Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Celebrate :: Both Ways, One Road

Did you know that there are places in the world where the street signs indicate that you are traveling both North and South at the same time, and in reality, by way of the compass, you are actually travelling West?  New Englanders out there, you know I am not talking about the third world.  I'm not talking about the alleys of Kibera  or the dusty paths through the Oaxacan pueblos--those places Americans might point the finger at and call "backward."  Nope, at the moment I'm thinking about one of the original American settlements, the crucible of our American Revolution, and the place that continues to set the standard for what "tradition" means in the United States.  That's right, the Boston Area.

Last week I went East to retrace some of my own steps in New England.  I visited with a good friend (if you follow the blog, you have met her before) and went back to my educational roots.  And in the process, even with all of the tech that I had with me, I got lost...frequently.  

I should have remembered to expect it.  The roads around Boston are a tangle of history and progress.  Entire Wikipedia entries are devoted to the depth of roadway confusion in New England.  One entry deals with the Yankee Division Highway, more commonly called route 128 (where I got lost twice, once on my way south to my high school, and the other the way south to my college), there is another entry that elucidates the history of Massachusetts Route 3, Pilgrims Highway (where I got lost leaving my college campus, in a heavy downpour after my phone battery died), and there is an entry that deals with roadway concurrency (when two highways overlap) in which the main visual is a photograph taken outside of Boston (where I got lost leaving the airport).  

Just this month an article ran in the Boston Globe entitled, "Road signs aimed to end driver confusion."  

I wonder who's brainstorm that was, who's thinking-out-of-the-box, aha, moment it was to envision the big dream, that Boston road signs might actually contribute to ending driver confusion.  It must have felt good, dwelling in the idea that drivers could get where they needed to go without getting lost, that the way could be straight forward and efficient, or that travelers could have 100% confidence all the time that they were driving on the right road in the right direction.  100% confidence--what a concept!  It has such appeal to me, personally, right now, I can see how the highway planners go onboard with the idea.

But truth be told, both for me and for New England, I'm not sure 100% confidence a reasonable or even wise minded goal.  The state of confusion in the road way has to do with its layered history.  The weird highway overlaps, the maddening signs that point in opposite directions at the same time, and the multiple names for almost every major artery, are almost entirely due to the long history of the place.  The history itself is neither good nor bad, not something to romanticize or deny, but instead something to consider and to remember.  That the old roads continue to exist points to the fact that in some way they still have meaning or usefulness to the people who regularly drive on them (even if that meaning and use is lost on outsiders).  No one is willing to throw out the history completely, even if it might reduce confusion.

And to me, having just come back from some of my own roots, the idea of holding space for both history and progress seems a worthwhile effort, at least for now.  Even though it is more confusing.  Even though I am not sure where exactly I'm going when the road points both ways.  And even though it is probably one the things about myself that most frequently launches me into the woody allen trapped in yoga pants mind.  My plan, for now, is to just hold space for it all and have faith that, eventually, I'll come upon a patch of road that is more straightforward (and then knowing myself, I will romanticize how interesting it was when the road was so confusing!).

But even in that imagined day, that day when I have a clearer sense of direction, I'm sure I will still end up at the gym the way I did last week...

And in that moment, just like I did last week, I'll make it work.  I'll do yoga or pilates and get my workout in anyway:-)

A special toast to everyone out there, moms especially, who are juggling what feels like a little too much...I know you are making it work even when the conditions are a little less than ideal.  I know you are getting the book done, creating new ways to love in your family, and you are holding space for our girls and us, women, to figure it out.  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Celebrate :: 44th Anniversary of the Lunar Landing

July 20, 1969 Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.  I happened upon the commentary written by E.B. White that was reported in the New Yorker the following week.  I thought I'd share it...

"The moon, it turns out, is a great place for men.  One-sixth gravity must be a lot of fun, and when Armstrong and Aldrin went into their bouncy little dance, like two happy children, it was a moment not only of triumph but of gaiety.  The moon on the other hand, is a poor place for flags.  Ours looked stiff and awkward, trying to float on the breeze that does not blow.  (There must be a lesson here somewhere.)  It is traditional, of course, for explorers to plant the flag, but it struck us, as we watched with awe and admiration and pride, that our two fellows were universal men, not national men, and should have been equipped accordingly.  Like every great river and every great sea, the moon belongs to none and belongs to all.  It still holds the key to madness, still controls the tides that lap on shores everywhere, still guards the lovers who kiss in every land under no banner but the sky.  What a pity that in our moment of triumph we did not forswear the familiar Iwo Jima scene and plant instead a device acceptable to all:  a limp white handkerchief, perhaps, the symbol of the common cold, which, like the moon, affects us all, unites us all."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Flag raising

This Fourth of July I had a chance to return home.  Not to the actual house I lived in, not even to the place where I lived with my family the longest, but to the place where I felt most connected to my family and most cradled by the place itself.  As I write down these words, I’m stunned with the reality that this was the first time my children visited this place, and the corollary, that this visit was the first time I had been back in over ten years.

A string of archetypally charming seaside beach towns, east coast style, that attract lifestyles of the rich and famous levels of wealth, is how most people think of this place.  But this is never how it was for my family.  

For us it has always been:  stretches of beach so long that at the water's edge the ocean can take over your peripheral vision, broad rectangular carpets of green farmland, and spools of days that are all the same. Days in which you get to touch every bit of what the day offers up--the thin lipped breakfast saucer and the toast lying upon it, the sand still in the bathing suit from the day before, the brace of early summer atlantic ocean, blades of grass that trail into the house on pool wet feet, water in your nose from one last cannonball, slippery beads of sweat on a wine glass, cobs of summer corn dripping with butter, and of course, on the Fourth of July, the nylon slip of the flag between your fingers.

Our hostess this visit was a good friend of my mother’s.  They lived in the same apartment building in New York City, shuttling dinners, newspapers, and friendship between floors.  This spring she invited us, my mom, my aunt, Graham, me and the kids, out to share the holiday week with her.  Though we have a long, affectionate history, I have to admit, I was somewhat baffled by the idea that someone would host someone else’s grandchildren as house guests for a week.  Grateful, absolutely; but concerned that the reality of three small girls at a beach house went something beyond what a good hostess could reasonably be expected to tolerate.

And then, on the Fourth I understood.  It was the flag raising.

For years, our friend’s recently deceased husband, John, hosted Camp Poppi on his own, a week long summer camp for his grandchildren.  In the morning there would be flag raising, and then I suspect the summer day would unfold just in the way that it always does in this place.  What was remarkable to me about Camp Poppi wasn’t so much what happened over the course of the week, but the very fact of its existence.  John, of all the adult men in my life, had the career I admired most.  He was a journalist, a successful one.  He wrote books, travelled the world, and made his career covering politics at the highest level.  He did all that, and he hosted Camp Poppi, by himself, summer after summer, because loving his grandchildren was as big a part of his life as anything.  

Camp Poppi, and the flag raising that went along with it held what was most precious and dear about his life.  And while this was never said to me directly, I think my mom’s friend knew raising the flag again was going to take a whole lot of us.  Kids especially.

So when she said to us, I guess we should raise the flag, which late in the afternoon on July Fourth seemed almost like an afterthought, Graham, hoisted Gwendolyn onto his shoulders.  She teetered against the leverage of the flagpole, and the two of them bobbed precariously on the front steps.  It took them three tries, but on the third it was up.  

We had the kids recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and they responded by alternately following along and then telling fart jokes.  We sang the Star Spangled Banner then all together started to teach  Eloise It’s a Grand Old Flag (which she mastered by the end of the weekend).  They romped around on the grass and the adults drank champagne, as we all admired the proud vision of the stars and stripes whipping and flapping in the summer wind.  

And that’s the way this place works, it slows time, it holds generations, and in this case, helped us get the job that needed doing done.  The flag was raised again.  A joyful salute to John, whose name, because I was a kid in this crowd, was only mentioned to me once over the course of the weekend, but whose presence and absence was everywhere.