Sunday, April 10, 2011

One Last Nap Before Waking

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Shhh; Mostly, Buds Are Still Nestled Under Their Covers

Pat and I went for a walk last weekend, after the winter storm watch stopped. We drove to Pound Ridge, New York & Bedford, New York and here is some of what we saw:

This is the Morgenthau Preserve in Pound Ridge, New York, about 20 minutes from where I grew up in Stamford, Connecticut, and so the terrain -- rocks, trees, stonewalls, native plants -- is the same. Just a few steps into the trail, a huge, fluffy, white dog with muddy paws burst toward us from up the hill. There's a sign at the front of the preserve that reads, "No pets," so we figured it was from a neighboring house. A moment later, a woman walked by above us, acting nonchalant and not calling to the dog. Otherwise, it was the peaceful sort of place to walk around with another person, but both of us have seen too many crime-shows and agreed we'd never walk around there alone, sadly.

By contrast to these woodsy photos, I'm listening to fun R&B as I write the narrative for this entry, and Kashif's "Help Yourself to My Love" is playing on Probably, this was among the songs that played on my FM radio headphones (pre-Walkman days) as I rollerskated up and down Hickory Road, across the street from my childhood house. Hickory Road featured a stonewall like this one all the way down one side of it. Pat liked the lichen all over these stones.

It's hard to tell, but if you know skunk cabbage, you can see the center of some in the middle of this photo. My neighborhood-friends, Didi, Helene and HoneyB and I used to pull out these cores and toss them at each other to be funny. Skunk cabbage is called skunk cabbage for a reason. Didi grew up to be a Pan Am flight attendant and then a jeweler and her little sister Helene is a luxury travel agent based in London; HoneyB also lives in a London suburb...but there we were as little kids, tromping around in the sometimes swampy Connecticut woods among stonewalls, vines and skunk cabbage.

Here's the sign Pat and I found at the start of our hiking adventure in Bedford, New York, which is next to Pound Ridge. As we walked, we felt like we were in a scene from a PBC Masterpiece Mysteries show, which usually happen in the English countryside. It was a cloudy afternoon and chilly. Again, had we been alone, a pastoral day in the woods and fields would have felt creepy, I'm sure.

I figured it was a Dogwood tree -- hard for me to tell without flowers -- but Pat, who's taken a class on tree-identification more recently than I (last year for her vs. 35 years ago, for me, when I was 10) assured me that it was a Magnolia. I would not have thought of Magnolias as being native to the Northeast; I always think of them as a Southern tree -- maybe due to that movie, "Steel Magnolias." I liked their peach-fuzzy buds. The bad news was that almost nothing was in bloom yet during our visit. The good news was that we had the sense that everything was taking a final nap prior to waking up for the season, and the other plus was that we had the garden and fields to ourselves.

Inside the box labeled, "Bedford Audubon Society," were charcoal pencils for sketching and stickers of birds. I felt like a kid again and wished I had paper with me to do some drawing, but settled for photographing what I saw with my Droid phone instead. It's interesting that when I was a kid, the closest thing to my cellphone camera would have been a Polaroid camera, but while the photos likewise would have been instant, they would not have been instantly, globally distributable. Miki Howard is doing her version of Boz Skagg's "Lowdown" now on -- the original version also is from my early years.

It's easy to see where they found the stones to build this house. When we moved from Illinois to New Jersey 15 years ago, Pat was sad about our soil. She was used to rich, black dirt in Illinois. Northeastern soil is full of rocks. And in my case, I found Illinois soil disorienting in its purity.

When Pat and I lived in Bengaluru/Bangalore, India for six months in 2007, one of our favorite leisure-moments was a guided tour of the Lal Bagh by a local botanist. Lal Bagh is the city's park and botanical garden. It featured so many tree-varieties, including a gigantic Banyan tree, the tall roots of which accommodated a large Muslim family or group of friends as a natural sofa. This little American Beech couldn't have been more different than the Banyan. Many of the trees in the woods in Bedford had been labeled, including a Sugar Maple, White and Black Oaks and even Witch Hazel. I didn't even know there was such a tree. I just thought that Witch Hazel was an astringent that came in a bottle. Now, I know where the medicine comes from.

Probably, my life-long love of rocks and minerals began as I played outside as a child. There are so many interesting geologic formations in the part of the world, where I grew up. Most common was mirror-like, silvery, layered mica, orange-pink feldspar and gneiss. And while our soil was challenging for gardeners, the land hosted giant boulders that always made me think of ancient times, when they first must have emerged. Here's one that Pat has walked past: a big bunch of gneiss.

Finally, here's another natural toy we played with as kids: Milkweed. This photo shows how the pod already has burst open and the wispy, silky seeds are beginning to fly out on their own. When we were young, milkweed was a miracle. A bunch used to grow on the left side of our driveway and the neighborhood kids, including my sisters and I, would split open the pods and if they weren't yet ready to release their seeds, the inside was milky. We'd pull out the seeds with their feathery tails in any case and toss them around. The whole area should have been full of milkweeds, considering our yearly campaign. Sometimes, by myself, I'd open a pod and rub the silky parts against my cheek and would feel soothed, less lonely.

Now, on, the Brothers Johnson are urging everyone to "Stomp." How can I be blogging about tender childhood moments while listening to R&B music on in parallel? The answer might be found in this excellent article by Virgina Heffernan. She talks about how the Internet is no more an addiction than other, "...classier pastimes..." e.g., reading fiction or listening to operas. So why not be writing, posting photos and listening to songs from my youth concurrently?...I think I know why: It's likely that I could have focused and made a more poignant product if I had just been blogging around the photos, without the additional musical stimulation. Or perhaps not. Maybe a different creative product emerges with pluses as well as minuses.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Poems Inspired by a Book

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Where My Sisters and I Are

Where are the sisters who read *Hiawatha* to me?
Who gave me magic-mask shampoos and rides on the
soles of their upturned feet?

Where are the sisters who played Chess with me and
Serata and taught me to bike-ride? Who made
whirlpools to gather leaves in our tree-canopied
pool and skinny-dipped with me on summer-nights?

Where are the sisters who taught me how to sing
"Ma Nishtana" at the Passover Seder? Who watched
forbidden TV with me when our parents were out?

Where are the sisters who mothered me and helped
me defy our mother in parallel? Who spent time
with me when our mother was too tired and who
baked Scotch Shortbread when our mother was out,
since she almost never brought sugary snacks
into our home?

Where are the sisters who taught me "The Facts of
Life" at the school bus-stop, when I was seven? Who
endured the aftermath of my eating an entire box of
Sunsweet(TM) prunes during an eight-hour ride, as our
father (not yet of blessed memory then) drove us up to
Rochester for my mother's mother's -- our nana's --
funeral when I was eight?

Where are the sisters who celebrated my first birthday
as a teen by taking me to a Pointer Sisters concert in
Central Park? Who hosted me in Tel Aviv and at
Columbia University during two special weekends, also
in my teen-years?

Where are the sisters who left their record collections
behind when they left the house, enabling me to play
Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Steeleye Span, Leonard
Cohen and Aqualung albums, which reminded me of them,
even as I preferred groups like the Pointer Sisters?

Where are the sisters who left me, feeling effectively
like an only-child day-to-day, since I was the only
daughter left in the house from ages 11-18? Who helped
me dress for my father's (z"l) funeral at 17, selecting
a red, paisley, wool scarf to wear over black, and then
cutting the scarf for me while I was wearing it, as a
sign of mourning?

Where are the sisters who bailed me out in Chicago, when
I needed an urgent, $200-loan? Who made me feel hopeful
during low periods? Who sacrificed a good chunk of their
childhoods to be second and third mothers to me?

They are parenting their own children now, making life-
histories with their husbands and helping me keep our
aging mother company.

Where am I? Still providing companionship for my mom, but
also parenting, and receiving parenting from, my partner
Pat, and co-parenting two adopted cats. I'm glad I've lived
long enough to form my own family, and wish I didn't still
feel pouty about my sisters' genuine children, interrupting
the attention I got from my sisters back in the day.

And I am grateful still to have one out of four of my
original parents left, and a new one in Pat, over the past
nearly 19 years.

Pausing on Page 124 for Reflection Disguised as Poetry

Jill Bialosky's youngest sister did not finish her life
I have a sister Jill's age, and one in between; I'm the
youngest, like Jill's baby sister Kim.

Never wanted to kill myself, except fleetingly, in Chicago,
in my early-twenties, after a love didn't work out and since
I felt like I was in a job beneath me with no idea of how to
climb out from under it. No romantic love, no real money and
neither in sight; those were my reasons for despair.

My friend, Marsha, coincidentally from the same Cleveland
suburb as Jill and her little sister, Shaker Heights, said,
"You don't want to die. You just want the pain to stop."

True! That's all I wanted. And I never again contemplated
suicide. Probably, what had kept the idea at bay till then, as
much as a lack of desperation up to that point, was an elementary
school lesson:

We were taught that it was forbidden for Jews to kill ourselves
and that those of us who did were buried on the fringe of the
cemetery, not alongside the rest of our family and community.

Little did I know that since my dad of blessed memory was
buried in the cemetery affiliated with the Modern Orthodox
synagogue, where we belonged when he died, I'm not qualified to
be buried alongside my family and community in any case, since I
want to be buried next to Pat[ricia], with a joint-headstone that
indicates our couplehood.

In my case, and ultimately in Jill's little sister's case, the
early-twenties were challenging to survive. My middle sister
encouraged me once during that period: "Sarah, turning 30 was like
being let out of jail." Everything became easier once my twenties
were over.

I wish Kim Bialosky had had a friend like Marsha, or had been
haunted by the Orthodox rabbis' warning or had not lost her father
so early, or....Like Jill, the author, I am wishing for a solution
to the mystery of her sister Kim's suicide and maybe all there will
ever be are clear clues -- looks that way so far....

Both of these poems were inspired by *History of a Suicide: My sister's Unfinished Life;* here's a link to an interview with the author.