Thursday, March 19, 2020

Living Small in March 2020 Until ?

        These are the best of times. These are the worst of times. What else to say? Words fail and then, somehow, they don't. Books are around to be read. Writers post comments and impressions that seem somehow to matter. Friends call, text, jot down feelings.  "Just checking in."
          Then some of us go out, in spite of the warnings, the pleadings, the rules. Someone living alone who has high energy must find a way not to feel isolated while being more fully aware of that state than  partners, roommates or family folk. It's too late to adopt a dog so I'll rely on a neighbor who has one. Dogs don't get or give the virus, do they? I'll go even further and farther breaking the rules to enjoy the company up close of a few people whom, in these times of stress, I will call family. Substitutes. Not contact every day at length, mind you. Probably less and less as numbers (statistics) mount.
        Among the many questions raised each day a key one is: How are you coping?  What advice to you get or give? Answers will vary each day.  One of the most ingenious for those of us who find concentration more difficult than ever is to order jigsaw puzzles online. A friend chose a complicated mandala pattern that she said looked difficult enough to challenge her mind - to put mind over matter and lose herself in the combination of shapes and colors.
         You put a sign on the front of your house: Keep Calm And Carry On, rallying cry of the Brits during World War II. You wave at your neighbors through the window. On Friday at 5 p.m. our City Councilman hopes everyone will come to their stoop or porch or equivalent for Happy Hour. No doubt singing will commence. If the Italians can do it, so can we at least try. You vow to learn something new every day, however simple or even silly. I look at recipes as medicine, to lose myself in their myriad ingredients and then pull back: It's not possible to have so many required ingredients on hand and not possible to trip off to the store for just one or two items. Stores now have 'senior hours,' presumably to lighten the load of customers  for their benefit - we seniors being the undefined elderly group said to be at great/greater risk. Never mind that seniors can transmit unseen terms like everyone else.
         Pat me on the back, I put in several orders for books at the independent store now closed. Their industry is already severely compromised and these days give Amazon more power than ever.
         Hearing that Britain's Royal, heir apparent Prince Charles, caught the bug I decided on his behalf and that of anyone else royal by reputation to concoct a mythical dog for myself and call him Charles. My Charles can get out and mingle, can still sniff and smell and tastes. He is cheerful and sociable and, of course, asks very little of me.
       My real family is thousands of miles away. I cry when I think I will not see them soon and not know when I can. They are not avid Facebook or Skype people. Their texts are short. An email is an occasion.
          Today is spring, usually a hopeful thing. I think about all the equinoxes I've been able to celebrate, the many years of life and memories they contain. I'm counting on summer, the  heat and  hope.

     Slight digression here. Take a look and have a thought about some of the catastrophes in the world. Namely:
       Holodomor Memorial to Victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–1933 was opened in Washington, D.C., United States on November 7, 2015.[1][2] Located at the intersection of North Capitol StreetMassachusetts Avenue, and F Streets N.W., the memorial was built by the National Park Service and the Ukrainian government to honor the victims of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide of 1932–33 and educate the American public.[3] The memorial is one of three monuments in Washington, D.C. designed or co-designed by women (the others being the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial.)[4] Congress approved creation of the Holodomor Memorial in 2006.[5]

      For sure, this certainly isn't the worst (but how to quantity/qualify?) nor not at all the largest.
It does lend perspective, however. At least at this point in our shutdown/lockout status. At least most of us are still alive.

      'Small' is relative. You can live big in your mind. Observe how many are utilizing their own resources to compensate for the isolation. Have an old table tennis table stashed away? Bring it up to the largest room in the house, give it center place, and get going with the paddles. Confirmed: physical exercise and mental exertion.
       Everyone has their own idea of a good day, a 'sensible' plan. This writer likes to pretend she can have a schedule that involves at least one productive or creative enterprise, or attempt at one. It might only be vacuuming the floor, or  wiping down the kitchen, cleaning out the fridge. But it is visible and  valuable. Far trickier is the creative side since it involves dampening down the gremlins that provoke distraction, despair.  Those stray thoughts  and emotional vagaries....Now, finally, we may come to learn what is meant by discipline. Does meditation teach us how to focus? I'm a naif, willing to try.

April 1 - who's the fool?
We are all the fool when supposing we are sometimes in control. Irony aside, at last a person stuck at home can control the day's schedule to some degree. Limited choices perhaps, except when he/she get on the Internet and is overwhelmed by testimonies, advice, pods and posts. I'm guilty of that here, in the vain idea that a diary of sorts is worth keeping of the 'times out of joint.'  To note how one acquaintance decides it is time to read Proust; another cleans her apartment''; a third takes up baking bread. I jump around, one plan to another, shiftless and undisciplined. One reliable factor is the  daily  newspaper arriving at my door - a talisman that such chaos can be contained within the pages. I challenge a friend in New York - another daily 'hard copy' reader- to come up with odd/offbeat pieces of information gleaned from NYTimes' prolific pages. I suggested a small article I saw that implied a study showed how warm, better hot baths were antidotes to heart trouble. She declined, saying it was really the obits that interest her.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

At the Gas Station

               On Capitol Hill, we have a Capitol Hill Arts Center, a community Hill Center (these are actual buildings offering programs for a price to residents and beyond), and ever so many other physical spots such as  Eastern Market indoors and outside where one as likely or not to run into people one knows and sometimes may only barely remember.  
                We also have a service station for gas and auto repairs that is now is in its third generation of same-family ownership. The name is Distad's, and the longer a person has lived on the Hill (as its own, because, yes, the Capitol building is on the same elevation - a Hi-Line of sorts) the more likely he/she is know to Distad's employees. I go regularly for help with mundane things such as filling my tank or figuring (why don't I ever learn?) proper gauge for air in my tires each season. Recently, I dropped by to buy new windshield wipers after having dared  one rainy evening to cross  the bridge  from Virginia into the District with little rubber tailings on my window wipers that did very little actual wiping. I made it home, sweating.
                While paying up, I chanced into a Woman of Some Importance in these parts - at least to those of us bearing and raising children in previous decades - the estimable Marguerite Kelly whose  Almanac column was a mainstay, and a life saving guidance outlet, in the Washington Post Style section. She was there to do some repairs on her - was it really? - 20-year-old car, laughing at the check-out counter with another acquaintance from 'old times..' Marguerite's writing was my substitute at times for a godmother giving me the only advice I had on how to handle a newborn. I had no mother, no relatives around, no no doula (not then much spoken about) and my husband was eternally, it seems, away on missions specific to a member of Congress who always have to be seeking reelection.
              'How is your son'?' she immediately inquired. How could she remember that I had a son, now 43? I immediately wanted to know how she kept her skin so smooth. This is a beautiful woman of 87 with a flawless complexion. "Vitamin E oil," was her answer. Another secret of aging well, she implied, was 'not doing anything." No heavy breathing exercise regimen. She has a daughter and son-in-law living with her, another daughter nearby working for a local theater complex. Marguerite had just had her driver's license renewed and lo and behold, she marveled, she was now good to drive for another ten years. "Ten Years!" she exclaimed.
              I suggested she might consider becoming an Uber or Lyft driver and specialize in the senior market. To make other seniors comfortable and confident they, too, can survive the prejudices of the anti-aging crowd.

            There is another sort of community, too, not often acknowledged as such: riders in a Metro car during rush hours. The physical closeness of strangers  isn't a likely social group - until an emergency arises. I thought of this while sitting on a window seat during the hour when Metro platforms can fill rapidly with the tremendous energy of teenagers  getting out of school, presumably on their way home, letting off steam.
             WAs that the reason for the presence in the car of two very tall (handsome!) uniformed Transit policemen wearing a slew of devices and standing up by two different exit doors - one of them leading to the next car, not normally used. They were unsmiling guardians of the peace, though one appeared to carry what could have been a laser or light (maybe a foghorn!) on his chest. One of them kept staring into the car, while the other looked watchfully onto the platform at each stop before alighting at Metro Center, the usual connecting link for other trains. None of the passengers - except me - seemed intrigued by the sight. Almost everyone had their eyes and hands on mobile phones, though at least one woman was absorbed in a book. My intense stare didn't seem to bother the two men. I was puzzled by public indifference  -- either they found it normal to have fully armed guards aboard or they = we = choose to stay cloaked in indifference as a way of simulating personal privacy. Until otherwise summoned to act... since, these days (a long long stretch) we are conditioned to be constantly aware of what is around us, what could be happening, what would be the correct response.
               I was intimidated by their presence to some degree, being by nature attuned to scenes around me. The journalist's weapon perhaps. Only minutes before the two men had entered the car, I heard a commotion at one stop. There was a delay of some kind. I saw out of the window what could have been a group of tourists yelling and gesturing to someone who might have been part of the group - telling someone, or several, 'get out,' words to that effect. To get out of the Metro car because it was not the right train? I saw expressions of worry, frustration. Definitely a 'crowd scene, ' until the car door closed and we moved on.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Fighting the End of Light

        He walked stiffly to the small round chair, as if uncertain where his body should go. He talked carefully, sometimes hesitantly, often slowing to silence. Was he collecting his thoughts, or was this  a way to emphasize what he was saying? Because he said a lot, this pioneering stage director now in his 78th year appearing before a large rapt audience in DC's Hirshhorn auditorium. It was difficult to believe that he had already that day been in two other cities and would fly to Bulgaria - BULGARIA? (no explanation) - in the morning.  Apart from the arts center established under his direction in Water Mill, NY, where, he proudly remarked "there are no doors," he would seem to have no real home. His home was in the interstice between the horizontal and the vertical - within the realm of light that he calls the secret to all good design. Though it seemed that his own light  was fading - he had to be helped to stand erect before an easel holding a large pad of white paper and then ushered back to the chair.
       Trained as an architect at Pratt in New York, Robert Wilson have been a pioneer in theater and opera since the 1950s putting his faith in such statements as "without light there is no space" and quoting Einstein saying "light is the measure of things. Light is structural." Movement enters in, too, in abstract  but geometric ways.  "Time is the line that goes through the center; space is horizontal.And "it's always the space in back of you that makes the space in front of you strong." He is unconventional, to say the least - if that word has any meaning at all in the aesthetic realm. He once created a play using the texts done by a young autistic boy  named Christopher whom he met in a facility supposedly dedicated to helping the so-called developmentally disabled. Or handicapped in ways most people did not understand. Wilson could decipher much of what the boy wrote in terms of patterns that were the boy's language.
        He didn't try to explain the meeting of abstraction, taking for granted a sense of acceptance in how he viewed the world.  The title of the talk - a conversation between Wilson and Hirshhorn director Melissa Chu - was "Re-Setting the Stage."   Revising a person's perception of art and how it is made and received on stage as well as life.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Keep On Moving

Step Afrika came to Apple's most recent Washington area campus on Sunday February 16, for the first time,  offering free their high energy percussive art form that is unique in this country.
The appearance of eight black African-American dancers stomping and slapping  under the renovated Carnegie LIbrary's hard white floors  drew crowds, as expected, and  were in turn given a short history of the tradition and background going back to the 18th century when drums - the African drums - were outlawed.  Performers turned to their own body for expression, using all appendages  and rhythms to create a wholly original means of communication. Stories are told without words . The ensemble of  highly trained, regimented dancers are all college graduates (arts and science) cementing  a history that began with competition between in the sororities and fraternities of traditionally black universities and colleges. To see is to believe....the compulsive creation of community Now in its 25th year, the company is based most of the year on H St. NE in the Atlas Theatre.  Give it up to their infectious movement, and their slogan 'We are better when we step together," between pyrotechnical  seemingly inhuman feats of motion by individual members..
So why an Apple store, of all places?
 The company says it is celebrating Black History month by offering this and similar programs, hoping to attract a wider audience than might usually be found in that austere white building in the middle of a green park. Apparently it worked. Onlookers were stretched over the atrium on upstairs balconies. Small children were captivated on the ground floor. The upbeat, solid steps of these highly disciplined irrepressible  eight performers -- all different in physical styles - were contagious in their call outs (giving instructions to the audience on when to participate) and facial expressions. The lesson to children in the crowd: keep moving! But it wasn't lost either on a feisty woman with purple hair named Heather raising her hand during the Q&A to request "do something for seniors." In other words, think of offering classes (which the company does when they aren't traveling) for an older generation as well.
You go, girl!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Washing UP

And now this, just in from Mineola, NY, uninvited - the so-called Homeland Security newswire, whoever they are.

Handwashing will save us.

A study (I could not dig up) reasons that if people were more careful with their habits, the virus might get delayed. And it targets ten of the world's busiest airports, most likely in some of the world's largest cities. There it is, in cold print, the evil ones among us who have no consideration and refuse to take due measures at the sink after using toilet facilities. Because the advice says go slow, 15 seconds minimum, use soap and water. (Be aware, too, the need to avoid handles or buttons - hardware the virus likes. Protect yourself with paper when using handles.)

Odd how commonsense can easily evade us.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Incidental Notes to Note

On urban life and all its permutations....culled from print sources  (often thought too expensive to make reading them a habit).

Two books as references. "City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age," from Bloomsbury Publishers.
Relatively more recent, for Big Apple (NYC) fans: "Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas" edited by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. (The latter surname is fascinating to contemplate.) A treasure in handsome vertical binding, enclosing essays by writers of note (Solnit for one), published by the University of California in 2016. Almost defying a category this combination of graphics, maps, essays. Something to learn on every page and wonder at.

A common sense study out of Brandeis University based on 72,000 census tracts telling "how a child's neighborhood influences his/her opportunities over time."  As reported in the Washington Post on Saturday 1/25/20.  The focus was on 100 of  America's  largest Metro areas, said to be home to 67 percent of the country's children.

The New York Times' Business section on 1/27/20 tallying numbers to prove a rising number of older city dwellers - those people 'of a certain age'  moving into urban settings. The implications are vast when demands for housing and services are taken into consideration since more of us are growing older in greater numbers than ever.

Ever onward with the Samaritan spirit, New York style, as caught by CBS-TV when a woman who got dragged under an SUV on a busy Broadway street recently was rescued at once by dozens of strangers coming together to lift the car high enough to free her. She was pictured immediately afterward, on her back using a cell phone. Calling an ambulance maybe?
A day or so later another woman  sitting alone late morning in a subway car at a lower Manhattan station was assaulted by a man who grabbed the cellphone in her hand. and ran off. She followed, yelling , but to no avail. A passerby saw her and called 911 at once, without having to bother asking what had happened.

In Case You Missed It Department:
Though the subject applies to anyone driving any kind of vehicle on any road in these United States...from Smithsonian magazine for March 2020. How it happened that we Americans drive on the right side of the road  with the steering wheel on the left when, in yesteryear before automobiles became a necessity and not an extravagance, the wheel was on the right-hand side (and drivers stayed on the right side of the road).
According to a curator of road transportation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (who would have thought such a title existed), the Ford Model T was responsible in 1909. The idea was to allow passengers better exit at the curb and give drivers better views of oncoming traffic. The history of what and why, says Roger White in the magazine's blurb upfront answering reader questions, goes back to pre-automobile era year 1792 when the new Pennsylvania turnpike required buggy or wagon drivers to keep right. Presumably for orderly behavior on public land. New York City only in the early 1900s is said to have instituted the world's (!) first traffic code. Kudos to historians who keep us duly informed!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What Is DC Culture

                    That was the question the 21-year-old graduating student at San Diego State had to find out for herself. Born in Colorado, A. (to allow her some privacy) never had much reason to visit, much less live, in an East Coast city. The U.S. capital was likely to provide more than the usual  urban challenge. She knew that, and she also knew that - in her words - "I could afford to try anything for one year." The problem for the young AmericaCorps teaching assistant was to stick the course, once she knew exactly what she was up against.
                      DC public schools are enormously complex, based in large part on the city's geography. The majority (African American) of its citizens reside across the Anacostia River, a strict divide both in income  levels and topography - factors of history and economics (a way not to mention racial prejudice through the years). The neighborhoods east of the river have tribes of their own - often, she found out, based simply on  where a person lived. Boundaries can be staked out in defensive mode, strictly because 'being different' is dangerous. Being different in skin color and different ivy a street number. Taking refuge as cover for slights elsewhere.
                        She never had thought of becoming an education professional (her mother is  an elementary school teacher in Colorado). She was an international business major with thoughts of somehow eventually getting a job in the non profit sector. Striving daily up front and personal with  a small team of other paid assistants like her to help middle school students would teach her lessons she hadn't anticipated - such as how to react when fights break out on school grounds. The worst one she witnessed was between the mother of a student and her daughter's classmate. The daughter had lost a fight a day earlier with another student so the mother got friends to come with her to beat up the 'winner.'
                    She'll work hard by whatever means possible just to get a young student to apply his talent - 'and they are really bright talented kids" - so he can move on to the next level. To get him up to C level, to keep him interested in subject matter - in anything. "So many parents are young and disadvantaged themselves. There are children having children." Sure, support staff is impressive at the school but A's job - which includes free Metro pass and food stamps  - isn't one that can be described except within context of particular classes and children. She and her cohorts, who include young people of color, receive several weeks' training in advance of the school year. But how to prepare for the ten-hour days full of stress and frustration over what can't be readily controlled.

                      The usual explanation for the term DC Culture is Go Go - hip hop and rap combined. Joyous upbeat vocal and physical manifestations of  energy. But there is a dark (often held to be derogatory ) side too often overlooked where problems exist that can take months, even years, to solve.