Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Flying Dream

Missed my post last Thursday because my computer died, and the new one would not open my blogger posting site. Problem finally solved, and I suspect nobody wants to hear about someone else’s computer struggles. Anyway – here’s my post: 

 

At breakfast Kim and I sometimes share our dreams, if we can remember them. Here’s one from a few years ago:

 

The Flying Dream

 

At breakfast you tell me your dream:

You are swimming in the ocean.

It is warm and calm. You move

effortlessly, like a ray.

 

the way I fly in my dreams

 

Soft water glides along

your skin in a caress.

You shimmer. Kelp touches

you like a lover’s fingers.

 

it’s becoming my dream

 

You have no need to breathe.

Amazing fish, coral, sponges,

anemone all welcome you.

The undersea joins you in dance.

 

like the music in my dreams

 

But when you surface you see

only water and sky. No waves

point the way to an invisible

shore. Nobody comes to

 

where am I?

 

your rescue. Nobody hears

the calls you don’t make. In

the giant ocean you find yourself

lost, alone, complete, serene.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Favorite Word

            Years ago, I used to watch Inside the Actors Studio, where James Lipton would interview famous actors. He was known for asking every actor the same ten questions:

·      What’s your favorite word?

·      What’s your least favorite word?

·      What turns you on?

·      What turns you off?

·      What sound or noise do you love?

·      What sound or noise do you hate?

·      What is your favorite curse word?

·      What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

·      What profession would you not like to do?

·      If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

 

            I confess that I have not made it past the first item, and even there, I have to use two words: “and yet . . ..” Why? you ask? I’m drawn to the words because they pivot my thinking in a way that is related to what I learned in college about critical thinking. When you think you have an answer, look a little deeper, or look from another perspective or angle, or maybe entertain a counter-argument. I just like doing the kind of thinking that “and yet” suggests, even though it might make me appear to be a bit indecisive, even wishy-washy.

 

            Kim, by the way, chose “serendipity” as her favorite word. She did not hesitate. It’s a perfect word for her. I believe that serendipity is more a matter of how you see and experience the world than it is the accidental circumstances you encounter in the world. And yet . . ..

 

            I cannot come up with a least favorite word. There are words, of course, for things that I don’t want to be called, but I don’t hold that against the words themselves. I like words. And yet, I’m sure I could come up with one or two. Maybe “meme” (and yet, when I finally looked up the definition, I rather liked it). Or “E-Z” (as in “E-Z open”). How about that troublesome word, “love?” There’s an old joke about The Three Great Lies:

·      “The check is in the mail.”

·      “The government will take care of that.”

·      “I love you.”

·      (I’ve added a fourth to the joke: “I have read these Terms and Conditions.”

 

“Love” is difficult to define, means different things to different people, etc., etc. I use the word daily, always with sincerity, and I’ve never lied about it. And yet . . ..

 

 

If you have the energy, send me your answers to any of James Lipton’s questions that engage you.

            dstring@ix.netcom.com

Thursday, August 26, 2021

What If?

            There’s a scene in Crime and Punishment when Raskolnikov is standing on a bridge, thinking of committing suicide, and a person near him on the bridge climbs over the railing and plunges to his death. Raskolnikov decides not to follow.

            I thought of this after our neighbor, Sandy, phoned at 3 a.m. to say that her husband, Rick, was terribly ill and that she had called 911 and would I come over to help. I did so, though I did not provide much help other than moral support. The emergency trucks were all there, lights flashing, and I watched the guys figuring out how to get Rick down the narrow spiral staircase to the waiting stretcher and ambulance. I offered to drive Sandy to the hospital in Traverse City and went home to awaken Kim, who made me some coffee and toast. Meanwhile, Sandy had persuaded the Emergency Guys to ride with them to the hospital, so Kim and I promised to look after their dog and then went back home and to bed.

 

            The next morning at breakfast Kim said, “You know, that could be us. Either one of us.” I knew exactly what she meant. Just as Raskolnikov could picture what his suicide death would be like, Kim and I got a glimpse into and all-too-possible future.

 

            That we are going to die, of course, should come as no surprise – though for many, it will. We have read about the death of classmates and colleagues along with famous people whose obituaries are published. We all know friends and family members who have died. But somehow, seeing Rick in the ambulance, with all the flashing lights, the big truck engines, the early hour, Sandy’s distress, the barking dog locked in a bedroom, our helplessness in the face of an uncertain near future – it all became more real. That could be me strapped to the stretcher, my eyes wide with confusion, instead of my dear friend, Rick.

 

            Kim and I have updated and restated our “What if . . .?” plans. And we have gone over some mundane stuff, e.g., If I’m run over by the propane truck tomorrow, what happens to the automatic electricity, cell phone and cable payments now automatically deducted from my VISA account? Stuff like that. As well as instructions about CPR, cremation, organ donation, etc. Having just read Atul Gawande’s excellent Being Mortal, I have some idea what to anticipate and discuss with Kim and our kids.

 

            Meanwhile: Got a cracked tooth repaired. Photographed birds at Boardman Lake. Downloaded photos. Enjoyed coffee and a cookie with Kim on the porch. Spoke with Rick, home from the hospital, where all his doctors agreed that they didn’t know what happened, but he is fine now. But I know what happened: flashing lights, stretcher, ambulance.



Note: A friend wrote about his own 'What If" conversation with his daughter. When asked if she had made any plans for after he died, "She said, "Don't worry Dad;  Elizabeth and I have already agreed on who the taxidermist will be. You will set on a platform with rollers and will be dragged from room to room as we keep you in the conversation."

 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Non-Apology Apology

            The non-apology apology is a way to say you’re sorry while making it clear that you don’t mean it. The simplest form is the obviously sarcastic “Sor-ry!” There are better examples.

            One is from a mediocre movie whose title I forget, where the husband, a pilot in the cockpit, is talking with his wife before he takes off. They have been arguing, and he finally says, “Look! I’m sorry for whatever the fuck you think I did.” I might not be getting the details or the quotation exactly right. Sor-ry! If you’ve read this far, you now know what a non-apology apology sounds like.

 

            My next example is from Gone with the Wind. Clark Gable as Rhett Butler is saying good-bye to Vivian Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara. Before walking away, he says, “I apologize for all my shortcomings.” The total lack of specifics is brilliant, as is the total lack of sorrow.

 

            The best example, of course, is from William Carlos Williams:

 

                   This Is Just To Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

 

and which

you were probably

saving

for breakfast

 

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

 

It’s clear that the speaker is not sorry that he ate those plums. He does apologize, and he is aware of the harm he inflicted, but the last three lines of the poem show where his priorities lie, evidenced in the musicality of “so sweet / and so cold.” He’s sorry, but not sorry.

 

            The poem resembles a briefly popular genre of poetry called “found poems” – where the poet discovers something written that is accidentally poetic and then presents it, with little or no alteration, as a poem. I found one once, but then I lost it.

 

            For twenty years I rode my bike to school, and one day, when I went to the bike rack for my ride home, my bike was gone, and in its place, I found a note. Regrettably, I did not save it. The thief apologized for taking my bike, said he really needed it to get to the University of Michigan campus, told me where I could find it there, and even suggested a better kind of lock I should use in the future. The note was an apology, but it was so much more. I felt grateful to be part of this theft of my bike – more of a loan, really. I’m really sorry that I lost that found poem.

 

            Some people think that majoring in English in college is a waste of time and money, but my education has allowed me to discover and appreciate the non-apology apology. To readers who feel like I’ve wasted your time with this: Sor-ry!

 

            

 

Thursday, August 12, 2021

A Good Day


            Thursday was a good day, because:

 

·      I found my kindle. I’d been searching for it, off and on, for a couple of days, muttering in frustration. I contorted myself to look under the seats of my car and came close to phoning my dentist in hopes that I’d left it there. I’d poked through the roughly two square yards of surface on my desk a dozen times, and ditto for the two desk drawers. The frustration was not because of my entirely replaceable kindle, but rather because losing stuff just might be a sign of mental deterioration. If so, then finding it means I’m fine, thank you. Where was it? Well, my primal guideline for finding lost stuff was pretty much on target: where you thought, but under something. It was on the small shelf under the footstool in front of my reading chair.

 

·      Kim found her ring, which was a gift from my mother via her estate. We’d been looking for weeks. I’d gone through all the couch crevasses, under the car seats (before I lost my kindle), inside the vacuum cleaner, under the bed. We figured she may have lost it gardening and searched her tool bag and gloves, and I tried to keep an eye open for it when doing yard work. Where did she find it? In her jewelry drawer – the real one, not the one burglars would look in – under something. Kim is organized and rarely loses things – except for her phone, and we know how to find it. This was a great relief, on many levels.

 

·      Kim, after hours of research, successfully identified a Bog Silver-bordered Fritillary she had photographed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We sent it to our friend, butterfly expert Jeffrey Belth, who confirmed Kim’s conclusion and, in a few welcome emails, added to our education. Kim felt validated.

 

·      My trip to the dermatologist had good results: The two new blotches on my face, one next to my melanoma scar, were not cancerous. I also learned that if I wanted to be seen soon, say the magic word “melanoma” – much like saying “chest pain” at the Emergency Room. So, I can slip back into denial for a while.

 

·      Kim’s headache went away, though after driving very bumpy dirt roads in search of butterflies, her sore surgically reconstructed back remained sore.

 

·      While we were in the city, Kim got her hearing aids adjusted so she did not feel like she was under water. This can improve the quality of your life.

 

·      We did a major grocery shopping. This was not really a pleasure, except for knowing that we don’t have to do it again for a while. We did find the cabernet that Genne’ introduced us to, and it cost $.50 less than we had been paying.

 

·      We picked up a pizza to eat for dinner, but after smelling it in the car all the way home, we ate it (not all of it) at 2:30 in the afternoon. It was a good meal, paired with some leftover salad but no wine. Some hours later, “dinner” was improvised.

 

·      Later that afternoon, while drinking iced coffee on the beach, we saw our neighbor Rick taking out his paddleboard, and he invited me to join him, which I did. I struggled (again) to stand, eventually deciding to kneel. It was a beautiful outing on the lake, capped off by good conversation over a beer made by another neighbor, Rob.

 

·      Kim and I talked about the good friends we are blessed to have in our life here. Yes, some will go away in September, but some will not, and our lives will continue to be enriched by these friendships, whether in person or not.

 

            When Kim and I went to bed, we briefly recounted the day’s successes. Kim said, “This calls for a celebration,” so we got up and fixed ourselves cocktails, which we enjoyed by candlelight.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Damn Cherry Pie


            A friend of ours recently told us she has invasive ductal carcinoma. She told Kim that she was going to go on a special diet. Kim advised her not to stress herself out with too strict a regimen. “If you want a piece of cherry pie,” she said, “then eat the damn cherry pie.” 

 

            Kim’s advice is derived, in part, from what her oncologist when she asked him if she should go on a special cancer diet. “No,” he told her. “We did not go to all this trouble so that you would not enjoy your life. Go out and enjoy it.” She has taken his advice. She has not spent the last 4+ years battling cancer – she has spent them enjoying her life. 

 

            “Eat the damn cherry pie,” of course, must be paired with another piece of advice: “But don’t do anything stupid.” 

 

            That, of course, is our human dilemma. Can you eat cherry pie without being stupid about it? We are, of course, all opposed to being stupid – with the possible exception of Weird Al Yankovic, whose classic “Dare to be Stupid” (check it out on YouTube) celebrates what most of us deplore. (I’m fighting the temptation here to comment on anti-vaxxers.) On the other hand, why not dare to be stupid? I know that many of us are reluctant to look stupid, but actually being stupid might be something altogether different. We admire those who “dare,” don’t we? Some of them, at least? Isn’t boldness a good thing?

 

            One way out of the dilemma is “Everything in Moderation”: Eat the damn pie, but only a small piece, and not very often. But I like Oscar Wilde’s take on the advice: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” In fact, when I googled “Everything in Moderation,” the first ten pieces listed were critical of the advice, which may reflect the dubious wisdom of moderation, or perhaps our human weakness. Nobody says, “Dare to be moderate.” I always feel bold when I eat the second piece of cherry pie that Kim offers me, reckless free spirit that I am. My bold action does not take into account possible collateral damage from pie-eating.

 

            Here’s a challenge: Sometimes at social gatherings I’ll ask, “What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done – not counting your first marriage?” And we go around the room, sharing stories, most of which combine youth and alcohol, mine involving a car. So far, no one has mentioned eating the damn cherry pie.

 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Ring Tones


            I just changed the ring tone on my iPhone. My old one, crickets, was modest, humble, and vaguely environmental. Its current slang meaning of “crickets” – the totally empty response to something you said or did (crickets being the background to silence), does not seem quite right for a communication device. My new ring tone is the call of a loon, eerie and haunting. It brings a smile to those who hear it on the rare occasions when I get a phone call. Why change ring tones? It may be an identity thing, where I’m trying to define myself as eerie and haunting rather than quietly boring.

 

            Kim’s ring tone is better. Both her text messages and phone calls are announced in the distinctive voice of Cookie Monster. I’m not sure what that has to do with her identity, as she is more a baker than an eater of cookies. We have incorporated the Cookie Monster’s “Yum-yum-yum” as our expression of enthusiastic appreciation for a lot of things in our life. Her ring tone brings a smile of recognition to the face of those who hear it.

 

            I think it’s tough to create an identity. Ring tones alone don’t do it very well. Tattoos might be another superficial approach, as the tattoos might get you assigned to a category, which is a lame version of an identity. Hair dyed an unnatural color? Maybe a shirt with a clever or provocative saying, or perhaps the name of a rock group with a vibe you want to appropriate. I recall a comment made by my teaching mentor, Jack Heath, when we saw a student with a jaunty retro hat: “If you don’t have much of a personality, you might try wearing a hat like that.”

 

            Identity is a slippery matter. Having an “identity” seems to narrow you down to one thing, one presentation, one “self,” one mask. And who wants to settle for that? Or maybe you have two identities, one of them secret – you know, you can be a mild-mannered reporter (or English teacher), while on Thursday nights you become a jazz drummer. So perhaps its better to have a closet-full of identities that you can wear, making changes daily or more frequently. Or is that the sign of a mental illness?

 

            My loon ring tone is so “not me” that it becomes a new kind of identity, one where I’m announcing who I’m not. And that, perhaps, is why it makes my almost non-existent listeners smile. I’m not eerie and haunting, am I? I have an ironic ring tone – my identity.

 

            So – what is your ring tone, what does it announce about you?