Thursday, March 25, 2010

Losing it. Finding it.

A beautiful article which needs to be shared. "Dominique Brown: Losing It," in today's NYT.

"Time hangs heavily on the unemployed soul. If I ate an egg at 8 a.m., by 9:30 I was starving. I became obsessed with eggs, gazing on their refined shape in wonder. Perfect packets of nutrients. I ate eggs all day long. When I had a job, I never thought about eggs."

Dominique Brown was the editor of that magazine we loved, House & Garden, which folded some years ago, dragging her also into the crease of its nonexistence. Her chronicle of that experience and the resulting blog are beautiful indeed.

I invite you to partake.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"How's the weather?" vs. Deep Thoughts

Maybe you saw it, maybe you didn't. But in case you didn't, here it is again: Talk Deeply, Be Happy?

This is a recent Well blog in the New York Times about the considerable benefits of talking—really talking—about the world, problems, relationships, etc. instead of that time-worn favorite, the weather. Apparently, studies do show that people who spend more time involving themselves in substantive discussions are happier than those who spread themselves thinly over the lighter fare.

Somehow, I'm not surprised by this.

About four weeks ago I left the rather sour post on Facebook that I was thinking about "getting off." Within hours, I received a shower of responses from people I'd hardly heard from in months saying, "Awwww, but we'll miss you." And the truth of the matter is that, weirdly, I kind of felt the same way. But how could that be true?

I think there was that sense that I would miss them because—and I am speaking strictly for myself here—with every Facebook "friendship" I've invited or maintained, the motive was based on this rather romantic notion of recapturing the bond I once had with that person, or of exploring what that person represents to me from my own past. That is not superficial stuff. I think this is, in part, how we end up with friends who aren't really friends. For me the idea is not to show off an astronomical number of acquaintances, but to somehow gather up the last remaining shreds of my own personal story. Those people are like the photographs that I keep in boxes and rarely look at, but when I do look at them, I realize that I would have the hardest time throwing them away. They have a value because they represent something. Me.

The flip side is that there is rarely any meaningful discourse with these people (now, mere Snapshots of Themselves). There's just that idle chatter on the Wall which is the Opposite of what I feel and want. Can I be blunt here? I hate that stuff. I mean, I engage in it, but it wastes loads of time and I always feel empty and sad and dissatisfied.

I know the writer of the aforementioned blog, and the conductors of the study, weren't looking at Facebook as much as they were looking at spoken exchange, but I think their thesis and their findings explain why I find Facebook so dreadfully saddening. It's also why, when I want to "talk" to someone, I prefer the private-messaging feature or that dinosaur of technologies, email, which reminds me of the even more protozoan personal favorite, actual letter-writing.

But the best of all, is talking. Really talking. Which is why, I also wish, every time I am posting a blog, that we were all of us miraculously reunited over a glass of wine and an endless amount of free time to let ourselves and our recent stories unfold. What do we really think? How do we really feel? What hurts, lately? What feels good? Why? And when it was all over, we'd go home thinking how good it felt to be alive, to be really connected, and to have maybe the tiniest hint of why we are all here.

(On that note, thanks to Joselin Martin for her fabulous posts on Journey Not Destination about running, being an athlete, running with MS, and the sheer persistence most things worthwhile require. It's been a joy to read, deeply satisfying. Nothing small-talky about it.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Cove is Secret No More

God knows I've quoted this before, but let's get it out there again:
Margaret Mead once famously said
'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people
can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.'

See 'The Cove'.
Not just because it won an Academy Award for best documentary of the year.
But because it's intelligent, humane, important, unflinching, truthful, necessary.
And because a small group of people can change the world.
And if we're lucky, we can be some of them.


Monday, March 08, 2010

The Oscars May Not Feel Like History

But today they are.
And as much as the Academy Awards are often ridiculous and political and shame-facedly wrong ('Crash'? You've got to be joking)
a woman, yes, a woman, finally won not just Best Director, but Best Picture as well.
Some facts are in order here.
Yes, Kathryn Bigelow started out as an extremely talented artist.
Yes, she studied under Susan Sontag. As in: Susan Sontag.
Yes, she was in direct competition with her ex-husband, another kind of glorious first.
Yes, she's only the fourth woman ever nominated for Best Director in the history of the awards. Which is, yes, a weeping crying idiotic shame.
But she won.
And more importantly than that simple historic fact is this:
She and The Hurt Locker deserved it.
One small film - the lowest grossing film to win Best Picture in Oscar history - that almost went straight to DVD,
that almost wasn't distributed, that almost no one saw.
Until now.
With a woman finally holding the gold in her arms.
For the first time in years, to paraphrase Michelle Obama, I'm proud of the Academy Awards again.

- Janet

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Of Earthquakes, Squashed Fingernails, and the Passage of Time

I am practically numb with the news. The deceased. The buried, still to be dug out. The fight for food and water. The sense of hopelessness for Haiti. Horror for Chile. I feel for these people, deeply, and yet, even as sadness and disbelief hog the marquee of my emotions, that other side of my brain grapples with the more existential side of it. The small opening act that gets less attention in the news: What does it mean?

Maybe it doesn't mean anything. I sometimes think that assigning meaning is the task of idiots. (Case in point: Pat Robertson's assertion that the earthquake in Haiti was God's payback for that country's pact with the devil.) And maybe meaning isn't even the right word at all. Maybe what I'm looking for is a kind of sense. Or something to take away from all this. Something instructive. And what I get, while the link isn't at all linear, has something to do with time.

Human time, geologic time, light time. Time.

We tend to think in lifetimes—our own. Or, more often, in the spans of weeks and days. To Do lists. Short term plans. Before I go to bed tonight. When the kids are out of high school. Before I die. Etc. And in our minds, it's all peculiarly concrete and measurable. Familiar.

But the fact of the matter is that we exist also in completely other time frameworks.

It's likely no consolation to the humans of the planet who are suffering loss right now, that Earth is living its own time, just as we are. That it needs to stretch and shrug, grow and shrink, address that itch on its back. It's probably no consolation that fault lines are going to toss us aside every 60 or 500 or 300,000 years, and that the Earth is going to count those years according to its own needs, not our careful human calculations. It's no consolation, no, but it is true.

(We read this morning in the newspaper, that the Chile earthquake was powerful enough to shift the Earth's axis by 3" and that because of this shift, we will now enjoy an almost infinitessimally smaller amount of daylight each day. So much for human timetables. Just like that, the Universe has demonstrated that our measurements are no longer valid. Wrong, in other words. Meaningless. Next?)

And what this all does, strangely, is make me relax a little my own concept of time. I have lived much of my life in a hurry to pack in as much as possible. I have tried to control and "make happen" and reach goals. This has not always been a bad thing, and I don't intend to say "What does it matter in the big picture?" even though it seems like that is where my argument is going. What I mean to say is that there's a proper time and place for such clocks to tick loudly. And there's a time and place for them to fall silent, because they just don't measure up, nor do they serve us particularly well.

Let me explain. I've begun to think that we humans have two times, perhaps three. The times of our minds (this is the To Do list time), and the times of our bodies and our psyches. My Italian husband always said to me, "Life is long." I thought he was crazy. (Didn't he perceive, like everyone else, that life is simply too short, i.e. ticking along at a rapid clip?) But now, I am beginning to understand what he meant. Even as we rush around, some things simply take time. They take the time they take. And no amount of disciplined action-taking will change that.

Four months ago, I smashed my finger in the door of my daughters' room. Blood began to spread under the nail. It throbbed for days. Then it turned black. Then the black spot began to grow out from the cuticle. For much longer than I thought, my nail continued to grow out black. A couple weeks ago, the top layer of nail came out of the cuticle separated from the new nail growing underneath. The "black spot," which was of course, dried blood, slowly disappeared as the water with every bath, hand-washing or dish-cleaning, did its invisible, gentle job of washing it away. Now, I have this unsightly layer of fingernail which looks like a dirty piano key. Thick, yellowish. Unattached at the bottom, still attached at the top. There's nothing I can do about it, and nothing I want to do about it. It would hurt! So I leave it, and look at it. Day after day after day. We're not talking great loss here. We're talking a single fingernail. But it's teaching me a whopper of a lesson: It's going to take as long as it's going to take.

That's a finger. But then there's my heart. In 2006 my father died. This is the sort of earthquake we all suffer, and there could be no more apt geographical metaphor. The plates shifted. My grounding, which I so trusted, fell away. Nothing was solid. And here I am 4 years later, still putting things right, or trying to rebuild with lighter more flexible materials the structure of my heart. The pain is still there, but it has morphed. And it has changed me. Time is passing. It will continue to pass. It will take as long as it takes.

Marriage. (That subject again.) My marriage is a miracle to me. It has grown and evolved according to its own clock. It has a sense of time that eludes me. It seems to have a timeless faith in itself that keeps it going, even when we have run out of patience or nice things to say. Darkness, light. Another day / month / year.

We have to trust in these times. We have to surrender to them. We are in their grasp and their flow. They will confuse us, serve us well, outlive us.

And so, as I've written this, I've overcooked my lunch, unaware of the time. Geologic time is no good for steaming vegetables.