Feeling good

After my last post, and especially at the dawn of a new a year, it seems fitting to hit the reset button and start at a different starting point.

Musings to come in a subsequent post; for now, a three-part pairing of music, prose, and photography.

Music courtesy of Nina Simone, singing “Feeling Good.”

Prose courtesy of Herman Hesse, writing about trees.
(My favorite excerpts in bold)

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them,whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. . . . Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

And see here for more on Hesse and trees and notes on wandering and belonging.

Photography courtesy of yours truly, taken during yesterday’s mid-afternoon walk.

20140116_153005Happy New Year!

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Mad dash (or, the Storm before the Calm before the Storm)

Yesterday, I awoke with a start — what day was it? Where was I? What time of which day was it?

And then, a calming thought: it was only Saturday. Despite two previous days free from meetings and human conversation — a kind of bliss that only few people can truly appreciate — it was just the start of the weekend. I was newly thankful for the holiday long weekend, into which breathing space was inserted into the days before the usually panicked-laced Sunday.

I have never fully appreciated the Thanksgiving break before — the holiday arrives at an awkward time for those who live by the academic calendar: much too late in the semester to provide the respite usually sought in the middle of October and too close to the winter break to feel like anything but a burdensome obligation to be a human being in the presence of family, many of whom cannot understand why you’d rather be sitting quietly, listening to Bach’s Cello Suites in the dark than engaging in human interaction of any type (ok, that might just be me). And, in another version of this solitude seeking, that we might relish time to attend to the many mundane items that linger, patiently awaiting proper attention (anything from writing letters of recommendation, completing revisions to articles, reading drafts of students’ dissertation chapters, to returning emails that have been languishing in your inbox).

It’s not that we solitude-seeking academic types (with newly acquired administrative responsibilities) would rather be doing any of those things, but we recognize that whole days free from meetings are like found time, blissful pockets of unscheduled time where wandering thoughts intersect with the ever-present and ever-growing todo lists, creating space for some much-needed self care — in my case, largely in the form of sleep and at least one meandering walk — within which to address these aforementioned mundane todos.

And so the mad dash of semester-end frenzy begins. December 1st. December 1st.

As the storm/calm/storm sets sail, my mind floats back a couple of weeks to the memorial service that was held in honor of a colleague who passed away this summer. Words were spoken in honor of this colleague, words that nearly brought back to life his intellectual heft and generosity, and, perhaps most importantly, his tremendous humanity. (Nearly.) How many storms and calms did he witness? Did he cause? Did he navigate? What came through most loudly — in stories, in memories, in photographs, poems, quotations, and artifacts — were the many ways this robust man embraced all contours of life. When does one learn to do this? When does one cultivate the practice of keeping the forest and the trees in perspective?

And then, this past week, a small victory. A glimpse of possibility. A hint that days, weeks, months of seeming triviality were laying the foundation for… something. And like this, a hint of humanity is restored (my cryptic recollections, notwithstanding).

So let the storms come. It must mean that there’s a calm ahead.

and enjoy the Cello Suites

It’s too hot

This was about to turn into a rant about heat, humidity, and the horribly oppressive weather the east coast has been suffering for the past several days…

But instead, I’ll just share a few pics from the weeks I spent in the bosom of the cooler climes of the UK (which is going through its own warm-up at the moment).

From the lovely, blustery, picturesque walk that K took us on in the Peak District, near Sheffield:

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A view of the Tate Liverpool, where I took in the Chagall exhibit:

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And a view of the pier from inside the museum:

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A beautiful sandstone temple erected in Wembley (including a couple of closeups of the carvings; all pieces shipped from India and assembled on site):

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Taking a wrong turn on our attempt to walk back from Wembley:

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And then rejoicing at the sight of the #7 bus:

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Finally, a slice of the heavens on the way back home:

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A tale of two Wimbledons

Wimbledon — Take 1

Tuesday, Wimbledon Day 2. The travelers are weary, but spirited. Picadilly from Russell Square to District Line to Wimbledon transfer from Earl’s Court. The travelers are surrounded by even more spirited event-goers: faces painted, outfits coordinated, paraphernalia adorning the body.

Southfields Station. The masses alight here, briskly making their way toward the Way Out and down the road to the correct entrance. The one where those without tickets go.

Volunteers greet the newest queuers with a smile and a hand pointing then in the right direction. Crowds of people organized into an orderly line that moves slowly, steadily. Around a tent while a woman sells copies of The Guardian with a complimentary sample of sunscreen.

Suddenly the story becomes clearer. The crowds are Massive. Many thousands have already been queuing for hours.

The green flag marks the end of the line… way, way, way, way, way, way in the corner of the field. A volunteer hands out numbers to mark each arrival’s place in line, no matter how late. The time is 10:15. The situation does not look good.

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10K people ahead of us. Outlook not so good.

40 minutes pass. The travelers decide to ditch the effort and return the next day. But, not ones to waste a journey, they walk back, all 9.1 miles, from Wimbledon to Russell Square — via Wandsworth, Battersea, the Chelsea Bridge, Pimlico, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, and Holborn.

Whew.

Wimbledon — Take 2
A story in pictures

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Arrived at 6:15a and already 3K+ people ahead of us!
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Wimbledon crowds
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He may be a champion, but he favors an ostrich, no?
DjoksOnYou
Djokovic goofing around…err, practicing (in the light blue)
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The changing of the ball girls and boys
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Sloane Stephens (USA)
RajivRamAndAwesomeLineswoman
My favorite and uber precise lineswoman during the Rajeev Ram – Juan Monaco match
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Requisite Strawberries and Cream
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Fans watch Roger Federer on the big screen from Henman Hill (colloquially renamed Murray Mound)

‘Spacious’ living

When I emailed my aunt and uncle to let them know that I was once again back in Londontown, my aunt cheekily asked whether I had returned to the ‘spacious’ flat where I had stayed for several months last year. They had visited the flat once — and brought along some incredibly delicious alphonso mangoes, which M and I politely enjoyed while we all had tea together, and which we both simply devoured when left to our own devices — and, like me, marveled at the efficiency of the one room abode. Theirs is a modest home in the outskirts of the city, ample for a couple with one child and the occasional guest, whose centerpiece is really the garden that is carefully and thoughtfully attended to by my aunt with the incredibly green thumb (and garden gloves to match!).

As it turns out, given the odd amount of time we’re staying this time (3 weeks) and the time of year (Wimbledon), and the fact that the original ‘spacious’ flat was already occupied, this UK visit is split between two main London locations, with a bit of conference travel thrown in for good measure. In my reply to my aunt’s question then I said the following of our two-flat stay:

“this first one is even more ‘spacious’ than the last…”

Let it never be said that the Brits do not know how to economize space. New Yorkers, and NY tv programs, love to highlight what someone can do with a few hundred square feet of space. But what would they say of the equivalent of a small hotel room equipped with kitchenette? Because that is where we find ourselves. Truth be told, however, it’s really perfect on all the measures that matter: location, amenities (including electric kettle & wifi), and cleanliness.

According to the American census, the average square footage of a Northeast US home in 2010 was 2613 sq feet. That number seems unreal to me, having spent all of my adult life in city dwellings that equal a fraction of that space. I first think, “I can barely keep my few hundred square feet in order, what would I do with twice/thrice that much?!” and then I also, almost immediately, appreciate the times when I’ve visited friends’ homes that more truly spacious (no quotes necessary) than all of mine combined, and yet retain a feeling of coziness and while eschewing ostentatiousness.

With more people, pets, and possessions arises the need for more space, but how much do we really need? I ask this with the fullest appreciation for having grown up with an ample yard surrounding our house in which to play, explore, run around, and gather with friends. But what was once idyllic memory can become an instrument of oppression if allowed to become immovable blueprint rather than aesthetic guide.

For now, I will enjoy my latest ‘spacious’ sublet quarters (quotes necessary) which gives me access to a place that continues to feel like home…

Below, a few pics from the first 24 hours, which has already included a nice 5.7 mile walk…. ahhh…..

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A monument I had never seen before, on Whitehall St. walking in the direction of Trafalgar Square
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Familiar view, from Blackfriars Bridge
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View from our ‘spacious’ flat

Summer agenda

Since last September, the trials and tribulations of institutional academic life have applied ample psychic weight to my daily consciousness and have indeed dominated my waking (and sleeping) hours. But the spring semester has ended and June is nearly here — June… June! when I have to be finished with the last of the lingering todos on a very long and very overdue list of things I owe to other people. So, what is on the agenda for June, July, and August? In short, as little of a schedule as possible and a wish list of experiences:

  1. Try the creations at each of the Top 10 Falafel Spots in NYC (according to cityeats) — this is basically just an excuse to return, again, to Taim, which is well worth the trek down to the West Village.
  2. Go to the movies… a lot… and watch, among others:
    The Way, Way Back 
  3. Summer tv viewing: including “The Yard” (free on Hulu), “Arrested Development,” and (it might finally be time for a re-viewing of) all five seasons of “The Wire.”
  4. Taste test of lemon ricotta pancakes across the city.
  5. Thanks to E, I am now hooked on “Sherlock” — it’s the kind of show that begs a second and third viewing before the first has finished. So the two seasons’ worth will keep me occupied for at least a little while, especially as I play one of my favorite tv watching games: Guess where they are (the show is filmed in London, thus making the viewing and the gaming especially satisfactory.) And besides, who wouldn’t watch a show whose titular character is played by an actor called Benedict Cumberbatch, who could very realistically be the love child of Fred MacMurray, circa “Double Indemnity” and Dennis Quaid, circa pretty much any time.
  6. Embody and communicate a love of anything as much as Bobby McFerrin does here:

    or as Leonard Bernstein does here:
  7. Walk and walk and walk with no destination in mind, including in and out of the corners of Philadelphia, through the Sheffield Peak District, and along the Thames for as long as my legs will lead me.
  8. A photo a day for the summer (or as close to it as I can come). Here’s one I took in Central Park a couple of weeks ago:

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    The not to secret Cherry Blossom walk near the Reservoir
  9. And my real summer reading list
American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
Witness by Karen Hesse
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolf

Gladly willing to accept any and all company who want to go along for the ride.