Plate Tectonics

Plate Tectonics

“We can’t always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection. But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen. “                       

Brene Brown

 

The only online class I ever took was to fill in a gap in my transcript. In college I eschewed science and math as if they were fatal diseases while welcoming literature, history, and philosophy. One exception, a graduate class I crashed as a freshman at Rutgers taught by the British economist E.P. Thompson who wrote The Making of the English Working Class described by Amazon as: “A seminal text on the history of the working class by one of the most important intellectuals of the twentieth century.” I loved the class especially the social history part taught by Dorothy Thompson, E.P. ‘s brilliant wife. The social history was based around stories, stories about labor strikes, union battles, descriptions of families and communities, public health, and education. E.P. took over in the spring and began to unpack statistics, graphs of social mobility and the industrial revolution’s transformation of the British economy. In other words, math.

When I went through a certificate program to get certified to teach high school English, I was told I had to have a science credit, so I signed up for Earth Science and spent 3 months listening to a computer explain where earthquakes came from and being introduced by a video to tectonic plates, defined as pieces of a cracked shell that rest on the hot, molten rock of Earth’s mantle that fit snugly against one another. The heat from radioactive processes within the planet’s interior causes the plates to move, sometimes toward and sometimes away from each other. Basically, I interpreted this idea as earth as a huge cracked egg. I had no contact with the professor or the rest of the class and received an annoying B-. I immediately forgot everything I learned except for those shells heaving and moving on a bed of lava, people as tectonic plates, a metaphor for massive change. After all, I am a fiction writer.

So, distance learning has essentially moved across the education landscape on a bed of molten lava transforming the classroom into a grid of small, black boxes with, if present, faces of students, framed by their backgrounds with glimpses of pets, grown-ups seeking coffee and an occasional sibling demanding to be seen. I stopped classroom teaching in 2009 with an occasional return but mainly focusing on producing a writing manual and coaching private clients writing fiction or memoir or College Admission Essays but also anything connected academically to English or History.

“We were a collective, not a dictatorship. . .”

As a classroom teacher, I never sat at my desk unless I was administering a standardized test. I walked around, I lightly touched shoulders, poked the dozing, hovered over the distracted, the disaffected and the confused. I frequently spoke from the back of the classroom or sat down in an empty desk to encourage the continuance of a discussion. I broke the fourth wall between teacher and student because it seemed counterintuitive to be protected by that huge piece of ugly furniture while they were risking being wrong, being ridiculed, or considered a teacher’s pet if they answered too many questions. We were a collective, not a dictatorship; I was frequently argued with, corrected, and laughed at. We were largely happy, and kindness was a core value.

Recently, I listened to my friend, a stunningly great teacher just awarded the highest award given to public school teachers, describe the loss of her children, empty black boxes of classes she knew intimately, knew their parents, had taught their parents, siblings, and friends, who created community while demanding and supporting excellence.

Absence was caused by the loss of a home, the loss of a grandparent, the need to use the one family computer for something else than education, alienation, and boredom. The grief she felt was clear, her job was safe, but her students were slowly losing their way, and she could not reach through the screen to assure that child that she saw them and loved them. Yes, teachers love their students even the awful ones.

“It feels like no one is really there,” a high school junior told me, “like it doesn’t matter anymore.” I asked her if she’d contacted her teacher to ask for extra help, but apparently this teacher lectured and assigned worksheets and as an ESL learner, incredibly smart, she needed more, she needed the presence and encouragement of an actual person. It isn’t her fault it; isn’t the teacher’s fault, although I questioned the wisdom of having an inexperienced teacher taking on such an important role on this lava bed. Why not team a newer teacher with a veteran and have them help one another, one brilliant with technology, the other experienced, realistic, and prepared? All I know is we are all moving across this alien landscape, trying to survive a social earthquake, doing our best but struggling.

How to Put on Your Big Girl Panties for the Pandemic

How to Put on Your Big Girl Panties for the Pandemic

So, I’ve been traveling in a pandemic for eight months because this was the year to write full-time and finally leave America with Trump behind. Getting ready to travel and write some more now — the first sign was when I ran into the Acropolis in Greece. What an adventure — I’ve learned how to swear in Persian and words of seduction from the beautiful Muslim who says Iranians aren’t real Muslims, anyway.

 I’m in my sixties, and eight years ago suffered critical brain surgery, my fifteen minutes of fame at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas, because my ten-year old tumor was the largest ever — a Texas-sized grapefruit. Became a celebrity for two weeks in ICU. Now I’m a walking, talking, miracle.

Let me tell you, there is nothing like a re-birth after almost-dying. When you get a chance to start over. Waking up to a day filled with sunshine, rainbows, and a good veggie sandwich. Now I truly understand that change is your friend. And that yesterday’s darkness has to be the past if you want to not just live, but flourish.

Long story, but seven years now since that brain surgery, I arrived in Athens the night of their lockdown, riding an empty subway, in a pouring rain that was March-cold with only a cotton poncho to keep me warm. I’m from South Texas, and we have few winter days here.

I was told by Immigration at the airport to self-isolate for two months. The grocery stores and fish markets remained open, so I didn’t starve. My cooking skills became more important than trying to keep warm, and since the washing machine didn’t work, remembered how to handwash my blue jeans while walking around in leggings.

“I was totally alone, only my Facebook friends and NPR.”

I was totally alone, only my Facebook friends and NPR. I missed my gym, the cinema, the theatre. I missed my cat—now adopted out—more than the lover who had to stay in the past. But I had my online yoga, meditations, recipes, and music to keep me focused. A book to complete, online workshops to take. Life went on.

After an extended stay in Greece because of the Pandemic, I went on to Portugal to visit more museums–masked–and walk the hills and cobblestones of Coimbra every day. I lost the ten pounds I couldn’t lose despite so much exercising in the U.S. Got addicted to coffee, fresh bread, and the streets named after poets. My sneakers wore out — my two sets of panties turned transparent from so much washing. The turquoise and lemon yellows of Portugal became my new favorite colors.

After international flights, trains, buses, shuttles, and walking on the pedestrian walkway around the Acropolis for weeks, I hadn’t gotten sick. I was certainly vulnerable, so why not?

Now back in the States, my older friends were concerned, mortified about Covid. They couldn’t believe my life. I told them I almost died once, and this is what I’d learned:

1. It’s not enough to wash your hands.

We have to wash-out what we were before. Wash your house, your car, your purse. Your keys. Bust out the Pine Sol, the vinegar, lavender concoctions. It’s gotta be a disinfectant, not just smell good.

My visual artist friend, Terry Ybanez, told me once that she cleans her house all dressed up and puts on her good lipstick! Make your house sparkle cause you’re washing out yesterday and ready for what’s coming! In Texas we say Dale Shine! Put on some grooves, dance with the broom, shake it and break it a little.

If you have teenagers, I am sorry to inform you they are not playing by Covid rules. I’ve seen too many out there. Banish them from the kitchen or common areas…Get them a microwave. Try to keep them separate from your spaces, and wipe down whatever they touch frequently including the car, inside more than outside. The bookcase, the remote control, appliances, doorknobs, and especially the family bathroom.

Our grandmothers, my abuelita, was the kind of religious who had faith in cleanliness as a sign of purity, maybe even virginity. Call on her during this Pandemic. 

Upgrade your hygienic standards—this is vital in disinfecting your house no matter how often you wash your hands–especially if you have a family… Now is the time to wash with hot water, be generous with the detergents. Clean everything like you’re in the Army! The Marines! And you’re the General, the soldier, and the Sergeant. But make it fun! You’re alive. You’re a strong, independent, woman! We just elected a woman as Vice-President! A little Pandemic is nothing besides you. Yes, you are that beautiful in that mirror. Look at yourself. Say it again! Sing it! 

2. OK, so you’re in prison.

But no use protecting yourself if you can’t get some exercise. Lack of movement accelerates aging. In Greece, I took online classes.

Now here’s my heresy: Walk, yes, walk with your mask— outside—alone—far away from everyone for at least 20 minutes a day. This is your time to think, to commune with the trees. Stay far away from anyone without a mask. Don’t linger anywhere. Don’t touch anything, wash your hands thoroughly the moment you step into your nice, clean, house, and this is why you disinfect those doorknobs. OK, you don’t like walking — get a treadmill, a bicycle, and use it! It’s not for hanging clothes. (Which may be picking up some Covid, who knows…?)

Exercise makes me happy, changes my mood, gives me energy. Good for your brain, too. As I get older, I want to do it less, and that’s where the following is the trick to get you moving again. …

3. Forget the “Covid +15 pounds.”

Go for the “Covid Minus 10 Vegetable Diet.”

Now is the time to break out the veggie cookbooks. There are some absolutely delicious heart-loving recipes out there for spinach, cauliflower, carrots, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, peas, apples, grapefruits, berries, and anything dark and crunchy. Explore the world of Indian and Thai cooking, especially if you like spices, and I do. Make your own yogurt. Think corn tortillas, fresh beans, rice, and whole-grain is always best, but don’t force yourself. Explore the world of new foods, experiment, improvise. Forget the cakes and pastries except for the New Year. Nuts, honey or molasses for dessert. I used to buy all sorts of spices in tiny quantities at the fancy grocery store in town—try that. Now is the time to let your artist loose. The best artists I know are also fabulous cooks. Get wild in the kitchen! Listen to your news there.

Go for caldos! Add lots of greens and carrots to the soups. Our bodies are amazing. They will adjust, you’ll see. The trick is to find a healthy way to eat the foods you love, too. And then the magic happens and you are eating the way you always dreamed. Thanks, Covid. Tears are good for the sauce.

Besides, green vegetables make your skin glow, and they are a boon to digestion. Nachos and Christmas stuff? Once a pandemic. YOU are my Christmas. Your children and the teenagers will be amazed, what an example you’re setting for them.

4. Turn off the television.

Limit your news cycles.

Read all those books waiting for you! With a library card, you can download lots of books for a free rental with the Libby App. This is how I can read all over the world in English. Or Spanish.

5. Pray. Every day.  

Give thanks that we have so much.

Don’t ask for anything but how to love, because that’s why we’re here, anyway…

Tell the Divine to keep you strong and fearless, that you realize this Pandemic is a kind of death that is bringing something new — and you want to be ready for the rebirth of this planet, despite the sadness. The adventure of life. A little pandemic is nothing for mujeres fuertes. There are goddesses everywhere taking care of you. Watching over you, like they did for me in Greece.

6. Meditate.

This forces your mind to calm down, and once in a while, you travel to the places where the goddesses approach you for a few seconds and smile at you. A place where we find some clarity about what we’re here to do in these days of possibility. This adventure called life.

A life isn’t that short, I recently read. There is enough time to do what you’re supposed to do if you use it.

No regrets.

Xxx

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT: Spoiler Alert!

THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT: Spoiler Alert!

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved immersing myself in a story and a world not my own. So, when friends began talking about The Queen’s Gambit limited series, based on the novel by the late Walter Tevis, my husband and I decided to watch it.

Enjoy life

I’ve been a photographer for more than 30 years, have written on and off for a couple of decades, and am married to a guy who has been in TV and video production all his adult life. We probably aren’t the people with whom you want to watch a popular series. We’ll moan out loud as we critique believability. We’ll pause and replay a scene multiple times to study the lighting or marvel at the composition of a shot. We’ll pause to have a discussion about why a scene works—or doesn’t. We’ll pause simply because a particular shot moves us. Consider this a spoiler alert and a walk through the series with us.

 As visual storytellers we were captivated by the phenomenal attention to lighting. It created moods we could feel and set the tone for pivotal scenes. The attention to detail in every scene made us feel we were there — the blue-green color of a handful of pills, the hand-sewn name tag on young Beth Harmon’s dress, the cone of light that illuminated the chess players’ tables and melted into darkness around them. The pacing of the story, especially the chess scenes, built some taut moments, moments when I didn’t think I’d be able to take any more tension.

And did I mention the lighting? And the attention to detail? Wow.

It was only as we were approaching the end of the series that I began to dissect the story and see how it had gotten under my skin.

In many ways it’s an over-the-top, tug-on-your-heartstrings kind of story. It pulls out every trope in the book — the orphan prodigy, the addiction, the underdog, the humble school custodian mentor, the drunk adoptive mother, the unloving step-father, and on and on. A different show, a different book committing the same literary sins, and I might have caught this earlier and cried foul. I’m sure more sophisticated viewers caught all this early on. But the acting and the story were so compelling I believed it all — the adoption, the first few matches when Beth can’t stop winning, the first losses and the consecutive bigger wins, the use of alcohol to cope. I believed it until the last few episodes when I began to “see” the writing and literary devices intended to keep the story going.

At the end of the story Benny Watts, one of the few men to beat Beth at chess—and who has become a friend and sort of love interest—abandons Beth to fund her own way to Moscow for the tournament that will pit her against the Russian player Vasily Borgov. He’s has bested her, twice; this will be her chance to beat him on his own turf. But she doesn’t have the money to get there, and Benny’s going not to lend it to her. He’s done with her drinking and selfishness. But even as I realized that this was likely a turning point in Beth’s life, I also clearly saw this as that hero’s journey moment — the all-appears-to-be-lost device that leads a story to its conclusion. I was no longer immersed in the story. And I didn’t quite believe that Benny would do that to Beth. Instead of questioning the characters and their motivations, I began questioning the writing.

But the latter part of the story also brought a moment I’d been waiting for: Beth’s roommate Jolene, the Black girl who was her friend in the orphanage, shows up on her doorstep. I’d been wondering what happened to her. But the story line took a turn that made me angry here.

Despite the fact that Jolene didn’t even merit a last name in the series — unless my stalwart IMDB app has failed me — she is now a strong woman in her own right, and will help Beth get to Moscow. Because while Beth has been spending her winnings on alcohol, her house, and one hell of a wardrobe, Jolene has been working as a paralegal and saving her money for law school. But when Beth says that Jolene is her guardian angel, Jolene is angry. She’s simply been following Beth’s chess career and cares about her; that’s what friends do, so don’t call her a guardian angel.

 Really? If the writers didn’t want us to see her that way couldn’t they have written her character so she wouldn’t come across that way? More to the point: Did the writers really intend to tell us another story about a Black woman coming in to save a White woman? Did they miss the broader social and misguided underpinnings to this bit of story? Oh, and by the way, the car that Jolene drives in this episode? That was a gift from a married man she’s dating. By this time, all I could think was “Wow. Married man. Cliche. Yawn.” I’ll come back to this in a bit because the treatment of Jolene’s character made me angry.

Remember Benny? Once Beth is in Moscow, we find out that back in the U.S. he has teamed up with several other male chess players Beth has played over the years to help her strategize that final game with Borgov. “That would never happen,” my husband said aloud. She beats Borgov, of course. But that last scene in which Beth and her federal agent minder are driving toward the airport — that moment when she steps out of the car, leaves to go play chess with the old men in the park, and the cab drives away? Yeah, that would never happen either, especially not after all the warnings the minder gave her about being in Moscow. 

But let me come back to an unexpected pleasure I found throughout the story: Love. The love that blossomed between Beth and her adoptive mother, Alma Wheatley. Both of them were so damaged and scarred, that I was certain Alma was going to use Beth to see the world by traveling with her and taking her tournament earnings. I expected their relationship would end badly. But somewhere along their travels, indeed funded by Beth’s winnings, they forged an affection and respect for each other that both found difficult to express beyond sharing a drink or touching hands in a cab. That made the death of Alma much more acute.

I was so distracted by these misses that I also missed what my astute writer/editor friend Steve Steinberg pointed out about the fairy tale ending: “Beth is outfitted all in white, with a pompom on top her hat: She’s dressed as the White Queen — and that’s what she played against Borgov.” That’s over the top for me, but if you’re going to have a fairy tale ending, it’s too lovely a detail to have your viewers miss while they’re pondering their disappointment.

But back to Jolene. I remember once hearing an editor speak about artistic choices. She said that not only do they shape the creator’s work, but they also shape how others view and receive that work. Artists need to challenge themselves to think and create beyond stereotypes, she said. Artists can create wonderful works when challenging themselves to think outside these boundaries. They can also challenge audiences to expand their own views of the world.

As I was wondering how The Queen’s Gambit could have descended into such tired stereotypes, I thought, “What if Jolene, a Black girl, had been the chess prodigy? What if the adapters of this story had challenged themselves — and us viewers — with a story that really upended what we think of chess, of women, and especially of Black women?”

I realize that this would have been a different story, and one much more difficult to tell. A Jolene chess prodigy in the 1960s and ‘70s would have faced even more obstacles than Beth Harmon did. Would a White custodian have mentored her the way that Mr. Shaibel did Beth? Would she have had an ally to help her get to Moscow? Would she have been accepted by the White male dominated chess world? I can’t say.

But, therein lies the artistic challenge, no?

New. Year. Count. Down.

New. Year. Count. Down.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I know exactly what I’m wearing to the first celebratory anything I attend when this wretched pandemic ends. 

 

Hanging in my closet is my favorite purple dress and the funky wrap I bought more than a decade ago from my favorite Dallas shop. Both are wrinkle-free and ready to be worn.  

I want, no, I need, to dress up and feel pretty. I want to go to a restaurant I’ve never been to, the reopening of the symphony season or a fancy fundraiser.

I mean it.

It’s one thing to go braless and wear flip flops, jeans, and t-shirts to shop or see a movie, but it’s another thing to live braless in jeans and t-shirts daily for months without end, stuck under what-the-hell-who-cares house arrest.

I will get a haircut, facial, manicure, pedicure. I will dredge up my sparse makeup kit and wear nice lipstick instead of Burt’s Bees chapstick. I will hug all the people I used to hug. I might even kiss a few.

I tend to be unpredictable, so I might also hug a stranger or two, especially if I can finally do my own grocery shopping, some poor unsuspecting clerk restocking the frozen vegetable aisle. And when the store manager summons law enforcement because a crazy woman is randomly hugging employees, I might even hug the responding cop or firefighter for the unadulterated heck of it.

I’m not sure, but if confident lightning won’t strike, there’s an outside chance I’ll even slip into somebody’s place of worship for a more quiet expression of gratitude for family members who were spared Covid’s miserable reach. Maybe sit for a moment more to remember those whose families weren’t.

There aren’t enough thanks in the world for hospital workers who slogged through the last 10 months and have continued to do so, even when they weren’t doing it for anyone I know.

I know for sure I’ll never be able to adequately tell friends how much it meant to get chatty phone calls from time to time — even those made too early in the morning or almost too late at night. I can’t wait to cook for them again.

I forgive my daughter for enlisting friends to spy and report on my well being (for heaven’s sake, don’t let her know I know). All mothers should have daughters who care that much.

Such random musings pretty much sum up 2020 from my tiny space in the universe. All things Trumptopian will soon be in the hands of jurisdictions from which there is no escape. I can’t clutter my little pea brain with anymore thoughts of that man and his ilk.

The countdown has begun. 

The dress awaits.

En garde, 2021.

The Ineffability of a Hug

The Ineffability of a Hug

BEHIND THE SCENES:

 

SETTING: This morning, 6:30. Jan is sitting at her computer. Steve walks in with a cup of coffee.

STEVE: Are you going to walk this morning?

JAN: No, I’m going to work on a blog.

STEVE (Happy to know she’s writing): What are you going to write about?

JAN: “The Ineffability of a Hug.”

STEVE: Ohhh…what are you going to say?

JAN (after a slight pause): I don’t want to talk about it, because I’ll cry. That’s why I just want to get it all written in words.

STEVE (walks out of the room, sipping his coffee): Okay. 

I wrote that little scene to “show” the emotions behind my thoughts on hugs. Because to put it into words will be difficult–ineffable.

This past weekend, Tommy and Allie stayed with Steve and me while Adam and Emily went to Cleveland to look for a house. As you might imagine, the weekend was filled with joy, sadness, a few meltdowns (admittedly by each and every one of us at one point or another), and lots of memories.

But, I managed to hold back the tears through most of it, torn between whether it’s a good thing to let Tommy and Allie know how much I’ll miss them, or whether it would scare them to see Grandma cry.

The only time my eyes burned so hot, my lump in my throat got so big, and my eyes went from watering to brimming and overflowing were those times that Allie crawled into my lap, often saying, “I love you, Grandma.”

Just typing the words brings tears back to my eyes.

As I felt her head pressed against my chest, as I buried my nose in the scent of her hair, as I felt the weight of her little body pressed against mine, a flood of thoughts and memories filled me up and carried me away to the past and future.

When my children were small, and especially if I was experiencing some sort of challenge, like a day full of tantrums, or a night full of wakings, I remember holding them and rocking them, their heads pressed against my chest. I wondered if they could hear my heartbeat, and if it might comfort them.

But most of all, I remember telling myself it would all be over too quickly, and that even though I was tired and even though their crying might have interrupted sleep and I had to be up for work early in the morning, someday I would miss those hugs.

I imagined myself into the future, at a time when I truly did miss their childhood and their hugs. From that future, I imagined transporting myself back in time so that I could be with them as children again, feeling their little bodies, their unconditional love, smelling the scent of them, and listening to the sound of their breaths become rhythmic as they fell asleep.

So, as I hug any of my four grandchildren now, I’m back to the far, far future. Farther than I’d ever imagined as I used to hug my little kids.

Now, the brevity of childhood is no longer in my imagination. I know it all too well, which makes the hugs even more precious and dear.

Last night, I had a dream. It started out with a large group of people sitting on either side of long tables. We were to choose to sit across from a person whose story we wanted to know.

I suspect the dream had to do with the loss I’ve felt about the isolation of this pandemic–that it’s been so long since I’ve been able to sit across the table from someone and just talk.

As I sat, I began to talk to someone about sailing to Tortola. I was excited about the conversation, because I’ve been to Tortola twice, and I knew we’d have adventures to share.

But then, Allie came up to me and asked to sit in my lap. She crawled up and I wrapped my arms around her. As I felt her body drift to sleep, the conversations around me softened and the people began to blur, until all that was left to the dream was the hug.

Ineffable.

(Call Me) Robin

(Call Me) Robin

NCTE blogger, Millie Davis, recently invited writers to explore the topic: “Writers Riffing on Why Books Save Lives,” https://ncte.org/blog/2017/11/authors-riffing-books-save-lives/ and this essay is my response.

Enjoy life

Dear Ishmael, 

Let me begin this letter by confessing that I’ve read Moby Dick at least seven times. The first few times, I had to read it as an assignment for school. My education took longer than expected, 23 years if I’m forced to count. If you are thinking that’s absurd, you are correct. I just got stuck in an educational rut and found myself collecting degrees to attach to the end of my name. Call me “Doctor Robin,” if you want. No, actually, please don’t!

Over-schooling only explains the first few times I read this tome on whaling. I’d like the explain why I keep coming back. Moby Dick is considered one of those way-too-long books, like Middlemarch or Finnegan’s Wake. Although considered excellent by those who specialize, let me tell you that I have stayed until the end of cocktail parties, when most of the guests have left, and I’ve heard any number of noted professors admit they actually never read them. These books get labeled classics or great books, often, I imagine, by old dudes with beards and elbow patch jackets. But the world has changed, and I must admit I’m usually drawn to the new and the now, the recent Booker Prize nominees or the latest from Wave Books. But there’s an ineffable something about Moby Dick that always draws me back.

I’m thinking of you lately, Ishmael, because these pandemic days are hard and long, even though I’ve avoided this virus so far. The isolation from friends and loved ones takes its toll. The suffering and inequity and unpredictability causes me pain and sadness each day. In an early passage in the novel, you explain why to are drawn to go to sea as a sailor: 

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.

Today has definitely been one of those “damp, drizzly November in my soul” days, Ishmael. I feel you. And today is not my first of such days. But instead of going on a whaling voyage, I guess I’ve taken to reading long books instead.

I suppose that the loneliness of the quarantine has operated on each of us differently. Nine long months of limited interaction with other people has changed my reading habits. I hit my annual reading challenge goal on Goodreads months ago, and I had to ask myself, now what?

Lately I read mostly by listening to audiobooks, perhaps because of the comfort of being read to by another human, even if it is transmitted to me by phone. The experience of hearing a story in another person’s voice feels warm and personal. It reminds me childhood or the way we read to our children at bedtime. Reading aloud to one another person is a powerful and authentically human ritual.  It’s comforting. For me, it suggests an innocent kind of love. 

The other thing I’ve done is that I’ve returned to reading long novels, which is, perhaps, akin to taking a voyage. I am drawn to strong narrators like you with an understanding of sadness that comes from experience. You and your dreamy afternoons, Ishmael, you, “lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie,” as you stand at the highest point on the ship watching for whales, you touch me deeply, I have to admit. At this very particular moment, because I am in between jobs, in between lives, I can understand the appeal of the signing up for the regimented tour of duty on board a ship. I relate to you, Ishmael, as a fellow yearner. 

The other thing I’ve done is that I’ve returned to reading long novels, which is, perhaps, akin to taking a voyage. I am drawn to strong narrators like you with an understanding of sadness that comes from experience. You and your dreamy afternoons, Ishmael, you, “lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie,” as you stand at the highest point on the ship watching for whales, you touch me deeply, I have to admit. At this very particular moment, because I am in between jobs, in between lives, I can understand the appeal of the signing up for the regimented tour of duty on board a ship. I relate to you, Ishmael, as a fellow yearner.

The yearning, finally, has nothing to do with whales, does it? That is the quest of Ahab in Moby Dick and yet that is not the point at all. Ahab did not understand that, but you did, Ishmael. You understood that the community of men working together was the highest achievement possible on the Pequod. And as you looked out onto the watery world surrounding you, your imagination took over. That was the real story.

The yearning, finally, has nothing to do with whales, does it? That is the quest of Ahab in Moby Dick and yet that is not the point at all. Ahab did not understand that, but you did, Ishmael. You understood that the community of men working together was the highest achievement possible on the Pequod. And as you looked out onto the watery world surrounding you, your imagination took over. That was the real story.

I, too, find solace in water. Doesn’t almost everyone? For me the hour-long drive to Galveston Island is always time spent well. When my kids were young, I’d take them to play in the sand; there are no temper tantrums on the beach. Now that they are older, I take my dog and my self in search of that “enchanted mood,” and so far it has never failed me.

Your friend at the Mast-Head,

(Call me) Robin

You may read Millie Davis’ expansion of her November 25th post here

We welcome additional “riffing” on her piece. Have any books (or all books) saved your life or the life of someone you know? Inspire / challenge us with your story of how and why.