Friday, December 31, 2010

I am Actually Reading Right Now

When one is alone a lot, as I am, one thinks about things.  I mean, I might be reading an article and a word or a thought reminds of something and then that leads to something else and suddenly I find myself mulling something that has nothing to do with what I am ostensibly reading.  Yesterday I got my latest New Yorker and, as is my wont, I began reading it from front to back – rereading all the synopses of current Broadway plays and films available at certain esoteric locations around New York City, and the letters to the editor and so forth, and today I started an article on the artistic director or whatever it is of a fashion house of which I have never previously heard.  I read these things (the article preceding was on the Vatican Library) because the writers published in the New Yorker are so gifted that everything is interesting when one of them writes about it. 

The first mental digression occurred right off the bat because there was a photograph of the subject of the article - a German named Tomas Maier, whose first name is really Thomas, but which he altered for reasons which he justifies one way, but which I suspect really boils down to an attempt to make himself interesting.  The article described him as looking like a “hipster monk” (one trick of writing for the New Yorker is to master the art of oxymoronic descriptives), so I was interested to see the actual photo of the man, and, by gosh, he DOES sort of look monkish in a roughly good-looking way.  What I noticed particularly, though, is that he has beautiful hands, and it was this that got me off into one of my usual tangential reveries. 

When I was younger, I thought of beautiful hands as those which occurred in paintings, rather than the actual appendages of breathing humanity.  I refer to those medieval depictions of the Virgin or saints with the gently arched fingers which give no hint of actual musculature within.  There is the graceful hand of Michelangelo’s Virgin in his Piet√†, or those various depictions of Jesus or of saints with hands having the two first fingers raised and the thumb extended.    Sitters for portraitists seemed, before 1880, to drape their hands nervelessly in ‘beautiful’ formations.  But some years ago, I began to realize that when I see someone whose hands look attractive to me, the attraction lies in the strength and utility that is exhibited.  I like hands that look like they can – and do – perform actual work.   Fingers should look strong and capable.  Most people think, consciously or not, that their mother’s hands are beautiful; certainly I do.  I like looking at my mother’s hands, there is history in them.  Even now, I see the fingers that held Kleenex when she commanded me to, “Blow!”, that held the hankies moistened with her own saliva to wipe spots off my face, that sprinkled flour over the greased cookie sheet, that grasped the handle of the kitchen pump to draw water from our cistern; and they look warm and able and beautiful and alive to me.   I like men’s hands to look like they can grasp things.  People talk of the unpleasantness of a limp handshake, but I don’t much care about the handshake; what is a real turn-off to me are limp hands themselves, and tentative, ineffectual gestures.

I turned the page in my article, and there in a space embraced by the article I was reading was a poem entitled “Crepuscular” by Kimberly Johnson.  Now, ‘crepuscular’ is one of those words I have to look up again each time I see it, because I never remember from one time to the next what it means – even in a general sense.  It is certainly one of the ugliest words in all of English with its overtones of scabs and pustules and general crustiness, at least in the spelling and pronunciation.  I am pretty sure it is nothing of the sort (I pause here to look it up AGAIN).   There!  I knew it!  It means something beautiful: twilight – how did something so lovely as twilight (or the pertinence thereto) get an ugly word like crepuscular, which sounds like it should be applied to urban decay or gangrenous sores? 

At any rate, as soon as I came to the end of my current paragraph, I read the poem which I rather liked.  But there was a line that again sent me wandering – a tangent within a tangent – that spoke of autumn sunlight:
“…That’s what the sun does
In autumn, slanting southward and brownly
Between the hunched houses of the neighborhood.”

What struck me, besides the fact that I liked the poem, and this fit right in, was that I had been thinking just yesterday very specifically about how the light of winter was different and how the light of early morning is so full of hope and promise, while the light of late afternoon is so different, even though each is hitting the earth at the same angle, only from different directions.  Is it because I know one is morning light and the other evening?  They seem to look different; evening light seems to have more gold in it, as if a little blood had spilled into the silver gilt of the light that morning brought.   Autumn and winter light (like the ‘beautiful’ hands of old paintings) seem to hold no power, no oomph, as though the sun had a headcold and was just going through the motions.   In a larger sense, it seems eerie that something I think of one day out of a clear blue sky (so to speak) shows up in my reading or conversation or TV viewing the very next day.  It seems to happen all the time. 

When I think about things, such as the above, I find myself composing paragraphs about them.   I am rather poor at visualizing things I haven’t actually seen, for instance picturing a forest or beach or whatever.  (I can never picture my green summer yard when it is winter, or my barren winter yard in summer.) I have to think of a particular beach or forest, and then I wind up all tied up mentally with what happened there or with whom I went there.   I think in words and although I see the people and places about which I dream when asleep, there is an element of narrative, of being slightly aloof or at one remove from what is going on.  The lead character in my dreams, the “I” person, is frequently not me.  I know the thoughts and emotions of the dreamer but he, or sometimes she, is not the me I know when I am awake – we differ in appearance and age, in motive, in our concerns, our remembered histories.   I have attributed much of my descriptive or narrative abilities, such as they are, to the need when I was younger to hide, and to pose as someone I am not.  In this sense, my past was a gift.  Many of the painful periods of any life are gifts in disguise, very costly gifts, it is true, but once the rough stuff is past, there is a wonderful pool of awareness that is left in which to bathe.  It seems to be every parent’s aim to shelter his child from the very things that made that parent so spectacular.  “I don’t want my kid to suffer like I did,” is a two-edged sword.  The desire that one’s child have a better life than one’s own kind of depends on the definition of ‘better’.  People do not love chocolate for its sweetness alone.  It is that tiny edge of bitterness that makes the sweetness special. 

And now, if I am not to add this New Yorker to the guilt stack of those I have not finished, I must return to my reading.  See how I never get from A to B without a detour?   Now, Mr. Maier, if we may resume…

Oh and one more digression (in case I mysteriously disappear from Blogland).  I am, as we speak, drinking coffee lightened by CoffeeMate from a huge can which, when I got it home, appeared to have been previously opened.  I thought of all those articles about product tampering, and then I thought about all the hassle of returning this can or the cost of throwing it out, and I did the math.  Besides, isn't it as likely that someone hid an emerald ring inside the can as a shot of anthrax?  Live for the moment, say I, and the moment doesn't seem to call for a trip back to Sam's Club.  So if I am not here tomorrow, it wasn't the emerald ring...


  1. David, you keep me spellbound from beginning to end with your writing. You do have a great gift for putting words in the right order.
    It really irritates me no end when I get something home that is partially opened. I usually do as you did with the coffee, go ahead and use it. I suspect you will still be with us all tomorrow. ;-)

  2. BETH - Well, first, thanks. A lot. You speak, (he said, moving on to paragraph 2) as if you get things partially opened all the time. One hopes this is not so. And, if I AM still among those extant tomorrow, will that be good news or bad? Myself, I am never entirely sure...

  3. I love emeralds. Don't leave us hangin' tomorrow - please post somethin' by noon so as not to keep us in suspense about your possible demise.

    Happy New Year, I hope.

  4. As always, your musings are interesting and thought-provoking, but I'm particularly intrigued by your dreams.

    Egocentrically, no doubt, I always thought I was the only one who had dreams from another's perspective. I'm not always even female, which I've found to be really strange upon waking...and in a few, I don't speak English (though I somehow always understand the thoughts and language of this other person). I've always wondered if this was unusual, or if other people simply didn't remember. Hmmmm....

  5. Hello. I find myself visiting here once more, or again. You do lure me back with your interesting views and quite the enlightened detours of thought. Or maybe I jist wanna look up sommore words LOL! I am sure you would laugh at the way I write, but hey I'm free white an 21. That's what folks said back home alot. Ennaway, I am me...I wish you a very adventurous new year!

  6. MIZANGIE - I also like emeralds - diamonds are so last century. If I am awake, I'll check in, or not - as the mood takes me - so far no anthrax, though...

    COLLEENQ - I sometimes speak Arabic - and much better than when awake, which makes me suspect some of it is made up. Yeah - the being of the other sex is weird, although at the time it seems so normal. I love my dreams - they tend to be happy and exhilarating, in sharp contradistinction to my life.

    TOODIE - I have actually been your way before. Did I fail to leave tracks? They used to say 'free, white and 21' up here too, although I haven't heard it lately. And an adventurous New Year to you too(at least in spirit).

  7. I loved this post, David, all of it. I do think dreams are very important, not just for a release of the brain into fantasy, but for solving problems. If I'm really stuck on what's the better thing to do (or even what to do at all), I will think of the situation before I go to sleep and very consciously ask the question of "what should I do and how should I do it". Works every time; the answer is always given in the dream and I'm off and running.
    Happy New Year, David. Your year is going to be stunning. xoxoxo

  8. Whilst I'm thinking about it, David, one of my first actions in the new year is to express gratitude: thank you for being here, for sharing your love of human experience, and for doing so in such an engaging way.

    I'm dragging my anchor now...


  9. David, I'd posted a rather lengthy comment for you before I started dragging my anchor, and the comment disappeared.

    I'll be back later to respond to your lovely essay in a worthy way.

    Right now, I'm too frustrated and will apply some Bailey's to salve that frustration.

  10. (EUREKA! I recovered the aforementioned comment by pasting it from my trusty old clipboard. Long story; I'll spare you the details.)

    So much to think about, David; I'll most likely be back a la Jenny (*waves "hi" to our gregarious friend*) with more stuff which "just occurred to me" as it occurs.

    About mental digressions: welcome to my brain. My patient and long-suffering Steve--the linear thinker in our relationship--has learned in the two decades or so that we've known each other that none of my thoughts will ever be linear or free of digression. I'm one of the few people you will ever know who actually lists thinking as a recreational pursuit. I absolutely love my mental processes and the likely and unlikely places they take me.

    Imagine the most energetic internet surfing session you've ever experienced (you know, where the sidebar links in a website are more interesting than the site itself and you end up in completely unrelated areas and go further and further down the rabbit hole of virtual information...); that's my brain at work. I think some of my best writing results from that peculiarity of mine; I've thought this way for as long as I can remember and doubt that it will ever change. There's most likely medication for it, but I shall decline if ever offered same.

    I understand the gift/curse of internal narrative you mentioned toward the end of your essay; been there, done that, and love it (most of the time, anyway).

    Jeez...I've probably written too much to post here; let's see if it will post when I hit "pos comment" (crosses fingers)...

  11. It always seemed sorrowful to me that by the time we begin to find the proper ratio of sweet to sour there often is not much time left.

  12. @JENNYD – I definitely find problems solved after a good sleep, but I have never been aware of any solution appearing in my dream. However I ALWAYS dream, and my dreams are nearly always happy and wonderful, so maybe the answers are in the dream and I don’t remember, or maybe just the happy little vacation leaves me sharp again. And thanks – but ‘stunning’ seems to be one of those ‘two-edge-sword’ words…
    @MARGE – I think leaving off the ‘t’ in the final mention of the word ‘post’ just allowed your comment to edge in under the wire. It is not just my writing or reading that veers madly off course as you describe, but everything – I go to do one thing and I end up doing another, which gets interrupted by my doing a third. The ONLY way I clean ever, is when I am in the middle of doing something else- which is usually remains unfinished and itself needs cleaning up in a day or two. One thing about a butterly mind: it is always entertaining, at least to the thinker, although it is maddening to oneself and others if there is a project underway that needs to get done. Uh-oh, I just rmembered, tax returns are coming up – every receipt is going to send me woolgathering. And thanks for the thanks.
    @LAOCH – Having just a little – even of time – is probably what makes things wonderful. If I had always been wise (if I am, even now) I would have missed all the fun.