25 November 2001

"We must grant the artist his subject, his idea,
his donnée: our criticism is applied only to what
he makes of it. [...] If we pretend to respect
the artist at all, we must allow him his freedom
of choice, in the face, in particular cases, of
innumerable presumptions that the choice will not
fructify.  Art derives a considerable part of its
beneficial exercise from flying in the face of
  - Henry James, The Art of Fiction

I have been silent nearly all month. Why, you ask? Because I have too many ideas, most of them courtesy of my few loyal readers and friends, and I found myself unable to finely focus myself enough to write anything. Most disconcerting, I assure you.

My readers gratify me by their generous praise of these little thoughts of mine, and they urge me onward in my quest for bringing the odd, the unusual, the eccentric, and the eclectic into the light. These people tell me I'm a clever person, which I wish I could accept wholly as true, and independent of their affection for me.

It is these same generous, kind souls who offered me the surfeit of ideas that rendered me mute for nearly three whole weeks. Oh. Right. More than three whole weeks. One sent me a copy of an email chain letter with a comment, "Look at this. Can you believe anyone is dumb enough to fall for this load of old baloney?" The chain letter contained a blessing and a curse. Ostensibly, you get the blessing if you send the whole thing forward to the same number of people as you are years old, and the curse if three calendar days pass without sending it anywhere. My friend's indignation was so great, I noted he copied forty-two of his closest friends -- me included -- in the "send to:" field. That's a lot of indignation. Odd, too, how the number of recipients corresponded exactly to his age. I'd have to say that on balance, yes, I do believe that some people are dumb enough to fall for the "load of old baloney," all protest to the contrary.

I considered writing about this exchange, but then asked myself if a chain email letter, first cousin to the more ubiquitous and iniquitous "spam," was worthy of time and brain cells. I decided it wasn't. Truly, I'm nervous about even writing this much about the episode -- I subscribe to the belief that whatever I happen to focus my attention upon, arrives in great quantity, and without delay. I hope I've not already sent a wrong message out to the Universe.

Another friend, rabidly feminist ever since her ex-husband telephoned from a Tahitian resort to tell her he'd run off with his secretary, the beauteous bimbo Tiffany Crystal, and as a result wouldn't be available to escort her to the LaLeche Nipple Ring meeting, wrote to encourage me to tee off on extradition treaties, philandering executives, and girls whose names sound like department store goods. I am extremely, profoundly sympathetic to my friend's plight, and I fully understand her outrage. However, how does adding my voice to her fully-justified ferocity accomplish anything? I doubt it does, as I have no experience whatsoever with any of the things she wants me to write about.

There are others who offered me topics this month. This includes my beloved, who thought it would be a great idea for me to simply pop in the names of our family members into my text, without warning or reason. This premise strikes my spouse as hilariously funny. "Just think, R.B. You could say, 'According to Dr. Medulla,' and everyone would scratch their heads and wonder, 'who the heck is this Medulla character?' They'll go crazy trying to figure it out, and we'd be the only ones to know it's me. That's funny, isn't it?"

Sure. This would really endear me to my readers. Arcane, obscure references to people they never heard of, talking about bits and snippets of news that mean nothing at all to them. A real laugh riot, that idea, bound to be a real crowd pleaser.

To tell the truth, I don't always understand what motivates my writing. Mostly, I just watch the world in motion around me. Now and again, a thought grates, like sand in an oyster. Over time, layers of words wrap themselves around the thought, until what I always hope will be a pearl pops out. When this happens, I put it on the page in the same way young girls used to add single pearls to necklaces. I try to match for color, consistency, and quality, but beyond this, I'm at the mercy of the sand and my own nacreous accretions.

If you ever read something you like here, I assure you, it's dumb luck, more than anything deliberate on my part. But do keep on reading. I need the sand.

Excuse me. Dr. Medulla informs me I must add this pearl to my string.


01 November 2001

“Margaret, are you grieving
   Over Goldengrove unleaving?
   Leaves, like the things of man, you
   With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?”
     - Gerard Manley Hopkins, 
       Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

Autumn snuck up on me this year. Like everyone else in the nation, I was so stunned by the events of mid-September and their repercussions, I did not notice the brilliant colors around me until this week, and it’s almost too late. Most of the trees are bare now, except for the few straggling oaks and hickories upon which large, dark green leaves still cling to the branches, stubborn reminders of a summer’s glory.

New England is rightfully famous for the beauty of the hills and towns when the autumn changes occur. Everywhere our eyes turn, we take in a rioting crimson, orange, yellow, and brown cascade punctuating the crisp, cool air. The ground crackles as we trod upon the thick layering of stiff leaves underfoot. Every step announces our presence to the world, echoing through empty woods and streets. It’s a magical time of year, when life and death meet briefly to celebrate the transition.

I think I did not notice the changing colors because I have had more than enough death this year, and not nearly enough life. My eyes, like those of nearly everyone I know, have been downcast and filled with tears. I’ve been looking at the world through this saline wall of water, and as a result, everything’s been ill-defined, slightly out of focus.

But this past week, my beloved provided me with the corrective lens I needed to recover my equilibrium. “It’s time to clean up the yard, R.B. Do you want to rake, or blow?” I looked up at the denuded trees, of which there are more than thirty on our property, and realized I’d missed the blaze of October light through the leaves. This was my last chance. I chose the leaf blower.

For nearly six hours of two warm, sunny afternoons, I went to work with the electric leaf blower. Step by step, I blew the fallen leaves forward across the lawn toward the street, into two enormous piles for the lawn service folks to come haul away. I inched my way forward, the leaves whirling and flying around me on their crazy flight to the street and the compacter. The flashing gold, yellow, and crimson felt at times like a column of fire enveloping me, and at other times like a rain of coins falling from the heavens.

When we finished our work, the yard was clear, the piles were deep, and my spirits were high. My heart was beating hard, and not just from the exercise. We put away our tools, closed the garage, and went indoors to supper and sleep. All night, I dreamed I was ten years old and jumping over and over into the deep, soft, inviting warmth of those crackling leaves, laughing and happy. The lawn service came early. When I awoke, I rushed out the front door in my bathrobe. All the leaves were gone. The street was bare, the yard clear. Autumn was over.

Excuse me. I have to go wax my cross-country skis. I don’t intend to miss winter, too.