Monday, February 28, 2005

The Power of Poetry

Poetry night happened and was a success. We ended up with 16 friends who came to read and listen. As we were getting ready for this event, I thought about the probability of 2 of these people having the same birthday and concluded it was somewhat likely (at least 50%). But in thinking about just how many poems are out there, I decided it was highly unlikely that 2 of us would choose the same poem to read. (The instructions had been to bring a poem to share with the group – either one you liked or one that you had written.)

Judith had called me to ask if she could read a little segment from “When We Were Six” by A. A. Milne as an introduction to the evening. After she read, I suggested that the person with the next birthday go first. Can you believe there were actually 2 people whose birthday was March 15 AND they were born the same year? Since they did not seem to know what time, Mollie went first. Each person was allotted 5 minutes, which unfortunately didn’t leave time for a lot of discussion.

The choices of poetry gave me a whole new perspective on these people I call my friends and family. There was everything from T. S. Eliot to Billy Collins to Yehudi Amichai to personal creations to poets we had never heard of – one a cancer victim who was writing to grieve for herself, another an autistic 12-year-old. It was a wonderful smorgasbord of verse that we will hopefully put together in a document which will allow us to go back and savor every word.

There is obviously a Billy Collins fan club among this group of 16. The person sitting just two places to my right read the poem I had chosen (Forgetfulness), which was so appropriate for a mostly 50+ group. So the odds for birthdays and poetry choice were beat! I quickly skimmed the table of contents of “The Art of Drowning” and decided to read “Days” instead, plus his “Introduction to Poetry”, wherein he suggests new ways of looking at poetry that don’t beat it to death in search of a meaning.

After all this reading and listening, we ate decadent food with wine and port and coffee. It was one of the most interesting and fun evenings I have had in a long time. It showed me what a diverse group of friends we have, while we all do share a common love of poetry. Maybe this will become a yearly event!

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Brahms Trio That Didn't Play Brahms

Tonight my friends Mollie and Ruth and I attended the 3rd in the Dumbarton Concert Series: The Brahms Trio. The concerts are held in the historic old Dumbarton Methodist Church in Georgetown. The sanctuary is a warm room with lots of wood and stained glass, a perfect place for chamber music.

The Brahms Trio is made up of very Russian musicians – violinist, cellist, pianist – who all received very classical Russian training. From the name of the group, we expected an all-Brahms program. However, they played an evening of very Russian music: Alyabiev, Shostakovich, and Tchaikovsky. Each of the musicians was superb, but the cellist was the best. I especially liked the pizzicato sections of the first 2 pieces, in which the violin and cello were almost answering each other. All three pieces required a lot of strength. As Mollie said, “The Shostakovich piece really makes your heart race.” But we could never figure out why they call themselves The Brahms Trio!

As I think ahead to tomorrow, when I am joining a class at GWU, which offers the opportunity to play chamber music with other musicians, I found myself wondering what it would be like to do this for a living. I am fairly sure that the other people in the class do music for fun, not as their professions. They are just government workers like me, or physicians, or teachers. So for the Brahms Trio, is practicing like going to work? Do they get stage-fright? Do they resent always being on tour? Do they still get that wonderful surge of good emotion when they make beautiful music together, even if it is their job?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Heads or Tails: A Deadly Set of Odds

A lot of things in life just seem to be random. But are they really? I just learned with great sadness that a colleague at work had been diagnosed with breast cancer. My boss, when somewhat embarrassed while telling a small group of us, used phrases like, “They got it all, “ and “They caught it early.” She will undergo chemotheraphy and will probably survive. But this kind of news always shakes me up to the core.

Debbie is a really smart statistician, who early on learned how to balance common sense with bureaucracy, something that most feds never learn how to do. She has defied the vocational odds and managed to work part time for the 15 years since her children were born. She has gotten the ear of people in high places in both the Census Bureau and in Congress. She is articulate and she always has something worthwhile to say.

So what makes a person like this a target for this wicked dis-ease? Was she genetically predisposed to it? Was she subjected to some chemical in her lifetime that triggered it? Was she really stressed under that calm exterior to the point where she became ill? Or did she just randomly come into sample, the way the households in our survey do?

I wonder how this will affect her, physically and mentally. She has already had the surgery. I’m sure the chemotherapy will probably make her nauseous and cause her hair to fall out. Just as when I had my thyroid cancer, she will probably ask herself why her body betrayed her and wonder if malignancy is masquerading somewhere else in her body. I hope that her generally positive outlook on life, her family, and her faith will make this less of an ordeal.

More and more people I know have had cancer. Most have survived. But it is never easy to hear this news. It’s a reminder that our bodies are somewhat fragile and that life is never a certainty.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Tapping to a Different Tune

After my tap dance experience in Florida, I came back and searched for a class here at home. I called Arlington Center for Dance, since Rachel had gone there and it was close by. They just happened to have a Beginner I class offered at a time that was good for me. So I went out and bought the shoes at Stein’s. I even told my friend Diane, who is also interested in taking up tap dancing.

We showed up for class and paid our one-time-visitor fee. I expected to see a class of people about my age who were ready to shuffle-ball-step to “Red Roses for a Blue Lady.” Instead the class was filled with 20-somethings who were ready to do tap aerobics. Diane and I lasted for maybe 25 minutes, while we feebly attempted the heel-toe contortions to the definitely disco music. It wasn’t even because we had missed the first 8 classes of the semester. It just was not the tap experience I was looking for. Furthermore, my knees are complaining today that I need something a little slower with lower impact.

I thought longingly of Betty and the seniors in Florida and wondered where I was going to find this same experience here in the Washington metro area. I would even be willing to pay more than the $4 Betty charges. So Diane and I are on the lookout for a class for 50-somethings who are just looking to have fun to some soft-shoe music...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

My Friend FL

I just returned from visiting my friend FL in Florida and she is truly as AWESOME as ever! She has weathered some serious storms, but her sails are filled and she is on a great course right now.

A little personal history: FL is really FLBB, four names because she comes from a classy family. She is named for her great uncle Frederick (who died in WWI), as was her mother, her daughter, her nephew, and probably a lot of other people in her family. We share the same birthday, as was revealed to me early on by my pediatrician, who happens to be her father. FL and I first met in kindergarten, where we became fast friends. She came from a family of 10, whereas I was an only child. She walked to kindergarten, whereas I got dropped off at the front door. I will always remember that her favorite birthday present that year was a ride to the park on the back of her dad’s bicycle. Her family had real family values; they discussed literature and moral dilemmas at dinnertime, instead of watching the news the way we did. Having 10 children translated into an interesting mix of independence and yet structure: they could only watch television until 5 PM each day and they were in bed by 7 whether they were sleepy or not. They were not forced to go to church each week, but they were obligated to get a bath and lay out their clothes the night before just in case they wanted to go. The deal was sweetened (literally) by an ice cream cone at the Sweedette on the way home for those who went.

Many years went by until FL was seriously back in my circle of friends because we went to different schools and different churches. By 9th grade, however, we were definitely good friends once again. In 10th grade she asked me to be her biology lab partner – I could never figure out why. We went out on double dates occasionally, but mostly just hung out in a group of 6 girls, who were all different, but so compatible. In the 12th grade we established the YVA, Young Virgins of America, with the symbol of the daisy for “Daisies never tell.” I am confident that we were all still virgins at that time, so the name was appropriate. FL’s boyfriend JB, declared that the whole thing “really sucked.” Too bad, we said. We wore our daisy pins on the inside of our graduation robes. Ha! Ha! Ha!

FL went off to Vassar for college. I went to FSU. I coasted through some rather uninteresting courses for 4 years. She struggled to keep up with all those girls who had gone to competitive prep schools and who made fun of the way she talked. It was not easy for a girl from the Florida panhandle to fit in with that crowd. But FL stuck it out (in the company of people like Meryl Streep.)

After college as I was roaming around Europe with my friend BC trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, I got a letter in Rome from FL asking if I would like to join a group house in Washington, DC, with her and some other very rich girls. So I moved to DC and took a job with the FBI (only temporarily). FL was totally her own person, even then. She went to the movies every day on the way home from work. She found us a GYN through her daddy, so we could take care of that aspect of our life. We hung out with her cousin and his friends from Pittsburgh, who lived down the street from us. Life was definitely fun!

Then I met JR, who had a friend JJ who needed a date. So I fixed him up with FL, and after 3 months they declared they were getting married. I was sad to see FL move out of the house, but she thought she was in love and was definitely ready to get married.

So for the next 30 years she was the devoted wife of JJ and perfect mother to their 4 children. But her spunk was kept in check by JJ, who didn’t really want her to laugh too much or do silly things or be too spontaneous or unpredictable. His job was to work all the time. Her job was everything else that was required to keep a household going and raise 4 bright children.

Several years ago, JJ pulled the plug on the marriage, although my friend FL might have done it if he hadn’t gotten there first. They split and she graciously moved out, taking the bare minimum of the last 30 years of stuff and some mixed good and bad memories. I know this was an incredibly hard time for her, for her children, and probably even for JJ, although I am not ready to cut him any slack. How do you pick up and move on after more than half your life had been invested in a single relationship?

But she did. She established 3 criteria for where to go: a place (1) near a major airport, (2) where her children would like to come visit, and (3) where there were cultural activities. She got all except the last one in Merritt Island, Florida, with the added bonus of being one block from her youngest sister JB.

So this is where I found FL. She had told me that her life was boring and uninteresting and said that I should look for the fat old lady at the airport. None of this could have been any further from the truth! The person who met me looked like a slightly more mature version of my high school friend – same curly brown hair, same coy smile. And for the last 3 days, we never stopped doing things! The first day her friend Dave, who is an aeronautical engineer in charge of launching space shuttle missions, took us to lunch. He had sent FL roses for Valentine’s Day, and obviously adores her. Look at my previous BLOG entry for a rundown on that day. It still makes me tired.

The only dilemma of the weekend was what to call me. To FL, I was Barbie, a name I had forever given up when the doll came out and I realized that our shapes would forever be different! But it is hard to change someone's forever name in your head, so I remembered my old name for a few days.

On Friday we were up early for tap dancing, another BLOG entry. Then we shopped for dinner, since her boy-du-jour George from Pittsburgh was coming for a visit. We had a swanky dinner, replete with appetizers and cocktails, for George and her sister’s entire family and their dog Chocolate. FL and George graciously asked me to sit up listening to jazz with them, but I opted out because I need to sleep!

FL had the brilliant idea of rediscovering another old friend an hour away in New Smyrna Beach. So as soon as we got George out the door and on the road, we picked up FL’s sister JB and hit the road to go see TK, whom I hadn’t seen for 38 years. She is an accomplished artist and one of the nicest, funniest people I have ever met. So we hung out for the afternoon with her just reminiscing about old times. You get a very different perspective on things after all those years.

FL is once again the happy free spirit that she always was when we were growing up. She has wonderful children who obviously think highly of her and want to keep her in their lives. She has her grandchild Jay, the smartest most adorable 2-year-old ever, she had an amazing collection of friends in Merritt Island (and from the other places where she has lived), she had her dad and all 9 siblings, and she has a wonderfully positive outlook on life, that seems to be devoid of bitter baggage from the past. FL is my inspiration when it comes to finding yourself and figuring out how to be happy. BRAVO!

And thanks to her for rides from and to the airport and for schlepping me around and paying for highway tolls and taking me out to dinner and for giving me ideas of new books to read and for letting me stay at her house and feeding me her grapefruit from her own tree and for just being FL, my friend.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Falling in Love in South Florida

I have fallen in love in South Florida – with tap dancing! I remember when I took dancing lessons when I was 4 years old just loving tap dancing. In our recital we danced to “She’s a Grand Old Flag” and after that I never did tap dancing again.

My friend FL dances a couple of times a week at a senior center in Cocoa Beach, Florida, with Betty, an 80-year old who looks and moves like she is 45. Betty was an accomplished ballerina who had a nasty accident and was told she might never walk again. So she gave up ballet and eventually took up tap dancing. For 3 years she has given lessons (at $4 an hour) at the senior center. There are around 8 people in each class, mostly 65+. FL is the youngest by far. They use all sorts of fun props – canes, tambourines, etc. Betty wears her trim little size 6 outfits with the shiny hose and color-coordinated shoes.

We went to the beginner class today. It was a mixture of instruction and trying it out to music. I was a little leery of even joining the line of women dancers, given my total lack of experience. But Betty has this way of making you think you are doing a good job when you just clicking your taps on the floor! Trying to remember the progressions of steps is a REAL CHALLENGE! I can see why Betty is as spry as she is with all of this mental practice. At several points instead of saying, “You all really look like total klutzes!” she simply said, “Let’s just break down this step and go over it!”

As I have gotten older, my balance seems to be somewhat compromised. I now see tap dancing as a wonderful and fun way to improve my sense of balance. As you take a foot off the floor to shuffle or whatever, you must balance on the other foot. That’s what tap dancing is all about. There is also a definite aerobic benefit as you huff and puff through the various routines. So the big numbers for today’s class were “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” and “One a Day”.

As FL says, you cannot possibly tap dance without smiling. There is something magical about hearing the clink of the taps and moving to the music as you swing your arms and head around. It is just plain fun! By tomorrow, I probably will not remember a single step I learned, but I will definitely remember Betty and smiling and FL leading the group in one dance. My new intention is to find a tap class at home, but I’m sure it will cost more than $4 and there is definitely not another teacher like Betty!

Thursday, February 17, 2005

My Escape to South Florida

I got up at the crack of dawn to visit my friend FL in south Florida. My first revelation was that it is really hot here in February. I quickly shed my wool clothes and changed into jeans and a tee shirt. This has been probably the most action-packed day I have had in a long time.

From the airport we went to tap dance lessons at the senior center. The teacher is in her 70s and looks 20 years younger. FL is by far the actual youngest in the class. It was obvious from the beginning that these people are having a great time while they get a lot of exercise. They are preparing for a show this weekend and they really take this seriously. So they rehearsed for an hour or so and finally mastered the steps for the performance. Once person said she dances 5 days a week!

We went to FL’s to take a short break before our next activity. She lives in a really nice neighborhood, which backs up onto a waterway. There are large snapping turtles and ducks and egrets and herons. It is really quite idyllic sitting out on her screened porch watching the wildlife. We had just enough time to look at our kindergarten class picture and see how many people we could still identify. I think we knew all but about 6 of the 23 kids. We both wondered what had become of all those kids.

We were taken to lunch by FL’s friend Dave, who is an engineer at the space center, having launched the past 35 years of astronauts into space. He is a person who lives to fly – he flies planes, gliders, hang-gliders, sky-dives, you name it. He is obviously in love with FL, having sent her roses for Valentine’s Day. But they remain “just friends”. I thought it was really big of him to take both of us to lunch!

I insisted on a nap since I had gotten up at 4 AM and was practically falling asleep.

Then we went to a WONDERFUL yoga class with another Barb. I asked for hip openers and that is what we got. She is from California and reminded me a little of Rebecca. She concentrated a lot on the “third eye”, which I now know means the 6th chakra. At the end she came around and sprinkled everyone’s hand with a drop of orange oil that smelled heavenly and woke us all up after relaxation. The best part of the class is that it is FREE! FL drives a long way to go to this class and it is absolutely worth it.

We went directly from yoga to salsa night at a restaurant-bar on the beach. FL takes salsa lessons on Wednesday nights and on Thursday the class gets a chance to practice. The teachers are professional dancers and many of the students are latino. I give FL a lot of credit for doing this. So we mostly watched really good dancers until they stopped salsa at 10 PM.

Then we came home and decided to eat peanut butter crackers for dinner. It’s so nice not to be responsible for anyone else’s dinner. What a treat!

I’m already exhausted and I have been here for only a day. Tomorrow it starts all over again with tap lessons at 9:30 AM. I haven’t tap danced since I was 4 years old, but FL says she will loan me a pair of shoes and we are both going to tap. We’ll see…

We have talked and talked and talked some more about anything and everything. It’s nice to have a friend where there are no topics that are off limits. If we keep going at this pace, however, I will need a week to catch up on my sleep when I go home!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Guilt on Valentine's Day

It wasn’t that I didn’t think about it. I have been trying to think up a clever card design for several weeks – something I could make for David that would tell him how very much I love him in a way that would really capture it. The inspiration just didn’t come. I kept coming back to a single red heart with “Be mine” written above it. So I bought a more clever card, but one certainly designed with the generic spouse in mind, not my spouse.

On Valentine’s morning, I not only found a card from David (not handmade, but tastefully chosen), but also one from my two favorite dogs, Dylan and Jake. But more importantly, I found PRESENTS! Two really great poetry books – one of 180 poems chosen by Billy Collins, my current favorite poet who is the poet laureate of the US, and a second book of poems from Walt Whitman. David had zeroed in on one of my current passions and put a lot of thought into choosing these two books. I was so happy as I flipped through the pages. Then later in the day a really nice dark chocolate bar showed up as an afterthought. Now that really spoke to another of my passions. So I was nicely taken care of on Valentine’s Day and all he got was a bought card.

Should I feel guilty? Probably. Instead of agreeing with me, David in his wonderful approach to things said, “Let’s just share the books and the chocolate.” That pretty much captures the essence of why I married this guy.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Little Mermaid Is Alive and Well

When Rachel was 6, The Little Mermaid was the hottest movie around. For her birthday party, we invited Vivian, Burgundy’s drama teacher, to choreograph and stage the play in the basement of Generous George’s Pizza Parlor, with of course Rachel as Ariel (with a deep red wig) and her friends as all other characters in the movie. I made costumes for everyone and we have it all on film. It was a remarkable rendition. Soon after the play, the costume got packed off to the attic, where it has languished for these last 14 years.

Last night we had some new friends over to dinner. They have a beautiful daughter, Julianna, whom they adopted in Hungary. I wasn’t exactly sure what she was going to do while we grownups cooked Indian food and talked about grownup things. So I had gotten a couple of boxes of costumes out of the attic. When Julianna showed up at our front door in a princess dress, I knew this was the right activity. She looked through the entire box and then chose The Little Mermaid (Ariel) costume, replete with mermaid tail. She put it on over her undershirt and wore it for the rest of the evening, the tail flopping around as she went up and down the stairs. Our dog Jake barked incessantly at her at first until he realized that she wasn’t a real mermaid! She seemed to feel a real connection to the original Ariel who wore that costume and asked a lot of questions about Rachel.

It was so much fun to remember that long-ago birthday party and those difficult decisions about who would get to play which parts. I love my daughter as a bonafide adult, but seeing Julianna in the old costume made me long for the little girl again! Maybe I will some day get the thrill of seeing my granddaughter as another Little Mermaid...

Friday, February 11, 2005

In Search of a Favorite Poem

Picking one favorite poem is not an easy thing to do. Do you pick one that is universally accepted as really great? Or perhaps one that tugs at your emotional heartstrings? What are the criteria for such a difficult choice?

I have been intrigued with the poetry of Billy Collins for the last year. Not because it will show up on the list of “The Top 100 Poems of All Time”. But rather because Billy Collins talks about just plain ordinary things and makes me think about them in a new light – every time!

As I get older and watch my memory slowly get a little rusty, this poem seems to sum it all up so nicely:


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never
even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

--Billy Collins

So for today, this is my top runner. Will I remember it by February 27?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Perfection Wins Again

My knitting project was progressing slowly, a couple of rows at a time. However, today something definitely went wrong and there were knits where there should have been pearls and there seemed to be no remedy. I am in dire need of a lesson on how to recover when there is a problem.

So I had a choice – keep going with very obvious mistakes or rip it out and start over. I valiantly tried to just keep going, but couldn’t do it. So I unraveled everything and started over once again.

The good news was that it was not nearly so hard to start over. The bad news is I still don’t know how to fix mistakes and I’m not back to where I started earlier today before things got so screwed up.

I muttered under my breath, “This really isn’t fun”, to which David replied, “Just don’t do it then.” Everything is always such a simple straightforward choice for him.

Perfection and pride – forever my undoing!

I wouldn’t want to bet if or when these socks will ever be on my feet...

Longing for a Baby

Before you get worried, I am not the one doing the longing.

I have a good friend at work who would give anything to have a baby. She has dealt with about as many misfortunes as life can possibly give one person. She was abused as a child. She was actually living on the street for a time as a teenager. She married and had three children by the time she was 25. Her husband landed in jail after preying on their teenage daughter. After struggling for several years following their divorce, my friend met a wonderful man over the Internet and they have now been married for 2 years. They would really like to have a child of their own to reflect all the love they have for each other. But she had her tubes tied many years ago to avoid another pregnancy.

She laments the fact that she does not have $8,000 to pay for a reversal of her tubal ligation or any hope of coming up with this amount of money. I gave her a pep talk today with a couple of ideas:
(1) Start saving a small amount each pay period that will eventually pay for this procedure.
(2) Find a teaching hospital that might offer this surgery at a reduced cost.
I agreed to talk to my groovy GYN to see if he has any ideas.

In my new feeling of empowerment, I am more than ever convinced that we can make things happen if we want them strongly enough. I hope my friend will follow through on her dream. There will never be a baby more loved than the one she ultimately brings into the world.

Sparring with Steve

I seem constantly to be snapping at a particular person in meetings. He snaps back and then we both look like children. I don’t do this with anyone else – just Steve. But he continues to make me see bright shades of red and mouth off accordingly. It’s often over ridiculous things, but it happens nonetheless. As my energy level and feeling of being powerful rises, so do these sparring matches.

I finally resolved after sitting through a steamy meeting this morning to try to deal with this. I sent him an e-mail messages suggesting that we take our differences “offline”, as opposed to looking like fools in front of a bunch of people. I have yet to hear his response. Maybe he likes fighting with me! Some people feed on conflict. Personally I prefer lunch...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Update on Poetry Night

After a pretty disappointing start, I think poetry night is going to happen. We invited 28 people, knowing that certainly not all of them could come. However, as of yesterday, we had only 3 YESes. Today the number is up to 7, so it is definitely moving in the right direction.

I’m starting to think about what to read. Some time during the last year I read Billy Collins’ The Art of Drowning, a collection of some really great poetry. Billy Collins writes about just plain ordinary things in very extraordinary ways. He challenges us to look again at things we have taken for granted. Here’s just a sample:


You can use the brush of a Japanese monk
or a pencil stub from a race track.

As long as you draw the line a third
the way up from the bottom of the page,

the effect is the same: the world suddenly
divided into its elemental realms.

A moment ago there was only a piece of paper.
Now there is earth and sky, sky and sea.

You were sitting alone in a small room.
Now you are walking in the heat of a vast desert

or standing on the ledge of a winter beach
watching the light on the water, light in the air.

I also recently read some lines from a poem tucked away deep in the recesses of my mind:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair--
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin--
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!")
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all--
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all--
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

* * * *

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? ...

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

* * * *

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep ... tired ... or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet--and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"--
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all."

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the
And this, and so much more?--
It is impossible to say just what I mean I
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

* * * *

No I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

It’s funny – reading this poem at 56 is so different from reading it at 20, when the old balding guy seemed ancient! I have a much greater appreciation for his choices of what to do!

I wish I had enough creative juices to write something like either of these poems...

If you are reading this and have a favorite poem, let me know what it is!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

In Awe of 8-Year-Olds

Today David and I talked about our trip to Israel with the 3rd-grade-class of Temple Micah’s Sunday school. David had already put together a really wonderful DVD of our trip with music and even some video clips, so we didn’t have to do a lot of preparation. As I came into the classroom, they were talking about the following section of the Shabbat morning service:

These are the duties whose worth cannot be measured:
Honoring one’s father and mother,
Acts of love and kindness,
Diligent pursuit of knowledge and wisdom,
Hospitality to strangers,
Visiting the sick,
Celebrating with bride and groom,
Consoling the bereaved,
Praying with sincerity,
Making peace where there is strife,
And the study of Torah leads to them all.

Specifically they were talking about the “diligent pursuit of knowledge and wisdom” and the difference between knowledge and wisdom. One child said she thought knowledge was what you learn and wisdom was using it to make good decisions. Another said that knowledge was the little pieces and wisdom was all of it put together. Yet another talked about something akin to nuclear fusion with little explosions. THESE WERE 8-YEAR-OLDS?

After they had their snack of dinosaur animal crackers and apple juice (which reassured me that they really were 8 years old), we started showing the video, stopping at just about every frame for a myriad of questions, like

–How is Jerusalem like Bethesda?
–What happens to the messages in the Western (wailing) wall when it rains?
–What is a suicide bomber? (This came up when we showed the picture of the wall that now attempts to keep terrorists from entering Israel proper.)
–Why are there so many churches, mosques, synagogues in Jerusalem?
–Lots of questions about the various gates around the Old City, especially about the Lion’s gate.
–How did you get all these great pictures?

By the end of their class we had barely gotten out of Jerusalem, so we are scheduled to come back for another round in early March. I really loved these kids. They were old enough to be able to think logically, but young enough to still be nice to adults. I think I may start to volunteer as a helper in this class. I don’t know much about teaching and I wasn’t born into this religion, but I think I could pass in a 3rd grade class!

A Pound of Flesh

Tonight we went to see A Merchant of Venice, a new movie based on Shakespeare’s play. If you are Christian, you probably see it as the comedy it is advertized to be, having a happy ending. If you are Jewish, you are probably disgusted as the stereotypical portrayal of the Jew, in the persona of Shylock, the moneylender.

In 16th century Venice, the Jews had already been relegated living in the ghetto, stripped of their rights, and made to wear red caps when they ventured outside the ghetto during the day. Many practiced usury because Christians were not allowed to lend money for profit. Shylock, who from the onset looks like a shady character, agrees to loan “the good-hearted” Antonio a sum of 3,000 ducats, including the provision that instead of interest a pound of flesh can be extracted if Antonio fails to repay the sum at the end of a 3-month period. Antonio is borrowing the money to finance his friend Bassanio’s pursuit of the beautiful Portia. Bassanio is successful in pursuing Portia. However, Antonio’s ships are lost at sea and he cannot repay the 3,000 ducats. Portia, who is independently wealthy, offers to repay the debt three-fold. But Shylock insists instead on exacting the pound of flesh. He has an impossible dilemma, however, when he is ready to plunge the knife into the terrified Antonio’s breast and the judge (who is really Portia in disguise) tells him that he can only cut out a pound of Antonio’s flesh if he can do it without spilling one drop of blood. One thing leads to another and in the end Shylock is stripped of everything he has, including his religion, and everyone else lives happily ever after.

So the message we learn from this is that Jews are shady characters, who are uncompromising and who would stoop to murder to settle a dispute. The other lesson is that in the end the Jews deserve what they get. Was Shakespeare really this antisemitic? I wonder if the Jews in his time experienced a backlash from this play or whether it was truly representative of the way Jews were viewed. So although Al Pacino does a marvelous job in his role as Shylock, the play leaves any Jew with the feeling of “Why does this keep happening?”

Friday, February 04, 2005


Until recently I spent my life thinking up creative excuses not to exercise. I occasionally started something like water aerobics, swimming, walking, which lasted for a short while and then just disappeared. I probably paid for several of those fancy machines at the local Sport & Health by my membership that was seldom used.

Then last spring I attended a “health ideas” open house at Capitol Hill Yoga, where I met Brian with his big red ball. Brian is early 30s with the body of an experienced trainer. (He was the personal trainer for a professional basketball player for several years.) He had me do some wall exercises using the ball, which were actually almost fun. One thing led to another and David and I decided to drop our Sport & Health membership and put a home gym in our basement. We hired Brian to help us design it and to help us get started using the equipment.

We bought an elliptical machine and another machine (by Hoist) that has a lot of options for weight-bearing exercise. We decided to forego the wall-mounted TV and settle on a cheap boombox. I discovered the Big Chill double CD set and I was ready to work out!

Brian came once a week for a couple of months and put us through our paces. He gave us enough optional exercises that we could mix them up and never do the same work-out twice! It was good that he was checking up on us because I think I could have easily slipped back into my pattern of good excuses why not.

But instead for the first time in my life I began to exercise almost daily AND LIKE IT! I just crank up the volume on the boombox and start moving on the elliptical. I now do 1.3 miles in 15 minutes on level 3. This is nothing for a person who is really in shape, but it is significant for me. I then move on to a series of exercises on our big red ball. I conclude with a series of exercises using weights and some “butt-taps”, like almost sitting down. This takes about 30-40 minutes.

Since starting this new regime, I have lost about 7 pounds and I feel so much better. I hope I can in a small way make up for my 55 years of bad attitude when it comes to exercise. Better late than never, I figure...

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mid-Winter Poetry -- The Beginning of an Idea

I just had this idea this afternoon that I would like to invite everyone I know who likes poetry to a poetry reading in the depths of winter. What better way to ignore the gloomy weather? I want to invite a variety of people, many of whom don’t know each other. The only thing each person will need to bring is a copy of a poem to read. It can be original or something the person simply read and would like to share. We will compile all of the poems and send them out after the fact.

We will have decadent food that is all bought – a no-work party! Very blue cheese, goat cheese, sharp cheddar with crusty French bread. Heavy dark chocolate mousse cake, very caloric and yummy. Champagne for those who like it. Wine for those of us who detest the bubbles. Punch for everyone else.

These questions go through my mind, since I have never participated in something like this before:

(1) Will people think this is crazy?
(2) Will they want to come?
(3) Will people from DC/MD be willing to schlep to VA?
(4) Will they take me seriously about the requirement of bringing a poem?
(5) What will I read?
(6) Will the snow hold off for the party?

I can’t wait! Let it snow, but not on the day of the party...