Who’s minding the store?

Unfortunately, I found myself the other day in extreme pain. It’s a long story, and I won’t bore you with the details (teeth-related, ugh). I’m much better now.

Earlier in the day though, I was whimpering and crying on public transportation on the way home. I had managed to watch some of the Germany-Brazil game in fits and starts between dozing and cold compresses… and I wondered if I was hallucinating when I woke up to see Germany with five goals. A line of storms rolled in during the dinner hour, and my power flickered on and off… the lights went completely dark at one point but came back on… I could hear the emergency generator in the parking lot singing to life. I dug through my closet and found my emergency lantern and some batteries, and curled back up on the couch like a pill bug. It’s amazing how your perception changes when you’re dealing with base level pain– how you ignore some things entirely (I never once looked out the window to see if it was really storming)– or your anxiety heightens (I was terrified a downed tree would knock out power and then I’d be in the dark, too).

At some point, I realized that I needed to make the trek to the pharmacy. Not only had it stopped raining, but a huge double rainbow filled the sky over my building (you could see the ends, tip-to-tip), but I couldn’t get a full shot with my phone. “It’s not everyday a rainbow is over your house,” a neighbor said, snapping many photos from the median. As we drove further into town, we stopped once with no one behind us on the road to get another shot. A parking lot near an industrial strip mall held a cluster of tough looking men in grubby work clothes and boots, pointing their phones at the sky. When we got to our destination, I managed to snap the below. If I wasn’t in such discomfort, I would have gotten the reverse shot too–  half a dozen pharmacy employees outside snapping pictures of the double rainbow. “Who’s minding the store?” one of them laughed. I remember thinking the answer didn’t matter.

I wasn’t inside more than 10 minutes… when I walked back out the car, it had vanished completely. It was a fleeting moment of joy during a very scary day, and I took comfort in the fact that so many others put their evenings on pause to look up and share this beauty with others.

Double Rainbow

Double rainbow from July 8, 2014.

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Last light left on.

I’ve been thinking about the death of luminescence.

(Also, hello, it’s been far too long. Excuses could go here, but let’s not, and say we did.)

I recently read an article in the Post about a competition for an affordable “green” lightbulb. The winning unit sells for $50 a piece. Ok, sure.

The last American incandescent lightbulb factory closed in September 2010. We’re now in the middle of a gradual phasing out of the bulbs, until we’re left with only the new “energy efficient” models in 2014. Those dreaded acronyms… the CFLs and LEDs! I love the environment– don’t get me wrong– but I protest the phase out of the tungsten bulb at this point in time for an unconventional reason which does impact my daily life– but perhaps has gone unnoticed.

These bulbs are not luminescent. Sounds crazy… But really, I think that’s what bothers me the most. The quality of the light itself is different….incomparable. There are no “glowing lamps” anymore.

Perhaps this comes from my background in photography, but I find that I always size up the light in a given situation. Flipping through F-stops in my brain, I judge quality, intensity, tone and temperature in a few moments. It’s a habit, even if I’m not shooting. Quality of light sets the scene and dictates mood– any artist or person with Seasonal Affective Disorder will tell you the same thing.

These new bulbs, or at least their earlier prototypes (even a few years ago) flickered into being like their older, uglier predecessors…fluorescents… ticking and lighting with a gentle hum, a bluish diffuse light would appear after a delay and slowly grow…as if the sun had moved behind a cloud bank and decided not to reemerge for hours. Light, but not bright.

I had an early CFL light in my reading lamp in Boston a few years ago. I found that I preferred to read by the light of the window, or to leave my apartment entirely… than use that lamp. I determined that it replicated daylight on a mediocre day… one where you turn your face to the source and hope you can feel the gradual warmth on your face, but it never quite gets there.

Even in recent years, I found myself gravitating towards hideous “grayiege” colored lampshades in Ikea, hoping that they would counterbalance the blue haze. I have an “old bulb” in the lamp on my dresser for when I actually need to see things– to remove a tag, adjust a safety pin or search for matching earrings. This is the detail work that requires extra wattage and warmth… but otherwise, I’m trying to make the switch.

I admit, they’re getting better, but I won’t fully be on board until they can replicate that luminescence without just throwing some colored LEDs behind the glass. With an “old” lamp, casting it’s bronze cone around your reading chair, it could be raining sideways outside…wind whipping branches against the windowpanes, daffodils bent face down in seeping puddles, those unsuspecting walkers huddled in the nearest bus shelter…shivering in short-sleeves…but you’d never walk to the window to see.

Maybe it’s a false sense of security– to bathe in tungsten light’s warmth– but you want to be where it is. Desire overrides function. We turn on the lights for comfort (as a side note, I read Ray Bradbury’s “The Long Rain” the other day).

Now, we turn them on knowing we’ll extinguish them sooner rather than later. I guess “energy savers” have accomplished their goal…because they don’t quite offer what we really want.

Do you go with the flow?

“Cursive writing does not mean what I think it does.”- Bart Simpson

The other day on the train, my eye fell upon the stack of papers clutched by my seat partner. The text slashed the page; all letters touched together, the rounded curves squashed flat against the bottom line. What language is this, I wondered. I realized at long last that it was English cursive… but a very terrible attempt at cursive. This really did look like chicken scratches or hieroglyphics… it was that bad.

I read an interesting article this morning in the New York Times about the disappearance of cursive handwriting. Many schools do not teach cursive anymore… most stop their instruction by the third grade… which is, ironically, the last year I remember doing cursive in a formal environment.

I was in public school at the time… as a Kindergartner I was given a large landscape-oriented sheet of newsprint with a blank space on top and a block of tri-ruled lines at the bottom. You know the ones I mean… the two inch wide green lines with a dashed demarcation running down the middle… frightening word highways… repositories for the letters I was still learning. At the time, it was not expected that we know how to write in the traditional sense… in fact… we were expected to draw a picture in the blank space and draw squiggles akin to children’s representations of mountains. Up/down/up/down/up/down. It could say whatever you wanted… it didn’t matter. All the pencil peaks and valleys were the same.

Then, once you reached the number grades… the mountains came crashing down… real writing was required. I suppose the mountain writing was a way to acclimatize us to the flow and movement of cursive… just a softer, more grown-up squiggle. I probably was dyslexic, but I was dedicated. A different marble composition book was required for every subject, and I used a new page for each assignment to make it seem like I wrote a lot. I must have learned the cursive letters… one at a time, copying them in my wide ruled note book over and over…but my memory is very hazy. All my elementary school classrooms had cursive alphabet borders running around the room near the ceiling line… they were high up there. I wonder if any children actually paid attention to them, craning their necks, following the 52 squiggles left to right… uppercase and lowercase. Sadly, what I remember clearly is that some of the people in my class still couldn’t read by the 2nd grade… and the first class of the year was spent on a remedial alphabet refresher.

I don’t remember cursive being required… I wasn’t writing book reports in cursive, nor did I have handwriting tests of any kind. As a 4th grader, I transferred to private school where no one cared about cursive… it just wasn’t done. I remember envying one of my best friends for her cursive “M”s… I practiced my own signature over and over again, in case I grew up to be famous.

When I spent time in my mother’s office while on a school break, I took it upon myself to improve my lettering. She made examples of the cursive letters for me, spaced out on a yellow steno pad. I would sit in a leather high-backed chair for hours, chewing on the straw of my cherry coke, forming the letters over and over… row upon row of every letter, both cases. After many long afternoons in her office, the steno pad was completely filled up with dark blue penmanship. It did not resemble my mom’s handwriting, but at least it was a valiant effort.

The Times article mentions that some younger folks can no longer read the eloquent scripted writing… the mythological beast known as cursive. While I may not be an expert in graphology (that’s the study and analysis of handwriting), I feel confident that I can at least READ the stuff… even if my lowercase “u,” “v,” and “w” all look relatively the same. I do empathize, though, with the children who were surprised when they learned that cursive “D” in Disney’s bubbly script at the start of old VHS tapes was actually a “D”!

In college and graduate school, I continued to practice my cursive as a deterrent to falling asleep in class. Cursive, since I was not a born natural, required just that extra bit of concentration. I slanted my notepad… pulled out my disposable fountain pen… and began to script continuously. Whether or not I could read it later when studying was another matter… as the smooth squiggles slipped off the lines from time to time, trailing off into swooping curves.

I understand that times are changing… that word processing skills take precedent and smart phones, IM and text messaging are pervasive ways of communication. My current print is only a more refined version of the print I did as an elementary-age kid. I value my handwriting. I much prefer to write long hand for just about everything. I’m a list maker, a letter writer, and I have my own wax seal. Believe me; the concept of a blog is still very foreign.

Who cares if no job requires cursive… I don’t know many professional scribes these days… but that’s beside the point. Why not learn to do it for the love of doing it? To improve your own print by honing another side of it… or to marvel at the sheer art value if you think it’s otherwise irrelevant? We shouldn’t eliminate these skills from our repertoire simply because they’ve been targeted as “outdated”… ludicrous.

Go write a letter in cursive and spend the money to post it… it won’t kill you. If you’re feeling really racy, see if you can use roman numerals in the process… there’s another thing we’re missing out on these days.

“what we’ve got here is…failure to communicate.”

I’m incredibly shy by nature—that might come as a surprise to some of you who know me. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I’m much more verbally confrontational than most folks. I’ve turned up the volume on my life and tuned up my observation skills…not only because I think these are paramount to full societal membership…but also because most people just don’t seem to care… about anything!!

I do contemplate how certain individuals can continue along the path they’ve chosen. I’m in no position to tell anyone how to govern their own lives, or instruct them on proper interactions. But…here are things I witness every single day on a micro level that just… irk me…

The other day, I stumbled down the escalator in the metro and darted onto a train just as the doors were closing. It’s not like me to get on a train without being absolutely sure it’s going to the right station, but sometimes the allure of darting in between the automatic doors is too much to resist. As soon as I sat down, the conductor announced that the train would be terminating in a few stops. When the doors opened at every stop, the conductor announced that the train was a “special” and would be ending early, and thus NOT going to the end of the line.

I disembarked the train at the new “end of the line,” as had been announced by conductor as many times as there are stops on the whole metro line, still reading my book. When I looked up, there were still about half a dozen people sitting on the train… not noticing that the train was stopped, that everyone else had gotten off, or that the doors kept opening and closing. One guy in a coal colored overcoat dug his hands deep in his armpits and seemed to incline his head and listen closer to his ipod. A couple sat with paper grocery bags on their laps, staring straight ahead at the other guy sitting across the car.

A grizzled and grimy older man with a cane and an awkward gait ambled up to the train and rapped on the door with the rubber tip of the walking stick, barking, “this train is out of service!”

And yet the passengers remained (I suppose because he looked a little “off,” no one listened to him). Another man managed to shout the same message as the doors opened and closed like trash compactors. The guy in the coal overcoat finally got the hint and barreled through the door just as it was closing again. The couple with the shopping bags got to their feet slowly, but by the time they reached the doors, they had closed again. The overcoat man shoved a few gloved fingers between the doors and ripped one back to the right (I should note, these are not like elevator doors, they don’t stop if they close on a limb, nor do they magically reset after being jarred). Everyone was finally out of the train car… and the door was now jammed in a half-open position.

POINT BEING… these folks had a whole train ride, with multiple audio announcements and visual clues that this particular train was not going to the rest of the stops… and yet they failed to be observant. This whole encounter happened in just a few seconds. No lives were lost–everyone was fine—the trains continued to run on time.

Or… how about this past fall… when I was walking on the sidewalk downtown during a rainstorm…

I spotted a girl in front of me, waiting for the light to change so she could cross the street. She was maybe a little younger than me…clearly a student of some sort. She had no umbrella and no coat. She wasn’t even wearing a hat. Her UGG boots resembled two aquatic rodents, and squished dark liquid when she walked. She clutched an unprotected book and a binder close to her chest, squinted against the raindrops and gave one large shiver as she waited to cross the street. It was clear to me that she had walked several blocks like this. Idiot of the week.

This was not a casual rain shower… this was a full-blown rainstorm… an all day event… forecast in advance. HOW do you leave your home NOT KNOWING that it’s going to rain? Really?? TELL ME. Everyone is sucked into their smart phones and laptops these days (ok, me too, I admit, but at least I have multiple weather and news apps)… this girl must have NOT watched TV, looked on the computer, listened to the radio, or, heaven forbid, LOOKED OUT THE WINDOW. It’s mind-boggling.

What has happened to permit this type of behavior… this lack of responsibility for our actions? There’s that… which is aggravated by the fact that others don’t seem to care about what’s happening around them. A bunch of drunken kids jumped off the metro platform on a Saturday night, and were playing round on the tracks dangerously close to the third rail. I said, “hey kids, let’s not do that” (in so many words– “stupid” might have been included too). I was the only one who said anything to them.

Be involved in the world (she said wisely). Being present and not passing through life with the conviction of a wilted piece of spinach is not that difficult. If you have all five senses intact, please use them.

Thanks.