Monday, May 23, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

On the Cusp

It always hits me like a gentle surprise – I’ll be taking a walk, early March, some icy patches on a road lined with gritty mounds that beg to be called something other than snow – when I hear them, those first birds of spring. Their singing stops me in my tracks.

I stare out my kitchen window, a cup of coffee in my hand, a bird making a trampoline of a tree branch. A robin who, like all robins, can simply do no wrong. A sound – rat-tat-tat – turns my attention from the red breast to the red head needling its way up the bark of a tree.

Two days ago there was frost on the car in the morning. Yesterday a light, steady rain that continued to wash away the snow. By late afternoon the rain gives way to sun. I go out on my deck, more birds by the day it seems, chirping and cooing, heard if not seen. A goose honks, a crow caws. Any night now I’ll open the door to the delightful, mystifying sound of peepers, the anticipation still no match for the way it creeps up on me, another gentle surprise.

Sometimes I think I live for music as much as I live for writing. Rock, classical, jazz , it all depends on my mood, where I am, who I’m with. I love making playlists for my iPod, burning them to CDs for friends. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Sometimes I think it’s my love of music that gets me going to the gym, raising my heart rate to some healthy purpose. I like the Elliptical cardio machines best, a motion that feels like gliding. If someone has left on the TV monitor, I turn it off, tune out the world of news and sports and cooking shows and whatever. To anyone glancing my way I'm just another workout junkie in leggings and a tee-shirt, plugged in to my Nano. No one knows I’m dancing.

Today the sun is shining, there’s an on-the-cusp of winter-spring chill in the air. I’m tempted to go to the gym, but after an especially cold, snowy winter that gave me even greater respect for bears, I opt for putting aside the headphones, going for walk, opening my ears to all the music I could want.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Sky at My Fingertips

My husband loves to watch TV; I like sitting with him in our downstairs den, one eye on whatever section of the Sunday New York Times I haven’t yet combed through, the other peeking at the screen from time to time. If the article I’m reading is just too compelling, I tune out what’s on TV, especially since, graced with DVR by my daughter, I no longer have commercial time to catch up on reading. More often than not, a loss is also a gain. It took some time, breaking down his resistance to encroaching technology, the I-don’t-need-it-mindset so easily seduced and transformed into how-did-we-ever-live-without it? Movies, taped any hour of the day or night, get my full attention, unless they’re going nowhere. That’s what ‘erase’ is for.

The other night, we’re watching a werewolf movie, not my first choice of a genre but this one has me curious, with Anthony Hopkins and Benicio del Toro, not to mention the charming Emily Blunt, as the stars. The wolfman here is a particularly vicious one, so I turn my head from the gore and mayhem following an attack. So happens that the moon, full and golden, peeks through the glass door, the real deal so much more alluring – infatuating, I might even say – than the onscreen imitation. “Look!” I say to my husband. He barely turns his head, too caught up in scripted action, though he does give a bit of a howl, a moment of synchronicity when reality becomes meshed with TV.

I leave him to his movie, lured now by the night sky. I’m stopped by the sight of a pair of shoes at the top of the stairs. Old habits die hard. The clogs are positioned for easy access, a strategic spot between front door and back, mostly for the purpose of going outside with the dog at night. The dog is now gone, and, with her, the need to go out on cold, snowy nights, a few too many this winter. Sometimes what feels like a gain – no more trudging through frozen snow, bearing up to the bitter cold while she did her best to get a scent – is also a loss. You have to look up at the night sky to know it exists. So I go outside, my need, not hers. The moon is shimmering, hiding as much as she reveals.

It’s the hidden things that call me now – stars shaping themselves into stories via constellations, planets with their ice and gas and mythologies – so I do what any self-respecting owner of an iPad with a fascination for the night sky would do: I download an application, Star Walk, almost as good as any telescope in bringing the sky up close, to my fingertips: Phoenix rising in the southern sky, Ursa Major to the north, Ophiucus to the west. Today the moon is in its waning gibbous phase, Venus rose at 4:29 a.m. and set at 2:03 p.m. The picture of the day is a true color image of Jupiter that zeroes in on impact sites of fragments 'D' and 'G' from Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9. For the moment it is enough for me to know there was comet named Shoemaker-Levy 9, nicknamed String of Pearls.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I write, therefore I knit

The day I released my dog from her suffering, I took up knitting again. My daughter had been wanting a scarf patterned with Griffyndor stripes since Harry Potter enchantment overtook her, and my decision to start knitting that day somehow felt life-affirming. I could not settle my thoughts enough to write about the grief, or even try to imagine the hold it would have on me. No point in that anyway. Grief demands that you be with it. The word itself carries a weight, made a little heavier by the weeks of ministration to an ailing creature. To try and push aside grief, 'get on with one's life,' misses the point. I could easily co-opt and modify words from a familiar song, Gospel in origin – so high you can't get over it / so wide you can't get around it – to give voice to my feelings. The only way is through. Be with it.

Which brings me to knitting. I remember learning to knit as an adolescent, something to occupy me as I sat with my family at night, watching TV. Or was it a fascination of sorts, something about a single strand of wool being shaped into a sweater or a scarf? Even the simplest pattern, no fancy cables stitches, can yield something beautiful. Even the most straightforward garter or seed stitch requires an attention to detail. There is a rhythm to knitting and purling, not a far cry from a meditative settling of the breath or the quieting of the mind needed when I sit down to write.

Is it a stretch to suggest that a story exists in a hand-made sweater? Or that the very act of knitting, steadying as it is, is akin to that state of receptivity when I leave my laptop behind, take a walk or a drive, always surprised, and delighted, at the way le mot juste will make itself manifest? Putting aside the pleasure I get from knitting, or my own suspicion that it serves as some physical manifestation of the same creative impulse that drives me to write, I find myself thinking about metaphor: the Fates weave; Madame Defarge knits; I pull out some stitches, too loose to my liking, redo them. Getting it right means seeing how the parts become the whole. Finishing it off means understanding that a hand-made scarf or hat, like a story or novel, can be less than perfect and still exquisitely cohesive.