Sunday, August 28, 2011

Needing a Pensieve

A few weeks ago I decided to take a sabbatical from reading nonfiction politically charged books about the corruption of governments, the devastation of the environment, plague, financial collapse, child soldiers in Sudan, and other cheery topics. Instead, I am rereading all the Harry Potter books and I gotta say that I am loving every minute of it. It doesn’t get any better than J.K. What a genius. Last night I finished The Goblet of Fire, number four in the series of seven, and the book in which the pensieve is introduced. After begin reintroduced to the concept of a pensieve, I realize that the older I get, the more I need a pensieve. Would someone please invent a real one?

In case you live under a rock and have not read Harry Potter or seen the films, the pensieve is a basin filled with molten light into which the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Wizard Albus Dumbledore, stores thoughts and memories that are cluttering up his brain. Dumbledore is a very old fellow. The older I get, the more material I have cluttering up my own brain and I really do wish I could take some of this nonsense out and store it in an external brain available to me for access whenever needed. I am impressed that J.K. understood this so clearly at the young age at which she created the concept of the pensieve.

My mind is so full of infinite details that need attention, things to remember to do, memories from years gone by, stories to be told as well as stories heard and loved, inventions and imaginings not yet committed to paper, reveries, creations, meditations, connections, images, fragments of sensual experience, tunes, and on and on and on. I could not live without post-its to help me remember things that need tending to on a daily basis, including work tasks as well as household management tasks. And I am astonished that writers could even function before computers; I can barely remember what I myself did before them, when I wrote on a Hermes electric with a one-character memory correction key. But in truth, after recently celebrating another birthday, I have to admit that I long for that pensieve in which to store some of this stuff that is spilling out of the closets of my brain. If I’m like this in my 50s, what on earth will I be like in my 70s, or beyond if I should be so lucky to live that long? I shudder to think.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Counting My Blessings

Last week, sitting in the back seat of the car while Ron and Sudi chatted about music up front, swapping tunes, as we drove down the state for a little family reunion with our grown-up children, I took a moment to count my blessings.

We picked Sudi up at his student digs in Oakland, a house he shares with half a dozen other CCA art students, and then went to L.A. where we spent a night with friends. Throughout our trip, Sudi spent hours under his headphones composing music, which is his passion. We picked Yael up Friday after work (she has a job at a company that provides resources and social marketing tools to the fashion industry) and drove to San Diego where Akili lives (he works as a web developer for a company that provides marketing tools and builds websites for green businesses) for the weekend. Friday night we went out to eat with our three plus Akili’s girlfriend of more than three years, Tina. It’s an experience eating out with young people these days as it involves a great deal of hand-held electronics, such as passing phones back and forth to share photographs, looking up things on the internet that they can’t quite remember, and my daughter occasionally tweeting parts of the conversation to her growing following in tweet-land. We were at the restaurant for over two hours. Great meal. Great conversation. Lots of laughs. The following day we walked by the ocean. Then I cooked dinner for everyone at Akili’s place and we shared a couple bottles of wine. Crazy, drinking a bottle of wine with my children at dinner! Still getting used to it. And when it got dark we watched the spectacular fireworks over Sea World (a nightly show is done throughout the summer) from Akili’s roof.

Back to my moment in the car. This is a lovely picture. My children. Our terrific time together; but, as I counted my blessings in the car, I noted that I have worked very, very hard in my life to paint that picture. The financial creativity, juggling the family dynamic, dealing with all the problems great and small, being present for my children daily and nonstop (even when I would have preferred to be sitting in a quiet study writing), cooking nutritional foods, keeping the household running smoothly, family outings and vacations, moving to 40 acres of remote forest for heaven’s sake to raise the children in nature, attending school events and getting to know teachers, and reading aloud to each of them separately for half an hour every night for years and years and years. Cultural enrichment. Viewing films and listening to music. Sports events. Sending them to college. That was a big one (trying to swing that financially). And on and on. I am truly blessed, and I am grateful for it, but make no mistake: I worked for these blessings. I earned them. And I had children because I wanted to spend time with children, live with children, support children, and enjoy children. I still believe that all the problems of the world could be solved by good parenting. Parenting is as parenting does. I am looking forward to more fat years down the road with grandchildren on my knee.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Four Years Later

Four years ago on August 8 my dear friend Elena was struck and killed by a truck while biking to work in Oakland. I have chosen, on the anniversary of her death, to think about everything that she has given me in the years since we lost her rather than how much I miss her.

Probably the biggest gift I have received from her since she left is my friendship with her parents, Candy and David, who are in their mid-80s. They are still quite active for elders; perceptive, funny, thoughtful, and wise. After Elena’s death, I quickly fell into the habit of calling them every week. Now my Friday doesn’t seem complete unless I have my phone call with Candy. She catches me up on what Elena’s friends and family are doing, reports on her health and the health of her husband, and always gives me a detailed weather report. She asks about my children and I fill her in on the latest. We have a “chit-chat” as Candy calls it; but it’s often more as sometimes I share my deeper concerns and worries, my successes, latest thoughts on life, and frustrations with dogmatic insurance adjusters and crazy appliance break-downs. All that stuff. Just life. Chit-chat and more. Sometimes David will get on the phone with me to tease me about something or to check up on me. Of course there is something about Candy and David that reminds me very much of their beautiful daughter; but they are also distinctly wonderful. I cherish our friendship. Thank you Elena for giving me this friendship with your parents.

Another gift Elena has given me since she left is the increased closeness I have developed with some of her friends who I didn’t know that well before our loss. Lately I have spent more time with one of her friends in particular who I only knew in passing when Elena was alive. I am looking forward to getting to know this woman better in the future and am grateful to have deepened that connection.

The year after Elena died, I started a scholarship fund in her name to provide financial assistance to college-bound high school students who speak Spanish as their first language. The scholarship has taken off with a life of its own and I no longer have much to do with it. Money is collected, a couple of “angels” give several thousand dollars, and each spring a scholarship board meets to cull through applications from students and select awardees. A group of Elena’s friends attends the award ceremony at Berkeley High School and meets the young people who have received scholarships and their families. The scholarships always go to such dynamic and motivated young people and their parents are always so proud of them and their accomplishment. Elena has given them the gift of college tuition and has given me the gift of witnessing the continuation of her work. I am deeply moved at the scholarship presentation every year.

There are so many other little things to cherish that Elena has given me since she left. As I think about it, my mind fills with images and bursts of recognition of gifts from Elena. I see the image of our mutual friend Linda on her wedding day wearing an antique lace tablecloth that she inherited from Elena over her wedding gown, and it was the perfect and most exquisite addition to her ensemble and contributed to the beautiful glow that surrounded Linda that evening. My son Sudi, Elena’s godson, has recently landed a gig DJing a radio show once a week on Berkeley Liberation Radio. When I think of how thrilled Elena would have been about this, I have to laugh. Elena gives me that laugh. And then there are the sunglasses. I took a pair of Elena’s sunglasses from her house. She had a bag of glasses, all different kinds, and her parents offered them to her friends during the week after Elena passed away. I took a pair of sunglasses. In the past, my sunglasses have not lasted long, but this pair is indestructible! I wear them every day. They are not my style in appearance, but they are really good sunglasses. I wear them every morning when I go for my early walk, and sometimes I think that I’m seeing the world through Elena’s eyes, continuing on this earth for both of us.

Now, four years out, I remain thankful to Elena for the gifts she continues to give me.

Note: Next Sunday I will take my first vacation from blogging in about five years. Be back on the 21st.