Today I Will Tell You A Secret

Originally written a decade ago for my friend S in honor of her 35th birthday, then repurposed over the years (rather shamelessly) for other special friends on their special bird days. Posting here to put an end to that tradition 🙂

Today I will tell you a secret. 

Today I will tell you a secret. Because you are now old enough to keep it and young enough for it to still matter:

There is a flaw in human measurement of time. 

It happened that someone with a sense of humor and a love for the arbitrary told us a very long time ago to count our circumambulations around the sun. This was nothing more than an inventive and mildly entertaining way to determine how many candles to put on your birthday cake. It is suspected, but hasn’t been conclusively proved, that this same someone was the personage who recommended humanity count sheep jumping over a fence if it couldn’t fall asleep. The point was never the number of sheep. The point was to give one something soft, bleating and cloud-like to think about. Leading one to drift gentle as driftwood into sleep. With the circumambulations the number was always immaterial. The point was to thrill you with the poetry of doing laps around a ball of fire. The point was also the candles – or more precisely — the fact that you blow them out.

They say the Greeks lit candles on cakes to make them shine like the moon. Sometimes they took these cakes over to Artemis’ temple. Imitation has always been the sincerest form of flattery. And I never met a Greek goddess who disapproved of flattery. Some people believed the smoke from the candles wafted one’s wishes clear to heaven. This belief gained popularity over the centuries. Mainly because humanity likes to wish on curious things. Falling stars, eyelashes and birthday candles. The wish-making bit was a clever distraction, but honestly we ought to have picked up on this a little sooner. The anniversarial blowing out of candles on a cake is not a particularly well-disguised metaphor. Light and darkness, life and death, presence and absence. Brief pillars of flickering light. We are here and then we are not. In the interim — let us eat cake (preferably chocolate) together. Let us be surrounded by love. Let us celebrate one another in bare feet. Knowing that nothing stays exactly as it is. Nobody stays exactly who they are. And forever is always and only in this moment.

The ritual of birthdays is peculiar and poignant. 

There is something beautiful about the way a lit candle melts. There is something beautiful about the way a lived life dissolves its own shape. And as for the laps you’ve completed around the fiery center of our solar system — hold that number in the palm of your hand and blow it into the wind like dandelion fluff. For all it means, you might just as well count the number of letters in your name multiply by pi and divide by the square root of summer. Because the truth is no one really knows how long you have been here. Or if you ever really were not.

All I truly know is —

I Am So Glad

You. Are. 


With love,

Pavi (Believer in Bare Feet, Chocolate Cake and Wishing-on-Eyelashes)


Just For Today

kindled by Rumi, Ari and Haleh

“I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.”

– Mary Oliver, from Owl & Other Fantasies

Just for today, call me anything you like and I will answer without argument as only one who has outlived her own sense of pride or shame can. Call me unrighteous and I will curtsy with no trace of irony. Tell me I have no scruples, and I will empty all my pockets just to prove you right. Condemn me as a traitor and I shall plead guilty while cuffing my own wrists. 

Only to those whose gods stay put is it given to be faithful. If I am fickle it is because mine are perennially unhoused. They roam the world recklessly with no sense of direction. Do you know what this means? Yesterday I bowed East and today facing South. God knows where I will turn tomorrow. My loyalty is chained to a moving target. Would you call me indiscreet?  I will nod vigorously in agreement. 

I am not a storehouse but a sieve, and a tattered one at that. Do not be persuaded to give me your jewels for safekeeping, lest they fly through my fingers. Let me confess: I trust the world. It is a weakness of mine. I trust its rickety bridges, quicksand, hail storms and hurricanes,  I trust its dogmatic politicians, daunting bureaucracies and dreariness. And by trust I mean praise, and by praise I mean see, and by see I mean feel them in me. Do you think I’m opinionated?  

Just for today say so to my face and I will, without spite, clasp your hand and thank you for the compliment. Our skin is bolstered by our bones. Our personality by our opinions. Without skeletons we would be amoeboid (no offense to our single-celled brethren,) and life would be fascinating in a different way. But in this present incarnation I treasure my tarsals and metacarpals, my clavicle, my occipital bone, and my opinions.  Just as one cannot produce onion soup without first having onions one cannot produce a change of opinion without first having an opinion. Evolution depends on alchemy. And alchemy some say depends on a very advanced change of opinion. You would call me unrepentant and rambling?

Such discernment on your part! I have spent far too much time pent to ever wish to re-pent. Like an origami crane I folded myself over myself in intricate and convoluted ways. Pressed all the inconvenient parts tightly together and tucked them out of sight. Until one day I came undone. Now I am very creased, not easily categorized, and I cannot stop singing. This glorious unraveling has rendered me loquacious and light-hearted. Today I haven’t the heart to chide anyone– not even myself. Is this irresponsible? I swear I can’t tell anymore. You say I’m flippant?

Ah, could you hold a moment? I must catch my breath. See how you’ve caught me off guard? How splendid! Now perhaps, the possibility of conversation. Had you caught me en garde all we would have is a duel. All those thrusts and parries, exciting at first (survival is a stimulating instinct,) but tiresome after a while, and on occasion downright tragic. Flippant you say? I see what you mean.

For so many years I took everything seriously. Then one day I stopped, and was surprised by my own buoyancy. Now I am untamed and unabashed. Self-propelling like a hummingbird. Given to flitting, and flights of fancy. Making up for lost time, and loath to shoulder much more than sunlight. Should slides of my feathers. Shall not cocks my head. I do not pretend to understand the ways of the world. I am lost in the woods that are lovely as touted. And dark. And deep. You are lost with me. And everyone else we know. And by lost I mean playing, and by playing I mean safe, and by safe I mean held, and by held I mean whole. And you are silent now. 

And so am I. 

Just for today. 


Yennithingkanbi

From 2005

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination – John Lennon

I am not a princess. I know this because of the story of the Princess & the Pea. For those who don’t know the story: There once lived a prince, handsome, brave, wise, good etc. In addition to all the royal cliches he was also stubborn as a donkey in his elitist resolve to marry a real princess. So he looked high & low (and why is it I wonder that no one ever thinks to look in the middle?) but in vain. There were no real princesses to be found. Only a handful of hopeful imposters. His mother, the queen (a real one of course,) began (in the manner of most mothers,) to grow increasingly anxious that her precious son would never settle down.

Until one proverbial dark & stormy night there came a knocking at the palace door. And when the queen opened it, she found dripping on her doorstep a much bedraggled creature who claimed to be Princess Yennithingkanbi (but to please call her Princess Yenni for short). Of course there was nothing to do but invite her in and offer her a dry towel and a hot cup of tea. And over tea the two of them began to talk about poetry and chocolate and the poetry of chocolate and by the end of it all the queen had decided in her heart of hearts that this was the woman her son must marry. Only there was of course this question of realness to be settled. Not quite the sort of question she could insert into polite conversation with a houseguest (royal etiquette eschews blunt forthrightness). So with the inventiveness born of maternal anxiety she devised a subtle if somewhat elaborate test.

The queen went down to her garden and picked a fresh pea pod. She split it open and surveyed the green pearl contents with an air of satisfaction. Four of the five peas she popped into her mouth (They were delicious. Fresh-picked peas always are), the fifth she took with her into the guest chamber and placed it carefully under the mattress of its fine feather bed. So far so simple. She then proceeded to pile on top of this mattress 99 of her finest spare feather mattresses. This unusual feat accomplished she then brought in the garden ladder, placed it on top of the kitchen stool, perched the kitchen stool precariously on an old dressing table and then stood back to examine the result. It was rather- unique. But she knew that if the princess were a Real Princess (and even if she was a passable Imposter) she wouldn’t raise so much as half a regal eyebrow at her sleeping arrangements. And she didn’t. When the time came to say Good-night, Princess Yenni thanked the queen prettily for her kindness before turning towards the bed. She paused for a moment mid-step and looked back- the queen held her breath waiting for what would come next. Then- “Sweet Dreams,” said Princess Yenni, before slipping off her shoes and climbing nimbly up the garden ladder placed on the kitchen stool balanced precariously on an old dressing table.

“Sweet Dreams, ” said the queen in a rather strangled whisper, before gliding out of the room and shutting the door. And for the record it must be said that once safely on the other side she closed her eyes and whispered a swift unspecific prayer for forgiveness. There are no rules in the Royal Book of Etiquette that explicitly forbid putting your houseguest in a bed on top of 100 mattresses resting on a single pea from your garden- but it struck the queen that the action might be deemed inhospitable in certain circles. A niggling thought, but the niggle passed. After all a hostess’s pride to a mother’s love is liable. And so the queen  retired to her own bed, to sleep and dream restlessly of flying feather mattresses, thunderstorms and a wedding feast of chocolate and green pea salad.

In the clear light of morning the queen sat in the Royal Breakfast room twisting her table napkin in an absent-minded way until the door opened, and Princess Yennithingkanbi stepped in with a bright-faced, “Good Morning!” The queen was at once so relieved and so happy to see her that she stood up without her usual composed grace and sent the teapot flying. It was quite awhile before the mess was cleared up and the two were able to sit down to a by then slightly cold breakfast.

“And did you sleep well my dear?” asked the queen, as she poured the freshly made pot of tea, pretending polite interest. Princess Yenni laughed and said, ” Not a wink.” The queen with barely concealed delight said, ” I am so sorry to hear that- whatever kept you up- I hope your bed wasn’t uncomfortable?”. The alleged princess took a sip of her tea and pronounced it “Splendid” before saying, ” The bed was perfectly comfortable- a little bumpy but I didn’t mind that at all- a little bumpiness is always to be expected when you are sleeping in a new place- it is just that I am rather unaccustomed to sleeping so close to the ceiling, and since I have a rather uncontrollable tendency to roll over in the middle of the night, and have been known to roll myself right out of bed sometimes, I was worried about doing something of the sort here, and I knew if I did fall out of bed there was a fair chance I’d hit the garden ladder and send it and the kitchen stool and the old dresser not to mention all those mattresses tumbling down to the ground- and that would have made a rather frightful racket at some ungodly hour and doubtless woken you out of a sound sleep and I just thought that would be a rather ungrateful way of repaying your enormous kindness in taking me in for the night, so I decided the best thing to do was not fall asleep, and lay awake in the dark instead, telling stories to myself all night and I had a perfectly grand time of it- so really-you’re not to worry. May I have some more of that splendid tea please?”

Of course at the end of this charmingly delivered explanation the queen found herself in somewhat of a “situation”. Her first thought was that she really ought to confess to having placed that confounded pea under all those confounded mattresses in order to test the bonafideness of Princess Yenni’s princessness. Her second thought was that she ought to apologize for having ever held stock with such a ridiculous test in the first place and for robbing a tired traveller of a good night’s sleep for no good enough reason, and the third thought that arose was- Who Gives a Cat’s Whisker about royalty anyway? Because anyone considerate enough to tell themselves stories all night just to keep themselves from creating a ruckus loud enough to wake the household that had afforded them such hospitality- anyone like that was a real sweetheart regardless of royal status or lack thereof.

What the queen did next was to confess, apologize, and say, Who Gives A Cat’s Whisker about Royalty anyway? Because whenever she found herself in any sort of “situation” she tended to go with the first three things that came into her head just like that. Princess Yenni laughed so hard hearing the story that she upset the freshly made pot of tea and a second mess had to be cleared up before she could keep a straight face for more than fifteen seconds. And by the end of it even the queen couldn’t help grinning a little. Because you’ll have to admit there was a decidedly ridiculous angle to the whole affair.

“Oh but you absolutely must write this up as a short story,” said Princess Yenni finally. “It is exactly the sort of thing the public would adore!” ” Do you really think so?” asked the queen with a shy light of happy hopefulness in her eyes (she had always wanted to be a writer- because the being a queen thing did get old after awhile). “Oh absolutely,” said Princess Yenni. “I’d say do it right away while it’s all still fresh in your mind, don’t bother about clearing up the table, I’ll do that- you go write the story now.” And so the queen rose from the table and excused herself with girlish excitement, while Princess Yenni began piling up the dirty dishes to take back to the kitchen.

It was while she was carrying a particularly high stack of them towards the door that the tired prince came home after another futile excursion into the world in search of the elusive Real Princess of his dreams. He wondered briefly through his tiredness who the new help was and how on earth she managed to carry so many dishes at once, before ordering her in an amiably exhausted sort of way to bring him a strong cup of coffee, fresh toast and some red currant jam. Princess Yenni turned in some surprise. A teacup tottered dangerously at the top of the stack and then fell with an air of fatality onto the big toe of the tired prince. ” Oops,” said Princess Yenni with a friendly smile. The prince picked a few painted fragments off the floor, surveyed them closely for the first time and decided he didn’t much care for old china. ” You know I don’t think you have to carry in everything all at once,” he offered mildly. ” That’s probably true, ” said Princess Yenni, as a couple of saucers slid towards the floor and shattered cheerfully. The prince looked up in some alarm, ” I do believe that teapot is about to fall,” he said with an anxious crease between his brows. Princess Yenni looked up, ” I do believe you are right,” she said pleasantly, “And that will be the third one this morning- which would be rather a shame don’t you think?” “Indeed,” said the prince uncertainly, he was not used to morning conversation being punctuated by falling china, it was really all rather – unnerving- “Maybe I should take that from you,” he offered, and just then the teapot dove towards the floor and would have come to an untimely end, but for the prince who threw off his tiredness and dove after it to make a rather brilliant save. When he stood up again, bearing the teapot all in one piece, he felt rather strangely invigorated. It was such an intriguing feeling that he continued to help with the clearing of the breakfast table. “I’m Prince Charming,” he offered, picking up the butter dish. “Yennithingkanbe,” she said, throwing him a quick smile over her shoulder.

Prince Charming ended up doing most of the dishes that morning and by the time the last dish was dry the queen had typed up her story and sent it off to half a dozen publishers, and the prince had decided in his heart of hearts that he didn’t care a Cat’s Whisker for royalty because it was just realness that mattered, and he’d found it this morning in a manner most unexpected watching a strange young woman clearing the breakfast table and breaking the breakfast china….

I didn’t mean to cut such a short story long here. I just remembered the story of the Princess & the Pea today in a very different context –thinking of how as we become more attentive to ourselves we become more aware of all the rough spots within…the little green pea irregularities we don’t feel through the feather-down of the one-hundred mattresses because we are not real enough to strip away their comforting untruths. etc etc :-)), but also thinking about the truth of the imagination and where does one draw the line between fiction and falsehood? This question too can be a little green pea sometimes, keeping us awake at night.

All I really know is that when I first read the story of the Princess and the Pea, I placed a raisin (for lack of fresh garden peas) underneath my mattress that night. And slept like a baby to wake to the bearable if slightly disappointing-at-the-time truth: I was not a princess. And when I started to write this it was about reality and the imagination that I meant to talk about. Because I think I am just beginning to understand the prose and the cons of it all. And it can all be quite an adventure if you’re inclined to see it that way (and I am so inclined). But maybe we’ll talk about this another day.

In the interest of tying up loose ends and popularizing the queen’s version of the story, I will have you know that she found a publisher right away- only of course the editors changed the ending. They maintained the public wasn’t ready yet for something as radical as the truth. And so in their version the princess comes down to breakfast and complains bitterly about the bumpiness of the bed that she claims has left her black and blue. In their version the delighted queen jumps up and rushes out to order the wedding cake and print up the invitations. And the prince shows up at the very end for the – “and then they were married and lived happily ever after” part and then they say (as they always do) “The End”.

Except it never really is- is it?

The queen’s ending (since you ask and since I am inclined today to tell) went like this:

The rest as they say (and if they don’t they should) is- mystery.


A Week in Three Acts

A morning walk in the neighborhood mid-Spring. The angle of the sun is gentle, the air scented with blossoming things. Each step is riddled with many causes for quiet delight. Sometimes these ambulations are walking conversations. Dialogs carried by moving feet. But today is one of those days when we are each walking with our own thoughts, in companionable silence, only occasionally making little observations, or stopping to point something out to the other. V is sporting a stonewashed red linen shirt, a wrinkly pair of slacks (in these years of Zoom meetings, only the top half of his wardrobe ever gets ironed) and his usual sweet smile. I’m wearing a wide brimmed straw hat, a teal kurti, with yoga pants, and an orb of deep red kumkum between my brows. As we loop back around Semeria Park, an older woman with a bright red helmet of hair and two very fluffy dogs catches sight of us. I remember my kumkum and wonder for a fleeting moment if she will find my obvious foreignness off-putting. I don’t know why this sort of thought pops up for me at times.  I have always felt at home in these hills, on these streets. It is not an undiverse area, and I’ve never experienced unfriendliness here. I’m not looking for external signs of welcome, but for some reason I still catch myself idly wondering on occasion if my difference is a divider of sorts. As we cross the woman and her dogs, she stops and looks directly at us.

“What a handsome couple you are!” she exclaims. “Thank you,” my husband says laughing, adding cheerily, “Enjoy your day!” I look up at him — he is a handsome fellow. There is such a robust glow to him despite the deep-seated, mysterious health condition he is navigating. We do not break our stride and I find myself completely tongue tied. My brain is apparently unable to process in real-time the unexpectedness of a warm compliment where it had subconsciously anticipated a silent rebuff. As we continue walking I feel a particular kind of joy bubbling up in me– it stems from the pleasurable feeling of having an unspoken cynical assumption of one’s own proven wrong by the world. It makes me want to skip like a child, and wish I’d had the presence of mind to tell the woman how beautiful her dogs are.

***

The finches are building their annual nest under the eaves of the mudroom. We see them flying back and forth, occasionally stopping to take stock of their progress with cocked heads. A couple of days ago a large crow perched on the edge of the roof and attempted to peer into the nest. When they are not attempting break-ins, or cradle robberies, I love crows. In that moment  how villainous this one looked, with his hulking, oddly-angled shoulders, his merciless beak. I rapped on the window sharply and called out, “Hey!” His head briefly turned in my direction, before he spread his wings and removed himself to the safe distance of the telephone wire across the street. From there he continued to look nestwards. This would not do. I got up and made my way to the top of the steps outside our front door. “Hey,” I said loudly and sternly, “Do not, I repeat, do not bother those babies.” I am going to assume this wayward crow registered the command, because he took off towards the roof of the house behind him. Hopefully there were no nests for him to terrorize there. When I went back inside my husband said with a twinkle, “Make sure you talk to him nicely, you don’t want them turning against us.” We’ve heard stories of how unwise it can be to make enemies of the crows. They are known to be able to put people in their places. If they decide you have a disagreeable disposition and do not belong in your current home, they have been known to mobilize their ranks to convince you to move. At which point you might need to recruit a Crow Whisperer to broker a reconciliation. Personally, I don’t think they will hold a sharp-tongued scolding on behalf of the finches, against me. I think that sort of thing only makes them shrug their glossy shoulders and decide whatever nefarious act they were plotting is no longer worth the trouble. It would take something more egregious to invoke their wrath. This week among my other tasks, I will operate as the self-appointed guardian of the finches nest. 

***

On Sunday we visit the San Carlos Farmer’s Market for the first time in many years. The whole scene lifts my heart, the festiveness of the streets the live music, the colorful stalls heaped with produce, gourmet baked goods, exquisite flowers, artisanal wares, the food trucks emanating tantalizing aromas, and so many people milling about, enjoying the sunshine and each other’s company. It has been so long since we have been in the midst of so much human life. We are the only ones still wearing masks and keeping our distance, but no one looks at us strangely. We are on a mission to find organic strawberries. 

The stall we pick has a significant line that inspires confidence (warranted or not) in the worthiness of the wares. I take my place in it and wait my turn. There is only one young man doing all the selling. He is dark-haired, bright-eyed, confident and full of information about the different strawberry varieties they are selling. Sweet Ann (large, pale and sweet), Monterey (large, dark red and sweet), Albion (slightly smaller, red and sweet). All three look spectacular to me. It is hard to be a berry, in my book, and not. While the strawberry man is talking, his hands are doling out free strawberry samples to prospective customers,  their children, their spouses, their best friends and whoever happens to be standing next to them. One little boy asks for repeated seconds and scores them. Be sure to tell everyone how sweet they are, says the Strawberry Man. He gives away a rather remarkable number of strawberries in this way. And though he does not offer me a sample (I assume it is because I am wearing a mask) and though he does not slip extra handfuls of berries into my baskets the way he did with the two customers ahead of me, I find myself appreciating his way. 

I want to be that kind of person in the world when I grow up. The kind who keeps no accounts, while casually slipping sweetness into the lives of all the people who come her way.


When You Wish Upon a Star

Here’s a beautiful new word and its meaning that I stumbled upon today: 

Asterism. 

Apparently any identified pattern or grouping of stars that is not one of the 88 formally designated constellations is an asterism. 

Orion the Hunter? A seven star constellation. The stars glinting in the ruler-straight-line of said hunter’s belt?  A three star asterism. And those three particular stars? They are also known as the Three Sisters. Each with a hauntingly beautiful name– Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. 

I am going to digress a moment here, because en route to learning about asterisms I encountered a website. I feel I must inform you of the existence of Starregistration.net. Where you can purchase for a loved one, wonders like a binary star (ie a combination of two stars,) in a constellation of your choice. According to this reputed website, a constellation is, “a grope of stars that are recognized worldwide by the International Astronomic Union.” As far as collective nouns go — isn’t ‘a grope of stars’ rather extraordinary? There is also a generous educational component to the website. Visitors are informed that nuances are important and:

 “We should differentiate and be careful when we speak about such terms as “Buying a Star,” “Naming a Star,” or even “Owning a Star.” All of these can mean slightly different things. Buying and naming a star is an excellent gift idea. Still, it is helpful for anyone doing this to understand the main concepts in order not to be misled.” 

Is your interest sufficiently whetted? Yes? Then let me also inform you that this illustrious site has a seasonal special going on with 30% OFF EVERYTHING and free shipping to the United States. Do not be misled. Not all binary stars will make it through customs– but one can hope.

With love and a grope of stars,

Pavi


Then You Wait

Early March 2023

A Monday nearing noon — such a clear morning after a week of winter storms. The garden is bejeweled with early buds and blooms. After the lash and fury of rattling hailstorms and whipping winds– this! This gentle, trusting, tranquil willingness to let go of the past and blossom. A yearning wide as world for the audience of the sun. Today I too want to open. To be surrendered to the blueness of the sky above, the damp fertility of Earth below, and the laden invisible that dances between.

Today, I too am willing to lean in and listen, after a week of being remote and recalcitrant. Not with any person in particular. Just with the threaded needle, the running stitch of life itself. Resistant to the pull of deeper currents and the summons of scented breeze. Shut into myself and forgetful of the keys. Full of low grade irritation and weariness, unsympathetic to causes other than my own. An inner climate so petulant and extreme, it would have amused me if I hadn’t been so — cross. How cross I can get after crossing my own borders, after giving from exhaustible reservoirs. Instead of living like the river, that fills even as it empties.

How flighty and unsubstantial the world and everyone in it, myself included, seem at such times! Everyone that is, except V. Always he is my exception. Even in my most disoriented moods, he I can track, as the compass needle, north, without even trying. He is never to be found skittering off in different directions, or setting my teeth on edge with heedlessness. He stands like Kilimanjaro or Kailash. A magnificence fit into my life, an immeasurable goodness, a towering and winsome un-weaver of my unhappiest tales.

But even I with my limitations know it is highly unlikely that the world was overrun overnight by feckless aggravators. And if this appears to be the case it is only because I have got my feckless aggravator glasses on. And I have temporarily forgotten how to take them off. Either that or some peculiar part of me is recklessly enjoying this experience. The experience of not having to like everyone and everything all the time.

I will admit it. On occasion it can be rather refreshing to entertain a grumble or two or thirty-seven. To sit them down, over snackage and tea. The trouble only starts when they ask for a set of keys. When your grouses drop by once in a blue moon, you find their company stimulating, their peppery points of view admirable. Such straight-shooters, such independent thinkers, such freedom from the fetters of politeness! But after awhile what felt invigorating at first, begins to drag at your ankles. What felt fortifying now uses up all the oxygen. And you realize you want your house to yourself again. Then what?

Then you wait.

Not like a woman who has been told to be quiet and stay in her place. Not like a schoolgirl impatient for the bell. Not like a prisoner serving out an interminable sentence. You wait like the bare Skeeter’s Broom maple at the tail end of winter. Bedraggled from afar, but close up studded with tiny leaflets, deep red and tightly folded. Listening keenly to light and air, earth and cloud. Receiving richly even in seeming poverty. By just being, preparing, without anticipation, for a return of glory.


Rue the Day

Placed several irons in the fire recently. I wonder if I am going to rue the day. Rue the day is a lovely turn of phrase isn’t it? Combining the poet’s sensibilities with the the comic’s flair for melodrama. Rue. The word reaches back to the Old English hreow, relative of the Old High German hriuwa — sorrow. In French, it’s a street or avenue. In the plant world, a medicinal herb, bittersweet and native to the Balkan peninsula. The Romans believed its aromatic leaves could sharpen vision, address hysteria, cure vertigo . See how these many disparate meanings meet and mingle? Making unto themselves a new kind of sense. For sorrow too is an avenue. Its bittersweetness and tears a cleansing, necessary, orienting force of healing. Rue. A word so much more lyrical and layered than regret. A word one can hold up like a prism, turn it this way and that, delighting in the way it refracts the light. A word that is not meant to be pocketed placidly like change.

Placid. This word feels flat and colorless to me. Its stillness more sedated than serene. Its composure owing itself to dullness not discipline. A word incapable of any adventure. To ‘go placidly amidst the haste,’ is not something I aspire to [apologies to Max Ehrmann.] Perhaps it is the nearness to the word flaccid that does it in for me. Sometimes the mere rhymeyness of a word with another can unexpectedly drive down its market value. This is I realize, a rather judgmental and gentrified approach to vocabulary.

I ought to reform my ways. As a philosophy, it is unattractive to insist that fine words live in gated communities, away huddled masses, the hoi-polloi, the rabble rousers, the riff and also the raff. Words, unlike people, do not have the tendency to judge one another. Nor do they attempt to dominate or discriminate against their neighbors. If you have doubts about this, simply study the dictionary and take note of the admirable diversity in all its neighborhoods.Alphabetization as a form of organization is rather revolutionary. It parks princes and paupers in the same zipcode without embarrassment or apology.

Any bias that I may have against words with inelegant associative rhymes, is a fault in my stars not theirs. It is my human mind with its unfortunate conditioning that clamps preferences down on things that are not inherently likable or dislikable. They just are. Divorced from my interpretations of the inchoate babbling of my senses perhaps I would be more free to — go placidly amidst the noise and haste.

For now I will settle instead, for going however I happen to go. Hopefully learning a little something along the way. And stopping whenever appropriate, to rue the day.


Roundtana

Feb, 2016

Until fairly recently I believed roundtana was a pan-Indian term. I’ve now learned it’s a South Indian original that never quite caught on in the rest of the country. I fail to understand why. What better word than roundtana to describe a traffic island? That wonderfully peculiar urban phenomenon that is a cross between a merry-go-round and an intersection. You must admit that as a word it has entertainment value. Roundtana. Notice how entirely nonsensical and made-up it sounds. How difficult it is to say it out loud just once. How it begs to be repeated — like a secret chant. Did I mention, that for no good reason, except that it makes it even more fun to say, the ‘d’ is silent? This is a word that undoubtedly deserves far more airtime than it currently receives. My husband, who only recently became aware of its existence, is now single-handedly trying to make up for lost time (almost always at the cost of making sense). “Hurry up you roundtana,” he tosses over his shoulder, as we are climbing a hill. And — “Look at that roundtana!” he will exclaim, pointing to the nearest vaguely circular object. His enthusiastic if inaccurate employment of the word is infectious. A drum-shaped water tank by the side of the road is now a roundtana. A towering tree with a massive trunk, a roundtana. A conversation that keeps circling back to the same subject — roundtana. This whirlabout, wonderful life and all that it traffics in… Roundtana, roundtana, roundtana.

Our very own Belmont roundtana, placed at the end of the street we lived on for eight years. Visitors coming to our studio for the first time were asked to look out for the landmark of a little lost tower that appeared to have wandered straight out of a fairytale.


Grand Gestures

“As a queen sits down, knowing a chair will be there,
Or a general raises his hand and is given the field-glasses,
Step off assuredly into the blank of your own mind.
Something will come to you.”
Richard Wilbur

Isn’t that quote fabulous? It came to me through a friend, and it came to her through a podcast she was listening to, featuring the novelist Ann Tyler, who keeps these lines taped to her wall. There are so many places one can go with them, and with the hypnotic poem they spring from titled, “Walking to Sleep.” The poem purportedly is about two different ways to approach the Land of Nod. But sneakily, it is much more about waking up. And it is possessed of other arresting lines like these:

Try to remember this: what you project
Is what you will perceive; what you perceive
With any passion, be it love or terror,
May take on whims and powers of its own.
..”

But today we are not going to discuss any of these overtly important things. Instead I am here to let you in on a frivolous secret because frivolity has covert importance in our world (play, no matter what anyone says, has always been a deep form of work.) It has served me well, and better on several occasions than gravitas has. Be advised, that which I am soon to impart to you is an esoteric technique. One that can be employed whenever you wish to be reminded of your inherent power. It costs no money, and cannot be bought or sold. But like all techniques it must be exercised discreetly. And it works like this…

Sometimes when I am walking towards a building with automated doors, (airport terminals, and grocery stores back in those years when I frequented both, though now it is primarily hospitals,)  I will increase the degree of purposefulness in my stride. I will draw my shoulders back, and keep my gaze trained straight ahead. I will walk like a woman in charge. One who knows without a glimmer of a doubt who she is, and where she is going. A woman who understands the axis of her spine is what the universe revolves around. Remember: It is of no import whether one actually knows, understands, or believes these things, the key is only to walk as though one does.

And as I step with the decisive, if slightly absurd heel-to-toe gait of a runway model, in front of those sleekly synchronized glass doors–I will lift my right hand and flick its fingers in front of me. A languid yet also resolute motion, akin to one a duchess might employ to indicate the shortcake crumbs waiting to be brushed off her white linen tablecloth. The gesture (I like to think,) is both commanding and casual. Executed in the regal and relaxed manner of one long grown accustomed to having their every command and slightest wish instantly fulfilled by animate subjects and  inanimate objects alike.

And in that unfailing moment when the doors slide open, I will sail through. Calm as an ocean liner though I follow in the rousing footsteps of Ali Baba, and all those who daringly conjured an opening where first there seemed none. Knowing in those brief, moments that I wield magic in my fingertips. Accepting responsibility for the untold adventure that awaits me, on the other side of these freshly opened doors. 


Brave

A woman possessed of an unsettling gaze and ungentle manner. Her MO best described as bull-in-china-shop. The clatter of breaking cutlery does not perturb her. She continues placidly (if somewhat lonesomely) onto the next mishap of manners. People struggle to relax when she is near. It does not help that an air of intense displeasure seems to lift off her at all times. She is direct and sans diplomacy. It is not uncommon for tears and resentment to explode in her wake. If she notices, she pretends not to. She sees more than most people. And most people who see her prickliness, do not perceive her grief.

She is grieving.

Though she appears impenetrable as a fortress, the broken heart of a young girl lies hidden in this grown woman. Her heavyset face, her strong-willed ways do not betray her sorrow. Few suspect it. Fewer seek to know who she is. It feels easier not to. And yet. And yet.

Those who dare against their better judgment to brave the lion in its den find no lion there at all. Instead they discover, if not quite a lamb–a giraffe. Cramped and uncomfortable. With trembling, awkward limbs and fathomless, dark-rimmed eyes. An unexpected, and unexpectedly beautiful creature.

Trying like the rest of us, to make sense of this inscrutable world.