Entries in Deep Thoughts (45)



Image from Figital Revolution

When Christian was a very little boy, we went to visit my mother in Utah.  Mom came to pick us up at the airport.  When we got in her car, Christian looked around and said admiringly, "Nice taxi."  I laughed and said, "This is a car."  Christian looked at me in confusion, then repeated, "Taxi."  For him, a car was a toy you rolled around on the radiator covers of our Manhattan apartment.  A taxi was what you took when you were late for church or too tired to walk home from the museum. 

He made us laugh again when we got to Mom's house.  He saw her back yard through the sliding glass door of her kitchen: an expanse of green lined with trees and flowers.  "Nice park," he whispered, his breath fogging up the glass.  He had never seen a back yard before; he could only make sense of what he saw using his personal experience.

We all interpret events in our lives through the lens of context.  Before Christian was born, Patrick and I planned a three-week vacation in France and Switzerland, to take place after Patrick graduated from law school.  We hadn't had much of a honeymoon; this trip, three and a half years after our wedding, was to make up for that.  I had never been to Europe before and spent several ecstatic months planning every detail of our adventure.

Before we bought our plane tickets, I went in to see my boss and asked to take my vacation time that September.  She agreed, contingent on the availability of my partner to cover my responsibilities.  My partner was a single mom with two school-age sons; when asked if she could cover for me, she answered that she had been planning to take September off because that was her scheduled time with her boys.

I expected that she would be overruled; seniority rules were strictly followed at my workplace, and I had been working there a year longer than my partner.  Besides, I had asked first.  But my boss, a single mother herself, made an exception.  "I'm sorry.  You'll have to take your trip in August," she told me, and that was that.

I fumed for days.  Paris was going to be overrun with tourists in August, and the plane tickets were going to cost far more.  It was going to be hot, and I would be six months pregnant at that point.  Everything is ruined, I thought.  Patrick consoled me, and I eventually realized that we'd just have to make the best of it.  And we did.  Our trip was idyllic--eight days in Paris, six days visiting the magnificent chateaus of the Loire Valley, and a restful week with Patrick's cousins in Lausanne--pure heaven. 

The day after we got home, Patrick's brother Marc was in a helicopter accident off the Jersey shore.  In a coma from the time he was pulled out of the ocean, he died four days later.  Weeks into our grief, I realized that if I had gotten permission to take our trip in September, we would not have been able to go.  What I had interpreted as a gross inconvenience I now saw as a tender mercy.

Sometimes things happen that shake us to our core, that force us out of our limited perspective and into viewing life at a new angle.  In the thick of the trauma, blinded by fear, we may see only shadows.  But if we are patient and faithful, the miracle of hindsight can give us a precious gift: the realization that the light was there all the time.

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."  --1 Corinthians 13:12


Find Your Way Back

Damsel, I say unto thee, arise, Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max (1840-1915)

One lives for a very short time, and life is incomparably precious. To live has much less to do with the senses or with ambition than with the asking of questions that never have been surely answered. To ask and then to answer these questions as far as one can, one needs above all a priceless and taxing involvement with truth and beauty. These are uncommonly plentiful in music and painting, in nature itself, in the sciences, in history, and in one's life as it unfolds—if one labors and dares to see them.

--Mark Helprin, “The Canon Under Siege”

Truth!  Beauty!  Love!

--George Emerson in the film adaptation of E.M. Forster's A Room With a View


I've been lost for a little while.  I have been living beneath my privileges.  I have spent my labor for that which cannot satisfy.  Instead of a "priceless and taxing involvement with truth and beauty," I've had a cheap and exhausting affair with the fake and the trivial. 

Frittering--that's what I've been doing.  Even as I've stuck to my resolution to make better choices for my body, I have chosen junk and laziness in the realm of the mind and spirit.  I have read bad books in the name of agent reconnaissance, when I should have known after a few pages of any one of them that if an agent felt passionate about this particular story, s/he is not the agent for me.

Worse, I have wasted hours in worship of the internet.  The worldwide web has been for me a medium of joyous and productive exchange with dear friends; a fount of time-saving research; and a vehicle of much aesthetic inspiration.  But I have let it become the opposite of all of those things: a place of counterfeit connection; a site for time-wasting trivia-mining; and an agent of anaesthesia. 

It's that last--my compulsive search for self-medication--that troubles me most.  Like Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I have developed a taste for enchanted Turkish Delight, and that bad magic food has decreased my desire for good, ordinary food.  There's nothing sleazy or sordid in my etheric trawling, but its banality reminds me of Ecclesiastes: "all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun."  Why have I felt the urge to numb my mind?  From what am I hiding?

While practicing yoga this morning, I contemplated my physical weaknesses: wobbly arms, tight hamstrings, noisy brain.  Yoga forces one to consider one's actual state of being in the current moment, as opposed to indulging in wishful thinking about past or future "ideal" states.  Yoga also teaches one to accept rather than to judge the deficiencies that naturally come into view under such consideration of the here and now.  In that way, yoga is a mirror of the ideal life, in which one "labors and dares" to see the truth and beauty in the present, in one's life as it unfolds. 

Post-yoga, with a resolve to be kind and dispassionate, I view my spiritual weaknesses.  The willfulness and stubborn streak a mile wide.  The pride, born of insecurity and a desire for acceptance.  The strong tendency towards doing as little as possible.  The default to procrastination. 

These things won't go away overnight.  It may take years until my heels will come to the ground in Adho Mukha Svasana--Downward Dog Pose; it may take decades before I learn true humility.  That's okay.  Right now, it is enough to be aware and to be stretching gently toward change. 

But the settling for idle, disconnected consumption when I could be engaged in active, engaged creation--that feels like something that needs to change right now.  The internet is not my friend.  I need to be aware of its traps even as I use it for good and healthy purposes.  I need to extend the mindfulness I find in yoga to the rest of my life.  When I remember who I am and what I really want to be doing, the attraction of enchanted Turkish Delight is greatly lessened. 

I'm going to go stand in an apple tree and shout my creed to the heavens: Truth!  Beauty!  Love!  Those are the things I treasure; those are the things I'll pursue.


Armistice Day

Photo courtesy PaulHP, Flickr


"The Dead"

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
   Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
   And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
   Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
   Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
   Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
   Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.

--Rupert Brooke, 1914



The Milk Run

Every other week, I pick up 20 gallons of fresh raw milk at a farm up in Ulster County, NY--10 gallons for us and 10 gallons for my friend Melissa and her family.  (Melissa goes for us both on the weeks I don't.)  It's a 90-minute round trip to and from Gardiner if the weather is nice.  I think about a lot of stuff as I drive; here's a little sampling of today's run.

8:45 Fueling up in Cold Spring.  Anne is in her car seat playing happily with her baby doll.  I love free Full Service, which means I don't have to get gas all over my hands; I love our little village.

8:47 Music or not?  My options are many: XM Vinyl or Rewind or Spectrum or Classical or Public Radio or Bluesville or Quoi de Neuf; Vaughan Williams or Les Choristes or Pride & Prejudice or an iPod mix on CD; or silence. 

I choose to be alone with my thoughts; I can't mull over plot problems or character issues with music on.

8:58 I reach the outskirts of Beacon, the site of my first and only speeding ticket, earned about two years ago.  I experience a frisson of PTSD and make sure I'm driving 30 mph.

9:01 Oh, how I adore the ever-changing sign in front of the Beacon Reformed Church.  There must be a book or a website where pastors get those pithy little witticisms.  Today's reads, "Try God's economic plan: store your wealth in Heaven."  Excellent.  It's almost as good as my all time favorite, "This church is prayer conditioned."

9:07 As I take the exit for Route 32 off of I-84, I realize that Jacques expected me to go another way.  He's now busy recalculating as he sits on his little beanbag. 

Jacques is our new TomTom GPS, just like the one the French family lent us on our vacation.  I have the voice set to the French male option, hence "Jacques."  

But what can Jacques be thinking?  I've been making the milk run for almost eight years; I'm pretty sure I've figured out the fastest, most direct way to and from the farm.  Does he think Route 300 would be faster?  If so, mon ami, you've got some learning to do. 

Can Jacques learn?  Somehow I doubt it, and anyway, all the Asimov I've read makes me think that I probably don't want my GPS to have that skill set.

9:10 I hate strip malls.  Fortunately, Newburgh's only go on in this direction for a couple of miles.

9:12 A sign informs me that eggs are 99 cents per dozen at the Arnold bread outlet.  I am reminded of my favorite quote from the fantastic movie Food Inc.:  "You insist on two-dollar-a-gallon milk, you're gonna end up with a feedlot in your backyard."  I wonder how many of my friends would see Food Inc. if I begged them.  Maybe it will be on DVD by Christmas, and I can give it as a gift. 

But maybe it's an annoying, preachy-type gift.  I imagine one of my friends giving me a book by a noted Republican, hoping I would read it, see the light, and convert.  And how awkward would it be when that just didn't happen?  Hmmm.  So, even though it's a non-partisan movie, maybe ix-nay on the ood-Fay DVD as a gift idea.

9:15 Jacques has finally given up on trying to get me to make a legal U-turn.  Hah, yes: see, Jacques?  You finally realize that Route 32 will cut a good 10 minutes off your projected travel time. 

9:21 Passing the Cherry On Top ice cream stand; their sign announces that there are only 15 days of ice cream left.   I love the theory of Cherry On Top, but they don't make their own ice cream anymore--they sell some down-market regional brand like Hershey's or Blue Bunny.

I think about my friend Lynn Miller in Cold Spring and her fledgling business, Go-Go Pops.  She and her family have been selling these mouth-watering, homemade popsicles at the Cold Spring Farmer's Market all season.  They're now trying to open a coffee-popsicle shop on Main Street.  I hope she can make it happen!  I need to start doing Jen's Local Love Fridays so that I can write a post about Lynn.

9:28 Passing the Maplestone Bed & Breakfast.  SO gorgeous; I'm sad I couldn't convince my sister Angie and her husband Dave to buy this place a couple of years ago, but I love how the new owners have fixed up the farmhouse and kept the well out front.  Must figure out a way to schedule a little getaway there with Patrick.  Maybe sometime soon, before all the apples and leaves are gone....

9:30 Turning onto the treacherous, pot-holed driveway at Everett's farm.  Everett, a cranky old Libertarian whose family has owned this land for over 200 years, comes out the sliding glass door of his house as I park by the milk shed.  "Not many eggs," he hollers.  "Weasel got in the barn the other night and killed most of the chickens!  I gotta start all over."

I give him my sympathies and he goes back inside.  Ramon and Marcello, Everett's farmhands, are nowhere in sight.  I take the empty milk pails out of the car.  I put the eggs that are in the egg basket into cartons and put them in the car.  I put our cash in the lockbox in the fridge.  Still no Ramon and Marcello.  I sigh.

A full pail of milk weighs over 100 pounds.  I can carry them and lift them into our Honda Pilot myself--heck, I've done it all the way through two pregnancies--but it's not my favorite way to work out.  Ramon and Marcello are always happy to load the milk for me if they're around, but they must be even busier than usual, since I haven't seen either of them in weeks.

Oh, well.  I load up two pails in the back, secure them with bungee cords, and get back on the road. Thank heaven for that plastic cargo bed liner that came with the car.  We've never had a big spill, but the liner gives me a little peace of mind.

9:38 Driving back, I mull over how lucky I am to have access to fresh, affordable, chemical- and hormone-free milk from cows who serenely amble about in the green grass and sunshine. It's not certified organic milk; there's no way Everett would invite interaction with any level of the guv'mint.  But I know these cows.  I've looked them in the eye and patted their flanks during milking time.  I've hauled their manure home for my compost pile.  I know how obsessive Ramon is about keeping the milking equipment clean.  I trust the cows and their keepers.

In New York, it's legal to buy milk at the farm.  Connecticut and California allow you to buy raw milk in stores, but in a lot of states, raw milk is illegal.  And that's a shame, since raw milk is far more delicious and nutritious than pasteurized.  Speaking of which, the same technology that makes pasteurization possible makes it easy to get clean, safe, raw milk.  I'll get off the soap box, but read here to learn more.

9:46 The Shawangunks are gorgeous today, their limestone cliffs gleaming white against the crystal blue sky.  I love how fall takes its sweet time; a few trees here and there are already aflame, but most are still green.  All the apple trees are loaded down, reminding me of my favorite Christmas carol.

My friend Tina and I get to sing that with a couple of other women in a few weeks; can't wait! 

I wonder whether I can find a day to go up to Greig Farm and pick raspberries with Tina in the next few days.  We had such a blast last year.  I only have one jar of last year's freezer jam left, and I can't imagine doing without. 

9:48 I also need to find time to stop and check out the Modena Rural Cemetery.  I do love me a good graveyard.

9:51 Passing Cherry On Top again.  The only things one can get in parlors any more are ice cream, tattoos, funerals, and massages.  Fascinating.

10:02 Anne is getting fussy; she knows it's almost naptime.  "Little Baby An-a-kin," I sing in my best faux-opera trill.  She laughs, so I do it again.  And again.  And again. 

I wonder whether Anne will spend any time in therapy someday over the fact that she is nicknamed for a Jedi who goes very wrong.  Though it all comes right for Darth in the end, so maybe she'll be fine. 

10:09 According to signage in many Beacon front yards, a person named Chris Bopp is running for City Council.  I realize how very long it has been since I had any decent Bi Bim Bap.  Must research a good Korean restaurant for an upcoming Date Night.  I start singing "Blitzkrieg Bop" to entertain Anne.  I can see her in my mirror; she's rocking right along with me, though I can see she's beginning to droop.

10:15 I'm home just in time; even my energetic covers of The Ramones can't keep Anne awake.  She's just about gone.  I'll put her in bed, decant the milk, and get on with the rest of the day.


Of Streaks and Slumps

I'm crazy busy getting ready for our trip to France, so I am recycling the following post.  I originally published it nearly two years ago on 10 August 2007, but the gist of it still very much applies to my life.  Let me know whether it applies to you as well. 

The Mets lost a heartbreaker to the Braves yesterday. (The fact that it was Thursday, and thus Date Night, kept my bad mood from lingering; an excellent dinner at Café Maya and a viewing of The Bourne Ultimatum brought me right.)

The Mets have lost every series they’ve played against the Braves this year—four in all. They are still three-and-a-half games ahead of the Braves in the National League East standings. However, the Mets have two more series against the those Georgia Boys before the end of September, and I’m worried about this mental block they’re having.

I hesitate to write about baseball; I’m married to a walking almanac who is almost sure to notice when I get things wrong. But lately I’ve been considering the streak/slump phenomenon, since it seems to be an apt metaphor for the way I live my life.

As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of hitters in baseball: those who are pretty consistent at the plate, and those who are streaky. Joltin' Joe DiMaggio still holds the Major League record for the longest hitting streak, having had at least one hit in fifty-six consecutive games in the summer of 1941.

Baseball experts agree that a streak or a slump is rarely a matter of mechanics; much more frequently, whether a player’s bat is hot or ice cold is largely in his mind. “He’s got to get his confidence back,” they’ll say when someone is defeated at the plate yet again.

In life, I am streaky. That’s a nice way of saying that I am inconsistent. I’ll be on a roll regarding any number of things, from running to baking bread to foot-callus-maintenance. Then something will happen to upset my schedule, and I slump.

And, as in the oft-caricatured commercial, I will feel that I have fallen, and I can’t get up.

Sometimes a slump can be disastrous. In the field of geology, a slump is a particular kind of landslide, one in which the surface of the moving mass of earth remains largely unchanged, but the interior matter is drastically deformed. The most famous slump of this kind will probably be known to many of my readers; it occurred at Thistle, Utah in 1983. It dammed up a creek and the Spanish Fork River, eventually flooding the entire community. Thistle is now a ghost town; only roofs of some of the buildings remain visible.

My slumps are often like the geological kind. The surface of my life will look great; friends will even admire different facets of it. But internally, I’m a mess, and it’s a long time before I can sort everything out. Hopefully I do so before any dams I’ve created are too destructive.

Sometimes I’ll slump in one area while enjoying a streak in another: I’ll have a clutter-free house but a weed-filled yard. Or for weeks I’ll make my 1,000-word-per-day novel-writing goal while ignoring the dreadmill the entire time. Or I’ll indulge in a genealogy binge while skimping on my scripture study.

Sometimes a slump can be a time of retreat and regrouping. When I started this blog almost a year ago, I thought I had things to teach. I’m pretty good at a few things; the blog format seemed ideal for dissemination of some of the wisdom I felt I had gained in various areas over the years. After exactly two posts (one of which I later deleted), I abandoned my new endeavor for three months. I’d had an abrupt and humbling realization that sent me into a regrouping slump for the entire autumn.

When I started posting again in December, it was as a changed person. My focus was no longer on teaching (although, as a Brocket wannabe, I still like to publicize my domestic successes), but on honest expression and learning from others in the blogging community.

Running my life the FlyLady way helped me with consistency for a long while. But I am in a FlyLady slump right now (though the house is pretty clean, and my gorgeous soapstone kitchen sink is a joy to keep shiny: it's a mental thing). Maybe I need to get back in her groove and focus on Baby Steps in the essentials of my life so that I can build up steadiness once again. But I wonder whether, as effective as her methods are, FlyLady can only address the symptoms, and is not a cure for the root disease.

In his excellent book Pure Baseball, Keith Hernandez writes,

When I first came up to the big leagues, pitchers had all too much success worrying me inside. Lou Brock, who worked with me a lot, sat me down one day and asked, “Where do you like the ball?

“Inner half-away.” That’s the lingo for the outer three quarters of the plate.

“That’s right,” Lou agreed. “But worrying about your weakness—the inside corner—is taking away from your strength. Don’t let it do that. Look into your strength.”

Baseball really is profound. The key to overcoming the weakness is not to focus on it, but to look into your strength instead.

I tell people on a regular basis what I believe my Strength is. Perhaps the real question is whether I truly live what I say I believe, whether I can apply the Word to the mundane struggles of my daily life.

And what shall I more say? For the time would fail me to tell of … prophets:
Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises
, stopped the mouths of lions,
Quenched the violence of
fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
(Hebrews 11: 32-34; emphasis added)

Minerva Teichert, Christ in a Red Robe

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