Friday, April 29, 2005

birthday shopping to do?

For the woman/man who has everything:

While supplies last (and until the chickens wise up. . .)

irritation, with birds

There is an unbelievably petty war going on at work right now over scented candles, and I'm on the losing side. The place smells like the evil offspring of a French whorehouse and a Dow chemical plant, but I guess some people like it.

Embittered and exhausted by the noxious scents and attitudes, I left over lunch and ambled around Jamaica Pond for some fresh air and new perspective. I was rewarded with the treat of getting to see a big, gorgeous hawk hanging out over the pond, periodically alighting in a tree or swooping down to scare the bejesus out of the local duck population.

I was feeling much better until I came back to find that the General of the Scented Candle Campaign had set up an honest-to-god yard sale in my office. (Every three weeks or so, people bring in old clothes, shoes, etc. for a workplace swap - a nice idea, but I'd prefer to be asked before it gets installed in my hard-won space.)


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

april showers

What a dreary day. I sleepwalked through work today, and came home with no higher hopes than a peanut butter sandwich and a relatively good Simpsons episode. How nice, then, to find that the perennial portion of my garden order had arrived, safe and sound and waiting for me to add it to my steadily growing collection!

I got some of these,

a couple of these,

and one of these, too.

They don't look like much just yet, but at least they make the rain seem a little more purposeful.

Monday, April 25, 2005

i heart baby goats

So we're scrapping our hard-won reproductive rights, burning up the lingering remains of our oil reserves in gargantuan SUVs, and clear-cutting the rain forest faster than you can say "global wasteland".

To all of that, I say: "Baby goats! They're so cute! And playful!"

And it really does make me feel better. At least for a little while.

(photo courtesy of Gribley, as always.)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

static on the line

Honestly, this whole going-to-a-foreign-country-on-a-last- minute-whim thing is way more time consuming than you might think.

Or maybe it's exactly as time consuming as you'd think.

Either way, it hasn't left a whole lot of brain juice left over for eloquence, or even a daily update.

For those of you following along at home, sorry it's been so dull here on Blue Wail lately. I apply for my passport today, and that should be the end of the flurried activity for a few days, anyway. After which, I hope to get back to the in-depth coverage of what I ate for dinner and whether or not I cleaned the bathroom lately that you've come to expect.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

new emotion

It's a bracing blend, consisting of equal parts utterly thrilled, completely terrified, and the sinking realization that I'm gonna be eating ramen noodles for months to make up the cost.

I'm going to Ireland.
By myself.
In two weeks.

It was kind of a snap decision.

More on this later, after my snyapses have cooled a bit.

(I've never been out of the country before. Not even to Canada.)

Monday, April 18, 2005

go forth and multiply

There are currently approximately 500 kids under the age of 12 in the backyard next to mine.

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

lucky duck

After all the complaining I did about my job last week, it's only fair to report that, in some ways, it's a very good job indeed. For example, the building it's in is right across the street from Jamaica Pond, and my office window looks out over a lush green lawn and the pond itself. I just took my lunch hour to walk around the pond, stopping every now and then to watch the ducks and geese bobbing around, their squinty little hearts brimming with the hope of breadcrumb handouts. (They weren't disappointed, either.)

I realize that my blog is in danger of narrowing into variations on the theme of "I walked around outside, and it was fun," but hey - it's what I do.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

culture shock

I'm so used to getting in my car and zipping up to Somerville/Cambridge that I forget how far it actually is, sometimes.

Today I walked from my house, through the Arboretum, to the Forest Hills T-stop. It's about a 30 minute walk, if you walk quickly, and it's the loveliest, most scenic route you could ask for. Today was typically beautiful: birds were singing, wildflowers were in bloom, and fresh green buds were out on nearly all of the trees. The path to the T-station goes though several incarnations, from dirt to asphalt to gravel; near the end, it circumvents a marshy pond complete with little duck families bobbing around on its surface.

The gravel path ends right across the street from the T station. From there, it took two trains to get me to Davis Square; 45 minutes later, I emerged into a cityscape where people were a little younger, a little hipper, and a whole lot more numerous than in Roslindale. Blinking in the sunlight, I felt like a country relative in for a visit to the "Big City", even though I lived in Somerville for nearly two years, two years ago.

The day was fun, and I'm glad I went, but it was kind of a relief to go home again. It felt like a long voyage from an oddly foreign land: clamber back down to the weird underground world of the T, switch trains, then arrive back to resurface safely at the gates of my beloved Arboretum once more.

There's something magical about passing through those tall iron gates; I feel as though the Arboretum stands as a green and gentle buffer zone between me and the hustle and bustle of the crowded northern squares. The ducks were still out, dipping along the bottom of the pond for an evening snack. A few people were still in the park, playing with dogs or rounding up tired kids. And I breathed a little easier in the peace of it all.

I am a little wary of how provincial I'm becoming; my perception of how crowded Cambridge-ville is, along with my accompanying nervous reaction to its hip and busy pace, is very different from how I perceived it a couple of years ago. And Roslindale can feel a little isolated at times, especially when it comes to hearing good live music or seeing randomly familiar faces on the street.

Still, between the stress of urban living, and the isolation of my friendly island amid the green hills of the Arboretum and the other big South-of-Boston parklands, I'll take my idyllic isolation any day.

Friday, April 15, 2005

did you win the lottery today?

If so, please consider sharing some of what you've got with these good people.

Didn't win yet? Then maybe you'd like to consider spending an hour or two per month visiting someone with Alzheimer's disease. They'd really appreciate it, and it would earn you about 1,000,000 karmic bonus points.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

late bloomer

Arrrgh! I spent hours and hours poring over the seed catalog, scrupulously choosing which plants would go in my garden this year. I scrutinized, I cross-referenced, I cut out the catalog photos and made a little paper garden to see how it would all fit together.

Perfection achieved, I triumphantly logged on to the catalog website, extensive notes in one hand and credit card in the other, only to find....


Nine out of ten of all the plants I'd so carefully chosen are SOLD OUT.
I was too slow.

I still ordered way more than I can afford, and I'm sure they'll all be beautiful. But I'm having a hard time letting go of the garden I'd so lovingly planned, the one that will never exist because I waited to long to make it happen.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

i will not abuse the kindness of librarians...

Tonight's Simpsons was a rerun I'd seen a little too recently to enjoy again so soon, so I took the half hour traditionally reserved for my second, yellow family and headed down to the village center instead to return a library book before it accrued any more late fines. And since I was passing by two bakeries and a grocery store on the way, I promised myself I could pick up a little something sweet and chocolatey on the way back.

When I got to the library, there was only one person ahead of me in line. (At any other library, I'd just drop my book off in the returns pile. At this small and idiosyncratic one, though, people tend to pick up books from that pile and check them out before they've been marked "returned", so weeks later you end up in a protracted argument with the librarians over whether you returned them or not.)

The girl in front of me was around 13 or 14, and had apparently lost a paperback book she'd checked out. The librarian was suggesting that, rather than pay the lost-book fee, she could just bring in a paperback of her own to replace it - "something people your age would think was interesting," and they'd call it even.

How cool is that? The Roslindale library takes trade-ins!

I was so impressed with this idea, (and with the gorgeous twilight sky on the walk back home) that I completely forgot to buy the chocolate. Already, I was thinking of all the books I'd gladly sacrifice from my own collection in exchange for those hard-to-find volumes the library owns that I've coveted for years....

Ok, so that probably wouldn't work. Still, it was an awfully nice thing for that librarian to do. Maybe it will keep that girl coming back to the library for years to come. It sure makes me less begrudging of my own measly but inevitable late fees, knowing that they're going to support a neighborhood library that really acts like a good neighbor .

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

banjo players: 1, hermits: 0

Every Tuesday I'm supposed to have band practice (well, duo practice).

I didn't feel like making the effort of human contact tonight, so I rang up my bandmate to call off tonight's rehearsal, making the feeble excuse that I didn't want to drive out in the (barely) sketchy weather.

"No problem," he replied; "I'll come out there instead."

He then proceeded to cheerfully and effortlessly brush aside all the excuses in my armory - it's too cold, too gray, I'm too tired, the almanac said it's an ill-omened day for singing.

He's hurtling over in his vegetable-oil powered car right now, a merry poster child for the Yankee can-do attitude, forcing me to crawl crankily back out of bed and start tuning up my guitar.

So despite my best efforts to sabotage it, it looks like I'm back to the plan of hanging out with a friend, having fun, and doing something creative all at the same time.

Thanks for the arm-bending, J.

workplace blues

It's been a tough week to be a music therapist.

Most of the time, I love my job. It's fun, it's challenging, and it feeds my need to be creative as well as to do something that's instantly helpful to others.

Sometimes, though, the sadness of it all is just too much.

I think those of us who work in human services have to fabricate a certain level of denial about our clients; otherwise, the stress of being face to face with so much chronic pain (physical, emotional, and spiritual) can deplete you to the point where you have nothing left to give.

On the other hand, if you become so calloused to the raw need you're continually surrounded by, you're in danger of becoming apathetic, insensitive, and even cruel to those who need your kindness the most.

The middle path between those two extremes is a narrow one, and not easily kept to.

In the brief period I've been in this field, I've seen otherwise wonderful, compassionate people fall to either side of the middle path, much to the detriment of the clients who need them. It's so easy to burn out with the overwhelming sadness and frustration of it all, and it happens all the time.

Most days I'm able to see the little joys and strengths that shine through my clients like so much sun breaking through an overcast sky. Every now and then, though, the raging unfairness of illness and disability - together with its inexorable and humiliating meanness - get to be too much, and I need to go through a kind of mourning for the health and wellbeing of the people I care so much about.

I hate feeling this way; it's like I temporarily lose the ability to rationalize or see past the pain I'm immersed in, and my heart turns into one big, achingly tender bruise.

In another sense, though, I'm glad I do. I don't want to be a therapist for a year, or five years, or ten, and then burn out and spend the rest of my days as a bitter old crank, full of complaints about the system but without the will to do anything to fix it. I'm in this for the long haul. And instinctively, I know that this cyclical period of mourning, of periodically staggering under full weight of how sad this work can be, is ultimately what's gonna keep me on the road. It's hard stuff, and if I don't acknowledge it now and then, it'll make me hard, too.

But I've learned by now that this feeling eventually goes away, and in a day or two, I can come back to the work I love with renewed energy and passion, able to continue for the next few months, once again able to see the joy, and the hope, and the strength that was there all along.

I just hope it happens soon.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

good folks

Today is my father's 54th birthday.

My father grew up in the Deep South, the squirrel-huntin', drawl-talkin', church goin' son of Southern Baptist parents who had grown up, in their turn, on the farmlands of rural, Jim Crow-lovin' Mississippi.

My father is not going out for dinner, or having friends over, or engaging in any other traditional birthday festivities tonight. He's in a little room in the basement of an Episcopal church in downtown Lowell instead, a charter member in a newly founded support group for gay and lesbian people and the people who care about them.

No one in my father's family is gay, and, as far as I know, neither are any of his friends.

My father was trained as a Southern Baptist preacher. He ministered in the banjo-dueling highlands of east Tennessee, and in the buckle of the bible belt in Memphis. The same churches that today are proclaiming that George W. Bush is the right hand of God, the same congregations who won't sleep soundly at night until women's rights are blown back to the dark ages and marriage is legally limited to a religious and binding contract between a man and a woman.

At some point in my early childhood, my father left the church of his childhood, the church of his parents and their parents before them. He could no longer accept the intolerance that ran through its bylaws like kudzu runs through a volkswagen.

Today, my father has formed an alliance with another religious expatriate, a Cuban-American former Catholic priest who left his own church for much the same reasons my father left his. They both share a respect for the spirit, not the letter, of church law, and they both have a healthy disregard for any authority that dictates otherwise. Together, this priest and my father have concocted a plan that will allow gay and lesbian couples to be legally married in the Episcopal church; my father with his still-valid minister's license will perform the ceremony, and the priest will be on hand to bless the marriage instants after it takes place.

And tonight, my father, with his irascible southern drawl fully intact, is attending a gay and lesbian support group for no other reason than that he was invited by a friend from the congregation. In downtown Lowell, no less - a city infamous for its blue collar past and gang-ridden present. I can picture him there - him and my mother both - two middle-aged, slightly-out-of-place people, people you'd expect to see snapping photos from the Swan Boats, tourist maps in their pockets and Red Sox slogans plastered across their newly purchased t-shirts and visors. And they are those people. But they're something more than that, too.

And in an age where Christianity has become almost synonymous with conservatism, and empty-nesters are expected to buy luxury SUVs and settle down with a spoiled lap dog or two, my dad is out there quietly making a difference, holding up a faint little light of tolerance and love in otherwise dark times.

I'm so lucky to live in that light. And I know that the best present I can give my father is to tend my own candle, to share the lessons of generosity of spirit that I've learned from him over all these years.

Happy Birthday, Dad.

waiting for the other shoe to drop

Well, it's been a beautiful day here in the neighborhood.

I started off with a walk down to the local coffee shop for some joe and a croissant, then ambled down to the pet store for supplies and a long conversation with the owner about Dorothy Parker, the Algonquin Roundtable, and the (mis)representation of Prohibition-era women writers. After that, what else could I do but duck into the used bookshop next door for a browse? Next door on the other side is the guitar store, owned and run by the kind of guy who would look more at home on a Grateful Dead album cover than behind the counter of his own business; I popped in for a few repairs to my guitar and ended up getting drawn into a discussion of Russian balalaika music.

Back home again for a bite to eat, I joined my housemates (my place is the only private apartment in a larger co-op style house) for a luxurious sprawl in the sunny front yard, idly flipping through seed catalogs and planning my fantasy garden. The household dog was out, too - soaking up the sun like the world's goofiest, friendliest solar cell. Across the street, a teenaged boy was playing with his own dog, and a little girl who couldn't have been more than four walked proudly up and down the sidewalk, tugging gently on the leash of an amiable old basset hound.

All in all, it's been a pretty idyllic day, here in lovely Roslindale. It's closer to my childhood memories of sunny green Memphis, feeling safe and welcome in my old neighborhood (and the world at large), than anything I've experienced in my adult life.

It makes me want to preserve the day in words, in photographs, like pressed flowers - warmth and neighborliness nestled between the leaves of a heavy dictionary for the generations to come. I'm worried it won't last, and that I'll forget this feeling when night comes and I'm feeling small and lonely again.

It's hard to feel too worried, though, when - even as I write this post - the piercing notes of children laughing, the earthy smell of fresh peat from the neighbors' early flower beds, and the golden brilliance of the late afternoon sun are all drifting in my open window, enveloping me in the knowledge that this is my new home, and it's pretty darn great.

Friday, April 08, 2005

here you go, pliny

"You say there is nothing to write about. Then write to me that there is nothing to write about."

- Pliny the Younger

Pliny was an inveterate writer himself, and not without his little quirks. Examine, if you will, the following lines, drawn verbatim from the Wikkipedia article about this charmer:

"Pliny had three wives but no sons. Only his last wife, Calpurnia, occasioned emotional words in the letters. He was quite wealthy and owned several villas in Italy; the two villas in Como, his native town, were named "Tragedy" and "Comedy"."

OK, ready for a fun challenge? How many things can you find wrong with the previous paragraph? I got 6, but only if you allow that "Pliny" is, in fact, a real name and not a whimsical prank played by Roman historians. Which, frankly, I'm on the fence about.

(If you guessed that I'm bored out of my mind over here, you'd be right. If you further ventured that Friday nights at home in my little apartment are lonely in their own heart-grindingly unique way, why, you'd be right again.

Yeah, well. . . I may be spending the last remaining Friday nights of my fast-fleeting youth making smart-aleck references to 2000-year-dead Romans. But you're spending yours reading it, so get off yer high horse already. Thhhhppbbt.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

feeding myself: update

Mortified by yesterday's admission of my disintegrating eating habits, I corrected the situation tonight with a tasty homemade dinner of fusilli with marinara sauce, a fresh green salad with orange and yellow peppers, and - for dessert - plump, juicy blackberries....all at the eminently respectable hour of 7:15 pm.

It's astonishing how greatly the simplest little acts of taking care of myself (like eating a decent meal) can impact my mood. I've never been a stickler for daily schedules, regular housecleaning, or any other of the basic habits of independent adulthood, but I'm starting to see the benefits of at least some of them.

Of course, the fact that I'm just now realizing this, having been a fully functioning adult (at least to the untrained eye) for 12 years and counting, is just plain sad.

In all seriousness, though, I do think it's worth remembering that a little investment in my own life - whether it's eating well, visiting friends, or just mopping the floors occasionally - isn't a bad idea.

words at my door

There's something delicious about coming home and finding that the books you ordered have arrived in a tidy little box, just waiting for you to open it up.

And if this rare event occurs on a beautiful spring day, early enough that you can take your new acquisitions out to the backyard to read in what's left of the daylight, so much the better!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

feeding myself

It's gotten more lax every day here at casa del mio.
I started out great - healthy, regular meals consisting of traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods.

Over the past two weeks, though, there have been a whole lot of macaroni or pizza dinners. A lot of brownies at midnight. Skittles for breakfast. It's not a good trend.

It's not that I don't have plenty of normal, healthy food in the house. I do. It's just that with nobody looking over my shoulder to judge (or to remind me that it's past 11 and I should really start thinking about cooking a little something), I tend to get preoccupied, and wait until I'm craving a sugar (or salt) fix before choosing food.

I was saved from whatever bastard agglomeration I would have had for dinner tonight (cinnamon toast and a snickers bar? green beans and coffee? I'm only half joking here...) by the kindness of friends who invited me to a last minute quesadilla party high atop their third-floor balcony in lovely wooded Newton. These people lived in Mexico and Costa Rica; they know how to make a quesadilla. Plus, there was this incredible fizzy red wine involved - apparently it's all the rage in Italy. And you can get it at Trader Joe's.

In an added bonus (the good times just keep on coming!), one of these charming people is my new music partner, so I stuck around after dinner and we rehearsed for a while.

It was a great way to celebrate what felt like the first real day of spring. And it sure beat sitting at home alone, eating whatever instant-gratification delights I tend to choose in the absence of witnesses. (Note to self: potato chips are not a vegetable. And chocolate cookies are not for breakfast.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

garden season

I just got my new seed catalogs in the mail today, and I couldn't be happier! I pore over those things like a teenage boy with a Victoria's Secret catalog. There's one from Burpee, of course, and another from Henry Field's. I've been getting them so long, seeing them in the mailbox is like receiving a letter from an old friend.

I've been gardening since I could walk; my mother and grandmother had me 'help' them put out new seedlings as soon as I could toddle down the garden path. There's nothing better than the colors, textures, and scents of a good garden; it's tonic for the senses and balm for the soul.

The only hard part is deciding what I can order this year; I want everything in the catalog - from dahlias to runner beans.

Happily, my new landladies are thrilled with the idea of me putting in a garden here this season. This summer, when we all have cookouts and friends over for backyard picnics, it will be that much richer with the sights and scents of my little garden as the perfect backdrop.

Until then, I'm perfectly content to go through the catalogs, marking old standbys and circling promising new hybrids, dreaming up the perfect garden for my new home.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

rhyming couplet

everything I try to write -
including this - turns out too trite

hope and keep busy

Nosy as ever, I was noodling around the blogosphere yesterday and came across the blog of Henry David Thoreau. It reminded me of the aspect of living in New England that I really like - being immersed in the environment of the great northern woods (what's left of them, anyway) and the culture of the brilliant thinkers who lived in and were shaped by them.

I'm fascinated by the overlap between the ideas of New England's transcendentalists and those of Buddhism; both emphasize the beauty and wisdom of the natural world, and a thoughtful, meditative, do-no-harm approach to life.

Inspired, I got out a book of Louisa May Alcott's life and letters. (in an interesting sidenote, the book was edited by a woman from JP in 1889; LMA died in 1888. I live right next door, so to speak, to JP. How cool!) It's one of those books that I've had around forever, and glanced through but never really read.

I'm really enjoying it now; it seems newly relevant to me - a single woman in New England, just trying to get through the day and maybe make a little something creative besides. (Not that I'm comparing myself to LMA, of course!)Incidentally, the title of this posting is a suggested antidote to depression taken from LMA's journal.

Speaking of good advice, here's a little admonishment Louisa May Alcott kept all her life, imparted by her mother (as good today as it was in 1850):

Rule yourself.
Love your neighbor.
Do the duty which lies nearest you.

Boy, those Alcott women were pretty sharp.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

rainy day (with poetry)

cold rapid hands
draw back one by one
the bandages of dark
I open my eyes
I am living
at the center
of a wound still fresh

Octavio Paz said it, but man, I sure am feelin' it. Something about rainy weekends brings out the worst in me...the grayness of the long dim day, unbroken by society or accomplishment, has a way of highlighting my losses, making all the little pains and failures of the past year feel raw and new again. I'm sure I'll feel better tomorrow, but what to do until then? Wallow in the grim sympathetic fallacy of the weather? Or get off my duff and do something productive? Stay tuned...but right now all the smart money is on wallow.