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Monday, April 23, 2018

Summer wine

Writers are somewhat akin to spiders. We spin tales, instead of webs; nonetheless, we spin. The story of Ms. Somerset and young Mr. Matthews, first set forth in "Windfall Fruit," so intrigued some readers, another chapter was requested. I am of course delighted to comply. This gave me opportunity to rework an old newspaper article about pianist Michael Finlay, from Bryan, Texas.
*****

   E.J. sat on her back porch, savoring a glass of wine and listening to her bass wind chimes. The sky had rich hues of deep amethyst, brilliant pink and a trace of orange that alluded to the sun which was only moments past the horizon.
   A warm breeze caressed her arms and kissed her ears, sparking a memory which caused her to shiver most delightfully.
***
   Eighteen months earlier Tom Matthews had begun his internship at the library. E.J. enjoyed talking to Tom, encouraging his eagerness. He was now a full time staff member and, over the months, E.J. found herself spending more time as a volunteer. First, there was the Oktoberfest, an open house featuring books with an autumnal theme. There were also tasty treats on hand and E.J. made popcorn balls. Tom was very enthusiastic in his compliments and she promised to make an extra half-dozen, just for him.
   Come December, she had served her homemade eggnog at the staff Christmas party and young Matthews had positively glowed with holiday cheer. There had been a lot of hugging going on, so it had seemed nothing out of the ordinary to kiss Tom under the mistletoe. E.J. still could hardly believe she had really done it, except the memory of Tom's lips on hers warmed her from head to toe. How she had wanted to deepen the kiss! A week after the party, the library had closed early for holiday break. Because she thoroughly delighted in the young man's company, E.J. invited Tom to join her and a few close friends at a holiday supper and concert.
   On the evening of 26 December, approximately seven dozen people gathered in the dimly lit sanctuary of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Local virtuoso Michael Finlay, home from a European tour, wrought beautiful music from the baby grand; sounds the instrument was meant to make. The event made society news.
*

     Michael Finlay, master pianist, was in town recently, celebrating winter holidays with his family. To thank the community for their support while pursuing his career, Michel gives a free concert whenever in town. The town always responds with a generous love offering.
     Music is not exempt from the laws of ownership, but the question is whether Michel "possesses" the music or it possesses him. Although he has a way of making it his own, it seems to be a symbiotic relationship. Finlay becomes one with the instrument. His intensity was palpable and the joy of performance no less so.
     He began with Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor Op. 23, which had the haunting beauty of minor key compositions. The Ballade filled the room with the swell of sound and emotion, becoming a dance of controlled frenzy.
     Nocturne in E minor Op. 72 evoked the comfortable shadows of nightfall. There was a teasing, non-frightening eeriness, chasing a will-o'-the-wisp. The last note hung in the air a moment - like a child reluctant to end play despite the lateness of the hour.
     Opus 17 No. 4, a mazurka, caused the soul to dance. Watching the tilt of Finlay's head, one could imagine him hearing Chopin across the distance of time, his fingers reproducing perfectly the music of the master.
     Fantaisie-Impromptu is aptly named. This C-sharp minor Op. 66 had a surreal quality. Part of the fantasy was the illusion of other instruments. The young maestro's touch is so light and quick, one wonders that it produces sound at all. For a moment the piece evoked "Flight of the Bumblebee."
     The first set concluded with Polonaise in A-flat Major Op. 53. Again, one could hear Chopin's influence on artists who came after, namely Gershwin, specifically "Rhapsody in Blue."
     Following a brief intermission, Michel resumed his seat at the baby grand. The second part of the evening's program was Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op. 58. As he began the first movement, Allegro Maestoso, one could sense playful dignity and majesty. This reporter rode the music into the second movement, Allegro Vivace; a lively (vivacious), delightful, delirium.
The soothing languor of the Largo movement soon gave way to the fourth and final movement, Presto ma non tanto. One's Italian might be somewhat less than wished but, from the mood of the music, one could take the meaning to be "quickly but not too much." It was in this part of the music the discerning ear picked up a hint of "The Teddy Bears' Picnic."
    Ceding to audience request, Finlay favored the crowd with an encore, but said there had enough Chopin and played  a Schubert piece.
     The evening was a thorough pleasure, a chance to see an artist in the perfection of his craft. Finlay's high notes do not strain to reach the heights - they soar aloft and gently light in the place they are destined to be.
   Whenever the chance is available, one should attend a Michael Finlay concert. The audience will leave with a sense of hope and delight.
*
   Making their way out of the sanctuary, concert goers spoke of their delight. The men of the church had prepared a light meal of mini quiches, bite-size cheesecakes and wine. The fellowship hall had a festive holiday air.
   Tom and E.J. linked arms, as they went along the sidewalk and his arm rested comfortably at her waist, after their coats were hung. The seasonal camaraderie wove its spell. By the end of the evening, wine enhanced the enchantment and holiday glow settled on the pair like so much stardust. They were momentarily oblivious to the world around them and in the magic of the moment, the couple kissed and time stood still.
*
   A month or so following the concert, after cataloging a particularly large book order, Tom had suggested they go to lunch, telling E.J. to pick a spot and asking her to drive, he having taken the bus. She drove to an upscale sandwich shop she frequently patronized. They were seated near a window, at a cozy table for two. While they waited for their orders to arrive, E.J. admired the flowers in the window box. Making small talk, she mentioned some of the plants she intended for her garden. He responded that he was hoping to grow some herbs and start a bee hive. They ate and chatted, losing all sense of time, until Tom's cellphone rang - his boss wondering where he was. E.J. blushed, feeling embarrassed but Tom simply said, "I guess I had better get back." She dropped him off, murmuring a brief goodbye, and drove home, still flustered, feeling somehow like she had been "caught" at something. The good thing about being a volunteer, not to mention a well-heeled patroness of the library and the arts, was not being subject to a time card: She dropped him off and made her excuses to leave for the day. Her attraction to Matthews soon brought her back. Any repercussions she may have expected, seemed to exist only in her imagination.
 As spring moved into summer, the two found themselves spending more and more time together. They soon realized they really were a couple - in the conventional sense of that word, as applied to social interaction. Even in this day and age, the combination of older woman and younger man, leads to more than a few sidelong glances. For the most part, though, Tom and E.J. were oblivious, reveling in the warmth of their growing friendship. More often than not, the activities they chose were things they could do together.
*
   Tom and E.J. spent a lot of time together but also had activities they did alone or with other people. E.J. went to travelogues and wine tours; Tom had his bowling league. Neither required "clearance" from the other when accepting an invitation but if something included a Plus One, each kept the other in mind. Things went on this way for over a year.
   As passions intensified, it became apparent that serious dialogue was required. It was Tom, who first broached the subject. As the two cleared supper dishes and set to washing them, Tom mused, "I wonder if we'll be doing this in ten years?" E.J. gave a noncommittal murmur and the young man continued. He said he was feeling an inclination to settle down and make a home. Was she on board with that? She acknowledged enjoyment of his company and confessed the thought had fleetingly crossed her mind. The dishes finished, they sat down to continue their discussion.
   Matthews acknowledged pursuing a relationship with her would mean not fathering children; not a deal-breaker. He also stated he was aware the age difference would likely mean he would end up caring for E.J. in later years. E.J. was, quite frankly, flabbergasted. She was also deeply touched that Tom had given this so much thought. Finally, she sent him home, having kissed him fervently, saying she needed to process this.
   It would prove to be a sleepless night for Ms. Somerset. Since the first time she had explored her feelings for Tom, she had steadfastly resisted any temptation to fall in love. Actually, she had figured Tom would eventually want to marry someone closer to his own age, and raise a family. To realize the depth of Tom's love for her, shook her to her core. She wondered, were she to go forth with a relationship, he might come to resent her. Were that to happen, she felt it would devastate her - even more than freeing him to be with another woman. She spent the remaining hours of the night, making plans and writing letters.
*

   Neither could pretend nothing had happened, but mutual regard kept things from becoming awkward. Reserved, perhaps, but not awkward. They were still together, but mostly in the presence of others. Just below the surface though, was the reality of forestalling the inevitable. Tom and E.J. agreed to go out of town for a weekend and discuss their future. Driving separately, they arrived at their destination. Time was finite and there was the outcome of a life-influencing matter, to determine.
   Never one to hedge, E.J. thought it best to address the issue of their future, as soon as was seemly. Over dinner and wine, she said to Tom, "I have been flattered by your attentions, dear. Much as I have enjoyed your company, I never imagined you would fall in love with me. I do love you - but I am not in love with you. You are a wonderful man, and deserve a partner who is absolutely, totally, in love with you. I am not that partner." Tom was not yet ready to watch his envisioned future come to naught: he implored E.J. to give him - them, til the end of the month. Considering what was at stake, it seemed reasonable. There was a street dance going on, nearby and they gave in to the music, letting it take them out of their doubts. As night gave way to streaks of pink, the two made their way to a little diner for coffee and a bite to eat. They made their way back to the hotel ...
***

   E.J. did her best to get through remainder of month without feeling she was "humoring" Tom but she was already drawing away from him. Her feelings were muddled: she had yearned to be found desirable - yet was unready for this young man, when he proclaimed his love for her. Sorting through her emotions, she realized she was so comfortable in her physical surroundings, she did not have any wish to threaten that comfort by getting involved in an all-consuming romance. She felt an obligation to make all this clear to Tom. Even as she realized these things about herself, she wondered if she were denying both of them a chance at happiness. Ultimately, she concluded there was no one path - or person, to happiness; she would end this romance with a clear conscience.
*****

   There had, of course, been tears and questions but no recriminations. Both parties exhibited maturity and grace, as they said their goodbyes. E.J. closed up her house and left town, feeling distance was her greatest ally, at this time. Tom focused on work, to numb his disappointment - but still believed he would find contentment, maybe even happiness. In the cyclic nature of life, every end contains a seed of new beginning.
*

   Someday, I will have to write more of this story. My own life is on hold right now, and there is difficulty seeing past the immediate.
jbd 23 April, 2018

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Pinocchio

   For those unfamiliar with the tale, Pinocchio begins "life" as a wooden puppet, created by Geppetto the woodcarver. Geppetto wants a real son - a live little boy. The Blue Fair heeds the woodcarver's desire and the puppet is brought to a stage of animation.
   Pinocchio does the things children do; testing boundaries, making mistakes, getting in trouble. The story was written long ago, in a time when questions about gender identity were seldom (if ever) discussed in general conversation. But what if Pinocchio had wanted to be a "real live girl"? Do you imagine Geppetto would have loved his child any less? What kind of parent would that make him? Does a loving parent cease to love when a child does not fit some preconceived cookie-cutter mold? Sadly, that sometimes seems to be the case. Perhaps the parent's notions of gender are so culturally ingrained, there is no room for flexibility. Rigidity leads to more breakage than the ability to bend. Yet all too often, the hard line is the one followed as "right." Does anyone really benefit from that stance? Perhaps psychologists, psychiatrists, and other therapists see an increased need for their services. I don't call harming one segment of society, just so another segment can try to make them "well," a benefit. Meh, what do I know?
   Why is sexuality so important anyway? There is so much potential inside any given being. Why not focus on developing intellect or any other gift, instead of labeling and limiting a person, based on how that individual expresses the most intimate part of the persona? Seriously, is humanity just demented? If so, maybe we had best get on with the business of eradicating ourselves: then the planet can be inhabited by truly sentient beings. You know, ones that don't murder each other over silly little things like religion or sexual preference/identity.

   Live and let live; love and let love.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Dickens, Dante, and fates worse than Death

   On 19 and 21 December, 2017, I underwent knee replacement surgeries. Having done well in hospital, I opted to go home and do out-patient therapy. Returning for post-op consult with orthopedic surgeon, I entered his office in a wheelchair. He was not pleased: he felt I should be ambulating without dependence on any device.
   Morning of 4 January, I rose and dressed, all while being in considerable pain. A neighbor came down to fix me a bowl of oatmeal, figuring we would walk afterward. She soon assessed I was in no condition to go walking. In fact, I could not summon strength to get up from the chair I had landed on. Two of the burlier male residents were called in and they managed to get me up and perched on a higher seat. An ambulance was called: thus began my journey through the dark night.
   Hospital did not deem my inability to walk, sufficient reason for admission. On advice from a friend in medicine, I refused to be sent home. Several hours later, I was admitted to a local nursing facility, for rehab.
   My fourth morning there, the person who shared room *erupted* and a sign was placed on the door. I asked if it read, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." I had misplaced the word "all" in the usual translation of Dante's famous quote. ( "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate," most frequently translated as "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.") The facility was in the grip of an influenza outbreak. After a week, all inmates - er, residents - were given a five day regimen of Tamiflu.
   Though I was nearly certain the quote the quote I had in mind came from Dante's Inferno, the thought briefly occurred it could be Dickensian. Let's face it, he wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs. Know what I mean?
***
   Sometimes I would ask people, "What are you in for?" Occasionally, this elicited the response, "I'm a lifer." In such cases, the speaker was usually resigned but seldom bitter. I attribute that to resilience of the human spirit. A couple of the long-term detainees said they would not go so far as taking matters into their own hands, but they no longer cared whether they lived or died. That ambivalence is, in my estimation, a fate worse than death.
   A life without hope, is hardly a life worth living, is it? Can you imagine waking daily to the knowledge you will lprobably not get any better; you will never escape, during life, the four walls that surround you? I witnessed some of this and it just broke my heart.
   I readily confess a few moments of doubt. "What if I never get better?" "Will my legs be strong enough?" "Do I have what it takes?" My first week there, I used a bedpan. I never even thought of the 'sit-to-stand' machine until a member of the staff suggested it. That was the real beginning of my recovery. Two weeks later, I was toileting independently.
   On 26 January, 2018, I was brought to my apartment for a home evaluation. At that point, I estimate I was at about fifty percent. The morning of 31 January, I got the news my insurance was *kicking me to the curb,* as it were. I was informed I had the option of dis-enrolling and going on straight Medicare, which would buy me another twenty days. So that's what I did. We all know that insurance is just a racket: it's all about making money, not making people well.
   Not doubt about it, I'm one of the lucky ones. I was blessed with incentive and drive. On the forty-seventh day, I returned home. Therapists will come to my apartment for three weeks. At that time my situation will be re-evaluated, to determine whether I receive more in-home therapy or am discharged. I expect to ambulate with a walker, at least until summer. If it is less time than that, I will be pleasantly surprised.
   Once I am driving again, I will go back and visit: not just because I made friends but because I know how important company is. I know nursing homes are not comfortable places to visit but if you can find it in your heart, reach out to these largely forgotten people. Doing so could change a life.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Define "inappropriate"

   Happy holidays.
***
   I posted a Facebook status recently, concerning the phrase, "laying one's troubles at Jesus' feet." I pondered if Jesus would wonder what he was stepping on when he got up in the middle of the night to pee. Would it be like impaling one's feet on stray Legos?
   Among other posts which had winter holiday themes, one featured a nativity scene which was marvelously atypical. The Holy Family - Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were: ET, Wonder Woman, and Batman, respectively.
   Now, you know as well as I do, there will always be some *inflexible* person who takes offense, where none is particularly intended. My take on the aforementioned depiction is pretty open-minded. Since Jesus is believed by some to be the Son of God, an extra-terrestrial seems an excellent choice to represent this key figure. Wonder Woman as Mother Mary was, in my opinion, nothing less than inspired. Biblical lore portrays Mary as trusting her fate to God, in an age when a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock, could be stoned to death. Some may opine that trust in God makes her more delusional than heroic: you say "po-TA-to," I say "po-TAH-to."
   Then there's Batman as Joseph: logical choice, if you ask me. Batman has a secret identity; Joseph had secret doubts. Yet, in times of crisis, any super hero worthy of the title will pull up tights, don cape and cowl - and throw punches, as needed. Yep, sounds parental to me. 
   There were crowd scene extras, including Frankenstein's monster, Wolf Man, R2D2, and lesser-known figures. It all seemed perfectly lovely to me. So often, one hears that Jesus can be found whenever and wherever he is sought. Should we then not be able to see the divine in the ridiculous? What but attitude, distinguishes one from the other? Would not this world be a happier, better, place if we chose to see those who do not look like us, with eyes of love - or at least acceptance? Am I asking too many questions?
   I have stayed up past my bedtime, hoping for a chance to have an online visit with a faraway friend. Needing to do something to pass the time, I acted on a friend's chance comment. We writers are like that.
   May your days be ... the best you can make them.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Another day, another tragedy

   A friend asks how the world can go on "as if  those twenty-six people weren't murdered three days ago." This refers to a shooting which took place in a church in a rural Texas town, the morning of Sunday, 5 November, 2017. By the same token, the questioner realizes the world doesn't stop, despite death and tragedy.
   Writing to a friend, shortly after the event, I equated gun deaths with cancer: everybody knows somebody who has lost a loved one. The main difference seems to be, we haven't stopped looking for a way to cure cancer. Here in United States, where I live, some politicians seem to have adopted the phrase "Now is not the time" (to talk about legislation restricting access to guns).
   Dad taught us how to shoot and I see nothing wrong with target practice and hunting game. Neither of those activities requires assault weaponry. I do not know any sane and reasonable person who feels threatened by a waiting period and background checks. Neither do rational folks fear the anti-gun faction will come into their homes and take their guns. (First it was Obama, then Hillary; I think some of them actually believed an elected official would personally come up the driveway and carry armaments out to the car. Paranoia is like that.)
   There may be an upside to the "good guy with a gun" position - but anyone who is going to pack heat, needs to be well instructed in firearms safety. There are legislators who apparently do not see the need for training, prior to receiving a concealed carry permit. (What could possibly go wrong?) There is even question as to whether some places will or will not be allowed to opt out of letting armed persons enter.
   Even if I had 'all the answers,' there would still be the matter of convincing others. I don't: so I write my thoughts and hope someone will do a nice piece of cogitation and help us find our way out of this mess.
   I fear we will become inured to gun violence. Then what?

Monday, October 30, 2017

Billboard religion


   I keep reading accounts religious terrorism. These are not acts carried out by "ISIS insurgents;" the perpetrators of this inhumanity are none other than [self-proclaimed] Christians. There is a faction of United States citizens which would present this as "A Christian nation." Notice, I use "present" and not "represent." If United States were to represent itself as Christian, i.e., present by example that it holds the values spoken by the Christ, it would be a much better place to live.
   Instead, we see and hear all sorts of atrocities: a child whose family sought life-saving medical treatment, being "detained" (read: imprisoned) for being undocumented. A young woman seeking to abort a fetus was held captive while legislators tried to find someone to be her advocate. Not like they wanted her to have an "anchor baby" but God forbid they should be seen by their rabid fan base to be 'complicit' in letting a woman have governance over her own body. Thankfully, she was able to attain the procedure - but she had to 'jump through hoops' to get something that should have been her right and her decision, all along. 
   (The Justice Department did not immediately comment on her abortion. But Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general, who had led a group of Republican attorneys general in a brief supporting the government’s position, said in a statement, “Today’s loss of innocent human life is tragic.” [from article by Manny Fernandez, 25 Oct. 2017, in NY Times]) How do the people who spout this tripe, eat with those mouths; let alone kiss their mamas? Why is there no outrage at the 'innocent lives lost' when brutal police officers terrorize and kill persons of color, or when young troops are sent to be killed in an armed conflict that has nothing to do with making the world a safe place, but only adds to the burgeoning coffers of people who are obscenely wealthy?
   Not all the wrongs committed against those who are in no position to retaliate/resist, are of a physical nature. Sometimes I have difficulty deciding if governing bodies are just obtuse, or if they are deliberately perverse. A blip that came to my attention was a homeless man's student debt being forgiven and, subsequently, an agency claiming that self-same forgiven debt to be income. What - in the name of all that is holy - is wrong with these people?
   Listening to a recent report dealing with detention camps for families who await decisions on their citizenship status can be gut-wrenching. "Family values," such as the right to live together, go to school, live in a safe place - you know, little things like that - seem only to apply to rich white straight people.
   Here's the thing about reproductive health choices: each person should be given the freedom to decide what best suits an individual situation AND have options available. The war on Planned Parenthood is real. [The 'war on Christmas' is a scare tactic worthy of Joe McCarthy.] If you are against women having access to abortions, you probably shouldn't tell your pregnant mistress to have one: you're fan base might take a dim view.
   I have a great idea: what if we treat everyone with dignity and respect. Instead of having legislators who sell themselves to the highest bidders, let us elect people who will work for the common good. If we all work together to ensure the welfare of each other, we won't need to "proclaim" our values, because we will be living them.

Go in peace.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Women of a certain age [letter 138]

Hello dear,
        Recently I had lunch with a few former classmates. Even during lunch, I was thinking highlights of our gathering may end up being chronicled in a letter to you. I cannot now recall precisely what was said that made me decide to use the title phrase I have. As the arbitrary importance of numbers vacillates, I don't even know what the "certain" age is - but I'm reasonably sure I have reached and, probably, superseded it.
   Our conversations are always interesting and amusing - and sometimes rather profound. Having passed the half-century mark, we have given ourselves permission to speak our minds and challenge boundaries of the status quo. Some of my friends say I have no "filter" (as far as shock content) but it has been my experience that most of us still try to be kind. Kindness is paramount and there just isn't a good reason to ever be mean. [At least, not in my opinion.] Not trying to foment discord, but I would challenge anyone who holds an opposing point of view, to argue the case for meanness. (I can be a bit of a scamp.)
   Baby Boomers are coming to an age when many have experienced the death of one or both parents - and we marvel at the good fortune of those who still have these elders. Death of contemporaries is also increasingly common, but more difficult to reconcile. Is it only United States that is in such rampant denial of the aging process and its natural outcome? I am not in any hurry to die but Death does not cause me fear. I would like to live long enough to use the several hundred postage stamps I have purchased.
   Guess that is all for this episode. Perhaps later, I will get ambitious enough to write an old-fashioned pen and paper missive.

"Live long and prosper,"
Jo