Monday, December 27, 2010

The Art and Craft of Anticipation

First, we lost a great fellow this past week when my Uncle Lenny passed away. He fought this battle longer and harder than anyone I’ve ever known. His memory will always be a blessing for us, his family, and his friends.האמת  ברוך דין

Onto the blog:

Every week, my dad (who will be 90 in January) sends a letter out to our family. Each household gets a copy. It almost always arrives on Friday, occasionally on Saturday, and always contains news of the week’s events, the bowling scores, and it’s always signed,

          Be of good cheer and all the jazz.
          Miss you, miss you,

Those letters, started back when I was in grad school, used to contain a copy of the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle and a fiver; now there's a ten-spot for each of the grandkids tucked into their letters. Of course, no one regularly writes back despite periodic grumbling, but that may be because we talk on the phone all the time. Still, those letters have become the archive of our family history and I have every single one.

Recently, I found myself with the opportunity to hand write an actual letter. This was not to be an email or a scrawl on a card, or even one of my little “informals” on which I’ve been writing thank-you notes since I could hold a pencil. The letter would accompany a package, and while a little post-it stuck to the item might have sufficed, it was, when I looked at it, inelegant and unworthy of that which I wanted to express.

Waterman Laureat - my implement of choice

I could’ve just emailed and said, “Hey! Package en route,” but that seemed cold under the circumstances. I could’ve written it on the computer, put it in a scrawly font, and print it, but that, too, seemed perfunctory. I rattled around on this for a bit, then decided this might be the first real, handwritten letter my friend has received in a zillion years. And it might be amusing. So I dug out the ol’ Crane’s blue banded, water-marked stationary and checked the ink level in my fountain pen (yes, I use a fountain pen….okay?) Then I drafted the thing in Word until I was satisfied. I read it over, set it aside, and began to write.

It’s been a long time since I’ve handwritten more than a couple of lines. I worried that it wouldn’t be legible. I worried that my friend would think I’d taken leave of what is left of my senses. I worried that getting a hand-written letter might be overwhelming. But I pushed aside the worries.

I had not considered how freeing the act of hand-writing could be. I felt as if the ink flowing through the pen nib was coming directly from my brain.  There were no smiley faces, no emoticons, no acronyms. Nope. Only real words in real sentences in real ink. It was elegant as well as it was cathartic.

But here’s the kicker. When I got an email letting me know the package had arrived, there was but a brief mention of the letter. Not that I expected anything, but I found myself experiencing a bit of disappointment. Nothing major, but just enough of a twinge to make me think: is getting a handwritten letter more commonplace that I thought?

Oh, to have a grand correspondence like that between Mrs. Patrick Campbell and George Bernard Shaw! Oh, to have a reason to write in longhand again and have to read it as well!We have lost something of our ability to express ourselves amidst the brevity of email, IMs, and texts. Gone is the learned art of patience while awaiting a response, not to mention that anticipatory moment of envelope opening. It's a about savoring a single moment then cherishing the experience.

Instant gratifiation is highly overrated. There are lessons to be recalled (if not learned anew) about patience. Sometime the waiting is good. And the art of letter writing is not just about words; it is as much about the craft of placing those words on a page.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
A little slow-speed connection is not the worst thing on the planet.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Job Intersection

Like every artist, I have a day job. I try not to let it intersect with my real life, but on occasion, the two meet and that just happened to happen this weekend. 

What I do at my day job is to stuff people into little silver tubes and launch them up into the sky. Once they’re airborne, they often go to exotic places like Columbus (Ohio), Vienna (Austria), Wenzhou (China) or perhaps, Kabul (Afghanistan). No one ever says: send me someplace warm. Nope. My people are corporate wanderers and I get them where they need to go in efficient and economical ways. Usually it’s pretty routine, and it’s easy to fall into a rut where you are, in essence, asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

I happen take stuffing people into those little silver tubes and launching them into the sky very seriously. I worry about them, especially the ones I regularly send to exotic places where they do things that often make the difference between whether some people live or die. Really. They do. They enable some pretty major behind-the-scenes things to happen.  I rather like being a very tiny cog in this large machine because I can convince myself what I do ultimately matters.

And for the price of a postcard, you get a pin in the map over my desk AND your very own Jewish mother sitting in Minnesota not just worrying about you….but worrying with the ability to change your flights on a moment’s notice.

Alpine Hike - July 2011
No joke, I do get postcards: there’s the card from the two guys who decided (in the dead of winter) to fly to Barcelona, then drive cross the Pyrenees into France and on to Tarbes. (I asked if they ever heard of Hannibal.) There’s the postcard from Baghdad that everyone wanted to see, postcards from the backwaters of Africa, and from the world UNESCO World Heritage sites in China. Sometimes they send pictures.  I  mean, who wouldn't want to remember that day hike in the Alps? The snaps are great, and I am always glad to know a moment has been taken to appreciate being someplace else!

The Himalayas - April 2010

So on Sunday afternoon I had the unique privilege of actually meeting one of my intrepid road warriors. Afghan Man and his wife are here in Minnesota visiting family and we managed to get together for coffee. What a delight to meet the guy that I routinely send to terrible places! I wanted to apologize to his wife for aiding and abetting his constant foray into harm’s way.  We talked, we laughed, we learned a bit about each other. It occurred to me after the fact that maybe Mrs. Afghan Man worried a tad less because there was someone on the other end of the wire who worried with her. They were such a nice couple. And he is such a nice guy! This will definitely make working with him even more fun.

The Kabul rug merchant - look closely
2010 is drawing to an unceremonious close. This year, I have lost two of my favorite “problem kiddies” due to regime change, but their spots have already been filled with two other guys who were happy to be adopted under the SPP (Susan Postcard Plan.) So long as I have my “problem kiddies” to send to strange and exotic places, I think I’ll keep this job. It can, on good days, be fun.

The Wifely Person’s Tip o’ the Week
If you travel, do everyone a favor: make sure your IDs all have the same name.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Spartacus in snow gear.
Any thoughts I had about writing on topics other than the immutable proximity of weather disappeared under more than 2 feet of snow. Yes, that was 2 feet in less than 24 hours. Let’s just say I did the deck …then called my landscaper guy and asked him to put me on his plow list. When he stopped laughing, he said, “Okay, Spartacus, you’re on the list.”

The Spartacus moniker is, of course, well earned. Every time I accomplish some task once the domain of my late husband, I assume the muscle arm pose and shout “I AM SPARTACUS!” Okay, it makes me feel better. Everyone else thinks it’s just 

Yes, that's the RX-7~Radish Rocket
But Spartacus had waded out onto the driveway with the best of intentions and realized that the snow was drifted over her knees and big, giant, snow blower or not, she was not going to make headway in that wind. Calling the plow guy was the right thing to do. 

Made the tactical error of telling junior son (who was out skiing through the unplowed streets of Minneapolis) and he promptly gave me an argument. “Why did'ja do that? You have a big snow blower. You coulda gotten through.” I thought he was serious. He claimed he was kidding. I was too frozen to tell.

I still had to blow out the walkway and shovel the steps, but I was much relieved not to be out there fighting that bitter wind, getting the snow blown back in my face, trying to break through the ridge at the end of the drive left by the street plow. 

Remains of the drive.
Sunday, I awoke to sunshine and blue skies. But one look out the window and I knew I was in trouble. The air was sparkling, never a good sign. When I took the dog out, I  realized it was worse that just trouble...the temperature was below zero and the wind chill was about -15F. Everything I’d done was undone and then some. Plus, the pile left in front of the driveway by the snow plow was higher than my waist. My very kind neighbor who had already broken through the plow row spotted the look of abject horror and ran to my mailbox to grab the Sunday papers. I think he thinks I'm just one of those frail widow-ladies. 

I guess I'm not barbecuing tonight.

I got the snow blower going and managed to redo the front walk. The deck, however, has drifted over and after fifteen minutes of shoveling I couldn’t feel my fingers. It will wait until tomorrow or the next day or the next time it’s above zero with wind chills above -15F.

But y'know, even looking out the dining room window makes me cold. Granted, some of the snow pile in front of the window was the result of snow-blowing and wind, but it really is depressing in its own stark magnificence.

Good thing the Winter Solstice, with its renewed promise of longer days, is just a week away.

Wifely Person Tip o'the Week
If the snow is above your waist, call the snow plow guy.

Wifely Person's Bonus Tip
Every day brings us one day closer to summer. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sense and Snowability

First and foremost: Chanukah Same'ach! Tonight is the 6th candle.

By the time you read this, I’ll be back slogging through snow on the tundra, but at this very moment, I’m sitting in my parents’ kitchen in sunny Flah-rida, waiting to go take a walk through one of my all time favorite places: the gardens at the Morikami Museum.

I need a schvatzeer through those zen gardens after a long weekend at octogenarian central. It’s not like there’s anything wrong with anyone, it’s just that at my age, being the youngest person in a twenty mile radius is a bit depressing. Instead of feeling spry, I feel ancient and decrepit, two things I definitely am not!

Okay, I’m not the youngest person….my little cousin is visiting her grandparents (my aunt and uncle), so that makes her, a college sophomore, the youngest person in a twenty mile radius. But I think for her this is more of a novelty than anything else. For me, it’s a sign of scary things to come. If I hear one more “she has a boyfriend and he’s only 92 and he still drives!” story, I’m going to throw myself off the Wakodahatchee Wetlands footbridge. 

Good thing I went to the Morikami with my friends Michelle and Randy. At least they weren’t be yelling, “WHAT? WHAT?” every time I said something. Its so nice to have a conversation in hushed tones that doesn’t include either of the phrases “do you need a sweater?” or “have you eaten something?”

I’m pretty certain I sound the same way to my kids, and I’m pretty certain they get about the same annoyed as I get with my mother. Still, I am thankful my folks are still around to annoy me even though there are moments I would like to wish myself away. It’s hard to be an adult for 360 days a year, and be expected to be a child for 5 days on demand. I do find myself bristling at the nagging and the cheppering; and, there are moments when I do respond as a child would. I try to keep those to a minimum, but I swear, it’s harder than it sounds. We used to joke that when you got to our house back on Long Island, you unscrewed your head and stowed it in the foyer closet. Unfortunately, there’s no foyer closest here.

But back to the Morikami for a moment. Ah, the Morikami. What a delightful place! Strolling the gardens was heavenly, as was the conversation. We talked of all manner of things, and enjoyed each other’s company. [Shameless plug: If you make it to the Delray Beach/Boca area, make it a point to visit the Morikami; it’s well worth the price of admission.]

My suitcase is packed….well, except for the pound of pastrami sitting in the fridge. That’s the thing about coming down here…I always run amok at Glick’s Kosher Market to bring home exotic things…like real pastrami and homemade lamb sausage. It’s tough not to buy out the store!

And so, as the sun sets in the west, I prepare to depart the warmer climes. As much as I love the warmth, as much as I love the idea that there’s a beach to comb just a couple of miles from the kitchen, I am smart enough to know I’m not ready for this life  quite yet.

There’s a snow blower with my name on it sitting in the garage.

When visiting parents, always remember to unscrew head 
and stow in nearest closet.