Saturday, February 17, 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Saturday, January 6, 2018


I was suddenly looking up between two walls of snow. The walls had the smoothness that only a snow blower could have carved. No more than two feet apart, the walls of snow were about a foot high.

I had fallen. No warning. The thickness of my down parka had protected me as I tripped on the sidewalk within sight of my home.

I looked down at the sidewalk and listened for the approach of anyone nearby who might have seen my tumble. Apparently no one had. I checked for pain as I rolled over. No movement caused any immediate discomfort.

Soon enough I was up, easing my weight on each leg as I walked the remaining distance to the gate and my front walkway.

Inside the house I explained to Jim what had happened. There wasn’t any indication, though, that I could not continue with the tasks he and I had planned. So out we went.

I just hadn’t imagined lying outside flat on the pavement, the temperatures about me as cold as they had been. Would I have looked to random onlookers as a man in his sixties unsure of his step? Did I fit the description of the kind of neighbor about whom forecasters had been alerting us all last week?

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

My Listener Has Died

If all had gone as planned, I would be preparing to walk down to my car and drive across town to a regular Wednesday appointment. A reminder from my phone’s calendar just rose into the center of the screen as though out of nowhere. As though from the dead.

When once I write about him, I told myself a few weeks after his death this past summer, I am that much closer to never writing about him again.

When once I write about the office and the routine and the chairs facing one another, I am that much closer to not needing to ever again.

When once I write, I am that much closer to silence.

When once I write, I am that much closer to a silence that no one, it seems, could possibly have a way to change.


He had been the one to write each Wednesday – quick occasional notes during session after session. Those notes have entered the silence for which they had seemed always to be destined.

The notes were not the substance – the listening was. I would look up. Because his writing was not constant, it caught my attention at those moments when he put pen to paper.

I hear now that three other clients of his have received in the mail the files he kept of just such notes. His family, it seems, is making an effort to get the session notes to the clients involved. They will not know where to send mine, however, unless I notify them of a change of address.

Our regular Wednesday session the last week of June fell exactly between the Monday when professional movers had been scheduled to clear my apartment and the Friday I needed to leave those rooms broom clean.

On that last Wednesday of June, a printed notice hung in one of the windows flanking the door to the office waiting room across town: “All appointments have been cancelled.”

I met the silence of the listener to whom nothing more can be said.

I feel like leaving those session notes in the same silence.

Monday, November 13, 2017

C9 Christmas Lights

I arrived early in a neighborhood where a friend and I had agreed to meet for dinner. It was a cold evening two years ago, and the darkness had settled. Pedestrians whose paths I crossed were moving along the sidewalk faster than I was. I had time to kill before the Groupon restaurant opened, and I had not wanted to sit in the car.

I passed down several blocks of Boston triple-deckers whose windows were dark. I could see holiday wreaths on some doors and occasional orange light bulbs topping old-fashioned plastic candles before pull-down shades. The decorations had an effect. They had the distinction of being something where there could very well have been nothing to set off the season.

There were pockets of retail establishments in this residential darkness. From time to time a laundromat, a hairdresser, a convenience store spilled light onto the sidewalk. It was the display window of a hardware store with its aisles of crowded shelves that got my attention. Amid shovels and bags of rock salt stood an artificial tree with one string of large C9 Christmas lights threading its branches.

I was helpless to explain the draw of those bulbs; they might have come from the front porch of the house I grew up in. My mother used to direct my father in December to hang a string of such large multi-colored lights around the front door with its side panels. Each night before dinner one of us would go out onto the screened-in area and insert the plug at the end of the string of lights into an outdoor outlet.

The cold air on that porch would suddenly get bright red. Our hands and faces took on the color as well.

My mother was earnest about her simple decorations.

Two years ago I went into that hardware store and passed displays of screws and nails and extension cords and paint brushes. I found the boxed Christmas lights in a back corner of the store. I stood for a while with a C9 string in my hand.

This past weekend I located the still unopened box amid the last items to unpack in a second-floor back room. When I got downstairs, I popped the individual bulbs out of a plastic webbing that had kept the string safe in its packaging. I stood on a chair next to the sliding glass doors in the kitchen and tucked the string of lights behind four nails evenly spaced along the top of the door frame. The ends of the string hung down evenly on both sides of the door jambs.

 I inserted the plug into the outlet.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Friendship Thing

In my experience there is an old-fashioned kind of novel that mines the intricacies of friendship.

A Separate Peace was an early favorite of mine, introduced to me in my first year of high school, a few years after the book’s publication in 1959. It is about loyalty and jealousy and the delight of being openly acknowledged as the choice another has made for best friend. Once a year until I was well into college, I reread the same paperback copy of the John Knowles story of adolescent affection at a boys’ prep school. A certain New England landscape became familiar to me even while I lived in New Orleans.

In the past twenty-four hours I have entered upon a third reading of The Fires of Autumn, another 1959 publication, a novel by Helen Howe. The first chapter opens on the day after Labor Day and an afternoon gathering of friends around a fireplace on Mount Desert Island. They have just said goodbye to children and grandchildren who had been summering with them. Here are five women whose long ties to one another are complicated by how they carry their lives as widows. The fall they see arriving in the coastal Maine village around them brings them closer to the reality of the fall within.

What kinds of friends do people need? What kinds of friends can they expect in the normal course of their lives? Does the way they looked for and made friends in adolescence bear a resemblance to how they find and maintain them late in their lives?

In my sixties I catch myself from time to time sensing a friend closing the valves of attention. I seldom know immediately what to do when that happens. I can too readily suspect that an underlying problem with a long history is behind the quiet emerging between us.

At other times I am the friend closing the valves. I know that time may pass and the avenue to contact might reopen. I am seldom happy about the quiet settling between a friend and myself. I can jump to the conclusion that there is something faulty with my emotional wiring.

I suspect that there are people who do the friendship thing better than I do.

I suspect, at the same time, that I could be wrong in harboring such a suspicion.

There are writers to warn us off reducing friendship to any one need or motivation, any one formula, any one history.

Friday, September 1, 2017

When to Stop Watering a Garden in Fall

The first day of September hardly registers as fall by any official calendar. In New England, however, an early morning walk on a day like today is able to surprise. A long-sleeve shirt can feel not quite enough when the walk goes past a first half hour.

The sidewalk in front of more than one house was still wet from early sprinklers this morning. No high arcs of water to walk around and avoid at seven o’clock, I was able to slow down near borders of perennials. The open faces of the newest blossoms reached up, still wet.

The trees on either side of the street were summer-full, thick and leafy. The air beneath where their branches met was shadowy and moist.

There was no doubting that summer had done well by the gardens down this street. No doubting, either, that the seasons were moving forward. Such walks a month or two down the line might require a first donning of flannel and corduroy. The borders of perennials will start wearing winey hues.

At some point homeowners down this street will discontinue the early morning sprinklers. We will all of us resort to an alternate wisdom about what growth requires. We will grow into that wisdom.

When do we do things differently?

How will we know when to stop watering our gardens in the fall?

When do we start living differently?