Saturday, September 24, 2011

Up in the Air

Where does it come from, trust, and what is its use? Does it exist only to give you courage to do things you shouldn't? Such as love?

I've been thinking lately about this amorphous thing. It is not made of substance, yet it is the very foundation on which you build things of great substance. Your life and all it contains, for instance. Where does it come from--childish hope?

I refer not to love which is given: that is always its own reward. And I refer not to the love we offer so joyously to our children, to our friends, and to our dogs, who alone may be counted on to never change suddenly in midstream: I just decided I don't love you anymore, so I'll see you later. The trust in a dog's return of affection is never misplaced. If anyone is looking for the primary reason we choose as companions domestic canines by the million, there you go.

(I was recently sent--by a fellow dog person, of course--the Mad TV skit in which a man stands on a ledge outside his apartment, ready to end it all, while his wife tries to talk him down. She gets sidetracked by her pets, though, a dozen ankle-biters who get cooed at, wovey-dovey, while he gets readier by the minute to jump. She finally thinks to ask him why--it's because she loves the dogs more than him, of course.)

One cannot always know what children are thinking.
Children are hard to understand, especially when
careful training has accustomed them to obedience
and experience has made them cautious in conversation
with their teachers. Will you not draw from that
fine maxim that one should not scold children too
much but should make them trustful, so that they
will not conceal their stupidities from us?

These are the words, written in 1776, of Catherine the Great of Russia. They illustrate, to devious ends, how trust leads to openness, and openness to the fullest experience of relationships in which nothing needs to be hidden. In this utopia made of trust, the energy one would otherwise devote to manipulation need never be expended. It may be spent in happier ways.

Recently I had cause to write in a notebook: "Insecure people are inherently untrustworthy." And so it is that trust is the chicken-or-egg question rolling endlessly from one side of a life to the other. Being unable to trust one's primary caretaker makes one insecure; then one turns around and later proves himself unworthy of trust.

We have all heard of people who exemplify the sad craziness of falling in love with those who are transparent liars and cheats, but who nonetheless elicit trust from their victim. "He told me he was never going to [fill in the blank] again!" "And you believed him?" "Yes! He promised!"


But how can any of us really know? We go on our merry way, trusting in all sorts of things--the electric light that will go on when we flip the switch, the sun that rises every morning (so far!), the honesty of our elected officials, the promise and the vow and the kiss. Is it all a big craps shoot? Maybe someday we will be able to determine the logarithm of trust, that which will render heartbreak a thing of the past--the princess telephone of emotion.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Out There

Last weekend, I went on a date with my dog.

The sun, which I'd feared had spun off into the farther universe never to return again, finally came out. It had rained for weeks, it seemed. We hadn't had a decent walk in a long time. It was Friday evening; I was feeling too restless to stay at home. Besides, I was curious about what had happened to the small town of Phoenicia in the floods. Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do: walk up the side of a mountain just outside town, then take Nelly out for a nice dinner. Even if I would be the one eating it.

It would be my first dinner out alone in so many years I can't count. I never liked it back then, fearing I wore the visible badge of the pathetic. I usually armed myself with a book. I wanted to be braver than that now, but I have to admit I wasn't: I brought a pad of paper on which to write. Just in case the muse visited, you know.

Phoenicia has always been a magnet to me. I love the way the mountains cup it; I love the fact that Main Street is two blocks long, then vanishes into the formidable green. I wanted to buy a house there. Now I'm glad I didn't: Phoenicia is sort of cursed.

Their library burned a few months ago. And every time it rains, now, the town is flooded.

There were piles of food and supplies in Rotary park, left for anyone who needs them. There was a board for posting help needed/help offered. The streets were coated with silt and mud, and huge piles of dirt that had been
scraped up stood everywhere.

I watched two women, one maybe a young sixty, come out of Mama's Boy across the street from where Nelly & I were dining. They were eating ice cream cones. They walked over to the restaurant, where they spied someone they knew on the patio behind me. I heard the older woman say, "Did you see my house? It collapsed just yesterday." She then reached down to pet Nelly, and tell me she was just like the dog she'd wanted to get a while ago. Now, she said, she was glad she didn't. But I said, "Do--for when you rebuild." She smiled and said, "Yes, that can be my reward."

I felt bad for every moment I've ever spent pitying myself. This woman, who'd lost everything, could smile, and hope for a dog.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


The traditional gift for a tenth anniversary is made of tin.

Perhaps that is why the tenth anniversary of the terrible, momentous events of September 11 are bringing out the conspiracy theories again. Apparently nothing got the doubters going quite like the structural damage of the Pentagon, which seemed to them impossible to square with a commercial jetliner going into the side of this building. They don't see airplane debris (or if they do, it was what was surreptitiously brought there later, no matter that it would be hard to hide such maneuvers in the hours following one of the most well-publicized and photographed events of the century). Every picture of this site has been scrutinized, stared at until it's a miracle the photos themselves didn't burn, and reposted online overlaid with impressive-looking lines, arrows, and angles supposedly pointing out the fact that there is something being hidden from us.

Of course there is something hidden: the answer why. Not the complex, distant historical answer; political theorists have plenty of explanations, most of which make sense and most of which none of us have any use for. But the answer why destruction and death rained suddenly one beautiful blue-sky day, and made us wonder: God, why?

According to the experts who have considered the proliferation of conspiracy theories in the wake of large and effectively incomprehensible events, it is more comforting to believe not that we are random targets but rather are worthy of elaborate, careful constructions of huge scope intended to dupe us. We are prized. And the long unraveling--the deceptions never fully unreeled, they are that big--keeps the thing from ever having an end. We can study it forever. It is never over; "over" is the point at which you bury the dead.

It is as impossible to describe what was truly felt that day as to catch the tail of a kite, line cut, that becomes smaller and smaller against the white of a large sun. Everyone has their story, every detail etched with acid on the memory's plate. You remember exactly where you were when you heard. Or, for so many of my friends, where they watched the black smoke billowing into the sky, which building roof or avenue they stood on as they watched a tall tower sink to the ground like a poleaxed animal. That sight was impossible to fully grasp either with eye or emotion. The gray ash fell everywhere over the city, and then our world.

I know exactly where I was, and why. My child's second birthday. The parents visiting. The phone call, bizarrely from across the ocean, the voice asking in French: Are you all right?

As we sat eating breakfast outdoors on the patio, the planes must have gone directly overhead; they followed the line of the Hudson River south to reach their objectives.

Later, the first time I revisited the city that had been like my second parents, the city that raised me to adulthood, the bus came around the spiral of roadway pouring us into the Lincoln Tunnel. I saw that great cityscape, but now with something missing that had seemed it would always be there (the Twin Towers were how I, directionally challenged, oriented myself when emerging from the subway: ah, there--that's south, then). The gasp undid me.

When people hear that September 11 is my son's birth date, they for a moment look stunned, as if they don't know how to respond. Is it a tragedy? No, not for me. It allows the happiness of hopeful new life to pull on the other end of the line that is pulling back with eternal sadness. I don't know why, either.

This week, as if on cue, the leaves started falling from the trees.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

These Thoughts (After a Storm)

Twice a day, empty sixteen-wheelers roll past my house. They are going to the factory next door. When they roll past again, the other way, they are loaded with silent wind chimes. These will someday hang outside of homes all over the world, where they will make sonorous sounds. When the wind kicks up, they will bang and cry.

The first fortune cookie that cracked open, empty, brought forth a nervous laugh. It went sort of like "uh-ha-ar-a-aah." But the second one, a week later, caused nothing outward. Just a sudden cold inside. I am to have no future? Or, maybe: I am to write my own future. That came from the brave little imp who lives inside me. He is very perverse.
Drinking a gin & tonic right now from a purple glass. I bought the set because on the box it said "Happy."

Children love ghost stories because they get scared. Then they get scared.

The term "glacial erratics" sounds like a poem.

He kept opening the basement door to shine a light down on the strange sight of two and a half feet of water, just sitting there.

In the woods, nothing looked different. In our yards, the devastation was breathtaking. This is the difference between nature and domestication.

Friday night, and where is everyone?

While the rain fell, I read out loud from a set of booklets that had brought magic into my childhood, and sent me out into the woods to see what evidence of fairies there I could find, as had the photographer and author, Ellen Fenlon. Each book cost 29 cents. A Woodland Circus. Signs of the Fairies. The Fairy Church in the Woods. In the pictures, things looked like other things. "We saw some little mayapple umbrellas stuck in the ground because it had been raining earlier." "The bloodroot shows each fairy just how to wrap a leaf around himself to make a nice warm coat." There are many, many orchids pictured--all of them, all of these wonders of nature, photographed in the woods of northeastern Ohio. I don't think there are many orchids left. On the final page, the author's biography: "Ellen Fenlon lives at 945 Hessel Drive in Akron, Ohio. She is helping to save the woods from being cut down so that all the little animals and plants won't be chased out of their homes. That way your children and grandchildren will have a place where they can go and visit them." The year was 1962. I go visit them in these books now.

The days when the electricity was out had more hours in them.