Thursday, August 28, 2014

Ode to Sarah


 Sarah flitted by my office one day and then returned to land lightly on my heart and soul.  When beautiful butterflies cross our paths, we notice them.  Sarah is so like those winged creatures.

Sarah and Shane
     She was working at an insurance company when she came to pick-up a friend's child at my school. She returned the next day and tendered a sweet letter about how she loved kids, how she would volunteer and how she wished to be at the school in any capacity.  I hired her as a teacher for the coming year and the adventure began.

    A week later I passed a couple of women talking on the street.  One was dressed in a ball gown and tennis shoes.  Her voice sounded like Sarah's, but she had dark hair and Sarah's was light hair.  A second look made me realize that it was Sarah.  Quintessential Sarah.  Dressed for a romp in the mountains for her birthday.  For all of the years following, Sarah would transform her appearance like a butterfly.  Her hair in varying shades from purple to blond to shaved and back.  Her clothes ever changing, sewed and resewed in new designs week by week.  The local newspaper did an article on the clothes that she was making calling her a "second-hand Deva".  She is the only person that I know that would have worn this dress if she had had the chance:

       In a magical way Sarah fashioned relationships much in the way she selected or created her distinctly unique wardrobe.  She made entrances into lives with a flounce, cloaked in surprises, zippered in joy and cut from a quality of cloth few are privileged to possess.

     Sensible, no nonsense dressers like myself were tempted around Sarah to wear tie dye again, dance, wade in a stream and shovel dirt while wearing white like in this photo of Sarah working at school.
Moving dirt for a work party.
      Picture our Sarah with her hands guiding cloth past a needle spotlighted by a single light bulb as she adds some detail to the outfit for the day.  Her attention turned to the space between her hands, thinking about the possibilities, the pleasure of the moment, the feel of the fabric, the promise of what lay ahead.  Her teaching was also like this.  She was fascinated by possibilities, willing to listen carefully and look to the future child-by-child.

     Shoddy weaves, poorly conceived design, the dishonesty of faulty construction saddened her.  With Sarah's integrity she would make relationships constructed on generosity, well-justified conceptions and honesty.  Sarah wouldn't have tolerated the ill-treatment of seamstresses or weavers or children or friends or family.

     Unique.  Do you really know anyone else like Sarah?  The closest that you might come is Krista,  another teacher of little ones, and Sarah's best friend.

Sarah and Krista at the Goodbye Party
     We will all miss Sarah's joy even as we wish her well as she flirts off sewing a new life in a new town with people, whom as her husband says, "do not know what magic is coming their way."
This Magic!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Shifting Landscapes

     The glossy website picturing historic buildings, touting its long history of attracting tourists of discriminating tastes was enough to make me mark this southern city on my Mother Map. Hot springs after all!

      As I entered the city in early spring the landscape shifted away from the website.  A derelict apartment house and a burned down hotel slid past the car windows.  Later in the day I headed north away from downtown searching for a grocery store and got caught in a snarl of traffic around a tourist destination inching past grim looking lots and empty store fronts and a single young black man surrounded by three police cars.  The narrow two-lane road through the canyon city screeched as police cars tried to navigate from one end to the other.  Late in the day I passed yet another clutch of police vehicles surrounding the next youth up-to-no good.

      "Shifting landscapes" entered business lexicon some years back.  I am sure this little city was familiar with the expression.  Grappling with racial inequities, economic woes, the loss of stable citizens and unfortunate building designs this little city faced them all with their brave little website.  I talked with the young, enthusiastic and sincere city planner.  They had tools. The city had recently done a needs survey of its citizens.  Clearly hopes rested on solving crime by wanting a community center and activities for their youth, better school funding and more opportunities for small businesses.  However, in juxtaposition of this voice from the landscape, the city had just had a much-touted presentation to the city council and citizens of new plans afoot.  I watched the video, which was presented by all white guys to a council with only one person of color on it and a room full of citizens.  The "landscapers", good businessmen, proposed a big convention center to attract more tourists.  Period.  No mention of a community center, traffic jams and arrested opportunities for youth.  (I will give some credit for an effort by the city inspectors who were working with the downtown small businesses to find ways to skirt costly upgrades in old buildings.)

    When a landscape has a major fault line that periodically opens-up and swallows its people alive thereby sending tremors, rumors and shivers of chaos outwards, there is trouble.  Abuse that has settled in the crevices splits the fault open.  The trouble might be invisible on the planning charts and websites.  The recent killing of a young black youth in Ferguson, Missouri indicates the existence of a fault line.   I have been reading an insightful book called "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs.  Reviews of this book include a description like this one by William H. Whyte, author of The Organization Man:  "The research apparatus (in this book) is not pretentious- it is the eye and the heart- but it has given us a magnificent study of what gives life and spirit to the city."  The eye and the heart.  The little city in the south needs an eye and a heart.  The book mostly addresses city planning that tried to unslum neighborhoods by building large-scale housing projects and investing in huge buildings like convention centers.  The eye and the heart starts on the sidewalks where children play while neighbors and the foot-traffic of the local businesses assist to ward off danger.   As I write this, I think that I should send my copy of the book to the city planner.  He seemed like the type that would settle in a chair and take it to heart, seeing new landscapes.  Quieter ones with less rumbling.        

Monday, August 18, 2014

Was Hair Style the Predictor? Reflections on a High School Reunion

     Combing the statistical data supplied by hairstyles, letter jackets, alcohol, witticisms and clubs, we thought we could do it.  Predict the patterns of success, resiliency of romances and the sweetness that would be due the good ones and the bitterness the bad.  Walking the slick linoleum hallways past the rattling locker doors, we absorbed any detail of worth.  The passing glances begging for some confirmation, the cut of clothes, color of socks, papers crammed in books, chewed pencil erasers and those hairstyles.  We knew so little.  We knew so much.

     Back in high school the sincerity with which we held our convictions masked the fear that edged the possibilities of statistical error.  Pass or fail.  Our teachers made it look easy. They spotted those who “did not live up to their potential” or deserved straight A’s.  They graded on a bell curve, a lesson that there were five ways to being an adult.  (Only five.) Did B’s mean we would be B’s all our life?  What if we had some D’s or F’s or overslept and missed an interview, a wedding or a blessing?  What if we missed life altogether, insanity, car crashes or simply “did not live up to our potential”?  We were wary of statistical inaccuracies, methodologies gone awry.  But what could we do, but predict with the variables at hand weighting each with adolescent confidence.

     Now at sixty-five at a reunion we check our old predictions and then remember that Reno High School didn’t offer a class in statistics.  We were winging it in the halls, learning it in on the fly.  Those black and white yearbook photos with slicked and coiffured hairdos were the final exam.  We knew so much.  

     No one remembered to bring a copy of the yearbook to the reunion, the final exam of hairstyle = success.  We had to start over. Parsing data from new variables that were weighted this time with the wisdom that we lacked as high schoolers.  "What was your name again?"  "Oh, yeah."  But now you are looking me in the eye.  You didn’t do that in high school.  We can hold a gaze and ask questions that we might not have dared back then.  The questions solicit a multitude of correlations, lurking variables which we had neglected previously, too many stats to keep in the head.  Your hair is grey now even under those dyes.  Does your hairstyle say you had a good life, lovely kids, illness, grief, satisfying work or happiness?  Or did hairstyle become statistically insignificant some years back?  We knew so little.  We thought we knew so much.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ears on My Knees


     Pup and I sometimes walk at night for those dog constitutional doings.  Flashlight in my hand we head out to walk the quiet streets. On the road side of our heads our ears can hear the suburbans, pick-ups or motorcycles passing us by with the noise of their tires shushing.  In the opposite ears the darkened manicured lawns emanate a regal and formal silence as if to say, “We have not been introduced properly and therefore we are choosing to be reserved with you.”  I walk past with equal reserved silence avoiding the stiff edges.  But as pup and I circumnavigate the block, one front yard shouts at us long before we reach its border.  The yard's unkempt appearance, naturally planted with tall grasses, black-eyed Susans, daisies and birch trees, can’t begin to muffle the cacophony arising from its understory.  Crickets.   

     Crickets have ears on their knees.  Moreover the entire length of their legs can read vibrations emanating from the earth.  They translate quivered messages about footfalls and pawfalls, warnings of potential predators.  Crickets have ears on their knees. When pup and I get too close, the crickets listen with their knees and feel our movements with their narrow, black and shiny appendages and become quiet.

     If I were cricket-like with ears on my knees, would I become more cautious?  I wonder what I would hear that would make me be quiet as others pass.  Were I to have ears on my knees like crickets, would I be better at picking up undercurrents of conversations and feelings, be able to ignore low-density unimportant messages? Would I be any better at understanding relationships, if I could interpret the vibrations of emotions or detect the drumming of worrisome thoughts with my bones? Would the understory speak more eloquently, so that I could become better in defining the meanings under meanings?  Crickets have ears on their knees.

     Crickets have long been thought of as symbols of intuition.  Little wonder.  They can feel danger in the obscure realm of night. They can see you coming without seeing. They can measure you by the strength of your vibration, by the waves preceding you and by the currents of your shifting weight.  As I listen to the beloved sound of crickets, I wish I had ears on my knees.