Monday, September 11, 2006

The changing meaning of "911"


Today may be a national day of mourning, but 911 has other meanings for me.

911 was first my home. My childhood house number was 911. I think I learned that in time for kindergarten, so since I was 5 years old, 911 was home.

My dad was a doctor, so the next meaning for 911 was the number to be dialed in an emergency. I have not yet had to dial it, but it is firmly ingrained in my psyche. My brain was entertained by the irony of having the medicine-related number on the front of my house (where a doctor lived).

Then 9/11 was September 11, 2001, a day full of heart-sickening news from New York and DC.

And 9/11 was September 11, 2002 the day my wife had major surgery and came through it OK. I spent the day in the hospital waiting room with her parents. A nice enough waiting room, but a place no one really wants to be.

What else will 911 mean in my life?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Far From My Birthplace


My sister-out-law's blog led me to Michi's Poem Title Generator and although I was not looking for a poem title, one of the questions sent me on a little quest. The question was "What's the furthest you've been away from the place you were born?"

I was born in the midwest so I did a web search and found a site that calculates the distance from my birth city to places I have traveled. Unless I mis-remember something, the place farthest away from my birthplace (as the crow flies, so to speak) is Innsbruck, Austria (at a distance of 4806 miles).

I was 17 and was on a trip to Europe playing music with ninety-some other teens from all over the U.S.A. I knew a bit about Innsbruck because my parents had been there on a ski trip when I was little (they left me at home). My trip was in the summer and the weather was gorgeous. I remember a clear day with a breeze. We played a concert in a park (in a gazebo, some sections of the band desperately trying to avoid the droppings from the pigeons nesting in the cupola atop the shelter). I remember being in the old city and seeing the sunlight glint off the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof which you can see at but note that it is not in English, though there is a link to a live webcam).

I shopped for souveniers, watched my fellow travellers pick out souveniers (including clocks and crystal) and enjoyed Austrian pastries (yum). I recall having delicious wurst for some meal. A short stay on a long trip. That was just one stop on a European tour including 10 concerts in 7 countries within 2 weeks.

By the time I got to Austria, however, I was sort of used to being so far from home. The "distance thing" did get to me earlier in the trip. After a few-days stay in New York City, we packed our bags, played a concert, changed from concert clothes to travel clothes at the airport, flew to London (overnight), boarded buses, stopped for lunch somewhere in the countryside, arrived in Dover (as in "White Cliffs of" and they were) where we boarded a ferry to cross the English Channel. At Calais we again boarded buses (ones that were to be our regular transport for most of the trip) and were driven to Paris, arriving late in the evening (after dark) eating dinner at something like 10pm or later and completely collapsing in a blur of travel-induced stupor.

The next day, after we had eaten and rested, and after we had been in the same city for more than a 3 hours, we got a chance to see Paris. By bus and by foot (and by taste, with a stop in my first honest-to-goodness Parisian Pâtisserie) we received a brief introduction to the city. As evening approached, we went up into the Eiffel Tower and had a short time to take a deep breath and look around. It was then, looking out over the city of Paris, when the distance hit me. I was a long, long way from where I had started. I not only in a city new to me, but I was in a country I'd never visited, and moreover, I was on a whole OTHER CONTINENT with an ocean in between.

I wasn't homesick, so much as just feeling a bit adrift. I think I found it more exiting than scary.

Through the years, though, the distance from my birthplace has varied by more than just miles. Yes there are miles. I grew up about 66 miles from the city where I was born. I now live 959 miles from where I grew up. I work about 13 miles from my house.

But I have also travelled through years. I'm now in my forties and if I still don't completely feel like a grownup, at least I no longer feel like a kid anymore either.

And I have traveled in my experiences and exposure to new ideas. I wouldn't trade that for anything.

And I have traveled through books. Through books I have been to every continent, beneath nearly every sea, and beyond the Earth, and beyond our solar system itself. I through books I have time-travelled to the past and to the future and to the never-will-be. And I wouldn't trade that kind of travel for anything either.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Spring Fever by any other name


NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook recently aired a segment on Chasing Spring. This got me thinking about the change of seasons here in Massachusetts.

New England has had a warm winter (all-in-all). And being in New England, I do not really expect that winter is completely over yet -- it is still March and my friends are still skiing. And winter colds are still keeping staffing levels low.

Yet spring is easing in. There were two robins in my yard a couple of days ago. The dogwood tree's buds are thinking about waking up. The daffodil greens have been up for weeks. And if we had any crocus this year, well, we blinked and missed them. Probably wiped out in one of those 3-day winters we had. You know the ones - it gets cold enough to snow, but 3 days later the only snow remaining is the raggedy, dirty, tail end of the largest piles on the corners of the largest intersections. The sounds have changed too -- more birds and the spring peepers are starting to create quite a racket in the swamp out back.

And then there is that annual ailment that aflicts people - Spring Fever.

People are giddy about not having to wear so many layers. And a lot of people, particularly those in cars, appear lost. I don't know if they set out to go somewhere (work, home, gas station, grandmother's house) or not, but I wouldn't put money on any of them getting there. And this is more than the usual crazy commuter-in-the-city traffice - even for the Boston area.

No, this includes a pickup truck seen today. When we pulled up behind the truck at the stoplight (red) it seemed to be calmly waiting for the light to change. Then, for some inexplicable reason, the truck decided that it needed to make an immediate left turn by peeling out and swinging wide on the way. Did I mention that the light was still RED. We decided to actually wait for the light to turn GREEN and crossed our fingers that we weren't about to drive over any pieces of the accident the truck was bound to cause. [No pieces - no visible accident. Whew!]

The daylight patterns are changing too. I needed sunglasses when I left work tonight. I consider the extra light to be a lovely thing. Yet it seems to cause great distress for a huge number of commuters. I describe this as the "great ball of fire in sky" syndrome. This huge fireball so frightens the drivers, especially those who seem to never have heard of sunglasses or visors, that they must immediately STOMP ON THE BREAKS! I don't know why this seems to make them feel better, but I guess it is comforting.

Just wait until after this weekend's change to Daylight Savings Time and we'll see what other symptoms of Spring Fever crop up.

The calendar (and the IRS) say that spring is here. The Jewish calendar tells me to hurry up and plan for (and clean for) Passover.

For some, it is the sports calendars that tell them it is spring. Baseball's spring training season is nearly over and the regular season about to start. Yet pro teams are still playing basketball and hockey.

So where am I going with this? I guess I want to remind myself to appreciate the signs of the season change as they come.
Spring is about the promise of what is to come, regardless of how long it takes. The natural transition is not a straight line. It is about leafing out and flowering, but also about some more snow flakes and weather cool enough you still need a turtleneck and a sweater.

And I would recommend that it is a time to chill out when you are behind the wheel of your cars. The rest of spring (and summer) will be nicer if you don't have to spend it in traction.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Delightful Goofball in Concert


We heard Livingston Taylor in concert last night. I last heard him in the early 1980's. I didn't remember him being so much of a goofball then. Not that I don't appreciate that kind of thing.

I enjoyed myself, but I was struck at how much he seems to enjoy making music. He commented several times on how much he liked writing a certain piece. The delight that he had created some melody or other.

He sang new stuff, old stuff, and a couple pieces by other folks. He seemed so pleased to be able to be paid to perform, particularly for an appreciative audience. There was so much joy in the musical process: the playing, the singing, the remembering how he came up with the music and/or the lyrics, and even baiting the audience - a mischievous weighing of the crowd to see what tomfoolery we would put up with.

Me? I don't create my own music or lyrics, I only interpret someone else's work. When I truly enjoy the piece, I do delight in the moment, but I often have another soundtrack going in my head. The part reminding me to emphasize here, or to slow down there, or willing another voice part to come in properly, or counting the audience members to compare with the take (in hopes the budget comes up in the black this year), or thinking I should have more comfortable shoes, or wishing it was an appropriate time for a big drink of water.

It sounds so busy and all that must, must distance me from the delight in the music itself. I do wonder from time to time if I shouldn't hook up with a larger group again, one in which I can be just a voice, rather than a major moving force to keep the organization going. I definitely need to start listening (and singing along) to my favorite stuff on my iPod more.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

An Olympic Perspective


I've been watching the Winter Olympics and when they actually show the sports, I've had a good time (well, I've never been really fond of hockey - I'm guessing it is an acquired taste). I've also been listening to various TV and radio people talk about how the Olympics aren't fun now that America doesn't have an "enemy" to beat (particularly at hockey). Gharrr!

I have come to understand the idea of countries sending their best athletes to the games to represent their country. The honor these champions bring to their countries makes sense.

I do, however, prefer a larger view of the Olympics. Having little athletic talent of my own, I appreciate it when I see it in others. Seeing the best in the world is an opportunity no one should miss. I don't care if America has only one competitor in a sport and he or she is coming in 52nd in a field of 53. I think each competition is something to see for its own merit, not just as a showcase for our own champion.

So is it just a "guy" thing, this "if only Iraq had a hockey team we could beat"? No lie, a local radio guy said yesterday, that if Afghanistan and Iraq together fielded their best players to make an ice hockey team, our girls could beat them. This ticked me off on so many levels I finally switched stations (hear that, advertisers?). Not only was it the wrong kind of competitive, but it was quite chauvinistic. I bet our girls could beat a lot of boys teams, which has nothing to do with Iraq or hockey or even the Olympics.

Enough. I am going to try to let that go (although I'm guessing I'll get pissed off again in two years when the Summer Olympics rolls around).

Instead I think I should be remembering the time I spent watching the Olympics when I was a kid. My dad died nearly a year ago, and my thoughts turn to memories of him a lot lately. I remember watching ski racing with him. We didn't watch traditional American spectator sports much - we didn't spend any time watching football or baseball or basketball on TV.

My dad loved being active. He ran nearly every day until his health got in the way. He liked sports when he was a kid, but he had been advanced in school (twice, I think) and he was considerably younger (and smaller) than his classmates. So he didn't participate in team sports.

He played tennis, and he could ice skate (when we could find ice - no rinks), and he made sure we learned to snow ski. And we all swam. And more.
He tried to teach me to sail (it didn't really take).

When I was in high school, I was on the volleyball team for a year or two. After that season was over, my dad and I played on a pick-up team sponsored by the local hospital a couple of times. The only trouble was that my dad kept jamming his fingers and the swelling got in the way of his being a doctor.

And then there were the sports we tried to do as a family. My mom didn't ski, but she did facilitate our trips, going along with us until we were big enough to dress ourselves (and I think we had to be big enough to carry our own skis - at least for short distances).

My mom played a lot of sports when she was young. She loved to run as a kid, running until she couldn't hardly catch her breath. She learned how to bowl and how to play basketball. I think she was an adult before she learned how to swim or play tennis.

I never had the "killer instinct" needed to excel at sports, if the goal was winning and being the best. I was more interested in just participating than winning. Yet I somehow have never picked up the habit of making excercise a regular part of my life. I now struggle with figuring how to make time in my life to excercise my body.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Beginning


Is is really a good idea to start a blog when you are running a fever? I supposed this will be a lesson learned (after the fact). How often do we recognize that we are learning a lesson at the time it is presented to us?

I begin this endeavor with mixed feelings. I have kept a written journal off-and-on (more "off" than "on") and I feel this may be easier to keep up with (since I am so often at a keyboard anyway). I feel some guilt, however at not adding to the empty pages waiting for me in my latest journal. An I wonder at the ephermeral nature of posting on the web, knowing far too much about "bit rot" and all the ways a computer can crash.

Perhaps I will reconcile this as I go.