Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sky Above, Sand Beneath

We returned last night from what has become an annual trek to the sands of South Carolina and the lure of waves crashing on shore, sun and great food and more important than those, a few very close friends with whom we share the week.

I look forward to three things during the week we are gathered: walking the beach, starting before the sun is above the horizon, and the sky has only a few golden hints of the day ahead; sitting and talking over coffee on the wide and deep screened porch that faces the ocean; writing in a room the others have agreed is mine for the week. I follow the same schedule that I follow here on the mountain: early morning ramble (but without my pal Teddy), a leisurely breakfast (but with the other early risers), then work until noon or so. Afternoons at the beach are for reading, talking, and occasional forays into the more citified areas around us. Closer than the small city we consider our commercial anchor here at home, and about as many cars per mile as in all of our county.

There is something about being away from one’s "regular" desk, I think, that opens the mind to more creativity. I generally have at least one story I’m working on when we get there, and add a lot of new material. I finished my first novel there some years ago, and at least a couple of short stories, and added to other works-in-progress. It is a working vacation, but for me every day is a working day. I suppose that is because I wouldn’t know how to not work, as long as I can work.

I also had a birthday while we were on the Island, pushing me closer (but not all the way) to the end of another decade. There are few things I value in life, but most of them come together on the shore of the Atlantic ocean. They show up in sharp relief there, where other things can’t intrude: family, friends, solitude and sharing, and work. Especially word-work. For me, those are the things that balance my life, and in that order of importance. Within those boundaries I find the essentials: love, laughter, learning. As my clock runs faster, it is the eternal repetitiveness of those things that slows it down enough for me to read the time.

How do you leave footprints in the sand that don’t get washed away? I walk every morning along the beach. I can usually see where I’ve come from by looking for the distinct impression of my sandals. When I come down onto the sand tomorrow though, I will have to make a new trail on new sand. I may make an impression, but that isn’t the same as leaving a permanent mark. To do that you must do more than take a walk, I think.

I’ve been walking the beach for a long time. If I’ve made an impression that will be there tomorrow, it will be because someone else has seen it and found it useful. The best one can hope for is that the footstep that covers yours will in turn be covered by another and eventually someone will rise above it all and make a lasting impression.

So much for finding poetical reminders of the impermanence of it all.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Shifters and Flippers

We were coming home from a shopping expedition (given where we live, every trip is an expedition) the other day, taking the scenic route through a small village with stop lights. Now, our county has no real stop lights, just one that blinks yellow going east and west and red going north and south, but that’s it. Stopping, while not optional on the red side, isn’t a lengthy process. If you don’t spend a lot of time in that part of the county, when changes occur you don’t necessarily notice them. But the town we drove through has several stop lights, and this time we hit them all.

Sitting waiting for the last one to turn green, I looked around and noticed that a restaurant on the corner had been redecorated and renamed. It looked much more up-scale than it had, and it occurred to me that over the years that we have been passing through there, it had undergone several changes. When we were first coming to this part of the region it was a simple, home-cooking kind of place. Then it became a more tavern-like venue. There were a couple of other re-dos over the years, and now it is Italian-Rocco and very grand looking. I wondered aloud if the food had been upgraded as well, or if it was simply the same old menu with longer names and higher prices.

As we drove on, my thoughts shifted to Washington, D.C., where we had lived for many years. In my university days, and for some years thereafter, there was a trio of restaurants on a corner near Dupont Circle. One was a coffee shop, one specialized in burgers, and the third was an early version of the "family steak house," decorated with western things like ropes and saddles and such. About two years after I came to the city the three restaurants closed. A few weeks later they re-opened, except that where the coffee shop had been was now the steak house, the coffee shop occupied the former burger joint, and burgers were now where the steaks had been. No change in menu, no change in food, not even much change (but some) in prices. Over the years the same switcheroo was pulled off several times. I realized that it was a marketing ploy, making customers think things had changed, when really, it was the same old kitchen, cooking the same old menu, but making it look a little different. Kind of like the guy at the fair who hides the pea under a walnut shell. If you move them fast enough maybe nobody will see what you’re hiding.

It might be called Putin-Medvedev goulash: same stuff, served on a different plate. You try to figure out what it really is, when all the time, you know.

It’s a political stew that you can find today on almost every street corner in the world.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Hostage to ourselves

So many of us seem to think the answer to all of our problems lies in replacing a single politician with almost any other. I’m not so sure. In fact, as far as I can tell, the politicians presenting themselves for election or re-election, have all missed the point. Holding office isn’t the reason for being elected. Somewhere along the way though, that idea seems to have insinuated itself into the political DNA. It has infected political discourse at every level.

In response to a comment I made about where the Congress could look to find solutions to our growing debt (including their own pockets) I met agreement with a correspondent who then went on to say that if we replace the man in the White House with one of a different political persuasion, all of our problems could be solved. Well, while I may not find the current occupant doing everything I would like to see done, in ways I might agree are the best, still (given the possible choices) exchanging leaders is not the answer to all our problems. Considering the choices, I’m not at all keen on electing someone who wants to get the government off our backs and into our bedrooms. Any man (or woman) who thinks that the salvation of democracy and the American Way resides in having a third party privy to what we do in the most intimate of situations, and with whom, and according to only one theology, is (to my mind) misreading and misinterpreting the whole concept of America, and of democracy (with a little "d" because democracy is for all the people, great and small).

There are real issues before us. There are differences of opinion, and optional solutions, but they get lost in the blather about things that we cannot change, or have no business trying to change, or both. Where are the real thinkers today? Have they all gone into hiding because of what they face if they raise their voices?

It isn’t that politics and politicians have changed so much, of course. Rancorous discourse has been a part of the political process from the beginning of our country (and elsewhere before that). It is just that it happens so much faster, over a so much broader field, that there is no time to hear the words or see the problems.

No matter where we go, we can’t get away from who and what we are, can we? We are holding ourselves hostage.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

From Sports Car to Sport Sedan to Pickup Truck in Just 50 Years

Later this week we will acknowledge our vows to be man and wife "until death do us part," by celebrating our golden wedding anniversary. It is a short span, as lives go, especially for two people who had decided that single-hood was better than couple-hood. That is, we met when we both had decided that marriage wasn’t something we wanted or needed. Then mutual friends introduced us at a party, we started talking, and . . . well, we just never stopped. Including saying "I do," on a sunny morning in October.

When we met, I was convinced that the only kind of personal transportation one needed was a two-seater roadster with the top down and the wind in my face. That lasted a couple of years more, before a growing daughter and more realistic needs pushed us into a sedan with sporting pretensions. Now my garage holds a sports coupe, a 5-door squareback that is every bit as good in the mountains as any sports car of the ‘50s, a couple of tractors, a 4-wheel drive sport-utility vehicle and a pick-up truck. And instead of a Georgetown apartment, we live three-hours away from that neighborhood in a setting that can only be described as bucolic. And we are still talking. Not just speaking, but talking. More and more that seems to involve recollections, but there are still new ideas, and new experiences to talk about.

When we were married we agreed to a few rules that have guided us along the way. They are simple, and to our minds, common sense:

Always treat the one closest to you with the greatest care. Too many people, we observed, seem to treat strangers with more courtesy and love than those closest to them.

Never go to bed with a problem unresolved.

Don’t wait until you have constructed the perfect sentence or paragraph before saying what’s on your mind.

At the same time, be careful that the words you use are not hurtful. Ephemeral they may be, but words do not die once spoken. The clever riposte, the "zinger" that kills, does just that: kills love and respect.

Never part without a kiss and the words,  "I love you." You never know when it may be your last opportunity.
Those are the basic rules we try to live by every day. Love, the adhesive in our life together, is the strongest bond there is. It is not always easy, or convenient, or simple, but it is always worth everything.

Fifty is not a magic word. Love is.