Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Beach tunes

We’re down the shore for a few days. The weather has been great and I’ve spent hours and hours on the beach and in the water. Beach space is so tight they have all sorts of regulations about umbrella size and shape and sun shelters and playing games and throwing things… but there’s no regulation on music. Lots of people have brought small speakers and are playing their beach lists. Lots of families with young kids, so the music has leaned to classic rock and pop. It was a bit of the sound track of my California teen-aged beach days, where it was radios playing up and down the beach. 

Yesterday a group of young adults set up camp next to me and brought out their tunes. Some K-pop and Spanish rock and then rap with lyrics that might not be appropriate for the younger set digging nearby. Suddenly they switched to Fleetwood Mac. What?? Then their playlist leaned way into the 60s and 70s. The lady who’d laboriously crossed the sand with her cane leaned over to say, “I’m really enjoying the music.” To which the young woman running the show replied, “I looked around and curated the music to the demographic.” “Can you play some Queen?” asked one of her companions. She could and did.

Sunday, July 11, 2021


“Upended” might have been a understated description of 2020, but it captured my last week pretty well, too. On Monday, it was a iconic summer day — breezy, sunny and not too warm. I spent the morning working on the patio outside. At noon I took my lunch out on a tray, reluctant to waste a moment of this day inside. As I stood up to go inside, I lost my balance, knocked the table, and sent my plate and iPad crashing to the slate. I caught the $3.99 IKEA plate before it hit the ground. I did not catch my iPad. I now have a new iPad.

Tuesday I managed to upend things again. I had a stack of books at the back of my table in my office, lined up to read for the current writing project. There were no bookends holding them up because I didn’t have any bookends. My shelves are always stuffed full, who needs bookends? There were fresh flowers on my desk, too. I felt so..adult and competent. My desk was clear, working space well organized, writing underway…and flowers! I reached for a book, the whole set tipped over, hitting the vase which then tipped a liter of water over my desk and the open book and notes on it. I now have bookends. 

Neither of these events are by any measure catastrophes. My life — and those of many others — have been upended in far worse ways. But these little reminders how quick things can turn from serene to chaotic have kept me grounded in the present, eyes open for joys in the here and now. Like another beautiful summer day to write on the patio. I’d rather view this week as bookended by joy than by grief. 

Monday, July 05, 2021

Whales, Atoms, Psalms and Star Trek


“Never and always touching and touched.” This line from “Amok Time” kept surfacing as I read Peter Wayne Moe’s Touching This Leviathan. (I bet you thought this would be about Star Trek IV.) Leviathan is a composition in the literal sense, deliberately placing psalms next to essays on sentences, side-by-side with reports of 19th century whaling vessels against lines pulled from cetacean necropsies. And of course, Moby Dick. 

There is more here than we can grasp, says Moe. We can pace a whale’s length out on the ground, embodying the knowledge of its vastness. But we can stand underneath their skeletons and not be able to see them for what they are. We get only glimpses of them in their natural habitat; it is the rare human who has seen them alive and entire soaring through the sea. 

It’s like the psalms for me, in my body after all these years, in my body from the very beginning. Andre Chouraqui — “We were born with this book in our very bones." Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer:  "The only way to understand the Psalms is on your knees, the whole congregation praying the words of the Psalms with all its strength." 

I catch glimpses of the Divine as I pray the psalms, but like the whales surfacing, what I see does not convey the whole. Sometimes all I see is a brief mist on the horizon and I wonder if that was a spout and if I should steer in that direction. And every once in a great while, the Transcendent breaches, water sheeting from its sides, shimmering in the light, suspended for a moment against the sky, until all its torrents and waves crash over me. Always and never, touching and touched. 

I suspect atoms for me are a bit like whales. I’ve never picked up a single atom in my hands, handled it like a marble, yet my hands are always touching atoms, on this keyboard, the nitrogen in the air battering at my hands, thousands upon thousands of unnoticed touches every second. I am wrapped in atoms, I am atoms. Always and never, touching and touched.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Portal Math

Last week I read a poignant short story by Aimee Picchi (Advanced Word Problems in Portal Math) which had me feeling all sorts of feelings about doing math at different points in my life and how the people around me reacted to it. Coincidentally my sister found some of my elementary school report cards in boxes she’s been going through. These days, I note, I’m surrounded by women who enjoy math!

Still, I wonder what my path might have been like if I’d been more (or for that matter, less) supported in my mathematical explorations in high school? Which portals would have opened for me? Which would have closed?

Picchi offers three endings to her story. In that spirit I offer two alternate trains of thought.

The portal in MY refrigerator is not functioning as expected. When I open the freezer door and reach into the ice bin, it has apparently connected to a tropical island rather than the arctic facility it has reliably opened to in the past. No ice appears no matter how I wave my hands. Penny, can you help? 

I also read a thread on Twitter by a #tradwife. TA;DR (too awful, don’t read — advice I should have heeded): women aren’t really meant to do math or science. I’m still trying to wrap my head around a theology that holds that God created women capable of doing, say, quantum physics (to pick a random example), but they shouldn’t actually do it, and if they do, they certainly won’t be happy. They would be 100% happier cleaning house and forgetting all that nonsense. Seriously. Quantum mechanics is apparently objectively evil when done by women. Or is it original sin? A temptation to be resisted by women. I just can’t find a coherent theology here.

Friday, July 02, 2021


I keep getting these emails asking me if I want sign up for training about pivot tables in Excel. No need, thank you (not in the least because I don't use Excel unless forced to it). Why is no one offering me training on how to pivot to summer, or how to pivot to a post-pandemic semester, or from long writing projects (a book) to short pieces (500 words!) and back again? While they are at it, the parish is pivoting from one pastor to another, and I would take some advice there, too. Pivoting is pretty pivotal, professional and personally.

The Rockettes have advice on the pirouette, if not the pivot.