Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Here's a dime, call someone who cares

People used to say that to each other.
Back when there were pay phones.
Back when you could use them for a dime.

If you are a certain age, I wonder if reading those sentences had the same effect on you that writing it had on me.  All of a sudden I was overcome with the desire to be on the sidewalk in Manhattan with an urgent need to make a phone call.  No, not an urgent need, just an ordinary need.

Here I am at 71st and Broadway and there you are in Soho and I won't be home in time, but break a leg, ok?
I just left the hospital.  I think I'm going to walk home.
I miss you.  I love you.  Look out the window.  I had to see you one more time.

I would spend a dime to say those things.

These days I can tweet or blog, text or call 24 hours a day.  I know what kind of underwear people are wearing and if they are eating local for dinner and when they are drunk or why they are depressed.

New to the blogosphere, I jumped on the bandwagon because I needed to start writing again and I believed this was the lowest pressure medium I could choose, apart from Dear Diary.

I could not have been more wrong.  There are blogs of note and blogs that advertise, and a "follow" button that makes me feel like I'm running for senior class president.  I can monetize my blog or tweet my blog and if I want to see how I stack up against the kajillion other runners in this race, I can attend a blog conference so that I can truly feel bad about how far behind I am.

My only problem is that I am trying to figure out if what I want to say is worth a dime.  I admit that I am often given to too much introspection, fretful about subjecting readers to navel gazing--Here's the color I'm thinking about painting my bathroom--or snappy patter--These days I live in a world of raised toilet seats.  I don't spray Vive la Juicy to smell good, I spray it to mark my territory.  But, where does it end?  At what point am I writing simply to fill a page, meet a quota, pursue an academic exercise?  At what point, are there so many words in the world that mine are merely another example of Mary Glen's current tutorial paper topic, "Sound and fury, signifying nothing"?

And in this spirit, I imagine us all, born with an allotment of expression.  How much did I spend when I believed it to be limitless and cheap, my audience leaning forward and my tongue at its witty best.  It is a gift now, to see the levels dropping, to be quiet, to listen.

I think of Nicholas Kristof in the Congo and others like him, in brothels and shattered villages; with the dying and those who wish they were dead, reaching into the hearts of the silenced, casting their sparse and stuttered words into a sea of chatter and willing them to have weight, matter, resonance.

What would I say if I had to spend a dime to say it?  That's about it for today.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Begin at the beginning

The other day I saw a comment on a blog I follow that said, "I'm distressed by the lack of postings drawing attention to the devastation in Haiti."

Guiltily I realized that I was one of the bloggers she was referencing.  Not only had I not written about the devastation, but by day 2, I hadn't even thought about it that much.  Which of course made me start thinking.

I'm not one of those hard core types who isn't moved by the plight of others.  When you've been through as much as we have, you don't hear about someone else's hardship without thinking, There but for the grace of God go I.  I pray for people I read about in the newspaper; and when I know about a need--a young widower with multiple children who is struggling to keep it together, or the family recently hit with a father's cancer diagnosis, I know what you do, organize a group to provide what they need until life straightens out a bit.

But for Haiti, I had no solutions, no recourse.  Any effort I made would feel like picking up roadside trash next to the Apocalypse.  And so I did nothing, felt nothing.  Until one day I logged in to my computer and saw this:

How many times have I seen that look on my own children's faces when they had been away from me, crying and tired and then there I was, the whole universe in one human package.  This tiny child is living in a hell my kids never thought about, but look at him, that little face so open and joyful because, at least for now, he has all that he needs.

And with that, my heart broke for Haiti.  My efforts will not yield great work.  I don't have the capacity to give and rebuild a village.  I can't afford the time or finances to travel there and my help would surely not be help at this point.  All I can do is stand, nameless and faceless, along with the thousands of nameless and faceless Haitians and carry my teaspoon of water back and forth from the well, praying that at some point it becomes enough to quench one person's thirst.  I can give small amounts so that those who are doing something can keep doing it, and I can pray--for added strength for rescue workers, for airport landing strips to miraculously open, for families to find each other, and for my own heart to understand that if this tragedy will test the Haitian people, it will test us as well.

Our nation, battered by war, unemployment and economic distress, still possesses a will for good unlike any nation on the globe.  Weakened, we must abandon our typical go-it-alone mentality in favor of humility, cooperation and partnerships, willing ourselves to trade the satisfaction of credit for the subtler joy of anonymity.
Go big or go home, is a pretty common phrase here in Supersize land.

Well this time, I'm not going anywhere.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Squared

Neither deserves to be a post-script, so right now, let me wish the happiest of birthdays to my darling sister, Rebecca Bond and our dear friend Annie Hildebrandt.

Annie is 21 today so God knows when she will read this, but when she does I want her to see, in writing, that she is a rare young woman in this hectic and shallow world.  She has seen with wise eyes as long as I have known her and we are all the richer for her presence.

A few more than 21 years ago today I tapped my foot impatiently through reading, math, and recess, barging out of the doors  of Ridgewood Elementary and running the entire 3 blocks home.  I learned then, that good things can come out of January, great things even.  A sister.
She was the most easygoing and adorable baby you ever saw and she has grown up into an extraordinary woman--fearless in business, creative in her "spare time" pursuits, and full of life.  A life that got a whole lot bigger with the addition of a fiance and a daughter in November.  I think Todd and Elyse would agree--there is something irresistable about a woman who is always up for a game of Balderdash.
Happy Birthday dear Becca--may your cup runneth over all year.

The Winter of My Something

I started this blog with the intention of writing regularly, of forcing myself into a routine, or practicing quickness the same way that Hannah and Sarah had to learn to draw fast when they took art classes in college.  I remember them (perfectionists and gifted artists, both) showing us sketchbooks of line drawings, created in 20, 30, 60 seconds.  You could see the progression of those drawings as they described their feelings the first time the instructor said, Turn the page.  They both said all they could think of was, "What?  Are you kidding me?  I haven't even made a mark!"  And yet, like a flip book marking the sands of time and experience, you saw three lines become four and seven become a human body, and by the end, you realized that they had learned to see with new eyes.  
Right now I feel like a new student, alternating between, "I don't know where to start" and "Wait, can't I finish that?"  The holidays were a wonderful time to be with my children, a space in which  I thrive because it is the life I know how to lead, the place I am most practiced, see the best.  And yet, that life is changing.  Daniel, Hannah and Mary Glen have headed back to their own lives and while I still have Rayner and Matty here, I feel the quickness in my heart, the instructor saying, Turn the page, and my own reluctance to do so because there are so many blank pages and how will I fill them all?  What if I don't do them well?  
How welcome was my reprieve.  
Matty had started looking a little funky to me the Monday before New Year's eve and by January 2 when we went to urgent care I knew that he had either strep or mono.  After a two hour wait, the strep test was negative and Dr."Hey I can still get my MD if I sleep through the diagnostics class" determined that Matty was a) allergic, hence the swelling eyelids b) viral, hence the sore throat and c) stressed, hence the pain when he breathed deeply, caused by none other than that chronic afflicter of teenagers--acid reflux syndrome.  We walked out of urgent care with instructions for Zyrtec and Zantac (maybe the guy woke up at the end of class when they were describing, in alphabetical order, common OTC remedies) and the thought bubble careening above my head, "There is no way in hell I am paying for that visit."
On Wednesday, Snow Day #1, we learned it was mono.  After a couple of internal conversations where I debated the merits of going to medical school based solely on my ability to diagnose via the internet and mother's intuition, I abandoned my daydreams for thoughts of what we'd have for dinner and headed out, a la Pa Ingalls to forage us some food.  I would not leave the house again until Sunday afternoon.
It was weird, having that much time off, with one sick kid and no desire to leave onaccounta the below zero temperatures.  We slept in and watched movies and on Friday Matty started watching Lost Season 1 and by Saturday, all Rayner and I had to hear was the Hulu "the show is starting now" sound and we'd come running like a couple of Pavlov's dogs.  On Sunday we were struggling to accomplish the basic tasks of life, and so compelling was the narrative that in emails to Mary Glen and Daniel, I told them that I feared I could not wrest myself from the computer if I were summoned to a deathbed.
And yet...
I took down the tree yesterday, made plans for a conference call and determined that no matter how navel-gazey or ridiculous, I would post my attempt at a line drawing today.  In one episode of Lost, John Locke said, "Everyone gets a new life on this island."
Perhaps the same can be said for a new year.  
It's not much, but you gotta start somewhere.