Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bought a 46-inch Television?

At the electronics store the other night . . .

I'm looking around at the same program on at least 20 huge televisions mounted along the walls. It's like being at a game show. Lights are flashing. Bells are ringing. Beethoven (the dog) is romping around on screen.

The fact that I'm shopping at all is shocking and inexplicable, except that it's R's birthday, and I want to do something worthy of the celebration.

Oh, how about buy the biggest TV in the whole wide world? Yes! Well, the biggest costs more than $5,000 so I'm exaggerating a wee bit.  

But it's true. Change has grabbed our alternative family by the britches, and we're moving into the 21st Century at lightning speed. A few years ago, you would have been less surprised to find me riding an icy comet down the street in front of your house than buying a Titan-size television and getting cable.

Times are a-changin' pal. Times are a-changin'.

There's a snowball effect to change. I think that's why people fear change. It's not just the one thing, oh no. Once the "thing" arrives in the middle of the living room, then the entire living room needs to be redecorated, then the foyer painted, then a new front door, hours of sweeping and swatting away autumn's dying gnats, and scrubbing everything in sight.  

I guess it all escalates when you realize it's impossible to connect cable to the little old television there on the dusty credenza. Well, we could force it but we don't want to. We deserve better.

We -- those inhabiting our little house in Takoma Park -- are getting fiber optics. Think spaghetti with eye glasses. Fiber optics is a far cry from the team of squirrels who run the programming now by rubbing their bellies on the attic floor to create an electrical current.

As Charlie Kauffman (the screenwriter) says in the movie "Adaptation," change is not a choice.
Fiber optics is a collective decision among the 13 of us. I think I mentioned we have an alternative household. Two humans, two cats, one dog, and 8 puppets, including a lion, a big bad wolf, a bear, a sheepdog, and two foxes. We don't discriminate by species or inanimate status here.

Every "thing" (and I mean that inclusively with the exception of any rodent) within our home receives respectful "person" status. "Good morning, dear" is not reserved for humans.

It's the Pinocchio Effect. Talk to something long enough, and eventually it talks back to you.  

But right now, everyone's quiet. We're watching the new television. Shhh.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Montrose Park 40 years later

Back in 1969, my friends and I used to spend a lot of time at Montrose Park and Dumbarton Oaks. We shared a group house near Dupont Circle usually mobbed by other friends from other universities, all arriving for another march against the war (Vietnam).

Spending time at the park seemed to solve every problem. Apartment full of people? Go to the park. O Street tear-gassed by police in riot gear? Go to the park. Somebody's trip ending badly? Over the bridge to the park. Studying for a final on Romantic poets? The hill behind Dumbarton Oaks was perfect for reading Keats outloud, especially when the big cherry tree turned all ethereal and angelic in early spring.

Now skip forward 40 years or so . . . Today is September 5, 2010. I'm up early and out in the yard picking up the Sunday paper. And I'm thinking about Montrose Park! Maybe it's the cool weather, the sunshine, the rustling leaves. And oh, my son turned 30 yesterday. That's a mind-altering moment.

Maybe that's why I find myself driving down Rock Creek Parkway, passing the back entrance to the zoo, getting off at the P Street exit. Here I am parking in front of Katherine Graham's old house on R Street. No idea who lives there now, but cars are in the driveway.

I'm across from the cemetery.

Down the brick sidewalk, I see the entrance to the park hasn't changed. The swings are still there, the tennis courts, the big expanse of grass, and the wise old trees. Everybody's here. And I'm here as if it were only a day or two gone by instead of 40 years. I recognize the biggest tree along the main pathway. Leaning up against it, I can feel the bark warm through my t-shirt. Leaves are quaking. Do they all know I'm back?

As the song goes, time is a river . . . well, time is also this park. Familiar, sweet, safe. The children's play area is fenced in now.

Yesterday, my son and I sat on his couch and looked at some of his baby pictures. Many photos of him and his big sister. A kindergarten photo with the green and blue stripped shirt his grandma gave him one Christmas. A 5th grade class photo with that bad boy whose name I can't remember. Pandora. Barney. Scout as a tiny pup.

Today, is a milestone. Not sure why, but I don't think that matters. It's just a happy day at the park.

Monday, August 30, 2010

At the Fine Arts Work Center

August 15-20 in Provincetown 9 of us participated in Marie Howe's poetry workshop. Instead of the standard critique format, this workshop focused on all new writing, including some writing with our non-dominant hands!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's in a Name? Try Meredith Pond

If I lived in a cabin in the woods a hundred years ago, my name, Meredith Pond, would be familiar to my neighbors. The town would be small, a closeknit community sharing vegetables and eggs.

But now that the Internet exists, someone like me, the only Meredith Pond I actually know, can search Google and find out about all the others named Meredith Pond from Alaska to Maine.

One lives in Salt Lake City. One Lives in Texas. And one is an actual pond in Massachusetts.

So, now what?? What's the big deal? Well, when you search the Web for ME -- your friend Meredith Pond -- I don't seem to exist on Facebook! An existential crisis in cyberspace for me, even though you are reading my "note" right now posted to my Facebook page AND I have four hundred friends.

My personal URL for facebook is I figured that was safety enough. But on Google, if you search for "Meredith Pond Facebook" you are offered a Meredith Pond who is not me! Or not I!

There's no Scoutie O' Scoutie on dog book. There's no photo of Cabo. There's no pithy comment for the day on the world at large.

What to do! If you've have this problem let me know.

Friday, April 9, 2010

All About the Lobsters . . .

One time Erin and Sean and I were up in Rhode Island staying at a rented beach house near Sand Hill Cove for a week. July, I think.

Hot around Narragansett. But the ocean gave us a steady cross-breeze thanks to all the windows in the kitchen.

As soon as we were back from the beach on our first day there, my dad showed up with a bucket of sea water full of lobsters.

On the dock down in Galillee that afternoon, he met his friend's boat coming in after an early run checking the lobster pots. "We should eat these sooner than later," my dad said. "The fresher the better."

Sean peered into the bucket, stuck his finger in the water, and managed to get himself pinched. For a 9-year-old who usually lives 3 hours from the ocean, he was shocked and couldn't stop shaking his hand in the air to ease the pain.

"That's nothing," said his grandpa. "You should feel the claws of a five-pounder!" To illustrate, my dad clamped down on Sean's other hand.

"Ha, that doesn't hurt," Sean said, grimmacing over to me at the table in the middle of shucking another ear of corn.

Then his grandfather tied the cook's apron around Sean's waist. I knew we were in for it now. The water was at a rolling boil.

"Come on over here on the step stool," my dad said, coaxing Sean to step over to the stove. "Now it's time to cook the crustaceans." He said it in his science teacher's voice as if the room were filled with a classroom of high school kids.

"Ah grandpa," Erin said moving from her reading chair over towards her brother. "I don't think Sean's ever done that before."

"You're kidding me," dad said. "Well, there's always a first time for everything." He winked at me. "Maybe you should all have a lesson. Just remember pick them up behind their claws. And lift them high so they get a last look around before you drop them in the water."

I wish I had a movie camera . . . :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Irish Genes: 36 Million stories

Read today in the Huffington Post that 36 million of us can trace at least part of our heritage to Ireland. The Emerald Isle is tiny, but here we are alive and well, balancing our fine fannies on mahogany chairs tonight at one of the many Irish pubs in Boston, New York City, Providence, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and elsewhere in this great green land of ours.

On this day more than any other, I think of my family making their way here to this country from the towns (and countries) they called home more than 100 years ago. They came from Poland, England, Quebec (Canada), and Ireland.

My Irish ancestors came from two counties -- Tipperary (O'Brien) and Kilkenny (Hogan). The story I know best is about Brigid McGrath leaving the port at Cork with eight or nine children in tow in 1851. Her husband, John O'Brien -- the father of my great-great grandpa Patrick O'Brien -- stayed behind in Ireland with two or three other children, a girl and two boys.

What they left behind that year was no party. We all know that story.

Brigid and the children's ship set sail on what I imagine to be a barebones journey across the Atlantic that would take almost a month. Her brother-in-law J. J. O'Brien, a priest at the Church of the Poor in Los Angeles, arranged passage for Brigid and the children to Rhode Island.

They ended up in Pawtucket. I know this because Brigid is buried in the cemetery at St. Anne's in that town. (I hear there's still one space open in the family plot there.)

I remember a disparaging phrase that my mother or my grandmother or my great uncle Rollo would say one occasion when they were mad at each other: "Aw, go to Pawtucket!" Hmmm. There's a reason my mom never took her kids there.

A few months after Brigid got settled, I guess with other relatives, her husband John came over in June. Records show his life in America was short. He died that September. We all wonder if he died of a broken heart from leaving his homeland no matter how miserable it was back then with all the blight and whatever else was going on.

So here's Brigid left with all these children. How she made it through is the stuff of fiction, I guess, since no one's around to tell the tale these days. Or maybe Frank McCourt will come back from the dead to tell the tale. As I heard the story, Patrick O'Brien grew up fast and helped support the family as best he could.

When he met Ann Hogan, she was living in South Providence when it was a good neighborhood. Patrick had black hair and eyes as blue and sparkling as Narragansett Bay. The engagement was a short one. They had a daughter, Mary, and a son, Christopher (Christy) who both spent time in LA. I have no details of their life in Southern California, but I'm imagining Hollywood, of course, and the birthing of the film industry.

Patrick and Ann's third child, Ellen, was their last. She was my great-grandmother, and everyone called Nellie.
The sad thing is that Patrick died on the day Ellen was born. Every photo of Ann I've ever seen shows her dressed in black - forever the widow.

Nellie grew up to teach grade school in Providence around the turn of the century. She fell in love with a French-Canadian pharmacist, Armand Vanasse, whom she married in 1902 (I think), and the story continues . . .

Here's to the Irish, my children Erin and Sean, memories of all that's gone before . . . and to whatever carries us across our tomorrows.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Baja and the Humpbacks

Back from the Baja . . . Imagine looking over the side of a little motor boat and seeing humpbacks swimming and jumping out of the water just a few feet away.

Not far from shore, in the Cabo San Lucas harbor, these baleen whales (who don't eat people, just krill and other tiny fish) teach their babies to survive in the water, which is full of humans in all kinds of boats.

People applaud the humpbacks, and the creatures seem to like it. But when I looked over the side of my little boat and saw a mother whale right underneath us, all the air left my body and everything stopped . . .

The water was so clear I could see the markings on her tail, which looked shell white through the waves. When she surfaced she made a deep sighing sound.

Surfacing just a few feet away from us, this whale had scars all over her back. Maybe you can see them in the top photo.

Erin, my daughter and travel companion on this trip, took these photos. With everything happening so fast, it's astonishing that she managed to capture any images at all. Remember the boat was rocking, the whales splashing, stomachs lurching . . .

More to come soon . . .

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Visit to Baja & the Gray Whales

So it's time again for a trip to Baja California Sur and Magdalena Bay where the gray whales teach their children the ways of the ocean.

I'm heading there in a few days with my daughter Erin, a wonderful photographer, and if we're lucky we'll get some good photos to share on the blog.

For months now my posts here have been meager. I'm hoping to change that in the coming weeks after my return from Cabo.

People think of Cabo as a party town, but there's a sense of wonder and reverence there too. For me it's a chance to look out at the ocean, watch the sunrise, float around in the bahia, scratch the back of a 20-ton mammal floating near my panga (like the boat in the photo), and appreciate life for what it is -- something sacred.

Sounds a little corny, right? Okay then. Let's spend a second being corny. Life is good. I'm looking forward to a trip to a place where I only understand every third or fourth word. Mostly my plan is to smile a lot, point at what I need, and pay for it with a big ol' gracias!

I'm grateful for this time off. Really grateful for time with Erin. She's been travelling a lot so I haven't seen her in months it seems. Plus for the very first time, she missed our family's Christmas celebration, which included a very silly tree made of leftover evergreen branches from the corner tree place, a lot of bright twinkling lights, and a pointy top made of glitter and wings.

Does it sound like I'm having an existential crisis? No, not at all. I've been reading Jane Kenyon's poetry. She died in her 40s, and her wonderful heartfelt and truth-telling words went with her, except of course for the books she had a chance to finish. Life is good, but life is not fair. Nobody ever said it would be. But things are harsh a little too often these days.

The New Yorker has a piece on a new theory of grief as a "process" rather than Elizabeth Kubler Ross's "stages." The article talks about her life and how it ended. The heart of the article is common sense without a pile of research study outcomes. When you lose somebody you love or whose presence in the world makes your stay here on the planet a little more happy, well, it sucks. And grief sucks. And death sucks. Haven't we been scribbling that fact for 100,000 years?

But we live with it . . . and that's where resilience comes in. The article says some people have more of it than others. My theory is we can create more. Have more.

That's the not so secret secret. The resilience comes from our creativity. The words, the photos, the poems, the stories, the plays, the art, the recipes, the gardens whatever is ours to give the world.

No big awards required. No plaques or certificates. We're loved for just trying to get it right: One word, one image, one handprint in the sand, one flower, one cheese souffle. Fragile, tentative, but worth the energy and effort. Right?? Right.

So here's to clean ocean and clean air and remembering how to swim. Yikes a whale! Baja here we come!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Twelfth Night . . . An Epiphany

Well, another year is stewed and sealed and put away high on a shelf in the cupboard of our lives.

It's safe in there in the dark, and it's good we don't have to look at it for a while. Just-lived events are not the same as fuzzy little memories from the past.

Even horrible memories from the past sieve through that labyrinth of soft brain tissue until what comes out is, well, a Stephen King movie, one you can shrug off when it's over without too much residual creepiness.

The cure is never more than buying a hot chocolate and a cupcake at the local CakeLove store run by college kids from the Ukraine or Lapland.

I mean 2009 was intense, wasn't it?? Maybe it was just me. But some people I know who are as sane as a bucket of sand tell me that the world seems "speeded up," organically faster moment by moment than years past.

Remember when there was time after Thanksgiving to shop around for a Christmas tree and not buy the first one the tree guy shows you??

Actually, I didn't buy a tree this year. Long story to save for another post. I did buy a green shiny elf hat with little wings that flutter in the slightest breeze.

After you collect more jars than you can count at a glance, things change in life. And as Charlie Kaufman says through Meryl Streep's character in the movie "Adaptation" -- "I've come to understand that change is not a choice."

Maybe it's encouragement. The positive force that bounces around inside our electrons like a hoochi-coochi dancer with a bee in her pajamas.

Keep those jars safe . . . who knows when you'll be ready to take them out and give them a shake. Happy New Year!