Thursday, February 25, 2021

Doors


            Consider a door. When you walk through a door, you move from one reality to another. For example, you are outside on the front porch, reaching for a handle. Your face is cold, and your fingers, despite your gloves, are starting to get cold. You may be carrying something in – the mail, groceries, as bottle of wine. You are trying to remember if you left anything in the car, while at the same time you are anticipating the indoor warmth, a short to-do list when you get inside, including checking your phone for email and Sandy’s play at Words With Friends. You wonder what Kim is doing, if she’s taking photos on the porch, doing something in her art studio, or maybe laundry or fixing me food. You may anticipate a tail-wagging greeting from your dog, or perhaps from your wife. The anticipation is rich.

 

            Then the door swings open on its heavy hinges, and you are in, and it’s a different world. You put stuff down, remove your boots, hang up you coat, pick up whatever you put down, and move on into the new reality, which no doubt has surprises. The door has done its magic again.

 

            Sometimes, however, the door’s magic is too powerful. You open a door, or walk through a doorway, into a different room – something as simple as that – and you forget why you went into that room. You may be distracted by something you see there – something fascinating just outside the window, or something that needs to be rinsed off or put away – and you just forget. Or maybe you aren’t distracted at all. Maybe opening a door just reboots part of your brain, and as sometimes happens, the reboot doesn’t quite work, and that beach ball is spinning somewhere in your skull.

 

            It doesn’t even have to be a door going from outdoors to indoors, or room to room. Sometimes you open the refrigerator door and stand there staring at the harsh light, trying to remember what, exactly, you wanted to get out of the refrigerator. And what is your refrigerator thinking as it looks out at you? Or when you open the door to your closet to confront your clothing choices, portions of your brain light up (or, if you are like me, go dark). Or maybe you confront the dust bunnies that seem to hide there.

 

            There’s one side, and there’s the other side. Many of us use, consciously or not, transition rituals. It might be, like Mr. Rogers, changing your shoes when you come through the door into your living room. My dad would come through the door, take off his necktie and have a cocktail. One side of the doorway, then the other side. Picture different sections of your brain lighting up as you move through a doorway, whether there’s an actual door there or not.

 

            The physical door itself is another matter. It’s a barrier, of course, which makes entering through a door more dramatic than through a doorless doorway. Even though your door probably has hinges, it’s still a physical barrier you overcome. It may be decorative or architecturally interesting, but it’s still, mainly, just a door.

 

            And then there’s the doorlike lid on your laptop. Open it, and see what’s going on in your brain and how that feels . . ..

 

            A professor teaching Freshman Composition entered his classroom through a window and asked his class to write about whether he came in through a door or a window.

 

            Now, consider a window . . ..

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Now, This


          After the impeachment “trial,” and turning briefly away from the ice and snowstorms, the mounting pandemic numbers and the threatening viral variants, and news of ongoing warfare around the world, and accelerating climate change – then, from the solitude of our Northern Michigan home, we turn to this:

Winter Morning


Rare Glimpse of Sun


White-breasted Nuthatch


Tennis Ball? No, a Golden-crowned Kinglet


Downy Woodpecker (female)

Downy Woodpecker (male)


Pileated Woodpecker, Showing Off

Size Comparison



Pileated Woodpecker in Snow


Rusty, Our Pet Deer


Gray Squirrel, Black Morph

Red-breasted Nuthatch


Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper


Still Life


Looking to steal some birdseed


"Hey, Big Guy - how about some more seeds?"

Tufted Titmouse Agreeing with Blue Jay


Cloud Bank

Memory Bank

        

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Vaccine

           

            Most of America, it seems, is waiting for a Covid19 vaccination. Some of the far-too-many pandemic-watch sites I follow give details of the lengths to which people are going, often unsuccessfully, to get an appointment. Or, in some cases, a shot without an appointment or an appointment without a shot. Or maybe a phone call to someone who tells you there are no appointments available.


            Kim and I were waiting in two lines. A couple of months ago, after sniffing around the internet, I found a site where we could “pre-register” at the Northwest Michigan Health Department. I typed in our information, and then called the phone number, got through right away, and duplicated the pre-registration in case I had screwed up what I did online. After a couple of weeks went by, our friend Alice told us that Munson Healthcare in Traverse City was giving out vaccinations to patients in their system. I phoned, got through after four or five attempts, and was told to check their website. I did so, and learned that they were giving vaccinations to those over the age of 86. A week later, the age was down to 83. A week later, 80. We figured we were next. Nope. The next update said there were no new appointments because of limited supplies. It sounded like we were in for months of semi-quarantine, easily done because most of our neighbors are gone and we have a new freezer.

 

            We tried a version of dumpster diving by going to one of the NW Health Clinics to see if they had any, you know, extra doses lying around going to waste. We managed to get into the building but could not find any people there. They may have been hiding.

 

            Two days after the Munson update, we received a phone call from Northwest Michigan Health. Could we make it to an appointment two days from now? I think I said yes before she finished asking the question.

 

            Our mood instantly shifted from stoic patience to something like euphoria – or as close to euphoria as we can get at our age and comfort level. The nearest I felt to that feeling was on January 20 – Inauguration Day. Or maybe eating Kim’s chocolate mousse – a Valentine’s tradition.

 

            Getting the vaccination itself, in the small town of Alden (population 125), was effortless, with a combination of healthcare workers, police, and volunteers funneling people from the parking lot to the check-in desks to the nurses who administered the shots. We thanked them profusely and then back to our car where we waited fifteen minutes.

 

            No side effects other than lingering euphoria. We signed up for a daily follow-up survey as to how we were doing. Kim’s was a bit difficult as she has chronic pain and fatigue, so at first she checked off “none” as she was measuring from her baseline daily condition. After a few days she figured some of her pain and fatigue were a bit worse, perhaps as a side effect of the vaccine. I remain annoyingly healthy.

 

            We are counting the days until our second shots. Actually, I am counting the days. Kim is too busy photographing birds in the snow, making my valentine, cooking my dinners, doing laundry, baking cookies, dusting, doing “spring cleaning” of the kitchen shelves, showing me (again) how to make a bed, and connecting with friends and family on the phone. I’m not convinced that her fatigue is related to the vaccination. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Words

            “What’s your favorite word?” Kim asked me that the other day. It’s the kind of thing Kim asks from time to time.

            I thought for a second or two and said “if.” And then, “What’s yours?”

 

            “Serendipity.”

 

            I love Kim’s word, largely because it’s how, most days, Kim manages to live her life. My favorite definition of serendipity is “Looking for a needle in a haystack and finding the farmer’s daughter.” But more than that, I believe that serendipity is something you bring to a situation, a way of seeing rather than what you find there. Kim can discover a cobweb worth photographing, or perhaps using when constructing a bird’s nest.

 

            “If” is one of my favorites because of the way it pivots the mind and spirit in a new direction. I suppose I thought of it because I recently read the Kipling poem that begins:

“If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . ..” But Kipling is presenting an if/then argument, concluding with “you’ll be a Man, my son!” (Note capitalization of “Man” and the explanation point.) My “if” is more open-ended – an invitation to imagine alternatives, to speculate, to get un-stuck. This is not to say that I get unstuck very often or readily. Kim has occasionally pointed out that I am fond of my routines, sometimes to the point of near-blindness (“near”?). But I still like the word. Maybe it’s need-based affection.

 

            Kim’s question led me to speculate on other favorite words.

 

            I remember as a camper in northern Vermont that our counselor, Jack Heath, would take us on four-day canoe trips on Lake Champlain. Jack, who taught English at Exeter, would take his “cough medicine” with him on the trip, and one night around the campfire his cough must have been especially troublesome. Soon he was explaining to us how perfect the curse words “shit” and “fuck” are because of the way you can lengthen the opening consonant sounds and then end the exclamations sharply with the “t” or “k.”        This may have been the moment in my life, at age 15, that I knew I wanted to be an English teacher like Jack. I don’t use these words very often, saving them for special occasions when struggling with computer issues, but my appreciation is deep – thank you, Jack.

 

            Another favorite word: “ceberration.” You may agree with my spell-check that this is not a word, but read on. Kim and I, along with our friend Sue, attended a week-long session at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. One evening we went to a poetry reading, held in a living room with a bunch of chairs brought in. The poet was a local woman, very dignified in that southern lady way, and her poems were good in a very traditional way. Many of them involved celebrations of this or that, usually observations of nature, but she pronounced the word as “ceberration.” The first time she said it, Kim and I exchanged puzzled glances. The second time, we saw the puzzled look in Sue’s face. The third time, we were grinning. The fourth time we had to stifle our laughter and could not look at each other. We had to leave the room before the reading ended so we wouldn’t further embarrass ourselves. But to this day, 30 years later, Kim and I still announce a “ceberration” to mark an achievement – planting a tree, photographing a new bird, seeing moonlight on the water, a good medical report. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank that poet. See how poetry can enrich our lives?


            Any favorite words you'd like to share?



From Kate Lindenmuth:

I so enjoyed this!  I have so many favorite words, but two that came to mind just now are "beguiled" and "ensconced".  I love beguiled because I love that enchanting feeling when I see something that my mind believes is too magical to be real, but it's clearly real.  I love the word ensconced because it conjures up an image of being completely comfortable and even loved exquisitely.  And Kim, one of my all time favorite words is serendipity!  Dave, I used "if" on my kids when they were growing up so much that they probably thought it was my favorite word: "You can watch Speed Racer IF you let your sister snuggle with you on the couch."  "I will make peanut butter cookies IF you tidy up the 'city of tents' in the living room."  

 

Thursday, January 28, 2021

More Movies

             We’ve been staying home for months now, except for medical appointments and early morning trips to the grocery store. We’ve been watching too much news on television, and we’ve been seeing a lot of movies. Here we will share with you some of our recent favorites, in the hopes that you will share some of yours with us. Most are on Netflix or Amazon Prime, and you can check them out in more detail.

 

Documentaries

 

Connected  We haven’t seen all of this popular science series yet, but we are fascinated by what we’ve seen so far, including segments on Poop, on the transatlantic Sahara dust cloud, and an amazing examination of a pattern of numbers that someone smarter than me will have to explain.

 

My Octopus Teacher  The title says it all. A beautiful film.

 

Kiss the Ground  Hope for the planet and a possible solution to global warming through preservation of soil.

 

 

Series

 

Hotel Adlon  A six-hour soap opera set in a real West German hotel in the first half of the 20th century. Maybe a bit schlocky, but it got us hooked.

 

Togetherness  We loved this series – the characters, the humor, the examination of relationships. You may need HBO to get it. If you are broke, watch it during the free week-long trial.

 

The Go-Between  Terrific British period piece about a smitten boy serving as a messenger between his aristocratic aunt and her lover, a farmer.

 

Manhunt: Deadly Games  Deals with what happened following the bombing of the Atlanta Olympics. Not the kind of series we generally like, but we got hooked by the acting, the characters, and the examination of FBI, media, and police procedures.

 

Succession  Thoroughly engrossing story of the family dynamics following the near-death of the head of a large media conglomerate. One description said it was a satire and a comedy, but we didn’t see it that way. Be ready for a lot of f-bombs. This may also be HBO only. There is a third season in the works. Readers in the business world – is this really what it’s like?

 

The Queen’s Gambit  A lot has been written about this very popular series, and the praise is deserved.

 

Alias Grace   Set in 19th century Canada, a psychiatrist weighs whether a murderess should be pardoned. The series is captivating because of historical detail and the complex relationships. Based on a Margaret Atwood novel.

 

 

Feature Films

 

Elizabeth is Missing  A very moving story of a woman with dementia searching for her missing friend.

 

Bombshell  The true-life story behind the exposure of sexual harassment and exploitation at Fox News. It almost makes me not like Fox News. The movie led to a good conversation with Kim about kinds of harassment she and her friends have experienced. Has this changed?

 

Herself  More on harassment of women: An abused wife leaves to build a house for herself and her kids.

 

The Greatest  Following the death of their teen-aged son, his pregnant girlfriend shows up at the home of the grieving and troubled family.

 

Mud  A coming-of-age story of two boys in rural Arkansas who meet a guy, Mud, living alone on an island, waiting for the love of his life to appear.

 

 

Feel Good

 

Storm Boy  We stumbled upon this heartwarming Australian film about a boy who befriends three pelicans. Sounds schmaltzy, but it got to us.

 

Greenfingers  Charming English film about a convicted murderer who develops a passion for gardening as part of an experimental program. 

 

News of the World  A traditional western in which an old guy (Tom Hanks) is escorting a young girl, stolen and raised by the Kiowa, back to her family. Worth the $20 it cost to stream – less than that restaurant dinner you can’t have.

 

 

Nope


Bridgerton  A big hit, we know, but after a few episodes we asked, “Who cares about these people?”

 

Rectify  A man’s release from prison after serving 20 years for rape and murder he did not commit. The movie is very well done, but after a few episodes we decided we did not need to experience the hostility of the small Georgia town and its sheriff.

 

Ozark  We almost got hooked on this very popular series, but again, we did not want to spend a lot of time feeling threatened by the drug dealers, kingpins, and locals.

 

 

            That’s it from us. Please send your suggestions, and I’ll post them.

                dstring@ix.netcom.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Waiting

             One of my favorite plays is Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in which two tramps kill time waiting for this obviously important figure to show up, possibly to give meaning and direction to their lives. At the end of each of the two acts, a boy arrives to tell them that Godot is not going to make it, but he might be there tomorrow. Each time the two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, say they are leaving, but they don’t.

 

            There has been a lot of critical discussion about the meaning of the play, and you will be pleased to know that I will not be joining that discussion.

 

            No, I just want to write about the experience of waiting.

 

            Now, in the middle of January, we are waiting for our first serious snowfall, with not much in the forecast. This is waiting with eager anticipation – the beauty, the mystery, the recreation of the world. But as I write this, it’s gray and drizzling.

 

            And we are waiting for the Inauguration, and the frightening events that might lead up to and overwhelm the Inauguration. This is waiting with feelings of hopeless dread, and a heavy sadness that somehow our country has come to this. Kim asked me to get the pepper spray out of the drawer and onto the top of our bedside table – just in case.

 

            And we are waiting for the first hundred days of the new administration. The challenges are overwhelming, but we feel that they will be addressed with compassion, decency and honor, in a spirit of collaboration toward common goals. This is hopeful waiting, but that hope is shadowed by realism about the difficulties ahead.

 

            And we are waiting for our vaccinations. As geezers we are somewhere near the front of the line, and we have successfully “pre-registered” with our county health department and are in contact with Munson Hospital in Traverse City, which has just reduced its age requirement from 86 to 82. So we are waiting for a phone call, text or email. We can be patient, as we probably won’t be emerging from our semi-quarantine in the near future, with or without the vaccination.

 

            And we are waiting for two coffee mugs we ordered from Germany to match ones we broke. It’s been about six weeks. I’ve learned that there’s this operation called “customs” that stuff from overseas has to go through, and that our coffee mugs are, apparently, not a priority. One advantage of being old is forgetfulness, so when they finally arrive it will be a surprise. Forgetfulness can be a good substitute for waiting.

 

            And, of course, we are waiting for the pandemic to be over, whatever “over” might mean. In just this one instance President Trump may have been mistaken – it may never be fully over. So, we are waiting with a combination of resignation and creativity as we create our own version of the new normal.

 

            What else does it feel like to wait? I heard a saying, I think it was Israeli: “I can be patient, but not for very long.” What I try not to do, not always successfully, is sit around paying full attention to the experience of waiting patiently, which reminds me a bit of the insomniac’s lying there waiting to go to sleep. Not a good place to be. Some folks can wait patiently for a long time. Not me.

 

            A better response – one that Kim demonstrates daily – to make yourself busy. Kim rarely experiences waiting because she is too busy cleaning the kitchen cabinets, or labeling her photographs on the computer, or finishing up the Christmas scrapbook, or doing laundry, or phoning a friend. She does not experience this as a mode of waiting. It’s just how she lives her life. And when she pauses to rest, she is not waiting – she is resting.

 

            Meanwhile, what are Beckett’s tramps waiting for? I doubt they know. Something.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

WTF?


            What do we do with what happened in Washington last Wednesday? Kim and I spent much of the day watching CNN, with an occasional flip over to Fox. We saw most of Trump’s speech. Then on Thursday we watched a lot of the comments made on those two networks, and we, like many Americans, wondered what would come next. And this while the pandemic was becoming more and more deadly, and the planet continues to warm.

 

            I imagine several possible ways to respond.

 

Analysis. Many of my classmates and the talking heads on CNN are doing this. How did this happen – “this” meaning the cultural divide that created a President Trump who spurred the coup attempt? As long as I can come up with an analysis, I don’t feel like the situation is totally out of my control.

 

Pangloss. Despite the virus and the riots, Voltaire’s philosopher was correct: This is the best of all possible worlds. Somehow. Maybe it’s nature’s way of dealing with overpopulation (I can say this because I’m near the front of the mortality line) and the best way to expose and drain the swamp in Washington – the bandage was just ripped off (to mix metaphors).

 

Denial. Didn’t really happen. CNN made it up for the ratings. Fake news.

 

Bargaining. Just make the rioting end, arrest the obvious thugs, and let the Trump go play golf. It makes a kind of sense to trade justice for peace. (Besides, New York is going to nail him in the near future anyway.)

 

Small Ball (A). Look at the birds. Get a jump on spring cleaning. Learn to make a new salad. Meditate. Stretch. Hug your partner. Pat your dog. Give a kind word to a stranger (from a safe distance). Don’t say more than one sentence about what’s going on in Washington. Stay home.

 

Small Ball (B). Imagine that you wrote to Joe Biden, or to your own Senator or Representative, asking, “What can I do now?” How might they respond? Do it. Maybe write to your representative in Washington.

 

Pray. I’m not sure that this would change an objective situation, but people say it helps them feel comfort as part of The Big Picture. Worth a try, even as an experiment. It may also help you feel part of a community of folks who are praying.

 

Acceptance. Sorry, but this does not feel very constructive. Someone asked Robert Frost if poets have more love than other people. His answer was that he loved what’s lovable and hates what’s hatable. Some things are not acceptable.

 

Television. Movies provide some escape, but it’s too easy to flip over to CNN to see what new ugliness is being discussed.

 

Shock. Stunned Bewilderment. Staying with this approach means you don’t actually have to do anything. The downside: You don’t actually do anything.

 

Alcohol. Yes, there’s always that. I know some people who enjoy a drink at the end of the day, just to help the WTF turn into something more mellow. I have difficulty disapproving of people who do this.

 

Photoshop. Create an edited version of reality, one that aligns with your needs.

 

Bonding by Phone. “Have you been watching CNN? Do you believe it? We’ve been watching all day. How did we get where we are? What do you think they should do? etc., etc.” As long as I’m talking with you I don’t feel so overwhelmingly alone.

 

Exercise. As long as I’m in top physical shape, I can get through this thing. And while I’m counting push-ups (or whatever), I’m not thinking about WTF is happening in the world.

 

Time Travel. Go back in time a few months, or a few years if you can. Work harder and smarter on the elections. Come up with better ways to communicate about the Coronavirus. And think what might have happened if Pfizer had announced its vaccine numbers two weeks before the election. Don’t worry if you do not have the ability to time travel, for there are future (and present) pandemics, as well as political and environmental crises, to apply what you might well have done in the recent past.

 

Humor. Too soon for humor.

 

            I wrote the above on January 7, so it’s been a week. Nothing has changed in terms of my response options. We watched impeachment coverage on CNN, and we don’t know what will happen in the weeks ahead, except probably some snow, and I’ll see my son Phee’s published e-book, and we will continue spring cleaning and alternating between streaming movies and CNN.