29 August 2010

Fall, 2010

I suppose that it is a certain confluence of occurrences that alerts me that it is becoming Fall. Of course, there is the advent of school. For almost sixty years I have prepared for the beginning of a new school year, once with looseleaf binders and pencils and crayons, then with notebooks and texts, and now with syllabi. There is an excitement to the beginning of the academic calendar, though I am not certain I can define the source of that anticipation. Perhaps it has something to do with knowledge, but that is not at all clear.

Fall also brings with it the High Holidays and the anticipation of the celebration of these sacred times. During these days the world seems to stop, and when we exit from the shul sometime after Sukkot, Fall is present.

The air, too, seems to possess a changed quality, though again, I am not sure that this is not something I impose on the air from my own sensibility of Fall arriving. There is a certain coolness to the air even in the midst of a hot late summer day that hints at Fall. It feels as if something had been removed from the air and the atmosphere becomes thinner and even fresher. The air takes on a particular scent, a consequence I think of the aging leaves preparing their deaths, and the trees entering a dormancy from which they will not exit for almost a half of the year. Squirrels appear frenetically active, burying every morsel that can be found still laying on the ground. The birds, all except the crows, start looking south.

I clean the fireplace and take out my corduroys. I will not need them for several weeks yet—even perhaps for a month⎯but it is a comfort to know that they hang expectantly for when the time is right.

I’ve never minded Autumn. Indeed, I’ve always anticipated it. Kitty Donohoe sings, “Some hold out for one last change/ Me, I love an Autumn Dance.” So do I, though I don’t usually dance.

21 August 2010

On Tattooing, with apologies

I’m going to make an extreme statement for which I am certain to be soon sorry. Knowing I will regret much of what I will here say, I feel nonetheless compelled to utter thoughts that ought to interest no one⎯not even myself. However, I’ve been carrying these feelings for awhile and raising them only occasionally in conversation with trusted friends, but I suspect that they are best now unloaded, as it were, and give my psyche room to develop other absurd concerns.

Lately I am finding the more recent popularity of tattooing and piercing very violent and unattractive practices. Personally, I don’t like attach any aesthetic value to these tattoos, and I certainly could not imagine subjecting my body to such assault. Taking out splinters with a pin characterizes my willingness to put any sharp implement against my skin. But injecting ink (sometimes in multiple and bold colors) seems hardly a pacific or painless exercise. I read somewhere that in some cultures withstanding a tattooing represents some mark of courage and maturity⎯exhibiting an ability to withstand physical pain. In our Western society, the willingness to inflict pain on the body is a sign of either sado- or masochistic tendencies, and is a practice upon which society usually frowns. Hamlet asks, who would fardels bear when one could her quietus make with a bare bodkin? But I look about and people are pricking themselves with these bodkins with some frequency and I cannot understand why? Doesn’t it hurt? And some of these designs (more today than yesterday) are elaborate, sometimes covering large sections (sometimes whole sections) of the body.

I have heard that many consider tattooing a form of art, and I suppose indeed, it might be considered to be so by some, though definitely not by me. And though the work seems intricate and stylish, though often it seems even skilled, these designs (?) effected on the skin of living human beings turns what might be interesting into some bizarre exhibition. And I cannot understand (the key words in this screed thus far) why choosing to wear the work of someone else on ones own body is attractive or important. I suppose a decision to tattoo ones self might have some personal import, but the practice itself, carried out, would still offend me viscerally. Okay, one wants to wear art, but perhaps a t-shirt emblazoned with these designs might suffice, though not all designs and not in all venues.

Many of the designs are somewhat simple, and some are inconspicuously placed; some, I am certain I never see at all, though I suspect they serve some purpose about which I would prefer not to know. However, the ones I do see are very much in view⎯on arms, legs, on chests, and on the smalls and larges of backs, on shoulders left and right, and on heads and necks. And then are the tattoos that are elaborate designs that cover the body parts and are inked in strong, bold patterns and colors, leaving no skin unmarked, and I feel assaulted by the broadcast volume and the demand to view. Just yesterday I saw a tattoo done circling the left ankle—almost like an ankle bracelet, but this appeared not at all delicate and off-setting, but was inked in black and appeared to me in drawn in the image of barbed wire.

I experience these tattoos as a form of violence: these bodily displays remind me at times of the t-shirts I hate to stare at but which demand that I do so—like the ones which have blazoned across the chest “Do not stare at my chest.” These tattoos demand to be seen, and though I need not look, why else are they so obviously visible? What if I wore on my body a piece of clothing with say, a Picasso nude screen-printed on it, wouldn’t someone object. Certainly such attire would not be permitted in a school building. And these tattoos enter a space too brassly and ostentatiously; there is little subtlety or serenity about their presence. They are a voluble distraction.

But then, perhaps I am grown jealous at my own invisibility.

16 August 2010

16 August 2010

I get up each morning and dust off my wits,
I open the papers and read the obits
If I’m not there, I know I’m not dead
Then I eat a good breakfast and go back to bed!!

It has been my birthday, and though these days (metaphorically) birthdays are less significant events than they were before, birthdays are nonetheless significant. My birthday calls me back to the moments when birthdays were important occasions—when growing older was too slow a process and aging not even a consideration. When gifts and parties signified my presence and the concern of others. And I was so much older then . . .

I have today been remembered by the important people in my life, and even by those who I wouldn’t have recognized as recognizing me. It will be a somewhat quiet, solitary but contented evening. Tomorrow I will happily return to the writing and the diurnal having lived for at least today in the special ether of my birthday.

09 August 2010


Not a week goes by when I do not receive a request to become someone’s friend on Facebook. Most times I willingly friend some one (a term I have learned from my daughters is the appropriate description for my decision), and I have over the years acquired a list of friends.

Most of whom I never hear from again. Some of whom I haven’t heard from a first time. Now, I suspect that because I do not use Facebook as my primary means of connection to the larger world (the smaller world being my children who will not friend me but who text more than regularly!), I might be missing some significant interactions. But probably not, since if someone wanted to actually communicate with me they could just as easily find my email address and receive an almost immediate response.

I suppose I could be considered a Luddite, but I cannot understand the appeal of Facebook on which my children (and apparently many, many of my colleagues) spend considerable time. But I do not really care to know when anybody is sitting at any one particular coffee house or at the airport, or is frustrated because something happens in the world to really piss them off. I keep thinking of the Tralfamadorians, who communicate in a particularly telegraphic style. I’ve always found telegraph messages too emotionless. And inadequate to their intent.

Perhaps one day I might find use for this tool, but right now I cannot imagine ever desiring to use Facebook.

In the meantime the weather is overwhelmingly oppressive—there appears to be no air, and whatever air remains does not move. The powers that be (usually weatherpeople) say do not go outside after noon, but I’m wearing this contraption to monitor my heart rhythms (shouldn’t there be a poem in that image?), and so for the next twenty four hours I will not move very much at all.

The news is all bad: I won’t read it today. I’ll continue with Jose Saramago’s novel, All the Names. I think it is significant piece of literature—if anybody out there has read it, would you care to discuss? To my mind (with twenty pages remaining) it is a map of our lives in this world where we all have names. And then somewhere on page 159 and extending for about ten pages or so, the narration shifts from third person (Senhor José) to first person (I), and I am thoroughly intrigued as the reason. It is the scene where Senhor José returns to the ground floor apartment occupied by the old woman who was the unknown woman’s godmother, and who had offered to Senhor José the first clue that sent him off to discover the identity of the unknown woman. In that search Senhor José moves through a life.