my ear. Sometimes they even flow through my pen and make my fingers dance on the keyboard.

The most beautiful sounds are not a whisper, not a murmer, not a shout not a cry.  But a conversation peppered and pinged full of rhythmic and rollicking and simply exquisite words.

Talk and write and listen.

Post #76: Nothing Wasted

IMG_1409And so with the first glint of  sunlight I tip far forward, spilling out of the house, splashing on to the lawn.

I am splayed frishprayt like a squished sowbug, and as I lay in the grass my insides become  warmed as a lava cake, my fingers and toes crisping in the heat.   Then a quick spatula flip and I am flattened  on the taut top of my hammock, gently rolling back and forth,  lulled into the rhythms, dulled by the heat.

And then, I think of nothing, nothing at all.

I’ve spoken often of how hard all of us work.  How many demands—emotional, social, societal— are placed on each of us. Does anyone else have this awful sense of running in place? Or of being part of a race one doesn’t have a chance of winning? Or sometimes, of not even knowing what the race itself is about? 

For my whole life I’ve dreamed of having a mind that would leap and stretch with ideas but found myself mired in the day to day slog that would leave me spent and despairing. I was wasting my time, my life. I was sure of it.

It was my mother who told me years ago that nothing anyone ever does, no time is ever wasted.

She was right. 

One of the great joys of these writings over the past three years has been these ideas that keep percolating through my head.  They’ve percolated simply because I’ve given myself the opportunity to lay back in a hammock (or a lounge chair, or a bed or the floor if I have to) and simply relax, at least once every other week.  And think of nothing.  Because in thinking of nothing. all the experiences of a lifetime have found a way to surface.  Nothing wasted. I’ve grabbed them. I’ve embraced them.

None of us are on the same time schedule for creativity it seems.  And perhaps it is so, the best ideas come from rest, when one is thinking even when one doesn’t realize it.

So snatch those moments of respite!  A moment or two of calm.  Only then can we take a true measure of the world around us.

This post is dedicated with love and thanks to one of the most remarkable and creative women I’ve ever known, my mother,  Joyce Chudler Adelman.