Winter is that boy your mother warned you about

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You know the one that can’t keep his hands off you. Always trying to touch your bare skin. Winter always goes too far; you can ask him to stop, but he never will.

 

He’s like that wild boy in high school that spent all his time trying to be cool. Every minute of every day, as if being cool was all that mattered.

 

 

Sure, he brings you lovely presents, like that a line of snow-covered trees glittering in the sun, pretty as a rhinestone bracelet. But he’s cold-hearted and time after time leaves you out in the cold.

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He likes to keep you guessing. One day he’ll warm up to you a bit, and the next day he’s standing in the street, shouting sleet at you, wearing that white muscle T-shirt and pushing you around.

 

He’ll chase you in and out of buildings; stalking you and moaning like a lovesick calf.

 

The relationship seemed so charming in the beginning when he would throw down that sparkly white carpet every time you walked out the door. For the holidays, he filled the sky with confetti, and you loved it. These last few months, though, you’ve been living in denial, telling yourself you can get used to it. But you can’t.

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Winter has a cold and bitter heart. He thinks that pinching your cheeks and fingertips so hard you almost cry is acceptable. If you’re not careful, you’ll start believing that his behavior is normal. That, my friend, is a slippery slope to slide down.

 

When you finally tell him to get lost, he will wait on your porch every morning and blast you when you walk out the door. And as if that weren’t enough harassment, at night he’ll come by and rattle your windows, huffing and puffing like the big bad wolf that he is.

 

Fool that you are, you think you can reason with him. You decide on a date that he will move on and out of your life. You get out your calendar and circle the day, embellishing it with flowers, hearts, and butterflies. (I really don’t know what your mother would say about that.)

 

Then on the very day marked for his departure, he shows up at your door, stomping his boots and flashing his icy blue eyes, as if to say, you are mine forever. Then he points to the trees he has decorated, and you have to slam the door shut because as mean as he is, he really is a great decorator.

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Me? I’m done with him. One of us has got to get out of town. If he’s not gone by the end of April, I’m going to have to leave or get some counseling.

 

Click the links to find the photographers: 
Snow pond   Firs   Rime

 

 

 

 

 

The strangeness of mercy

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One way to look at it is that I was born a child of mischief; one who rebelled within the womb, refusing to appear as the long-expected son of my father, and arrived as a girl instead.

Probably taken after I got caught doing something naughty. That's me not smiling.

Probably taken after I got caught doing something naughty. That’s me not smiling.

In the narrative of my own creation, a bad-natured fairy sprinkled me with fairy dust composed of curiosity, naughtiness, and a bit of bad luck. How else explain that I rarely got away with anything, and my older sister almost always did.

 

I disliked getting caught and punished and tried to cover my tracks, but sooner or later my sins found me out, barking and baying until someone in authority – parents or teachers – nabbed me.

 

None of my punishments lessened my curiosity or desire to explore the forbidden – cigarettes, the sugar bowl, other people’s mail, or the contents of my parents’ dresser. Curiosity, which killed the cat, just gave me a sore bottom.

 

Years later I realized how I had mistaken mercy for bad-naturedness on the part of that fairy. If I had had the bad luck to get away with all of my naughtiness, I would probably be writing my blog from a jail cell. (Of course, there’s no way to be sure I’m not; you’ll just have to take my word for it.)

 

Getting caught helped me understand consequences in a way nothing else could. I thought of this last month when someone sideswiped my car in the campus parking lot.

 

The first thing I noticed when I approached my car as I was leaving school was a rectangular piece of black plastic lying on the ground near my bumper. It was a car license plate sheathed in a plastic holder lying upside down. I picked it up to place it on a snow mound so the driver could see it when he or she returned, and that’s when I noticed the damage to the side of my car.

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I contacted school security, explained the situation, and gave them the license plate number. It didn’t take long to track down the individual, based on his school-parking permit. He assured the security officers that he had written me a note and placed it on my windshield.

 

In this tale, the wind, angry with him perhaps for some long-forgotten curse against its coldness, tore the note away, carrying it far from the parking lot. And while he was placing the note on my windshield, no doubt taking full responsibility for what he had done and overcome by remorse, his tear-filled eyes apparently failed to see his fallen license plate, black on white, doing its best to be seen.

 

This story made me smile, and would have even been plausible if there had been any wind that day, or if the snow which wasn’t falling that day had temporarily blinded him so he couldn’t see  the license plate lying there in plain sight, letting all the world know where to find him. Nevertheless, I agreed that it was a good story that could have happened and not too bad for a first draft.

 

His insurance paid for the damage; and one hopes, next time he really will leave a note. I didn’t report him to the city police. Had I done so, he would have been charged with leaving the scene of an accident.

 

He’s a young man yet and has a chance to learn that the best stories are true whether they really happened or not. I like to think we were dusted by the same fairy, fated to get away with nothing.

 

Though he may view me now as a bad-natured old woman, who uncovered his furtive deed and caused his insurance rates to go up, I have hope that one day he will see me as a merciful old woman who helped him get caught – just in time.

 

License photo: Alias 0591 from the Netherlands 

Is it 1984 yet?

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Spring has arrived, but winter has barricaded the door. I’m in a dark mood.

 

At times like this, I admit that I don’t always keep my paranoia on a leash. In fact, I often let it run wild, allowing it to chase hare-brained rabbits down various trails or follow the scent of little chickens warning that the sky is falling.

 

Naturally it’s not my fault I’m so paranoid. I blame it on the book 1984 by George Orwell. I don’t know about your mind, but in my mind, for pure fear, no other book comes close. * On the dystopian spectrum, it’s on the far end of terror.

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On the other end, in what could be called the “happy” dystopia, lies Aldous Huxley’s novel Brave New World. Published in 1932, it envisions a world of people manacled by drug-induced happiness, materialism, and sex, a world that sounds surprisingly like our own. Seventeen years later, post-World War II, Orwell published his book, depicting a world enslaved by fear, with a seemingly benevolent Big Brother in control of past, present, and future.

 

In the actual year 1984 at a panel convened to discuss Orwell’s dystopia and the modern world, the educator Neil Postman proposed that contemporary Western society reflected Huxley’s view of the future rather than Orwell’s. Postman equated the entertainment industry with the drug soma that people in Brave New World used to escape into happiness. The following year Postman published his insights in a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I encourage you to do so.

 

I tend to agree with Postman, yet North Korea stands as a reminder that Orwellian governments can and do exist. My own fear is that the two will blend, and we’ll end up with a Brave New 1984: a populace condemned to artificial happiness found in drugs, sex, acquisition, and entertainment, who relinquishes all control to a Big Brother who will not allow anyone off Paradise Island.

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While brooding through winter’s siege, I have been reading about school libraries closing due to budget cuts and others removing their books because of the availability of so much online information. Why bother funding libraries and librarians when you have Google? Why house all those dust-loving books when they can be downloaded and read on e-readers?

 

My paranoia and I find this disturbing. Online information is stored at physical locations. Whoever owns these data centers effectively owns the information, as does whoever controls the electricity and power grid that allows people to access the servers or charge their electronic devices. As long as there are everyone checks and balances, and everyone involved believes in net neutrality and open access, we are fine. But what happens if unchecked power controls access?

 

You can’t turn off a book. And you don’t need electricity to read one. We need books, and we need libraries full of books. Children especially need a place to go to explore the world of ideas, a quiet place to read books of their own choosing.

 

I’m not against e-books and online copies. I enjoy my electronics. They have their place, and that place is next to books, not in place of books.

 

Stitched Panorama

 

*Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road would equal 1984 on the terror scale if it were a sustainable world. It is a dying world that will end; the horror of 1984 is that there is no end in sight.

 

Photos: 
Big Brother: Paternm
Surveillance Cameras: Hustvedt
Books: © Hans Hillewaert / CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

Carried by hands

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Hand Reaching

She comes out to greet me in the waiting room. I haven’t been waiting long. It is at day’s end and my work is finished. During the wait, I scratch in my final words to tell her what I need. I will not need to speak anymore.

She leads me into the room. In the dim light I notice only the table and chair. “I’ll be back in a few minutes,” she says. I leave all of my clothes on the chair and wall hook; then I crawl under the covers and wait for the knock.

I lie on my stomach, my face cradled in the open circle at the top of the table. She turns on music, soft flutes and ocean waves.

I yield to her hands, oiled and searching. She finds my pain. Some aches I knew I carried; others lie hidden, deep within me. She seeks them out – knots of worry, muscles clenched, holding their breath. She forces them to breathe.

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The pain cannot leave me until I feel it. Worry, long-forgotten deadlines, and anger hide within, cling to my bones. Her hands draw them out.

She murmurs and I turn, eyes closed, heart and mind still. Inside this room, I am outside my life, an in-between place.

I arrived once just as I am now, unclothed, at the mercy of hands. My leaving will be like this. An angel will prepare me for the crossing over. Her hands will find my hurt and pain and carry it away. I have swallowed darkness and sorrow; it clings to my bones. But it will yield to those hands.

We shall not speak; my words, as they are now, will be left there in the waiting room.

Then she will push my barge into the waters and the music will carry me across. And there will be hands, familiar hands, waiting on that other side.

Grand Teton National Park

Back massage photo courtesy of Nick Webb   

A whirled champion

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Sometime around the middle of the last century, my mother, along with millions like her, went boom. Mother boomed thrice. First came my sister, then less than two years later, me. After a ten-year recovery of giving birth to me, she boomed her last and my brother appeared.

George B. Boomer, Union colonel in the Civil War. Considered a pre-Boomer because he was born in 1832.

George B. Boomer, Union colonel in the Civil War. Considered a pre-Boomer because he was born in 1832.

 

If births were sounds, each of the individual 75 million plus births from 1946 to 1964 would have been recorded as a pop about as loud as a burst balloon. Collectively, however, all those little pops would have sounded like the boom of a three-ton bomb. You can take it from me, a notoriously unreliable source, that this is why we are called boomers.

 

Not long after mother boomed me out into the world, the modern hula-hoop was birthed, or more likely extruded, since it was made of plastic tubing.

 

Those plastic tubes appeared in July1958, just about the time I would’ve been getting bored with summer vacation. Another 25 million or more kids were equally bored because that’s how many hula-hoops were sold between July and October of that year. The fad spread worldwide, one could say it circled the globe (if one were an incorrigible punster). After an outbreak of public gyrating, the Japanese  banned it. The Russians denounced it as one more indication of western decadence and went back to drinking vodka.

 

Before the ban: Japanese hula-hooping in 1958.

Before the ban: Japanese hula-hooping in 1958.

Hoops have been around since the time of the Greeks who used metal hoops and probably wore bruises to prove it. Sometime in the 18th century the hoops became associated with the Hawaiian dance, the hula. I imagine the association stuck because of alliteration, since the hip action is not the same.

 

Evidence that hoops encircled the world.

Evidence that hoops encircled the world.

Two weeks ago I attended a “Hooping for Health” workshop at school. Apparently, hula-hoops are in circulation again among boomers. We spent an hour twirling, whirling, spinning, and learning tricks. I’m a very good hula hooper, if I do say so myself, and obviously I do. I easily walked forward and backward, maintaining the hoop around my middle like a personal equator. Then I learned to spin 360 degrees around inside the spinning hoop. Everyone clapped when I did that, even me.

 

Once the weather warms up, say around August if we’re lucky, I plan to buy a hula-hoop. Anything that makes me feel like a whirled champion is worth its weight in plastic.

Letter to my 90-year-old self

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Dear Future Yearstricken,

 

 

Do you remember me? I didn’t think so. You lived my life several decades ago. I thought I’d better write you a letter to remind you what your plans for old age were.

 

 

  • You can only whine and complain on Tuesdays from 3 – 5 p.m., so make good use of that time. When you were younger, you used to say, “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it.” Now, of course, you’ll have to put on your big girl Depends and deal with life’s inconveniences: your aches and pains, the decreasing level of intelligent life around you, and the annoying habit of people who never learned to speak clearly and loudly.

 

 

  • Open that Excel file called Stories I Like to Tell that I left on your computer, iPad, and phone. I tried to sort them chronologically, so the stories of your childhood start the list. You’ll have to fill in names of new people across those top cells. If you can’t fill them in, ask someone for help. Then every time you tell that person one of your stories, put an “x” under the person’s name. If that’s too hard, ask the person listening to the stories to mark the ones he or she has heard before. Once the person has heard all of your stories, feel free to just make stuff up. They weren’t there, so they’ll never know the difference.

 

Type of text commonly used in books in the year 2014.

Type of text commonly used in books in the year 2014.

 

  • Read every day. I hope by the time you receive this, the alarming trend of making letters smaller and fuzzier will reverse itself so that you can read books and magazines. When you were a child, all print was normal-sized, crisp, sharp, and easy to read. Somewhere around your 30s or 40s, printers of all kinds became sloppy and started using smaller, blurrier fonts. The you that is me right now has been forced to use glasses for printed material and the magnifier function on the computer. You may have to rely on audio versions of books, although computers should be able to read aloud better by mid-century.

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  • Keep learning about the world around you. It may do for the people around you to talk and care about only local affairs, but it won’t do for you. You cannot turn away from the pain and suffering of other lands anymore than you can ignore the beauty and wonder of other cultures. Your community extends across all of the continents. You share the same story with every other human being.

 

 

  • Practice mercy and forgiveness every day, or at least every day except Tuesdays from 3 – 5 p.m. when you are busy whining and complaining. You never learned much from punishment other than fear, but you have been transformed by the mercy and forgiveness you have received. Avoid carrying grudges; they’re incredibly heavy and tend to throw your back out and make you spiteful.

 

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  •  Laugh as much as possible, and often at yourself. Cry, too. Keep feeling and savoring life. It’s okay to lick the bowl at the end of the meal; you don’t have that many more meals left.

 

 

  • Don’t worry about what other people think about you. Most people find thinking troublesome, and those that bother to think won’t spend much time thinking about you.

 

 

  • Enjoy your coffee, wine, and dark chocolate. If you’re alive at 90, you’ve proved they are good for you.

 

 

  • Pay attention every day. Look, really look, at what is around you: the number of petals on an orchid, the different shades of green in your spring garden, the mechanism of a zipper, the way your knuckles bend (hopefully), and the variety of bird songs in summer. If you don’t understand something, look it up. Find out. You need this as much as coffee, wine, and dark chocolate.

 

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  • Tell the people around you that you love them. Hug them every chance you get. Don’t worry about embarrassing them or yourself. Tell the child that your heart nearly bursts every time she comes through the door. Tell your daughters that they are two of life’s greatest gifts. Tell your husband that a day has never  by that you haven’t marveled at his love and patience. It’s okay to repeat yourself this time. Your family and friends may tire of your stories, but they’ll never tire of being loved.

 

Your once and former self,

 

Yearstricken

 

Words that go back and forth

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Before I learned the meaning of the word “palindrome,” I thought it had something to do with merry-go-rounds. If you repeat the word out loud, you’ll hear those three syllables, stressed-unstressed-unstressed. This kind of metrical foot, called a dactyl, comes from the Greek for “finger,” and in this case it pointed to a carousel and me sitting on a palomino with a wild eye and a dark gold coat. (Both the eye and the coat on the palomino, not me.)

 

Unsurprisingly, I was wrong. A palindrome is a number, word, phrase, or sentence read the same frontward and backward.

 

I don’t remember when I learned what the word actually meant, but I know I have enjoyed reading words backward since I was a young girl. Discovering that star talked back and said rats and that was said saw as soon as it turned its back on you seemed magical and subversive at the same time. If I paid attention, I could find enchanted words all around me able to say two things at the same time, and some of them sassy to boot.

 

People have been palindroming forever, or at least in Latin since the late first century, which seems forever to someone expected to live just eight or so decades. Although the inhabitants of Pompeii disappeared when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., the palindrome Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas, known as the Sator Square, remained, scratched on a wall to perplex and delight the archeologists who discovered it and all of us who came after. No one knows exactly what it means, but a number of sites list the meaning as Arepo the sower works with wheels. Even if that’s not the exact meaning, it’s fascinating to see how you can read the words any which way.

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In Greek, palindrome means “running back again,” like an echo or a boomerang that comes whizzing back. The Greeks also wrote using a method called boustrophedon, which means “ox-turning.”

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In English, we read left to right, line after line, as if we were watching a knife-thrower at the circus. We watch throw after throw until somebody dies or the circus shuts down for the night. In boustrophedon, the Greeks read as if they were at a tennis match, watching the ball served from left to the right, and then hit back from right to the left until somebody won or got ejected from the game. Tennis hadn’t been invented yet, so they used the image of plowing with an ox, moving first down one furrow, then turning around to plow the next row.

If I were to write a blog using that writing method

morf enil tsrif eht gnidaer trats ot evah dluow uoy  

left to right, then turn your plowing eye at the end  

m’I .tfel ot thgir daer ot nigeb dna enil taht fo

afraid you would soon grow tired of it.

Some people find the above paragraph easy to read; others don’t. Of course, that’s true of everything on this blog. But be that as it may or may not, anyone can learn to read words backward. Apparently it’s good for the brain. According to this article at mirrorread.com, it causes new growth of gray matter and increased density. I personally could do with more gray matter, dense or not. I may not have a lot of brains, but people  have often remarked that what I do have is already quite dense; even so, I’m sure if I work on it I can get even denser.

 

So this year, I plan to get as thickheaded as possible, read more in both directions and teach my old ox of a brain new tricks, one furrow at a time.