Thursday, March 26, 2009

How lost is lost?

Riding home on the subway today, I got distracted by reading Bill McKibben on knick-knack factories in China and locally milled oats in the Lake Champlain Valley and ended up in Queens. Which is not where I live. At all. Even as I rode off of my intended route, I noticed unfamiliar stations passing with little more than a nod - "23rd St. and Ely? I never noticed that before..." And then I lifted my head out of my book long enough to realize I wasn't in Kansas - or Manhattan - anymore.

One day, Charles Dickens saw a most peculiar word painted on the inside of a window.

For those of you who are still working on the translation, it says “coffee room”, or at least it would from the outside looking in. Later, G.K. Chesterton, another British author, heard of Dickens’ experience and took this term “mooreeffoc” to denote anything that becomes odd and unfamiliar when looked at from a new angle.

Walking today from uptown from down, starting at Wall St. and wending along Broadway, I had a similar mooreeffoc moment when I arrived at Canal St. Unexpectedly, like someone had folded the map to cut out in-between terrain, a wrinkle not in time but space. An "I didn't realize it was so close" moment, like seeing the topography of a well-known place through an airplane window.

Xavier plays Pitt in the Sweet 16 tonight in Boston at the new Garden. My brother, parents, and cousin will be in attendance. Wish that I were there. Go X!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Catch a Fire

For the first time since Aught Eight, I saw the turtles out today in Morningside Park, sunning on the rocks along the edge of the pond and floating out in the water and taking part in relaxing turtle activities. I take this as a good omen.

This year, St. Patrick's Day brings a sense of floating: a world adrift in a bellicose, uncertain time; sliding masses of humanity through migrations, excisements, shallow-rooted wanderings; and optimistic lanterns wave-lashed yet speckle the dark.

And today feels like spring. Spring. Truly Scrumptious. [Side note: did everyone besides me know that the authors of Chitty Chitty and Casino Royale were one in the same?]

Only 19 days till Opening Day. Light till nearly 7 PM. Turtles up and about. Spring is here. Sure, we could yet get lashed with the cat-o-nine-storms, but today I heard the thwap of baseball on leather gloves, uncreaking after a winter's nap. Like turtles, another good omen. Hope you too are floating a little lighter in your shoes, be they have toes curled back or otherwise.

In honor of St. Patrick's adopted island and the graces all around us, from Gerard Manley Hopkins, Irish Jesuit mystic poet - all great things:

34. ‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme’
AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: 5
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces; 10
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mother Nature don't do bailouts

(photo courtesy:

Thomas Friedman asks, in his Op-Ed in today’s New York Times, “What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall – when Mother Nature and the market both said: ‘No more.’”

For years, I’ve fed on writers who have shouted similar messages from their pulpits, smaller and less amplified than the New York Times usually but pulpits nonetheless. I have long been a convert to various strains of “Less can be More” credos of consumption, if at times admittedly lapsed in my dedication. Bill McKibben and Wendell Berry before him have long argued for a combination of personal and collective action to counteract prevailing destructive forces of contemporary capitalism; Gary Snyder and Annie Dillard are champions of the wild that is out there and in us; E.B. White examined work, craft, and community; Henry David Thoreau filled reams in an attempt to walk the walk he was talking.

Recently, I’ve sat down with more sobering fare: The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, I Am Legend starring Will Smith to name two. Both ask related questions: How might we push ourselves over the cliff edge? What will the ensuing post-apocalyptic world look like? A related, though ultimately more uplifting movie is the fantastic Whale Rider [If you haven’t yet, see it.]. A subplot that shook me was the story of whales. Whales elude conveyance – by saying that a house is large, blue, and south-facing, have I showed you what kind of home it is? Whales, like the dolphins in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, may yet leave. I think I should resume a previous habit of answering, whenever asked, “What animal would you choose to be?,” – a whale.

While I can’t swim like whales, what lessons can I learn from them? Put another way, how can I better walk the walk of a concientious consumer/educator/friend/citizen? What can I do to help restore balance? What am I, what are we doing differently in 2009 that will help us climb up to greater stability, sustainability, and symbiosis? Symbiosis?

Yes -- "sym·bi·o·sis, noun 2. a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship between two people or groups." To this definition I would add “or systems” – educational, health care, political, financial, energy, industrial, military, transportation, commercial... What systems will we create to ensure that Mother Nature and the market, our families and communities can look back and say, confidently and gracefully: “Never again.”