Sunday, January 4, 2015

Quoth the raven

Wind farm at the foot of San Jacinto
This will be a little short. I have been having too much fun to get serious about posting to this journal today.

About the nicest thing that has happened to me during this whole past year is the receiving of two greeting cards signed by colleagues from the department where I used to teach. Such warm and generous comments they made, I must’ve had a grin from ear to ear. On top of that, they passed the hat and sent me a very generous gift card from Amazon. I’m totally touched. Writers, artists, and musicians who teach writing are the best on Earth.

Our friend Faith has been here this week, helping out with driving and shopping, and being good company for my wife Lynda, who was able to see an osteopath and learned that her broken arm will gradually heal just as it is, in a sling. No surgery; no cast. Painkillers keep her comfortable much (and not enough) of the time, and my heart sinks when I find her counting the hours until she can take more meds.

For meals, I used the broth I made from the Christmas turkey to make two kinds of soup, and Faith went to Whole Foods to buy tamales, which she and Lynda steamed one night for dinner. When Faith returns to New York on Monday, my old friend Steve from college, who retired to a life of leisure in Palm Springs, will take over as driver to get us to doctors’ appointments. (Cue in Bette Midler’s “You’ve Got to Have Friends.”)

Rock stacks
I’ve been able to get out to the desert for 50-minute walks with the dog who is a lesson in being totally in the present moment, her nose always working at top speed, absorbed by whatever wealth of sensations there are to be had sniffing a shrub, a palm frond or just a bare spot in the dust.

I continue to meditate, trying to be still and present in the moment. I attempt to screen out expectations, as they are part of the “noise” that fills my head. Honestly, I am grateful if all I’m aware of is the ring of tinnitus in my ears.

I like Billy Joel, but the next morning after his Gershwin Award celebration at the Library of Congress, I couldn’t get his songs out of my head, which means they must have been playing on Radio Ron all night while I slept. This morning, so help me, it was Judy Garland singing “You Made Me Love You.” I could probably twist that around some subtext of mystical meaning. (But not here.)

Throughout the day, when I remember it, I find myself practicing a meditative receptiveness, welcoming the wave of relaxation that comes with a deep breath, only to last for a few seconds, of course, but to be claimed again a moment later as I focus on another breath, the word “home” surfacing in awareness with the unaccountable feeling that I have returned after a long absence.

Being open as well as I can for seconds and minutes of time, I have what I’ve begun to call “grace notes,” flashes of grace that my usual inattention would mostly miss. Like when my dog gets into bed with me, sometimes crawling under the covers, to curl up beside me, the weight of her backside pressing against my leg, or her cold feet planted where they can get the most good from my body heat. For me, she has become one of “God’s creatures,” who has chosen me to love and share the moments of her life with.

Erosion patterns in the desert
Or a note of grace may come as the play of afternoon light and shadow on a bedroom wall, or the noisy cactus wren outside the door, showing off the snazzy racing stripes along the sides of his head. Or the playfully mysterious appearance of rock stacks in the desert. Or the rooster crowing this morning somewhere in the neighborhood as I stepped out onto the patio. Or erosion in the desert where sand has been washed away, exposing gnarled patterns of millennium-old rock.

Or it could be the raven who flew over us one day as we walked in the desert, folding his wings to his body and diving about 10 feet before extending them to sail on before repeating the trick: diving, recovering, diving, recovering, and making that amused croak that sounds like chuckling laughter and that seems to be saying, “I’m a raven and you’re not.” And I want to say,” Try being human for a while.” But he’s not interested.

One more story. 

In fourth grade, I got to playing too rough at recess and got my front teeth knocked out. Whenever I tell this story I make it sound like a bare knuckles playground dispute, but the truth of the matter is more embarrassing. Anyway, for three years, I went without those teeth—or any replacements. There was no way to close the wide gap left with false ones, without making me look even more ridiculous. So I went through Christmases when “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” got lots of airplay.

Why am I telling you this? Over the years, starting in seventh grade, I had a number of bridges installed that allowed me to smile again. Finally, a few years ago, biting into a piece of pizza, I took out the entire bridge, which left me with a gap not just two but four teeth wide. Over the next couple of years I filled the gap with two crowns and two implants. Not an inexpensive proposition, but I thought my dental disability was at last taken care of.

Well, last night while flossing, I snapped off one of the implants. Now I’m back to looking a lot like the kid I was in grade school. History will repeat itself. I’ll be on the phone to the dentist first thing Monday morning.

And so life goes on.

I’m closing again with a jazz video. This one from 2003, by the Django Reinhardt Group. The accordionist makes me wish more than anything that I had stuck with the accordion when I was a teenager. With nothing but push buttons for the left hand, I think I could still play it.

Previously: Adventures


  1. Ron, for the first time on your blog, you wrote the word "fun" and I was so pleased to see it. OK, maybe you've used it before, but it didn't stick with me. Glad you had a good week, despite your tooth accident. Bet you're handling it better than you would have a few months back. Our old tabby cat Harry crawls under the sheet in the morning, insisting on having part of my pillow for his head. I'm glad you have no qualms of sharing your bed with your dog. Did you bang your mouth on the jungle gym? I was always afraid of it because the boys played so roughly.

  2. As a victim of many dentists and much surgery, my teeth ache for you. Hopefully we will be in La Jolla on Saturday. This year, more than ever, we need that sun.

    1. Good. You just missed a real winter cold snap.

  3. My dentist gave me a plan of action that amounted to about $5,000 to which I said "let nature take it's course." You've regained your sense of humor and that's good. More nice photos from around PS. Maybe the stacked rocks mark a trail for somebody.

  4. "...having too much fun," I like the sound of that Ron. It's nice that you both have friends who are there when you need them. Friends are more than second family and not everyone is privileged to have them. I hope your wife recovers soon from the broken arm, which can be extremely painful, and your appointment with the dentist goes well. I have had many a brush with the dentist, for root canal treatment. Fortunately, here one can get a dental appointment within a day or two. A mere check-up is possible on the spot.

    1. All went well in the dentist's chair, I'm happy to report. About waiting time, it's days/weeks longer during the winter months when the population doubles with an influx of "snowbirds" from the northern states and Canada. As they are mostly older and retired (like myself), their demand for medical services is notable.