Category: LifeActs


Goosing Along

On the way to work the other day on a back country road. No other cars in sight when I spotted a Canadian Goose by the side of the road peering out from the bushes. I slowed down and he/she stepped briskly into the road. I stopped, put my blinkers on and watched in amusement and awe as the first goose was followed by about 20 others including both adults and babies. All perfectly in line, one after another, marching across the road. Every few babies there would be a protective adult making sure everything was safe and secure. I kept glancing into my mirrors to make sure we were all alone but no cars appeared on the horizon and the parade continued at a steady pace. Finally the last baby,still down-fuzzy and a bit unsteady on its feet, popped out between the bushes onto the road. It was immediately followed by the last adult, clearly urging it along, with wings outstretched. I waited until the road was clear of geese. Another car appeared in the distance and I turned off my blinkers and continued on my own journey. Once again struck by the remarkable parenting displayed by a creature seemingly so commonplace yet clearly so committed to shepherding its babies safely through a treacherous youth. The adults quite willing to get in between their young and my car, to protect their fragile charges.

Anthropomorphic thinking? Maybe. But to my eyes there is something more at play here. After all, geese commit to lifelong partnerships and are known to mourn the loss of a mate. So perhaps their commitment to their young, at least at this stage, is about much more than simply a biological need to protect their genetic legacy.

For the first time I went to the Devon Horse Show over the weekend. I had debated whether to take a camera or not. Having that lens between me and the world around me is a sometimes welcome, sometimes cumbersome barrier. It can distance me emotionally and remove me from being fully in the present. On the other hand I usually find myself scanning my environment for interesting shots and there are sometimes one of a kind photos I would love to capture. It is actually a pretty tough decision at times for me…more so when I am with someone. But I try to find a balance, careful to nurture my relationships with the attention and focus they deserve, and then, at other  times, sometimes alone, sometimes with another photog, feeding my need to take pictures.

However, in this instance, I finally decided at the last-minute to stuff my camera and 1 lens into my bag. I slung it over my shoulder, staggered a moment under the bulk and then piled into the car. It was a wise choice.

I love horses. I think they are just gorgeous creatures. Powerful, elegant and remarkably fragile, all at the same time.

I absolutely believe I have the best commute in the world. Each morning I drive through the most beautiful countryside liberally dotted with farms and stables. This is big time horse country and I have learned a lot about horse behavior in the months since I started this new job. I never knew they slept lying down for instance. It shocked me the first time I saw a couple of horses  down in their pastures — I was sure  I was looking at some horrific epidemic that was just wiping out horses right and left. I learned, of course, that they do indeed lie down to sleep at times.

I have noticed how interested they are in what’s happening in the world around them. When a postal worker  pulls up to the mailbox invariably I see horses gather along adjacent fencelines to watch. I have this mental image of one horse muttering to another, “She’s running a little late today.” The  other horse responding with a derisive snort, clearly unimpressed by the selection of a noisy, gas-guzzling mode of transportation.

One beautiful spring morning I was fortunate enough to see two horses at full gallop race each other across a field, night blankets snapping in the wind behind them like superhero capes. Absolutely breathtaking.

Back to the Devon Horse Show, where I wandered over to the warm up track and caught  horses and riders going over jumps.

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photo by amjwriter

Then, I was truly fortunate to see a special performance by 14-year-old Lizzy Traband. Born without a left hand and forearm, Lizzy has ridden for much of her young life. Atop her white pony Toby, Lizzy circled the main performance oval, flying over jumps, guiding her horse solely by artful balance. A colorful harness of red roses draped Toby’s neck but there was none of the more commonplace leather halter or harness. Riding a horse without a halter is akin t o driving a car without a steering wheel. Terrifying but freeing at the same time. It takes a lot of trust on both sides of the saddle.

All in all, an amazing performance that unexpectedly brought me to tears.

photos by amjwriter

There are magical times in life when horses, and humans, can defy gravity and truly fly. This was one of them.

My Inner Groucho

After a relatively healthy winter, I am now battling a cold. Grumpy, sniffling, I drift aimlessly from room to room. Unfocused, tired, I seem unable to get interested in anything. I pick up a book, read a few pages and put it down. I have two knitting projects underway and moving at a glacial rate. The thought of doing some knitting sends me ambling into the kitchen to stare into the open fridge.

English: Julius Henry "Groucho" Marx...

I make homemade chicken noodle soup, suck on zinc lozenges and consume gallons of hot tea. My Inner Groucho has surfaced and my voice is barely a croak.

Of course the next stage of a cold (for me at least) is worse — my Inner Elmer Fudd crowds out Groucho and I become a congested mouth-

Elmer Fudd

Image via Wikipedia

breather. My cognitive abilities slow to a  crawl and bed becomes my habitat of choice.

 

I grew up reading the poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. Whenever I am sick, I always think of his ‘Land of the Counterpane.’ Except now instead of a counterpane filled with stuffed animals, dolls and other beloved toys I am surrounded by the most grownup of toys — a phone, MP3 and laptop. Functional yes. Comforting no.

 

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TV Ads do the Timewarp

View of Knicks game at Madison Square GardenThe dogs and I were watching TV the other night and ended up on ESPN while looking for the Knicks game– so much fun now that Linn has arrived — but couldn’t find it so settled in to enjoy some major testosterone spectating. But first a commercial…and what a commercial. No it wasn’t one of those asinine GoDaddy ads that are such an enlightened delight during the Super Bowl. Rather it  looked like a schlock UHF TV spot from back in the 70s. Where did it come from?

Did a solar flare cause some wires to get crossed and I ended up in a TV wormhole?

I actually backed the TV programming up a few times to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. Well, that and the fact that I was laughing so hard the first time around I missed hearing every bit of the ad’s razor-sharp wit. Not since the ad for Shake Weight have I laughed like that at a commercial.

It was a spot for lifts, gel cushioned heel lifts to give you that essential extra inch or two or three. Not only was the ad sexist and biased but the whole thing was just jaw-droppingly stupid. The voice over guy talked statistics: about how it has been proven that taller people are liked more, get hired more often and make more money…uh huh. From the way he talked it sounded like he was suggesting that anyone at average height or below should just hang it up, find a nice ice floe and drift out to sea.

Floe ice (js)

Full disclosure here, I am on the short side, barely 5 foot 4. Okay, really I’m 5 foot .75 inches, but for pretty much my whole life I rounded that figure up. Hey, I wanted to be taller, I really did. At the doctor’s office a few weeks ago they used a digital device to measure my height and it came out to 5 foot 3. Ouch! I wanted a rematch but the nurse refused.

Anyway, back to the ad. At one point they had this guy, I’ll call him Chuck, illustrate the amazing power of a few extra inches…Chuck apparently wasn’t able to attract the girl of his dreams because of his alleged lacking in the stature department. The girl (alleged) stood aloof from him in the first scene. Now that could either be due to his height or the fact that she looked remarkably like a hooker and she was trolling  for a Saturday night date. Poor Chuck. He just didn’t measure up. Until he got these miracle-working heel lifts. Voila! Ohh boy, With his new height in his favor, the girl (or hooker) of his dreams quickly turned her sights on him, looking remarkably like a hungry cheetah eyeing some very slow-moving prey. Chuck did look happy there for a moment or two. And isn’t that what we all seek? To be happy for a moment or two. And if some gel cushioned heel lifts can do that, can change someone’s life around, who am I to begrudge that moment of happiness to anyone, even Chuck.

Ode to Old Seagrass

A friend dropped a pop quiz on me the other day. “What’s the oldest living thing on the planet?” she asked. First I guessed ‘Blue Whale,’ but that’s the biggest not the oldest. So then I went with ‘trees,’ (a bit generic) for my next guess. No to both. Amazingly the answer which you already know by reading my

headline for this blog post is seagrass. Specifically seagrass that grows on the sea floor between Spain and Cyprus. DNA tests indicate this section of

English: Floridian seagrass bed

Image via Wikipedia

seagrass could be thousands or even tens of thousands of years old. One 15 km swath of grass was estimated to be an amazing 200,000 years old. That’s a hell of a lot of candles. Also, it’s big time proof that a Mediterranean Diet really does promote longevity.

I have stood next to trees gnarled by time, hundreds of years old, gazing up into the branches and imagining what the tree had witnessed in its long life. Yet that is only a fraction of the life span of seagrass. If I impose my perspective on why the seagrass is so effective a survivor, I would probably point to its flexible nature, its ability to bend under pressure and then spring back unbroken. Strength without forcefulness. Sounds a bit like the Buddhist way.

Scientists on the other hand would suggest that the seagrass’ ability to reproduce asexually for as long as…well, I guess we are still finding out how long seagrasses can survive, is a fundamental factor in its longevity. I can’t imagine any man or woman choosing to go that route, even it was possible, no matter how enamored they are of the possibility of triple-digit birthdays.

The other aspect to this whole seagrass thing is that it received so little airplay. I didn’t see it at all on TV news. Nor did I read it in my daily paper. Though that is not a big surprise. With all its cost-cutting measures of the past decade, our once great city paper is now a shell of what it was. Many of the top writers have retired or gone on to teach at local universities. Printing costs have cut the paper’s size down tremendously, its dimensions seem to shrink almost weekly. Worse still it has been going through a series of owners, each of who come in with great fanfare, spewing promises that go unfulfilled. The paper’s focus has become narrower, global issues have been marginalized, long-form investigations relegated to the past. I grew up reading newspapers and for most of my life considered my breakfast incomplete without a newspaper propped up against the cereal box. That has changed dramatically now. Although I use the Internet to check on breaking news and sports scores, I also liked to read the paper for commentary and analysis. But primarily because of the changes I mentioned, with a outllook that seems to indicate the newsworthy world ends at the city limits, I have gotten away from reading the paper on a daily basis. All those years of dire predictions from the newspaper industry itself about its imminent demise seems to have come true. But is it the result of changing technology or a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you tell people for long enough that you are struggling, can’t compete and are  being outpaced by other technology, at what point does that negative thinking tip over into reality?

The New York Times is one of the few great city papers still pumping out worthwhile news coverage. I confess though that the quality and quantity of the cultural attractions in NYC are compelling enough to make me swoon. I definitely have Arts Envy.

Okay, I got way off track there…back to seagrass, the senior citizen of the sea.

Amazing to think while great civilizations rose and fell, wars raged and history was made, seagrass was a constant. Being able to adapt to change, learning how to bend, not break, with all that life throws at us are powerful qualities to nurture. Grace under pressure is an old standard but one that still resonates and is all the more needed in today’s stress-filled world.

This discovery should prompt a new birthday greeting…

May you live as long as seagrass and dance among the waves.

 

 

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Cover of "Psycho (Collector's Edition)"

Cover of Psycho (Collector's Edition)

English: High-speed photograph of a showerhead...
Image via Wikipedia

God, I hate this stuff. Clamshell packaging. Whoever came up with this concept should be stuffed in a human-size clamshell package with 15 minutes of air and  a pair of dull scissors. I just spent over a half-hour trying to break into a package containing a Waterpik shower head. That’s a half-hour of my life I will never get back.

Some companies have gotten smart and at least inserted a kind of trap door thingy to give you a head start. You find a tab or perforated section, grab hold, brace yourself  and pull. Of course it still takes all your strength, but hey, at least no heavy-duty knifeware or hacksaw is involved.

What is it about a shower head that is so fragile or valuable it needs to be protected like Fort Knox? Scissors barely make a dent, box cutters bounce off. Using a screwdriver to stab at it makes me feel like I’m reenacting the shower scene from ‘Psycho.’ Frustration mounts and I think about just returning the thing. But my old shower head developed a leak a few weeks ago. A crack in the stem allows a lazer-sharp stream of cold water to escape and hunt me down with pinpoint accuracy.

Off to Target for a replacement.

You know, it is not only trying to somehow hack your way into clamshell packaging, it is also about avoiding slashing yourself with the jagged edges of plastic. It’s amazingly sharp. Out of frustration I grab two edges of the package and try to just rip it apart. No go. What the hell is this thing sealed with? Does the military know about this stuff?

So I sit here defeated, tired out. The shower head, bright and shiny, winks evilly at me from behind its plastic shell. Very tempted to just boot it out into the snow, but I know that plastic has a half-life that far exceeds my own. I wouldn’t do that to the planet.

 

 

 

 

 

New Year Morning

Yesterday, the first day of 2012 dawned bright, clear and unusually warm. I really do prefer a little snow this time of year, if only to justify having a roaring fire at night to sit by. I was able to get out early for some photos. It was unexpectedly busy with lots of wildlife cruising around. Including this deer who looks like she is late for a meeting.

Then there is the rising dawn bathing a nearby hillside of trees with gorgeous golden light…

I heard geese honking and looking up saw one of the largest flocks on the wing I’ve seen in quite a while. They look like Snow Geese to me. The eastern light setting them aglow as they headed to a field or body of water somewhere.

Fascinating to watch how the flock ebbed and flowed, merging, splitting, but cohesive overall.

It was a great way to welcome in 2012, camera in hand, awestruck at the beauty around me and open to the possibilities of the coming year.

All the best of everything today and everyday…

Letting Go Sometime

Why is it so hard to say goodbye to our dreams? I’m talking about the dreams that just don’t fit anymore. You know, the ones you’ve carried close to your heart, protected, kept safe, day after day, year after year. (There are dreams I’ve held so close that they have never seen the light of day.)

Sometimes it’s been me who has consciously decided to let go of a dream. Sometimes they have just drifted off after a while, barely acknowledged, until one day I realize they haven’t been around for a while. Every once in a while, I do a kind of internal spring cleaning, holding my laundry list of dreams up to the light and seeing what condition they are in. Is this one too tight, is that one too threadbare, too fragile? Although I often live amidst clutter punctuated by piles of paper scattered about (aka my filing system), I don’t like it that way. So too, I want my dreams organized, cross-referenced, tidy. Of course that isn’t life. Life is messy, unpredictable, unknown.

External circumstances have decided the fate of some of my dreams. My PD diagnosis impacted some dreams.Though I am trying not to let the disease determine my journey, there are some realities that impact what I do now and how much time I have to do it.

And then of course there are the interpersonal dreams. This is what I am going through now. Letting go of that one particular dream, that one particular person. Boy, it’s tough and painful as hell. Yet I’ve gotten to this point through a pretty healthy process of grieving the breakup and letting go. Layer by layer, deeper and deeper, the acceptance has gained hold.

I don’t like it, but it just is.

Thanksgiving was hard, Christmas harder. Knowing (pretty much, anyway) that there would be no phone call.

It just sucks.

What’s also painful is the growing realization that this particular dream has changed…if I am honest with myself. It doesn’t fit anymore. Though it wasn’t my decision, I am slowly, resisting all the way, understanding that not only is this the reality, but it probably is a better reality for me, given all that has taken place. There is power in this new perception, but sadness too.

Ouch.

Writing that feels like yanking a band-aid off a cut. I’ve never been able to do that. I always ooch it off, slowly, very slowly. I guess that is how I recover from a broken heart too.

 

I am going through such a weird time lately. My creative juices are just flowing like crazy. Almost too much in fact. Kind of like when a big chunk of river ice breaks off and starts moving downstream. On the one hand it breaks through any logjam and gets things going again. On the other hand, well…if you are standing there on the riverbank watching, it has the potential to just run you right over.

It would be great if I could harness this energy and actually focus it in one or two directions. Instead, I am feeling like a whirling dervish at times. Sparking off creative energy right and left and in danger of squandering it through my lack of focus. All of a sudden I have tons of ideas in a range of areas, that I want to develop and see where I can take them.

Where the hell did this all come from? I was in hunkered-down mode after a painful breakup, licking my wounds and wishing for a cave to hibernate in for a while. Seems like I have emerged from that fugue state with renewed purpose and drive, taking me totally by surprise.

In the past when I was in a more structured work environment, aka actually drawing a regular paycheck,  I was aware that part of my creative process involved sorting through things in my head. Kind of like assembling a big mental jigsaw puzzle…moving pieces around, looking for patterns, finding the right flow. Although I often was able to sit at the computer, write and create at the same time, for the bigger conceptual projects I definitely needed to spend some time pacing and talking to myself. Colleagues would peer into my office and find me staring into space as I worked things out. Well to be honest, there were times when I was staring into space, and really only thinking about what I was going to have for lunch.

I believe that the mind-boggling technological advancements we have seen in the past 10 or 20 years offer a lot more opportunities to get a creative project out into the world. The gatekeepers have been nullified, at least a bit, and there is so much access now to different production tools. Just very recently I taped some footage at a nonprofit I volunteer at. I took that, taught myself how to edit using basic movie-making software on a home computer, dropped some music and text in and holy crap, I had created a :60 second promotional spot. I mean it’s not Fellini or Scorsese, but it’s not Looney Tunes either. (Actually I adored Looney Tunes cartoons growing up so I take that back.)

But you know what I mean. It’s a first step. A first step towards maybe being able to finally express all the stories I’ve had swirling around inside my head all of my life.

Imagine

Most mornings I wake up to the muted sound of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ filtering down from my housemate’s bedroom. It is such an iconic song, especially for my generation. Even after hearing it so frequently, I find myself thinking about the song’s message as I sleepwalk into the kitchen for my first cup of  tea of the day. For some reason, now lost to my faltering memory, I seem to recall taking issue with some of his words when I was younger. I can’t for the life of me recall what my reasoning was. I’ll just chalk it up to youth.

Actually, I think it was the idea of there being no heaven that struck a wrong note for me.

My grandfather died when I was 13. I was there in the hospital when he died and still remember hearing the words, “he’s gone.” In an instant my heart broke into pieces. I felt it. Pain beyond my understanding or experience. I did not think I would survive it. I almost didn’t.

The one faint hope I held onto to get through that horrible time was the idea of life after death — that I would see my grandfather (and others I have lost) once more. That he was truly gone for good was beyond my ability to process.

Is my belief in heaven an emotional crutch of some sort for me? Sure. I have no problem with identifying it as such. If I’m wrong and this is it, well, it’ll be a moot point by then. If I’m right…

I remember when a dog of mine that I loved very much had to be euthanized. She was 17 years old and in bad shape and I had probably delayed a little too long. But the day finally came when it felt like it was time. As I carried her into the vet’s office she turned to me and pressed her face against mine. For a moment we stayed like that, deeply connected. I have always felt that she knew what was happening and in that moment let me know it was okay. I held her as the drugs took effect and then like that her heart just stopped. One second it was beating, the next it was stilled.

It is a difficult concept to grasp that life exists one moment and then blinks out the next. That the sense, the unique quality, of a person or animal is there in all its complexity and then…it’s just gone. Where does it go, that individualized energy? Out into the universe? Transported to an afterlife existence beyond comprehension? The specifics seem to matter less as I grow older.

More and more I try to keep the focus on the moment, to live mindfully, to show up and be present in my own life. Although I was raised Catholic, I have questioned my faith for many years, moving towards a more inclusive, less judgemental mindset. I am intrigued by Buddhism. I don’t know much about its doctrine but I find great comfort in the practice of meditation.

Meanwhile, I continue to search, to question my beliefs, my assumptions, trying to find the answers that work for me.

I still believe in heaven and that my grandfather and my dog are there, sitting together in the sunshine.