stories

for the information age

 

 

These bite-sized stories chronicle my efforts, both pitiful and successful,

to navigate the rapidly-changing world.

 

My hope is that they help you do the same.

christmas motive - cross section of red

Updated: May 16



I was twelve years old when I read The Old Man and the Sea for the first time. I was terribly moved by it, by its stark beauty and by the old man, who reminded me of my father, blundering and noble.


At the time, my family lived in a dilapidated farmhouse on a dirt road that meandered past neglected farms and rickety barns. The road was pot-holed, and dust spewed from the car as we drove the four miles home each afternoon. I can recall each turn and how, at one point, from a dark, wooded underpass, the road emerged into a light-filled field. Sometimes, snow made the unplowed road treacherous and the car tires spun and dug for solid ground. Or rain came down, muddying the way, making the car slip and splash around bends. On days like these, even though we were passengers, we paid strict attention to the road. But mostly, this drive provided stretches of the day devoted only to quiet observation.


Hemmingway said of the old man in his skiff, since there was nothing to read and he did not have a radio, he thought much...


If ancient tree boughs arching over a dirt road can console or offer meaning, well, that's what they did. Those were the days when kids would look out of the car window, watch the landscape, and dream.


At the appointed time, hundreds of us log on to the virtual memorial service. We gather to mourn in one another's living rooms, home offices and bedrooms. As the first prayer is read, our faces are blank; we are unsure how to behave, how to grieve in this format.


Some of us sit on imagined pews, upright and pious; others of us rest elbows on tables, heads in hands. A few of us wear black; one entire family is in sport shorts. Once the ceremony is underway, some of us remain church-still, and others come in and out of the screen to let the dog out, or tend to wayward children. One woman eats dinner during the eulogy, looking up between bites of stew. As a loved one reads a poem, her voice catches, falters and she cries aloud onscreen. In unison, we bow our heads, dab our eyes. When we have to look away, we gaze absent-mindedly into each other's homes. A couple sits in front of an enormous landscape painting; brushstrokes of every possible shade of green move across the canvas. My god, we wonder, stupidly, is that a Kandinsky?


Meanwhile, as the grown son of the dead man weeps in muted, sorrowful heaves, none of us can put an arm around him to say, I know, I know.



It was a cold winter evening when my future husband and I went to the Met with our figure drawing class. The night was brisk, but inside the museum's Great Hall, the air was thick and warm. Our assignment was to make a drawing of a figurative sculpture. For three hours, we sat on the museum floor, looking at a dancing, sandstone Asian deity, making fairly bad, but extremely satisfying charcoal drawings of her. We observed the thousand beads of her headdress, the wild curves of her breasts. We noted the shadows at her neckline, how the light hit her crescent-moon eyelids. We sat still as we drew, said nothing; something hallowed was transpiring and we dared not speak of it. We left the museum happy and full. If my mental faculties ever fail me, the memory of that sculpture will be the last to go.


Our subsequent visits to the Met have been markedly different. We enter, children in tow, determined to see everything. We study the museum map and chart a path. We move from Velasquez to de Goya, from Picasso to the ancient Egyptians. We walk and we walk. We see Roman artifacts, the Rodin sculpture garden, African totem poles, Dutch still lifes. We look at textiles, coins, tea sets, amphoras, armor. We point and we talk. When one of us says something clever, we nod, and move to the next image. We press on. There is stilll much to see.


Soon enough, our feet begin to throb. We become hungry, and then irritable. Some in our party want to leave; one of our children flops down onto the floor and begins to cry. I eye my husband in exasperation; I told you it was time to go. On the drive home, I try to remember what I have seen, to name a favorite image, but am dismayed by the blank I draw.


In life and online, images roll by, one after another. But it is only when we stop and really look that we see.