Wireless Mouse

mouse-3194768__340We would not be conversing at all today, dear readers, were it not for the humble wireless mouse.  The trackpad on my Mac laptop suffered an inexplicable and sudden nervous breakdown yesterday afternoon, whether through a software conflict (I had just cried “Uncle!” in the face of OS High Sierra’s incessant reminders that I install updates) or hardware exhaustion (my MacBook pro is six years old and well-loved), I cannot say.  But the curser decided either to skitter around my desktop willy-nilly, like kids playing tag, or to disappear from the desktop entirely.  Either way, the trackpad flatly refused to respond.

You know what this means, right?  A trip down the black hole of tech support.  Online chats and discussion forums directed me to restart in safe boot, in recovery mode, to reset something called PRAM, which has nothing to do with British babies.  All to no avail. Aubrianna was the name of the virtual assistant who chatted with me online late last night, coaching me through an SMC reset.  This achieved precisely nothing.  She said she wouldn’t leave me without making sure her proposed solution worked for me, but the girl was COLD.  She was on to the next complainant before the beachball even began spinning on my desktop.  My Apple case number lead only to an error message.  It used to be a matter of a click or two to book an appointment at the nearby Genius bar, but now you have to claw through about seven screens to get to the list of available times.  It’s like the obstacle course at bootcamp; one false move and you’re off the wall and down in the mud.  The earliest appointment I could find is Thursday at 5:00 p.m., which when you are a writer, designer and web solutions consultant, is basically as a good as “never.”

Thankfully, for just $12.99 and a ten-minute drive to my local Staples, I was able to pick up this adorable little pink wireless mouse gizmo.  It’s been years since I’ve used a mouse.  We have a picture of Mia at age three sitting by the old desktop tower, holding the cabled mouse up to her ear as if it were a phone.  That mouse was replaced by a snappy-looking red wireless version, but this was years ago, and with all our de-cluttering over the past few days, we couldn’t find it anywhere. Reacquainting myself with mouse technique was a little irritating at first. I kept swiping two fingers around the trackpad, looking in vain for the cursor, or wondering why the screen wouldn’t scroll.  But it’s like riding a bike, the muscle memory comes right back. Using a mouse is like driving a little sports car.  No more slouching in overstuffed, upholstered chairs while I write, or fanning myself outside on the patio. Until I meet my Genius, I am writing properly, at the kitchen desk, back straight and feet on the floor.  It feels very businesslike.  I like it.

Everything old is new again.

Gratitude #23

 

 

De-cluttering

690358116-612x612Ok, so I don’t actually believe that my life will change just because yesterday John and I KonMaried all the books in the house, packing 14 boxes of tomes that once captivated us, but through the years have lost their luster in our hearts.  Using the Japanese de-cluttering principles set forth in Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” we went room by room through all the bookshelves (and stacks, piles, bins, and baskets–also a few boxes of books we had previously packed to give away, but forgot to drop off at the library book sale.)  We held each book in our hands and tried to observe whether it brought us a sensation of joy.  The results surprised me, in some cases:  all the Irish poetry collections from my year at Trinity College in Dublin, Patrick Kavanaugh and Seamus Heaney, those loamy, boozy, sainted laureates:  gone, without a backward glance.  Yeats’ poetry stayed, but his dramas, which were the subject of my senior thesis?  Slán leat, which is gaelic for goodbye.  Billy Collins, Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver and Rilke got to stay, but poor Wallace Stevens got thrown in the give-away box in duplicate, once by me from the poetry section in the bookcase next to the bed, and once by John, who had a different edition on his bedside table. I may never again read To Kill A Mockingbird, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Beloved, but they made the cut without a second thought. Among my books about writing, I kept Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Robert McKee’s Story, Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones — I stole some of Goldberg’s prompts when I taught high school essay writing; I still use Berg’s thought-starters when I’m stuck.  I couldn’t do without Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful Big Magic, about the divinity that feeds all creative endeavors, but easily parted ways with her novels and the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, even though I loved it when I read it.  I’ll admit that I gave away Anna Karenina, but kept every single volume of Harry Potter.

Today, we took on closets and clothes. I thought I’d be relieved to donate my grandmother’s Galliano mink coat:  It’s too small for me; it used to be alive; I don’t have the right lifestyle for mink; it’s supposed to be cold-stored in summer (oops). But then I touched it, my heart opening like a camera shutter, letting in light.  We weren’t super close, but she gave it to me. It still smells of her New York apartment, dusty, airless, a hint of her perfume, Shalimar.

“When are you ever going to wear it,” asked John, when I rescued it from the give-away pile.

“Never,” I said. “Not in a million years.”

“Then why are you keeping it?”

I had no explanation, except that, just like Kondo says in her book, it sparked joy.  So back in the closet it went.

We are now leaner by dozens of cubic feet of books, coats, sweaters, boots and bed linens.  Tomorrow we move on to miscellaneous cabinets: the CD, VHS and DVD collections, knitting and needlepoint yarn from unfinished projects, the basement closet chockful of board games.

It feels good to pare down to the essentials.  We are realizing that having so much random stuff distracts us from the good stuff, how easy it is to excise things that don’t matter to us.  The extra space is lovely.

Gratitude #22

Today’s Youth

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 11.43.11 AMIt’s a rainy morning, affording the luxury of a guilt-free deep dive into the pages of the Sunday New York Times, something I eschew in favor of the word puzzles when I have limited time —“Spelling Bee” has become a particular obsession since Nate and Annie introduced me to it two years ago. This morning, an article caught my eye:  Teenagers Fight Climate Change, From the Front. The piece profiles six 16 year-olds who collaborated in founding the not-for-profit climate change and environmental justice organization “Zero Hour.” They are like any teens you might know: passionate, impatient, persistent. This weekend, they organized a protest on the National Mall; on Thursday, they met with forty federal lawmakers to discuss their platform. Their argument is essentially this: We adults have failed to protect them, so they are taking matters into their own hands.

It’s inspiring, and it’s heart-breaking.

Like the youth of Parkland, Florida, these children are stepping into the void of civic-minded leadership in our country created by an adult narrative that insists in promoting individual wants and needs over the civic or collective good. Even though I sometimes fret that growing up in the social media era may reduce kids’ relational skills by filtering their interactions through the performative lens of insta-snap-book, it’s clear that the young people of today know how to leverage their digital skills in order to create community and organize for change. Sure, they can be naive, they will make mistakes, misspeak, suffer blind spots.  Yet, the idealism of youth is not misspent in these efforts: adults have a lot to learn from our kids’ passionate advocacy, from their clear-eyed perspective that we “grown-ups” are fiddling while the planet is burning.

It’s an issue I have with the entire posture of today’s far-right agitators, and in particular their new demagogue, DJT, whose views exalt constructs and successes of the past, seemingly indifferent to long-term consequences:  driving up the national debt, rejecting common-sense climate-friendly policies or broadly-supported gun control measures like universal background checks, gutting access to health care–the list goes on and on and on. I’m nostalgic for past norms, too, times when manners mattered, when we respected expertise and trusted authority, when TV news was more than a constant partisan shouting match, and you could listen to radio hits without being bombarded by f-bombs.  But you gotta change with the times or be lost in the wake of history. I’m grateful to these young people, awed by their energy and inspired by their determination, when so many adults like me feel enervated, bemused, impotent.

I’m a fifty-eight year old white woman. According to the actuarial table published by Social Security in 2015, my life expectancy predicts I have another 26.17 years on this earth. (This data needs updating, btw.  It was published annually through 2015, so someone’s asleep at the switch.) The kids are right:  it’s their resources we plunder, their mortgage we are defaulting on.

They are doing us a favor not letting us forget: Their future is our legacy.

Here are some links in case you’re interested in learning more:

Gratitude #21

Trees

beech-370554_960_720I am literally a tree-hugger. My childhood home on the Gold Coast of Long Island was landscaped with beautiful old maples, birch trees and an apple orchard.  Our property abutted an undeveloped tract of land that was wooded and cool, with a small grove of white pines that as a very little girl I would skip off to visit, back in the days when a mom would simply open the screen door and gesture outside: Be home in time for lunch. Early one spring morning, one of those late-May days when the buds uncoil and the air buzzes with energy—bugs and birds awakening, plant life percolating– I went out to the grove to visit my favorite pine tree, one with a thick trunk and low hanging branches drooping down to touch the earth.  The air was cool and piney in my tree-tent, and the tall tree stood silent and calm. I was so bursting with love for it, I took off all my clothes and hugged the trunk, loving the feel of the soft pine needles under my feet, the spring breeze on my skin, the touch of the scratchy bark in my arms. I must have been four or five. I never told a soul  (not from shame, but reverence), although the experience showed up in the draft of young adult novel languishing in my drawer of unfinished projects, so it’s stuck with me.

Trees are among my favorite planetary life forms, along with dogs, young children, and songbirds. Although I no longer strip naked to embrace them (sorry to give you that mental image of me), I do often stop when I’m out walking the trails and touch my hand to the trunk of a tree, splaying out my fingers to fit the deep grooves, matching my handprint to patterns in the bark. It’s a form of greeting, I suppose, my way of saying “thank you,” for the air I breathe, for giving me shade, for teaching me about stillness and patience, and a host of other kindnesses that I’m usually too preoccupied to notice. Walking today, I spotted a beech tree I hadn’t seen before in the woods—it’s not a species I often see, although apparently it is indigenous to New England forests.  The trunk was maybe four or five feet in diameter, the bark a leathery taupe, like elephant skin.  How had I not noticed it before, when I’ve walked this trail almost daily for over twenty-five years?  I reached out to place my palm on the bark, and noticed a couple of letters carved about six feet up the trunk, some kid, probably, leaving his mark, the great beech graciously accepting this human tattoo.  Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” sprang to mind.  It was a favorite read-aloud book when my children were little. On the surface, it looks funny and sweet, but it’s a cautionary tale, isn’t it, about Nature’s selfless generosity in the face of human self-absorption and greed.

Another favorite: “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees.” Seuss’ Lorax is such a grouch, but I get it.  No one is listening to him.  As the dogs and I continued on our way home, I thought about how patiently the trees regard us humans, about how many people they’ve witnessed over the years passing under their boughs, hopeful and broken, joyful or mourning, sleepwalking our way through the woods.

images

Gratitude #20

PS:  Now you know one of the reasons why I chose this image as the logo for my web design business:

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Summer grilling

Grilled-Swordfish-Skewers-from-heatherChristo.com_I remember my first-ever grilling season.  It was my freshman year at Princeton, and the food services union went on strike.  My roommate Margie and I lived in a first-floor dorm room, with lovely, Gothic leaded-casement windows opening on to one of the quads that make Princeton so picturesque. Margie’s mom and dad drove a little Hibachi charcoal grill up to campus, and we plopped it on the ground outside our window. We kept the charcoal, lighter fluid and matches in our room, and most evenings, we’d have an impromptu cookout.  You’d probably get expelled for less now. But it sure was a great way to meet people. We would lean out the window and drop a burger on the grill, chatting with whoever was drawn across the quad by the siren song of sizzling ground beef.  Most of our classmates were surviving on Lucky Charms, Pop tarts and take-out pizza.

When John and I bought the house in Lincoln (our first and only home purchase to date – we call it the “little house that could” because it’s adapted so well to our needs over the years), one of our first purchases after moving in was a classic Weber charcoal kettle grill. Our landlords in Chicago and later Cambridge wouldn’t allow us to grill, even though our apartments in both cities were in two-family homes with leafy yards. We kept the Weber over by the garage because there was an outlet we could use for an electric fire starter, which felt grown-up and high tech compared to dropping lit matches out my dorm window onto the Hibachi. John was a master at building briquette teepees around the electric coil so the charcoal would catch. Every so often, we’d need to add a splash of lighter fluid, and the flames would burst upwards towards the overhanging hemlock branches with a whoosh. The kids found this highly entertaining, but our neighbor Ruth worried we might set the trees on fire. She loved those hemlocks—they created a wall of green between our driveway and her back deck. One year when our tree guy went gonzo and over-pruned them, she nearly wept with frustration at the lost privacy screen.  Thankfully, we never burned them down entirely with our overzealous grilling.

We probably converted to our gas grill later than most of our fellow-suburbanites, because John is old-school when it comes to embracing new technologies. But it is such a breeze, to press the starter button and wait for the click-click-click-WUMP! of the grill lighting up. Last year, we traded our decrepit, non-functioning two-burner model for a sleek new three-burner set-up. It’s so much hotter than the old grill that we’ve seared a few steaks to a fare-thee-well while mastering its powerful ways.  Tonight, we’re having our friends Cathy and Bob over – swordfish and vegetable kabobs are on the menu, and I might try grilling the corn cobs in the husks, which I’ve never done before.  It always looks pretty in the magazines at the grocery checkout line.

I need to wrap things up now because I’ve got to run out to Ace hardware and grab a new propane canister so we can fire up in a few hours.  It’s a beautiful afternoon – clear and dry –  perfect weather for Gin & Tonics and a grilled supper on the screened porch with good friends.

Gratitude #19

 

 

 

Parking Karma

Screen-Shot-2014-07-10-at-11.34.56-PMWe joke in our family about “parking karma,” specifically my mother’s supernatural knack for pulling into a newly vacated space right near the entrance to the store, or doctor’s office, or mall.  Other drivers will have trolled the aisles for ages waiting for something to open up, but Mom will be the one to come along just as a car pulls out. It’s become our shorthand for cosmic generosity, an almost-superpower of ease—sometimes earned, but often just kismet– in a specific corner of one’s life.  Mia, for example, has great waitlist karma.  She doesn’t always get what she’s going for on the first pass: a fellowship, a class she wants to take that’s closed, admission to a program, or college. But she has been waitlisted a few times, and then effortlessly prevails. Lucy seems to have good job-finding karma, which is a pretty sweet gift from the universe. Although this could simply be that she’s crazy competent and talented and people recognize that about her.  Either way, she’s about to move to Los Angeles to pursue her fortune as a costume designer, so I’m grateful for it.

My own karmic blessing is that I’m adept at recognizing moments of grace or universal abundance that others may miss.  John had a nice one yesterday: For his upcoming sabbatical, he’s been casting around for experiences that will profoundly refresh him before he begins a new venture in September. We’d been talking about taking weekend trips here or there, but that didn’t seem bold enough for this opportunity:  What can he do with these six weeks that he really couldn’t manage any other time?  He’ll be in New Mexico at a conference about Contemplation and Action, so that’s something. But it isn’t quite gutsy enough, it doesn’t have teeth, a sense of adventure. Then Tuesday, a trusted counselor suggested he go on a Vision Quest. John’s eyes lit up. A colleague of his had been on such an adventure led by a renowned Shaman, John Milton.  Perhaps Milton would be offering something in August?  Indeed. Not only that, but it’s in southern Colorado, not far from Albuquerque, the site of the conference.  The Vision Quest begins the next day after the conference closes.  Yes, there’s space.  Yes, it’s within our budget. Yes, there are nonstop flights from Albuquerque to Crestone, Colorado.

Sometimes, you can hear the universe clicking into place like tumblers in a lock.

Today, I got a taste of Mom’s parking karma. I had to pick up a package from the Amazon Locker in Cambridge’s Central Square – a 25-pound box of pool chemicals that would have taken a week to arrive at the house, but came overnight to the locker.  Street parking in that area is harder to find than a clean t-shirt on laundry day. I was resigned to parking a half mile away, trudging back and forth to the car in the midday heat with my heavy box of chemicals.  But on my very first pass around the neighborhood, there was a nice, shady metered spot open on Green Street, just about a block from the Amazon Locker.  They were super nice in there, by the way – an attendant explained everything before I could even think to ask. “Man in the Mirror” was playing on the sound system, and she and I both bopped to it while I waited to for my package to be loaded in to the locker, but a guy came out from the back carrying it because it was heavy, and he wanted to be sure I could get it to my car.

“That’s okay,” I said.  “I got a spot right across the street.”

Gratitude #18

Good News

Screen Shot 2018-07-18 at 1.23.45 PMJohn is taking a six-week sabbatical before beginning a new job in September, and one of the ideas we briefly bandied about is a device-fast. In particular, I’d love to stiff-arm the daily sturm und drang of the twenty-four hour news cycle. I’m pondering whether I can step away from my laptop, since I rely on it heavily for work. It would be interesting to try writing longhand and see how the physicality affects my process, and maybe also the content. But the web design work I do is predominantly digital in nature. Curating images, for example, requires a lot of internet research. So I’ll see how it goes. The intent would not be to put our heads in the sand. But always having our eyes screen-locked is a different form of doing just that: immersing ourselves in an alternate reality that denies the pulsing life and connections all around us.

I sure wouldn’t miss the up-and-downs of the daily news, the current administration’s scripted approach, wherein each day requires a good guy (Trump) and a bad guy (anyone but Putin), a drama that keeps everyone totally hooked, ginned up with either approval or outrage. Depending on your point of view, it’s either so awful or so great you can’t look away.  That’s one of the first rules of good storytelling: keep the stakes high, the conflict unrelenting, the obstacles coming fast and furious. In his simplistic, narcissistic approach to world affairs, our president is living in a fantasy world, “a unicorn riding a unicorn over the rainbow,” to quote his first Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, in his new book. But the president’s media savvy, his hyper-developed instinct to manipulate the story, is extraordinary—genius, even. On John and my device fast, we’ll be choosing not to give media that power over our psyches every day.  We’d rather stay grounded in what’s real, not manufactured crises and melodrama.  Of course, melodrama can have real consequences to real people. We will never look away from that.

You know what I would miss though:  good news. I loved reading how an international coalition of divers, medical personal, engineers, and computer programmers collaborated on the rescue of the Thai youth soccer team, while their 25 year-old coach, a one-time Buddhist monk, helped them through the ordeal with meditation; or about the French immigrant “Spiderman” who selflessly scaled the side of a building to rescue a toddler dangling from a fourth floor balcony. This morning’s Boston Globe ran a heart-warming story about a first-grade teacher who was given over $500 cash by fellow passengers on a plane flight, after they overheard her conversing with her seatmate about the challenges of teaching students in a low-income Chicago neighborhood.

These stories go viral because we are all starved for images of kindness, generosity, courage, innovation—confirmation of what we all know in our own circle of friends and family: people are capable of great goodness, integrity, compassion, positivity.  Such feel-good tales are the antidote to the crass, cynical, incoherent or mean-spirited muck daily chummed out to us by our Head of State, the ceaseless battles with our own countrymen and women he gleefully cultivates.

So here’s to viral good news.  May it uplift us all.

Gratitude #17

Sight

Night cityscape focused in glasses lenses

My eyesight has certainly softened in the last ten years. The march through drug store readers of increasing strength, from 1.25 to the current 2.50, began in my mid-forties, a smidge earlier than some of my peers. But since I’ve always been farsighted, the need for progressives held off until just a few years ago. Nothing irritates me more, now, than having to rummage through the drawers or my purse in search of my glasses.  I’ve tried to assert independence from my specs, but this has typically led to a flurry of minor mishaps: whole milk instead of 2% in the grocery cart, the wrong black down vest lifted from the communal coatroom at the studio, a nick here or there to my thumb or forefinger from chopping onions sans glasses.

I’ve been under a glaucoma watch since my early thirties, when I was given a tip-to-toe physical in order to qualify for an insurance policy. An eye exam was part of the deal. The doctor, who worked for the insurance company, looked at me with grave concern, telling me I might be blind by my forties. It turns out my retinas have an unusually deep shape that resembles the early stages of glaucoma. Opthalmologists over the years have held differing opinions as to whether this is cause for concern, or just an idiosyncrasy, a structural quirk I’ve had since birth, not to worry. I have dutifully undergone annual or semi-annual checkups and tests for decades now, which is a good thing, since a couple of years ago, a different glaucoma risk was identified having to do with the drainage angle of my eyes. My opthalmalogist at the time insisted I needed an iridotomy, pronto.  That’s a simple laser procedure in which the doctor burns a tiny hole in the iris to open up the drainage angle. In a minority of cases, the patient experiences some lasting issues with glare. I would be in that select group, but only for a few months while my brain figured out how to compensate.  (Neuroplasticity, yay!)  I can notice the glare if I go looking for it, but otherwise, my brain works around it.

I’ve since switched to a new ophthalmology practice that’s the best ever: they have an office ten minutes away, it’s attractive and efficiently-run with almost no wait time. My docs there are both extremely personable; it’s genuinely a pleasure to catch up with them. The glaucoma specialist, Dr. Fine, leans toward the opinion that the shape of my retina is “just you” —  not an indication of any progressive disease. Nonetheless, I get examined every six months; I take depth of field tests, have my pressures checked and my angles measured, read the bottom line on the chart, forwards, then backwards, with and without glasses. Today was just a prescription and pressure check. The doctor I see for that is also named Holly.  She has two boys, one twenty-six, the same age as Nate. Her younger son is autistic, and will be living with her “for life,” or until she and her husband can figure out a better setting for him than their home.  When she talks about him, I can see deep maternal love jockeying with something more complex: resignation, perhaps, or genuine befuddlement.  I wonder: if I ever lose my eyesight, will my perceptiveness about such things diminish?

She rolls her stool back from the equipment to make some notes on her computer.  “No significant change,” she tells me. My distance vision is still great. My pressure is unchanged. No need to get new lenses, she states, unless my current ones are scratched, or Warby Parker is having a sale and I want new frames.

“Take care,” she says. “See you in six months.”

Gratitude #16

 

Bed

Bedding_Main_Page_ImageI woke up in a good mood this morning.  And I went to bed in a good mood last night, in large part because I have a love affair with our bed. Some of my affection has to do with the setting. Our bedroom is on the third floor of the house.  It used to be the attic. Orange shag carpet ran up the stairs, the paneled walls and the gable ceilings, overstock put to work by the previous owner from his day job as a salesman at Carpet Carousel. When we had kittens, they liked to climb the walls up there. But when we decided we wanted to have another baby, our third, it meant reclaiming the attic for a master bedroom.  We jacked up the roof, slicing it off the ninety-year-old house like the top layer of a cake, the joists groaning and the walls undulating as nine decades of torque unspooled. The raised roof was high enough for an eight-foot-tall Palladian window at one end of the room.  From our bed, we look out through the treetops; the room takes on seasonal hues of yellow in fall, green in spring or summer, gray-blue in winter.

Our staircases are too narrow to thread even a queen size mattress through the twists and turns, but facing another pregnancy with two young children who tended to show up in the middle of the night and want to snuggle in, I was determined to get a king size bed up to our new room.  The mattress was delivered when the window was framed, before the glass unit was installed. The job foreman and two delivery guys hoisted it up and through the window with pulleys and rope. We had that mattress for almost two decades when two years ago we realized perhaps our nighttime tossing and morning aches had something to do with wear. Out with the old (literally, our neighbor Andy came over to help us lash it in half, then shove it out the window), in with the new:  a “bed-in-a-box” from internet retailer Nest Bedding.  We weren’t sure about buying a mattress online so we visited their brick and mortar SoHo showroom when we were down in New York; although they have a generous trial policy, we knew that once the thing bounced out of the box, like snakes out of a trick can, there was no turning back.

We got the “Hybrid” model: latex memory foam on a coil foundation, so it’s supple but firm, smooshy and body-conforming, yet bouncy.  It came in a box approximately the size of a tall dorm fridge – who’d have thought you could fit such comfort in a packing box?  When I wake up each day, I look out the window at the trees and sky as I float in our cloud bed, and I ponder how very I lucky I am to have a bed at all, let alone one with pillows galore and clean sheets, a plump duvet all cocooning me in a nurturing embrace. I remind myself that so many people don’t have the luxury of a comfortable night’s sleep – they rest on a hard, prison bunk or a swept dirt floor, on a woven fabric cot or a lumpy old mattress riddled with bed bugs.

And every night when I climb back into the Nest to read before falling asleep, I feel grateful all over again.

Gratitude #15

Strong Words

plumbbob_leadI love words. Finding the right one, precise, honed like a scalpel to slice sharply into the flesh of a sentence, gives me visceral pleasure. I abhor lazy diction, especially in prose.

When the kids were in high school, they would ask me to proofread their papers. We had an agreement that unless they indicated otherwise, their paper would get “the full mom.”  I’d give them feedback as if they were a peer, their drafts peppered with comments inserted in shorthand:  “awk,” (awkward), “vary w.c.,” (vary word choice), “m.s.” (more specific), “s.m.” (say more), “lazy,” (self-explanatory).  I don’t know whether this practice was good for our relationship, or made them better writers. I like to think they appreciated my honesty, affording them enough professional respect to give their work a tough read, having confidence in their ability to improve. Nate and I still laugh about one high school paper where he must have used the word “impotence” in every other sentence. “Have I taught you nothing about varying your diction?” I asked him, bemused. “Trust me, Mom,” he answered. “This is how this teacher wants it.” He was right. He got an A. Purely as piece of effective writing, it was a dud, though.

It’s hard to communicate how profoundly I feel words matter: they elevate conversation, unlock conflict, ignite our imaginations. It’s one of the reasons why the current presidency so pains me, the wanton disregard for language and its power to inspire, educate and uplift. I try to employ language as a surgeon uses his tools, for healing, painstakingly specific to the particular case in my care. DJT wields it like a cudgel, beating us down and dividing us with words, when his job is to elevate and unite. Words are free; they don’t belong to elites, and a broad, rich vocabulary– whether street, slang, regional or academic– is available to anyone willing to learn. Yet the prez sows mistrust for the worth of language in our culture and discourse.

This morning in church, the Old Testament reading was from the book of the prophet Amos. The verse uses a lovely, evocative metaphor: that our relationship with God is a “a plumb line,” a moral center against which we measure whether, like a builder’s wall, our lives are canted or straight, misaligned or solid.  I love the heavy, hanging truth of the image, the moral clarity of it, its plump mouthfeel. The Rector urged us to check in with our own plumb lines, to make sure we are hanging straight with God, to adjust if necessary.

My plumb line orients to Jesus’ radical teachings to care for the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised.  It falls straight to his practice of healing and honoring women, lepers, or society’s rejects (like the Samaritan, an immigrant.)  JC is certainly no fan of the ruling class of his day, the powerful Pharisees, those who observe the letter of law to the detriment of its spirit, or intent. But he loves sinners, and children, outcasts and neighbors. I do not see these priorities reflected in our current leadership.

I wanted to find the exact Bible passage, so I went down the Google rabbit hole, finding instead an LA Times article by Laureane Keane.  She, too, was interested in the plumb line image. She reports:

          …I located a sermon online, “What’s your plumb line?” written by the Rev. Joseph J.
          Clifford, in which he writes, “By what do we measure our lives and our community?
          What tells us that things are aligned, that life is where it needs to be?”

            He also asks, “How do our plumb lines compare to God’s?”

            God’s plumb line “has a lot to do with the poor. It has a lot to do with
righteousness 
that is living in right relationship with God and neighbor. It has a lot
to do with justice.”

 Strong words, ones to live by.

Gratitude #14