Saturday, December 31, 2005

Time Tunnel

Crosseye stereogram. View with crossed eyes, relaxing one's gaze and focusing on the "center" image. This is a variant on another stereogram, "Floating Time", made with a travel clock that I bought before my trip to Australia in 1991. The clock's city dial let me know different times around the world

On the eve of 2006, journal memories from New Year's Eve 1989....

Journal excerpt, January 1, 1990, 5:20 PM

Spent a calm day, after last night's revels.

I left early for First Night, arriving at Park Street station around 2PM. My friend B had called in the AM, hoping to be up next weekend, expressing regrets that he couldn't be up here. After we spoke I felt antsy. The rain outside had lessened to a light drizzle, and I ached to get out and go to the festivities.

After I emerged from Park Sta. I was met with the Resolutions exhibit "Totem." Men clad in overalls black and white handed out magic markers and pieces of wood with string loops.

"Resolutions!" they called to the crowd. "Find a wife! Find a husband! Stop smoking!"

The many-headed totem was painted green, with large eyes and mouths. It was adorned with layers of resolutions that gave it the effect of scales, or fur. Or crests. Some were simply names. Some proclaimed Happy New Year! Some were personal ("Get my wife back" was one) and others were global calls for world peace. Some were religious, invoking Jesus as Salvation.

I took a wedge and wrote on one side, "Don't take things toooooo seriously!" (followed by a smiley-face) and, on the other, "Peace, Love, and Blind Faith" (using a peace sign and a heart). It was the latter that faced outward when hung.

I took in the ice sculptures, walking from Boston Common through the Public Gardens and to the Westin Hotel. Castles, jousting knights, a New Moon. Pepsi, this time, was sponsoring part of the festivities, adding commercialism to ritual. Young men and women dressed up as Pepsi soda cans congregated in the Hynes Auditorium, wearing hats resembling pop tops. Silver tights, silver shoes.

Puppets were beginning to gather outside the Hynes. Not people. Puppets. Giant masks, fish, penguins. Two examples of "living sculpture: life imitates art" walked to and fro, by a London palace guard. The living statues looked like figures straight out of Magritte.

Neither the Janus heads nor the banners from last year were there. I made my way to the Berklee Performance Center to hear Jelly Roll Morton, Louie Armstrong, and others as performed by the Yankee Rhythm Kings. At the Hynes I'd taken in an exhibition of traditional folk dancing.

My boots were perfect for sauntering through deep puddles (which increased exponentially in number and depth as the day and the rains wore on), but for walking city streets they left much to be desired. I started getting into the spirit of First Night at Berklee, amidst jazz and ragtime. Then I made my way back to the Hynes and scouted about for people needing volunteers. Stopping at the head to listen to drummers and percussionists rehearse a potent, primal rhythm that had me swaying in my walk. Blood-pounding music integral to the magic.

Close to the rear of the parade, huge fish mounted on poles leaned against the wall. Three poles to a fish. It was there that I volunteered.

I met L, up from Connecticut and originally from Atlanta. She'd been living in Massachusetts for a bit over a year, and this was her first First Night. She was completely wide-eyed, taking in the puppetry, the folks on stilts, the beacons of light that wavered across the sky.

Rain sheeted down as we assembled. A runner from further up came back to inform us that the crowds were an estimated 20 deep. Ahead of us were giant horses, and people waving orange banners and cheering.

Eventually we were off. Two fish proved early casualties to the wind and rain. L and I assisted with a third, and traded off between fish and noisemaker (steel bowls, nails, and streamers on a pole). We tussled with the wind, which often threatened to blow the fish and ourselves first into the crowds on our left, then our right.

By the time I reached the finish I was soaked -- and the finish this year was further away, in a church basement beyond the Public Gardens. Here the puppets were being slowly dismantled. A short woman wearing a tinsel wig of many colors shouted to the volunteers to be careful, move slowly, the steps to the basement are wooden and uneven.

L and I lost track of each other there, and I took off to find my way back through the Common -- now in darkness illuminated by light-encrusted trees -- and have dinner. A large Italian sausage from a stand sufficed -- even their protective tarpulin leaked rain. Earlier, before dark, I'd walked through a Public Garden shrouded in fine mist, fog obliterating skyscrapers and the tops of weeping willows. Add in the early "foghorns" and noisemakers, and the effect was truly magical.

At night, the Parkman Bandstand was eerie with neon lights and dancers performing "The Eleventh Hour of Virtue and Vice." What I saw was neither virtue nor vice, but rain splashing up from the bandstand and off the feet of the dancers. By miracle, none of them slipped. Three dancers -- one man, two women -- traveled around the bandstand in perfect synchronization -- dripping from one-piece, form-fitting leotards.

My original plan to stay in the Hynes gave way to finding the closest performance space. I entered St. Paul's Church to hear the Melisande Trio -- whose performance (notably, Susan Miron's performance) of Ravel's Sonatine en Trio (arranged for harp trio by Carlos Salzedo) blew me away. I couldn't take my eyes of Miron and her relationship to a full-length, golden floor harp that stood perfectly aligned with a great gold cross that hung suspended from the ceiling, its bars of equal length, with a central circle and an ironwork square. A pre-Christian cross that had me thinking of cardinal points, the circle of the year, the medicine wheel.

Beneath, Miron -- in tremendous good nature (and reminding me in looks and gesture of Carol Burnett) -- masterfully fused with that harp. Her harmonics for the Introduction and Allegro for Harp (also Ravel) left me awestruck. I'd recognized the flutist, Fenwich Smith, from the Boston Chamber Music Society.

Then it was to the State House -- historically the first time, we were told, that the lobby was opened to the public -- to hear the Village Gamelan: court music from Java. Very similar to the Balinese gong music I have -- and I replaced the portrait of Lincoln and statue of Washington with a mental overlay of Indonesia: gongs reverberating through island forests.

From there I went to City Place, to hear Full Circle perform. Fusion jazz (in a single day, I have heard ragtime and early jazz, classical, Indonesian court music, folksongs, and fusion jazz). City Place was crammed with festive crowds. Karl Lundegren, the group's keyboardist and composer, asked, "Which of you out there have the big horns?"

He was answered by what sounded like the blaring of crazed moose, accompanied by cheers from the others.

"And the little horns!" he encouraged.

The moose were replaced by crazed pygmy elephants. WJIB, another First Night sponsor, had gone around with its "radio" truck, giving out kazoos. These were put into play, too.

Lundegren said, "I'm going to give you a real nerd's delight. At the count of three...."

At the count of three, horns large and small blasted away. Get it all out of your system. When they finished, one errant horn blew again.

"It's okay," Lundegren told the reveler, smiling, and added, "We'll call you." Delightful.

Their music charged me with a force similar to that of the Procession drummers. I swayed in my seat, humming along to tunes like Southern Crossing and Gold Shoes.

Then I joined a milling crowd that headed down to the harbor. Shoulder to shoulder, whirling noisemakers and blowing horns. Like lemmings marching to the sea -- but festive lemmings, marching not to death but to renewal.

I arrived 10 minutes before midnight. Walking past the court house clock I gazed up: all 4 faces were ringed with countdown lights. Now, each ring was only 1/6 lit.

I worked my way slowly through the crowds. Outside the Marriott a group of young teenagers lobbed snowballs at the walls and windows. One hotel reveller made himself a willing target, opening his window a crack. Eventually one snowball found its way home, and the hotel guest closed his window and shut the curtains, albeit temporarily.

The final countdown filled me with a thrill. At the stroke of midnight the fireworks display broke loose and I was whoopin' and hollerin' with the rest of the mob. 1990. New Decade. I kept seeing a young girl sitting in the Brooklyn living room, drinking sangria, spilling a commemorative red drop on a page in her Believer's Log diary as '73 became '74. Watching TV as the Times Square ball dropped, surrounded by her parents and our neighbors from across the street. There was something very special about that night -- the journal, my inner world, the New Year. That image kept returning to me, overlaid with the realization of just how far I've come.

Components include further-altered bits from "Postcards from the Cosmos" (close-up of a dirty window); an old transistor clock radio from the 70s (it still works!); and an overexposed shot of a 40-watt lightbulb. May you all have a happy, healthy, and wondrous New Year!

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Spring Break!

Mary and I came across these earlier this week, on the other side of our county road, in a flower bed outside a bank. I've loved pansies since I was a kid; they were my second-favorite flower after tiger lilies. Pansies are also known for their hardiness, but down here they've been enjoying the sun and our relative warmth....

I don't know what this flower in our front yard is, but it's bound to make some bee very happy.

This is from one of the two red maples in our yard. We don't have snow, but we do have fall colors. Nights we sometimes dip down toward freezing. It's all luxury for me. One of the first things I noticed about this house is that its coat closet is tiny, more like a broom closet. What we can't fit there we've boxed up in the garage.

This time of year many of the lawns turn brown as we enter our dry season. That had surprised Mary, for whom winter had been the wetter season in California, when lawns turn from brown to green. Conversely, it was the crickets that surprised me when we first moved here. They sing year-'round, something to which Mary had been accustomed from her upbringing out west. Where I had been raised in the northeast they fell silent by Thanksgiving.

The dry season also means controlled burns, which is what this looks like to me. Beyond the housing subdivision (whose entrance gate is at lower right) lies the Withlacoochie State Forest, where controlled burns are not unusual. This one happened to occur on a day with an otherwise crystal clear blue sky. I'd seen the plume earlier today while driving to a meeting of the free-writing group I facilitate and pulled into the nearest parking lot to photograph it. By the time of the meeting the smoke had mostly dissipated.

Mary and I wear sweaters or windbreakers for our evening walks. Around our necks we wear small LED lights that flash red to alert any oncoming traffic to our presence in the road -- our residential streets have no sidewalks. Usually I wear mine in front while Mary wears hers in back. On clear nights we'll often stop in our tracks and try to find the Andromeda galaxy, which Mary can spot more easily than I without the help of binoculars.

We stop at the "post office pond" and look for signs of life. Sometimes we find small ripples in the water catching a glint off streetlights. Sometimes we just peer into a mirror.

The moon has now dipped close enough to the horizon that it is behind the trees at dawn. Below is a compilation of lunar photos I've taken over the past two months. The picture of me (taken by Mary) is originally from a trip we made to Yosemite in November 1997. Here I stand instead in my neighbor's "fairy ring" of mushrooms.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Magic Time

Postcards From the Cosmos: a dirty window's wealth of galaxies

Years ago I was the first woman to carry a Janus double-head -- one of many -- high on a pole during Boston's First Night procession. It was heavy plaster of Paris; I had carried it for blocks in heavy winds and my thighs were bruised for weeks afterwards. But I had been thrilled to hoist up the ancient god who looked backwards and forwards at once.

The last week of the year has always been a magical time for me. A cycling back to the beginning as the Earth circles the Sun and spirals through time: not a linear passage but more like a cosmic Slinky....

Mary and I had dinner out and a leisurely evening walk on Christmas Eve. By Christmas Day we were in the midst of heavy rain bands and settled in for a cozy day indoors with the cats.

The sky cleared enough in-between for me to watch sunlit clouds racing outside my window. At lower left is the wind turbine on my next-door neighbor's roof. At the time I took this shot it was spinning rapidly. (I've watercolorized and color-manipulated the shot somewhat.)

Then the weather cleared, and I started venturing out into the predawn. Sometimes Mary is already awake and has gotten the morning paper. In my quest to photograph the Moon in its various phases I have begun setting my alarm for 6 AM.

On December 26 the Moon was 25% of full. Not only did I spot it on its approach toward conjunction with Jupiter but I also spotted two artificial satellites. Since the Moon is our natural satellite, that makes three satellite sightings in all.

According to Heavens Above, between 5:08:58 AM and 7:02:32 AM (EST) I could theoretically have seen 19 artificial satellites, down to magnitude +4.5, from here. (The human eye can see objects as dim as +6 or +7 magnitude; the Moon's is -12.7 when full. A good explanation of magnitudes is here.)

Based on Heavens Above's satellite table and tracking data, I believe I had seen the GPS 2-05 Rocket 1 (magnitude 3.5) before I started taking photos and the Russian spacecraft Cosmos-1656 (magnitude 4.4) after I had finished. Artificial satellites appear in the sky as somewhat dim dots, non-blinking, crossing the sky at a steady pace. They grow progressively dimmer and then fade out as they pass into the Earth's shadow. The South African Astronomical Observatory gives more information on tracking and viewing artificial satellites with the naked eye.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard Navigation Center, the GPS Space Segment "consists of a minimum of 24 operational satellites in six circular orbits 20,200 km (10,900 NM) above the earth at an inclination angle of 55 degrees with a 12 hour period. The satellites are spaced in orbit so that at any time a minimum of 6 satellites will be in view to users anywhere in the world. The satellites continuously broadcast position and time data to users throughout the world." GPS 2-05 Rocket 1 launched on December 11, 1989 (UTC).

According to Anatoly Zak's Russian Space Web, Cosmos-1656 is part of the Tselina (Virgin Land) space-based electronic intelligence system. Launched on May 30, 1985 (May 31 UTC), Cosmos-1656 is a high-sensitive Tselina-D spacecraft.

I saw no artificial satellites this morning, but instead the Moon and Jupiter keeping close company 7 hours after conjunction.

Jupiter is up top. The leftmost exposure shows a star beneath and to the left of it -- likely Zubenelgenubi, the brightest star in Libra (magnitude 2.75). The middle exposure yielded an image of Jupiter with a separate dot to its upper left. A check of Galsat (one of several astronomical freeware and shareware programs available at Dan's Astronomy Software) shows all 4 of Jupiter's Galilean moons -- Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto -- to Jupiter's left. That dot may thus represent one or more of the Galileans, which are visible in binoculars. (If one, my guess is Ganymede, which is the largest and brightest of those moons.) Jupiter from the middle panel is enlarged below:

Jupiter and companion, enlarged

This morning's Moon, 16% of full.

Earthshine (explained here)

The Moon (overexposed to show Earthshine) and Jupiter are right of center, near the top. Below and to the left of center, above the utility wires and in close-up below, is Antares ("rival of Mars", magnitude 0.96), the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius.

Antares is near the top. Below it, beneath the top wire, is Tau Scorpius (magnitude 2.81). I was hoping it was the planet Mercury, but Mercury (currently in the constellation Ophiucus, "The Serpent Bearer"), was very close to the horizon, likely lost behind the trees.

On our walk today Mary pointed out this photo op:

"Cant" here actually means "tilt". This hole goes all the way through a thick, concrete power pole (a newer version of the wooden one shown here). According to its plaque, the pole is 100 feet tall and weighs 25,400 pounds.

I had spotted our local firehouse being re-roofed and took these from across the county road, finally getting in a shot of the firehouse mural.

I'm also learning how easy it is to make stereograms -- at least the "still life" kind where nothing moves between shots. (More sophisticated equipment and even disposable cameras can be rigged to take two photos simultaneously, from different stereoscopic angles -- but I just move a little bit between shots.) The idea is to view these with one's eyes crossed, relaxing one's gaze while focusing on the "center" image, which will become 3D. (I'd played with a ViewMaster as a kid, in which stereograms were set inside cardboard discs that I advanced by pressing a plastic lever.)

Some folks have an easier/harder time with these than others -- Mary hadn't viewed stereograms in 20 years and had some difficulty. I'm at the point (thanks to Flickr's Stereophotography pool) where I can view them pretty much instantly.

Still Life With Interrupted Communication

I got into mixed media art thanks to street "trash" and low tides. The small bottles and most of the broken glass and crockery come from Dorchester Bay in Boston. The broken piece in the lower left corner was a gift from our former landlady, who subsequently bought a mixed-media sculpture in which I incorporated its companions. The street yielded up a smashed cell phone whose keyboard I've placed inside another gift from the gutter: a gold foil-lined box, discarded empty, that had once held Macanudo Ascot cigars.

Mutual mirror reflections combine with stereoscopic depth. The camera lens reminds me of a ViewMaster picture that gave the illusion of staring straight down the barrel of a gun. (I like staring down the camera lens better.)

And, of course, the Cant Hole!

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Ten Years Ago, Part 4 of 4

November 6, 2005. Mary carts trash and recyclables picked up on one of our walks.

On Christmas Day 1995, after visiting my friend Helen in the hospital, Mary and I had shared an hours-long walk in calf-deep snow by the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We celebrate December 25 as our anniversary -- our tenth this year -- but much had happened to prepare me for the journey.

Journal excerpts: December 1995, continued....

12/29/95 12:57 pm. Last night, at Grendel's -- M tells me his girlfriend has moved out, I tell him about Mary. Both of us are frightened.

He hadn't realized, until I told him, the impact the tapes have had on me. No reason he should have. I suspect he sees the intensity of his way of interacting as something common, experienced by a majority of people because the milieu of his social life is one of intensity and candor.

I say call if you need to talk. Being completely open and candid because I can do so without feeling threatened, because I can do so as a friend. At one point he removed his glasses and wiped at red-rimmed eyes. We told each other how we've cried over the past week.

When I told him of my own process, my reaction to his own, I said outright that I might be projecting at times -- that enough dovetails so that I'm not sure any more. This is new for me -- I don't tell people this. There is something so deep that I am in some ways fearless. I could tell him how I value our discussions for the emotional intimacy, and I could tell him how hard it is for me to admit, out loud, to that kind of need.

We were to discuss the abuse, and did so briefly; but instead we discussed spiritual connection. He is beginning to see the cyclical flow, the internal/external/joined quality of what he calls God energy. He still tries to define, to distinguish. I accept, and observe.

He'd sent out a New Year's poem to friends, including to me. Realizing that he can do this, can make this outreach. I told him I thought it was wonderful -- I look forward to getting it and replying.

We stopped at Bread & Circus -- he needed to pick up some food for a friend of his who is down with the flu. I went with him, served as tour guide for the aisles.

He knows he rationalizes his father's actions. ("Yes," I said, "I noticed that on the tapes.") Told him that when he forgives his father, it is equally, if not more important, for him to forgive and accept parts of himself. He thought very healthy my battles with my own father, wished he could have done the same with his own. I explained how I've needed to deal with my own father-within.

He'd invited me to come with him to his friend in Boston -- I declined because I needed to straighten up the apartment for dinner tonight with Mary. She called as I was picking up my apartment, the hymns of Hildegard von Bingen playing on the CD.

We were on the phone for an hour and a half, much of it somber. Too somber. I need to ask her what brings her joy.

We exchange information. There is a certain depth of communication that we have not yet reached. Something not there, or not yet there. And yet there is nurturance, and caring. I feel cared for. And so I need to take this one step at a time. Deal with issues like common interests. More and more I am seeing that I draw what I need from multiple sources -- there is no be-all and end-all person. At least, I don't think there can be one for me.

I feel pulled at by different forces both internal and external. And so I really need to take this moment by moment, let the sands shift and see where they are shifting. I need to probe, to ask questions. We need to get to know each other better.

12/31/95 10:27 a.m. Friday night was wonderful. Long talk, play with the cats, laughter -- finally I could see Mary’s lighter side and I like it a lot.

She’d brought a button for me -- “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood,” the same one I’d sent to my childhood friend E -- and The Secret Garden.

She’d grown up in a house filled with books. The whole family read science fiction. Music was largely limited to The Kingston Trio, but she enjoys classical, and I’ll try to get another ticket for the next Boston Symphony Orchestra concert in my series. She also likes to dance -- may join me for dinner and dancing next Friday.

She recited poems she’d memorized, including a very witty one she’d written in high school as an assignment, on teacher politics, that my mother would have gotten a kick out of. We talked until almost 2AM. She crashed on the sleeper couch -- we are both, after years of celibacy, taking this one step at a time. We hugged long and hard, kissed gently.

Saturday we visited Helen -- I stayed longer, after seeing Mary down to the exit door. Assuring Helen I’d be back. Helen now is eating at least a little solid food and hopes to be out in a few days. The next time I visit I’ll be bringing some polish to do her nails.

M’s poem had arrived: simple, joyous. With much love. Love pouring over and through and around me from all sides, wonderfully dizzying. I need to flow with it, trust it. I am, quite frankly, in a state of awe. That this is possible and that it is happening.

Now that I’ve become more involved in a same-sex relationship, I am that much more conscious of societal stigma and feel more of a personal need, in addition to my current activities, to support the community. At the same time, I’ve invited Mary to join me in my other, mixed gender activities, and she’s interested. So there is a twined process here: we are a couple and are going out as a couple, including among friends. And we are also a couple in a society of heterosexual privilege.

I had known, long before this -- in fact had known 20 yrs ago -- that as soon as I became involved with a woman I would be dealing with societal realities on a new level. In the intervening years I have dealt, to one extent or another, with being a woman in a male-oriented world, and being a Jew in a mostly Protestant nation that caters more and more to the Christian Right. I can only hope I am tough enough and soft enough at the same time. I feel there is more, now, that I need to protect.

Mary and I talk things out, which to me is very refreshing. We don’t rush, but our navigation is shared.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Ten Years Ago, Part 3 of 4

Early 2002. This photo was taken at a Freedom to Marry benefit in Massachusetts and had been posted on Faces of Family. Mary's on the left; I'm on the right. The red button on Mary's dress reads, "Born-Again Pagan."

On Christmas Day 1995, after visiting my friend Helen in the hospital, Mary and I had shared an hours-long walk in calf-deep snow by the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We celebrate December 25 as our anniversary -- our tenth this year -- but much had happened to prepare me for the journey.

Mary and I had met in November 1994 in the "Women Writing" group at the Cambridge Women's Center. There we engaged in the type of free-writing I now facilitate in my "Writers' Circle" group at the art league. At the time of these journal excerpts Mary and I had sat across from each other for a bit over a year, baring our souls on paper and reading our writings aloud along with about 20 other women.

To her I was "the austere woman in the bun." To me she was "the quiet one," meaning soft-spoken. I had noticed her candor and how she had stood up for others.

Journal excerpts: December 1995, continued....

12/28/95 1:39 pm. The dust settles, and I am in rapids that are also quicksand. If I flail, I go under. My job is to remain aware and awake and see where the currents are taking me. Right now, they are taking me into people's arms.

No writings, yet, on '76. For now, I let the images, the emotions, parade before me like a diorama. Now that I can look at them.

Christmas morning Mary called and offered to come to the hospital with me. I couldn't get Helen on the phone, but called Mary back and said I thought it was okay -- with Helen, "the more, the merrier."

We met in Harvard Sq. Hugged. Walked to Cambridge Hospital. Mary asked me how I was. By that point I had calmed down, knew what I needed to do, could talk about some of the things I had done to myself in '76.

She's been there. She'd given me a poem about a friend hospitalized with cancer, wanting to share. Asking if I thought it was appropriate to show to Helen. I explained a bit about Helen's simplicity. Mary had been avoiding hospitals since her coma years ago, the result of her bout with encephalitis.

When we showed up in Helen's room, Helen's sister was there; she herself undergoes the same procedure this week. Her own icy demeanor begins to crumble; she faces the reality that both she and Helen are mortal.

Mary was wonderful -- also hugging Helen, who is now very frail and hooked up to multiple IVs -- joining in conversation -- picking up very quickly the nuances of interaction. Before long, Helen's brother and his lover had arrived, and Helen's bed was covered with presents. Which she insisted on unwrapping, herself. In her physical state, this amounted to strenuous exercise.

She was telling us about a "hunk" of a doctor -- a sight for sore eyes. Her spirits were marvelous. She kept apologizing for having been cranky when she wasn't feeling well, and all of us were telling her that (a) she wasn't being cranky, and (b) what else is being sick for?

So much is happening here that I can't keep track of it all. We were with her for 2 hours. At the end we were all hugging -- Helen's predicament has brought us all closer together. I was very touched at Mary's coming with me; she was very touched at the length and depth of my relationship with Helen. In the elevator, as we were leaving, I said something to the effect that, on this Christmas, Helen was truly an inspirational person.

Mary and I declined a lift to the Square, opting to walk. I had walked to the Square from home -- first amazed at all the stores being closed, then amazed at the few being open. People in festive dress, especially little people, dotted the streets. Mary and I wandered around the Square until I noticed that Skewers was open -- it was around 3 pm and all I'd had that day was a bowl of oat bran for breakfast. Helen had been apologizing for not getting us hospital dinners -- we assured her it was perfectly okay. Besides, Helen herself was at the time allowed no food or drink, and has been fantasizing about Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Once we were seated at Skewers, Mary and I interrupted our conversation and fell to the food.

From there, we just walked. To the Charles River, down Memorial Drive, out toward Boston, the waxing crescent moon behind and then to our right as the Charles shifted around. We tromped in deep snow, talking. Got quasi-lost, then circled, somehow, back to Harvard Sq. We were heading to her truck for her to drive me home when she asked, "Are you seeing anyone?"

"No," I said.

She asked -- I forget the exact words -- if we could start seeing each other, go out. I said yes.

She said, "It took me an hour to work my way up to ask you."

I hugged her across the back. "I'm glad you did." On Saturday, when I'd been a wreck at the writing meeting, I'd forgotten all about the box of tissues I'd noticed earlier. Another member had reached over to hand me the box. I'd been wiping my nose and face with one hand and holding, very tightly, my pen with the other, to transfer some of my emotional outlet there (not that it worked all that well). Mary, sitting opposite me, had reached out to hold my hand if I needed it. I hadn't seen -- I'd been in an emotional tunnel vision.

At that meeting, the woman who'd handed me the box had said that my own release was good for her to see -- she'd been unable to do the same. When she left, she said, "Hugs hugs," and I stood up and asked, "Would you like the real thing?" and we held each other tightly. Another woman at the meeting had written about a friend who had been murdered, and was also in agony. I passed her the box.

When Mary dropped me off at home on Christmas we hugged each other long and hard, held each other, kissed. Once indoors I felt a little stunned. Stunned at her nurturance. Stunned at the whole process. Part of this is because we are just beginning to get to know each other. Part of me feels as though I'm being told to grow up. I feel blessed and confused at once. I'd been attracted to other people, then to everyone -- on a very surface, enhanced erotic level. Then emotional wind shear hit, and as I dragged myself from the wreckage of having been laid completely open there was Mary, nurturing me and at the same time dealing with her own pain.

And it's hard. Sometimes she speaks very softly, mumbles, and I keep asking, "What was that?" She'd called Monday night. I called her Tuesday night. She is coming for dinner tomorrow night, and tonight I have dinner with M. I feel as though the cavalry is coming to my rescue. And I know that all I can do right now is watch, be attentive, listen, let whatever needs to come through come through. I feel as though I am on the operating table just as much as Helen is.

My coworker J had called here at the office a couple of hours ago, in connection with forwarding e-mail etc. Asked me, "How are you? Are you well and happy?"

I said yes to both, then explained the circumstances -- well and happy, but also in process. She was thrilled about Mary ("Oh, that's so nice -- Yahoo!").

I have no idea what I'm doing, but that's okay.

Last night I dropped off the job for my other client, picked up my Rx, and got groceries; tonight I'll have another bag of groceries under my feet as M and I dine at Grendel's. I'll be making boneless breast of chicken Parmesan, with mixed vegetables, red potatoes, good bread. Mary will bring beverage and dessert. I started picking up around the apartment this morning, and will continue tonight.

I have all but one tape done for M -- that is, until he gives me the next batch tonight. I am drawing sustenance from multiple sources. No -- not drawing -- letting it come to me. Not fighting it. For me, that's hard; it confuses me. I think of Mary, and the overarching thought that I hear myself thinking is: She is good for me.

Ticklish. Giddy. Who knows?

I dreamt last night that a grade school classmate, whom I haven't seen since the one time we bumped into each other almost 20 years ago -- after not seeing each other since the 6th grade -- was getting married. I was helping to prepare things.

The atmosphere was more like Christmas -- I was putting a bow on a wreath, unwrapping presents -- there were many tiny bows of different colors that I had to attach. We were in a big room with large tables, like a basement. A door let outside into a sunny day -- the ceremony would be outdoors. My friend looked as she had when I had last seen her, when we were in college. Long brown hair, tall and svelte. Happy. I was worried I couldn't get all the wrapping done in time.

She had been my first real friend. We were the two tallest girls in class and outcasts. I loved her -- the hardest choice I made in elementary school was to stay there (K-8) while she went to a different middle school.

Years later we stood on the corner in our neighborhood, in a state of shock, holding the Daily News whose front page photo showed a grade school classmate of ours, dead, killed with her boyfriend by the Mob. "I can't believe it," we'd said, over and over. And that was the last we had seen of each other.

And now I've dreamt of assisting in her marriage. With a Christmas wreath and wrapped presents, in a Santa's helper-like basement workshop opening into a sunny, spring day -- I remember glimpsing colorful flowers.

The ground has shifted completely from under me, and all I can do is watch and wait and submit to the process. At times I feel completely helpless, a deer caught in the headlamps. But not afraid. No -- afraid of what I'll do, or might do, knowing full well that I am perfectly capable of screwing things up.

How, and what, I don't know for certain. Afraid of pushing away what I need. Because I'm afraid I'll lose it.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

Ten Years Ago, Part 2 of 4

June 1998. Mary and I are on Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, hiking down to Phantom Ranch. We hiked back up to the South Rim the next day. I'm on the left, Mary's on the right.

On Christmas Day 1995, after visiting my friend Helen in the hospital, Mary and I had shared an hours-long walk in calf-deep snow by the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We celebrate December 25 as our anniversary -- our tenth this year -- but much had happened to prepare me for the journey.

Journal excerpts: December 1995, continued....

12/22/95 8:12 Winter Solstice. Helen goes into surgery momentarily. She sounded good last night -- is down to 117 lbs but her appetite is back.

I'll be visiting on Christmas if she's up to it. Sent up my usual brand of irreverent but heartfelt prayer.

During this time I was transcribing talks between my friend M and his student A as they interpreted the text of Genesis -- a practice known as Midrash. In addition to producing the transcripts I began to leave my own comments, entering into the discussion.

I worked until midnight on the 12/13/95 tapes -- there were two of them: 10% about Genesis and 90% about relationships. I threw in my 2 cents (knowing my verbosity, closer to $2).

I wanted to scream What Is All The Fuss About?! Thought: Thank God I'm getting to hear this, so I can see the patterns. They are both -- both, but especially M -- trapped in devices of their own making. Wallowing in it, the way I held dearly to my "insanity" in college, afraid to give it up. M goes for the drama -- he admits it -- and so is addicted to it. It may tear him apart, but he doesn't want to give it up. After being dead to emotion for so long, he now needs a saturation of it. What is also interesting is that in contrast to this, he's been making peace with his now-dead father.

8:30 pm. First of 3 sides of the 11/20/95 talk transcribed -- M's family history. He tries to second-guess, figure out why his parents and grandparents behaved as they did. This delving and delving and delving -- which I do with myself when I need to, as I did with the '77 diaries. But there's something here that comes to me as if through mists: a kind of pain that feeds upon itself. A repeating film loop. I see my childhood friend E, puzzling and re-puzzling and re-puzzling, trying to wrest a phoenix from the ashes. I suppose I know that the phoenix is dead, and I stand up and brush the ashes off and move on.

I think I've stepped outside this circle, in great part, that I hear recapitulated on tape. It's like figuring pi to the final digit: the process is unending.

In '77 I was in that vortex, but at the level of a teenager. Now what I hear on tape puzzles and troubles me: I understand and don't understand at once. Like a phantom limb trying to become reanimated so as to regain its senses, even if those senses are phantom pain. At the same time I know that the limb is gone and there's no way it's going to come back. I'm like a native who has left, adopted a new country (or returned to my original one all along), then returned to what is now a strange land (in which one has always been a stranger anyway) and tries to go native in order to understand the natives and also something vestigial and shadowy.

This morning, asking how to proceed, I drew [the Viking Rune] Othila: Retreat. Yes. Yes. Yes -- "...derived from an inheritance you must give up ... what you had assumed to be your birthright...." I could think of a dual birthright to be let go of. One is a certain detachment and the other is its opposite -- the "going native." I understood it better instinctually this morning than I do at this moment.

It's clear that something in me resonates, very strongly, with what I am hearing.

Spleen and Ideal [Referring to a painting by Carlos Schwab]. From the other side, this time. Interesting. That might be it. M puts himself down -- his father put himself down -- M struggles toward self-love. In college I saw myself as the spleen -- the not quite human woman rising from the sea to pull down a beauteous angel who is terrified and who tries to break free. I am by no means the angel now, in terms of any kind of beauteous perfection, but I identify with the angel in terms of self-love and a certain peace. And the spleen, for me, is my past self, whom I begin to integrate on a new level. And that is what M recapitulates for me.

I realized earlier that I have had coffee and a bit of Drambuie -- not the same quantities by any means of caffeine and liquor that I'd had in college, but enough to remind me. Physical restlessness, racing mind. Energies ricocheting. I'm processing stuff on levels I can't reach yet; I lie quietly and observe it happening.

Okay -- my mission is to deal with it if I can, overcome fear -- which in this case has to do with my "birthright" of detachment. Not to hurl myself into an emotional self-wounding, which is what would have happened had this vortex pulled me back into it completely.

This is the vaccine: the miniature-flu, in which I experience the symptoms but develop enough antibodies so that they don't kill me. Which is why I had to stop, tonight, after only 1 side of tape. I am at critical mass before overdose. And I need to be careful over the next few days, before our next meeting, so that I can be plugged in but not shorted out.

The difference in mood from one tape to the next is also something I need to keep aware of. There are stages of calm and stages in extremis, and now reactions to me in those terms, which in turn cause me to react in my notes. This is to be expected: I will have buttons pushed and will push in return, consciously or not. My job is to build my strength from that, rather than to let it pull me in.

12/23/95 7:30 am. I dreamt that [my coworker] J and I were driving to Florida: a few hrs drive from Massachusetts in the dream. We would overnight there during the weekend, then drive back.

It was nighttime when we arrived -- not in Miami or in any of the large cities, but out in the boondocks. Small main streets, scattered houses and churches with thin strings of Christmas lights. I thanked J for the idea of coming here, said it was perfect. Something about the removal, the anonymity.

During the day, the drive seemed to be mainly through rest stops and strip malls: dun colors, where sky matched asphalt. A good weekend activity, I thought -- but then I worried about the cats. Had I given them enough food to last that extra day? I became more concerned during our second trip, when J and I left straight from work -- so there would be 2 days without fresh food and water for the cats. We discussed something about driving back for the feeding in the middle of the trip -- which would have interfered with the whole idea of the getaway. I felt as though I'd been irresponsible, feeling very bad for the cats and very guilty for putting my pleasure ahead of their basic needs.

When I got home there was a letter I needed to mail, and something I needed to bring to M (we'd agreed over the phone that I would bring it to his apartment), both of them related. I had to bring the letter to an administration building -- dulled pastel colors -- and hand it to a guard or officer. I went up and down flights of stairs looking for the right office. When I did, one of the guards gently reprimanded me for not including the zip code; I felt slightly embarrassed and said I usually include the zip code, except in cases where I really don't know where it is, and then I usually look it up. Bringing the letter to the officer would delay my trip to M's apartment somewhat. I awoke around 7:30.

The Florida trip seems to me related to Othila: it is a retreat, a day off. J, someone I'd wanted to talk to, is my "guide" in this. Florida represents family stuff, a kind of love-hate relationship. This dream Florida, in contrast, was anonymous, stripped of associations.

So I was both "getting away from it all" -- retreating -- and inadvertently, in doing so, neglecting the animal and innocent parts of me by withholding nourishment.

The rest of the dream delays a visit to M in favor of something official and impersonal, but where I've inadvertently withheld vital information needed to deliver the letter. I am, in effect, told to be more specific, more focused. More aware.

My partner Mary and I had met in November 1994 in the "Women Writing" group at the Cambridge Women's Center. There we engaged in the type of free-writing I now facilitate in my "Writers' Circle" group at the art league. At the time I did the following exercises, Mary and I had been sitting across from each other for a bit over a year, baring our souls on paper and reading our writings aloud along with about 20 other women.

Writing Exercise: Happy New Year


Not quite what I planned, but it just came out. Oy.

Which dovetails into the project: 10 tapes transcribed, 6 more waiting and more to come. On Genesis, on the Abraham and Isaac story, on the personal relevance of it all to very candid and personal info that percolates through my headphones, making me at first a fly on the wall and now a participant.

"Include your comments," M said, whom I've known on and off for 5 years. Who called me out of the blue, said he had tapes.

And so now I confront the same emotional turmoil in the voices on the tape that I had felt myself years ago, and part of me steps back in, and part remains outside the vortex I'd fought so hard to free myself from. The trick is to remain both objective and candidly involved.

I had just been reading -- just before the tapes came -- my diary begun Jan. 1, '77, another New Year, happy in the sense of being better than Jan. '76 when I had almost killed myself. No, not a happy new year, that one. '77 was a happier new year -- I was alive. I was struggling to stay alive, battling all the voices that tried to convince me otherwise.

And now, on the tape, M battles with his own voices -- and is winning -- but the fight is uphill. I know that battle; I've done it, waged it. Now I step back into the carnage as an observer and as one who remembers, as a veteran who now feels the phantom limbs of pain but who also knows that the limbs are gone.

We meet, talk over dinner. Compare notes. Next time it will be the abuse -- his former physical deadness, my former physical deadness. There is laughter in this: uproarious, celebratory, pained.

The New Year, '96 this time, begins by testing me. Testing how far I've come, how far I can step back, how far I can trust: trust the process, trust myself, trust the person across the table who is learning to trust himself. If we had done this 3 years ago, 2 years ago, we'd have ended up as puddles on the floor.

For now, the wheel turns. The days get longer. This is magic time for me. Past becoming present become future, the Janus head looking 2 ways at once. This time I feel it keenly, and it is still magic. It is Oy, and it is Magic, that ticklish combination where I survive the war and go back knowing where the land mines are -- I just have to be very conscious of where I step. It is for me a process of reclaiming, of integrating further where previously I had feared to tread.

That college girl writing 19 years ago that she has survived. The voices on the tapes relating Genesis, wholesale destruction, creation and abuse, sacrifice and prophecy, to the private struggles that make the scripture his story as well, ending, ultimately, in self-love.

Happy New Year. One friend in the hospital, one just out, both experiencing their own private hells and me feeling helpless on the sidelines. May '96 be better. May we all be well and not sick, not helpless, not floating in limbo but renewed in spirit and in body.

The government shuts down -- I go to the office and read, then come home and work on the tapes. It is all backwards. Strange time, magic time -- just the thing to give me space to let the process happen, when the world stands still before clicking one year to the next. Cards go out to company clients who won't receive them because they are furloughed, but who will become "essential personnel" soon, by government decree. You are now essential. You are now a person.

We are all essential -- all of us, at every stage in our lives. Faced with my essentials, my essences parading across the decades, I can only move forward: into the brighter year, into the emotional minefield. Into the past that taps me on the shoulder. Into the hospital after surgery, to visit a friend grown suddenly thin but who remains cheerful, and who apologizes for not sending me a Christmas card. I want to give her a bear hug and shake her by the shoulders at the same time. I tell her, "Your greatest Christmas present to me will be to come through this with flying colors." She knows. She still feels guilty.

Like M, working to accept the pieces of himself -- that pained laughter I hear on the tape. The spontaneous laughter that burst out of him when he asked me, "How do you define God?" and I said, "How do I know?" He, who wants answers. I, who don't expect answers, only process.

Process and sharing, two good things. Intense things -- I force myself away from the tapes when I am on the cusp of weirding out. When past meets present and tries to overwhelm it -- when I spot a lit window on my way home from work and see my dorm room of 2 decades ago, and know I have to deal with it. In the '77 diary in January I wrote that Freddie Prinze, 22 yrs old, who made people laugh, put a gun to his head and blew his brains out. He was dead. I was alive. I had to remember that difference.

Now, very much alive, I step back, and forward, into Happy New Year. And may it be so.

Writing Exercise: Description

Female. In winter she is hooded, hidden in a field coat, red cap, sunglasses, neck gaiter. She looks like Cousin It. It is a source of pride, to have people stare and prefer warmth and comfort over convention. But the anonymity feels good, too, though it does not stop her from getting stopped on the street.

Her stride is sure-footed, even when she is lost. Especially when she is lost. Because everywhere is home and everywhere belongs. Because she must. Being lost means not knowing where you are, but if you are here or you are there, then you know where you are. You have two choices. Here. Or there.

Being lost means being a victim of uncertainty, which attracts those who say they will be certain for you. And so the trick is not to be uncertain, even when you are. To know the ones who are certain for you are themselves uncertain and don't know it yet. And their uncertainty is not your own. Being uncertain together is sharing, an equality. Much better than being certain, which is a lie. But one can look certain, which is instead a game.

So -- sure-footed, and hidden. Uncertain but not lost, because she is always here. Or there.

Anonymous until stopped on the street, or until the layers come off -- but they come off only where it is already warm and comfortable. She refuses to freeze for the sake of fashion, prefers that people stare.

Looks up, often, at the sky. At people, traffic, buildings. Watching. Gathering information, minute details. Eyes everywhere. An animal sense: know your jungle. Watch for the people who say they are here but who are really there. Inhale the scent that says one thing when words say another -- jungles are tricky that way. When you know the scent, no one is anonymous. No matter how many layers.

No one is missing.

12/24/95 10:50 am. The 11/20 tape is transcribed, and I have moved on to another client: nice, neutral dialogue about curricula.

When I wrote the above exercise, I was a faucet. Last night I wrote to M in my notes that the tapes have been resonating with my own internal processes.

I know what I need to do, and I am ready to do it, unpleasant as that is. The worst thing he can tell me to do is turn it off, i.e., stop the personal-angle notes. I need to ascertain on Thursday how much he wants to deal with, if this is to be a sharing, a co-counseling. Yesterday and for much of last night I was a mess.

But there are things I can start looking at -- not '77 but '76 -- that I couldn't touch before. The thing is, in order to do that I need a support. I think I have one, but I need to know for certain -- especially since I'm seeing areas where I can't tell the difference between projection and common ground. The 11/20 tape served as the catalyst to jump-start the new phase of an ongoing process.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Ten Years Ago, Part 1 of 4

Early 1996 in my apartment when I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mary's on the left; I'm on the right. This is the photo I carry around in my wallet.

On Christmas Day 1995, after visiting my friend Helen in the hospital, Mary and I had shared an hours-long walk in calf-deep snow by the banks of the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We celebrate December 25 as our anniversary -- our tenth this year -- but much had happened to prepare me for the journey....

Journal excerpts: December 1995

12/20/95 9am. A night of constant snow and constant dreams.

First, I dreamt I was twiddling a radio dial: in the dark, with eyes closed, almost no difference between the dream experience and my actual one of lying in bed in the middle of the night. I heard Simon & Garfunkel’s song "Cecelia". I twiddled the dial further -- and heard "Cecelia", but this time being done by the Jackson Five (which did not do the song in waking life). Twiddled more -- and heard a muzak rendition of "Cecilia". And awoke...

... and was hit with the image of a scary-face mask I'd been terrified of as a kid. I had an initial startle reaction; then, as I forced my mind’s eye to observe the face, it broke out into a silly smile and I felt more at ease. It had turned from a scary image into a comical one. It switched a couple of times before I fell back asleep.

In a short scene, I was sitting in a car that Mary W. was driving [this is not the Mary who is my partner, but a former next-door neighbor]. I was neither in the back nor the front seat but between the two, and sitting behind her. The road was dusky gray, and folks in the back seat -- perhaps her children as the adults they are now -- were saying, “Be careful. Watch out ....” Mary drove confidently and was very much aware of her surroundings.

We may or may not have entered a tunnel before the scene changed. A very, very long white tunnel down which I floated, alone. Not a bright white but a soft white, almost off-white. Very smooth walls, though not completely without shadows. The few shadows visible were light gradations off the whiteness. The tunnel was roomy but not overly so. I was not walking, and there was no vehicle; I did not feel myself move but I was moving.

The tunnel was not circular but arched and with a flat bottom, like a traffic tunnel. It seemed interminable, a bit monotonous, and I compared it to trips through the Lincoln Tunnel in New York, which also was long and monotonous, and where I'd eagerly awaited the shifts of light that meant the opening was up ahead.

In the dream-tunnel I began a running commentary, speaking aloud, of what I was seeing and what was happening around me. I began speaking when the tunnel became just a little bit lighter -- and although it was never curved it did have a slight bend (to the left, I think; maybe bends in both directions) that placed the opening out of eyesight.

I knew, as I was speaking, that I was speaking to retain my memory of the experience. I was not yet having a lucid dream but I was very close, and felt the self-verbalization was important.

The tunnel opening was at first a slit, through which I could see a sliver of robin’s egg blue sky and a bright white cumulus cloud. As I got closer the slit became wider, and I could see that the sky was filled with those clouds -- very airy and light. The partially closed, slitted opening was the first barrier for me to pass through. There was also a second barrier, transparent and diaphanous, almost nonexistent, but definitely there.

The opening admitted only my head, but I knew that I would not have to struggle or even to use my hands to leave the tunnel. I would exit into the sky, far above the ground, and descend.

I saw only the sky -- I did not look down -- and the dream segued directly from my position in the tunnel (and the knowledge of what would happen next) to my being suddenly in a very bright and colorful resort hotel lobby.

The lobby was filled with plastic and primary colors, and thoroughly saturated colors: red, blue, yellow, green, orange -- and filled with milling crowds. The room was not square -- it was more like a pyramid with a round base -- like a cone. The skin of the cone was all plate-glass window, and the outside could have been colorful, tropical palm trees or ski-resort snow, probably both. It was a happy, festive place.

I wandered across the room, to a spot almost opposite the one where I'd appeared (or where the scene had appeared around me). I saw dark, wood-paneled doors -- the only detraction from the bright colors. I knew -- I was still verbalizing to myself -- that this was an elevator, and I told myself that I’ve always liked elevators in dreams, so I would enter this one and see where it took me. At that point, my dream became a lucid one.

Here, too, I had two barriers to pass. I had to open the brown doors, which were accordioned like closet doors. There were round knobs on them, but I couldn’t pull the knobs (I didn’t try) -- instead I hooked my fingers around the top and pulled that section toward me, to make the door fold in on itself. The second barrier resembled black scrim, and was opened in the same way.

When I entered the elevator, a woman was ahead and to my left, her back toward me. She had frizzed black hair and wore a severe navy blue blazer and skirt. She looked matronly, a bit dowdy. For a moment I remembered the lucid dreams I'd had as an adolescent, in which I told people they were part of my imagination. But I would not do that here.

Instead, acting on impulse, I strode to her, took her by the shoulders, and turned her around. She resisted this, and I was not forceful but firm as I turned her to face me. She was startled and frightened at first, but that reaction quickly turned to resignation. In a tired voice she said, “No. No.”

And I, filled with joy and eroticism, said gently and almost slyly, “Yes. Yes.”

She asked, “Why?”

I said, “To know that I can.”

At that point, she changed. She was 50ish. The crow’s feet and small lines in her face remained, but she smiled and became radiant. Her eyes were a startlingly deep blue, a saturated blue. Her frizzed hair, still frizzed, fanned luxuriantly out from her face.

We kissed. I took her tongue in my mouth -- a very moist and fleshy tongue, with tiny nubs I could feel with my own. I savored it. I was completely aroused, at which point the dream faded out. I felt it recede from me as I rose to consciousness, still very much aroused and thinking, “Oh, rats.”

I lay awake for awhile, feeling wistful and frustrated at my pleasure being interrupted, but still savoring the memory of that erotic tongue and the transformed woman. Comparing the sky birth tunnel to a repeating dream I'd had as a toddler, in which I was in heaven and traversing a long hallway.

During this time I was transcribing talks between my friend M and his student A as they interpreted the text of Genesis -- a practice known as Midrash. In addition to producing the transcripts I began to leave my own comments, entering into the discussion.

M and I had dinner at Grendel’s and our second talk out on their terrace, which has become a kind of tradition now. He’d biked in and would bike back in the first flakes of the blizzard. When I saw his helmet I said I’m glad he wears one, adding that he’s brave to be cycling in this weather (and with road tires, too). He enjoys the crisp air, the breeze.

He was taking notes as we spoke because he was looking for the unifying theme of the book these tapes are creating. He has discovered that his forays through the story of Abraham bring him to a self-acceptance and a self-love; when he said that, I said that’s the theme. In interpreting the stories, I said, we are each using them as a kind of projective test -- we each become the characters, re-create the stories for ourselves. He wrote that down, too.

At one point I asked him, “What do you do for fun?”

He gave the answer I expected to hear: reading, swimming, walking, teaching -- “everything” is in some way fun. Nowhere was there an activity that seemed to me to create a purely childlike fun, a play of non-intellectual, non-deliberate action.

At one point he asked me -- I forget the exact words -- how I defined, or understood, the meaning of what I call the Divine -- whereupon I shrugged and said, "How the hell do I know?" and he burst out laughing.

He's been trying to understand the difference between the voice that tells him to "speak or die," and the one that tells him he is free to express himself. The pressure, the force (I said) versus the lack of force and, instead, permissiveness. I compared it to five years ago, when I saw him flaying himself to get to the emotions, versus now when he's opened up a channel in himself to let them simply flow through. I'd preceded my statement with the disclaimer that this had been my impression and that his might be different. He was concerned that the "flaying" had been done in front of his students, and I reiterated that this had been my perception of him, not necessarily the perception of others.

He was surprised -- and delighted -- that I laugh along with him and A as I transcribe.

Our next meeting -- Thursday the 28th, earlier if he's available earlier -- will be a discussion on abuse. Part of our talk last night had to do with goodness, love, life force, and its relation to death, destructiveness, "evil." Justice versus morality (which I perceive as different, and explained to M how. To me, justice is reactive, while morality involves more of a sentient construct of values. Justice can be more primal). I view both polarities as coexisting, not necessarily exclusive of or opposed to each other but operating in tandem. He is still dealing with the dichotomy as a dichotomy.

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Happy Holidays!

(Clicking on the image will bring up a larger view.)

Chanukah and Christmas fall together this year. December 26 marks the first day of Chanukah, but Jewish holidays are celebrated beginning sundown the day before, so the first day begins at sundown on December 25.

The Chanukah card components are my childhood menorah, various forays into astrophotography, the candle from my 47th birthday, and the underside detail of a white portulaca. The border is a rotated and copied snippet from the menorah. The Christmas card components are all made from watercolorized holly berries from our front hedge.

May you all have a healthy, happy, love-filled, and blessed holiday season!

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Questions of Perception

Taken at 1:27 AM (EST). The Moon is 64 percent of full.

Hours before the Moon rose last night, Mary and I had returned to the painted brick column where 24 hours earlier she had pointed up to a spot below the overhang. The creature there hadn't moved in all that time and I wondered if it was dead. As I snapped more shots to compare with the first set, to see if the moth had moved any, a man from the local hospice center stepped outside and asked what we were doing....

"I think it's a Tersa Sphinx Moth, but I'm not sure," I said. It had the Tersa's wing shape and size. The horn at its rear was similar to the horn I'd seen on the caterpillar of the species, which I'd photographed on our kitchen screen not long ago.

And there my confusion lay. If it was a Tersa Sphinx it seemed half-moth, half-caterpillar. Was I looking at something caught in mid-metamorphosis? Had it died trying to emerge from its coccoon?

According to Bugguide.Net, Tersa Sphinx caterpillars "usually pupate in soil, though some form loose coccoons among leaf litter." If this one was pupating it was very much in the wrong place.

This morning I got the ID and the good news. Bugguide.Net's Patrick Coin identified this as a male Mournful Sphinx Moth (Enyo lugubris). He wrote, "I've seen them sit in one place for a long time in cool weather--they do appear to be dead, but I'm sure your moth is very much alive."

That made me grin. Actually, it made me whoop.

According to the site, the Mournful Sphinx ranges from southern North America into the neotropics and its habitat is "presumably" forest edges. It spends its season all year in the tropics, August-November northward. "Larvae feed on grape family plants, Vitus, Ampelopsis, and Cissus species (Moths of North America). Pupation occurs in a shallow burrow in the soil. Adults fly during the day, and apparently at night, because they are attracted to lights. Flies in cold weather (pers. obs. P. Coin). Seems to be found in the coastal plain, and in particular, the outer coastal plain and barrier islands."

According to the U.S. Geological Survey's Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, this moth's range is "Northern Argentina and Uruguay north through Central America, the West Indies, and Mexico to Arizona; east to Florida and north to South Carolina. Strays to Arkansas, Michigan, and New York." The site's Florida map, on which individual counties are shaded where Mournful Sphinx have been found, does not yet include my county (Citrus), so I dashed off a report of my sighting.

After my meeting this afternoon I stopped back at the hospice, where news of the moth has traveled around the premises. The man who had come out to inquire was not in, but I left him a note and my card, so that he can access the photos if he wants. (Turns out he also does nature photography.) I was more than happy to give the folks at the center the good news that a living being was stationed outside their doors.

Last night's sky was so marvelously clear that I had a bumper crop of Moon photos that for me constitute "good", taken at various exposures and focal lengths. After putting together another stereoscopic shot I wondered whether I could do the same thing for something terrestrial.

Turns out that, at least for still lifes, the process is not as complicated as I'd thought. (Non-still lifes, like insects, would require two instantaneous exposures taken from different angles.)

Stereo Earplugs

My camera is hand-held in both these photos. I took the left-hand shot, then moved slightly and changed my viewing angle before taking the right-hand shot, going by feel. When I look between the earplug bottles (crossing my eyes and relaxing my gaze while focusing on the center "image") I get a 3D effect.

It took Mary a little longer ("I haven't done this sort of thing in 20 years"), but she was also able to see the 3D bottle. When she quizzed me ("How much of the 2 do you see? How much of the big 3 in '31' has an orange background?") she told me that some of my answers came from the bottle on the left and some from the bottle on the right. Cool.

I've since pulled up various photos and can see a slightly 3D effect even using the same image duplicated. Nothing really pops out but I can perceive more depth than I can just by viewing the single shot, for instance, of a Grand Canyon panorama. But strictly two-dimensional shots don't lend themselves to the practice -- like the one I took the other day through the linen tester I used when I had consulted to a publications office in the 80s. The tester's high magnification let me check for printing errors down to ink breaks in individual letters.

Tuesday's paper seems to have come through fine.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005


The photo on the left used a 1/30-second exposure to show the mare. The one on the right used a 1/15-second exposure to show craters at the terminator. Both were shot at f/8. I did not set out to create a stereoscopic view, but I get one (combining the benefits of both pictures) when I cross my eyes and then relax my gaze while slowly focusing the "center" image. *Grin*

Across our neighborhood the streets fill with lights: multicolored stars hanging off palms, electric icicles whose touch would melt the real thing. The Moon rises later each night, continuing to shrink. Just before the New Year it will start to grow again.

Last night I broke from a transcription job to step outside, where a waning gibbous, 73 percent of full, looked down through a layer of haze. Not perfect conditions to photograph, but good enough. Shortly after midnight, almost 12 hours before Solstice, I put on my neck gaiter and cap and a thick wool sweater. Up in Boston that's late September dress, but here it was enough to keep me warm as I set up my tripod in the dark.

Hours earlier Mary and I had walked home as the sky filled with Florida lava....

To the right out of frame is our town fire station (no need to put out this one!) with large green recycle dumpsters out back. To the left out of frame is a housing project. We're looking toward the county road.

Before heading home we had stopped at the "post office pond," looking for signs of wildlife. Instead we came upon a mirror beneath whose skin mulch slowly decays. It was our version of M.C. Escher's "Three Worlds".

The insects camouflage themselves now, to match our version of winter. This gal seems to fit the coloring, shape, and size of a female goldenrod spider, which comes in a variety of colors and ranges throughout North America and southern Canada. The goldenrod spider (Misumena vatia) is in the Family Thomisidae, or Crab Spiders. This one seemed around 3/8-inch, typical for females of the species.

"These spiders wander over the ground, climbing flowers and plants in search of prey," according to the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. "They do not spin web snares, retreats, or overwintering nests, but the male of some species may cover a prospective mate with loose silken webbing and tie the female down. The female produces a silken sac for eggs, usually guards it for a while, but dies before spiderlings emerge."

There are more than 200 species of North American crab spiders. The goldenrod changes its coloring to yellow, to camouflage it on yellow daisies and goldenrod. I found this one at the edge of the road, headed for mulch. By the time I was ready with the camera she had taken refuge beneath a small brown leaf, finally making an appearance after I'd coaxed her out with a twig the size of a toothpick. Further down the road a small patch of dirt was littered with broken acorns.

More vivid colors hide themselves inside evergreens. Our local bank (the same one that had closed for Hurricane Wilma) has juniper bushes as part of its landscaping...

... while holly berries dot our front hedge.

Inside the heat kicks on, almost as an afterthought. Winters are subtle here. They are quiet. Riding mowers and weed whackers fall silent as lawn care takes a holiday. The air has emptied of buzzing dragonflies and filled with turkey vultures circling patiently high overhead. Paper wasp nests slowly crumble. Bagworm moth chrysalids dot fences and posts; a tiny one sticks to our front window.

Today I will again check the painted brick post between the bakery and the pool supplies store, where high up just beneath the overhang Mary had spotted a moth shape. When I downloaded the photos I wondered if I was looking at a creature in mid-transformation, part moth part chrysalis. I want to see if it's changed.

Our cats luxuriate in the warmth of home. I finally used my camera's video option and pulled these four stills from my first "short film." Often when Red grooms Daisy it's to grab her rest spot, but that wasn't the case here. This time she was quite happy to let him give her a bath and nibble her head on occasion. Afterwards she kept her spot and Red went off to nap by the window.

Wishing you all peace, happiness, and love as we shift into the new season.

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