WHEN OLD PEOPLE BLOG

Keyboard for the anxious.

This is unfortunately more true than not.

Something has gone wrong with one itty bitty piece of the technical chain that beams my blog around the world (yes, truly!) at 4:00 a.m. EST on Mondays. I am assuming you, too, were sent the same blog as last week’s. I have no idea why. I am in touch with a WordPress/MailChimp/GoDaddy wizard who can likely fix the problem. I don’t want to read that same Cat/Hurricane blog one more time, either.

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MINDFULNESS AND CREATIVITY

NOTE: This post was first published in February 2015.

Temple Window, Nepal

Temple Window, Nepal

“Mindfulness” is everywhere these days, sometimes in unexpected places. My friend and photography teacher, James Martin, forwarded two excellent, short video conversations with Jay Maisel, the acclaimed photographer. What Maisel said is not only good advice for photographers, it applies to writers (and other people who are creative) as well.

In the first video, without using the term or referring to other forms of artistic expression, Maisel describes creativity as a form of mindfulness. “If somebody said to me, ‘Give me two words that will make me a better photographer,’ I’d say, ‘Be open. Be open to what’s actually in front of you, to what really is happening at that moment.’” In response to questions about what he looks for when he shoots photos, Maisel says, “I’m not looking for anything. That’s the trick. I’m trying not to look for anything.”

Anyone who’s ever been trying to work out a plot knows that the best ideas often come during the blank moments of an idle mind: in the shower, driving on a quiet stretch of road. And the pitfalls of photography are much like the difficulties encountered when writing: “It’s stumble, bumble and fall and pick yourself up and start again. There’s no mystery to it.”

Yesterday, while reviewing a couple of particularly lifeless pages I had written, I realized what was missing were telling gestures–motion or expressions that would indicate mood or attitude. In Maisel’s second video, he talks about that very thing—the importance of gesture. “Gesture is not [movement]. Of course it is, but it’s also the quality of a table leg, the way a tree looks, the way you stand….”I’m looking for specificity….You can’t just say ‘water.’ Water has millions of different gestures. It can be placid, it can be reflective, it can be violent.”

The photo accompanying this blog is one I took that attempts to convey what, though I didn’t know it at the time, Jay Maisel describes. I was wandering through a Buddhist temple in Nepal, tired and not thinking about much of anything, when I came upon this quiet corner, a place with a pleasant breeze where someone must like to sit and maybe even practice Mindfulness.

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CATS AND HURRICANES

CatmanDeux

Polydactyl cats have five toes. I could not find a free photo of a polydactyl, so you have to imagine that my kitty, CatmanDeux, has an extra toe on each front paw.

How do cats react to hurricanes? Good question. Key West, Florida, in the path of Hurricane Irma, is home to some of the most famous cats in the U.S.—Ernest Hemingway’s polydactyls. Thanks to the kitty-loving British, I can assure you that all 54 six-toed cats at Hemingway’s former home (now a museum) are safe. The cats rode out the storm with ten of the museum’s staff, who refused to evacuate the kitties and instead hunkered down with them in Hemingway’s house. You can read about it here at the Daily Mail’s website.

Hurricanes are, of course, on my mind.  Today I came upon this apt quotation from Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

Even with all our technology and the inventions that make modern life so much easier than it once was, it takes just one big natural disaster to wipe all that away and remind us that, here on Earth, we’re still at the mercy of nature.

The first time the reality of being at the mercy of nature hit home for me was during my first ice storm in Connecticut. I had never heard of an ice storm and was unprepared for the wind, the sound of trees crashing all around our house and the knowledge that this was a problem I could not solve by calling 911.  We were on our own and Nature’s force was bigger than all of us. (This was also the occasion of an oft-quoted scream of mine. I tried to get my husband and sons to go to the basement with me to be safe in case a tree hit the house. I stood in the upstairs hallway trying to get them to follow me downstairs and when no one moved, I yelled, “Fine! You can all just go ahead and DIE!”)

Joking aside, the magnitude of the destruction and dislocation in Texas, the Gulf Coast, Florida and other states is hard to comprehend. Our thoughts, prayers and hopes are with all our fellow human beings now and in the long period of recovery ahead.

 

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LABOR AND LEMONS

Chef on balcony

Working Chef in Austin, Texas

Happy Labor Day
On this day it is useful to take a few moments to think about those Americans whose labor make our lives better. Though membership in unions has been in the decline, the effects of the unions’ nearly 200-year effort is part of the fiber of our society and the struggle continues. We wouldn’t have laws guaranteeing minimum wages and overtime without the labor movement. Unions fought for or supported and eventually won the minimum wage and 40-hour week as well as the Equal Pay Act banning wage discrimination based on gender and the Civil Rights Act banning discrimination based on race. It is fashionable to complain about unions (as my parents did) but if you are fortunate enough to have health insurance and a pension, you can thank the labor movement. Their efforts on behalf of their members raised the bar for all working people, union or not. So thank you, grocery store clerks, my letter carrier and UPS deliverer as well as the electricians, carpenters, laborers, refuse collectors and dozens more workers in my everyday life.

Meyer Lemon

Happy to be back on the ground.

Lemon Tree, Very Pretty
If you have followed the saga of this little tree, you’ll know that I have been in a life-and-death struggle with a potted Meyer Lemon tree (see previous blogs of 5/16/16, 5/23/16 and 6/27/17. Things are looking up. In June the tree moved west and I planted it in our front yard. After years of trying to keep it alive in New England the tree is thriving, a living example of the maxim, “Don’t fight the site.” It’s free at last from its big blue pot and obviously grateful. It will thrive in California, as I hope we will.

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BACK TO WHERE I ONCE BELONGED

gaetan-pautler-707

The Golden Gate Bridge

I used to belong in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’ve gone to college here, given birth to three children, rented, bought and sold houses in a large swath of the East Bay: Berkeley, Oakland, Kensington and Alameda. And now, after 21 years in New England, returned to where I once belonged.

New England in 1996 was a culture shock. In our small Connecticut town, I learned that many families had occupied the same land for more than one hundred years and that a five-minute wait at a traffic light was a traffic jam. Children addressed adults as “Mrs.” or “Mr.” No one referred to men as “dudes.” When someone said “Let’s get together,” they meant it and “reserved” doesn’t mean “unfriendly.”  I really love New England, a place where I came to belong.

Now we are back in the Bay Area for most of the time. There have been a lot of changes. The traffic is dreadful; the housing prices are ridiculous. I’m not used to constant ambient noise. On the other hand, I love the friendliness. People talk to you in line at the grocery store! Everywhere you turn there is diversity of all sorts. Our Asian letter carrier has a southern accent. The project manager for our new house was born in Afghanistan. I can’t get over how people dress. It was 75 degrees last week and people were walking around in sweaters. Looking out the window while drinking coffee at a local spot, I was startled when a rather large woman in a wheel chair cruised by in a Santa Claus suit, complete with fur-edged hat.

It is going to take a while to get used to this new environment, though obviously there is no need to worry about dressing appropriately. I’ll take you along on this adventure as I learn to belong in an old new place.

X  X  X

 

Photo by Gaetan Pautler via unsplash.com

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MOTELS, MOOSE AND MOON SHADOWS

A MALE MOOSE

MOOSE

Last Friday I embarked on a real adventure—viewing the total eclipse–with part of my family: Bill, my daughter Sara and the fabulous Kamiko, our granddaughter. Here are a few impressions.

THE SURPRISES OF ELKO
We spent the first night in Elko, Nevada, a city that is roughly halfway between Oakland, California and Jackson Hole, Wyoming (from where we hope to get a good view of from the “Path of Totality”). Elko may not be known as a destination spot but we enjoyed it. We stayed at the Best Western. For Kamiko, this motel with its free, fresh cookies in the lobby and indoor swimming pool, this was the height of luxury. Forget the Taj or the Four Seasons! It’s the Elko Best Western or nothing! [In our photographic travels we have stayed at several levels of accommodation, from the Yak and Yeti in Katmandu (very nice) to the Everest Base Camp lodgings in Tibet (no heat, no plumbing, a thermos of hot water and two metal bowls—you decide what to use them for).]

We arrived at dinner time, resigned to some dreadful pizza joint on Business 80. However, the hotel provided a list of local restaurants and that’s where we really lucked out. The Fresh Fare Bistro and Pub was only six minutes away and it lived up to its name. The food was fresh and interesting. The beers and ales were good, according to Bill. The house white wine was delicious, according to me. So if you’re ever anywhere near Elko, Nevada, stop and stay a while. We have already made reservations for our journey back home.

MOOSE IN THE WILD AND AT HOME
I have always wanted to see a moose in the wild. I’ve seen a couple standing beside New Hampshire freeways, contemplating destruction of either themselves or a passing car, but I’ve yet to see one moosing around. All that changed today. We spent an hour admiring a moose feeding in a pond (Moose Pond, actually). It’s a messy process involving lots of clumps of aquatic weeds, dripping water and giant moose head-shaking. Then when we got back to our friends’ condo, we noticed a group of people standing around a clump of trees—some with cameras, others with glasses of wine—watching two young male mooses stripping the leaves off the compound’s bushes. The larger of the two stared us down a couple of times and then resumed eating. Impossible to count him as a wild moose.

THE MOON ‘S SHADOW
The only thing I have ever known about a moon shadow is from Cat Stevens’ song. It has a lovely tune but the lyrics are not informative. Now, with all the news about the eclipse everywhere, I have discovered an odd and moving essay by Annie Dillard with a thrilling description of the moon’s shadow. You can read it at the Atlantic Monthly’s site here. It’s unforgettable.

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ON THE ROAD WITH BILL AND JIM, PART II

For the second week, we have a “Guest Blogger,” my spouse, Bill Popik. He and Jim Martin–our friend, photography guru and sometime-photo trip guide—embarked on a cross-country trip to photograph parts of the northern United States. This is Bill’s next installment.

Suspension Bridge

Mackinac Bridge,
Michigan

MICHIGAN

After leaving Detroit, we headed north for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, or “UP.” For those who have never been there, the UP is that portion of the state on the northern side of the Mackinac Straits, the site of the confluence of two Great Lakes—Michigan and Huron. To get there, one crosses the Mackinac Bridge. In the Upper Peninsula, everyone is friendly. You’ve heard the term “Minnesota nice”—the same ethic exists in the Michigan countryside.

 

Minnesota city

Duluth, Minnesota

MINNESOTA

Our plan was to stay on Lake Superior but all the lodgings were full, so we headed for Duluth. What a great move that was. Duluth is incredible! Its early history was trapping and trading with the Indians. That gave way to mining, lumbering and later steel production. The opening of the Soo Locks allowed the passage of ships from the Atlantic all the way to Duluth, a distance of 2500 miles. That enabled shipping goods into and out of the mid-point of the country. In the 20th century, Duluth became the busiest port by tonnage in the United States.

storefront

Repurposed building.

The city’s decline started in the 1950’s when the iron mines petered out. It continued into the 1990’s, when the city realized that tourism could play a major part in its future. With that guidepost, the city began a transformation into a vibrant and exciting place. (If you are interested in learning more about Duluth, check out James Fallows’ American Futures Project. Duluth is one of the cities highlighted there). Old buildings have been renovated and house shops. There is a thriving arts community. The shore of Lake Superior has bike paths and boardwalks. It’s a city made for being outside when the weather permits.

Duluth Memorial

Memorial to slain African Americans

There are restaurants everywhere. We had breakfast at Uncle Loui’s, a highly recommended short order joint where the pancake is as large as the plate it’s served on. We walked around several downtown blocks and at Second Ave and First St. came across a memorial to three innocent black men who were accused of raping a white girl and were lynched. This is a city that does not try to bury the sins of its past but honors the memory of those who were unjustly slain.

Mississippi

Headwaters of the Mississippi River

It was a perfect short stay with one exception. We wanted to get our picture taken with Senator Al Franken at his Duluth office. I was even willing to pose next to a cardboard cutout but instead we pressed on. A few hours from Duluth, we crossed a small river with small boats parked along the banks. It was the headwater of the Mississippi. We took pictures just as a rain storm started. Onward to Grand Forks, North Dakota.

 

 

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ON THE ROAD WITH BILL AND JIM, Part 1

For the next three weeks, we have a “Guest Blogger,” my spouse, Bill Popik. He and Jim Martin–our friend, photography guru and sometime-photo trip guide—have embarked on a cross-country trip to photograph parts of the northern United States. This is Bill’s first installment.

Niagara Falls

Horseshoe Falls

Saturday morning we shot Niagara Falls. Despite both the American and Canadian sides Niagara’s two towns being  gaudy tourist traps, the beauty of the Falls didn’t disappoint. With the constantly changing light patterns caused by the rising sun and the shifting mists due to the falls’ self-generated winds, we took lots of pictures.

After that we headed west on Canadian roads, bound for Detroit. Much of that city is either abandoned or razed. This is exactly what we came for. We wanted to see a heavily hit rust belt city. The choice was either Detroit or Flint. The decision was made by the fact that Jim found a photo tour in which we could shoot inside abandoned buildings.

Our tour began early Sunday morning. Our guide, Jessie, was an aircraft mechanic who lost his job years ago and went in a few new directions. He is incredibly optimistic about Detroit, believing that the city has already hit the bottom and is rebounding; to him, there are a myriad of possibilities and a limitless upside. He has an entrepreneurial spirit and is making a living inside the worlds of photography and real estate. Real estate is incredibly cheap in Detroit, especially if you’re interested in buying a vacant lot or an abandoned house. Jessie has done both.

Our photo tour showed some of the darker side of Detroit. We photographed three abandoned buildings. Though they look like they had been abandoned 50 years ago, each was shuttered around 2010, leaving them vulnerable to the “scrapers” who are primarily interested in stealing and selling anything of value, primarily metal. Copper is referred to a “Detroit gold.”

We photographed :

1: A school that was once in a middle class neighborhood (attended by Lily Tomlin!). When it was closed, the intent of the board of education was to keep the school in operable condition. However, once the scrapers took over, the school was unusable within a year.

Abandoned school

Former classroom

2.: A church, originally Catholic and later Baptist. Notice that the harp of the grand piano has been removed for scrap

Church interior

Interior of abandoned church.

3: The Fisher Body plant of General Motors. This six story, 300,000 square foot building is now owned by the City of Detroit, and can be bought for $500,000. The work of graffiti artists is everywhere.

Closed factory

Fisher Body Plant, Detroit 2017

Next we head north to the “UP,” the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Once there, we’ll turn west toward Duluth.

Text and photos by William C. Popik, M.D.

 

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LEMON TREE, JONATHAN SWAN & DEATH OF READING

SHE LIVES!

Lemon Tree
Of all the blogs I’ve written, I get the most questions about the fate of the Meyer Lemon tree I decided to kill last year. Though I had planned to do away with it, what with all its health problems, I pruned it down to nothing and it surprised me by reviving, sprouting healthy-colored leaves and thus giving itself another chance. I am happy to inform you interested readers that I smuggled the little tree into California and it is now planted in a sunny spot by our front steps. I hope this will be a happy ending to our troubled relationship.

Jonathan Swan
I cannot seem to tear myself away from political news. It’s fascinating, even when the news is depressing. Recently I have become aware of an occasional “talking head” on the news named Jonathan Swan, national political reporter for Axios. Swan is thoughtful guy of considered opinions but what I like most is that he can’t seem to stifle his infectious giggle at the absurdity of our national politics. It’s refreshing.

The Death of Reading
Lately I haven’t been reading as many books as I used to. In addition, my attention span seems to have packed its bags and headed for unknown destinations. I am not alone. Last week, Philip Yancey wrote that “The death of reading is threatening the soul” in The Washington Post. It is well worth reading. My favorite part:

“When I read an online article from the Atlantic or the New Yorker, after a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays….and I glance at the bottom of the screen and scan the teasers for more engaging tidbits: 30 Amish Facts That’ll Make your Skin Crawl, Top 10 Celebrity Wardrobe Malfunctions..A dozen or more clicks later I have lost interest in the original article.

Have a good week.

 

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ROMANCE AND MY GARDEN

Joe Pye is always late to the party.

Joe Pye is the tall, handsome one in the back.

I tend to romanticize my garden during the winter. In February, looking out my window at the snow, icicles and gray, leafless trees, I dream of my Marion garden with its beautiful Dogwood, Peonies and faithful perennials. I picture myself in attractive garden apparel, basket in one hand and shears in the other, tripping along the walkways snipping day lilies that have passed their prime, occasionally interrupted by oohs and ahs from passersby.

That was then; this is now. It’s hot. It’s sticky. There are ticks carrying dangerous diseases. I have to dress in Hazmat attire just to pull up weeds. It gets worse. Despite all my precautions, one morning last week I found a tick nestled behind my left ear. Luckily, it was a Wood Tick, not a carrier of Lyme Disease, Babesiosis and worse. But forget about day lilies; it’s the weeding that never ends. Thanks to the humidity and frequent rainstorms, weeds run rampant in ways that prized blooms never will. I was once told that painting the Golden Gate Bridges is an endless job: start at one end, paint to the other, and by the time that’s done it’s time to circle back to the start and begin again. It’s the same with weeds. Two weeks ago the vegetable garden looked great when I had finished weeding. Today I went outside to see how the zucchini was coming along and could barely find it among all the weeds.

There’s more. It’s late July now and the flowers that have started blooming are the ones that herald the approaching winter. My favorite is Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum). I don’t know who Joe was but I was drawn to his tall, dark and handsome lavender blossoms when we first moved to New England. Eventually I noticed that Joe Pye makes his appearance as summer is waning. I guess the garden is a metaphor for life: beauty is transient, it pays to be persistent, and sometimes the ones we like best–like Joe–arrive late to the party.

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