Monthly Archives: December 2011

Turning Up the Volume

No wonder I get along so well with the elderly members of my weekly writing workshop in a local retirement home. We have so much in common. Call me precocious, but just this week I was diagnosed with hearing loss.

Hearing loss is something that can sneak up on you, unknowingly, over time—I had just assumed it would be a good seventy, eighty, or ninety years. But no, mine arrived early. And I thought my husband was talking lower for some reason, that various rooms had acoustical problems, that cell phones didn’t work as well as land lines used to, and that no phone worked as well as when you can see the person talking. A week ago I almost excused myself from jury duty because whenever the judge brought his hand up to his mouth, I was challenged to understand what he was saying. Turns out, of course, I’ve been supplementing my hearing with a little lip reading. And it wasn’t acoustics in the room; it was my inner ear. How long this had been going on I do not know, but I wish I could do my MFA in Creative Writing all over again. For words were what we lived for at Goddard, and there were numerous readings where, if I hadn’t arrived early enough to secure a seat up front, I was often challenged to hear. I’d like to try it again with the new devise being manufactured for my ears now.

I am surprising not only my husband and friends, but also myself, with my forthright, proactive response to my hearing diagnosis. Heck, I am even blogging about it. Perhaps I just think there are other things to worry about, and as my mother suggested, this is one problem where something can be done. (I am, by the way, experiencing hearing loss before either of my parents). In any case, I am trying to look at needing hearing aids simply like needing reading glasses. For forty years I didn’t think I’d ever need glasses either, and now I wouldn’t think to read without them.

We will just have to see. No doubt I’ve been living with more than my share of quiet, and in many ways it’s been rather nice. I am not so sure I want to hear everything. And chances are I’ve been doing a lot of nodding in social situations the past few years, and it remains to be seen whether I am as agreeable as it appeared. These are questions that only hearing aids can answer.

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Finding Civility

As anyone who has ever been summoned to jury duty knows, democracy takes patience. I am seated at King County Superior Court in Seattle, and our primary job, it would seem, is to sit and wait. Sit and wait all morning, breaking for coffee, dismissed for lunch, then coming back and waiting most of the afternoon as well. We are in the hundreds, seated in the Juror Assembly Room, simply waiting to be called for jury selection. Everyone was randomly selected, few are called, and among those that are, even fewer will actually serve on jury.

Everyone here is resourceful. We all brought books, laptops, or papers. The man next to me is grading his students’ essays. Before settling into my book I browse the magazines available and find a couple possible paint colors for the sky blue ceiling I want to do in our dining room. One is Benjamin Moore’s “Northern Air,” and the other, “Borrowed Light” by Farrow & Ball. It occurs to me that I might like the job of naming colors. Some of the magazines are rather dated. Finding a few recipes to save for next summer: an elderflower-wine cocktail, bruschetta with strawberries and tomatoes, and a peach galette I could make at this time of year with apples, I tore these two pages out without thinking, tucked them in my purse, and thought oh god, I’m busted. How could I have been so foolish, stealing pages in a building that must be loaded with security cameras? I waited for my arrest, but nothing happened.

Everyone is infinitely patient. Our chairs are comfortable and we are free to move about—there are refreshments and restrooms, and perhaps it was the security we passed through at the entrance to the building, but the jury duty experience is reminiscent of airports. That’s it, I am struck by the civility.

I especially find that from the air when I am flying. The impeccable maintenance of farm fields, the beauty of every city at night, and on a recent red-eye to Boston, I was even impressed by all the early commuters. The way the little cars with beaming headlights merged onto highways, keeping their space, maintaining the same speed. It all seemed to function like an ant colony. Sometimes we put all our emphasis on the number of people unemployed, but from this vantage point I saw only the number of people who were going to work, so peacefully and orderly, at such a dark and early hour. Unsung heroes all. Oftentimes we call attention to what is broken, but again, everything looked to be moving along so well. (I realize, of course, accidents happen, but in that time of observation I thought it remarkable how many do not).

Just as the world appeared so extraordinarily civilized at a distance, so too does it up close today in the Juror Assembly Room, King County Superior Court. I just want to note that.

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Right Plant, Right Place

Back in Seattle. Back in the saddle. Where the air is cold and damp, the sky has been lowered, nearly all colors erased, and I am extraordinarily happy to be home.

I have brought back from Brazil: an antique Santo for my collection, a couple little gems for a couple little girls for Christmas, a tan, but that’s fading, and an extraordinarily colorful etching I purchased in Rio. The print cost me twenty dollars, I believe, and the cost of framing it will exceed two hundred. For this reason, I only buy art I love, love, love. Oh, and I brought back what I consider Rio’s finest, music on CD’s. I have every intention to play a fusion of samba, bossa nova, and Brazilian jazz right through Christmas, and depending on how things are going, maybe well into next year.

O.K., maybe “extraordinarily happy” was a bit of a stretch. You have to remember, I grew up on Joni Mitchell and dwell fairly well in melancholy. Perhaps that’s why Seattle suits me, even in the gray half of the year. Gardeners know it as “right plant, right place.” The important thing is to plant yourself where you will thrive.

Years ago I gave the tropics a try. But when I think of what is most important to me now, namely reading, writing, and gardening, I wonder how I ever survived two years in St. Thomas. I mean, at the time there were no bookstores on island. And no Amazon. Whatever did we have to read other than books our houseguests left behind? And as for writing, well you either have to be alone or you have to be with someone who allows you your solitude. I did not have that. I went down there with a man who had something like Club Med in mind, everyday. And as for gardening, things grew of course but I do not remember anyone ever “gardening” per se. I’m not even sure it’s soil you can work with by digging, and then too, there’s no water. Things just seemed to come up where they may, I’d say.

So imagine my surprise a year or two ago when my sister in Boston called me in Seattle to inform me she was going sailing in the Caribbean on Sea Cloud II, a lovely old windjammer originally built for Marjorie Merriweather Post and her husband, Edward Hutton. The boat boasts four masts flying twenty two full sails, gourmet cuisine, and impeccable service with a crew to guest ratio of nearly one to one. Just as I was closing my eyes and feeling the breeze, dissolving into a union of perfect sea and sky, my sister added, “…it’s an educational tour.”

“Of what?” I asked.

“Why, Gardens of the Caribbean,” she replied.

She might just as well have told me they were going looking for sunken treasure….

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