Half-deserted streets…

“A tedious argument of insidious intent…”

I recently saw this phrase used as a social media tagline — and it wasn’t a T.S. Eliot account. It struck me as a pleasing expression; i didn’t immediately recognize its origins.

I should have. I studied Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in college, though that was admittedly more than a few years ago.

Looking up phrases online, mine and others, is something i make a habit of in order to properly attribute them or to make sure one i’m about to use is original.

Rather than assume its social media user had concocted this one herself, the online search for this snippet rewarded me with a reminder of Eliot’s stunning craft. 

Located in its original context, latticed with evocative imagery, the locution is even more striking, of course:

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question…

I find it surprising and dismaying that this beauty had become buried beyond recall. 

It’s got me thinking about the imprinting of our experiences taking place as our lives unfold, how memories get stored away and what prompts their later recollection. 

A common observation holds that because of modern computing developments we now farm out our mental storage to the cloud. But this may simply represent an acceleration of a much longer-term trend. 

Whether reacting to a digital snapshot onscreen or to a sepia-tinged print in an old photo album, the sensation is still, “Oh yes, *now* i remember that!”

(The flip-side occurrence is when we thought we remembered something that turns out not to be so. “I could’ve sworn…”)

The observation may be more apt with respect to ordinary pieces of information. We less regularly memorize phone numbers, for example, because our gadgets store them and no longer require us to tap out frequently used numbers manually. 

Memorization as an everyday skill becomes instead an art that must be deliberately fostered.

The same technology that can diminish memorization, however, made possible the ten-second research that led me back to Eliot this morning. 

Without the internet, would i have made my way back to these certain half-deserted streets today?
Not terribly likely — though it’s possible i’d have reunited with them sometime by reaching for a poetry anthology from my bookshelf.

Such reacquaintances — whether mined from my own mind, sought in the pages of treasured books, or happened upon via the web — swirl up further memories and generate gratitude.

As Cicero perceived:  “Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.”

To argue with that would be tedious.


P.S.  One of my favorite pop songs from the 1990s references Eliot, borrowing language from this poem for the title, and juxtaposing jolly music with melancholy lyrics about illness and aging. 
I plan to update this post later with a link to it.
(Bonus points for any of you who identify it before that.)

Update: Here’s that song.

What’s your blog about?

It’s about how the end justifies the memes.

Ok, that’s not a serious answer — although it’s true that this blog does include the occasional meme.

Over the years, i’ve given a fair amount of thought to answering the query concisely — starting with concocting the tagline about reflections. 

When i began blogging, i’d had little exposure to the blogosphere in general. I simply set out to write about what interests me, hoping to make it interesting to others.

Now that i’ve been around the blog-block for a bit, i sometimes describe mine by noting what it’s not…
It’s not a running public diary of personal experiences. 
It’s not designed to sell a product or to promote a lifestyle, and it isn’t centered around a visual art form or hobby. Nor is it constructed to cover news and relay my opinions about it.

Yet personal experiences, hobbies, lifestyle and news do get braided in, with a smidgen of humor, music, and short fiction. 

I consider the load-bearing wall of the blog to be the essays, with the animating principles behind them being:
Are these ideas both true and meaningful?
Salient for others and elegantly expressed?

Emerson is said to have greeted his friends with the question, “What has become clear to you since we last met?”

That’s what i propose to answer with each post. Sometimes it’s only questions that become clearer, rather than answers.

The hope is for one free-hearted writer’s vicissitudes, tartly observed yet sprinkled with fellow-feeling, to be a refreshment to others.

It’s October, so — for those of you this appeals to — i’d like to think it’s the pumpkin spice latte of your blog browsing. 

The rest can fill in the best meme for you.

Lane change ahead…

Don’t you hate it when you miss your turn-off?

Yes, i know, many of us use GPS now. But i still like to study a map at home before heading to the airport.
I tend to become anxious about catching the information in time to get to the lane i need, so it calms me to have an aerial view in mind as i’m trying to follow the signs and instructions.

The idea of planning for changing lanes came to mind when i noticed the date first thing this morning. Today marks seven years since the name change which precipitated the title of this blog.

I like it when dates sneak up on me like that. This anniversary wasn’t one i’d been looking ahead toward, as i’m prone to do, hand at forehead shading my squinting eyes.

It feels good to be reminded by surprise that returning to my birth name represented a lane change i eagerly chose, emblematic of setting off for a fresh future, and reconnecting with an earlier selfhood.

What a wild seven years it’s been.
Taken alongside other arbitrary blocks of time, it has been marked more by disrupting and blindsiding turns and twists than by planned lane changes.

Regular readers will understand the reference to surviving cancer along with its attendant losses. To the years it took to navigate the obtacles and detours, getting far enough through them for the eventual silver linings to make themselves plain.

Here’s to finally landing, for now, back on a main road — where dreams can re-stir. Dreams of venturing to new places, of telling the stories, of influencing my own direction among the lanes left open.

Not just external options have changed, but also ways of seeing.
There are lanes to choose internally too.

A post five years ago listed a few take-aways from that time.
I have a few to add, being down the road a bit farther…

…Some but not all seemingly small moves turn out to be momentous, for good or ill.
And i don’t usually get to know which ahead of time.

…I can’t compute a percentage of an unknown number.
In other words, pondering how to spend the number of days i might have left is hampered by not being privy to that figure.

…Unlike my trip to the airport, any life map i purport to go by keeps needing to be redrawn as i go.

…Missing a lane change isn’t as bad as i feared.
There’s usually place up ahead to get back on track.
It might take extra time, i might even miss my flight, but, well, see the above take-aways.

As it happens, the past several weeks have brought about a few unanticipated medical and financial detours. But nothing close to the level of difficulties of a few years ago, just faint echoes.

Those reverberations, along with the seven-year reminder, nudge me to pause, take a good look around, and then pull way up to get the drone view, a fresh aerial perspective.

From up here, it’s easier to see the layout.
And it looks like things are going to be alright.

Foggy roads and grieving hearts…

car on road in fog

Foggy roads and grieving hearts make it hard to grasp where you are.

Fans of the brilliant songwriter John Prine will recognize an echo there with a line of his. I borrowed its framing as a tribute.
(“broken hearts and dirty windows make life difficult to see,” from ‘Souvenirs.’)

When we look back on this time at some far future point, we will each recall hallmarks large and small that most remind us of it. Events that moved us from an abstract sense of its singular seriousness to reality hitting home.

The manner in which we lost this songwriter is one such marker for me, given what he succumbed to after surviving so much else. 

It says something significant about the times we’re in that readers across the globe will instantly grasp what i mean by ‘the times we’re in’. 

It’s been about two months since something most of us had never heard of before became the most commonplace reference in our conversations.
Now nearly anything spoken, recalled or observed from this period cannot help but reflect it.
While that may be true, in a sense, of any utterance or recollection, today’s shared frame of reference for humanity in real time is indeed novel.  

A few posts ago, i recorded some observations about movement — what feels good about it, how it feels when it’s blocked. The satisfaction of setting a course rather than drifting.
These Virus Times have provided quite the illustration of some of those ideas.
Feels like every day is Blursday.

Chosen stillness is a relief. Stillness imposed against our preference is harder to embrace. 

The post you are now reading began with thoughts i set out to express weeks ago.
Its movement was first blocked, then knocked off course.

Having paused and then resumed it with so many weeks in between will forever be another personal marker for me of these times.

Reasons for the derailment are complex, but a prominent feature of these times — a persistent background anxiety — is certainly at the core of it.
Anxiety brought about by ongoing disruption of routine.
The anxiety of knowing how anxious others are.
Fear for the wellbeing of loved ones near and far, grief for those suffering needlessly and those already lost. 

When i first started this essay, it was my purpose for it to not be about the Virus Times.
But this is where i am. This is where we are.
This will be with us for a while.

On some horizons, things are sluggishly brightening up.
People feel desperate to get moving again.

The other day while out walking, i waited at a stop sign for a car to pass. As it did, the notes from its blaring stereo became gradually more faint as it drove away, until i could no longer feel the pounding…

The song we are all hearing, a sad one we didn’t select, is deafening.
It’s a misty road we’re on. The times are disorienting.
We will always recall what this was like. 

But we are also fixing our gaze ahead — looking forward to when the car is out of sight and its over-loud notes are less piercing.

Life in motion…

turtle on sandcats dancing





A few months ago, i wrote a post about movement

Its theme was how we experience movement through time, and i said i would write a further post on the subject. Here it is…

As i noted in the earlier piece, i got to thinking about movement when i became able to return to it after a period of stagnancy and lack of control.
Movement, to put it simply, feels good.

When i think of enjoying movement, i think first of bodily motion. The visceral elation of being on a swing as a child and going as high as i could, for example. Or the excitement of driving a fast car or being on a roller coaster. Thrilling physical motion feels as though we can almost be taken out of time for a moment.

A second notion of movement (which i focused on before) makes me think of time passing, and why there’s a sense of satisfaction in noting our relationship to it.
We like checking things off to-do lists and finding shortcuts that help us move through tasks more efficiently.
When we don’t sense progress we say we are spinning our wheels or treading water — not very positive images.

A third aspect of movement has to do with our emotional experiences.
I acknowledge a subtle shift in meaning between these usages, but i think there’s a relevance between time passing and being moved in our sentiments.

We say we are moved by a piece of art, or we find someone’s words moving.
Motivational speakers and advertisers aim to move us to make a change or make a purchase.
(The word ‘motive’ derives from the same root as ‘to move’.)
Inspirational writers wish to move us to embrace an idea or take an action.

We connect with great literature because it moves us to contemplate and gain understanding about humanity and ourselves. The more deeply we identify with the characters and ideas, the more emotionally moved we are.

An insightful way to describe someone is to point out what moves them.

Music ties together two of these meanings — movement through time and the effect on our feelings.
(The word ‘motif’ in music or literature also traces its etymology to movement.)
Anyone conversant with classical music may already have noted that sections of music are themselves called ‘movements’.

Just as experiencing motion and emotion in music is satisfying, so is experiencing momentum toward achieving goals.
In contrast, inertia often suggests something must be wrong.

When we are grieving the passing of a loved one, or the demise of a relationship, it feels as though forward motion stops while we begin to cope.
Conversely, healing is signified not only by life’s momentum returning to some normalcy, but also by no longer being as quickly moved to tears when that person comes to mind.

When my sons were little, i relished each birthday as a marker of their movement toward maturity, at the same time being moved to a tinge of melancholy, witnessing their childhood delights becoming part of the past.
Even now, both of them well into adulthood, this still strikes me as the epitome of how the passage of time itself moves me emotionally.

Many might readily suggest this is attributable to our underlying and uniquely human awareness of our own ultimate physical end.
That awareness can bring a clarity of purpose to how we decide to spend what time we have.

Meanwhile, our sense of being pleased by movement may explain why it can be difficult to simply pause, to deliberately choose restorative stillness from time to time.

So as we are moved to both delight in and lament life’s curiosities, here’s to finding harmony too between motion and stillness.

Change and challenge…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  

(James Baldwin)

As i was about to post that quote this morning — one equally applicable to our social surroundings as to our internal selves — i realized today is a personal anniversary, marking six years cancer-free. It was almost an afterthought. (Almost.)

The quote pairs well with this one: 

“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.” 

(Stephanie Schulte)

cello snow

Seasons’ fleetings…

leaves on snow

Here in southeast Wisconsin, the first snow came early this season. 

While October’s foliage still stunned with radiant hues, the storm moved in, dropping several inches of wet white stuff — and shaking me out of my ardent embrace of autumn. 

This photo shows the view from my bedroom window that morning. It felt important to capture the reversal of order, the leaves that were dropping onto the fallen snow. 

Perhaps this isn’t all that uncommon and i just never noticed it before. 

But it’s making me think about the suppositions i carry of what is likely to happen next. I’ve learned to welcome the stirring up of settled notions, the upending of unacknowledged assumptions — to keep from becoming too staid.

Let the wind rustle the leaves over the snow.

I would have liked for autumn to hang around a bit longer. But i do also delight in gray skies and the neighborhood layered in white. 

Winter has charms of its own, and the best of them is that it doesn’t last for too long either.

Witnessing fitness…

cat lifting weights

A few weeks ago I wrote a guest post for fitness blogger Saguren’s site Exercise and Health, on the topic of fitness blogging in general. When he issued the invitation, I was interested in contributing a piece because I find his blog helpful, interesting and balanced. I highly recommend you check it out.

You can read my guest post with his added comments at this link. I am also republishing my original text below.


I have a tendency to get a little annoyed by some fitness websites (not this one) — for at least two reasons.

First, it often seems like they’re ‘preaching to the converted’ — catering to people who are already fit.

Second, they can come across as looking down on those who aren’t, by over-simplifying both what the attainable goals should be and what it takes to reach them. 

(An earlier post of mine from a few years ago also touches on this idea.)

I was especially interested in doing a guest post for this site because neither of those is true here.

For all my early life, I had little natural inclination toward strenuous physical activity. My interests ran to the cerebral and stationary: writing, reading, meaningful conversation. 

(My twin sister, in contrast, was in high school sports and seemed, from very early childhood and throughout, to have a noticeably faster metabolism, even though we share the same DNA.)

Years later, recognizing the cumulative detrimental effects on my specific constitution of not being more physically active, I finally found the resolve to make changes and incorporate regular exercise and healthier eating into my lifestyle.

The efforts were rewarded by improved overall health, and have become a permanent part of my routine for many years now, though they still require self-talk and determination.

Here are a few points I’d appreciate fitness buffs keeping in mind when they’re out to encourage others…

1. Everyone can take steps in the right direction

…but not everyone is going to find achievable the success you may be reveling in, or will find the fitness focus as enjoyable in itself as you do.

As mentioned, I obtained positive results from changes I made in exercise and nutrition routines, but I’ll never look like a body builder and those steps will continue to require purposeful resolve.

2. You don’t know the background obstacles your readers are working with

…so be encouraging while taking care not to imply too high a standard. 

After I recovered from two-plus years of cancer treatment in my 50s, I came away from it with permanent physical limitations. More than one cancer survivor/motivational speaker I’ve came across since has unwittingly left me more discouraged than encouraged, because they were harking back to their extreme good fitness before their diagnosis. (Both had been long-distance runners.) I’m happy for them to have returned to it — but I didn’t feel they could relate to my experience, having never been into sports and exercise beforehand. 

3. Don’t discount or underplay the role of mental health…

The effort it takes to move toward better physical health is precisely what is blocked by psychological difficulties; the two are, of course, intertwined. 

In order to feel more positive, I must get moving — but I can’t get moving because I feel so negative. 

Gives ‘cycling’ a new meaning. 

Yes, the cycle can be toggled to build upward rather than downward — but not without encouragement and determination, and only by starting with small measures. 

This is why every seemingly minuscule step must be celebrated; it is the only way to build productive momentum. 

4. Everyone’s success is unique to them…

I cannot expect to arrive at a similar shape as my sister, who has been ballroom dancing competitively for years — and we are identical twins. 

While the sciences of fitness and nutrition have made great strides, the relationship between the innate physique and environmental conditioning is still not completely understood — including, for example, how cells store and shed fat in different people.

For me to have trimmed the excess pounds I have since my treatments may be an even more satisfying achievement in its own context than my twin having never had to do so.

My favorite activities are still writing, reading and meaningful conversation.

Now, as part of maintaining whatever level of health is available to me, I’ve tried to add a more active spin to them — for example, sometimes writing or reading while on a stationary desk-bike, and arranging to converse with friends while out walking together. 

The challenge is to take whatever steps are accessible to me, however small, within my circumstances. 

Keeping this in mind counters the unhelpful comparisons with others — because only I know internally what it has taken for me to accomplish whatever small successes i have. 

The positive effects on my sense of self and wellbeing are incalculable.

On the move…

wave splashing on rocks Tyler Feld 07142018

(Tyler Feld Photography)

I composed some of this post while i was walking this morning, and some while i was knitting. The movements got me thinking about life from the perspective of motion…

As creatures bound by time, we experience our existence as movement through time. 

We measure our days and our years by what we get done, and by when. 

We wish our favorite moments could last forever.

When something shattering happens we say it was like time stood still.

When we accomplish or survive something significant, we feel good about having gotten from then to now, from there to here. 

‘Making progress’ feels important to us. We mine satisfaction from a sense of forward motion.

This is on my mind as i consider why i’ve felt rather contented over the past few months. Some of it comes with stepping out into the clearing after having been in the woods for a while. Some has to do with uplifting connections with family and friends. But it isn’t due to any major achievement, or to writing more posts (obviously). 

I do always feel a sense of having gotten somewhere after i’ve written. But i haven’t posted anything of length in a while, and it occurs to me that i’m getting some of the sense of movement i need from another source, namely, knitting and crocheting… 

When i write an essay or a fable, i love seeing the beginning, middle and end take shape. 

The ‘fiber arts’ projects also provide a beginning, middle and end that i am directing. 

A crucial distinction is that with the yarn-based endeavors, i’m following someone else’s pattern, rather than creating something original. Composing demands more strenuous thought and is therefore rewarding in a different way. 

But enjoying the fiber arts (which i only recently returned to after decades away) strikes a happy medium between passivity and more deeply engaged effort. And while doing the finger-work, i am often mentally stimulated to get on to the writing.

Relishing both activities, i hear a whisper inside: “Lots looks different now, but you made it through, you’re ok.”  

Reflecting on tougher times, it hits me that they were characterized by either very little perceived forward movement, or by a swirl of motion involving me that i was not directing and had little influence over. 

But even when all is well, we live in a culture that prizes busyness, and we need to cultivate composure, make time for down time, elicit equanimity. 

The momentum of a too-busy life can get the better of us, like losing one’s balance running down a hill. 

For some, meditation and mindfulness are key to countering the imbalance. They do so not through escapism, but through re-orienting.   [*Be* the purring kitten.]

Momentum does not equal purpose. We can feel adrift doing too little or too much.

Peaceful direction seems the best balance. 

We can get a certain amount of this just from getting little chores done. Paying bills or doing dishes –they’re still movement [sideways oxymoron alert].

And spending time with others doesn’t get in the way of goals — when it is one of the goals. 

An idea which guides my thinking about almost everything is connectedness. Our deepest satisfactions as well as our most disruptive challenges have to do with our interrelations with others; the investment can be hefty but is rarely wasted.

I’ll have more to say in a future post about other kinds of movement. 

But if you’ll excuse me for now… that scarf isn’t going to knit itself.