Thursday, May 12, 2022

Kindness


            Much has been written about the need for kindness, especially in the small encounters that make up our daily lives. You know – a sincere thank you to the person helping you in a store or on the phone, a generous tip at a restaurant, help opening a package or offering directions for someone who appears lost, or listening sympathetically to someone’s tale of woe. But sometimes these acts of kindness take on surprising forms.

 

            Some examples:

 

During the American Civil War, snipers in the woods would sometimes come upon enemies who were taking a dump. The usual practice, as an act of kindness, was to wait until the enemy was done and had his pants pulled up before shooting him.

 

In a similar vein, I read that members of the Mafia, when executing a hit on rivals, would kill their target with shots to the heart rather than the head. This was done out of kindness, so the victim could have an open casket funeral.

 

Kindness can work in more than one way. If a gentleman opens a car door for a lady, that is an act of kindness that shows old fashioned respect. It also gives the gentleman a chance to let out one last fart before getting in the car – an act of kindness, surely.

 

When I was teaching at Exeter, I was assigned to be in the receiving line at the prom. What this meant is that the guys would introduce their dates to me on the way in – a holdover from some archaic practice – and then shake my hand. These guys were smooth and a bit cocky, so I did an act of kindness for a few of them, whispering to each that his fly was open. Each one checked with awkward embarrassment. This was a kind thing for me to do, even though I was lying to these preppy guys, because nobody should go through life being that cocky.

 

Henry VII was unhappy with his latest wife, Anne Boleyn, because she was unable to produce the son and heir that Henry wanted. He decided she had to be executed, and he concocted accusations of numerous affairs, incest with her brother, high treason, and witchcraft. In an act of kindness, however, he ordered that she be beheaded with a sword rather than a common axe. It is unclear how important this kindness was to her.

 

            The uptight among you might not see these examples as kindness, and you are probably right. The word “kind” is derived from an Old English word meaning “kin.” So being kind to someone means to treat them like kinfolk, like family. (This is assuming that family members treat each other with kindness, a problematic assumption to be sure.) We are all part of the human family, even those obnoxious idiots who disagree with me politically. So, execute them with a sword, not a common axe, and do it when they don’t have their pants down in the woods.

 

 

  

Thursday, May 5, 2022

April/May

 

            April up here in Northern Michigan means the lake finally thaws, but it’s still snowing as May approaches, and the water in the birdbath has frozen solid. But then on a warm day when the temperature cracks 40 we are out in the yard gathering leaves into brown bags and whipping them into mulch to spread in the garden and under trees and bushes. We don’t deal with dead leaves in late fall because some butterflies overwinter as adults in the leaves. We sometimes see them flying on a warmish winter day.

 

Mourning Cloak



Compton Tortoise Shell

            Yard work is good for the soul. We feel fatigue in our back and legs – lots of bending to coax dead leaves out from under bushes, raking leaves piled against our neighbor’s fence, bending to load them into bags, and bending again to load them into the leaf whipper, lugging chopped leaves to garden areas, bending to distribute them. I’m not fully trusted to distribute them properly, but there is still plenty of grunt work for me to do. I do have a cardio rowing machine in the basement, but apparently having it in the basement is not, in itself, a good workout. I may have a body/soul issue here, but I experience yard work as good for the soul.

 

            Kim says that one of the happiest things in her life is seeing rue-anemone that she planted now emerging as white and pink flowers reaching bravely through a bed of leaves – a triumph of faith. Or perhaps trout lilies, relocated from where we found them in the woods, triumphantly modulating into green, then springing yellow flowers. We are also thrilled by surprises – plants that appear and we have no idea what they are (yet) or where they came from.


Sharp Lobed Hepatica


Spring Beauty



Trout Lily


Kim is currently working on a moss garden.


        And the birds are returning as well. We’ve had gold finches, chickadees, nuthatches and woodpeckers all winter, along with grackles, crows and ravens, but now our mallards and mergansers are back, along with some sparrows, kinglets and redpolls, and we put up the hummingbird feeders for the early birds. We are looking forward to the loons.


Pine Warbler



Common Redpoll


            There is simply something hopeful about Spring. As we get older we have a linear sense of time, moving in one direction toward an inevitable destination. We know it, and we can feel it. But with the return of warm weather and the re-emergence of flowers, buds and leaves, and butterflies and birds, we see ourselves in cyclical time, renewing, much the way I experienced time as a teacher with the re-opening of school in September. We are circling – and not just circling the drain.

 

            The alert among you may have noticed that it is now May, not April, and the elation continues. We like winter well enough, but up here it’s about a month or two too long. April can be cruel, which is one reason why we appreciate May so much.

 

            “Why are you beating your head against the wall?”

 

            “Because it feels so good when I stop.”

 

            Meanwhile, we spent an hour or so on Sunday watching Reilly, our granddaughter, graduate from the University of Florida. This was a thrill, and it was exciting seeing all those bright young faces on my laptop, marching in from the left, smiling and doing the Gator chop or maybe a little dance, before marching off to the right to continue our renewal.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Truth

            I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of truth, especially since the lies about the results of our 2020 Presidential election and, more recently, Russian propaganda about its war. It’s easy to see “truth” as simply opposed to lies or mistakes, but is it really so simple?

            I’ve heard, mainly on television, people who are praised for “telling my truth.” What, exactly, does that mean? Is it telling the truth about your personal experience, or is it telling about a version of reality that conforms to your viewpoint, whatever its source, however biased? If it simply means, “Here’s how it looks to me,” it’s not really a “truth,” is it? No matter how fervently you believe it.

 

            I’m reminded of a scene in the movie Something’s Gotta Give, where the Jack Nicholson character says to the Diane Keaton character, “I have never lied to you, I have always told you some version of the truth.” She is outraged, even going so far as to write and produce a Broadway play entitled “Some Version of the Truth,” ridiculing the Nicholson character. But wait (as the late-night tv ads say). Since telling the truth involves language, and words are often slippery, isn’t “some version of the truth” the best we can hope for? A few exceptions come to mind, e.g. a sentence such as “2 + 2 = 4.” Does science lead us to the truth? Maybe “toward the truth is more accurate,” as scientific knowledge is constantly and admittedly in a process of revision, as the histories of Newtonian / Quantum physics, or Covid-19 guidelines, suggest. Think of attorneys arguing about a set of facts, each presenting “some version of the truth.”

 

            When I taught Humanities, I told my students that the Ancient Greeks invented the concept of truth, attainable through observation (science) or logic (geometry and philosophy). I’m not sure how true that is, but I think it’s a version of the truth. Before that we had superstition, mythology (I also argued that the myths are true – like an arrow aimed true, they hit the mark), and we may even have had people who made claims with no basis in reality, even after the votes have been counted. Supposedly, “truth” has some sort of correspondence to “reality,” whatever that word means. The problem, again, is that truths exist as language formulations, words mean different things to different people, and words come to light through the filter of fallible human beings who use the words.

 

            And then there is “true love.” It has to mean more than the lovers involved are sexually faithful to one another, and that they are not lying to each other, or to themselves. Or not being just a little off from true love, the way that “true north” is not quite the same as magnetic north. Google the term “true love” and you find a nice list of sweet characteristics, blah blah blah, but what does all that have to do with “true”? One dictionary clarified “true” in truelove as meaning “properly so called,” which does not clarify much, does it? “True love” is not “just friends” or “secret enemies.” I like the image of an arrow’s flying true, which means without deviation to its mark, suggesting Cupid’s arrow, though that is mythology, not truth. The term “true love” suggests to me that there are many kinds of love that are, indeed, love, but they fall short of “true love” the way that fact often falls short of fiction. And if you make it into one word, “truelove,” that takes it into Fantasyland where one’s truelove is a character, not a person.

 

            Speaking of fact and fiction, I just learned that Trump’s social media venture is called “Truth Social.” Makes one wonder about his definition of “truth.”

 

            In a college philosophy course, I learned that “knowledge” can be understood as “justified true belief.” We spent some time clarifying what counts as “justified,” usually something involving physical evidence, but I’d like to slip away from “justified” over to the problematic word, “true.” If you have a belief and can say what it is, you have formulated it as a string of words, which is supposed to be somehow equivalent to whatever it is you feel is your belief. Is a belief stated in German the same as it is when translated into Spanish or Latin? Language, I repeat, is slippery business.

 

            Then there’s always the promise to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Any problems with that?

 

 

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Updates


            Many of you are no doubt wondering how events in my previous blog posts have played out. Here are some updates:

 

Fox Trot – The fox that I wrote about several weeks ago is still here. We witnessed it in a heated battle with a large raccoon, ending in an escape for the raccoon. 


Looking a little wet after the struggle, he spotted us and trotted away.



The raccoon retreated onto thin ice, where he lay down and made a full recovery.


The fox has returned several times, once within feet of our window.

 

Ice – Spring is here, technically, though snow still falls. The lake ice is finally gone, but the melting was spectacular with Torch Lake colors.

 

 

Limping – continues, but improved. The physical therapist was not much help, so we tried an orthopedic surgeon. Cortisone injections are helping.

 

Some Favorite Movies – We’ve seen a couple of good ones since our post on the subject:

Dancing on the Edge – Struggles of a Black jazz band in 1920’s London. (Amazon)

The Switch – Cleverly written rom-com providing good comfort during troubled times. (Netflix)

Hala - Moving story of a Pakistani girl struggling to come of age in America (Apple TV+

 

Tips – One further tip: If you are old and watching a limited series, try to binge-watch it all. Otherwise, you will forget who the characters are and what happened with them in previous episodes.

 

Scammed – An expanded version of my blog post has been accepted for publication in The Ann Arbor Observer. It was painful to re-experience the events as I revised the piece, but publication will recover some of the money I lost.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Learning to Cook


            I have written before about my early adventures in cooking (http://www.dhstringer.com/2018/06/), and now Kim is teaching me how to cook even better. I can tell that I’m making some progress because it takes her a bit longer now to ask me to get out of the kitchen, that I’m in the way.

 

            I’m learning, primarily, by “helping” her. Here’s an example: She was heating something in a pan, and she asked me to watch it when she went to the bathroom. I did so. When she returned, she said, “It’s burning! Didn’t you see it?”

 

            “Yes, I did, because I was watching it just as you asked me to do.”

 

            I am now fairly proficient at grating cheese, and I can make carrot sticks and pour a bowl of cereal. I do fairly well with toast. I make waffles (from a mix, but still, I have to crack an egg). One of my specialties is reaching things on high kitchen shelves, and I can lift heavy iron pots out of the oven. I know how to reheat pizza.

 

            One of my specialties is liquids. I’m in charge of making coffee in the morning, pouring wine and/or water with dinner, and preparing cocktails (if we have them) (we usually do) in the evening.

 

            But my main focus is salads. I wondered what it is that makes a salad, a salad. My first thought was the presence of lettuce, which shows the range of my salad repertoire. Nope. All vegetables? Nope. Uncooked ingredients? Nope. A little research taught me that it’s the use of dressing that makes a something into a salad. But don’t you put dressing on a salad, which means it was a salad prior to being dressed? I spent time thinking about this stuff instead of figuring out how to make better salads.

 

            My first year of salad responsibility featured lettuce and tomatoes, and maybe an occasional cucumber. Period. Kim guided me to other ingredient options, involving nuts, cheeses, seeds, shredded carrots, beets, and (gasp) microgreens!

 

            One of the things I learned is to start thinking about it before 4:30 p.m. Some choices even need to be made in the grocery store. Lettuce needs to be washed – before serving the salad. Most salads need to be chilled rather than served at room temperature. I also learned that another reason to make the salad early so I won’t be fumbling around in Kim’s way when she is making our main course.

 

            Then there is the issue of which salad to make when. I’ve learned there is a concept called “go with,” which for me means that some salads don’t “go with” certain main courses. I am still struggling with this. One criterion I sometimes use is to make the salad soon if the ingredients are about to rot, and this sometimes takes priority over “go with.” Cucumber starting to feel soft? Red mold crawling up the bottom of the lettuce? Make the good parts into a salad.

 

            Salad dressings are a creative opportunity, especially there are plenty of bottles of the stuff in the door of the refrigerator. I do have one original dressing, named “David’s Dressing,” that Kim taught me how to make. Kim suggests that I taste the dressing to see if I need to add something – maybe a bit more sugar or dried mustard. So, I taste it, even though my taster does not work very well.

 

            My famous coleslaw has a similar history. Kim taught me how to slice the cabbage, and now she pretends that I alone am able to do it. I make the dressing she taught me to make, adjusting, of course, to taste. I do my coleslaw dressing with so much confidence that I don’t need to measure the ingredients (mayo, vinegar, sugar), mixing them by eye. I’m still learning how to fully dissolve the sugar into the mix.

 

            I have also learned that the appearance of the dish, or the presentation, is important. I have mastered this with Cheerios, rarely missing the bowl. But salads give you stuff to arrange artistically – you know, pieces of cucumber peeking out from under the lettuce, or cherry tomatoes in a circle. Smiley face?

 

            This week: Maurice Salad. The dressing has eight ingredients!

 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Limping


            I’ve noticed lately that a lot of people are limping. Kim is limping because of her injured knee, plus some not-yet-diagnosed damage to both knees. Barbara was limping when we met her, probably the result of an athletic injury to her ankle. Sheryl is limping because of slow and uncertain recovery from knee replacement. Rick limps because he needs knee surgery, and will be limping for the post-surgical drive from California to Michigan. (Does a car limp when the driver does?) Peter is limping because of serious surgery for a foot injury, and though I have not seen him limp, he says it will probably continue for a while. Alice may still be limping after her knee replacement. Our friend Marshall is limping following a couple of falls on the ice. And Jerry is limping from multiple back and hip problems, works hard to get around, but he does. Tiger Woods? That’s a lot of limping – and we don’t know all that many people.

 

            All of this, surprisingly, I find to be heartening. Yes, we are getting older, and limping is part of that scenario. But what is limping? It’s pushing ahead despite the injury, the illness, the pain, the inconvenience, the disability. There are admirable human qualities involved in limping – determination, to be sure, but also stubborn courage, and perhaps a kind of devotion as you work to complete the tasks to which you are committed. (I’m picturing here Kim’s limping up the stairs from her art room to fix my dinner.)

 

            Some of you limpers may object to the word “heartening,” and I don’t blame you. I am not now limping (though bone spurs and a torn hamstring), so it’s easier for me than for a limper. I don’t fully remember how hard it was being a limper. As Peter reports, “Until one is, it's impossible to understand the challenges the physically challenged face every day...even walking on sidewalks that look, but are not, hazard-free.” Watching other people handle their pain can be heartening, but perhaps it’s not so heartening for the person who is suffering.

 

            All of the above only relates to limping as we walk, but there are other limps we are prone to. Consider limping as we think. Can’t remember the name of your good friend? What movie you saw last night? What you were going to do when you got to your desk? Who you were supposed to telephone today? Where you put your to-do list? All of this halting and uneven thinking is a form of limping, and yet we soldier on the best we can. And good for us!

 

            And some of us, mainly men I suppose, are limping emotionally. I don’t mean limping because our feelings were hurt because our parents didn’t hug us when we were kids, or that our uncle hugged us in the wrong way, so we are emotionally scarred. A lot of men and women are limping through their challenging emotional lives with determination and resolve, much the way people with injured ankles limp over rough terrain.

 

            But there’s also a different (though perhaps related) kind of limping: While some people are very good at striding right ahead telling exactly how they feel and why, others (most men) get a dazed look when asked how they feel about this or that. Thus, the word “fine,” when used by a man in response to a question about our feelings, usually means, “I don’t understand the question.” We limp along, at best, encouraged by our partners to say how we really feel about X or Y, not just what we think is the “right” answer. Being asked to explain our real feelings, face to face, is like being asked to suddenly speak German. It’s a foreign language. And no, this is not very heartening to behold, but some of us are trying to limp ahead emotionally as well as others do on foot.

 

            There are those, of course, who use limping to their advantage. It can be a way to ask for help, or to be excused from your duties. Kim says she had an aunt who did this, but I don’t know anyone who uses limping as a self-serving strategy. Kim is actually the opposite of this: When she should be asking for help because of her injured knee and her multiple surgeries, combined with whatever else is troubling her joints, she refuses most of my offers, insisting that she does not want to be a quitter. Anyone who knows Kim . . .. 

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Some Favorite Movies

We’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, largely because of Covid precautions, but also because of the long gray winter, Kim’s persistent fatigue, my enjoyment in sharing a movie with Kim, and the abundance of good movies we’ve found with the multiple streaming services available. I omitted a few good ones (e.g., “King Richard,” “Something to Hide,” “Unbelievable,” and more) just out of laziness.

 Here are a few of our favorites. Some of them cost a few bucks, and some are through Amazon’s Masterpiece Theater subscription.

 

Series:

 

The Boarding School (Amazon) – A young woman, fleeing a scandal in Lisbon, takes on a teaching job at an elite boarding school in the early 1900s. The most interesting part is her role as a rebel who teaches the girls to think about what they really want rather than the roles assigned to them as women. There are several movies with this name. Don’t get the slasher flick.

 

The Time In Between (Amazon) – A young Spanish dressmaker in Morocco, Spain and Portugal during and after the Spanish Civil War is caught up in the drama of the war and her love life. It may be a bit of a soap opera, but the views of Morocco and the compelling story make it worth watching.

 

The Last Days of Ptolemy Gray (Apple TV+) – A mini-series starring Samuel L. Jackson as a 93-year-old man with dementia investigating a murder. We haven’t yet seen the whole series.

 

The Morning Show (Apple TV+) – Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell enliven a behind-the-scenes drama set in a Show that’s televised in the Morning. A revealing (to me) theme is sexual misconduct at the network.

 

As Time Goes By (Amazon) – A totally charming classic British sit-com starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer as a middle-aged couple dealing with family and, mainly, each other. We love the gentle sarcasm that flavors their love. You will, however, have to overlook the laugh-track.

 

Movies:

 

The Tender Bar (Amazon)– A boy growing up on Long Island seeks a father figure from an assortment of colorful characters at his uncle’s (Ben Affleck) bar. Good especially for those of us who are still seeking father figures.

 

Coda (Apple TV+) – Ruby, the only hearing person in her deaf family, faces a conflict when the needs of her family’s fishing business conflict with her love of music. Worth all the accolades.

 

The Power of the Dog (Netflix) – worth all the accolades – the acting, visuals, story. Fans of Yellowstone, which we loved, should see this as a possible flip-side.

 

Words and Pictures (Amazon) – An art teacher and an English teacher have a competition about the importance of words and pictures. Not a great movie, and the reviews were so-so, but Juliette Binoche was in it, and we enjoyed it.

 

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hulu) – Why had I never heard of this movie? One of my all-time favorites, it’s the story of six-year-old Hushpuppy growing up in a ramshackle bayou community in a world of floods and fantastic beasts. See it.

 

What Maisy Knew (Amazon) – n Another story of a six-year-old girl, this one caught in a custody battle between neglectful New Yorkers and their new partners. This is troubling, and it ends rather abruptly, but it makes a very interesting comparison with Beasts of the Southern Wild.

 

Swan Song (Apple TV+) – Fascinating movie set in the near future about a guy, ill and facing death, who is helped to create a duplicate of himself in order to spare his family. Very thought-provoking ethical and emotional choices are confronted.

 

The Sea of Trees (Amazon) – Matthew McConaughey in a film about a suicidal guy lost in a Japanese forest. The film was panned by critics as “dull,” “empty,” “maudlin,” “mindless,” and a film “for nobody.” Apparently, we were about the only ones that liked it.

 

The Best Offer (Amazon) – Psychological mystery-thriller starring Geoffrey Rush as an aging, wealthy director of a high-end art and antique auction house. Brilliantly written, filmed and acted.

 

Complete Unknown (Amazon) A psychological mystery about a woman who is successful in creating a series of different identities, a pattern that her former lover finds troubling. Kinda makes you think.

 

Same Kind of Different as Me (Amazon) – True story about two men from radically different backgrounds who develop a unique and moving bond. The acting and the truth of the story make it work.

 

Fantastic Fungi (Netflix) Amazing documentary about mushrooms and other fungi – amazing visually, and amazing of what these fungi can do. No, it does not just appeal to nature geeks.

 

Wakefield (Amazon) – Bryan Cranston as a successful but overwrought businessman who bails out from his life – almost – by hiding in and spying from a room above his garage. For a long time.

 

Four Days (Amazon) – A drug-abusing woman is released from rehab but needs to spend four sober days at home with her mother (Glenn Close). Makes me not want to be a drug addict.

 

Sometimes I think about what kind of character assessment one can draw from a list of recommended movies. But mostly I don’t think about that at all.

 

Suggestions welcome.