Everywhere I turn, tv-wise and elsewhere, there is much being made about Leap Day. I don’t think I ever thought about the day quite as much as I have in the lead up to it, now just hours away. It was Leap Year that was always in my mind. That calendrical anomaly of Gregorian gerrymandering in which a day was added to the year and we all accepted it. 365 instead of 366. But Leap Day. How would we treat this extra day that has been tacked onto the end of February?

Today, I overheard a conversation between two women, presumably friends, who were discussing this rare event, the extra day. Perhaps you should propose to your boyfriend, the one with shorter hair said with her American English to her friend with longer hair who responded in her British English, “Who, me? That’s a laugh.” Not too far off, however, according to the lore of Leap Day traditions.

Earlier in the day, while waiting for an Americano at a Caffe Nero near the north end of the Waterloo Bridge, I overheard a young man who looked to be in his twenties enthusiastically regaling his older, female friend with his plans for his day off. She seemed less enthused than he, but this uninspired response did not seem to dampen his spirits. It’s Leap Day, after all.

The general spirit seems to be that when given an extra day such as this, we might do that which we might not otherwise do. But I wonder: do we know ourselves too well to let ourselves do something out of the ordinary? Dare we break our rhythms and routines? And to what degree? A change of socks or a different flavor tea for some; a new language or whole identity for others. And something in between for the rest of us, I reckon.

In the spirit of leaping, I reprint here the poem by W.H. Auden I originally included in a post made just as I was preparing to leave my New York apartment for the year. That seems like a lifetime ago, and I can only help that I withstand this steady seduction that London is performing on me so I might return to that city once again.

But tomorrow, Leap Day, is a different story. Which story, that’s yet to be seen…

And now, without further ado, Mr. Auden:

Leap Before You Look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savior-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

– W. H. Auden

must do lists

We all have them, must do lists that we enact even if we aren’t aware of them. That list of things we do to acclimate ourselves in new surroundings. For some, it’s connecting with friends and family, for others it’s seeking out and dining in local restaurants. Apparently these are mine:

– cafes and coffee shops, scouting and frequenting, for writing and people watching in

– grocery store comparative ethnography, which yes, involves registering for a points accrual card

– walking, aimlessly and with purpose — the purpose being to achieve enough of a sense of directionality that any point I know where I am on the imaginary map in my mind. For HP fans, yes it’s my own version of the marauder map and I am the moving dot.

– book stores, for book viewing, greeting card purchasing, conversation having – libraries, not just visiting but signing up for a membership card

– public transportation, for riding to rest my weary feet when I’ve walked too far, and for those accidental encounters like the one last night when an enchanting 4 or 5 year old girl, telling jokes replete with utterly beguiling British inflections, was tugging at my dress and tickling me by the end of our 10-stop-long ride together, much to the embarrassment of her French father. For my part, wary of not wanting to encourage small children’s interactions with strangers, kept my distance but could not help but laugh along at her endless string of “guess why” jokes. In a similar scenario that took place a few years ago in New Orleans, another girl around the same age struck up a conversation with me, en francais, on a hotel elevator and by the end of the 33-floor ride, was inviting me to accompany her and her father on their afternoon visit to the zoo.

And of course, starting to talk like the locals. I can’t really help it if I start my interactions with a friendly Hiya, now can I?

Wow! If ever there was a perfect reason to reblog something, this is it. Not only are you told to “Get lost” — now, where have I heard that before… 😉 — but included are some lovely tips for getting unstuck while writing, PLUS a recipe for 5-minute chocolate cake. That’s right: FIVE MINUTE CHOCOLATE CAKE.

Clearly I am going to try this and report back. In the meantime, enjoy!

While We're Paused...

Every writer has dealt with that massive, invisible beast that plants itself squarely on our desks, preferably in front of our computer screens, and leers at us in a mocking sort of way, just daring us to get anything accomplished.  Sometimes this beast teams up with Facebook or another soul-sucking website and we lose hours without knowing where they’ve gone.

And our story sits tragically abandoned.

There are lots of ways to get around writer’s block.  We all have our tried and true methods, so I  thought I’d contribute a couple of mine.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes (quite frequently, actually) I just need to get away from my work.  And I don’t mean Facebook away or even read-a-good-book away.  Those have their places (especially the latter).  But little treats that allow me the sense of escape can make all the difference when it’s…

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teenage wasteland

the song comes on overhead, here at fleet river bakery where the early-morning rush has given way to a mid-morning buzz, and i am instantly transported to the many other times i’ve heard and been consumed by this song. getting lost in the drum solo, more than a few turns at air-guitar and air-violin, and channeling my inner roger daltrey when no one was looking. what were the circumstances that brought pete townshend to write this song. sure, wikipedia speculates and the artists themselves offer memories. but what was it like when that final riff was played for the first time? and why has my adoration for it only deepened over time?

it’s over now. and i can’t wait to hear it again.

good wednesday morning.

getting lost

Alfred Wainwright was a British fellwalker.” Instantly, I am jealous. Before clicking on the explanatory Wikipedia link, before I am actually clear about what this moniker implies, I am jealous. Because I suspect that such a title indicates a life whose purpose is found in walking. This seems to be a theme with me these days: being drawn to the walkabout tales of others.

Wainwright, according to a program on British television called “Wainwright’s Walks” in which the host, Julia Bradbury, and occasional companions make their way through the hundreds of miles of Lake District landscape about which he wrote, covered large expanses of Northern England hills and mountains on foot. And he detailed these journeys in numerous publications and filled with his own illustrations. Wainwright walked in the hopes that others would walk, too.

Walking feels like a luxury. Not the kind of bipedal transportation from one point to another, but the sort where the objective is to get lost. In which the getting lost brings about a sense of becoming found and founding oneself. In Patience (After Sebald), a film by Grant Gee that was inspired W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn, Robert Macfarlane, a writer who has also pursued inquiry through walkabout, distinguishes the English and European tradition of walking as recovery from the American practice of walking as discovery. Is it so simple, I wonder; are the boundaries so clear, between recovery and discovery? Could we achieve discovery through recovery, and vice versa? And do we have or take the time for either, let alone both?

Gee’s Patience, like Sebald’s oeuvre, has stayed with me and I am returning for a second viewing later this week. The very name of the essay-dream-like film invites in the viewer a different posture. (As I sat in the Renoir theater this weekend, I was slumped low in my seat and my neck rested on the well placed backrest. But more on that another time.) Patience. Do we have time for patience? I laugh to myself as I write those words. Time has been the main character in several recent exchanges. If so many of us miss time, as it were, can we agree as a whole – as a society, as people desperate to have more hours in a day, that we might just strive to do less? For some reason the metaphor of a limited, but thoughtfully curated, wardrobe as superior to an overly full one comes to mind. The rewards, it seems, of allowing yourself the patience to get lost are plentiful. Or perhaps these are just the musings of a blissfully clueless wanderer.

For the sake of argument, I offer the spoils of today’s amblings:

I started walking west toward Regent’s Park. The sky looked dull and backlit, like the color of well worn silly putty. I passed Bedford Square, crossed Tottenham Court Road – feeling quite clever that I could discern it from Tottenham Street, which runs perpendicular – and made my way through a few Mews, Passages, and Courts before finding myself suddenly in front of All Souls Church.

All Souls Church, Langham Square

I’ve visited London almost a dozen times in my life and I couldn’t recall ever laying eyes on this structure before. It almost resembled Lady Liberty’s torch turned upside down. I didn’t go inside this time, opting instead to take the path around the Langham Hotel to Queen Anne Mews and onward westward on Queen Anne Street. The facades looked familiar suggesting I had been in this neighborhood before, and the sign for Harley Street confirmed my suspicions.

Queen Anne Street

Like this the meandering continued, one gut instinct leading the next, until the site of a dress pulled me into an unassuming boutique. I wasn’t expecting the loud chime that sounded as the door opened. I had a few seconds alone in the small space before a voice sounded from below, and I heard the shopkeeper before I saw her blond head come up the stairs from the floor underneath. In those few moments, I was once again taken by the clean lines on the designs that were displayed in an almost storylike manner, some on mannequins and others evoking narrative simply by their arrangement on hangers, on shelves, in how they laid next to one another. But the real story was ignited when the shopkeeper, after doing her due diligence to exchange pleasantries with me and to answer my brief inquiry with ample information about the store and its founders, inquired about the goings-on that had led me to “here.” This followed from my assuming New Yorker status during an exchange about simultaneous and competing Fashion Weeks in both London and New York. So influential is New York’s that this small design house with a commitment to ethical sustainability opted to increase their carbon footprint in order to show their collection in the Big Apple instead of in their backyard. New York self-importance, I said jokingly, with a well-timed follow-up comment that I say that as a New Yorker; it was easier to explain than Philadelphian. Or at least that’s what I told myself.

She asked me what I was doing in London – was I just visiting?

In this instance, my outsider status brought me in, and today’s version of “what I do” opened up an even broader discursive space than before in which she shared her thoughts on last summer’s riots and suggested that this moment in which we, citizens of the world, find ourselves might be a tipping point. Much like the other shopkeeper last week, the fate of youth as tied with broader social notions of education and society were at the forefront of her mind. She spoke as a mother of two young children, as a neighbor, as a citizen.  However, unlike my encounter from last week, this one held fast to a hopeful tenor of urgency. And then she mentioned a friend of friend who founded a program for youth in a nearby section of town, one that is among those that have been heavily impacted by financial constraints and budget cuts that seem to eliminate first and foremost those public spaces in which youth and other community members gather: libraries, community centers, parks. I learn that this friend of a friend has also begun to rise in the local political landscape and is, by virtue of circumstance, being placed on the pulse of fast emerging proposals for social reforms related to education and youth development. In England, like the United States, the social and economic challenges are taking an especially large toll on youth, who are the canaries of our societal coalmines.

At this moment, when the shopkeeper walked to the small desk in the back of the store to write down as much of the contact information as she could remember for this youth development/politician type on a beautiful, indigo business card, I found myself having another out of body experience—is this what I said I would do? Walk aimlessly and hope for serendipity to strike? This was not guilt. No, this was evidence of gears working, as in “how can we build in time to meander more?” – “we” as in we faculty colleagues, we students and teachers, we community members. Can we have patience to see what happens? (Seriously, someone please call me out when I undoubtedly relapse and give in to the madness once I return to the grind as we know it!)

To sum up: I went outside to breathe in some much needed fresh air. I returned with an injection of insight, social context, and a potential connection to further my ongoing inquiry. Not bad for getting lost.