Once in a blue moon

A week ago an email database of mine disappeared. 

Gone from the server, no clear explanation of how it happened other than an unfortunate glitch in the process of moving my website/blog from one server to another. That’s reason enough to warrant freaking out (or appeal to the Russians for help) but what kept me sane was my suspicion that all was not lost since those very emails exist on my laptop via a desktop app.

That’s not to say I haven’t had a sleepless night or two figuring out how to save a retrievable backup of the emails. In the best of all possible worlds, emails backed up from one database waltz smoothly into another. More often than not, the transition requires a little tech support even for a reasonably tech-savvy woman like me.

Yet a funny thing happens along the way. You look at your inbox and ask yourself: how do I have thousands of emails? A file cabinet filled with letters would likely be thinned down from time to time. But emails—received, read, flagged, sent, discarded—find their way into that deceptive out-of-sight/out-of-mind compartment of our brains.

Until one day a potential disaster forces your hand. Maybe you saved a bunch of emails for a good reason back in 2014. Or maybe you just didn’t give it that much thought.  They don’t take up space after all. 

And maybe it’s a hedge against that once-in-a-blue-moon moment when there’s an email you absolutely need to unearth and you simply can’t rest until you do. Why that particular email is so important is beside the point. 

We all hate losing things. We all resent the feeling of vulnerability that kicks in when the very technology that has been such a good friend begins to give us pause. 

Pause is a perfect word for the moment, once in a blue moon the most exquisite of tropes. There’s nothing necessarily blue about a blue moon, even if it’s riddled with everything the color evokes. Melancholy comes to mind. Elvis may have defined the song, but Cowboy Junkies took it to another level.  

Powder blue. Dusk blue. Midnight blue. 

Sky blue. Ice blue. Cerulean. 

Yves Klein blue.

The blue of distance that Rebecca Solnit writes about so evocatively. 

More than a color, it’s a mood, a state of mind. In a recent Brainpickings roundup, Maria Popova characterizes it as “a symbol, a state of being, a foothold to the most lyrical and transcendent heights of the imagination.”

Listen to the blues as much as I do and you’d be hard put to disagree. What genre of music is as riddled with sexuality, sensuality, vulnerability? Not to mention the cultural undertones it embodies.

There’s a thread here, and vulnerability may be its epicenter. 

Who isn’t feeling vulnerable these days, what with the Manchurian Candidate occupying the Oval Office? 

Last week brought me a riveting poem by Terrance Hayes via The New Yorker.

things got terribly ugly incredibly quickly
things got ugly embarrassingly quickly
actually things got ugly unbelievably quickly
honestly things got ugly seemingly infrequently
initially things got ugly ironically usually
awfully carefully things got ugly unsuccessfully
occasionally things got ugly mostly painstakingly
quietly seemingly things got ugly beautifully
infrequently things got ugly sadly especially
frequently unfortunately things got ugly
increasingly obviously things got ugly suddenly
embarrassingly forcefully things got really ugly
regularly truly quickly things got really incredibly
ugly things will get less ugly inevitably hopefully

Last week also brought me to Springsteen on Broadway via Netflix. As a longtime Bruce fan, I resisted the impulse to get tickets when the show had its Broadway run. The intimacy of a solo performance struck me as out of character with the nature of the large venue. The price of a ticket to be up close enough struck me as out of sync with a performer who prides himself on being a working class hero. More to the point, nothing will ever come close to having seen him in his up-and-coming days at a small club, the Bottom Line, NYC.

Streaming the show, via Netflix, on a large-screen television, was the way it was meant to be seen for fans like me. The vulnerability of the man behind the music shines through as he takes us through his life, via excerpts/adaptations from his wonderful memoir and the songs he sings.

This week brought me to “Sonny’s Blues,” a masterful James Baldwin story in which music becomes a catalyst for a moment of transcendence between two estranged brothers. The fragile reconciliation that unfolds in the course of the story brings the brothers to a new understanding of each other.

“Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others. And Sonny went all the way back, he really began with the spare, flat statement of the opening phrase of the song. Then he began to make it his. . . . I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours.”

All of which has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, the things we hold onto are the ones most in need of being let go. Even if it takes a blue moon to realize it.


Hey, Siri

My husband does not own a cell phone. Repeat: he does not own a cell phone/does not want one. And truth be known he has reason to resist. He runs a business from home. When he leaves the house to do errands, etc., he does not want to be bothered.  From a standpoint of observing the almost obsessive level of connection cell phones foster, it’s hard to disagree with him. Even if there’s a little of the chicken-egg conundrum here—which came first: the need to be within a text’s reach at a moment’s notice or the device that made it all possible?—I’m convinced the ubiquitousness of cells phones is altering our neurology.  Sometimes I hear text beeps when there are none.

All of which makes it all the more charming, even amusing, that my husband seems taken with Siri.  Here’s what happened.

We bought a HomePod, really for me.  If you listen to music as much as I do, you know there’s a qualitative difference between analog and digital sound. I still listen to CDs, even LPs, but the convenience of streaming and/or downloading songs via services like Pandora and Apple Music gives instant gratification an edge.  Good speakers do a reasonable job of compensating for what’s lost in the digitizing process.

Suffice it to say I’ve played with different speaker scenarios, with mixed results. Along comes HomePod, which, in the world of proprietary devices, would seem to be a good fit for my iTunes music library.

Indeed it is. But that dear husband of mine needs to test the limits of Siri. Initially he stands close to the speaker, leans In, learns quickly there’s a protocol that begins with two words:

Hey, Siri.

Without that phrase, you may as well be talking to yourself.   Saturday Night Live did a hilarious spoof on geriatrics communicating with Alexa, Amazon’s Echo equivalent to Siri.

Command recognition is indeed an art.

Husband:  Hey, Siri, do you like where we’ve placed you?

Siri:  It’s homey.

He asks more and more questions. About baseball stats. Oscar winners in a given year.   He talks to her when he’s cleaning up in the kitchen after dinner.

Husband: Hey, Siri,  how are you feeling today?

Siri: I feel good.

When the music is too loud for him, he asks her to stop. Apparently she thinks he wants to hear “Stop” by the Spice Girls.

He learns her limits, too.

Husband:  Hey, Siri, my wife is feeling blue. Can you do something?

Siri: Sorry. I can’t help with that.

He takes the HomePod for a test run in his office. His employees (male) enjoy a female voice that provides music at their command and answers to trivia questions.  A request to play “The Huckabuck” from The Honeymooners initially stymies her. But she finally finds it, which makes him, and his employee, smile. Some dancing is in order.

Husband: Hey, Siri, thank you.

Siri: My pleasure, as always.

Just as they’re getting used to the idea of Siri, we’re hit with a snowstorm triggering a power outage that lasts for days. Fortunately for my husband, his reasonably tech-savvy wife has an iPhone that she sets up as a hotspot.  Oh sweet Internet! But, alas, no Siri, who has been programmed to stream music on a specific wireless network. I don’t know that a workaround is possible or worth the time to figure out. Good old CDs are made for moments like this.

The moral?  I can leave home, reassured that my husband has a female presence to provide him with entertainment when I’m gone as long as our cable network is up and running.  But he really loves watching TV in bed at night, and the only way that’s going to happen is if he gives in to the reality that a cell phone hotspot will let him watch Netflix on the (rarely used) iPad our daughter relinquished to him. More important for business purposes, he’ll have his own backup phone (not mine) during those times (thankfully rare) when cable service is out.

So, Siri, my husband has many things he may or may never say to you. But you have, in a peculiar way, come around at an auspicious time.  The very same daughter who relinquished an iPad to her father has sent him an old iPhone. He may think he’s never going to use it, but when cable power is out, he’ll have his very own hotspot to get the Internet up and running.  And when the phone rings with calls forwarded from his business line,  he may not admit that the technology he resists has become his friend.  But he will answer the call.

 

 

The sound of one leaf falling

chipmunkThe transition from one season to the next is always a reminder of something fluid, even elusive. Sure you wake one day and the calendar tells you it’s autumn, this year’s arrival last week still in the afterglow of the Harvest Moon.  But it’s not as if you haven’t already sensed it, the shifting light, the shortening of days.  It’s a lot like the space between breaths that sometimes becomes the focal point during meditation. If you pay attention, breathing in can only become breathing out. And vice versa.

So it goes with the slipping of summer into autumn.  By late August there’s a diminished vibrancy to the lush green of the leaves; mid-September the ache kicks in, that fading to yellow, a reminder that leaves may be dying but we still have that riot of red and orange, yellow and brown against that seasonal golden light to look forward to.    A quote I came across the other day by the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang sums up so eloquently the way I feel:

“I like spring, but it is too young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because its leaves are a little yellow, its tone mellower, its colors richer, and it is tinged a little with sorrow and a premonition of death. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor of the power of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows the limitations of life and is content. From a knowledge of those limitations and its richness of experience emerges a symphony of colors, richer than all, its green speaking of life and strength, its orange speaking of golden content and its purple of resignation and death.”

It’s a busy time for chipmunks and squirrels, I’ve noticed, a kind of rush hour as they scamper and scurry back and forth, in and out, so much to hoard. It’s a noisy season, too, lawnmowers still cutting the last bits of summer grass before the leaf blowers take over.  Who needs an alarm clock in the morning when you have crows?

A few weeks ago, Labor Day to be exact, I was sitting on my deck, early morning. Sipping coffee and reading.  Something made me stop.  Look up.

More often than not what distracts me is something I see or hear: a  squirrel doing acrobatics across tree branches. A majestic hawk circling the sky.  A woodpecker rat-tat-tatting.  Deer passing through my yard.  A tree being trimmed.

On that particular day, the memory still vivid, it was the complete absence of usual morning sounds that enveloped me.

Not a crow caw-caw-cawing.

Not a car thrumming down the road.

Not a dog barking.

Nada, when it came to sound.

That I could be so caught up in its absence was a curious reminder, ironic as it seems, that I’m not alone. “The world is too much with us,” wrote Wordsworth, and that was way before technology wreaked havoc on our neurology: Being present to the moment is a far cry from the beeping urgency of text messages.  The immediacy of sending e-mails brings an expectation of response in a timely fashion, the question being: whose time frame is it anyway?

Years ago I read A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle,  drawn to the title.  At the very beginning she writes:

“I like hanging sheets on lines under the apple trees—the birds like it, too. I enjoy going out to the incinerator after dark and watching the flames; my bad feelings burn away with the trash. But the house is still visible, and I can hear the sounds from within; often I need to get away completely, if only for a few minutes. My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings.”

The quiet a writer needs to do her work was at the heart of a conversation between novelist/filmmaker/Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki and editor/novelist Carole DeSanti, hosted by WNBA-NYC.  “Real creative work comes from a quiet place,” said DeSanti.  We may need the noise, that “conversation with the world,” as Ozeki put it, at the start of a project.  “But at the end I need quiet to dig in.”

“Silence is an endangered species,” says acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton in an interview with Krista Tippett that begs to be listened to.  “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything,” he explains, taking listeners on a virtual hike through the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park to what he calls One Square Inch of Silence.  It’s through silence that we regain the power to listen.

“Now we will all count to twelve/and we will all keep still. . . .” begins a Pablo Neruda poem that Jewish-Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein is said to carry with her everywhere she goes. Listen to her recite it. Or read it here.

The poem, a favorite of mine, is called “Keeping Quiet.”

 

 

 

Modern Love

My husband does not own a cell phone. This is no Luddite, holier-than-thou holdout. He doesn’t need one, he insists, case closed.  He has a two-line phone for his business and only recently made a big technological leap, from an old-fashioned answering machine (the tape was beginning to crackle) to the state-of-the-art answering services provided by Verizon. Anyone wants to reach him when he’s out of the office doing errands, tough luck.  I forget something on the list of grocery items I gave him, too bad. He has nothing kind to say about drivers on their cell phones, except that they’re accidents waiting to happen.  The proof is in the telling, a woman who shot past him in her SUV, into the left-turn lane at an intersection, cell phone glued to her ear, a near-miss with an oncoming car. He bristles if a cell phone rings in a restaurant (I don’t like it myself). And yet . . .

My daughter and I switched to AT&T so she could get her first iPhone a few years ago, now we both have them. I couldn’t help myself. It’s that encroaching technology thing. Or do I mean enticing? My first cell phone was basic, no frills, family plans making two phones (almost) more economical than a single-user plan, especially with my daughter going off to college;  next came the picture phone (like, why not, even if I almost never used it?).  Texting took me some time to get a handle on. Then there was the simple question – do I really want to be that available 24/7? – which turned itself into a twisted logic, Mad Men doing what they do best: you need a cell phone, I’m told. Just in case.

Need? My husband smirks. We did just fine, maybe even better, before cell phones, thank you very much. He thinks my daughter calls too much. Only when she needs me, I explain. (Let me say it again, need.) It makes him edgy, the beep of a text message while we’re watching a TV show or movie.  When do we let go?

All of which places me smack in the middle of a modern-day love triangle. I love my tech-wary husband, he’s the one I live with. I love my tech-savvy daughter, so far and still so near.

My husband believes that cell phones will be the downfall of civilization. He is convinced that dependency on cell phones is going to backfire one day, turn us into a nation of nervous wrecks. Watching him use mine, when we’re in the car together and a friend of his (or our daughter) really really really needs (ha!) to talk to him, is always good for a laugh. He speaks loudly into it, as if it’s more toy than phone.

My daughter e-mails me a list of must-have apps for my iPhone, among them At Bat Lite (for dad, she says).

My husband says he can just as easily check baseball stats on his computer, no need to have them on-the-go.

My daughter e-mails me a link re: updates in ebook publishing. She consults with me via text messages re:  TV shows I should watch, fitness classes she is considering, dogs she thinks I should adopt, and calls me when the stresses of health maintenance, car maintenance, moving to a new apartment, and generally trying to make it on her own get a little overwhelming.  Also for some recipe and shopping advice.

We’re too dependent on gadgets, says my husband. Forget the GPS. Look to the sun for direction.