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.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
It's been a lazy last day of the year, as so many days-after-Mayhem turn out to be. We do our best to stick it out until the new year; most of us, it would seem, are going to make it--and the rest will at least be reawakened in time for goodnight kisses. And I, myself, begin crafting resolutions to re-stoke my quiet and creativity as we turn the calendar yet again.
Tonight, I felt myself on the brink of a David Lodge novel when, through an act of utter generosity on the part of a senior scholar, I ended up at an invite-only party in the two-story suite of the President of the Mayhem. I don't have much more to say about that, so here are some things I saw today.
In the morning, I'm off to the Mayhem. Though I contemplated leaving the computer behind, that contemplation didn't last long. But whether or not I'll be posting here, I haven't yet decided. If you don't hear from me, that's what's going on.
Once I had been in Indiana for a little while, I could finally see the edge of the rainstorm in which I'd been driving for hours: it cut a clean diagonal across the sky, and I was heading right toward it, right toward the line where the dark grey clouds gave way to a sunny afternoon. And so what if the sunny part of the afternoon didn't last too long? By the time the clouds were back, I was here, home, with my family and the sore-footed dog.
Because the weather turned foul, I didn't leave after all.
First there was this titmouse. And then, when I was taking its picture, a woodpecker got in there for effect. Turns out, also, that I'd forgotten to shift the white balance on my camera--but I don't mind it so much. Sometimes the world looks good in blue.
Originally, I had hoped to be heading to my family by this afternoon, but I revised that plan sometime last week when I realized that there just wasn't any way I could finish this semester's work before Monday dawned. (Leaving Gambier before December 23? Whatever. I could barely manage that feat when I was a student, for goodness' sake.) And then, as it turned out, today was a second day running of near-record-low temperatures--not my favorite kind of day to be driving the Aged Car through (or even near) frozen fields. (Last night and today were so cold that ice crystals formed on and around the inside surface of my bathroom window. I guess that's one way to figure out where you have a draft.) And so I was glad that I'd already decided to stay put until tomorrow.
Because the weather has been so cold, and because my windows are so leaky, I've kept the curtains drawn all day, trying to keep the heat my furnace is struggling so valiantly to produce. Around 2:30 p.m., I started to hear a ruckus outside my living room window. Peeking through the curtains, I was startled to find my bird feeder being ravaged. Squirrels raiding feeders is a big problem wherever there are feeders, so I've been surprised not to have squirrels making the relatively easy climb down from the gutter. But now, it occurs to me, I have a narrative for why the seed just seemed to disappear sometimes, particularly on days when I'd been away at school all through the afternoon...
For the next hour or so, I alternately spied on the squirrel and scared him/her off so that the whole game could start over. This squirrel was totally on to me but never once tsked me. Which is a good thing, since I'm the meal ticket as well as the voyeur.
Now, my grades are in (several days ahead of deadline, I'd like to note) and one of the recommendation letter sets I need to do is done. Which brings me to the brink of being out.
This year, the solstice (my holiday, as you may recall from years past) coincides with the beginning of Hanukkah, and so as I lit my first candles, I said thank you not just for the light's imminent return but also for this neat confluence of dates. In 2006, the solstice was the last day of the eight, so I lit my way there, day by day by day. This year, I will travel twice during these eight days, lighting my way back out of the dark. Tomorrow there will be seven seconds more daylight.
Today, as if to stress how low down and darkened we've gotten, the temperature plunged; the windchill is -17º F ("actual" temperature -2º). That picture? It's of the inside of my car's windshield.
For the second year running, I've missed my blog's birthday. Now we are three!
At 9 a.m., my excellent friends and my excellent poet friend and her son and I piled into a Honda and rolled on out of town. It was a small escape, a freebie day. I came home with new running shoes--and the kinds of big plans that such shoes can bear.
And now I find myself poised on the brink of the shortest day of yet another year.
This morning I awoke to hard rain, the flooded walk, the trees still slicked with the night's slow ice.
Final work and good news trickle in, bit by bit.
My UPS man brings me more boxes. "This looks like more than a lot of books," he says. Some boxes are a mystery even to me--they've come here instead of going elsewhere.
Inside one box is a box of forty cardboard building blocks with which I hope my young friend will love--and which she does indeed turn out to, even before the day is over. We build the boxes. I work on teaching her more new words. "Uncool!" when the boxes don't build right. "Stack! Stack!" She loves the ten foot stretch of brown packing paper, too, and we wrap ourselves in it as though it were shot silk, as though we were designers, or designers' dress forms. The brown paper becomes a road, a robe, a wrap, a disguise. She becomes a pillar of paper. Her parents feed me dinner. I stack the cardboard blocks in the hall before I leave for home.
This evening is the first evening when she seems not to understand why I would leave. She presses her face against the glass door. I press my face to the other side. "She's going to her house," I hear her mother say. We all wave until I'm out of sight.
Last night, not long after I wrote here, I heard a crunching sound outside my living room and feared it was a person stalking about in the dark. I looked out and saw the tell-tale pale light of a deer's ears. When I crept to the porchlight switch and flipped it, then peered back out the window (sorry to have startled them), I saw not one but three--one ambling around the corner, one standing in the woods, one standing in the lawn in front of the woods. Eventually they all ambled into the front yard, pausing under my flaming-sworded friend's bird feeder, stopping around the oak trees near my front door, wandering off toward the parking lot.
When I didn't think they would think I was looking, I watched each of my twenty-one students in turn--the tilted profile there, the furrowed brow here, the stretching, the rubbing of a neck, the looking toward the ceiling to see if another textual detail was stuck in one of the tiles. Somehow, they seemed stronger and lovelier than ever before, sitting there in our classroom for the last time. And as I start marking their blue books, I find just how much stronger and lovelier they were than I had any idea, even though I was right there in the room with them. Tell me, I said. Here, they replied. I hope they were able to tell just how much I wanted them to feel confident and do well.
In the past few days, I've spent more time outside at night than perhaps any other time this semester--a strange thing for someone who used to end up walking home from the office every night well after dark. Friday was the coldest, most crystalline night we've had all year; by last night, the temperature was rising again; tonight, the snow is gone once again from the courtyard outside my apartment, and the leaves rustle in the night wind. I'm barely even another half-mile away from where I used to live, and yet somehow that extra distance has meant that weekends--and even some evenings--escape from work, and that I'm more likely to find myself staying in the apartment complex, writing an exam script in my flaming-sworded friend's rocking chair, than to make it all the way to the office, even if that's where I meant to go when I walked out my front door. I will confess that it's a little exhilarating to separate myself a bit more from my workplace--though you can hear from my rhetoric that it's also (apparently) a little scary.
"Do you think I'm about to give them an easy exam?" I asked partway through compiling the passage ID section.
"You're working too hard for this exam to be easy," my flaming-sworded friend replied. Not much later, her excellent husband brought me a piece of warm pie, and then the moon walked me the short way home. Coming back out to take its picture seemed the least I could do to say thank you for its company.
Clearly, there will never again be a day when I do not have to grade five essays and ten pre-writing assignments, because every time I complete one assignment, five more spring up in its place and do their best to slay me. Fortunately they often slay me in the best sense (sharp wit, &c.). But today, it was damned helpful to be able to look up from my laptop and be startled by the world beyond my window. (The view here is from my study.) The cardinal was one thing.
The deer was another altogether.
See this one?
Too easy? How about this one?
Yeah, I didn't know that they just lie down in snow, either.
Believe it or not, there was a third deer out there, too, but I only saw its tail flick a couple of times and couldn't get its picture. They do match their woods brilliantly.
With one final day of hilarity with students I have come to love in a class I have loved teaching, the semester wound itself down. Suddenly it was 3:30, time for everyone to go. I still held back the interested ones so that they could see this gem from my youth.
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.