Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Lot of Advertising - A Little Perspective

      I feel bombarded by advertising. It creeps into my home through the mail slot; it shouts at me through the television set one moment and then crooks its finger and gives me a come hither look the next; it even jumps out at me from my computer like a child from behind the sofa, and clutters up the pages of some of my favorite blog sites. This constant nagging by advertisers may get my back up sometimes, but annoyance is fruitless. I could turn this post into a rant, blow off a little steam, but what would be the point? Commercialism is an inextricable part of the American economy and culture and I do not relish the idea of becoming a hermit in order to avoid it.

     So I have learned to just deal with it. I sort through the mail as soon as it comes; most of it goes into the recycle bin, but with the increase of identity theft, more and more of it goes into the shredding pile. I open all of the sealed mail, extract the envelopes with prepaid postage and place them in the “return to sender” pile...unless they come from charities; I certainly don’t object to anyone trying to raise a few bucks for a good cause. With the others, I figure I am doing my small bit to keep the postal service in business a little while longer.

     Unless television commercials are as equally entertaining as the show I am watching, I just press the pause button and go make a cup of tea, or change the load in the washing machine, or pick up a book and read for a few minutes. Tivo is a beautiful thing. Before you begin to suspect product placement in this post, let me hasten to assure you that I was not paid to say that.

     I never even read the pop ups on my computer, although I must admit I did click on the one about belly fat, once, out of curiosity. I didn’t buy either the advertisement or the product.

     But what do I do about phone calls? I cannot tell you how many times I have been in the basement shifting piles or pricing goods for a garage sale when the phone rings. I have a husband who travels frequently and I don’t want to miss his calls, so I race upstairs to catch it before the answering machine switches on. More often than not it is a recorded urgent message about credit card rates or a solicitor who won’t take no for an answer. I signed on to the “do not call” list some years ago and it helped for a while, but marketers and politicians are creative blokes and have found the loopholes in the system.

     One of my first jobs was telephone soliciting for a charity that collected used, household goods. I will never forget the call I made to an elderly woman who had probably dragged her lonely, arthritic bones out of a comfortable chair to answer her phone. The disappointment in her voice when she realized I was only interested in her cast-offs rather than her conversation was palpable—and, for me, culpable. I quit after a week.

     Having experienced the trade of telephone soliciting myself, however, I can’t blame someone for trying to earn a little money for college or put food on the table, and I know what it feels like to have someone yell or hang up on me. I believe in treating others with kindness and courtesy, so I have constructed a response that, hopefully, should satisfy each of us:

“Forgive me for interrupting you, but I don’t want to waste your time; I’m sure you have a long list of other, more promising folks to bother [this morning] and would like to get on with it. Thank you for your polite and professional manner, and I don’t blame you for trying.”

     Click. The click is usually mine, but sometimes it belongs to the polite and professional person on the other end of the line.

     Now, lest you think I am some kind of radical hell-bent on overthrowing the applecart, let me assure you that I am not. There are some forms of advertising I welcome into my home with open arms. A coupon from Pottery Barn can leave me weak in the knees, and I received a set of catalogues from Restoration Hardware yesterday that are so beautifully photographed I assigned them the homeowner’s place of pride; I removed the book of artwork by Robert Bateman and the book about tea traditions around the world and put the catalogues on the coffee table in the livingroom.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Thought

When I look into a glass
     Myself's my only care;
But I look into a pool
     For all the wonders there.

When I look into a glass
     I see a fool;
But I see a wise man
     When I look into a pool.

Poet and artist are unknown to me

Monday, April 15, 2013

Journal of an Understanding Heart

     Her backstory intrigues me. The innocence and beauty of her childhood diary haunt me each time that I read it.

     While I claim in jest to be related to Santa Claus, her claim to be the illegitimate daughter of Prince Henri Orleans of France bears too many inexplicable coincidences to be tossed heedlessly aside. In the controversy that arises like a dust devil around her history and sometimes threatens to smother its spirit, there is no disputing her genius. While the veil of inauthenticity shrouds her claims of a heredity that cannot be ascertained because the veil of death shrouds the faces of all those who know the truth, there is no hiding the truth in the transcending beauty of her simple observations.

Opal Whiteley

Today the grandpa dug potatoes in the field.
I followed along after.
I picked them up and piled them in piles.
Some of them were very plump.
And all the time I was picking up potatoes
I did have conversations with them.
To some potatoes I did tell about
my hospital in the near woods
and all the little folk in it
and how much prayers and songs
and mentholatum helps them to have well feels.

To other potatoes I did talk about my friends—
how the crow, Lars Porsena,
does have a fondness for collecting things,
how Aphrodite, the mother pig has a fondness
for chocolate creams,
how my dear pig, Peter Paul Rubens, wears a
little bell coming to my cathedral service.

Potatoes are very interesting folks.
I think they must see a lot
of what is going on in the earth.
They have so many eyes.
Too, I did have thinks
of all their growing days
there in the ground,
and all the things they did hear.

And after, I did count the eyes
that every potato did have,
and their numbers were in blessings.

I have thinks these potatoes growing here
did have knowings of star songs.
I have kept watch in the field at night
and I have seen the stars
look kindness down upon them.
And I have walked between the rows of potatoes
and I have watched
the star gleams on their leaves.

     At 5 to 6 years old, Opal wrote these words with crayon on paper bags, wrapping paper and the backs of envelopes, all that was available to her in the Oregon lumber camps in which she lived. She was a self-taught naturalist, geologist and poet…and perhaps, she was even a princess.

     If you haven’t already done so, I hope you will read Opal, The Journal of an Understanding Heart. And I hope you will love it as I do.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Good Morning

     Sometimes I cannot sleep. Those of you who are ladies of a certain age will understand without any need for me to explain.

     I am not a morning person but after 40 minutes of wakefulness I dragged myself out of bed around 5 am. I crept downstairs so as not to wake my husband and found I was not alone; my daughter's 3:30 am shift at the rehabilitation hospital had been canceled and she went back to sleep on the sofa, swathed in an afghan and down throws. I turned up the heat for her comfort and put the kettle on for mine. I opened the kitchen blinds to check on the sky and the shape of the moon. It is a part of my ritual. The sky and the neighbor’s windows were still dark and the moon was a bright curve of fingernail. After buttering a bagel to broil, I lifted the murmuring kettle from the stove just before it began to whistle and sloshed hot water into a favorite cup. I used a teabag because, for me, it was too early to fuss with loose leaf. As I said, I am not a morning person. While the tea steeped, I stood at the window watching light gather along the edges of the day, silhouetting the black lace of empty tree branches. A framed, rectangle of amber light appeared in the house behind ours. I heard the birds begin to chirp their morning songs. The world was waking up. 

     A well-loved poem ran through my mind and I breathed it into the rising day like a hymn:

Out of the scabbard of the night
By God’s hand drawn,
Flashes His shining sword of light,
And lo—the dawn!

     I sat down with a book I haven’t read since I was in high school and read it again for the first time. John Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down seems even better this second, first time. The tea was hot, the bagel was sweet with honey, and the book was savory with words. I heard my daughter breathing softly in the next room and forgot, for an instant, that she isn’t a child anymore, hasn’t been a child for many years, yet she is still my child and her presence is an antidote to loneliness; her breathing is another kind of hymn.

     Now, a robin is pecking in the garden for early worms; the sword-light of the rising sun is flashing joyously through my kitchen window, and even though I am not a morning person, I know it is a good morning and I will be glad in it.

photo by Fabrizio CacciatoreDawn by Frank Dempster Sherman

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

It's Cold

South Pole

     Just how cold is cold?

     My husband was in Russia before Christmas. It was cold. At least, it was colder than Chicago. He is heading back this spring and decided he could forgo the down parka this trip—that is until he checked the weather. With temperatures still in the lower teens at night, the parka is going along. Earlier this year he was in Australia, Indonesia, and Brazil, so I was packing shorts for him to wear while there was snow in the forecast here.

     We moved to the Midwest from the Pacific Northwest twenty years ago and experienced, for the first time, temperatures in winter low enough to freeze our nose hairs when we breathed; ice forming on the windows inside the house; school cancelled, not for snow, but for cold; and something called wind chill. But we have a friend from Canada who says our winters here are balmy compared to the plains of Saskatchewan.

     Even so, I own more turtlenecks, gloves, boots, scarves and wool than I ever imagined I would.

     A friend from Brazil was here to stay over Easter; we took him into the city and went for a stroll down Michigan Avenue and out onto Navy Pier. It has been a cold spring, but it was a sunny afternoon and it felt nice to be outside for a change. Even though it was a little chilly at the end of the long pier that is not protected from the wind by skyscrapers, it was not unpleasant. We lingered for only a few minutes, however, because poor Eduardo was turning into a popsicle.

     Unless you live in Vostok, Antarctica, cold is relative. So it was, that even though temperatures reached no higher than 44 degrees today, my husband and I went out for a leisurely walk in the warm, spring sunshine.

Photograph by Patrick Cullis, National Science Foundation