Once upon a time, this blog was going to be all about my pet bird, when I got one. But I never did get that bird. So, now this blog is about the beautiful, curious things that keep me in a near-constant state of happy distraction. Ironically, many people find these writings when they wonder what "peristerophobia" means. It's a fear of pigeons. I've made a bird blog after all.
Saturday, December 31, 2005
The year is dead. Long live the year!
I ushered in the last day of the old year by sleeping off my Academic Mayhem exhaustion well into the afternoon; it was a bit like returning from a foreign country and needing that first night's sleep to be a good twelve hours or so. Even the dog found my sleeping dull and deserted me.
Because I don't have much to say that's meditative or profound tonight, and because I did most of my year-in-review writing back on the solstice (thereby inaugurating what's been about ten days of year-end thinking), I'll just wish you all a happy kick-off to the new year. May your first night's sleep in 2006 be delicious. source for today's image: the DHD Multimedia Gallery.
I spent a lot of time today in tunnels. I have always loved tunnels. When I was very small, my extended family lived in Detroit, while my nuclear family lived in Buffalo, and we took the shortcut through Ontario to get from our house to my grandparents' east-side bungalow. We often left Buffalo in the evening, after my father came home from work, which meant we arrived on Cadieux Road right about the time the 11 o'clock news wrapped up and my grandparents started thinking about bedtime. As we drove westward through Ontario, I did a lot of sleeping. But I always woke up for the Windsor Tunnel, with its yellowy ceramic tiles. I don't remember much about the tunnel besides those tiles. I do remember that the first time I went through the Lincoln Tunnel, it plucked up my vague recollections of my first tunnel.
For the record, I am not a Freudian; I side with Nabokov on how to think about a child's love of tunnels and enclosed spaces. Because I'm away from my library, here at my parents' house with the family dog (asleep with her head on my foot, dreaming and stretching and sighing), I can't quote from Speak, Memory for you. (If it were possible to upload a handful of books to one's mind and thus be able to rattle them off effortlessly, I might choose Nabokov's revisited autobiography as one of mine. God knows it's already done its share of shaping the way my mind works.) But the scene I'm remembering, in case you want to remember it too, is the one where the young Vladimir (with a relative's help) creates a tunnel between the family's sofa and the wall and feels, when he crawls into it, as though he's crawled back to some primitive place in the human heart. Then he takes a potshot at the way Freud and his disciples (with their belief in "crankish embryos"--that, I think I remember correctly) would interpret this experience. Unfortunately--or perhaps fortuitously--I can't remember what it is that he does decide it means.
Though I hadn't planned it, writing about Nabokov's tunnel carries me along to another of my early tunnels, formed by a long series of four-person tables in the childcare area at Transit Lanes, the bowling alley where my mother league-bowled when I was young. While she played--and it knocks me down to think about how she was just about my age, now, when all this was happening--I hung out with the other three- or four-year-olds in this long room at the back of the alley, with a woman who, in my memory, wears a blue blouse and a small black bouffant, and whom I love. And one thing we did, sometimes, though I can't remember whether we were supposed to do it, was crawl under these long tables--think Joel Barish under the kitchen table in his memory--an undertaking made fascinating by the harlequin coat of chewed gum that covered the tables' undersides. I have a vague memory that we were allowed to race around under the tables on our hands and knees (though maybe only for a limited amount of time each day) but were strictly forbidden to play with the gum. I almost certainly wanted to spend all morning fingering those palpably bright colors.
Indeed, it's the juxtaposition of darkness and color, the quick switch from dim to bright, that makes me love tunnels. I suppose they let me pursue my love affair with speed and light in a particularly powerful way. (I believe I've illuminated that love of light here.) So you can imagine how much I loved today. For one thing, I got to leave the Academic Mayhem, thereby officially ending my fall semester, but also remembering what I figure out every year, which is that what looks as though it will stretch on long enough so that I can see everyone I know and have a cocktail (or two) with them, or eat lovely Thai noodles that take me back to Ithaca, or do the things for which I miss living in a city, or spend an adequate amount of time prowling through the stacks of new books that publishers have brought to the convention--well, this time that seems so long vanishes just as suddenly as it slams upon us. In fact, being at the Academic Mayhem is not at all unlike hurtling through a tunnel: you slam from your regular life into this startingly bounded and directed period of time, a time and place of close demarcation and relentless forward movement, and then suddenly you slam back into the light of the rest of the world for another year. The fact that the Mayhem ends on December 30 always leaves me feeling the old year kissing the new year hello, wearily, gratefully, a little wistfully.
But first there's always the last-day flurry: the last-minute breakfasts, coffees, lunches, embraces, confidences, promises, purchases, resolutions. And today's last-day flurry saw me scurrying off down the subway line with a badass friend, off for gastronomic delight in a bookshop cafe of note, before scurrying back for a lunchy confab (or, for me, a second experience with Cuban coffee) with a crazy goddess friend. And then scurrying back underground for the subway trip back to the airport. As the best of them do, this subway route shot us into a mid-afternoon sunlit river crossing, before we pushed back underground (yet again, for me) for the last few stations. (The first time I visited my dear Brooklynite friend at her home, back in 2002, she told me to take the Q; there's still little I like more, as subway trips go, than the climb up into the light, after Canal Street, to the Manhattan Bridge. Even the T's red line as it crosses the Charles before plunging headlong into Kendall Square doesn't get me the way the Q does.)
Today's crossing was of an entirely serene variety. Sometime, perhaps I'll write up my thoughts on vertical and horizontal cities. Today I was leaving a horizontal city, the bridges low to the slow lapping river, the landmarks mostly holding fast to the line between land and sky. The most vertical experiences I had during the Mayhem, in fact, involved the titanic escalators that chug subway passengers in and out of stations, down to darkness and back up to light. Next time you think about Orpheus and Eurydice, particularly if you think Orpheus was a weak sap for having had to look back and make sure she was still there, imagine yourself leading a loved one onto those slow-soaring, high-scraping escalators in Porter Square, or King's Cross, or Dupont Circle (which is apparently the third-longest escalator in the world). And now imagine not being able to double-check that your loved one made it on with you and is hanging on to the railing and hasn't stumbled and will be with you when you reach the light. Just imagine it. You'd have lost her too.
The last tunnels I went echoing through today were jetways. On final approach, after the sun had gone down, we flew through snow (though on the ground it turned out to be rain) that came thick and fast and parallel to the plane. It streamed back the way I remember imagining my hair would during take-off, the time I flew to Detroit with my father when I was four. "Watch," I said to him (so excited, too, that I was getting to play hooky from nursery school). "When we go fast, my hair'll go fwooosh!" Picture my dramatic hand gestures, for full effect. My hair then was no longer than it is now, which is to say that it was short. And obviously I didn't grasp the vagaries of velocity. But I know what it was I wanted to be feeling, even if I couldn't have explained it then: that rush of air and light, that force and hurtle, that rocketing out of my regular world's rounds.
And now, home, the fatigue. I don't ever want it, but tonight it feels sweet, some darkness after the garish rush of the week. May the dog be my sleep muse.
sources for today's images: 1) ironically, CelebrateBoston.com; 2) publicity materials for The Lauren, a Condominium; 3) moi (please note, if you haven't already, that it's the same photo as on day one, just reversed).
Waking in darkness. Stale air. Dreams about detonations. Digable Planets. Hotel coffee. Sleeping roommate. Grading. Balance bar. Grading. Grading. Phone-talking with parents. Showering. Dressing. Book hall. Book hall! A famous person with whom I have bowled. Book hall! Hurrying. Interviewing. Interviewing. Interviewing. Interviewing. Ruminating. Meeting up. Metro. Walking. Dining on Thai food. Walking. Planning breakfast. Metro. Finding a friend on a subway escalator. Drinking. Cackling. Drinking. Laughing. Arguing. Tiring. Packing. Sleeping.
My writing yesterday was happily truncated by the arrival of, as I mentioned, friend after friend in this oversized hotel room. The real bright side of this Academic Mayhem is getting to see people I haven't seen in a long time--and getting to see them not just because I've made a date to meet them in a hotel lobby but even because I'm just walking down a street and hear someone familiar calling my name. Last night, a car pulled up in a hotel driveway, and there was a friend hanging out the passenger window, hollering for me. The critically savvy term for such a confluence of interpersonal agency and desire is, I believe, awesome.
By the time my plane was on final approach into this fair city yesterday, I had had several adventures in ranking and rankness. I boarded the plane right on time--first in my boarding group--and settled into my seat with the work I needed to do during the flight. As boarding came to an end, a woman came to the edge of the bulkhead and asserted that she was supposed to be in my seat. I produced my boarding pass to prove that I was supposed to be in my seat. A stand-off brewed. And then the flight attendant appeared and said to me, "I've got your seat right here." Fortunately, she didn't say it like that. And when I obediently got out of my seat, I found myself relocated into first class.
Right next to a kid who was already getting drunk, at 9:30 a.m. He immediately told me that he'd had his beer and his shot in the airport bar but hadn't had time to go back out through security to get his smoke. I turned back to my work; he went back to talking to himself. About an hour later, I ordered a coffee, and he requested a bourbon, straight up. Remember: 10:30 a.m. The flight attendant said, "Are you 21?" "I'm almost 22!" he said jubilantly; she carded him anyway. He tried to get another couple of airplane bottles of Jack Daniel's as we were getting ready to land; she told him that that wasn't acceptable. After she turned around, he tried to shake himself out, as though psyching himself up for whatever awaited him in the city.
Though he wasn't on his way to the Academic Mayhem, he embodied a response to it that I've seen (and felt), many a year. As the plane gets ready to land, everybody comes to a little more attention; by the time we hit the hotels, we're all settled in to our baddest-ass badass academic personae (and yes, that shout-out is for you, and you know who you are). For me, this year, the persona gets to be more fun than in past years; I'm enjoying being more laidback and smiling more than a lot of the people passing me by. But, though it's a little thinner than in years past, there's still a steel rod in my spine when I'm here, an awareness that this whole part of the city is a panopticon for the next three days: I don't know who's watching or listening to me, and the people around me don't know who's watching or listening to them. Yesterday, I saw a person I'd only seen on an internet personals site--he walked past, and I thought, oh wait, I know you...oh, wait, I don't know you...oh, wait. Hm. I also saw about 40% of the luminaries in my field. And about 70% of my good friends. It'll be that kind of week.
Part of what makes this convention fun is the nametag check. Everyone wears a 3"x4" nametag, with name printed in perhaps 14 pt. type, and so everyone walks around multitasking all the time. Here are the tasks I'm doing all at the same time: looking for people I know because they're my friends; looking for people I know because they're colleagues; looking for people I know because I love their work; looking for nametags to put more names and faces together; looking for people who are only looking at the nametag at my breast, totally bypassing my face.
Fortunately I have a good friend (someone to drink Cosmopolitans [me] and Shirley Temples [him] with), the iPod, and an assortment of ribald songs that we can deconstruct. My friend thinks that he has just figured out, with the help of a 90's dance song, why I've always liked men with big noses. I think we'll leave the morning at that. source for today's image: an Italian drink recipe site.
The moment I stepped away from my brother's car, onto the curb, and into the airport, I felt the tension start to mount. Traveling tension is its own beastie: even if you walk into the airport already holding your boarding pass and photo ID, there's still the matter of climbing out of your shoes and coat, getting your bags onto the belt, keeping an eye on your laptop (should you be traveling with one), and then putting everything back together on the other end of the security screening area. And sitting in the boarding area involves remaining in transition for whatever time is left before your flight boards. I enjoy the process, really. My father taught me how to fly when I was a teenager: get through security, go straight to the gate, check to make sure things are on time and no changes have been made, try to get on and get settled as soon as possible in your boarding group, stay calm and be friendly to airline personnel because most people aren't. That kind of thing.
But flying on December 27 takes traveling tension to another dimension. December 27 is the first day of my profession's annual convention, which draws researchers, teachers, interviewers, interviewees, the beautiful, the wretched, the damned, the hip, and the surly from all corners of North America (and beyond) to a single city--actually, to a single ghetto of chi-chi hotels somewhere within a single city--for three days of tightly controlled and calibrated Academic Mayhem. For seven years out of the past eight, I've left my family (if I've even been able to make it to them before the convention) to head to the A.M. on either December 26 or 27. This year, I was able to leave it till the 27th. And here I am, in an oversized hotel room, taking call after call from friends as they arrive in the city and at the hotel. My one full-on professional duty happens tonight at 8:45 p.m.
(And now it's done; I have given my paper, and it has been received well. And tomorrow I will write more about remaining in, as the flight attendants say, the full, upright, and locked position.)
Because being home for the holidays has me feeling more diffuse than usual, I'm simply offering the message that was given to me by a lawn display on the edge of my family's town, as I rolled in late last night. No picture, alas, even though I was only going 30 and you all know I'm good for much more. Imagine it writ large in white lights.
And a last thought: happiness might be eating homemade guacamole around a kitchen table while the family dog paws and prances, hoping to seem adorably needy enough to earn a chip (or the whole bag). Or it might be knowing that everyone in one's family is doing precisely what s/he most wants to do, not least the dog who's curled up and sleeping beside one. Happy holidays, all you Christian and Jewish friends of mine; I think there's something lovely in the Christmas / (first-night-of-)Chanukah overlap this year.
I just discovered that my pharmacy's prescription label tells me to contact my doctor if I experience any of four things, including "sadness" or "fear," while taking a particular prescription. I suspect the pharmacy did not have a conference-related version of that pair in mind.
(A postscript: the writing part of the odyssey may be over!)
(And a second postscript, to anyone who might have been concerned by this post yesterday: my tongue was in my cheek when I wrote it, but I know that tone is hard to read and that jokes are often more revelatory than their tellers. Having to go to a professional conference two days after Christmas is no good; having to write a paper the day before Christmas is also no good; these things were already on my mind when the label jumped off the bottle at me in the morning. (To be honest, I was also thinking of the scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin where Andy calls the pharmaceutical company's hotline because he's seen their ad and is concerned about his erection.) No cause for alarm.
However, I will say that I'm learning anew about how impossible it is to control people's reactions to one's writing, and also how malleable and subjective memory is, particularly if one has a keen sense of narrative. This weekend I'm seeing my mother for the first time since starting the blog, and I'm getting her corrections to the things I've written, which is a nice confirmation that she's reading. Chiefly: she never drew me as a mouth on feet; she only pictured me as a mouth on feet when she was able to hear me coming home, even though I was still a whole subdivision block away, and six years old at that. (I have made the appropriate alteration to the haiku.) This makes sense to me; I know that I have a big mouth, always have had. It's one of my best attributes, as a teacher (and maybe just as myself, period). Also, she knew the Rhapsody well before Somewhere in Time (unfairly derided!) came out; it's a standard in ice skating. Interestingly enough, Buffange let me know earlier this winter that a Canadian couple did an ice dancing routine to music from Somewhere in Time. Ice dancing is my hands down favorite sport to watch. Everything converges.)
when I was a child my mother imagined me as a mouth on feet
did she intuit this thing that is still the case for the adult me? sometimes I talk too much in the hopes that others will think I'm super source for today's image: Zymetrical (you can get a quantity discount!).
While the Great Grading and Writing Odyssey of 2005 continues, I have iTunes to keep me company (and the Lotos-land of blogging to tempt me). I am usually not someone who can work while listening to music--with the almost-lone exception of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, to which I've been listening since my parents fell in love with it after the (unfairly derided!) Somewhere in Time came out in 1980, featuring Rachmaninoff's most lushly romantic strains at a key plot moment. They promptly bought the Great Performances LP (you know, the one in the beige cover with the giant sans serif headline titles) of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Bernstein, performing the Rhapsody; my teenaged babysitter fell in love with it, too, and so we spent some evenings listening to that exquisite three minutes, sometimes many times. (I should perhaps note at this point that I listened to the Rhapsody for about five or six mid-night hours, during the overnight vigil I sat while proofreading my dissertation.) (I should perhaps also note that if you know the movie Dead Again, you will have heard the opening strains of the Rhapsody; it's the piece the orchestra performs the night that Roland [the conductor/composer/tortured genius] and Margaret [the solo pianist/sex goddess] meet. One more reason to love that movie.)
It was around that time in my childhood that I started to realize how much I loved and feared the pathos of sad music; I have an unclassifiable memory of simultaneously desiring and dreading the moment when this album would come off the bookshelf. I knew a basic outline of the violinist Paganini's Faustian legend, and I knew a bare, relatively unromantic version of his biography from my Junior Oxford Companion to Classical Music (yes, you already knew I was that child). But when that few minutes of music was on, I imagined such intricacies of pain and desire, of yearning and affliction, as were well beyond my years. Think of the chain of possession that made those moments: Paganini, supposedly having sold his soul to the devil for the gift of his musical genius, inspired Rachmaninoff, whose rhapsodies in turn gripped a whole symphony, whose performance plucked me out of time and self over and over in my childhood. A good performance of the Rhapsody--and alas, I've never gotten to hear it live--can still do a number on me, though now the narratives into which it drops me are vortices of my own regrets and longings.
It was the fact that Emmylou Harris, who also moves me immensely, came up next in the iTunes queue that prompted me to sit down and reveal how much I revel in heart-breaking music. Because somehow these things all link up, I'll also note that that same babysitter with whom I used to swoon and sorrow over Rachmaninoff also introduced me to the quirky hotness of art-geeky music men, the night she dialed through the supercable band to find that new channel, the one that played videos all day long, and tuned us in to David Byrne's sweating and twitching his way through "Once in a Lifetime." I maybe ought to write and thank her.
Oh, and that sunset? I almost missed it, what with the grading. The picture's a little darker and more impressionistic than I'd have liked, but the light was going fast by the time I got into the yard and there was no time to try and get to a less obstructed view.
The winter solstice, which we're just leaving, is my winter holiday. It's generally a pretty quiet event, since no one else I know celebrates it. I usually manage to spend most of the evening alone, turning the year over in my mind since the solstice is when the year turns. I've just checked the etymology of solstice; it makes its way into English, by way of Middle English and Old French, from the Latin "solstitium," which breaks down into "sol-" (sun) and "-stitium" (stoppage). Sun stoppage. It's perfect, since the solstice is (if one thinks of the earth's and sun's respective motions in a perversely unscientific and just plain wrong way) when the sun stops dipping toward one pole and starts creeping back toward the other. From now until June 21, my other holiday, those of us here in the northern hemisphere will pick up seconds more, then minutes more, daylight each day. In Gambier today, according to the weather site from which I obsessively glean these details daily, our length of visible light was ten hours and nineteen minutes; last June 21, it was sixteen hours and six minutes. I am a heliotrope, a sun-turner. It matters to me when the daylight is longer than the night.
When I say that the solstices are my holidays, I always think of two stories. First: when my friend Isabelle was pregnant several years ago, she told me that the baby's due date was June 13. "We were hoping for a solstice baby," she said, "so that we could raise her wiccan." (She was kidding.) (Tone is hard to read.) Second: a couple of years ago, I shocked my mother by announcing on Christmas eve that I was an agnostic. Later, I got a chance to clarify that I'm not an atheist, and I think that soothed her a bit. I regretted the way that I had blurted out my news, which was something I'd been mulling over for a long time, but without warning, there in the family kitchen, I found myself facing the choice of concealing a belief for the sake of comfort and continuity or proclaiming it even though it wasn't quite finished in my mind, and the right choice seemed pretty obvious. I'm telling you these anecdotes as a way of staving off suspicions you may have that I run with wild animals or dance crazily under the moon in December and June. I'm often not quite sure how to talk coherently and unembarrassedly about what I believe, or about why I don't like going to churches anymore, unless it's to sit quietly by myself with no one else around, something I used to do when Cornell's Sage Chapel was a landmark in my daily comings and goings. Generally, I resort to a terrific passage from Victorian badass Harriet Martineau's autobiography. Around her twentieth birthday, Martineau decided that religion is a "monstrous superstition" but also simply "a great fact in the history of the [human] race"; consequently, she found herself, chains of tradition and doctrine snapped, "a free rover on the broad, bright breezy common of the universe." I could tell you right where I was sitting when I read those words.
The winter solstice is always the day when I breathe my biggest sigh of relief and feel my most sublime rumblings of hope, even though my semester's work is usually still not done when December 21 rolls in. My sophomore year in college, I took my last exam, in intermediate Greek, at 6:30 p.m. on the solstice. My teacher, still one of the most beloved people in my life, brewed earl grey; I curled up in a near-deserted reading room and translated for three hours, overcome with the sheer, stripped-bare, exhausted, half-fearful gratitude of finding myself still alive and finishing the semester and the year's deepest darkness at the same time. On my way back to the dorm, I looked east to see Orion walking me home, as he did most winter nights. This year, in part because I'm writing again, I find my miscellanies collecting into patterns, narratives, quick tries at significant designs; today, I've been meditating on the solstice and lights. One of the things I miss about Catholicism is the advent wreath, with its four candles parceling out the wait for Christmas. Growing up, I loved the fact that the third candle signifies the hope and joy attendant upon having almost finished waiting out the darkness; on the first, second, and fourth Sundays of advent, the candles lit are purple (or blue, now), but the third candle is pink, light, hopeful, a respite. One of the things I envy about Judaism is the ceremony of lighting the menorah; in fact, I nearly bought myself a menorah last year, before deciding that instead of appropriating another culture's tradition, I would simply exercise the meditative part of that tradition on my own.
I have long been a candle-lighter. I lit votive candles for my grandparents most weekends after church; I have lit votives for them all over Europe, just as I've tied prayer knots for them in Japan. Tonight, I've lit the oil lamp I bought for myself in Ithaca when I was preparing for my master's exams so that I could truly burn the midnight oil, and as I'm typing, I'm thinking about the things that have altered over the past year. I won't be able to write them all here, and I'm not even going to venture beyond my immediate circle of experience. But: one student contacted me today with wonderful, wonderful news, news that neither of us could have imagined for her a year ago; another, who has grown so much in these twelve months, wrote to say that he's just experienced a loss that he could never have imagined would be so difficult. My favorite baby, the one for whom I learned the suffix of endearment -eleh, has learned to walk and is searching out new words all the time, specializing in onomatopoeia and page-turning. His mother, one of my truest mainstays even when we're both too exhausted to do much more than instant message, has now been in my life for four and a half years and is living in the third residence she's had in that time (as am I, come to think of it). Two of my beloved friends officially became doctors in August and promptly moved to completely unfamiliar places (a one-two punch that I remember all too well and didn't envy them a bit); two more wore their red robes for the first time at the beginning of the summer (I wasn't there to see it but loved the pictures); still more are in transition at this very moment. Two of my friends got married, beautifully, and many of us were privileged enough to see it happen. I exchanged jewelry with someone for the first time, around the time we both turned 29, and continue to be grateful that she's in my life even though I don't get to see her every day. One acquaintance grew steadily into a friend and confidant I treasure, and I've gotten to watch her from afar as she has landed a job and fallen into a love she richly deserves. My brilliant father got a promotion and has been using it to innovate even more bravely and boldly than before; my brilliant mother received a group of kids she loves and has been giving them the firm affection they need every day; my brilliant brother has won even more prizes for his work. I have attained some modicum of permanence where I am and can finally start working through some of the happy, long-term ramifications of being able to pause for awhile, geographically. Big things are afoot; everything is in flux.
For all of these things, and lots of others I haven't named, I've lit my lamp in recognition, even though I usually light it only when I'm working and need to keep my head clear (a trick I learned years ago from yet another beloved friend, whom I've had the good fortune of getting to see a bit more this year and will see again next week; "one flame, one focus," she told me, back when we were both battling serious incompletes). No wreath or menorah, the lamp is the equivalent of the innumerable votive candles I've lit over the years, the candles that came to mean so much more to me than almost anything else even vaguely religious, and it's helping me to rove this night's broad, bright breezy common, marking the slow beginnings of our slow turning back toward lightness in my own quiet way.
I have a whole aesthetic thing going on that I'm trying to explore ("Oh, that's what you're doing?"), but that just cannot preclude my showing you the completely wack thing to which my brother (he of the mad hot photography skills) alerted me last night. Call this post the equivalent of a commercial break. Follow the picture to more fearful laughing than originally scheduled... And be sure you watch the video, for the full marvel. "Ideal for home or office," indeed. My brother was quite right that it would be too much fun to have this thing in a classroom or office hour setting; I think it might flesh out my students' reading of The Island of Dr. Moreau in truly terrifying ways, just for instance. source for today's image: BoysStuff, where one can buy Big Boy toys.
Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) contains some of my favorite narrated details of all time. Ironically in all kinds of ways, I generally have a pretty rotten memory for details in books; though I can probably tell you, nearly word for word, what you said to me some random day in 1999, the names of characters in books I read a few months ago are, many of them, already gone. (To be sure, lots of the books I read a few months ago--Tom Wolfe, I'm thinking of your latest--are not such good books, and the disappearance of their characters' names has made room for incomparably more important things.) I compensate for this particular memory problem in all kinds of ways. But the point I'm gearing up for here is that I know Dillard's book made an impact on me because I still remember so much of it, and I haven't read it in at least a decade.
In her second chapter, "Seeing," Dillard relates that she's been reading Marius von Senden's Space and Sight, which collects narratives from patients who, blind from birth, have their sight restored through cataract surgery. "The vast majority of patients," Dillard writes, "of both sexes and all ages, had, in von Senden's opinion, no idea of space whatsoever. Form, distance, and size were so many meaningless syllables.... Before the operation a doctor would give a blind patient a cube and a sphere; the patient would tongue it or feel it with his hands and name it correctly. After the operation the doctor would show the same objects to the patient without letting him touch them; now he had no clue whatsoever what he was seeing. One patient called lemonade 'square' because it pricked on his tongue as a square shape pricked on the touch of his hands." Heartachingly poignant stories keep on coming, until Dillard reaches a little girl, who helps her make the point that "many newly sighted people...teach us how dull is our own vision." Von Senden describes this little girl's experience in a garden: "She is greatly astonished, and can scarcely be persuaded to answer, stands speechless in front of the tree, which she only names on taking hold of it, and then as 'the tree with the lights in it.'" I'm thinking a lot about the tree with the lights in it today, in part because I picked up my new/old glasses--same old frames, but new prescription--and am experiencing the standard new prescription strangeness that many of you may know. The center of my vision is, for the most part, improved; things are sharper, and I can see details farther off. But my peripheral sight is still a bit wacky; I have little doubt that this wackiness has something to do with the correction of a relatively new development in my sight that caused me to see double while I was in the optometrist's chair. I also have little doubt that my eyes will get the hang of being pulled around in a new way and that by tomorrow I won't notice anything strange anymore. But in this meantime, I find myself thinking, what if this is the beginning of the end of my normal sight? What if the lenses are somehow wrong, or if my eyes are becoming irreparably wrong? It's a startling, even (if I may) an eye-opening thought.
I'm also thinking about the tree with the lights in it because I happen to have seen the tree--actually, three iterations of it--in Gambier during the years I've lived here. About a decade ago, my parents were in town visiting for a weekend, and my father took many pictures of fall foliage, which is blazingly, wondrously beautiful here. One of the images he captured was of a tree at the side of a road, with the sun lighting its leaves from behind, not unlike the way the sun illuminated yesterday's curtains (and today's, as well; good fortune abounds this week). Its composition matched the little girl in Dillard's book so nicely that I used her quotation of von Senden as that picture's caption and hung it on my wall for the rest of my college career.
Every November, Gambier sets up a different kind of tree with the lights in it, in the form of the community Christmas tree. For years and years, the tree stood beside the Kenyon Inn, one of our local hotels. It was an immense fir, and the lights were full-on light bulbs. When the tree was lit, you could see it from afar as you drove in on the highway, which routes you down a hill, into a river valley, before shunting you off up another hill to campus. When I was in graduate school, I spent a weekend in Gambier nearly every holiday season, on my way to my family's house. One year, hurtling down OH-229 and dreaming of the Indian food awaiting me at my friends' house, I realized with a start that I couldn't see the tree. Where had it gone? As I crawled up the hill to campus, I was finally able to see it, but it had... moved? What? It turned out that one of our many thunderstorms had brought the old tree down, and the new tree was a much smaller substitute across the road. The holiday season has not been the same since. However: a couple of years later, driving in for yet another holiday weekend, I turned the corner at the top of the hill, into downtown Gambier, and discovered a block of trees laced with light. Turns out that an undergraduate had said to our associate dean of students, "You know what would be cool? White lights in the trees along Middle Path." Middle Path is the spine of our campus, a gravel path that runs a mile from end to end and ties Kenyon and tiny Gambier together. And every year since then, the white lights have gone up on the trees in town (at the middle of Middle Path) in mid-November and stayed up through the winter.
Tonight, I went out to catch a few images of these trees and was struck by how quiet things have gotten all of a sudden. Exams ended at 4:30 this afternoon, but most students had cleared out by this morning; a last few are still here, preparing to leave tomorrow. Gambier has about 2100 residents when our 1500 students are on campus; their exodus makes a big difference. For one thing, vehicular traffic dwindles, which made it a lot easier to take these pictures than it would have been otherwise. I didn't realize how cold it had gotten, either, until my fingers started to hurt, even though I was wearing gloves. Once the pain started clutching its way in, I got a little shaky, which I think made for a nice, if inadvertent, effect. (I'm the sister of a mighty hip photographer, though, so I generally add an implicit question mark to such statements about photographic aesthetics.)
When I opened Pilgrim at Tinker Creek earlier, I lit first on a line that could describe me as well as it does Dillard, so I'm claiming it on this solstice eve: "I like the slants of light; I'm a collector."
I love to sleep. I sleep well, and I can pretty much sleep on demand--put my head to one side, breathe deeply, and wake up awhile later--which is a useful skill. But I particularly like waking up earlier than I need to and being able to snooze, because it's only once I'm going back to sleep that I get the chance to realize where I am. And this time of year, I'm snoozing in the delicious warmth of flannel, under the seven covers I use in the winter. Seven, you say? (The part of me that can't make a joke without overexerting wants to say something about seven brides for seven covers, and that just doesn't make sense.) Well, let's see:
First, there are the time-worn flannel sheets my maternal grandparents gave me for Christmas in 1984. They're white with long vertical lines of bright, stylized flowers. They are so old that they are incomparably soft. I have tried to replace them, but nothing has come close. Next up, the brown wool blanket I picked out with my father when I was about four. For years, I wondered why I ended up with this brown blanket; it's a pretty unattractive color, and I don't think I was any more partial to brown when I was small than I am now, even if it was the early 1980s. Not too long ago, my mother confessed that she, too, wondered--even back in the early 80s--why I chose such an ugly color. I think I've figured out the answer, though: she had a sheepskin coat (which I now have) when I was little, and I think I equated wool with that coat, which has beautifully soft, curly wool at its collar and cuffs. I think I wanted a blanket of that curly wool and thus chose one roughly the color of the coat. You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered how scratchy the blanket was. And yet now, I love the tactile experience of scratchy wool.
On top of the wool: the sampler quilt my mother made for me from 1981-88. It was worth the wait. My mom's quilts deserve their own entry, which they'll get, so I'll just note that within a few years of having finished this quilt, she went to work on my college quilt, which she finished before I left home in the early 90s. That one, whose pattern is called Red Hot Mama, is the next one up in the stack, followed by a crazy multicolored woolen afghan my great-grandmother, whom we called Bushia because that's Polish for grandmother, made for me when I was a baby, if not earlier. And then on top of the afghan, I have a couple of relatively uninteresting blankets, chiefly there for warmth--a red polarfleece throw to which I treated myself (along with giant balloon wineglasses, a bottle of my favorite Joseph Drouhin Laforet 2001 burgundy, a chunk of Port Salut cheese, and a copy of Singin' in the Rain on DVD) on an icy, lonely Valentine's Day in 2004, and a blue fuzzy acrylic throw to which my mom treated me at Thanksgiving last year. Usually this throw lives downstairs, but one night I was cold and took myself to bed swaddled, and the reverse migration just hasn't happened yet.
Perhaps abetted by the weight of this bedding, I am a thoroughly rocklike sleeper, something very closely akin to an archaeological specimen. I sometimes worry that if Gambier were ever to be disaster-stricken (tornado, apocalypse, fire), I might not get excavated for the ending. Why this worries me, I'm just now starting to ask myself; possibly it's because I (foolishly, I know) still don't believe that we don't all get to escape from disaster, despite the evidence of, well, all of human history. Fortunately, Gambier has a truly stellar disaster siren, the high quality of which we all get to appreciate anew when it gets tested at noon every Friday. I was halfway down the road to a noon lunch date last Friday when the siren screamed; in Gambier, one never has to wonder whether one's late for such a lunch.
So why on earth am I talking about all this, going in circles not unlike that siren, this morning? Because I woke up at 8 a.m., having gone to bed only a few hours earlier, and found myself unable to get back to sleep. I'll chalk some small part of this early rising up to the strange deformities my sleep undergoes every December; I can remember December days in Ithaca when I slept from 4:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., completely missing every inkling of light. I have not always handled the incursion of winter darkness so well; that's a topic for the solstice, my winter holiday of choice, so stay tuned. But this morning, I think I can attribute my strange, sleepy wakefulness in fairly equal measures to knowing that I have miles of work to go before I sleep again and, more pleasantly, to knowing that I came home last night from Columbus, through miles of mid-Ohio road, veritably floating on a cloud (as our favorite time-traveling magazine editor puts it). Funny how venturing forth at night, braving snow and breaching solitude, can make the cityscapes and landscapes through which one travels feel familiar and alien all at once, revealing them as places where one has been before but where no one has ever gone, where everything looks the way one remembers (or has heard it might be) and yet feels utterly ripe for exploration and epiphany.
(Always a postscript; I am, as that great epiphanist A.R. Ammons once said [of himself, not of me, let me add], a both/and person, not an either/or person, which means that I am a serial extra-thing-tosser-inner. Today's picture has nothing to do with anything, directly, but is a tribute both to the sun and to my mother's incredible generosity with her sewing machine. You're looking at the curtains my mother custom made for my study. This morning, the sun is strong enough, even as we creep up on the longest night of the year, that I can hear the drip of snowmelt, of fast thaw, outside the house. And that, in turn, means that today's picture has everything to do with everything.)
Before my very eyes, this blog seems to be turning into Postcards from Ohio. I don't know whether it will continue going that way; somehow, it seems safer and more interesting and more lasting for me to keep sending you snapshots of this place I inhabit--and of the places within this place that I try to stay vigilant against. But you never know what might change. (That's your narrative hook, by the way, in case you're missing it: the possibility of a twist, an eleventh-hour switch now that you're baited, the chance I might turn out to have Pete Postlethwaite as my driver and a knack for making stories out of bulletin boards.)
All of these thoughts are collecting around a single image: The resolution on this one is going to be pretty terrible, because it's a tiny fragment, heavily zoomed in upon, of a picture I took through a bug-bespattered windshield while driving my car south on I-71 on the fourth of July this year. (My parents were, rightfully, concerned when I showed up in Indiana a few hours later brandishing the picture; one is not supposed to take pictures, digital or otherwise, while moving at 70 mph. I know this. But part of the reason the original picture is so crappy is that I was actually watching the road while taking the picture. I pointed and shot; I got lucky all around.) If you look closely, or if you click on the picture and it opens up for you in another window, you'll see that the billboard at which I was trying to aim without looking reads "Hell is Real." Oh, wait, make that "HELL IS REAL." I know that some of you have heard this story before, but forgive me this trespass: it's going somewhere different this time. This billboard is one of a pair, and they live in a field about 30 minutes south of Columbus, in the long, open stretch of farmland between Columbus and Cincinnati. The second billboard reads, "Where would you spend eternity if you died today?" Northbound drivers are treated to the ten commandments, five on each billboard.
I have a pretty clear sense of where I'd spend eternity if hell is real: having to drive past those screaming billboards, on that open stretch of Ohio interstate, alone on a humid patriotic holiday, in a car with no air conditioning, forever. And the reeallly hellish part, to my mind? That the farmer who owns that field saw fit either to erect those billboards himself or to sell the space to whoever put them up, that they might chasten, shame, convert, or otherwise terrorize passersby. And that kind of self-righteousness creeps its coldness right under my ribcage and pokes around: a lean knife, a brass beak, an arid scimitar. And maybe the worst part is that I find myself wanting to strike back, wanting to get my own sharp object and to plunge, again and again, into this heart of darkness. (If you think I'm exaggerating, look at that picture again. The "H" in Hell is on fire, baby. This billboard means business.) During the last election season, lots of people in a nearby town posted ten commandments signs in their yards, presumably in solidarity with those maligned, misunderstood public officials in Alabama who were instructed to keep their church out of the state's buildings. Those lawn signs also chilled me. It's not that I don't think the ten commandments are good ideas; their basic principles seem mostly okay, to me. It's the self-righteousness that galls.
And how about this one, for communicating basic principles? I did a lot of traveling this summer, and for awhile in late July and early August, I was touching down in my small town for about 24 hours at a time before jetting off for the next stage in the closest thing to a high-flying life I'm going to have, if I stay in academia. One morning, I was leaving for the airport at about 7 and needed to mail something on the way out. I headed to Gambier's one postbox (and if you think that's something, wait until I write about our utter lack of stoplights), and as I turned the corner, I discovered that a vandal had been hard at work while I was away on my previous trip. I'm sure that defacing postboxes, even with chalk, is some kind of federal offense, but I thought this graffiti was brilliant. By the time I got home a week later, it was gone, of course (though I think the chalkwork across the street, thanking the local coffeehouse for feeding our brains, was still there). Which leads me to wonder: why should a message so simple and inviting, so geared toward establishing or continuing connection with someone else, be the ephemeral one of the two I've offered you here? Why doesn't the request, the plea, the friendly imperative get to trump the belligerent declaration, the ridiculous pretense at certainty, that's been hanging around 90 minutes south of here since I moved back to this state? I hope that the bigger significance my mind is reaching for, in reading these signs, is wrong and forced; I don't want to believe that anger and brimstone have a longer shelf-life than love and happy longing.
Unless happy longing wasn't what prompted that graffiti. I turned those three words over in my mind as I sped through green cornfields, past moseying cows, over and around and up and down serpentine asphalt, heading to the plane that would take me to California, that July morning. Who chalked "Send me love" onto the Gambier postbox? Who was the implied reader? Was the postbox itself meant to be speaking? Less trivially, what was the chalker feeling? I have been single for quite a long time; when I see a request for postal love--whether paper or electronic--I tend fairly swiftly to reach assumptions about desiring the vanquishing of loneliness. That Sunday morning I pushed further, and I'm pushing it further this Sunday morning as well: it feels like a big, high-level request, a taking it to the top, to whatever powers might or might not be running this complicated and sometimes dispiriting show, for some kind of clemency, for the elemental, impossible grace of communicated feeling, for the world-clearing simplicity of reciprocated love. Or even for a refill of one's own store: send me more love, for I might be wearing out, running dry, emptying, when what I want is to keep giving, flowing forth, holding up, hoping. It was such a stripped-down, no-frills expression of what everyone I know--and maybe everyone I don't know, including the people behind those billboards--is speaking and spelling, verbally or otherwise, consciously or otherwise, all the time, that I was still thinking about it when I boarded my plane.
I have my reasons for thinking about it again today. Maybe I'll write about them some other time.
Bonus points for you if you caught my modernist allusions a few paragraphs ago. And if you get the Victorian one nearer the end, I might just make you a pie, all for yourself.
We have enough snow on the ground, after a week of intermittent top-ups and strange rainy pack-downs and yet more top-ups, that the menagerie that crosses my yard in the moonlight every night is now leaving signs that it's been here. In keeping with the rest of the inexplicably patched-together nature of a lot of my house, my kitchen has a west-facing sliding patio door perpendicular to the sink counter, and the back wall of the house is only about two feet from one wall of the garage (with its aged greenhouse tacked on the back). This space creates a confluence of corners, a little passageway where the most daring animals do not fear to tread. And so this morning, standing at the patio door, I can see that a couple of deer have tracked through that space, presumably to get into the larger yard and make a lot more tracks with their compatriots (I have deer tracks all over the yard this week, to no surprise). But I can also see the intricate threadwork of a small bird's footprints. What's amazing about them is that they look as though that bird barely hit the ground--which I suspect was the case, because, you know, birds aren't so heavy--and so they're really the lightest, loveliest wintry sign I've seen this week.
In some perhaps not unrelated development, when I awoke this morning, one of the socks I'd been wearing when I went to bed was beside my shoulder; the other was somewhere behind me. Perhaps the bird and I, as Beck says it best, were working our legs. It's been a long time since I took my socks off in my sleep. In addition to menagerie tracks, winter farms, wandering Jehovah's Witnesses (because it's Saturday, I'm expecting a knock on the door any time now), and lightning rods, another of the peculiarities of living in rural Ohio is the preponderance of fake animals posed in people's yards. Having grown up one state to the west, I have long since gotten used to concrete geese, particularly concrete geese that get dressed up for different seasons. Last year, in fact, some students stole my neighbor's dressed up concrete goose, leaving a ransom note (he was a teacher of theirs) (he was far from amused); eventually they returned the goose, accompanied with a baby goose and a note of shamed confession (from the new mother). I've seen geese in graduation gowns, pilgrim's caps and capes, Santa hats, Easter bunny outfits, and reindeer antlers.
And the reindeer antlers bring me up to the frustrating fake animals that seem to be popular around here: fake deer. Let me make clear from the outset that I'm not talking about seasonal, light-up deer (though I have some experience with those, too). These are year-round, unilluminated yard deer, and they're painted to look real (unlike this specimen to the right, which is the raw material available from a lawn ornaments website). I've said that I live in a thunderstorm-rich area; I also live in a deer-rich area, as the preponderance of deer tracks in my own yard might suggest, not to mention the shots that I think I can still hear being fired out in the woods. Why, in an area where a deer is the most likely thing to spontaneously cause significant body damage to your car (if not also yourself) as you drive any time from dusk onward, would you pose a concrete deer or buck in your yard, facing the highway? The most macabre one I've seen, down in Johnstown, has cuts of meat marked out on its sides in white paint.
Yesterday, while driving, I added another fake animal to my fake animal repertoire: the cow. And her baby. I understand this pairing, which I saw in the front yard of an otherwise unsurprising house, even less than the yard deer, but I'm less bothered by it simply because I (unlike some people I've heard stories from this fall...) have never had a run-in with a cow on a road in the middle of the night. Oh-ho! Another postscript: when I went out to grab photos of the bird tracks just now, before sundown, I remembered that I have seen a fake cow in this area before. It's student art, and it lives about a minute's walk from my house. In fact, it's looking my way right now.
Doctor Boom's Lightning Rods and the Amish Cobbler
I live in a thunderstormy area; my town loses power at least once every two weeks during high thunderstorm season, as fronts sweep over us from the west, clashing and clamoring with what's already here. It's little surprise, then, that so many nearby houses and barns have lighning rods, ornate copper and glass constructions spiking out along rooflines, grounding by means of thick, ridged copper cable. I have two lightning rods on my house alone, both with lavender glass spheres and arrows pointed skyward, both on the roof over my dining room and kitchen. One of them got knocked over by the impertinent holly trees outside my kitchen door earlier this fall. I don't know whether that disabled it; one would think the trees would have taken the hit, since they're taller than the lightning rod, had a stroke of doom come my way before the rod was replaced.
Today I drove three towns east to Danville, where an Amish man named Ray Yoder runs a small country shoe shop and cobbler operation out of a low building across the driveway from his house. Someone else had kindly taken a pair of my boots out to Danville so that they could be reheeled, and I ventured out during a break in our snow to pick them up. On the way, I saw a barn with four lightning rods, on the north side of the state highway I had to take; immediately, on my right (the south side), I saw a small, homemade billboard for Doctor Boom's Lightning Rods. Perhaps I should trade in Dr. S and become Dr. Boom.
Once I got to Danville, I was thrilled to find not only a Tough Street but also a Rambo Street. Alas that they didn't intersect; it would be badass to be able to give directions to a house on the corner of Tough and Rambo.
I had been warned that the sign for this man's shop would be hard to read. I thought this warning meant that the sign would be small, or hidden; instead, it was right there in plain view, but with most of its text simply obliterated. Because we have some slippery snow and ice on our roads, particularly the back roads, I didn't hit the brakes so that I could make the driveway. But as soon as I passed on by and began to descend a huge mid-Ohio hill into a starkly lovely, low-winter-lit valley of hayricks and the snowbound remains of cornstalks, beyond which I could see the road curving sharply off to another set of hills, I realized that it was going to be awhile before I could turn around. It was nice to get some time to look around at where I live, though I'm not going to romanticize it. At this time of year--the fallow months, the freeze--the landscape speaks the sternly rigorous rhythms of a farming life, the repetition of cycles and lines and the unrelenting dependence on immense, impersonal forces. I hit a couple of long vistas of rural winter before I inched into an icy driveway somewhere out of the way and turned back around. In the end, getting the boots turned out to entail a speedy, almost silent interaction with a young Amish girl who couldn't have been more than twelve. She said, "He told me you might be here to pick them up."
I listened to Seu Jorge the whole way there and back, his hot soundscapes an incongruous pairing with the winter golds and pale-blues around me. The wind picked up just before I got home, and the sharp-ridged dunes it cut in the snow along the highway reminded me of the sand dunes out west that I've seen pictures of. My high school ran a multi-week trip out west for students interested in doing biology fieldwork. I'm stricken now by the memory of having always been too afraid to apply: the trip involved hiking the tops of those dunes and of some mountain in the Rockies, and I feared I would slip and be lost--either because I couldn't take my eyes off the path, or because I couldn't stop staring at starkness.
A postscript: a new friend suggested that I take a look at Player Appreciate, which I suspect many of you will, um, appreciate. I pimpafied my name repeatedly until I got one that involved "Macktastic." source for today's image: a purveyor of Fancy Lightning Rods.
I am discovering a new range of music, in large part because of some blog-reading I've been doing elsewhere about the development of reggae, dancehall, and ragga in Jamaica. I have hated reggae for a long time because of the fraternity guys who lived near me for half of my college career. My sophomore year, in particular, the boys who lived upstairs from me would open their beautifully leaded bay windows wide and turn their speakers to face the quad and blast Bob Marley while they lobbed lacrosse balls around. Certain sound frequencies can't be blocked out with ear plugs, pretty much no matter how high a rating they have, and reggae's heavy, insistent bass is among them. And so my eighteen-year-old self, self-righteous and pissed off, would storm out of the dorm and find somewhere else to be until the frat guys wandered off.
Those frat guys were only occasionally amusing. They weren't amusing when they poured stale beer out their windows so that it landed in my window-wells (I lived in the basement) on Saturday mornings. They weren't amusing when they started giving that stale beer to the poor dog who lived with them for awhile. However, they were excruciatingly amusing the night they decided to run towards the dorm, at full tilt, from the middle of the quad, hoping to be able to dive into their window--which was probably seven feet off the ground.
Because of their overall idiocy, I've completely blocked reggae from my realm of possibility for more than a decade. Now I'm starting to wonder whether I should give it another try. This evening, I opened the latest New Yorker to find Sasha Frere-Jones's article about reggaeton--basically, rapping in Spanish over a reggae beat, to produce a decidedly Latin hip-hop--and the Puerto Rican impresario Daddy Yankee. (I was a goner at the line, "Rather than stressing the first pulse in every measure, the music accents offbeats, and the difference is evident on the dance floor: reggaeton speaks to hips, hip-hop to heads and shoulders." As those of you who know me know, hip-hop already speaks to my hips, so this new stuff is bound to, I don't know, deliver impassioned monologues of love.) Who knew?! I mean, besides everyone.
And somehow, in the process of acquiring Daddy Yankee's Barrio Fino (2004), I happened upon Seu Jorge's "studio sessions" acoustic recordings of the David Bowie covers he did for The Life Aquatic. Which, in turn, led me to Jorge's Carolina (2002), which is simply incredible. I can't quite explain it: I think Jorge might be my first musician boyfriend, with his incredible voice and superlative basslines and truly extraordinary abs. Carolina is the best kind of album; the songs all blend together, but they're never motonous. Disco kisses reggae buddies up with something like a loungey rhumba leads into more funk heads right up to an easy-going samba. And if you haven't already heard the Bowie covers, hie your way to iTunes, or similar, and pick them up.
And all this newness from reading someone else's blog entry about a genre I didn't think I'd ever want to hear again, ever. source for today's image: Mr. Bongo's Seu Jorge page.
I've been reading others' blogs for almost a year, having previously been part of a couple of group blogs. The group blogs always made perfect sense to me: neater than a lot of e-mails circulating to a huge list, they let a whole group of us stay in touch even once we started moving away from our graduate school careers. But the idea of starting an individual blog has felt so solipsistic to me until now--despite the fact that I don't think my blogging friends are at all self-involved or silly. In fact, new posts on their blogs make me almost absurdly happy. I have no pretensions about whether this blog will make other people happy. I just figure, it's about time I stop hogging other people's comments sections and start making my own textual space over here.
I'm probably going to be a little stilted at first, while I find my blogging feet. You all don't know I'm here yet anyway; by the time people catch on, I'll have caught up. source for today's image: Kip Brockman's View-Master reference page.
Annie Dillard could have been writing about me when she said (of herself), "I like the slants of light; I'm a collector." Or Willem de Kooning: "I'm like a slipping glimpser." And don't forget Brenda Ueland: "I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten--happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another." But the Beastie Boys might have said it best: "When it comes to panache, I can't be beat." There's a reason I wear a ring that says Badass.