Panicky

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
—T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

* * * *
Any room with me in it is a panic room.

“Take my advice—I’m not using it.” Oh, I can tell you to keep calm. At my worst, I might insist that you keep calm. But as someone who can introduce stress into the least stressful, sweetly innocuous, and even some of the more pleasant experiences in life, when I am confronted with the parts of life that others find truly stressful, I hunker down and find the effort deep inside myself to make them yet more stressful.

In one of my lesser achievements in the field of stress management, I gave myself a black eye while tying my shoes. These were boots with leather laces (I am not a cowboy) and such laces can take a little effort to yank into position. While securing my “half-knot” on my right shoe, the length of lace in my left hand broke and I clocked myself in the right eye. At the time, I was 34 years old, not 11.
Read More

A Traveler’s Tale

He was a writer, that much he made certain I knew. A poet.

I never looked for his book online or in a bookstore. He showed it to me, or he showed me a galley proof of it. And now, more than a decade later, I do not remember his name or enough about the book to find out whatever happened to him or it.

The two of us were passengers on a plane, and 98% of my personal air travel history dates from the years 2000 to 2004, when I moved from upstate New York to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and twice a year I returned home for holiday visits. The typical route was: Eastern Iowa Airport to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to Stewart International Airport (or sometimes Logan in Boston), because there are no direct flights between Iowa and anyplace else I have ever lived. The book author was a wadded-up sheet of paper’s direct flight across the aisle from me.
Read More

In Honor of #IndependentBookstoreDay

April 28, 2018, is Independent Bookstore Day. For most of the 1990s, I was employed in an independent bookstore in New Paltz, New York. If you are a fan of books and of locally owned businesses and live near an independent bookstore, any excuse to visit your local bookstore is a good reason to visit it.

(Especially booksellers that specialize in used books; the perfume of used books ought to be bottled and sold, but then again, it already is: in old books.)

Huffington Post last year published a list of fifty popular independent bookstores located across the country; I have been in three of the fifty (numbers 4, 13, and 28) and number 28 has employed and still employs co-workers from my old bookseller.

A column of mine from 2015:
Read More

Hometowns

One of the unique things that is somehow common to many people (we are all alike in our uniqueness) is a stated belief that our hometown is no place special. We are taught to be humble, so anyplace that our humble selves hail from must be thought of as not all that special, either.

This often masks a fierce inner secret belief that one’s hometown is in fact the best place to be from and (insert name of a higher power one believes in here), please help those who chose to be born somewhere else, especially those unlucky ones born in the nearest next neighboring town. Those people are the unluckiest of all, perhaps because they were born so near to our town’s obvious greatness but they were not, which renders all the more dramatic their failure at their life’s first and easiest task: pick the right place to be born.
Read More

A Timely Definition of ‘Time’

Samuel Johnson wrote, “He that hopes to look back hereafter with satisfaction upon past years must learn to know the present value of single minutes, and endeavor to let no particle of time fall useless to the ground.”—Rambler 108, March 30, 1751

Dr. Johnson was 41 in March of 1751 and several years into his work on his most lasting project, his Dictionary. Unlike most of the dictionaries developed for any language, and all dictionaries in English, Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language was written by one man. An entire dictionary, with more than 40,000 word entries and over 100,000 literary quotations to back up and explain Johnson’s definitions and create an etymology (the study of the origin of words). It took Johnson nine years to complete it; 75 years later, Noah Webster published his own dictionary, which had 70,000 entries, took 25 years to complete, and cites Johnson throughout. The first completed edition of the Oxford English Dictionary took 75 years and dozens of scholars to compile its first edition, published in 1928.
Read More

Blindly Paranoid

The story has a happy ending: my bank account is still a bank account, and—even better!—it is still my bank account. So breathe easy, everyone.

I do not know if 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday is the worst time to learn that something is amiss with one’s bank account or if it is the second-worst time to learn that something is amiss with one’s funds, but that was the time I learned this scary fact. Now, I have watched friends lose their ATM cards into an ATM at 2:00 a.m. because the ATM had been given instructions by the bank to stop my friends from doing more damage to their (the bank’s) reputation. That would be worse than what I experienced, except for one crucial point: this is me I’m talking about here, and it happened to me, not to a memory of a friend. Me. Everything is always worse when it happens to me.
Read More

Blind but Now I See

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

An Anglican clergyman named John Newton wrote the hymn titled “Faith’s Review and Expectation” late in 1772, and he introduced the hymn in a New Year’s Day service in his parish in Olney, Buckinghamshire, on that date in 1773.

Many years later, the hymn became best known by the two-word exclamation that opens it: “Amazing grace!”
Read More

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.
Read More