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Category: quirks

muddled at the end…

muddled at the end

dispatch from 02139 (in which this year of thinking sumptuously is slipping through our fingertips, certificates of completion are now collecting dust atop the dresser, and we are due to turn back into pumpkins any minute now….)

so, at last it’s come, and now it’s gone.

may 22. that once-distant spot on the horizon, that date we magically hoped might never come near, the date when all the fellows and their co-vivants would gather one last ceremonial time, circle around the astounding historian and president of veritas U, drew faust gilpin.

she would stand behind the podium, all 5-foot-8 of towering intellect, and she’d sprinkle us with final words of wisdom and blessing, deal out certificates as if a deck of holy cards, and then we’d file out.


the year of thinking sumptuously come to a sorry close.

if no mortar boards were tossed in the air (the suggestion was nixed, opting instead for dignified closing benediction), there were exhales all around: sighs of relief, whoops of joy. and there were inhales: disbelief. oh-no-what-now? how’d that happen quite so swiftly?

i, for one, am clearly in the camp of the muddled.

so topsy turvy are my insides, are the thoughts rumbling through my brain, it’s a miracle these sentences aren’t flowing out in parabolas and circles.

i am one big gunny sack of contradiction.

i am deeply grateful — and i mean prostrate, belly-flopped, on the cobbled lanes, for crying out loud — for having had this wollop of a whirl drop into our laps in the first place. and i am oh-so-sick that i didn’t lick a few more morsels off my plate, didn’t break out of a few of the ties that bind me, always bind me.

i am more than sated, yes, but hungry for so much more — in the book department, for starters. i am lugging home a 10-pound box of syllabi that i intend to read my way through, even if i need to live to 210 to do so.

i ache for home, for the friends who know me through and through and who understand the hills and valleys of my soul. i ache to be back in my not-so-secret garden, perched on the birdhouse bench tucked along the bluestone path. i imagine tiptoeing down my creaky stairs, turning the corner into my farmhouse kitchen, letting the cat in from his midnight prowl.

and yet, last night at fenway (the final final outing of the year, a trek to the green monster, washed down with a belly-ache of cotton candy, cracker jack, and a triple cracked off the bat of the reigning mr. red sox, dave ortiz), i was looking a few rows down at my beloved friend from south africa and i thought i heard my own heart crack at the thought of being an ocean and a continent away from her.

and what about the great white clapboard clubhouse that’s been the beehive of this blessed bustling nieman year? every time i round the bend, come through that white picket gate (past the nostril-packing lilac and the korean spice viburnum in recent weeks), charge up the brick walk and bound through the brass-knockered front door, i’ve felt more embraced than a girl should be allowed to feel (by the old floorboards and colonial panes of glass, i mean, a place that echoes with three-quarters of a century of journalism heavyweights).

and leaving behind the curator — the great good friend who somehow believed in me this year, even when i was quivering with self-doubt — i cannot stand the thought of not having her in my every day.

can’t stand the thought of days not populated with seminars and masterclasses, with shoptalks and round tables, with spontaneous eruptions of big ideas and wacky antics down in the clubhouse basement where the computers always whir and the fridge is forever stocked with cranberry-lime fizzy water, my emblematic drink of the year.

one marvelous fellow-friend told me yesterday that she felt only one thing the other night, after the certificates and the lovely dinner and the curator’s jaw-dropping act of handing out, one at a time, the perfect book she had deeply picked for each and every one of the 24 fellows. she felt “complete,” my fellow-friend said.

how odd, i thought, that i feel quite the opposite. i feel rather incomplete.

is it some quirk in my wiring that has me looking at this whole thing upside down? or is it simply, as i’ve said all year, that i’ve been catapulted into a somewhere i always imagined was here, but i’d not tread before: i am learning my way through the landscape of slow-acquired wisdom, and i see so long and winding a trail ahead.

there are volumes to be inhaled and boundaries to be toppled. there are trapezes i aim to grab, and training wheels i might take off.

i am, in a million ways, so very much a beginner.

and it’s a slow road, mustering courage and backbone.

and there are miles and miles to go before i finally sleep.

and all along the way, i’ll be whispering my vespers of deep and everlasting thanks…for this most glorious and forever year of thinking so very sumptuously.

photo above is my mate, “the professor,” ambling into loeb house for the lovely and heartfelt final dinner. once the home of the president of veritas U, the brick colonial manse is now reserved for truly special occasions — when funders gather with their pocketbooks, or, in the case of the empty-pocketed nieman fellows, for the final push out of harvard yard.

all things nieman now have ended, but we’ll haunt cambridge for another month as little mr. sixth grader winds up his school year, and we slowly say goodbye to this city where a good chunk of our hearts will forever dwell. 

do you often find endings a whirl of up, down and sideways? 

in memoriam

be still, your pounding hearts. we gather today to—wait, to consider the death that abounds in vases all over my house. the bouquet that’s gone bust. the flowers duly expired. the blooms well past their best-if-used-by prime.

fitting we should consider the limp, the faded, the still–to my eye—beautiful here in the desperate days of end-stage winter. where if things don’t lighten up, warm up, spring forth, or d.) any of the above, we shall make like the flowers and go limp, fade, flop over, or d.) skip the above bit about beauty beheld.

as we limp, no we stagger, toward spring, where week-ahead forecasts for 50s and 60s (remember, chair headquarters is here in chicago, along the shivering shores of lake michigan) tempt us to roll up the scarves, shove away mittens, we are exhaling the last final puffs of spent, dry, stale air from the pits of our lungs. we are clinging to walls, waiting for updrafts from parts of the world where, by now, it is blooming, it’s warm.

we have, if you’re like me, tossed away sum after sum in the grocery store line, week after week plucking those plastic-sheathed posies, thinking a rose in a see-through sleeve is a beautiful thing, is the only thing really that might keep your spring hopes alive.

i’ve done tulips by the near truckload. opted for a few precious clumps of wordsworth’s golden host, the daff-o-dill. clutched white roses at christmas. antique porcelain, with a mere wisp of mauve, up above. the hydrangea beside it spoke to me, too; i couldn’t leave the grocery without it.

fool, me.

between my cat who decapitates tulips like my little one sneaks handfuls of gumdrops, and the rather short-lived life of a stem out of soil, i watch clump after clump go the way of all flesh: peaked to shriveled to brown-tipped to dried. dehydrated right there on the stem, in the vase, on my counter, long past the point you might consider polite. (if flowers have pride mine might be ashamed.)

quite aware of the fact that i’ve shot my winter’s allowance for flowers, i am now milking my petals for all that they’re worth. thus, the tea rose up above, the hydrangea beside it, they’ve been in serious need of resuscitation—or recycling bin—for the better part of a week.

but i’m not budging. i have, not yet anyway, no intention of tossing. long partial to the weak and infirm, i have every intention of milking every last drop of my fading bouquets.

besides, i rather like the more challenging task of searching for beauty where others see none. in a world that rewards in-your-face, pop-up aesthetics, anna nicole’s bosom versus katie hepburn’s upsweep, i’ll take the upsweep. any day.

and, yes, looking in the mirror is a daily reminder that to fade, honestly, naturally, without shame, is an ennobling possibility.

so i will keep my bouquets parched as they are, gasping for that last breath of life. i will watch the sunset of their petals, as they fade into the horizon. i will honor them, keep them, well after death us do part.

in the share-a-quirky-secret society, anyone else hold onto floral abundance ’til it’s turned into floral decay? beyond the dead buds, anyone else see the beauty in things old and faded and dry? wabi sabi does….