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March 15, 2020

     March marks a time of transition from winter to spring, death to life, lion to lamb. Transitions, however, are never as straightforward as we might wish, as anyone who has ever experienced a late March blizzard will attest. Change is more a series of one step forward, two behind. Small, incremental differences which build up messily, incoherently, relentlessly like an Impressionist painting. (And sometimes Abstract Expressionist, like Jackson Pollock). Step back from the canvas after awhile, though, and an entirely new vision of the world emerges.

     Impatience for change is natural and invigorating. More lasting, effective results, however, come from patience, from standing back occasionally to see the whole, the place of something in the larger scheme of things. The grass that grows quickly from new seedlings (because we cannot bear a bare lawn for long) cannot weather the stresses of summer heat. Better to use the slow-growing va...

February 15, 2020

     One of the more intriguing titles in my library is Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” I read it years ago and don’t recall if I came away any wiser on the subject of this fundamental human emotion. In any case, as his title suggests, love is a topic of perennial interest, dominating our thoughts, conversations, emotional life, and artistic expression.

     Romance novels, of course, revolve around amorous relationships. Music lyrics often chart the progress of love, to say nothing of poetry. Cinema is replete with screenplays about love in its many guises and permutations. And while I’ll never forget love scenes in books, their visual representation on screen, especially if accompanied by the perfect soundtrack, make an indelible impression.

     Here are a few of the love scenes from films I have found unforgettable, cinematic moments that get me in the gut every time....

January 15, 2020

     The start of a new year is traditionally a time of resolution to live better, to be better. A tall order since it is, for many people, a season of grim weather and short, dismal days. Who can follow-through on a resolution not to curse when the car is buried in three feet of snow and the option to stay home is not possible? By March, vice nudges virtue out of the way so that, come December 31, you’re vowing once again to buckle down and improve your life.

     Whenever I see the number 1 on my phone’s calendar, indicating a new month, I feel a swell of promise, see the prospect of a fresh start. I’ve been offered another chance to make up for the previous month’s setbacks. So I follow through. And my life is incrementally improved. I’ve achieved quite a few goals with this monthly reboot. It works. It’s practical.

     It’s also b-o-r-i-n-g.

     To counter this virtuous living, I offer a tongue-in-cheek monthly plan...

December 15, 2019

     Memories are the gems of life’s jewelry. Real or rhinestone, they are precious just the same. Some shine brilliantly through the years, others dull and decay. Brought out to wear or locked away, they nevertheless persist. Holidays are often the settings for these jewels, Christmas being the most splendid, weighted as it is with cultural meaning and expectations. The ritual of family coming together, the hope for the perfect gift to give or receive, can’t help but make it memorable.

     Born a week before Christmas, I must designate my first one as momentous if not particularly memorable. The next few years are a blur too, though photos of me smiling beneath a tinsel-covered tree suggest I was having a merry Christmas indeed. The year I received a huge stack of books, though, is my first truly indelible Christmas memory. My own books. That I didn’t have to return to the library. To this day I still own the original copies of David Cop...

November 15, 2019

     It goes without saying I am grateful for all the loving people in my life. In the interest of not taking anything for granted, though, I remind myself to be thankful for …

     The healthy spring of my legs out of bed every morning, my feet on a warm floor.

     My eyes that see, my lungs that breathe clean air.

     The water that runs freely through the pipes for me to drink and shower beneath.

     Refrigeration. The food in the refrigerator. The electricity that runs it.

     Having a plan for my day and the means to carry it out.

     The town infrastructure that picks up my trash, keeps the library open, cleans the streets.

     The countless, invisible people who go to work every day, despite illness, worries, and troubles, to support the occupations that keep this old world turning.

     The natural rhythms of my body telling me it’s time to eat, exert, sleep....

October 15, 2019

      Coyote sightings were recently reported along the biking/hiking trail in my neighborhood. Coyotes—an animal I associate with the Wild West, lonesome prairie towns, and the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote. I took note of the precautions issued by the police department: don’t approach them, make loud noises to scare the off. I also did a thorough Internet search to better inform myself. Armed with facts and a whistle from Wal-Mart, I ventured onto the trail, determined not to be afraid.

      And discovered I was.

      And discovered, to my delight, I was glad to be afraid, not only out of respect for the wild animal whose path I might cross, but because the emotion of fear brought me back to my childhood.

      Years ago, I read Annie Dillard’s splendid memoir, “An American Childhood.” Among the passages that struck a chord with me were those in which she described her free, unsupervised wanderings through resident...

September 15, 2019

     The story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is one of the most enduring legends of all time, lending itself to retelling in novels, poems, plays, poetry, paintings, and films. The doomed love triangle between King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Lancelot has been the focus of most of these versions. “Camelot,” a Broadway musical, is full of lively, lusty, romantic songs which capture the heart of the tale. One of my favorites is “If Ever I Would  Leave You,” in which Lancelot gives a reason for every season why he can never leave Guinevere. For example,

     “Or could I leave you running merrily through the snow

      Or on a wintry evening when you catch the fire’s glow”

     This song would never work if their love affair took place in, say, Southern California where winter doesn’t exist (and where everyone waxes rhapsodic about rain because they never get any. Which reminds me of another musical,...

August 15, 2019

        Whenever I visit a major city, I am struck by the resourcefulness of its residents when it comes to getting around. They employ every available means of transport: skateboards, scooters, bikes, rollerblades, cars, taxis, buses, subways, trains. If it has wheels, they use it.

      I admire such ingenuity, especially the way class distinctions dissolve in the use of public transportation. (Someone posted an iPhone photo of Helen Mirren riding the New York City subway. As if she wasn’t totally cool already). We’re all just a bunch of people trying to get where we’re going. Cars, on the other hand, are a different story. Status is conferred depending on the automobile one drives—or at least that’s what car ads would have us believe.

      Walking is my preferred means of getting from point A to point B. Second choice: a bus. It’s cheap, for one thing. And the view from the window is generally scenic (and occasionally com...

July 15, 2019

     I went to Catholic school for twelve years so feeling guilty about pretty much everything comes with the territory. Guilt is both a habit and a default setting. It takes serious effort to conquer it (not that some guilt isn’t a necessary part of being an ethical person), but goshdarnit I’ve tried.

     In the interest of enjoying life to its fullest, forthwith are some things I refuse to feel guilty about:

     Naps.

     Eating potato chips. And ice cream.

     Splurging on expensive underwear.

     Travel.

     Buying books. And shoes.

     You know what.

     Did I mention naps?

     Reading when I’m supposed to be (fill in the blank).

     Avoiding toxic people. And boring ones.

     Tipping extravagantly.

     Stop reading a book that simply isn’t doing it for me.

     Binge-watching BBC detective series.

     Gett...

June 15, 2019

     I have a confession to make. If I had a choice between being either Jo or Amy in Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women,” (no one want to be Beth, for obvious reasons. And sweet Meg is as compelling as oatmeal. And has twins. In the era before disposable diapers.) … Anyway, if the choice is between Jo or Amy I want to be Amy.

     Oh, I know. Shame on me. After all, Jo is the obvious heroine of the book. Of the four March sisters she is the most spirited, talented, and ambitious. She doesn’t give a hoot about frilly clothes (one of her dresses has a burn mark on the back), or hair (she cuts and sells hers to help the family financially), or boys (being something of a tomboy). In short, she is a proto-feminist. A character girls aspire to. Or should.

     I read and reread “Little Women,” never failing to laugh, cry, and shake my head in recognition of the sisters’ emotions, flaws, and foibles. And never fail to wanna be Amy....

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