Lighting out For ‘The Woods’

We called it “The Woods.” Well, I did. Sometimes, I referred to it as a “forest,” which it most certainly was not. Our backyard ended at a line of trees and dross beneath them; the lightly manicured, suburban lawn did not grow beyond that line, despite my teen-aged lawn mowing efforts to expand the lawn by clearing the dead leaves and branches away. That tight boundary made The Woods appear all the more elemental, foreign, forbidding, and, of course, inviting.

There was nothing truly elemental or extra natural about The Woods, though; it was not even a particularly non-developed land that surrounded our development. High tension power lines that fed electricity to our thousand-house neighborhood ran along an unpaved road about three football fields away from our back door; thus, the three-hundred-yard-deep stretch of trees that ran the entire backside of the neighborhood, from the Metro-North train tracks along the Hudson River on up and away from the river, merely existed to separate us from the taller-than-average power poles.
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To Dream a Dream …

Bravery is a skill. I do not know if I have cultivated it in myself. Bravery is, of course, not what one does in the absence of fear but what one can do—what one actually does—when fear is present. Accept fear, move forward, change the world.

[A comment: Today is March 22, 2017. I wrote the first draft of this column more than eighteen months ago. Sadly, the only update to offer today is this one: All the parties described herein are, simply, even more brave than they were several months ago. Ali remains in prison. His father posts updates on Facebook each week and sometimes more frequently. We learned last summer that he earned a university degree while in prison. Dawood al-Marhoon and Abed allahhassan al-Zaher also remain in prison. Raif Badawi remains in prison. He has begun to learn of the global movement that has grown around the fight to free him. Back to the column from October 2015:]
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A Storm Named Stella

Here in Orange County, New York, a blizzard named Stella has us under a “Severe Alert.” A red banner scrolls across my weather app—which is one way the information that Winter Storm Stella has dropped snow on us for the last several hours and will continue for another fourteen hours or so. The other way I can learn that the storm is throwing two to four inches of snow per hour is found when I look out my windows.

I prefer the first method. The red banner is less scary.
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100,000 Thank Yous

The website you hold in your hands was launched at the end of 2013. Three full years later, on this date of today, it will be visited for the one-hundred thousandth time.

If this was a commercial enterprise, 100,000 views in three years would be an abject failure; there are defunct websites that draw greater traffic. Instead, this website is one person’s production and reflects the things he finds interesting or in need of attention (his own and others’). No more, no less. Nothing abstract about it.
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The Old Stone

Because the Rosetta Stone was (is) a document of a very important decree, it was carved into granite; however, its preservation into the modern era (it was found in 1799) is an accident of circumstance. Without it, we would not have the term “Rosetta stone,” and then where would we be?

Because it is the document of a very important decree, it has a date on it, a date that may have been as important to its readers as July 4, 1776, is to some Americans. The date is given as 18 Meshir during the ninth year of Ptolemy’s reign; that date is March 27, 196 BC.
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Chaucer and Valentine’s Day

The Invention of Love …

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Because of the rampant commercialism associated with the holiday, Valentine’s Day is considered a “Hallmark holiday,” a day selected by a blindfolded intern at Hallmark HQ and pegged as one we consumers are told to celebrate by spending. It isn’t.

In the grocery store last week, the center of which is holiday-red right now and overstuffed with heart-shaped balloons and streamers, as if the store manager himself demanded a ticket-tape parade for Cupid, I walked past a fellow shopper who, shaking her head, declared out loud, “Valentine’s Day! Already?” because that is what we say when we view holiday decorations in stores nowadays. (Each reminder of time’s passage is responded to as a newly experienced emotional trauma in our culture, each time we encounter it.) It was February 10, the decorations had been up in this particular store since January 2, and there was no hint of irony in the person’s exclamation.

Starting in the late 1700s, publishers started to print and sell Valentine’s Day-oriented books, usually guides for young men to use in composing their love notes. On this much, most cultural historians seem to agree. The disagreements begin with who Valentine might have been and why February 14 is his feast day and extend to the question about what any of this has to do with chalky heart-shaped candies and smooching.
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A Valentine’s Day Disaster

It was as if every wish I had made in childhood for a hole in the ground to open up and rescue me had been answered in reverse …

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I bear a scar from the first Valentine’s Day that I had a reason to celebrate as Valentine’s Day, as a part of a couple.

Until my current relationship, my romantic history was a long walk alone in an empty field, punctuated by moments in which I interrupted someone else’s walk, attempted to try a relationship, and discovered that I try people’s patience instead. (All the women I have dated are brilliant and accomplished and I was lucky to get to know them; I was stuck at age 15 for an astonishingly long time, however.)

My love right now, my soul mate, Jen, is quite brilliant and accomplished, and for the first time in my life, four-plus years now, I am an equal partner and have opened myself up to having an equal partner. Not too bad for a 48-year-old 15-year-old.
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Lush Life

A personal reflection sparked by Olivia Laing’s excellent 2013 book The Trip to Echo Spring.

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Every alcoholic in recovery has a collection of anecdotes that can be simultaneously heartbreaking, outrageous, and hilarious. Perhaps they are hilarious only to fellow alcoholics; perhaps they can not even be listened to by outsiders. For an outsider, most alcoholic anecdotes may as well conclude with the same dark punchline, an interchangeable rubber-stamped ending: “And then I got away with it again.” Or, “I didn’t die that time, either.” And then comes the next hair-raising—or eyebrow-raising—tale.

Every alcoholic in recovery is living a story with a weird ending, if they remain in recovery. It is that two-word pair there, “in recovery,” that provides the surprise, the weirdness, a period of life as surprising to behold as some of the antics, the many bizarre actions and activities and inactions and inactivities that were surprising for outsiders to watch unfold in the previous life.
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