Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Flames and Embers

Linda had recently been dumped by her boyfriend, who knew that I was waiting in the wings. In fact, he called me before he broke up with her to let me know that I may be hearing from her after tonight. Bad form, that. But, at 16, I didn't mind.
When Linda called me I was sympathetic and kind. She knew that I was interested in her, too. I was her shoulder to cry on - although there were no real tears. We quickly made plans to get together and, within a few days, Linda and I walked to the Herring Run together. Our first time out as a couple. We climbed the big rock and sat close together once at the top. We listened to the rushing water and we talked. What discussed what we liked and what we didn't like. We spoke of school and people we knew and liked and disliked. We laughed and we held hands. At the end of our date, we shared a brief kiss.
Linda was my first real girlfriend.
We went places together and we drove around in her car a lot - a 1976 Ford Pinto wagon. We sang "Rosanna" by Toto at the top of our lungs as we went to the movies or to McDonald's; sometimes both in the same evening. At some point Linda and I exchanged declarations of "I love you". At the time, I'm sure we meant it.
Linda and I dated for less than a year. We broke up, although for the life of me I know longer remember why. I was disheartened but not heartbroken. I soon moved on.
After Linda there was Sandy. She meant more to me than Linda ever did. We dated for over a year. I loved her with all of my teenage boy heart. This relationship ended and I remember exactly why it ended. This one hurt.
After Sandy, at 19 years old, I met Laurie, the first woman that I ever truly loved. Although, the wisdom of this knowledge only comes with the experience of age. Laurie and I were together for a lifetime, until life pulled us apart. Nothing hateful or acrimonious; just life marching forward and pulling us apart in the process. No hateful words or misspent anger was shared between us. The end was melancholy but affectionate and came with the knowledge that all things will end sometime and our time had come.
Sometimes my thoughts stray to Linda and Sandy. I wish them well and I hope that the universe has been kind to them. I think of Laurie more than the two of them combined. Although at the time each of them was held closely in my heart it is my relationship with Laurie that stayed there permanently, albeit now as just an ember of a once burning flame. Still, the thoughts, much like an ember, are warm and pleasurable to behold.
I am grateful for everything that I learned from these relationships. Each woman, in their time and in their own way, was important to me and I honor them all. Now, decades later, I know that my third relationship was my first, real love.
And even then, it wasn't my last.
And time moves forward.
First love is a powerful memory but in the end it is an ember of a once-burning flame.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Sorrow of Demeter

There is a chill in the air this morning; on this, the first day of Autumn.
I love the change of this season. Autumn is the time of year when the blue sky of day has a touch of steel woven within it. Both the morning and evening skies are burning with swaths of orange, red and purple clouds. The air is crisp and cool and the smell of the leaves play upon it. It is the time of transition, also. Days are shorter as long dark nights return to the world of man. Persephone has once again traveled to the underworld.
Persephone is the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, goddess of the harvest. She was a beautiful young woman and everyone loved her. Even Hades wanted Persephone for himself. However, Zeus spurned Hades request of Persephone's hand in marriage to the Lord of the Underworld.
One day, when Persephone was collecting flowers, the earth suddenly cracked open and Hades rose up and abducted her. None but Zeus, and Helios, the all-seeing sun, had noticed it.
Life on Earth came to a standstill as the broken-hearted Demeter wandered the earth, looking for her daughter to no avail. Finally, Helios revealed what had happened to Persephone. Demeter was so angry that she withdrew herself in loneliness, and the earth ceased to be fertile.
Knowing this could not continue much longer, Zeus demanded that Persephone be returned to her mother. Zeus then sent Hermes down to Hades to make retrieve Persephone. Hades grudgingly agreed, but before she went back he gave Persephone a pomegranate. When she ate some of the seeds, it bound her to the Underworld forever and she had to stay there for one-third of the year. The other months she stayed with her mother.
When Demeter and her daughter are united, the Earth flourishes with vegetation and color. While Persephone is in Hades, Demeter refuses to let anything grow and winter begins. For four months each year, when Persephone returns to the underworld, the earth once again becomes a barren realm.
Autumn marks the beginning of Demeter's grief.
It is a magical, mythical time of the year.
It is my favorite time of year.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Solitary Confinement

Today begins my Fall semester at Northeastern. I am taking two classes: Detective Fiction and Children's Literature. They are described as follows:
"Detective Fiction explores the elements of intrigue, logic, and thought that converge in the whodunit. Students sample a wide range of detective fiction to explore the questions of innocence and guilt, action and responsibility, power and authority, and victim and victimizer and to see connections between this popular form of literature and its classical antecedents."
This class involves reading the following:
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Mystery of Marie Roget," "The Purloined Letter," "The Gold-Bug", Edgar Allen Poe
"The Moonstone", Wilkie Collins
"The Hound of the Baskervilles", Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
"The Thin Man", Dashiell Hammett
"The Murder of Roger Ackroyd", Agatha Christie
"The Mirror Crack'd", Agatha Christie
"The Big Sleep", Raymond Chandler
"Murder Must Advertise", Dorothy Sayers
"Cover Her Face", P. D. James
"Mystic River", Dennis Lehane
This class is 12 weeks long. Simple math tells me that, except for the Poe short stories, I am required to read a full length novel nearly every week. Fine. I like to read.
Children's Literature is described as follows:
"The psychology of creation, the ways of imagination, and the role of fantasy and play in such children’s books as Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Charlotte’s Web."
This class has the following reading list:
"Little Women", Louisa May Alcott
"Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland", Lewis Carroll
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", Mark Twain
"Peter Pan", James M. Barrie
Selected readings from "English Fairy Tales", Joseph Jacobs
"Charlotte’s Web", E.B. White
Selected works from Children’s Poetry
"Anne of Green Gables", L.M. Montgomery

Each one of these classes requires a weekly (one-page) paper regarding our thoughts on the readings. There are 5 essays in each class, a mid-term and a final. All in all, there is a lot of work involved here - reading and writing. Initially I wasn't bothered by the reading list for each class; I am now. Not by the reading lists, but by the format. These are online courses.
Usually I am reluctant to take classes such as these online because I truly feel that the lack face to face interaction when discussing literary works limits the depth of conversation. I don't feel that I get enough out of the course because of the limited participation on-line as opposed to a dedicated class/discussion time. I have learned more from face to face interactions with my peers that involve clarifications from the professor then I ever have "on-line". Yet, the university isn't making these classes available in any format other than online and I am beginning to resent it.
While reading is a solitary pursuit I do not feel that learning about literature should be. I know that I learn more when I am exposed to other thoughts an viewpoints, particularly those that do not mesh with my own. I enjoy it when another student has an insight on a work that I may have never realized on my own and shares it with the class.
This is why I want to learn (and possibly teach) literature. Literature is fluid, not staid. It is interpretive and not formulaic. It is not as science or math, where the formula is the end all and be all. The written word means different things to each reader and allows for different viewpoints to be arrived at from the same words. Literature is alive and deserves to be shared between people, face to face and with free-flowing conversation.
I can handle the workload (I think) and I am excited about reading most of these works. However, I know that I will be left to my own devices because of the limited interaction that "discussion boards" allow for. This is not learning; at least not as I understand it. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer not to learn in a bubble.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Starry Night

There were thousands of stars in the night sky over our house in Bryantville.
On any given night I used to walk among them.
The only lights on our dead-end dirt road were from the porch lights of each house. Our street was surrounded by woods on three sides. Even with the house lights it was a medieval darkness, one that stirred the soul and fired the imagination.
Each night I could be found walking up and down our street with Suki so she could do her business. By this time she was an old dog and the leash laws had just been enforced. While no one in our neighborhood would ever have complained about the old girl we decided to walk her at night instead of letting her roam free.
While we walked I would look up at the stars in the clear, night sky and wonder. I used to think that I was born 200 years too early or 200 years too late. I firmly believed that I was meant to pilot by the stars, either on an old sailing vessel or out among them on a spaceship heading to distant worlds.
I used to dream about life on a planet around any one of the thousands of stars above me. Looking up at the night sky like this first lead me to believe that there is no way that we are alone in the infinite universe. I believed that somewhere there was another young being looking up at our sun and wondering about us, too.
I used to wonder what the world was like 1000 years ago, when mankind would look up at the sky from around their night fire. I was burning to know what they thought when they saw the illuminated firmament over their heads. I would look for the constellations and hear the myths about them being told by a wise man even as wood was added to the fire and burning sparks filled the air.
On nights when the moon was full and high I imagined what it was to stand on the moon and gaze back down upon the Earth. Was there a man on the moon? I know I saw his face...
That was then.
Today the night sky is spoiled by the light pollution from the city. What was once a harmony of stars is now just a flicker of lights, faded and spoiled.
The night sky and the stars above once filled me with dreams and sent my imagination soaring. I used to look forward to my nightly walks with Suki. Alone with my thoughts, I once walked among the stars and I traveled the universe.
Today I may not have the stars but I know that they are there. And, once in a while, I still pilot by the stars and hear the ancient storytellers.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Back to School

The alarm clock goes off at 5AM. It does this every morning. However, on this morning I end my usual routine after breakfast and instead get into my car. At 5:40 it is still too early for most of our neighbors to be stirring. The engine roars to life, breaking the silence on my quiet street. I pull out of our driveway, onto our street and then out onto South Street. WBZ Radio 1030 is filling me in with news, traffic and weather as I head off into the early morning light.
There are some low laying clouds that beautifully reflect the rising sun. Burnt reds and oranges give way to the brightening blue sky of morning. After listening to "traffic on the three's" I know that I am in good shape for my run to the South Shore. I turn on MIKE FM as I cruise onto route 128. 25 minutes later and I'm a bit early (aren't I always?) but the ride was fantastic. The sun was shining and the air was cool. There was no traffic to speak of, the music was solid and I'm heading off route 3 and into the suburbs.
I pull into Dunkin' Donuts. There's a small line at the drive thru so I park the SAAB and head into the store. A middle-aged clerk takes my order. He's a bit chatty for 6:20 in the morning but I don't mind. It's a good retail clerk who doesn't make you feel that you're bothering him at an ungodly hour - even if you are. He hands me a steaming Styrofoam cup with oversize cover and off I go. 10 minutes later I arrive at Jenna's.
Her mom is out by the pool; a large mug of coffee in her hand. She sends a greeting over the fence and I join her. We chat for a few moments when she informs me that Jenna is upstairs finishing getting ready. I offer to go and rattle her cage and Pam obliges, with a warning that the other kids are still sleeping and to try to keep the noise down. I agree.
Silently I make my way into the house and up the stairs to stand outside my daughter's bedroom door. I knock quietly.
"Come in."
I open the door and standing before me is a young woman; my daughter. She's wearing the new clothes she bought with a new-enough pair of blue jeans. As a final touch she's added the high heels that I bought for her. She looks fantastic and oh-so grown up. She smiles and greets me warmly. She quickly spies the cup in my hand and her eyes light up like spotlights. "Is that chai tea?" she asks excitedly.
"It sure is," I say as I hand the cup over to her. She eagerly takes it from me.
"Thanks, Dad!"
We talk briefly and then I head back downstairs to allow her to finish getting ready. Pam and I talk for a few moments before I head back upstairs again. It's five minutes until the bus arrives so, of course, I feel the need to nudge her along. She's ready to go and we head back downstairs. Pam is inside now and I take a picture of "Mom and Daughter" for the scrapbook. Jenna is packed and ready to go. We head out the back door to the street to wait for the bus. We both lean against the car as Jenna sips from her chai tea.
This is new. Ordinarily I would wait in the house with Pam so as not to "embarrass" her in front of her classmates. This year is different. She wants me out here. We talk and laugh easily as we wait for the bus which arrives five minutes late.
During a quiet moment I think back on all of the "First Day of School" trips that I have made over the years. I was there for all of them. This is number eleven. One more to go. I originally thought that this tradition would end once Jenna reached junior high school. It didn't, much to my pleasant surprise. I'm honored that she still wants me to be involved.
Finally the bus arrives. I get a quick kiss goodbye as my daughter - the young woman before me - walks confidently to the bus and into her junior year.