Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The breeze shifted for a moment, smelling exactly like Arizona, barefoot and dusty and halfway in love, careening through the scrubland with no one around for miles. The air sweetened later that night, the only lights from our car, staying awake by looking for shooting stars and never finding them. I think about that some afternoons, everything right and happy underneath the open empty sky, all those minutes still spooling out over the desert. There's still a me out there somewhere, holding all of that in my hands.

And then the wind shifted back and I found myself plain old bareheaded in the rain like usual, walking nowhere much toward nothing at all, sinking slowly into the sidewalk. I'll blame it all on the wind, all the mistakes that happened or maybe didn't or even more likely are still happening, all this wind that nudges at my bones and pulls hard on my limbs. Sometimes it's only that the weather turns and I can't help but turn with it and wait for everything to shift again.

Friday, March 23, 2012

We're now two years into a world without my grandmother which, you know, is still something I think about all the time. Sometimes it feels almost as though I'm trying to talk her back into being, and maybe I am.

Last week my friend Rick was reflecting on the year that has happened since a close friend passed away, and later he compares this past year with thinking of a friend who was lost long ago. He said, "My friend Valerie passed away 16 years ago now, and I still think of her all the time. The memorial date of the anniversary, I find, takes on less meaning as the years go by. The memories and love just come to you at random times, when you’re doing this or that. And, of course, when you are with close mutual friends. Some years I even miss the anniversary of Val’s passing. I don’t even notice it until a week or two later. But what I’ve learned is that your love, and your memories for them, don’t die, they don’t fade. And perhaps that’s best. I dont’ want to remember her death, I want to remember her life. And so I shall, through the years."

It was this that reminded me of my own impending anniversary. In some ways it's line the lines have blurred--each day without north on my compass is just that every time. We talk a lot about grief, especially lately, since the tides of loss have been sweeping the feet out from under so many people around me. The thing I find myself talking about the most is the luck of it all, which blurs all the lines too; the luck of having known such a person isn't made any less a miracle just because they're no longer here. Henry James wrote a letter to a friend about grief, and it in he said, "We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live." The gift of grief is that we have the chance to pass this love back and forth, across time and space, disregarding all the lines.

Many years later Steinbeck wrote to his son about love, telling him, "Nothing good gets away." I have been finding that this only grows more true as time goes on.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lately I have been dreaming of cats, of letting a new stray in each time I open the door, a tabby and a tiny gray kitten and a big fluffy white cat, regardless of my waking indifference to the race of cats. Dream literature is, perhaps unsurprisingly, expansive on the subject of cats. According to my dreams, everything both good and bad in the world is about to descend directly on my head. (Awake, my friends have been leading their interpretations with uncharitable comments about my taste in men.) Still, some say that dreaming of a stray cat at your door is a sign of good luck, and I will take all of the positive omens I can find, just in case one of them turns out to be true.

Usually at this time of year I dream of daffodils, opening up their yellow throats to shout so loudly that the stars draw down near to listen. Daffodils are pretty universally believed to mean optimism and hope and renewal, the favored child of the genus narcissus. Daffodils should never be given singly, since this brings misfortune into the house; even the flowers know that we should always hope in bunches. In my dreams they yell and yell until the whole world stops and waits, until we gather them in our arms and carpet whole rooms in gold.

Monday, March 19, 2012

So, here's a thing that makes me feel calm: I'm going to Iceland for a few days in May. Josh will already be there doing some conferencing, which is great because if you're going to ride a reindeer across a glacier to slay a volcano or whatever, he's the guy to do it with. (Plus, we have some experience crossing frozen expanses together.) I am feeling the restless all down my bones, and I haven't been anywhere new in so long. I am badly in need of an adventure.

Iceland seems like a good place for me, given that it makes policy decisions that cater to the invisibles and has a cemetery of national heroes populated largely by poets. I'm a little wary of being a tiny redhead among a race of vikings, but the first page my guidebook opened to was titled "Ultima Thule", and this I think is a good omen.The place where the monsters are is usually where things are best.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Not too long ago I came home in the gray light just before dawn, legs sore from dancing too long in the wrong shoes as usual, listening to the morning birds just waking up. This year has continued wreaking havoc on my dearly loved, stealing more organs and parents and a certain amount of dignity, but with all of that we still have our dance parties and our champagne and our laughing too loud and too long. Maybe the universe doesn't give us more than we have the friends to help us handle.

A few days ago I was walking when the weather turned, and I found myself surrounded by a swirl of snowflakes and cherry blossom petals. The wind knocked the breath out of me for a moment and all I could see was a funnel of pink and white. I imagine that if I could have breathed in, in that second, it would have tasted like just before the beginning of the world, cold and sweet and full of promise.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I hear that someone has figured out how to make violin strings from spider silk. This is fun, since it's all modern science and research that have taken us from catgut through metal and synthetics right back around to nature. If we were paying more attention we probably would have long ago noticed all the spiders fiddling on their webs, having spider country dances and long sweet symphonies, hiding their instruments behind their backs whenever anyone else came along. Given what else we know spider silk is capable of, I can only imagine that we will be making violin strings that are impervious to bullets and fire and ultraviolet light, creating sound while the world disintegrates around them.

They found those fossilized spider webs dating back 100 million years or so, all those prehistoric spiders playing songs for the rise of the dinosaurs. Little tiny spider scientists, knowing all along what we're just figuring out.

Friday, March 09, 2012

At one point a few years ago scientists looked at the tiger beetle, with its peculiar way of running in fits and starts, and decided to figure out why. As seems to be so often the case the answer sat in the insect's eyes--it turned out that the tiger beetle runs so fast that its eyes can't gather enough photons to form an image of what it's chasing, so it just shuts down its eyes altogether. It has to stop while it's running just to see where it's gotten to; it's the pursuit itself that blinds the bug.

Maybe I think too much about eyes. It just seems like there are secrets there-- in tiger beetles and ogre-faced spiders and mantis shrimp--that we can't as easily find inside our own eyes. But then. In 1932 Helen Keller went to visit the top of the Empire State Building and wrote a letter to John Huston Finley describing what she saw up there, and in getting to talking about how it looked she said, "It is as easy for the mind to think in stars as in cobble-stones." It's a lot easier to look at eyes than the brains behind them, but sometimes I have these dreams about the tiny little pinpoints left on our brains each time we photochemically change our eyes, like you could peel back my forehead and read what I've seen like braille. Maybe I think too much about eyes, but it's just as easy to see stars as it is to think in them, so maybe I'm really not thinking about them enough.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

I read an article recently that suggested that the crumpled far side of the moon is in truth covered with the remnants of a second moon that ran into it once long ago. It's a curious trajectory in my head, this other moon veering around everything else to slowly run into a place that we can't even see. There's something I find comforting in the thought that even though those bright lights could quietly wink out one night, they may still be kept safe somewhere. They say that something similar may happen to Mars' Phobos, that it will come too close and break apart, that eventually Phobos will be one more layer of dust on the surface of the planet. They say that this has happened countless times before, that nothing can resist the excruciating careen of gravity and space and time.

Expeditions to MOMA made by some of my more trustworthy compatriots seem to confirm that the painting that so frightened me last summer may not actually exist, which is on its own a little alarming. It wouldn't be uncommon for me to make up a spooky thing where none actually exists, but this painting is something unusual. It's possible that the next time I return to New York I'll find something completely the opposite in its place.

In a late night I told a story about Pitch Lake in Trinidad. It's a lake made of asphalt, which always feels counter intuitive, and in the late 1500's Sir Walter Raleigh came across it and used it to mend some holes in his boat. No one has really spent much time figuring out where the lake comes from but they are pretty sure that whole new types of organisms are living in it. That stop in Trinidad was right around when Raleigh was searching for a city of gold, and it seems that along with his crew he must have brought along some of those microbes. An adventurous microbe might have seen Raleigh coming and might even now be colonizing something new, discovering its own city of gold.

Friday, March 02, 2012

It was a year ago tomorrow that I stopped by a bar to meet some friends and strangers for a drink and some talk about Robocop and tuberculosis and walked back out into a world that had shifted slightly sideways. I couldn't have known it at the time, not even with all my rustling the next week about needing something unexpected, but by the fall I would be well down the path toward another hard lesson. I suppose I should know by now to be careful with what I wish for, or at least more specific, but there are some lessons I am unlikely ever to learn. Somehow the only thing that is ever actually unexpected is the universe's consistently indifferent sense of humor.

Still. If we could turn our blessings into money, we would have enough to purchase the moon. If we could turn our blessings into blueberries we could make a million giant pies. Blessings to frogs for gardens and symphonies of ribbits, to diamonds for a glow to outshine the sun. Everything could always be worse, but that has not yet stopped me from wanting everything instead to be better.

I find myself hoping that the spring will bring the sort of calm to be found in the lines of that Beckian Fritz Goldberg poem: "Each time we fall out of love we/ say it wasn't really love at all as if/ landing, a plane would say no, not actual sky." And even if not, whatever else happens will still be unexpected. That's just how springtime works.