Winston goes to the library

The urge to rescue is sometimes irresistibly strong.  It was a bright December day, early. Winston and I walked to the end of Ogden Road, where it joins the parkway at a right angle, as do many of the side streets in the neighborhood. Across the two lanes, which were busy with morning rush-hour traffic, I saw a big dog, black, pushing its nose into leaves in the ribbon of soft grass and dirt between the sidewalk and road. The dog was so deliberate and calm, staying in place, that it took me a few moments to realize  it was alone. No leash, no owner.

I stood where I was, and I looked up the parkway and down. Winston seemed to look in unison with me, but really it was the motion of the passing cars that fascinated him.  I don’t know if he really looks.

“No, Jane,” I said to myself inside of my head. “You don’t have to save this dog.  Keep going.” I am aware of my desire to help even when it is pathological.  I can resist, I thought.

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“Well, what’s a reasonable thing I can do?” More internal dialog. I thought of calling Grace, at home in bed. “Bring me an extra leash,” I would say to her. “We have to save a dog today.” She’s like me and would get excited by such a mission. Still, I didn’t call. I mustered my self-restraint.

Down in front of the library, I saw a man looking up the parkway in our direction, shading his eyes.  I started walking then trotting in his direction.  “Sir!  Sir!”  I was waving my free arm. Winston on leash trotted beside me.  A big man in a blue tshirt (no coat!), with a full head of gray hair and black-rimmed glasses, he started walking toward me. We were the only people outside not in cars; we had to walk toward each other.

“Sir, is that your dog?” I kept yelling as I walked closer. He walked in my direction and didn’t answer. I was confused, not only by his lack of response but also by my own fervor to solve the unaccompanied dog problem. Why couldn’t I just walk away and go home? The dog had at least one other potential rescuer. It didn’t have to be me. Continue reading

Burn, burn, burn, and smolder

This is the fantasy, or at least one of them: to gather and destroy an archive of excessive notes, dead-end projects, and magazine clippings that I saved over a long period of time because I believed they would coalesce somehow into knowledge or inspiration. They failed to (not I failed to), so the whole collection, even though it is a collection only because I collected it, must be deleted so I can be relieved of the burden.

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Do you know this fantasy, this feeling?

Harold Bloom, in Anxiety of Influence (OUP, 1973), looks at a series of hierarchical relationships between male poets, and sees younger poets as sons seeking to master, surpass, and even overthrow the older, established male poet/father. To simplify: the younger poet must do more than supersede the older poet in order to make a space for his own creation; he’s gotta take him down.

I wonder if a person must dispose of part of her own past (unprovocative though that past may be) to make room for her own future work and even relationships, projects, and pleasures. The artifacts of the past can own us — no, obligate us.

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In the garage at my house there were two brown paper grocery bags and one box full of notebooks, files, and conference folders that I had packed up in June when part of the writing & rhetoric program at MIT moved from an administrative building about to be knocked down to make way for MIT.nano, a new nanotechnology research center. (See?) Instead of just sending these materials over to my new office, I set these aside to look at more closely and evaluate whether they had any present-day use. Finally, around Christmas, that holiday of acquisition, I examined them quickly, and as I did I tossed each piece into our backyard bonfire receptacle, wanting to get rid of them as quickly as possible, so that I wouldn’t have to read every word — whether mundane or profound — I had spent years writing, most of them in meetings (not, unfortunately, in the solitude of real writing, the kind that makes something). These were just records: of dates, obligations, lists of names, lists of grades, ideas, modifications, minor decisions, and bureaucratic dialogue. I also did not want to read again the handouts I had collected at conferences, or the articles I once taught in courses I will never teach again.

There were post-it notes here and there, the last layer placed on top of layers and layers of sediment. In one I asked myself, “Do I want any of this?” And in another I chided myself to “write back.”

I saved, but did not want, any of this. I did not write back. Continue reading

See Jane get ready for Christmas Day

I could write a post every day that featured some hand-written note or scrap I had produced. While I wish I could say that I’m one of those writers who carry around a lined pad and work on their latest thing in longhand, I’m not. But I love lists, notes to self, and notes to others.

A few days ago, I felt a bit panicky about Christmas. There were still gifts to buy and a menu to plan. All the details were in my head, as packed as the city swimming pool on a blistering day and I the lone lifeguard.

I wrote my gift list: items purchased and shopping to be done. This morning: the menu for Christmas Day (15 of us) and a grocery list for the go-getter, Jimmy Guterman. My breathing slowed as I wrote and categorized. All the swimmers started doing laps in lanes.

ListChristmas550I drew a little picture for the Canadian bacon; there’s a certain kind + brand I want, and I can see it in the store and package, but I can’t remember the name beyond the word “organic.” I hope the picture will help Jimmy see it.

Specificity in item, quantity, and place helps with order and therefore the feeling of calm and preparedness.

This is my way to organize the part of the world that has me in it. The impulse comes from and satisfies me, I know, but my drive for order might benefit others.

Well, actually in fact it does. Ho ho ho!

Meander: to move aimlessly

I worked at home today, and I really did. All morning the window in the kitchen, where my papers were spread out, was open, and I could hear the early grackles outside and the neighbor’s mower and little grandson. By mid-day, all of them seemed to be calling, Come out, come out, come out!

I put some money, keys, juice, phone, and, of course, my glucometer in an old backpack from my mother and sneakers on my feet, and I went. No exercise agenda, no time limit.

At the corner of Bellingham and Grove, I saw the iron cover for a town water or sewer pipe (it looks like a test tube stopper, about 8″ diameter) still popped off the pipe. It’s been like that for three weeks, and I have been thinking that one of the Bellingham people would notice and call. It seemed no one has. So I stood on the corner, searched for the Brookline DPW on my phone, and I called them. “We’ll report it,” said the lady who answered.

Past the cemetery entrance. I saw a Mercedes drive in and some town workers clustered around a dump truck. The cemetery is one of the nicest kept public spaces in our town.

Down Allandale, with the road quiet enough that I could hear my feet on the sidewalk and birds in the trees. I looked at the site where they are building three new houses where there used to be one old pink one. Next door, there is still an old house with newer garden steps and an old weathered garden elf whose feet are caught in concrete.

At the farm, I went in all the greenhouses, empty of annuals. One was filled with bamboo plants and another with trays of clover.

There were sparrows enjoying dust baths on the ground around a tractor. Some sparrows were even wriggling in the sand caught in the tractor’s big wheel treads. One sparrow wriggled in a puddle and didn’t fly away, like the others, when I walked closer.

Everywhere, boxes of gourds. In the shed behind the main store, where they dole out the weekly farm shares, there was a table laden with vases filled with sunflowers. A young woman, busty and with red-gold hair dressed in a black short-sleeve tee and knee-length black shorts, danced behind the table, in the style of Natalie Merchant, and showed off, I gathered, for the guys who work with her on the farm.

I wanted to take her picture, but I’m not a photographer and don’t know how to intrude like that. Later, I regretted not asking her. Inside the store, there were — amazingly — fresh strawberries and blueberries for sale. From Quebec, $8 each. The picture will have to do; the price was too dear.

Through the neighborhood and down to the West Roxbury Parkway and then the VFW Parkway. So many chipmunks, not afraid of cars whizzing by but afraid of me walking.

On a bench, I sat to eat the nuts I bought at Allandale and drink water. White spray-painted graffiti, one word: WRECK. On the edge of the bench, acorns, lichen, and a baby pinecone. Across the parkway, women with babies at the park, men playing basketball.

At CVS, a birthday card for Eli. On the sidewalk outside Bertucci’s, a woman with a face lift and in a denim jacket too young for her. This thought: your hands are still old.

Back up Independence. A leaf on the sidewalk like tiger stripes painted on. Just one leaf. Me, like a giant. The ruler of the sidewalk world.

A block later, a hole in a neighbor’s fence. Ah, a secret garden! I hoped. I looked in: only driveway and car. Disappointment.

As I walked, it seemed to me that everything in the world may be happening when I’m at work and not noticing. That birds wriggle in sand and pumpkins warm in the sun and the dwarf keeps guard and farm girls dance and houses get built and cemeteries are maintained — this is the action.

And usually I miss it.

– Circumstantial soup

I wasn’t intending to buy baby bok choy.  In fact, I had never bought the leafy green before.

But it caught my eye as I strolled the produce display, looking for a red pepper, in my recently re-arranged supermarket. I saw it and my brain leaped to the idea of “Soup!”

Attention-getting label on baby bok choy

Attention-getting label on baby bok choy

When I got home and unloaded the bags, I realized that some other shopper, or maybe even a produce clerk, had put back the bok choy and mistakenly turned the recipe-labeled side of the package so that it was facing the shoppers. On the other side, there is a small label on the big product window, as is normal for packaged greens.  I wouldn’t have bought it (or all the other soup ingredients, which I did), probably, if all I had seen was the usual view.

Perhaps words or information about the leaf persuaded me more than the leaf itself.

In any event, keep reading for my version of the recipe for the soup, which was easy and good. My variations are in purple. Continue reading

– Daily wonders

Some of Tuesday’s unconnected moments:

A woman, riding her bicycle and standing up on the pedals, was smiling and crying, too.

Only one wing, still attached to the body, of a monarch butterfly rested on the sidewalk.  Uncrushed, it seemed fresh and recently alive.  Where was the other wing?

There were figure skates on the floor in someone’s office.

The girl on the bus, waiting at the front for her stop, asked the very boyish bus driver if this was his regular route.  I could tell they liked each other.  After she got off, he looked at her out the closed door.  She walked away from the bus for a few feet and then looked back.

Afternoon coffee was delicious, and I remembered to drink it while it was still hot.

– Hesitation

I went out to do errands. I brought Jimmy’s Nikon (very sharp, with a telephoto lens), because there’s a store sign I pass all the time that’s awkward in a provocative way. I meant to take a picture of the words; I forgot.

I did, however, see something else amazing: a blue VW bug on fire. It was directly across from me at the intersection of Rt. 1 and the entrance to the Dedham Mall. I was stopped at the red light; the burning, smoking car was in my sight line; and I remembered I had a camera. Opportunity!

I paused. The camera remained momentarily on the seat beside me. I mulled over my situation, step by step. This is what went through my mind:

  1. There’s a burning car. I should take a picture of it. I, for once, have a camera with me.
  2. If I roll down the window, and lean out with the camera, the car might choose that instant — with my luck — to explode, and spray burning gasoline and shrapnel in my direction.
  3. I could get burned, badly.
  4. Could the spraying flames from the exploding VW ignite the fuel in my car? Could I blow up?
  5. How terrible that would be, to be either horribly injured or die, in the act of taking a completely unnecessary picture of a stunning event.
  6. Perhaps I should turn into the parking lot and consider my options.

The light changed. And I turned into the parking lot. Then I took, with me sitting in the open window of the car to get some height and the lens zoomed to the max, this picture:

VW Fire, Rt. 1, June 12, from Uno\'s parking lot

The shot I missed was better: Herbie the Love Bug, looking me in the eye, with flames coming out of his rear end and smoke rising in billows over his roof. I guess I could never be a photo journalist (although I don’t recall ever having wanted to be one). I don’t act fast enough. Even a few seconds of hesitation, which is about what it took to go through that series of thoughts, adds up to a lost chance.

This tendency could explain my not being good at fast-moving multi-player sports.

This habit of pausing to gather my thoughts, however, which drives my kids nuts, could also account for my being pretty helpful in emergencies, as I think Julie, for example, could attest. If you’re with me, and you have a wound that’s dripping blood, I’m not leaping to the mental conclusion that you’re about to bleed out and die. I’m wondering where, exactly, did I stash the car’s first aid kit, and where on your body should I place some gentle pressure to get that blood to stop, and what should I say to you so you won’t worry.

– (Mis)reading

Glancing at the CNN headlines this morning, I saw one — “Clinton Crushes Obama” — and experienced this instant, non-processed thought: Oh, what a turn of events! Hillary is falling for Barack’s charm, too.

Perhaps I have been spending too much time in the company of teens and pre-teens, and reading their magazines and FB wall posts, a world in which everyone is crushing (on) someone. A couple of weeks ago, too, some tutor colleagues and I were talking about the phenomenon of the ephemeral tutoring crush, which seems to flare and die in an hour.

Well, at least my impulsive mind finds a sentimental, rather than a violent, meaning for the verb “crush.”

P.S. Go, Hillary!

– Desperate measures

Hand, tablet, waterThis week Eli was sick with a cold. On Thursday, one of my tutors apologized for bringing her sickness to work. On Friday, one of my colleagues brought along her obviously sick child to a staff meeting.

Such occurrences don’t bother me. I figure that my persistent exposure to germs are an occupational hazard of both parenting and teaching. I don’t use hand sanitizer. I abide by the five-second rule and sometimes eat things that have fallen on the floor. I do not fear touching doorknobs. I’ll drink out of another person’s water glass, if offered. You can drink out of mine, if you like.

This morning I woke with a cough, a deep chest one. Right now I have two part-time jobs that together add up to more than one, and fatigue is my new tag-along. My guard is down. The palace has been invaded.

It might be too late, but I’ll try anything. Eli and my mother are recommending AirBorne, a packet of so-called immunity boosters in a fizzing tablet. Normally I eschew such remedies, preferring chemicals and a nap.

FizzzzzzzThis item has a homey list of ingredients, however, which sound as though they were grown in someone’s yard: lonicera, forsythia, ginger, schizonepeta (what’s this?), echinacea, and other herbal names. It looks and tastes like Alka-Seltzer. L’chaim, everybody.