Category Archives: Time and change

Cloudy and at sea

PacificCoast2007That’s kind of how things have been here for the last several weeks.

Well, my father in law’s funeral is over now, and the out-of-state relative we’ve been hosting has gone home. Time to start getting things done again. How  have all of you been lately?

Waaabiiii Ssssaaaabiiii…stretching an idea too far?

Do you ever have trouble thinking of your next post? Never fear, the friendly dinosaur who posts as Rarasaur has started a new project – Prompts for the Promptless – to suggest ideas we can all play around with.

The prompt of the moment is “wabi-sabi”. Wabi-what? It’s a Japanese concept, or type of art, or approach to life: finding beauty in the simple, the flawed, the damaged, the impermanent. Flower arrangements; rustic pottery; the tea ceremony.

Anti-wabi-sabi, then, would be perfection. A few months ago I visited someone whose home came about as close to perfection as you can reasonably get – everything was new and sparkling and tastefully coordinated. It was beautiful, but after half an hour or so it made me uncomfortable. I found myself thinking “Whose house is this, anyway? Anybody could live here. It’s as if the owner wants to keep her own tastes and interests hidden.” (This was probably an unfair reaction, but it’s how I felt. As I say, the house was lovely; it was just that it was also completely impersonal.)

Now, I’m in the middle of reorganizing my home. But what am I really trying to accomplish? Not sparkling perfection with a mirror surface that reflects back the visitor’s own face and hides mine. No, I’ll try for something flawed and changeable and a little impromptu, with miscellaneous books shelved all over the place and food cooking in the kitchen and probably some knitting in progress lying around. Something organized and clean, but well-used.

It’s not the tea ceremony. It’s probably pushing the concept way out of its true shape. But it’s what real-life wabi-sabi means to me.

Desperately seeking a subject – from long ago

And falling back on one of WordPress’s current Plinky prompts: Describe your earliest memory.

This memory’s short, and really pretty early.

Just ahead of me, at my eye level, is a baby girl (I know now she’s a girl because she’s wearing a little ruffly dress, and besides, later I figured out who she was). She’s crawling quickly across a kitchen floor, and I’m following her, crawling too. After a minute or so, she comes to a sort of wooden cliff – it’s chest-high for her – and crawls up this step into the hall beyond. I follow.

Describing the memory like this falsifies it completely. What’s really strange about it is that it comes from a wordless world, a world of images and emotions. I’m not exactly thinking in the memory, but I am feeling: a sort of crazily intense, eager curiosity.

For a number of years, I had no idea where this brief picture came from. Then my grandmother took me along to visit her sister-in-law, my great-aunt Mildred, and I recognized the kitchen with the single, normal-height step up to the hall. Once I knew where I was in the memory, I knew that the baby had to be my cousin, Aunt Mildred’s granddaughter, who’s two months younger than I am.

It’s the briefest glimpse of a memory. But it’s all I have from the months when I was less than a year old. Nothing earlier.

A like-hate relationship

These would all fit in a gadget I can hold in my palm. Cool!

I like techy things. I think it’s cool beyond words that I can theoretically store a library worth of books on a thumb drive the size of my little finger. (Okay, okay, I need some add-ons – a monitor, a computer – to read them from an ittybitty 16 G thumb drive, and those are unwieldy. But it’s the concept.)

So you would think I’d be completely thrilled with the e-reader I bought a couple of months ago. And I’m not. I admire it. It’s a worthwhile tool. But I don’t love it the way I love my paper books.

(Note: Okay, what I actually bought is a Kindle. But none of this post is meant as criticism of Kindles as such – I’m sure I would feel the same way about a Nook or any other brand. So I’m going to refer to it here as an “e-reader”.)

Anyway – why don’t I love my e-reader? A couple of reasons. The first one may go away with time: It feels funny, because I haven’t used it heavily yet, because I’m reading through a lot of the books we have on hand so I can find ones to give away. Changing pages still isn’t automatic: I keep thinking that I should press a button on the right side to page forward, and the left side to go back. The size seems off, though I’m comfortable holding books that are either larger or smaller. But these are things I’ll get used to. What else is wrong?

These were all cutting edge once. How long can I use the one on top?

Well, I don’t fully trust it. I made my living from computers since back before there were PCs, and I know how fast everything goes out of date. It’s not practical to get at data that was stored when today’s ten-year-olds were in diapers. But I own lots of books that were printed twenty, thirty, forty years ago that still work as designed.

On the other hand, books do wear out – and the ones you like most wear out fastest. Some of these can only be read because they’ve been taped together:

Read to pieces

I should probably get e-reader versions of all the books I really value and rely on those. And yet, it’s so much faster and easier to flip back and forth to different parts of a paper book. Sure, I can bookmark specific locations in an e-reader, but moving between them is much slower than checking a paper page with a physical bookmark.

Then again, I can search the e-reader for particular phrases…something that’s completely impractical with paper.

And it’s so compact.

But who knows when it will become obsolete and leave me locked out of my electronic library?

I like it. I don’t trust it. Bah.



Where are the snows of yesteryear?

Measuring one of the big snows in February 2010

Well…taking that question literally, they’ve melted, thank goodness, all 60 or 70 inches of them. They’ve soaked into the aquifer, or drained into the Delaware River and flowed out to sea. But once in a while, we run head-on into the wall of one of those cliches that are too true to believe:

Things change.

Around here, for example, people are still capable of giving directions by saying, “Well, you drive out past the Hawaiian Cottage…” even though the Hawaiian Cottage burned down years and years and years ago. Using it as a landmark is understandable, though. Who could forget a restaurant that you enter by way of a big concrete pineapple?

And if you wait long enough, things change a lot more.

Any self-respecting natural history museum can unnerve you with something like this –

(I took this photo at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. in July 2009.) I wouldn’t want to meet it in a dark alley, or in broad daylight either, if it was still equipped with skin and muscles and a nubbin of brain and an empty stomach. But it’s gone, long gone, and its whole world with it. Gone like the green Sahara that dwindled and dried up before ancient Egypt began to think about pyramids.

Ah, well. We’re told that God notices the fall of a sparrow; from other sources, we’re told that birds are, in effect, living dinosaurs. If God takes note of our mini-dinosaurs of today, can he forget T. rex? 😀

T. rex, meanwhile, never guessed that her time was short; never made bucket lists or had nostalgic thoughts about how much better the Triceratopses they had when she was a kid tasted than the ones you get nowadays. We know better, or worse.  Good or bad, this is the only 2012 we get. Appreciate it.