Monday, November 29, 2010

300 Years More - Yes or No?

The Makropulos Case
First a few words about the opera, The Makropulos Case, which I saw last night in San Francisco:

Elina Makropulos lives 300 years beyond her normal life expectancy because the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II forced her alchemist father to administer to her the "elixir of life" that he had discovered. Throughout her very long life, she assumes a number of identities, always as a singer with the initials E.M. As Emilia Marty, her final identity, she discovers the supreme value of Death in giving meaning to Life. (For more details, check the synopsis at the site of the link above.)

This story line gives rise to the obvious question: Would you want such an extended life?

I find myself at cross currents with this.

Eventually, all the people about whom I care would die. At the level of great-great-great grandchildren (and there might be hundreds of these), the bond of progeny would probably diminish to the point of meaninglessness (as it did for E.M.)

But, there would be so many books that I'd like to read for which I now lack the time, so much knowledge to gain - including the knowledge of unfolding events and scientific advances. And the indulgence of my creative spirit; I could even manage to use up all the glass that I so greedily purchased when it was on sale for 50% of its usual cost.

But without people for whom I care a great deal, without that human connection, none of this would matter. I wouldn't care about the books or knowledge. My creative spirit would whither.

But, if I could maintain a connection with something larger than myself, with Nature most likely, that would be sufficient to give meaning to my life. (Were I of a more spiritual bent than is my current inclination, God - or god - would well serve this purpose.) And, if I could maintain this connection to something larger than myself, to Nature, I could care about Nature's critters as I do now. Simply put, as Daisy is important to me now, another cat and cats way way way beyond, might one day be my salvation. And, if I could care about other pussycats, I could care about other humans even knowing how comparatively brief their lives would be. I might no longer have a special attachment to my progeny, but there would be human beings who would become special to me if I opened myself up to caring about them.

An unexpected end point to this reflection is a renewed understanding about how important important human connections are to me. The repeated use of "important" is intentional. I do not need a large number of human connections. I need important human connections. Without them - and without one sweet pussycat - all else in my life becomes meaningless.

The connection to something larger than myself is of less importance to me with the prospect of death nipping at my heals than it would be with a much larger life horizon. Even so, I would be well advised (by myself) to better nurture my connection with the Nature that is so readily available to me. Interestingly (to me) the thoughts that I expressed beginning with the paragraph with the picture of Daisy came upon me as I was working out on my elliptical cross trainer and looking out the window at the trees and the sky.

(unrelated p.s.: There's a nice photo of me an another woman from the Autumnal Gathering here.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sometimes It's Enough To Just Be An Observer

This past Saturday, November 20th, I attended the Autumnal Gathering, a fundraiser for the Black Rock Arts Foundation, an organization that grew out of Burning Man. As stated on its home page, its mission is to "is to support and promote community, interactive art and civic participation."

Burning Man is all about participation. My experience at this fundraiser was almost entirely about observation (not withstanding "the observer effect" whereby the observing presence impacts that which is being observed). Sometimes it is quite enough - and quite enjoyable - to just be an observer.

(Eight of the 17 photos in this post include"entertainers." The other 9 are just plain folks.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Maddie Visit

On November 6th, my entire family made the two hour drive to my house for the first time in a very long time. Maddie, now three, was less than a year old the last time she visited. My pack rat tendency had me well prepared for this visit.

Among the things that I have saved over the years has been empty litter containers. I brought these up from under the house. Gari dusted them off and created a fort. Thinking of the multiple ways in which Maddie could play with the various container tops that I have saved over the years, I put out larger containers into which she could throw them. I also created a pinwheel design with some of them, an example I thought of something that she could do. I e-mailed photos of these treasures to Ben so that he could share them with Maddie before the visit. He told me that Maddie was very excited after she saw the pictures.

I seem to have forgotten how it was with my own children when they were growing up and I seem to no longer remember what I learned about child development (if I ever learned it) because Maddie's visit was an education (as well as a delight).

The first thing Maddie did when she arrived was to run to the blue crayon. "It's a big blue crayon, " she said. "What's it's name?"

"It doesn't have a name Maddie. Can you give it a name?" She did not respond.

A few minutes passed after this and then again, "What's it's name?" and "Can you give it a name?" by various other people.

Maddie didn't seem to understand that she can name things. Perhaps for her the names of things are absolutes.

Maddie seemed to enjoy all the toys, but she was far more drawn to the real ones and (especially) to the letters, stickers, and jacks than to the trove of container tops and empty litter containers than I would have expected.

Her orientation seems to be with real things as they really are. Container tops are fun to throw in the air, but they remain container tops for her not objects of potential creativity.

It seems as if the play of imagination is of disinterest to Maddie or possibly beyond her comprehension. She is interested in learning about the world as it is. The world of fantasy is probably very real to Maddie. She loves Dora the Explorer, the cartoon figure whose videos she watches over and over. When Dora the Explorer came to Maddie's birthday party in the form of a young woman who dresses and plays the part, Maddie seemed puzzled and sometimes distressed. Later, she said that the young woman was "Teacher Dora," thus keeping the "real" Dora undisturbed.

I'm fascinated by all this and also realize that I'm extrapolating a lot from a few isolated incidents. It is different with Maddie than it was with my own children. Weeks and sometimes months pass between our visits. I am in awe and fascinated by her development into the person that she is becoming.

Friday, November 12, 2010

How Can You Tell Someone . . .

My friend Gari is reading Painted Ladies, by Robert B. Parker.

"I'm very disappointed in Susan," Gari told me, then read a bit from the book aloud to me. I am repeating the situation and dialogue as best I can from memory.

The situation: An older woman is feeding popcorn to the pigeons in a park. Susan is with her hunky boyfriend and is allowing her dog to chase the pigeons.

"You should control your dog," says the woman.

"Survival of the fittest," says Susan.

"You shouldn't be so flippant," says the woman. Or maybe she says, "Don't be so flippant."

She could have said, "That's a rather flippant response." If she had, would she still have gotten the following response from Susan:

"Kiss my ass."

My question, which Gari and I discussed but came to no good conclusion, is: How can you tell a stranger not to do something - or in this case, to do something: to control her dog - without creating a conflict situation.

Gari and I came up with, "Please please nice lady, will you please keep your dog from chasing the pigeons." We agreed that such obsequiousness was impossibly demeaning.

Maybe "I'd really appreciate it if . . ." would work, but I don't think so.