Archive for March, 2012

Raking (other people’s) leaves

March 31, 2012

I’ve probably mentioned before that I had a neighbor here for many years who firmly believed that leaves from a tree rooted on my property were my responsibility to rake, even if they fell onto her property, and even if she chose not to trim the branches of the tree back to the property line to reduce the volume of leaves.  She was from another country, older, arthritic, and we eventually became friendly and dealt with the leaves and pruning issues without friction.

She moved away four or five years ago, but that concept of raking other people’s leaves had stayed with me.  Getting out on the porch roof yesterday to measure baluster spacing is a version of the idea.  At least there, even though I had an initially negative reaction to the thought of doing the measuring, I kind of knew what might help.  In other situations, I might also have the sense of how to meet someone more than halfway (from my perspective), or where they are, and without judging them or becoming angry or resentful, but in some situations I just don’t know what to do even if I am in theory willing to do more at my end to resolve an impasse.  Sometimes someone else clues me in on what I might do differently, like not assuming someone is blowing me off when it’s really anxiety preventing the other person from seeking clarification from me about how to do the task they’ve agreed to do for me.  With my dad I’ve learned not to ask general open-ended questions about financial matters — I get higher quality advice, I think from his improved focusing, if I can figure out enough first to be able to ask him some pretty specific questions.

But there are still times when I am willing to do more to meet the other person where they are but I don’t know what I can do that would constitute that.  I’m thinking that maybe I need to make sure I’ve cleaned up my own frustration first and have become open to doing what would help without noticing whether it’s something I originally thought I should need to do, without noticing which tree the leaf came from anymore.  Maybe when I’ve done that, it will become clearer what I can do that would move things along.


Up on the (porch) roof

March 30, 2012

This next installment of my adventures in having work done on my porch railings comes under the rubric of “Why having anything done on an old house becomes an exercise in dealing with idiosyncratic elements.”  Here we have inconsistent railing lengths and posts out of plumb.  So, we are still working on spacing of balusters to minimize the eye’s attention to such infelicities.

It occurred to me as I was taking a walk before the latest round of consultation with the carpenters, “Okay, Diana, you want to say, to the carpenters,  ‘It’s your job, I just notice the spacing looks wrong and there’s this trapezoidal gap where it should be a parallelogram, I shouldn’t have to do anything more than call this stuff to your attention from the sidewalk.’  But what you probably need to do is get over ‘the way it’s ‘sposed to be’ and get out there on the [flat] roof with a tape measure so you have some hard numbers to show them and some objective evidence of what you’re alleging.”

So, out the turret window and onto the porch I went with my tape measure and gathered my numbers.  Then the project manager and company owner showed up (without a ladder) and we all went out the window and had a measuring party.  Actually, it was quite civil, and everybody was able to agree that the right panel of balusters is spaced, shall we say, inconsistently.  And the owner and I were able to agree on the technique for finessing the post angle issue affecting a side panel of balusters that my computer guy (a civil engineer by original training, I think) had earlier suggested to me.  So, Monday we’re set to go on this.

What I found interesting was that pushing myself out of my unconstructive posture and getting out there and taking measurements really seemed to help.  Having a suggestion to offer on the angle issue also really helped.  Having the company owner come out and then acknowledge the angle problem and that there’s a way to improve it all helped, too.

The owner was wearing a silver earring in one ear, and he cut his long ponytail off not long ago.  Which may sound irrelevant to anything, but I know stories from the past about a guy with a ponytail and silver hoop earring, so it was for me kind of like having a recurrent character from nighttime dreams show up in my daytime life.  His acknowledgement that the job wasn’t yet done and that it could be improved — it was as if what used to be a large karmic impediment had dissolved with that shift, from his recognition of what I was claiming.  I’m sure the original scenario had nothing to do with carpentry or architectural design (I’m pretty sure it was a serious and traumatic experience for me), but I’ve thought before that these stories resolve on the smaller iterations of the patterns, like waves diminishing when they reach the shore — the almost trivial nature of the context is almost a sign that we’re ready to learn whatever it was we needed to learn.  And then it’s over.  Here, at least part of what I needed to learn was what was embodied in my getting out on that roof with my tape measure.


Creation theory

March 30, 2012

I wonder if God is able to achieve some kind of greater personal internal intimacy with himself through our existence, if by fracturing himself and lodging those pieces in beings with self-awareness, God is able to see himself in a mirror of sorts — sometimes by means of a crude glass that gently distorts but sometimes in the face of a clear reflective surface of that version of our love that is pure.

A couple of Scouts

March 27, 2012

Without the pictures, I think I would have a hard time remembering (see comment reply) what it was like then, too:

The last time

March 27, 2012

I think posting that picture of me going off to witness Robin’s wedding got me thinking to when maybe was the last time I saw her, I’m not sure.

I think she has a different husband now, and I have different children, I guess life goes on for everyone.  Here’s a picture of from the old days:

I suspect the dog is lying behind us, since she’s there in this adjacent photo:

And this is Jonas, in repose:

In the rushes

March 27, 2012

It’s not Moses in the bulrushes, maybe, but a Moses and two Moses Gilsons in the rushes while on vacation many years ago:

We used to get a kick out of singing “Go Down, Moses” at our family seders.

Porch railings

March 26, 2012

So they put up a section of railing on Friday, on the second floor of the porch, and it didn’t look right to me. (They also replaced the rotting columns, so at least we’ve got the structural part done.)

The balusters seem too widely spaced.  The on-site carpenter seemed annoyed that I was unsatisfied with it, tried to talk me out of it, we agreed to throw some paint on a few balusters to see if it was the white primer that made the railing look too light and airy to me.  It wasn’t.

I could see multiple contributing factors to the situation.  I hadn’t realized that the carpenters (including the project manager) and I weren’t on the same page.  I had assumed that plain balusters get placed closer together because that’s what I often see around the neighborhood.  The carpenter fabricated all the sections at the shop before bringing any of them to my house to install; there was no, “How does this look to you?”, for example, either on site or at the shop, after constructing one section.

The good news is that the project manager and I spoke this morning, and we seem to understand the situation similarly, and it sounds as if we’ll work something out, including in terms of the costs.  (I’m also hoping it will only be the second-floor railings that will need to be reconfigured.)  I’ve worked with Jim before, and we’ve gotten through other glitches.

For me it’s also interesting to find myself getting adamant about how I envision this porch and its railings, because for years it’s been lodged somewhere in my mind how I never really understood why Willy felt so strongly about how the porch should look — it’s like some unresolved lack understanding on my part, and now I get to experience my own version of what he apparently felt and maybe come to understand it better.

I have wondered whether that sort of phenomenon explains why I have had so much trouble getting help, including for my children, after Willy died.  My sister has always wanted me to take care of her, and I learned eventually that I can’t.  After Willy died, she said to me that now I’d have more time to take care of her (I think that came after her remark that I must regret having married).  When I’ve had, over the past eight years, extreme versions of people promising help and then canceling, or even adding to the difficulties of the situation, I’ve thought that maybe that’s how she feels, given the way she is calibrated about her relationships with other people — I don’t think the situations have to match in terms of objective facts but rather in terms of emotional reaction, so her situations don’t have to be so extreme on their objective surface for her to perceive them as she has.  I can find greater compassion for my sister from looking at things this way, and I can find greater detachment from my own situations.

Anyway, I’m glad that at least so far, the porch railings are just about the wood, not railings about the porch verbally.


March 25, 2012

I was talking to someone last night, and he told me that I sounded like a writer and he suggested that I write up the stories of my life.

I had to admit to doing some writing, but I don’t think of myself as a writer.  The conversation did, though, lead me to revisit my issues about my relationship to writing and collaboration, and to revisit the more abstract issue of the relationship of experience to writing.

I like to collaborate.  I have enjoyed working with other people in situations in which I have contributed something and the other person or people have contributed something.  One of my favorites is when I get to do what I consider the fun stuff, whether that’s research or creative problem solving, or responding to another point of view.  I don’t enjoy the writing-up part of the project.  To me, it’s like computer programmers getting frustrated by the need to de-bug a program — once I’ve done the fun part, I want to move on.  Translating the ideas into user-friendly prose tests my patience and my trust that the investment will bear fruit.

But having been counseled to write it up myself, to move on from a collaborative posture, I’ve been trying to do that.  It clearly has its advantages, to write my ideas and experience or research up myself.  Being taken advantage of isn’t so much of an issue, for example, having more control over presentation and content is another.

But it also leaves me more questioning about the limitations when other people write from someone else’s experiences or research.  Maybe they should be having their own experiences, maybe they should have a participant’s understanding of what they’re writing about.  That seems to me the flip side of what I have been told — “Write it up yourself.”  Maybe “experience it yourself” is the counterpart.  I don’t see it as a moral question, although I am not beyond showing my petty annoyance about it, but as a matter of inherent limitations: if you’ve never tasted an orange, it’s kind of hard to write convincingly about what it’s like to eat one, and your account may not have as much usefulness or accuracy.

Of course, having the experience, writing it up, and also doing the hard work of building a career through which to have a chance to get heard is not easy.  I think some people do the whole package and others rely on, maybe, other ways to get their word out or on other ways to gain the fruits of experience without having them.  I can’t say I know how things are “supposed” to be, and I am trying to leave space, by trying not to judge, to get some better sense of how things might work.

God, salvation, and philosophers

March 25, 2012

I missed my chance to comment on the piece in the NYTimes, “Does It Matter Whether God Exists?”, by Gary Gutting.

The first place I felt I had a significant point of disagreement was the notion of salvation.  It seems to be thought of as the antithesis of “final annihilation when we die” and akin to being “happy eternally in our life after death.”  I think whatever annihilation there ever is is really just a reunion with God in which the boundaries of self dissolve, so I see no antithesis.

Then comes a discussion of whether God would help us achieve salvation, as if God chooses this or not.  I think we are God, in a sense, and in that sense (that we contain divinity within us), that part of us will unite with others parts of God — the parts of God come together, and this process does not involve a choice by one part or another of God consenting or refusing to unite — it just happens, once the impediments to that union are dissolved.

On the issue of “evil,” I don’t think it exists in the abstract, and as for why painful damaging acts occur in our world, we can also ask why beautiful pleasant things occur, too — we live in a reality of dualisms, and we have the pleasure of beauty and the difficulty of pain.  I suspect that to avoid the painful stuff we need to forgo the pleasurable stuff, too — not through sheer force of will, but by living in a different construct of what is real, in another version of consensus reality in which dualism is transcended.

As to the issue of possible deception, raised toward the end of the piece, I think the aspect of faith that is missing in the analysis there, and would resolve the concern, is love.  If one heart at its deepest level connects with the highest level in the universe, there is no room for doubt — instead there is an assurance that is quite definite but at a level we don’t participate in very much of the time we are living our lives in this world — that sense of definite knowing happens in a moment, but we can remember that we experienced it, and build on that knowing with confidence, through continued connection at somewhat less extreme levels.

Well, that’s what I think, anyway.  It works for me.  It allows me to navigate a life full of challenges without being completely swamped.  I suspect that people with fewer challenges may not feel as impelled to learn how to swim in the deep water, how even to merge with it and to grow gills, so to speak, when that’s necessary.  So, for them, the universe and God and salvation and all this stuff may look quite different, because they are looking at it from a different vantage point.  Maybe they are dealing with life’s events using a different set of reference points, reference points that are adequate for the types of things in their lives.  If a person has thick hair, they need barrettes that will hold a lot of hair; people with thin hair need barrettes that will not slip out because the hair doesn’t fill them up sufficiently.  No one’s hair thickness is “wrong,” and the different barrettes are just what is apt for the situation.  If our hair situation changes, we may find ourselves looking for new barrettes.  And if we’ve never had a certain kind of hair, we may not know what it’s like to have it, and what kind of styling equipment works if one does.

Young lovely daughters

March 24, 2012

An old family photograph.  My grandmother is the tallest of the three daughters.