Monthly Archives: August 2015

Long-distance biking blues

Dog hit by bike
Tour de France rider hits dog.

Oh Lawd don’t flat my tire,
Oh Lawd don’t run down my dawg.
I’m on the trail just forgetting about
Living so low off the hawg.

Did another 60-mile bike ride yesterday with my friend Andrea’s Meetup group, starting at the Fossil Cove brewery in Fayetteville and taking the Razorback Greenway to the Bentonville square and back.

The ride was not without unexpected excitement — and the usual bucketful of aches.

By the time we rolled back to the brewery, some five hours after starting, we were complaining about aching backs, spasming calves, and saddle-anesthetized tender parts. The usual complaints, in other words, that could be soothed by beer.

But on the way up to Bentonville, two events occurred that we hadn’t anticipated and came rather to regret:

  1. One of the riders, on his first ride with us, on a brand new bike, hit a dog.
  2. Another of the riders (me) ran over a   branch, in a big dip in the trail in Bentonville and got a flat tire.

Rider no. 1 — Bob — felt bad about banging into the dog. But it really wasn’t his fault, so much as the dog’s and its owner’s. The dog was on the wrong side of the trail — our side — and unrestrained by a leash. This was a winding segment of the trail, and Bob saw the knot in front of him too late — the dog owner on the left side, the dog and a girl jogger on the right. He tried braking at the last moment but hit the dog square on, and the beast yelped of course and ran away, first into the weeds and then down the trail in the direction he and his master were going originally. The man then ran after the dog.

I can’t imagine the hound is not hurt — suffering from deep bruises or contusion, or a broken bone or two. C’est la vie, apparently. I can’t imagine, either, that the owner will not restrain his dog if he takes him out on the trail again.

Rider no. 2 — me — should have slowed down up the road, in Bentonville, as the trail wound and dipped near a little park. I found myself sailing fast down a curve, with a deep dip, and there I ran over a branch and soon felt an odd drag. I stopped and looked at my front tire, and didn’t see anything amiss. But then, a few yards further down the trail, I stopped again and saw that my rear tire was flat.

I pulled off the trail, onto a sidewalk, and turned the bike over to examine the damage. No sooner had I got out my tools and spare tire than a couple of friendly bikers, heading south toward Fayetteville, stopped and came to my aid.

Gilbert, a black guy maybe 40 or 45, sturdily built, provided example and directions. I’ve changed tires before, but not for a while … and not perhaps at all on the back wheel. This repair is more complicated than on the front wheel, of course, as you have to mess with the chain and derailleur to take off the wheel.

Soon Gilbert, with his white buddy standing by and offering encouragement and advice, was giving step-by-step instructions and implementations:

  1. He released the lever on the back wheel, which was tightened so hard that I couldn’t get it off by hand, and took off the wheel.
  2. Deflated the rear tire and gently slid the tire off the rim on one side only and pulled the tube out, leaving the tire in place on one side.
  3. Put two puffs of air, two puffs only, into the new spare tube and inserted it gently on the rim.
  4. Showed me how to use my little pump with “two-hand power,” holding the wheel and valve in one hand and pumping air with the other.
  5. Illustrated and had me repeat the maneuvers necessary to re-insert the wheel on the bike.

I was touched by Gilbert’s help. He and his buddy didn’t have to stop. But they were good Samaritans and expert teachers too. And made it clear to me, by their word and example, that I might study how my bike works before I head off blithely on the trail.

The Zen of bicycle maintenance, yes? You who take out your bike, and maybe take out a dog or woodchuck or, gods forfend, a skunk, should know something about how to take care of the bike … and yourself.

And perhaps some day, not too far down the line, take care of another biker who needs your help and will pass on the lessons to other unschooled bikers too.

As a black man, too, Gilbert was offering help to someone he might not have been inclined to help. What was his experience with whites? Generally good and friendly? But certainly he has seen racism in his day. If there aren’t too many black folks cycling on the trail, that may be a reflection of economic circumstances as well as recreational preference. Bikes can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. It’s cheaper to walk, or find a hoop and bring your basketball. (Gilbert, I surmise, is a professional with a good job.)

Most of the minorities we see on the trail are Hispanic, and they are generally walking. If you yell “On the left!” when about to pass, another biker claims, they move to the left. But if you yell “A la izquierda!,” I say, they’ll understand the Spanish warning and keep to the right. Strange but true.

Oh Lawd, whatever the case, don’t send me too many hurt dogs, don’t give me too many flats. And let us all be thankful for aid that arrives, whatever the motive, whoever the man, and render the same unto others some day.

P.S. Gilbert chided me for turning the bike over, onto handlebars and seat, suggesting I would scratch the finish this way. (I don’t think this is true, as the bike rests on bars and seat, not tubing.) He said, “You wouldn’t turn your wife upside down, would you, and treat her that way?” I allowed as to how it depended on what I wanted from her … but Gilbert didn’t respond to this joke. He was in the heuristic mode, not jocular.

 

My Struggle 2

With a tip o’ the hat to Karl Ove Knausgaard, I reference here my own struggles with a backyard garden and pond I’ve been working on since late last year.

Garden pool
Backyard garden-pool, with stepping-stone waterfall, filling. Just one part of the never-ending garden project.

To be literal and direct, I’ve worked on the pond a great deal this summer — digging the hole in the ground and trying to shape it to the preformed pool; balancing the pool in that rocky bottom; building a waterfall that drops into the pool, a place where birds should come — near our bird-feeding station — and refresh themselves in the circulating water. I can’t say how many hours I’ve put into this project, and like gardening itself it will take how many more before it’s done if it ever is.

To be figurative, to fly away with symbolical suggestion, let me say I’ve suffered several disappointments along the communal line lately — belonging to groups (not so easy for me), organizing our neighborhood into a property owners’ association (a project halted by libertarian objections) — and so have fallen back on that old Voltairean advice to cultivate your own garden. This is what Candide does, in the end, in the eponymous book by Voltaire. After all his disappointing adventures in “the best of all possible worlds” — being kicked out of the castle after fondling Cunégonde, careening around Europe’s war zones, witnessing and suffering the Inquisition, riding with the lady with one buttock over the Andes — he comes home to roost in his own little home, his own yard, and starts a garden.

Am I advising isolation or isolationism? No. Simply acknowledging that, like Hamlet, one soon tires of “the all too solid flesh” and its struggles with the world.

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.

But if Hamlet had been a bit more Voltairean, a bit more like Candide and less like himself, he would’ve put in a garden at the castle and done some weeding himself. And so avoided his earthly troubles, including all that bloody and murderous sword-fighting. There soon comes a time, seems to me, when a no longer young man’s thoughts, never mind Hamlet, turn not to war and not to love but to gardening of one sort or another.

It’s the urge, I tell folks, when they turn fifty to put their thumbs in dirt. A guaranteed way to have a dirty, if not green, thumb, I tell ’em. And what can be more comforting, at this age, than to make that connection to the earth once more? After we’ve run the rat race, how many years, burdened with family, oppressed by work, stupefied by technology, we come to our senses, at last, or once more, and feel the way we felt when we were children — in the supersensory pleasure of connection to  experience at hand.

Cultivating a garden is both nature and culture, of course. The flowers we plant, the flow of water we direct come from nature and are shaped by man. Like Candide, we forget our earthly sorrows, our earthly experience, when we plunge into the earth. We are mortal, sure, but grounded in the soil. We feel our  sensory connection to everything we touch and everything that touches that, down to the center of the earth.

In this connection, time dissolves. The world whirls away. There’s only us, our hands, our grounding down to the earth’s deepest zones, and, even while working (on our own, for ourselves, in a trance), we are protected, for the magic moment, from the high voltages of alienated labor and alienated affections.

(P.S. Those of you who don’t garden, there’s still time!)

Baseball has been good to me

Beisbol has been berry berry good to me.

So said the comic Bill Dana, in his role as José Jiménez, back in the 1960s, and so say I. José, you might remember, once upon a time, praised the friendliness of the American people towards Latino immigrants. José had gone to a baseball game, and though he could afford just a nosebleed seat out in center field, everyone stood up before the game began, looking his way, doffing their hats, and sang, “José, can you see?”

Naturals' players stretching before the game.
Naturals’ players stretching before the game.

Last night I went to the Northwest Arkansas Naturals game in Springdale with my son Gabe. Because school has begun already, attendance was sparse, maybe 1,500 fans in the seats (out of a capacity of 6,500). We got excellent seats, behind home plate, and sat among a cadre of score-keepers and statisticians for both teams. These young men, some ball players, kept charts and used radar guns to measure the pitchers’ speed.

Our speed, Gabe’s and mine, was measured in beers rather than innings pitched, batters up, or balls and strikes called. We didn’t keep track of much of anything besides the score at the moment and the status of our beer cups. Ended up having three each (local craft beers) and one hot dog (mystery meat).

pitched ball
Our starting pitcher delivers to a Cardinal.

The game loped along, in no particular hurry, and the Naturals beat the Springfield team 5-3. (The Naturals are a AA affiliate of the KC Royals and the Cardinals of the St. Louis Cardinals.) Our seats afforded us a great view of hitter, umpire, and battery (pitcher and catcher). We could see balls and strikes almost as well as the umpire. I took a bunch of photos with my Fujifilm camera, the only hindrance the backstop netting between us and the action.

Sure, the team has Latino players, who may or may not have been welcomed as heartily to the US as José Jiménez, those many years ago. (The last game I attended, two weeks ago, was led off by two solo home runs on the part of two compact Latino infielders, Ramon Torres and Raul Mondesi. Last night, Torres had an RBI triple and scored on a throwing error after his hit. Jorgé Bonifacio, from the Dominican Republic, had a game-winning, two-RBI single in the bottom of the seventh.)

But the biggest impression made, on the field, was by Naturals’ third basement Hunter Dosier, who though he’s having a tough season at the plate, made two spectacular plays at the hot corner, snaring a wicked half-hop early in the game and throwing out the baserunner and, then, late in the game, helping to seal the victory, diving to his right and snagging a bullet, again throwing out the runner with his fast, accurate arm.

infield preparation
Hosing off and brushing up before the game at Arvest Park on a perfect late-summer evening.

So why do I care about beisbol? How has it been good to me? So many people these days knock the game, saying it’s slow and boring. While these may not be the people who say the same thing about classical music, these knocks show a certain blindness to both sports. Those who don’t see the beauty of baseball are not looking very hard — the cat-and-mouse game between pitcher and batter; the chatter of batter and catcher, teammates, fans; the largo and then slap-bang allegretto of the innings; the idyllic pasture of the outfield, the hosed-down, swept-up neatness of the infield. (As for classical music, I’ll address that issue another day, saying for now only that those who pooh-pooh it most probably have hearing, and learning, disabilities.)

I grew up playing baseball, sure, in Little League and Babe Ruth. I might not have been a force of nature in the game, whether catching or playing third, but I enjoyed it. Have always enjoyed playing, and watching, organized ball.

And, way back in my childhood, playing an unorganized game called “fenceball” that my best friend Mark may have invented, where at the local park the batter stands between home plate and pitcher’s mound, facing the screen, and the opponent throws to him. The screen acted as a measurement for your hits, divided into three horizontal sections and three vertical. If you hit the bottom section, it was a single; the middle, a double; the top, a triple; and if you smacked any of the four vertical posts, or the fringe extending at the top, that counted as a home run.

Mark died young, at age 23, in a truck accident. And although he is buried long ago and far away now, on a hillside overlooking the Minnesota River, in a Catholic cemetery (Resurrection) maintained by a faith I no longer subscribe to, I do believe in the power of the game of baseball to soothe, smooth, and relieve our lives of stress and pain. To provide an idyll on a perfect summer day. (Though my son Gabriel Mark doesn’t play or enjoy baseball like his dad, he’s the perfect companion for watching the game and guzzling a few cool goodby-summer brews, toasting the fleeting season and proclaiming, “Hello, Brother Summer, and farewell.”)

My Struggle

KO Knausgaard
Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose struggle mirrors our own.

You’ve heard of Karl Ove Knausgaard, the Norwegian writing sensation? I’ve read several reviews of his six-part memoir, My Struggle (Min Kamp, in Norwegian, which itself caused great controversy, sounding so much like Hitler’s Mein Kampf), and have finally got round to start reading his work.

It’s mesmerizing, really, his day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour account of his youth in rural Norway, his erotic coming of age, his marriage and vocation as writer in Stockholm, Sweden.

It’s hard to account for the pull and power of this work in some ways, as it’s not (quite) fiction and not (quite) narrative. Rather, it’s a memoir comprising meditation and narrative, a melange of forms that seems to derive power from the minute details of the day and how the author reacts to these stimuli. Things that most of us would not notice, or bother reporting, Knausgaard dwells on and develops. His father’s tics and temper, for example. The details of the rocky, wooded topography near his boyhood home. The subterfuges he and his best friend employed, at age 16, to get out of the house and drink beer.

Things that we would repress, too, he hauls up and examines. Indeed, the first volume begins with a macabre meditation on death, the physiology and anatomy of death, the pooling of blood in the nether regions, the “dark, soft patch on ever whitening skin,” the smuggling of the corpse into the morgue, the hiding away of this dark, dirty secret, “the collective act of repression symbolized by the concealment of our dead.”

After the account of his youth in rural Norway, Knausgaard tells of his struggles as an emerging writer. How he gets up, sleepless, in the middle of the night, in Stockholm, while his wife Linda is pregnant and about to have their first child, and sees the police raid the porno store below him. Knausgaard describes how furtive men, attempting to appear normal both coming and going, file into the basement store and then file out. He thinks of the strange communal ritual, though the men don’t seem to acknowledge each other, of plunging down into this underground, selecting a film and a booth, watching the porno, jerking off, using Kleenex to mop up. This too, it seems, is part of the ritual of repression, of avoiding mentioning or publicizing our drives — and our drives’ end(s).

And all the while he’s recounting his struggle to become a writer, Knausgaard is using details of struggles, others’ and his own, as part of his material. There’s some sort of odd parallel between these struggles, in fact. Perhaps he’s saying masturbation for most men is some kind of equivalent of writing for him, or vice versa? Or, more accurately, the longings and dissatisfactions that most of us may take out on our penis, he takes out on, or with, his pen.

Knausgaard has an office 20 minutes from home and, even when Linda is expecting any time, reports dutifully to his office, unpacks his laptop, keeps chugging along on the novel he’s been writing for five years without success.

Is this novel something that he finally abandoned? Did it give way at last to this dreamy, fiction-like memoir we’re reading now? Is that K’s struggle? While others are pounding their puds or their dismal, vain, unpublishable novels, Knausgaard is pounding his head against the wall trying to find the subject that will make him? And discovers only after years of futility that his subject is, after all, immediately at hand? Is himself, the details of his own life?

Of course, all of us have these details at hand. But how many of us make anything of them? We’re not all gifted writers, or painters, or thinkers. We can’t grasp these fleeting moments, before the blood pools, and make sense of them. We’re ordinary mortals, that’s all, with ordinary lives. If only we knew how to tell these lives, not just dart into porno stores, not just scribble nonsense that who would want to read? Who in his right mind? In his busy, dismal, unpublishable life? Who? Who?

Hummingbirds, our summer clowns and warriors

Hummingbird
Female ruby-throated hummingbird at feeder.

Jen and I get a great kick out of watching the hummingbirds, ruby-throated and others, that visit our patio all summer — they swarm and kick up in great clouds of territorial aggression, as many as 12 to 15 at a time, lately, with the weather cooling, these tiny aerial warriors that lord it over an area of maybe 1,000 square feet.

The males are especially aggressive, driving away Lilliputian rivals in aerial combat. Many collect, and hide, in a neighbor’s big maple. Do they sense each other there? Do they attack even in that covert?

The birds seem to expend more energy driving away their rivals from the feeder than they do in feeding. One perches on the rim of the feeder and just stands there, body tense, warily waiting and watching for interceptors. As soon as a rival approaches, the percher lights after him, and the two describe crazy aggressive circles in the air, as if they were all von Richthofens.

Yes, we’ve been cooling this late August. It won’t be too long, a month or so, before the rubies fly south, abandoning their fiercely held Arkansas territory. We will miss them, of course, sitting at the table on the patio  looking upward in vain.

Still, these feisty Lilliputians set an example we really don’t need to follow. They chase away all comers from the feeder, though there’s nectar (sugar water) aplenty. Though polygynous, the males guard their females zealously, jealously. Hey, guys, we feel like shouting out, there’s enough for everyone! (Food, females.) They put out so much energy in jealous defense that you’d think they’d wear themselves out. And yet they may live, the ruby-throated variety of these smallest of all birds, as much as nine years  and, so, make nine round-trips, self-propelled, of course, to the tropics, more than most of us will ever make or ever dream of making.

All hail, then, Lilliputians of the air! Your iridescence amazes us. Your feistiness and flightiness make us laugh. Your talent for survival, against huge odds, astounds and heartens. Prosit! We raise a cup of our nectar, a pinot noir say or summer chardonnay, and toast you!

 

Are you squirrely tonight?

squirrel and nut
Central Park squirrel, cum nutkin, has nothing on the Arkansas variety! (Photo from www.psychologistmimi.com.)

Every other week I’ve been tutoring kids up in Bentonville, a smart group of Indian-American kids whose immigrant parents want them to assimilate and succeed. They are ahead of their grade levels already and like reading if not, necessarily, writing, which comes less naturally than reading, or speaking, and which requires more learning and more patience.

One of the kids — let’s call her A — is just seven years old now, eight this fall, like my granddaughter Ruby. She’s the youngest kid I tutor and the silliest, which I appreciate.

When I came to the door the other night, A hid behind it, on the inside, and opened the door so I couldn’t see her. “Oh, my goodness!” I proclaimed. “An automatic door opener!” A’s mother and I smiled.

Sometimes A is quite attentive and focused; other times, she’s full of exhaustible and combustible energies. She curls in a ball on her chair, beside mine, and tries out various feline positions. She hums and jabbers and is intent on telling me stories of the day or jokes.  Sometimes she runs around the room.

It’s at junctures like these that I think the two of us should step outside, into the backyard, and find a tree to climb. Go way up to the crown and have a look-see at the neighborhood. Scramble out on the branches and grab some nuts. Sit there together, crack the nuts in our steel jaws, and pick out the meats with our claws.

Then and only then return to the educational business at hand.

Wouldn’t such a climb be what is called “active learning”? In truth, I might try to accommodate my tutees with some such squirrely exercises. (I remember teaching college way back when, when the simple expedient of throwing a rubber ball around the room to all who wanted to ask or answer a question produced astonishingly results!)

In your face poetry

Claudia Rankine
The Jamaican-American poet Claudia Rankine.

Joined a poetry discussion group a couple of months ago, led by Linda Leavell, from whom I had taken an OLLI class on the poet Marianne Moore. (Linda has written a fine new biography of Moore, Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore.)

When I joined, we looked at a couple of poets with Arkansas connections: Miller Williams, who died just this year and who taught for many years at the U of A, and a student of his, Jo McDougall, who grew up on a rice farm in the Arkansas delta. Both are more or less traditional poets, intent on form and formal compression — saying a lot in a little space, which they do admirably.

Then we came to Claudia Rankine, a black Jamaican poet, living and teaching in the States, whose two books of poetry have been hailed as “brilliant” by the critics. The second volume, Citizen: An American Lyric, which we read, struck me, however, and others in our group, as fraught with problems and questions:

  • Why the naked aggression of the tone, the confrontational manner?
  • Who is the audience for this “lyric” or mixed-media collage (many passages are prose, or video script, and they’re accompanied by photos and/or photo collages)?
  • Why the abstract academic language and could-be-Marxist jargon?

Linda gently countered our objections, offering other views but not disparaging us.

Walt Whitman, she pointed out, was greeted with cat-calls and confusion when he first published Leaves of Grass. Here was a poetry so new, so revolutionary, it startled, shocked, offended people used to traditional English forms like rhymed iambic pentameter.

Maybe the audience is the people — a inclusive, popular, demotic group? Maybe it’s white bourgeoisie, like us, who read poetry and who need shock and waking up? (Let’s face it, there were ten or eleven white faces, female and male, in the group last night, not one black face, or brown, or yellow. Let’s face it, if Baudelaire and Rimbaud could épater lebourgeois, or shock the middle class, shouldn’t we expect today’s artists to do the same? Sitting on our capital accumulations and hemorrhoids, don’t we need shaking up?)

But what do you do (Hypocrite lecteur, — mon semblable, — mon frère!) when you read a passage like this?

And there is no (Black) who has not felt, briefly or for long periods, with anguish sharp or dull, in varying degrees and to varying effect, simple, naked, and unanswerable hatred; who has not wanted to smash any white face he may encounter in a day, to violate, out of motives of the clearest vengeance … to break the bodies of all white people and bring them low, as low as the dust into which he himself has been and is being trampled …

Rankine is catching no flies with this vinegar.

Similarly, she defends, as an egregious example of racism, the kind of bad line calls that Serena Williams suffered in major tennis matches, and Williams’ response to one call, telling the referee that “I’ll fucking take this ball and shove it down your fucking throat.” The ghetto of her upbringing reasserts itself in the face of white prejudice, the desire to smash the white face and wipe it out. (And yet Williams glosses this event, and the outrage it produced, this way in a recent interview: “I just think it was weird. I just really thought that was strange. You have people who made a career out of yelling at line judges. And a woman does it, and it’s like a big problem. But you know, hey.”)

Not just a woman. A black woman. A black woman so physically imposing and dominating that she, and her sister Venus, have been called “the Williams brothers” (if mostly by the Russians, who should talk, they with their Olympic doping record).

Each person reading Citizen will have a different reaction. Our group was divided about the work, many praising it, others like myself doubting its worth, all of us prying, under Linda’s instructional nudging, into the whys and wherefores of this odd and perhaps epic new American “lyric.”

Punctuation lets not let it stop us

Read an Ian Parker profile in The New Yorker, on the “public intellectual” Christopher Hitchens, a Brit who lived in the US for many years and died in 2011 of cancer. (He was addicted to both booze and cigarettes, at one time a three-pack-a-day man.)

Hitchens is known for a couple of things primarily: 1) his shift from socialist to right-wing hawk (he became an advocate for Bush II’s Iraq war) and 2) the blazing speed with which he wrote his columns.

As for his celerity, Parker puts it this way:

He writes a single draft, at a speed that caused his New Statesman colleagues to place bets on how long it would take him to finish an editorial. What emerges is ready for publication, except for one weakness: he’s not an expert punctuator, which reinforces the notion that he is in the business of transcribing a lecture he can hear himself giving.

We can all envy the man’s speed, and sureness — even his obliviousness to punctuation.

It occurs to me — I taught English writing and grammar for many years and became a pretty expert “punctuator” — that there might be bliss in this kind of forgetting. Rather than worrying the bone of punctuation, and punctilio, Hitchens blazed through his essays and reviews with the sureness of conviction and the rightness of genius. Why let the niceties of punctuation, for gods’ sake, slow us down? Why interrupt the phosphorescent flash of thinking and so risk missing a deadline?

Roman copy of a Greek sculpture of Hermes. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
Roman copy of a Greek sculpture of Hermes, in the Vatican museum. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen.

Hermes must have been Hitchens’ patron, the god of speed, desire, and, yes, trickiness. Like lightning, Hermes flew between the gods and men, carrying messages. Like a fox, he tricked whoever would be tricked. And isn’t it some kind of trick to spurn the civilized niceties of punctuation — and all that it implies about structure and behavior — to let our thoughts fly, like arrows from a bow, or notes from a lyre (Hermes invented the instrument)?

To let our thoughts, like a brand, press, hissing, on the cattle of mere pecuniary considerations, as Hermes branded the cattle he stole from his brother Apollo, the rationalist, the calculator.

Hermes was here! the singed brand says, hissing still. He beat you to it, slave of reason, beast of proper form!

For any of us suffering from writer’s block, or insufferable slowness, I can recommend, on the example of Christopher Hitchens, R.I.P., a certain ignorance or disdain of punctuation. Damn, it slows the quick thinker! (Isn’t there always time later, sober and repentant, to crawl back and proofread our blazing sheets?)

 

Energy credits

Drove Ruby, my seven-year-old granddaughter to Happy Hollow School this morning to save her time on a long bus ride. Had to enter the school through the office, get a visitor pass, and then accompany Ruby to the gym, where the kids all gather before the school day.

gym running
A furious spectacle like this is not what an old guy is used to seeing early in the morning. (Photo credit: Bring It On Sports.)

Well, they don’t just gather, they expend energy. While most of the kids were knotted around the gym floor, in class groups, there were seven or eight lines of kids at the far end of the gym. A teacher or gym coach whistled and seven, eight kids thundered furiously down the length of the gym and then back again. I was dumbfounded, thunderstruck — standing there gape-mouthed, no doubt, at the spectacle of so much energy so early in the day (it was about 7:30 am). Then I started to laugh, and laugh, and laugh. I kissed Ruby goodby, she trundled over to her classmates, blonde hair swinging, backpack too, and her crazy grandfather stood there on the sideline, distinctly out of the game, and roared with laughter. The kids must’ve thought I’d lost my mind.

If these kids, who have so much energy, excess energy, obscene energy, could only siphon some off for their elders! We could pay them, couldn’t we? Outright bribe them and, vampire-like, suck some elan vital. Or have them trade their energy for a consideration — say an extra TV  show, or a bowl of ice cream, or quality time with Mom and Dad at the venue of their choice.

I’m prepared to do a little gym work, say at 2 pm or so, a few times a week (I do go to a seniors’ gym), and to bike a couple of times per week — activities I enjoy — but early-morning track or fisticuffs, no way!

Do we love her for her yellow hair?

Had a dinner party the other night, with our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter Ruby Mae, age 7, plus a friend about our own age. Tim, let’s call him, hadn’t met our kids before or the kids’ kid (Ruby), and he was plainly enchanted by the child — talking to her, teasing her, playing, first, baseball and, then, boccie ball with her and me. At one point Tim praised her “gorgeous hair,” and I thought, inevitably of WB Yeats’ poem “For Anne Gregory,” which ends like this:

‘I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’

Cucumber harvest
Grandma Jen and Ruby harvest cucumbers from raised-bed garden.

What are we without our attributes? Those things that have been attributed to us, largely through sensory perception: our golden hair, our sparkling eyes, our shapely calves, our affect?

These attributes change as we age, of course: our golden hair is streaked with silver, our eyes lose their sparkle, our calves and butt sag, our feelings grow more leaden, it could be. And still we are apprehended, and judged too, by these physical attributes, into which we project all sorts of feelings of our own: golden hair is radiant and glorious, sparkling eyes invite, shapely calves and buttocks are a glimpse of heaven, sprightly feelings invite to play and frolic.

It’s only God, or the saints, as Yeats’ poem suggests, that can transcend or forget these physical glories and lead us into contemplation of the metaphysical, the abstract, the everlasting, if any.

Until such time, if such time there be, we will love our daughters and granddaughters for their yellow hair, their sparkle, their promise. And go on coddling them, protecting, nurturing.