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From this Sunday’s NY Times Magazine:
He looked into his paper bag and then began to tell me how he met his wife. He had recently returned from London. It was one of those hot summer days when the clouds ripen and burst. He and his niece took cover under an old shelter near where we were sitting. Restored now — but gated and locked so vagrants can’t make it their home — it’s a symbol of a quaint era when conductors, not computers, collected fares, and trams were rattling trolleys rather than moving billboards.
His niece, he said, was reading from one of the “Victoria Plum” children’s books when a nurse leaned forward. “My name is Victoria because my mother craved Victoria plums when having me,” she told the girl. “Unlike the fairy in your book, I don’t live in a tree. But I do have her curly hair.” The niece giggled. The man realized he had seen Victoria before, near the hospital, around the corner. He thought she hadn’t noticed him, but she had, and that was her way of introduction. They spent the remainder of the afternoon together and never parted after that.
When the man pointed to the Orion constellation and started joining the dots I began to understand the playful nature of his relationship with his wife. But at a certain point, I realized he was talking about her in the past. “It is from February to May that I miss her most,” he said. “Our summer and autumn of falling in love, when Victoria plums are in season.
– excerpted from The Plum Eater
More on the illustrator can be found here…
Physicist and astronaut Ron McNair, who perished in 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated seconds after launch, was the second African-American person to fly into space. He is remembered by his brother Carl in a short film, Eyes on the Stars, and how the power of a young boy’s curiosity can overcome cultural stereotypes about race, law enforcement and even librarians:
We knew from an early age that my brother Ron was different. When he was nine years old, Ron decided to take a mile walk from our home down to the library — which was, of course, a public library, but not so public for black folks, when you’re talking about 1959 in segregated South Carolina.
So as he was walking through the library, all these folks were staring at him, because it was white folk only, and they were looking at him and saying, you know, “Who is this Negro?”
He found some books, and he politely positioned himself in line to check out. Well, this old librarian says, “This library is not for coloreds.” He said, “I would like to check out these books.” She says, “Young man, if you don’t leave this library right now, I’m going to call the police!” He just propped himself up on the counter and sat there and said, “I’ll wait.”
So she called the police and subsequently called my mother. The police came down, two burly guys, and say, “Well, where’s the disturbance?” She pointed to the nine-year-old boy sitting up on the counter. One of the policemen says, “Ma’am, what’s the problem?”
So my mother, in the meanwhile, she comes down there, and she’s praying the whole way: “Lordy, Jesus, please don’t let them put my child in jail!” My mother asked the librarian, “What’s the problem?” The librarian said, “He wanted to check out the books. You know that your son shouldn’t be down here.”
The police officer said, “Why don’t you just give the kid the books?” And my mother said, “He’ll take good care of them.” Reluctantly, the librarian gave Ron the books, and my mother said, “What do you say?” He said, “Thank you, ma’am.”
[Above via Brain Pickings and the essay, Eyes on the Stars…]
From The Ronald E. McNair Post Baccalaureate Achievement Program of the University of Buffalo:
Dr. McNair was the first in his family to graduate from college, as well as to earn a PhD. His academic and subsequent career successes, dimmed only by his untimely death, serve as a beacon to the current generation of college students who, for many reasons, may feel that graduate education, and particularly, the doctoral degree, are inaccessible.
It was late April, and the ballerina Alessandra Ferri was rehearsing the balcony pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet” with Herman Cornejo in American Ballet Theater’s Lower Manhattan studios. The liquid fluidity, gorgeously arched feet and dramatic intensity that have characterized Ms. Ferri’s long career were all in evidence, and onlookers were watching with rapt appreciation.
Ms. Ferri does know what she is doing. On Thursday night, she is returning, at 53, to the Metropolitan Opera House stage to dance, for just one performance, the teenage Juliet — probably her most famous role — which she first danced at 21, in 1984, as a principal at the Royal Ballet.
“I was a little afraid of doing it again,” Ms. Ferri said after the rehearsal. “I went through many stages of indecision and fear and excitement. Then at one point, I thought, I’m only alive once: Why not?”
Dancers have relatively short careers. Because of the demands the profession makes on the body, retiring in the mid-40s — as Ms. Ferri did — is considered a very good run.
“When I retired, it was the end of my career, and that’s still true. My career is over. I have gone back to the pure joy of what I feel when I dance.
– from Alessandra Ferri Makes the Most of a Dance With Father Time, NYT, 6/22/2016
Cleaning out the attic here on a Sunday morning, I stumbled onto a piece that I had started but then set aside. I guess this is one of the immutable lessons that not much changes over time. This was about the Sandy Hook shooting where a boy by the name of Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 six- and seven-year-olds, as well as 6 teachers, and then turned the gun on himself.
For most, this senselessness has faded into the background, overwhelmed by the noise of mass media and daily commuting. For those in Sandy Hook who were directly affected, the tragedy remains.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri offers us this lesson:
There is nothing more seductive than viewing this violence as an isolated incident. It is not. Evil does not visit. It has a permanent residence in every town. I don’t mean this in a strictly religious sense. I’m thinking more of Arendt’s “banality of evil.” The evil here is to treat this as an aberration, to ignore our complicity.
It is unconscionable for us to stop at the abstraction of “why” without an eye to the concrete: Insufficient gun control laws, a healthcare system in which mental health issues consistently get short shrift, an education system that is told to consistently perform better with fewer resources—resources like school counselors and teachers with special needs training.
Cultural critic Slavoj Zizek (echoing Edmund Burke) writes that, sometimes, “doing nothing is the most violent thing to do.”
Perhaps this is the true definition of what separates an adult from a child: Not just the ability, but the responsibility to act—to prevent what is preventable, to refuse the overly simplistic narratives that peg “good” against “evil,” and to peel back the maps that hide the complex truth from view…
The greater issues are still to be addressed…I worry that they’ll be met more with passion than intelligence…
Image © Jeff Kopito
After listening to the caucusing coverage, the candidates, the audience reactions, the prognosticators and pundits, and the man-and-woman on-the-street interviews, I stumbled across this paragraph in Why We Work, by Barry Schwartz:
Ideas or theories about human nature have a unique place in the sciences. We don’t have to worry that the cosmos will be changed by our theories about the cosmos. The planets really don’t care what we think or how we theorize about them. But we do have to worry that human nature will be changed by our theories of human nature. Forty years ago, the distinguished anthropologist Clifford Geertz said that human beings are “unfinished animals.” What he meant is that it is human nature to have a human nature that is very much the product of the society that surrounds us. That human nature is more created than discovered. We “design” human nature, by designing the institutions within which people live. So we must ask ourselves, just what kind of a human nature we want to help design.
This book is not about politics. Yet dealing and working with human nature is about politics. We live, work, eat, read, listen to and watch the institutions we all work and live in. We choose who to believe and what to believe.
I worry that we’re losing ground…
I have trouble sleeping nights. Fractured dreams are a constant. If they wake me up, I try to take hold of them, and put them aside. The only things allowed to remain are the hum of the air conditioner’s fan and the even darkness of the bedroom.
Some nights, I imagine myself at my old schoolyard. I’m facing a chain-link fence, my hands just above my shoulders, gripping onto the steel pattern. Looking out, I see the asphalt ballfield. This while I’m standing on the concrete of the school’s handball courts separated from the field by that same fence. There are no figures to see. But for some reason, holding on to that fence and looking out at something familiar, is comforting enough.
There are other nights when I imagine myself on my father’s boat. I’m inside the cabin and up on the foam mattress of a bunk. We’re moving up the Hudson River – that time we took a trip north towards Canada but only making it as far as Kingston. I”m tired and it’s August hot. I can feel the weight of the month’s heat and the dampness of the river. Lying on my side, I’m staring out a small window at the shore, listening to the thrum of the engine as the boat moves steadily cleaving the water. I only have the vision of the shoreline and the engine to listen to. But it’s enough to comfort me and enable me to sleep.
These are memories that return again and again.
There are those times I wish I knew then what I know now. The things that I could change. The warnings that I could provide. But there was that time that I kissed my father on his roughly stubbled cheek, or the surprised look of my mother opening the apartment door when I visited on a drive back from work.
So many things would change. Then again, so many more things would be lost.
From Flying Lessons, a short story in the collection, Stranger Things Happen by author Kelly Link:
June went to St. Andrews. She thought it would be pleasant to spend a day by the sea. The train was full and she sat next to a fat, freckled woman eating sandwiches, one after the other. June watched her mouth open and close, measuring out the swish and click of the train on the tracks like a metronome.
When the sandwiches were gone, the woman took out a hardcover book. There was a man and a woman on the cover, embracing, his face turned into her shoulder, her hair falling across her face. As if they were ashamed to be caught like this, half-naked before the eyes of strangers. Lily liked that sort of book. The name of the author was Rose Read.
It sounded like a conjuring name, an ingredient in a love spell, a made-up, let’s pretend name. Leaning over the woman’s speckled-egg arm, June looked at the photo on the back. Mile-long curlicued eyelashes, and a plump, secretive smile. Probably the author’s real name was Agnes Frumple; probably those eyelashes weren’t real, either. The woman saw June staring. “It’s called Arrows of Beauty. Quite good,” she said. “All about Helen of Troy, and it’s very well researched.”
“Really,” June said. She spent the next half an hour looking across the aisle, out of the opposite window. There were several Americans on the train, dressed in tourist plaids, their voices flat and bright and bored. June wondered if her honeymooners would come to this someday, traveling not out of love but boredom, shifting restlessly in their narrow seats. Are we there yet? Where are we?
Shortly before the train pulled into Leuchars station, the woman fell asleep. Arrows of Beauty dropped from her slack fingers, and slid down the incline of her lap. June caught it before it hit the floor. She got onto the station platform, the book tucked under her arm.
[h/t to Library Journal for the lead in…]
On Approaching Seventy
by Joan Seliger Sidney
Watching the hands of my son
kneading challah dough
on the maple cutting board
in my kitchen, a memory
rises of my mother
bending over our kitchen table
in Flatbush, pressing, stretching,
folding flour, water, eggs
into a living elastic.
Sometimes in my dreams, Mom
appears, whispers of her mother
in her kitchen in Zurawno
in the pre-dawn dark,
by the light of the kerosene
lamp, pulling and pushing
the yeasty challah dough
until my son covers it
with a clean white cloth
and leaves it in the warm
electric oven to rise.
– On Approaching Seventy, by Joan Seliger Sidney
From her collection, Bereft and Blessed, Antrim House Books
There is no do, only try. For now.
To be continued…