Archive for July 2010

Lost Friend

July 23, 2010

A dear friend died today.  She was 58.  Like me, she was a Gemini, however, she was not “manicddaily”, but “steady-steady-daily”.  She was a wonderful person, invariably, profoundly, kind, while also persistently dogged, someone who saw things through; who sustained others through setbacks, who nurtured family and friends with a sweetness, and a sense of calm and security, even through terrible crises.

One of these was 9/11.  She lived right across the street from the World Trade Towers; she kept her family life and hopeful life and just plain daily life going through the torturous months of smoke and crowds and police lines, fear and sadness.

She was certainly her own person—her brand of kindness made many lifelong friends, maintained a devoted marriage—but she was also very strongly, markedly, a mother.  This made her youthful death especially difficult—it was terrible for her to leave her children;  terrible to cause them the pain of losing a mother.

But what could she do?  There are some things that mothers who could lift a car off their child’s legs simply aren’t strong enough to fight.   Still, I feel sure, I have to feel sure, that that strength and sweetness is still there somehow, somewhere close to home.

More Giotto – Fear of Mortality, Fear of Fear

July 22, 2010

More Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Detail of Lamentation

It’s hard to visit someone who is very ill.  An instinctive fear arises.  You know that the visit will engender pain–pain for the current loss, pain for past losses, pain for future losses.   The thought of pain alone brings fear; the confrontation of mortality holds additional terror.

There’s almost an animalistic fear that arises–a fear of participating in the pain that the ill person is suffering, a fear (almost) of empathy.

Then too, there are the unanimalistic, highly socialized, almost opposite, fears – a fear that you won’t feel pain, or enough pain; that you won’t react properly; that you are not close enough, that you just don’t belong.

I visited a very sick friend this evening and was a little shocked at the level of fear that overtook me on my way.  Part of what steeled me to go on was simply duty –  past promises to be supportive.  But what finally pushed me into the building was the understanding of how trivial my fears were compared to what my friend was going through; the understanding that I could only help her get through her illness and the fear of what seems sure to come next by rising above my own fear of those things.  Of course, my help would be minor in the greater context, but surely I could do that much.

All this was on the way.  When you are actually in the presence of a very sick friend or family member, the fear part of the equation largely subsides, at least the self-centered parts of those  fears.  That’s your friend there, still there, still your friend.  You are fearful then for their pain, not your own; and while it may be difficult to say things to them, their hearing uncertain, you feel as if you can think things; at least you do think things, your mind suddenly like a calming palm.  It doesn’t make sense, but still brings a kind of relief, even in sorrow.

Early Morning in Orlando Airport – Oh, the Glory of Modern Air Travel

July 21, 2010

Hang on Tight! (Fasten your Seatbelt?)

Oh, the glory of modern air travel.  I got up at 3:45 this morning (it looked like night) to make an early flight.  I always imagine an early flight to somehow be advantageous; I imagine that it will not be delayed because of problems somewhere else down the line; that I will theoretically be first.  Unfortunately, some airlines seem to do their maintenance in the early morning.  Or schedule crews that get in very late the night before.  (Airline regulations require crews to have a minimal sleep time.  This is not a regulation that I am complaining about –I just wish it applied to passengers.)

So now I am sitting here, hopeful of being bumped to an earlier later flight.

Bumped?  Hoping to jump onto, slip onto, hang onto, an earlier later flight.

No such luck.

One Reason I like Yoga Better Than Benchpressing

July 20, 2010

Trying Handstand in Middle of Floor

I have a hard time standing up straight.  This is not totally a function of age.  I remember the father of a good friend coming up behind me as a teenager and jabbing a knuckle into the middle of my spine.  I’m not sure if this was a sign of my closeness to this particular family, or his abhorrence of slouching. All I can say is that his own kids had excellent posture.

My current style of yoga, which manages to be both speedy and desultory at once, does not do that much to relieve the natural compression of my spine.    (Part of the problem is that standing up straight takes not just flexibility but strength and attention and speed yoga tends to sidestep these.)  That said, the one yoga posture that I find almost instantly makes me straighter, taller, perkier, is a handstand.  They are just wonderful – for the inside of the solar plexus as well as the out;  they seem to literally take a weight off of your chest; they illuminate the momentary lightness of being.

Unfortunately, I don’t do enough of them.  In my home yoga practice, they rely upon the shutting of a particular door—this requires moving my voluminous yoga mats, taking down the Robert Pattinson calendar which hangs about the place my feet reach, and then too, the Tibetan Thangka which some embarrassed family member has hung over the Robert Pattinson calendar.   This is a laborious operation, which does not fit into my daily speed yoga routine.

I could try some handstands in the middle of the floor or on another wall, but you’d be surprised (i) how intimidating it can be do to a handstand in the middle of the floor—when you are afraid of falling, it’s very hard to kick up; and (ii) how hard it is to find good wall and kicking space in the average New York City apartment.

So right now I’m in Florida.  By the beach.  At my parents’ house.  I tend to take a break from yoga practice at my parents’ – partly because I am pre-occupied and partly because I don’t like doing yoga indoors in airconditioning, or outside on a concrete patio.  The beach is also not great –too sunny, too uneven.

But today, my spine just couldn’t take it anymore.   I cartwheeled in the surf.  Then, despite the lack of wall, I kicked up into numerous sort-of handstands.  (A manic nature and extreme short-sightedness are very useful in these endeavors.  It ‘s kind of a variation on the possible silence of a tree falling in the deserted forest—if you can’t see the people looking at you, is that truly the sound of snickering? )

For a few brief moments, I could feel my solar plexus bloom like a flower on high-speed film, my spine correspondingly straighten.

I’m sure there are gym exercises that give this same feeling of upper back strength.  Push-ups?  Bench-presses?  But I am afraid that all I could bench press would be an empty iron pole, which would be kind of, you know, ignominious, while a handstand—a handstand—has a both inner and outer glory.  With or without a wall.   Or watchers.

Palin DeFicted as Shakespeare (In Watercolor!)

July 19, 2010

The Newbie Bard?

To refudiate or not to refudiate, that is the question.

Uh…what is the question?

(Unfortunately, no one who likes her will care.)

On a More Cheerful Note – Dog in Rocking Chair

July 18, 2010


Surface Soot in Kashmir – “Glacial” Doesn’t Mean Slow When It Comes To Warming

July 18, 2010
Kashmir (Sooty Glacier With Goat)

Kashmir - Sooty Glacier (With Goat)

Nicholas Kristoff writes in today’s New York Times about the decline of glaciers in the Himalayas, and the resulting damage to agriculture and waterways on the Indian plains.  One factor in the deterioration (aside from a general rise in temperatures) is apparently the soot on the surface of the glaciers, caused by the exhaust systems of trucks and buses traveling the roadways there.   Because the soot reduces the reflective quality of the snow and ice, it causes them to absorb more heat and melt more quickly.

Archival and new photographs illustrating Himalayan deterioration are currently on display at the Asia Society in New York, but I couldn’t resist adding my own photographic evidence.  The photo above (taken June 2009) shows a slice of soot-covered Himalayan glacier; a goat travels on top of the blackened-ice, whitish buses haunt the background.

The roads–the road in that area, which travels from Srinagar, through Kargil, to Ladakh, is only open from mid-May to October.  In these months, it is extremely crowded with both commercial (beautifully decorated) trucks transporting the year’s worth of supplies, and extensive army convoys.  (They move about the thousands of soldiers stationed in Kashmir.)

Drass, Kashmir, India

The glaciers are beautiful, but sadly grey.  As we began ascending the mountains (by car – no crampons), I thought the grey was a sign of the age of the ice (as in humans!) but closer viewing showed it to be the coating of ash and soot that Kristoff writes of.   (It actually reminded me of snow in New York City — say, near the Holland Tunnel.)

You don’t need to do extensive “backwater” explorations to see an effect on lowland rivers – below is a picture taken in India’s primary tourist city, Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal, showing the riverbed of the Yamuna (part of Indus river system fed by Himalayas.)    It’s my understanding that the “islands” used to be submerged.

Yamuna River, Agra

So many people rely on these waterways.  This is not just a problem of dry pipes or reduced pressure – people (often children or women) actively take livestock, laundry, and their individual selves to the riverbanks.

The reduced flow seems not only to mean lesser water but, increased muck – less dilution of the zillion and one pollutants that burden these poor waterways.

Where else can the people go?  They walk out further onto the caked silt of the old riverbed to get to the mirk of water that’s still there.

Kristoff hopes in the article that the BP spill will make Americans, and others, aware of the increasing degradation of the environment worldwide.   I, for one, think it’s doubtful, since Americans have difficulty recognizing the degradation of their home environment.   But many poorer countries – certainly not just India – which have hopped onto  a developmental train of manufacturing and consumption, have no environmental safeguards, enforcement, or even disposal systems, and  tragedy looms.  As nature is reduced, as true rivers and glaciers “melt down”,  mountains of undisintegrated plastic and pools of shinily suspicious liquids move in to fill (or deepen) the void.  (I couldn’t quite make myself take pictures of those.)

Yamuna River, Agra, India

Little Sleep, Little Function, Little Sloth

July 17, 2010

Sloth (Not Elephant)

My husband and I have an ongoing argument about a universal human sleep standard.  He insists that people–all people–need many many hours of sleep for even minimal efficiency;  I counter with the variable sleep needs of different people (citing myself among those who need little); I talk about the efficiency of having extra time to do things in (even if that extended time is burdened with some level of fatigue.)

Sometimes, however, I find that I really do not function all that well without sleep.  Some hints:

  1. At, folding freshly-cleaned clothes, I come across, in a laundry basket of towels and underwear, the only pair of glasses I own that do not hurt my eyes when working on the computer.  These are old glasses, whose frame has one stem that had been very loose. They are now old glasses, whose frame holds one stem that is not loose.  The lenses are currently very very clean, and shiny.
  2. It is approximately 2:15 a.m.  I am wearing glasses that only hook onto one ear.  I am considering downloading old drawings of donkeys to my computer, since everyone thinks I only draw elephants.  Yes, I know that you have to get up at 4:45 to catch a plane, and that I have not yet packed.  It feels somehow easier to think about donkeys.
  3. It is 2:30 a.m.  I’ll figure out the packing in the morning… that is, in…uh… two hours.  I begin to re-read an old Terry Pratchett novel about wizards whose heads are always up in the clouds, but who somehow manage to come out all right in the end.
  4. 6:30 a.m.  Somehow, despite the repeated last minute changes of clothes, and glasses, I have gotten to the airport.  Feeling extremely efficient, I take my computer out of my suitcase, rather than my little composition book,  and type the original first sentence of this blog as follows: “sometimes you are all too anxious that, in fact, you don’t function very well without sleep.”  I feel just amazingly efficient, though I also worry that the guy next to me is reading over my shoulder.  He, on the other hand, mumbles something about Kansas City while my flight is slated for Orlando.  Hmmm….
  5. After leaning some time on an Delta steward’s counter, I am too tired to be pleased that I’ve been bumped to first class, though I have to say this big wide seat is awfully niiiiii….zzzzz.
  6. Later in the day.  I keep trying to think of some animal to draw, something other than an elephant.  I really can’t come up with anything;  I just feel too tired, too slow, too lazy….
  7. And where did I pack those glasses?

The Only One Engineered To Handle New York City Subway Platform

July 16, 2010

Prepared for Mid-July Subway Platform

Stay cool!  And hydrated!  (If you are thirsty, breathe deeply–there’s more than enough moisture in the air.)

Have a nice weekend.

Acknowledging Sadness

July 15, 2010

I said goodbye to a dear friend this evening.  I very much hope to see her next week but life and health are uncertain, and it seemed best not to leave things unsaid.

It is always amazing to me how important it is to say things.  Granted, I’m a talker.  (Anyone who writes a daily blog probably has to be.)  But even a “talker” (maybe especially a “talker”) can have a great deal of difficulty saying important things.

I was raised by people, Scandinavians, who did not like to draw attention to emotional circumstances.  I’m not saying that they were cold—but when my father kisses my mother, it is a highlighted, discussed, moment (and never publicly on the lips.) My parents’ parents were the kind of people who blanched even at a reference to where a childbirth took place, and would take great pains to avoid discussion of the deemed uncomfortable.  So, for example, they never mentioned blindness to a sightless cousin, or prior spouses to a divorcé or widow, or anything that might occasion offense, even if it really wouldn’t.

But my parents, for all their inherited diffidence, were somehow able to get the important words out–I love you, I’m proud of you, I’m so sorry that this has happened.

I’ve rarely found those important things to be out of place.   When sadness is in the room—not just there—when sadness fills the room, I’ve rarely regretted acknowledging it, if I can make myself.   It can be extremely difficult to make one’s self—the painful is not just awkward in our culture—human nature would truly rather it wasn’t there.   We don’t want to hurt feelings; we don’t want to do something wrong.

I guess the thing to keep in mind is that in some circumstances, sadness is there no matter what you do, feelings are hurting; things are, in fact, wrong.  Better to take on the unrecoverable moment than to let it drape you in stone; the moment itself is not stone, not lasting.  The acknowledgement of the sadness certainly won’t take it away, but at least it can offer the balm of connection, shared tears, the clasped, dear, hand.