Monday, August 25, 2008

Was Greta Garbo Right?

I'm being facetious. Greta Garbo never said she wanted to be alone, you know. She actually said she wanted to be left alone, which in these days of whirl and bustle makes a world of sense.

I'm in the midst of reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea right now. It's a slim little book and should have been a quick read, but I've found myself lingering over this book of near-meditations. In part, I think that's due to the subject matter of the book. Although first published fifty-some years ago, the author's musings on the results of an ever-increasing whirl of life still seem nearly painfully relevant to me today. However, I think there's another reason I'm savoring this book like a fine chocolate mousse.

This is my grandmother's copy of the book, complete with her pencil underlinings. I'm learning a lot about the reader of the book, due to those markings. What bits struck my grandmother as worthy of marking? Is this where I get my habit of dog-earing and marking my favorite passages in my favorite books? I don't know, but I'm having great fun considering the possibilities.

At any rate, time alone is a precious commodity. Lindbergh notes that, as a society, we are nearly suspicious of anyone who wants to be alone, although we'll accept almost any other excuse. But if we are meant to give to our society, it stands to logical reason that we must refuel ourselves in order to continue. She mentions a term she ran across while reading William James, who is generally considered to be the father of the self-help movement. The term is "Zerrissenheit" which translates into "torn-to-pieces-hood." Surely that is a state of being that is best avoided.

So in the midst of classes, appointments, and obligations galore, I'm off to find a quiet place, hopefully near a sunbeam slanting through the blinds. Don't worry if I don't answer the phone; I'll be back. In fact, why don't you leave a message and find your own sunbeam? I'm sure there's one close by.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Keep Your Friends Close

. . . and your enemies closer, the adage goes. An axiom that has special poignance for the people of Georgia these days. (The one that's a country, not the Bigfoot hunting grounds one.)

It's always shocking to come face-to-face with the reality of how much can change in just a few days. Ten days ago, most Americans couldn't have found Georgia on a map (the country, but it's possible that statement extends to the Bigfoot hunting grounds one as well). Now we've seen footage reminding us in very clear terms that the Russian bear is back - if, indeed, he ever really went away. I'm not going to get geopolitical here; better minds than mine are working on the snarl of issues raised by breakaway provinces, Russian passports, and tanks rumbling into cities. Rather, I started thinking about the concept of quick changes.

In the theatre, "quick changes" are just what it sounds like - rapid transformations, usually of costumes. The actor exits the stage and voila! re-enters in a completely new outfit, delighting the audience who gets to marvel at the precision it takes to smoothly accomplish a quick change. In life, it's messier. Maybe I just need a better dresser.

Sorry, I digress.

We all have moments in our lives that we can point to and say, "That was me before; then that happened and that's me now." These are the "quick changes" I have in mind. Sometimes, it's something awful - the death of a close friend before his time or the moment where you must admit that the center of the marriage can no longer hold. And we often use the "awful" as a yardstick in our lives. But just as often, the yardstick is something beautiful; we just don't usually notice - a young child hands you a chalk drawing, insisting that it was made just for you or you catch yourself humming tunelessly one morning as you realize that, sometime during the night, fiery passion transformed into something much deeper and solid.

I've spent too much time being a spectator in my own life - that sad truth may have something to do with the way I currently look at the world. About a week ago, a group of friends gathered at the always-hospitable home of Stacked Librarian to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Turns out part of the ceremonies were faked, but the warm glow of good friends sharing a meal and oohing and aahing over human accomplishments (did you see those drummers?) was real. Victorian Marxist and FryDaddy engaged in deep conversation over the writings of Chairman Mao while Barefoot and I rolled our eyes and ate more of Stacked's delicious Chinese-inspired food, which all of us had helped prepare.

Life spins on a dime, people. So hold hands when you can and keep your friends close. You never know when you're going to need them.

(That's one reason I give them fake names in the blog! Wink!)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Oxygen Masks and High Tide

Well, the school year is once again knocking at my door. Syllabi and related materials need to be copied and neatly stacked for students and I need to prepare my opening day lectures.


Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I truly enjoy teaching and it's been a good summer. Still, I'm grabbing a vacation before everything academic re-commences. After witnessing the opening ceremonies for the Olympics on Friday, it's off to the beach with me for some much-needed down time. While not truly packed yet, I have my beach towel folded - Douglas Adams taught me to always know where my towel is - and a stack of reading material (ranging from months-old magazines I haven't had a chance to read to throwaway novels to Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea) ready to go.

You might think that a vacation isn't really warranted in my profession - after all, I'm a professional educator; don't we get summers off?

Oh, naive reader. That's just so cute! No, really - that's adorable. Have a lemon drop.

The truth is that I'm what's known as a "twelve-monther." Therefore, I teach during the summer session as well as the traditional fall and spring semesters. So summer off? Not so much, as Buffy might say.

What it does mean is that it is crucial for me to know when I need to stop and put on my oxygen mask. A friend gave me this image a few years back, and I just love it. If you've ever flown and listened to the flight attendant's spiel about all things safety-related, you will remember that a standard part of the talk is a bit about sudden decompression in the cabin. After telling you that you will hardly ever need to know this, the attendant reminds you how to put on the mask and then says something along the lines of "If you are traveling with a small child or someone in need of assistance, put your own mask on first, then assist the other person." (Emphasis mine, by the way.) In other words, you can't help anyone else if you can't breathe. The lesson here is that sometimes you have to just stop and breathe for yourself before you can go on to help someone else.

So I'm off to the beach to breathe for a few days. See you soon and I'll try to bring you a shell or two.