In February 2019, about six months into my empty nest lifestyle, I realized how many more hours there are in a day when you live alone. I thought I might need a hobby. Since I already speak a little Spanish and have been wanting to improve, I signed up for online lessons at Berlitz.com.
I was having a fine, if ordinary, summer day until two things happened, both right outside my front door. The first time I left the house, I discovered a hit-and-run driver had lopped off my rearview mirror. That afternoon, I briefly left my iPhone in the car, and by the time I went out to get it, it was gone. That iPhone was one of the only working parts of my brain, and it was not even halfway paid for.
I picture them like evil dots on a GPS map, miscreants on the move, turning on my street, stopping at my house, dropping off a random to-go order of misery. Small and medium for me this time. But just as I was ruminating on the terrible power of bad people, the universe gave me an opportunity to notice just the opposite, a couple helpings of positive vibes I had done nothing to deserve.
The other day I was visiting a good friend who has been in bed for over a month with a back problem. I mentioned to him that years of yoga has helped me stay a little ahead of my own decaying skeleton.
He nodded. Everyone says it’s great for relaxation.
Immediately I began to splutter. Though it is my preferred form of exercise – one of the only ones I can manage with my barely functional knees – yoga is one of the biggest sources of irritation in my life. As much as I love a good vinyasa workout, I usually leave class fuming.
What the hell!?! said my friend, laughing, so I explained.
Every morning from the bedroom window of the condo, I watch the sun rise over the water. Most days begin as smears of coral against a wash of night-blue, then bring on the drama in pink and peach as the fireball edges into view. Cloudy days take a more minimalist approach: misty layers of gray, a golden shimmer on the water. The first silhouettes on the beach are the fishermen, posted up in folding chairs, their lines stretching out into the calm morning sea. They are followed by the dog owners, wearing billed caps and carrying coffee cups, some with their pets trotting ahead of them, others with puppies or nervous new rescues on leashes.
Note: This piece is in the style of the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, lady-in-waiting to the Empress of Japan during the 990s — one of the world’s first great personal essayists, who thought she was only keeping a diary. Her lists have titles like “Things That Make The Heart Beat Faster,” “Occasions When Time Drags By,” “Hateful Things,” “Adorable Things.” They give an amazing window into the culture of her time and place, but just as strikingly illustrate the unchanging aspects of human nature. “One has gone to a house and asked to see someone; but the wrong person appears, thinking that it is he who is wanted; this is especially awkward if one has brought a present.” “It is quite late at night and a woman has been expecting a visitor. Hearing finally a stealthy tapping, she sends her maid to open the gate and lies waiting excitedly. But the name announced by the maid is that of someone with whom she has absolutely no connection. Of all the depressing things this is by far the worst.” I sometimes give students the assignment to make a Shonagon-style list, but I never made one myself before. Excerpts from the original are here and here.
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When one returns to one’s small gray car just in time to see the huge SUV parked in front of it back into one’s front end before pulling away, one is relieved to find that no serious damage has been done. One does not expect to see, after driving home, that one’s Toyota hood ornament was jarred loose by the impact and has now fallen off. A depressing black oval remains.
In the first years of life, babies change so fast. The milestones are so clear, so important, so closely and nervously monitored, so joyfully celebrated. What better show does nature put on than the transformation of a squirming, squalling creature in a blanket and a nursery cap into a person, an ever bigger and more definite one? (As my mother used to love to crow in all kinds of situations, quoting a Shake N Bake Chicken commercial from the 1970s—”And I helped!”)
As I mentioned a while ago, I’ve been collecting stories about pets from my neighbors here in this little corner of North Baltimore. You may have read the sad and unusual story of Jupiter, a dog who was killed by a cop. Here are two more from the growing pile, one dark, one light.
Last week, I received an email from Carrot Ink, the company from whom I purchase supplies for my printer. GET READY FOR MARDI GRAS, it urged in puffy purple letters festooned with GIF confetti and wagging carnival masks. 18% off all ink and toner with coupon code PARTY18.
Today can’t be Mardi Gras, was my first thought. It’s Thursday.
Followed immediately by my God, has it come to this?
Readers: I wrote the following essay a long, long time ago. Whether you are raising small children now or whether you are, like me, looking in the rear view of an empty nest, it could make you feel better about things. Yours truly, M. Winik, setting the low bar on parenting since 1988.
I see a couple with a tiny baby at a party; they are so happy. I go over to ooh and aah at the baby, and ask to hold him. I have two boys, I say.
Oh, really, how old?
Two and four.
Is that hard?
They exchange looks. Is this a depraved person to whom they are speaking, or is it the voice of doom resonating from their future?