Archive for July, 2013

Somebody else’s birthday

July 31, 2013

My neighbors and I have been having tree work done (yesterday and today), and it turns out today is our tree guy’s birthday.  (See previous post.)


Not my birthday

July 31, 2013

Yesterday felt like my birthday, only it wasn’t, not even close.

The biggest reasons it felt that way was that I got a laptop computer, and there’s a bunch of some of my favorite flowers in my dining room, perfuming it.  And I didn’t (directly) pay for either.

The flowers are lilies from my garden, four Star Gazer blooms and seven white lily blooms.  The Star Gazer lilies I did buy last year, but here they are again this year, re-sprouted — I didn’t do that.  The white lilies I don’t know who planted.  They seem to appear sporadically, some years and not others, and neither Willy nor I could remember choosing them or planting them.  They surprised us ten years ago, the summer he died (I remember asking him about them and cutting one for his room), and here they are again.

The laptop is my first.  I know I’m late to the party, but I only even got this one by being backed into it (I’m typing this post on it);  my father’s computer stopped working, both CPU and monitor, and I kind of need computer access while I visit my mother (including during next week’s trip) — wouldn’t make much sense not to be able to pay her bills electronically while I’m there in NJ, when I can do it while I’m up here in Massachusetts.

So I asked Tony to find me something used and appropriate (pretty basic), and he did, and my mother offered to pay for it.

But it wasn’t the payment issue that made it feel like a present — somehow getting it reminded me of getting a bicycle for my birthday, the same kind of thrilling.  And I’m no technophile, so I don’t think it had to do with the laptop itself.  So, too, with the flowers.  I love their robustness and scent, how they perfume the house even beyond the room they’re in, but somehow when I just look at them, especially when the sunlight is bathing them, I feel so thrilled, way beyond what I can explain.

I do notice birthdays this time of year.  Jonas’ official one is next week, and maybe because he has birth certificate issues (it’s quite legal and proper, but it is court created, not a record of the facts of his birth), I think of President Obama’s birthday, too, which I think is even sooner (his birth certificate issues were manufactured in a quite different way, of course).  Then there are two other gentlemen born around the same time as Obama — same year, I think — who, or whose work, have loomed large in my life:  Richard Shindell and David Brooks.

So happy birthday to all of them, while I enjoy my computer and flowers, for whatever reason.


July 21, 2013

I got an email recently, an automated one, thanking me for requesting some materials from a brokerage firm.

I didn’t request them.  I agreed to receive them when an employee from that company was making a pitch to me on the phone — it was a way to end that part of the conversation and get back to what the original agenda was supposed to be.

It’s interesting, because I’ve had others do a variation of that when I’ve been in the other role, but often the scenario has included my interlocutor embellishing their willingness to entertain my proposal — and I have taken that embellishment as a reflection of their willingness to go further than entertain my proposal (which sometimes has been in the form of a statement of need).  I am pretty sure that in many cases, my interpretation that they were on board was welcomed and encouraged by them — a few even were explicit that they were on board.

But I suspect that in some fundamental way none of these people ever really moved off the space of being willing merely to entertain the issue, and that they didn’t feel obliged to follow through because in some way they had never committed themselves to what they had indicated to me they were going to do.

And for me the lesson has been that people can do that, regardless of the impact on me, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, and certainly regardless of (my) need.  It has been damnum absque injuria.

For me, Jackson Browne’s “Sky Blue and Black” comes closest to depicting someone trying to make amends in this kind of situation.  Don’t know what the other person, the person addressed in the song, thought of the attempt.

I had a friend in high school whose mother had died when she was twelve (from breast cancer).  Kelley more or less raised her younger sister and three younger brothers, they had very little money, and she was in honors classes and went on to a prestigious university.  She used to say, “Take what you can when you can and be grateful.”  She died at the age of 28 from ovarian cancer.  I suspect she had (figured out?) a more helpful attitude than I have towards the type of scenario I still struggle with.

Ferris wheel

July 21, 2013

I was on a ferris wheel many years ago with my mother.  It was a small ferris wheel and had very sturdy seats, in cars in which occupants sat across from each other. (I suspect you could get two people on per seat, for a total of four people per car.)

I remember saying to her as were about halfway up circle of the ride, “Isn’t this fun?!”

I hadn’t been looking at her as I spoke, I think I was looking down at the people below.  When I didn’t hear much in the way of a response, I turned to look, and there she was, eyes scrunched close and looking pretty tense.

So, no, my mother didn’t find it fun to ride on the ferris wheel, although she went along with it.

I could tell she didn’t enjoy it, but no, I can’t say I empathized with her — I did not feel her feeling.  I felt bad about her obvious discomfort with the ride, too.  But none of my response could I call empathy.

Empathy is when I feel as if I actually feel what the other person is feeling, as if I’m an actor inhabiting a role, or inhabiting the other person.  I would say it goes beyond imagination, beyond my imagining what they may be feeling — it feels to me as if I really am feeling what they are feeling.  And I do have that experience from time to time.

I mention this because I get tired of the use of the term empathize to refer to processes which do not, in my opinion,  involve empathizing — the term has become, in my opinion, somewhat meaningless through its use to cover all sorts of mental processes and situations.  I sometimes think this happens especially when the person using the term has never actually really experienced the phenomenon of empathizing — analogous to a person using the word orgasm to refer to something else because they’ve never actually experienced one.  Two of life’s great mysteries, empathy and orgasms.

A ring

July 20, 2013

When I was visiting my mother in early February, after my father’s death, she gave me some rings that he had kept in a small leather case with a snap closure.

We knew which was my father’s wedding ring.  He hadn’t worn it much, I think he wore it at the outset of their marriage, but it irritated his skin, so for most of his marriage he didn’t wear it.  It is interesting to see how sharp the facets of it still are — those on my mother’s ring had become worn and blunted because she wore hers (with a brief hiatus when she worried about being mugged for it on the NYC subway and not being able to get it off over a swollen knuckle) all the time.

Then there’s a ring with a date of 1718 inscribed in it.  It’s a bright yellow gold and it has maybe what you’d call beadwork at both edges of the band — kind of like the equivalent of molding at the top and bottom edges of a wall.  That ring I feel I should like — it’s got a date, it’s got initials inscribed in it, too, (AMK and BH) but I can’t say I’m drawn to it.

It’s the third one I want to wear.  It’s a softer color gold.  It’s narrower than the others.  It seems to have an 85 and at A T inscribed inside it, but I don’t quite understand what they represent, given the way they are done.  So the details of the inscription don’t explain its appeal to me.

All three are men’s rings, the second two I don’t know whose.  My mother doesn’t know, either.

Being a man’s ring, this third ring doesn’t fit any of my fingers, not even thumbs.  (None of them do.)  I’ve taken to wearing it, though, on my left index finger, by wearing above it a ring that actually fits that finger and thus keeps this other ring on as well.

Luckily no one has asked me to explain why I’m wearing it, because I’m not sure I could put it into words.


July 19, 2013

My younger son is a big fan of the deli counter.  On the other hand, while I like cold cuts, I really dislike going up to the counter, even with a number in hand, because I so often get overlooked, even when my number is called and I respond.

My son has figured out that I especially like sliced roast beef, and now, even when he’s just going on a deli run for himself, he buys the roast beef and makes sure I’m aware it’s there for me in the fridge.

This may sound small, but it’s not.  After their dad died, my younger son and my older son lost faith in the idea of family, especially as reflected in the act of eating the same food together — I came to see it as almost a statement of faith lost.  They each maintained a relationship with me, but they could not make that emotional investment in being a family again.  Their having lost their original families (they are adopted) was a factor, and so, too, has been the attitude of extended family towards them (which, from my perspective, basically created a self-fulfilling prophecy that things would not go well for them).  My younger son articulated this to a family therapist shortly after the death, and his brother agreed.

So this roast beef supply is a significant thing in this context.  I say “Boys,” because it’s my experience of boys that most of them show you rather than tell you about their emotional state.

Bird nests and laws

July 16, 2013

I discovered two bird nests in my backyard while I was pruning.  The timing of the second discovery had to do with when some of my neighbors go on vacation and I can prune my bushes on my property without having to parry back conversation.  I wondered about whether it was okay to remove the nests.  I was pretty sure they were no longer in use.

One nest was in the grapevine, about where there was one last year.  That one ended smashed on the ground after a storm during the fall.  The other was also close to where I had seen a nest other years — in the great rambling rose bush that is intertwined, in places, with one of the hedges.

I found online the legal rules about removing bird nests.  Pigeons, sparrows, and starlings, I think it is, have little protection, but other common migratory birds do have some protection from us humans.  I also read about parasites in bird nests, and did notice some earwigs in the ones in my yard.

Anyway, this to me was just another random chapter in yardwork and suburban homeownership.

And then I got one of those emails from The New Yorker about what’s in the current issue, and I read a piece called “Operation Easter,” by Julian Rubinstein, about high crimes involving stealing bird eggs out of nests in Scotland and England.

Clearly there was no causative connection between my nest issues and this article, and it’s hard even to find a connection between them through something conscious I could have done.  One could write off the confluence as coincidence, but I think of it as a good example of synchronicity.  I suspect synchronicity is driven by some third aspect of it that we don’t see — for example, perhaps by a solar flare of energy from somewhere, washing over us and playing out in a variety of similar ways.

A footnote:  the birds may not be nesting in my yard at this point in the season, but they bathe in the two low bird baths in the yard.

Live accounts

July 15, 2013

My son’s university no longer sends out paper tuition bills — we have to look at the bill online.  So I thought this meant that when there were new bookkeeping entries to be made, such as financial aid awarded or portions of that aid declined, it could be updated.  Well, apparently it can’t, apparently it’s just like a one-time printing of a paper bill.  The only efficiency seems to be in the means of the initial delivery of the information.  I was surprised.  It’s not a live account, just electronic paper.

Coming and going

July 15, 2013

Many Republicans seem to react to President Obama’s being a black man, and yet they object when he observes that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.  Why don’t they stop thinking of the president as black if they want him to stop noticing that, too?

Michael Stipe and Bruce Springsteen

July 13, 2013

I love watching, and listening, to them sing together live (courtesy of recordings posted on YouTube), whether it’s a Springsteen song or an R.E.M. song.  Stipe has a looser, more exuberant energy, Springsteen is so serious about delivering the goods, but can break into a boyish delight during one of these dual performances.  I am not a knowledgeable fan of either man’s work, but I really like these live joint ventures.  I think it’s that combination of very different but apparently compatible energies.   “Man on the Moon” and “Because the Night” are two of my favorites.