Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘personal’ Category

Decompression

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

43 ideas brainstormed in 15 minutes—hot, efficient comets coming at you from the workshop circle. Inspiring quotes and anecdotes. Lists and lists of things to hope for, things to imagine, and things to do. Twenty times twenty times a hundred twenty questions, to unmask the truths we’ve hidden with the utmost care, the strategies we use to smother our dreams in their cradle, the tales we tell ourselves to make it seem alright. More lists:  resources to draw upon, goals that scale from tiny to audacious, ways to know the path you’re on is true.

 
You leave with pages of wild notebook scribbles, some items underlined for emphasis, some adorned with stars or question marks, some with straight or wavy arrows connecting one idea to another to another. On another page, a list of books promised to yield still more enlightenment. Your head is full, and your heart awakened, with hope and joy and quickened energy. Things can be different, changes can be made, and you can make them.

 
Somewhere on your journey home, the rich nitrogen dissolved in your blood during this deep dive begins to bubble, insidious and irrepressible, seeking weak spots in your circulation. There it looks to lodge, cutting off the flow of oxygen and stifling your fresh enthusiasm. Gradual ascent, not bolting to the surface, is the only way to foil it and keep your delicate new fire undampened.

 
The workshop high–like the ascent of a difficult and deadly mountain–can be ecstatic, bracing, and revealing. It’s right to cherish and enjoy it, to celebrate the insight and achievement you’ve extracted from the challenge, but take care not to break an ankle on the way down. Give yourself some space, and a little grace, before you re-emerge into reality. The laundry will still be there, waiting.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

It’s a bustling summer day, folks jostling for the ripest melons or the freshest flowers, stalls bursting with color, smell, and texture as the crowd flows ever on. My list is long, and I’ve got lots to take in, and lots to buy, before the morning’s old.

A mandolin sings suddenly, gentle yet insistent, then a fiddler adds her strain — and all at once my cheeks are wet, some secret sadness welling up, massive and unknowable. Everyone I miss, or have ever missed, pulls at me like a black hole in the center of the farmers market. Their shades call me, and I dance along the unseen edge as the bluegrass wafts between the berries and the lettuces.

Why does bluegrass make me blue? It’s never been a genre I sought out, or one I really knew till a few years ago. Now it’s everywhere, part of the latest urban farming, homesteading, and crafting craze, and I can tell a hammer dulcimer from an autoharp at fifty paces. There’s something in it, like good old style country music, that grabs the heart and opens it, willing or no, and makes you listen. Why, it makes you wonder, is the world the way it is? Why do we create such madness, and inflict such pain? Why is he, or she, not here with me?

A singer joins in, and I notice others in the crowd sniffling, or wiping an eye as we all mourn our childhoods, our loved ones, the pure and pristine land and ways that might live only in our fantasies. It’s a sad and perfect day, sweet and bitter, and the music calls us all to dance along that narrow precipice. The berries and the lettuces will be waiting when the song comes to a close.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This piece was aired as part of KQED FM’s Perspectives series on July 3, 2014. Listen here.

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Go beyond the market for a minute. That fruit you’re holding has a story, about work and care, sun and water. It’s also about the harvest, a dance of exploration, partnering, and purpose that changes and delights both parties.

First, as for any dance, you need the proper costume–here, that’s long sleeved shirt, long pants, and sun hat. Gloves are optional; I mostly go without unless I’m picking berries. Also, tools–not many, just a sturdy picking box or bag, and a light but trusted ladder.

Next, survey the scene and plot your choreography: what is the angle of the sun, and the set of the branches? Where is the fruit sparse or heavy, inviting or still green, smooth-skinned or bird-bit? Where will the ladder best be placed to reach this one, and then that? Where will the tree accept embrace, and where will it refuse? Once sure of your partner, set the ladder firmly and begin.

Every sense will guide you–sight for judging blush or hue, smell to catch a sudden waft of nectar, hearing for the creak and rustle of the tree echoing your movement, taste to spot check as the impulse strikes you. And touch–the last, but the most critical. Take the fruit in your hand and hold it, gently. Feel its heft, the firmness or slight give against your grasp, and ask the tree if it is ready. As you tug ever so slightly, she will tell you: ripeness falls to you like water into sand–softly, smoothly, silently. Resistance says perhaps tomorrow, but not now.

When the picking’s done, climb down and thank the tree. Is that her sighing, free now to begin another season’s work? No telling, but perhaps you’ll hear it as you bite into that peach.

~~~~

This pieced aired as part of KQED FM’s Perspectives series on 8/4/14. Listen here.

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

They sit on the shelf, soft, fluffy, and reproachful as kittens whose dinner is unaccountably delayed. They are colorful, rich, and neatly folded, just like their cousins in my mother’s linen closet. Like her, I’ve been saving them–for what, exactly, I’ve lately begun to wonder.

The good towels–the ones reserved for guests–are kept out of circulation to stay fresh and new, unsullied and unworn. They’re plusher than the daily ones, more expensive too. The idea, I think, is twofold: to impress visitors with this subtle signal of prosperity, and to treat them better than we treat ourselves. Look, the good towels say, we’ve saved the best for you, our most honored special guest.

It may sound odd, but I’d never before considered this practice, though it’s been decades since I left my parents’ home to make my own. It was just one of those things we take for granted, received wisdom translated into practice without question. I was happy to let sleeping towels lie–that is, till recently.

I’m a radiologist, which means I interpret x-rays, CT scans, and more. Every day I sit before a bank of monitors and study images, puzzling out the meaning in the many shades of grey. Sometimes it’s a broken bone, or pneumonia, or appendicitis. Sometimes it’s a cancer in retreat, white flag waving from the screen. But every day, it seems, there’s at least one patient for whom my report will bring devastation. It’s the most timeworn cliche, but life really is short sometimes–as, too often, is the notice that we get.

I go to the linen closet, and pull out a neatly folded, pristine whisper. I hold it to my face and take a slow, deep breath of summer, happiness, and home. This small luxury I will allow myself–and you should too, every chance you get.

Read Full Post »

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Photography is all about the light: chasing it, capturing it, using it to make an image that brings that light to life in someone else’s eyes. Light, good or bad, can make or break a picture–think the golden hour, that magic span of breaths before the sun goes down, or the low, soft light right after sunrise.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

How, then, to make a photograph at night, with no sunlight at all? And why would this be worth doing in the first place? Our eyes, it turns out, are but poor guides: things are happening at night that we can’t perceive, seeing as we do in tiny bursts of time that follow on each other’s heels but never quite connect to tell a longer story. At night, the long exposures needed to make images without added light stitch those fleeting bursts into a quilt of mystery, suspense, and revelation: you never know quite what you’ll see after the shutter’s been open 10, 20, even 30 minutes at a stretch.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

The answer, often, is nothing like what you imagined. Over many minutes, moonlight, stars, and the play of shadows compress and combine to make a strange and unexpected beauty. Perhaps most surprising is the color: hues lost to our eyes in the dark loom extravagant in night-time photographs, luxuriant and ripe as orchids.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Next full moon, go out and find the night, wherever you may be. Sit, or stand, with no goal, desire, or thought in mind for 10 or 20 minutes–just listen, watch, and feel the night around you for a time. Let your ears take in its sounds, your eyes grow accustomed to its subtleties, and your skin absorb its complex texture. Now, if you’re really feeling bold, get your camera, a tripod, and a timer. Frame your shot, open up the shutter, and see what magic you and the night can make together.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Read Full Post »

In any language

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

One of the world’s oldest beverages, beer is mentioned in ancient Sumerian poetry, Egyptian texts, and Norse mythology. First brewed as early as 9500 BC, it remains beloved: after water and tea, it’s the third most popular drink worldwide. Though brewed primarily at home for millennia, these days most beer is commercially produced–a change that isn’t always an improvement.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Like any devotee, I love to try new beers, especially when traveling. This often creates disappointment, but every now and then lightning strikes and I find a new treasure. On a recent trip to Brazil, I followed my custom and tried some of the local beers–produced by large national breweries–and found them devoid of character and charm.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

A quick internet search turned up a possible antidote, and a handful of us agreed to give it a whirl. The congested streets of Sao Paulo, a massive sprawl that covers over 750 square miles, hold many unlikely gems tucked between suco stands and airless shops crammed with cheap T shirts and bootleg DVDs. One such prize, in the center of Pinheiros, is Cervejaria Nacional–a small brew-pub that offers unpasteurized, preservative-free artisanal brews that are a welcome counter to the undistinguished ‘yellow beers’ found elsewhere.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

The entry level showcases gleaming steel fermentation tanks behind plate-glass, an enticing promise that draws visitors upstairs to the bar or restaurant. In the bar, we read the legends of Brazilian spirits Y-iara, Mula, Kurupira, and Sa’Si, as well as the Domina Weiss (the ‘woman in white’ of folklore the world over), and tried to choose among their namesake brews. Chalkboards on the wall displayed SRM (Standard Reference Measure, a scale of color density), IBU (International Bitterness Units–pretty much just what it sounds like, and a reflection of a beer’s ‘hoppiness’ ), and alcohol content for the current batch of all five house-produced beers on tap.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

The sampler, generous glasses of the whole quintet, sparked lively debate about our favorites, and of course required deeper exploration. Accompanied by spicy linguica, delicate farofa, light and crispy batatas frita da casa, tender cubes of polenta frita, and smoky vegetais grelhados, the weiss beer, IPA, and stout were savored by all as we discussed their flavor, color, and complexity. But for the melodic Portuguese being spoken all around us, and the fragrant remnants of the meal, we could have been in any bar, in any country, where beer is loved and celebrated.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Beer, it seems, is a lot like love. True believers speak a universal language, understood the world over. Malt or malte, cor or color, bouquet or aroma, it’s all about the mystery, experience, and exploration. What happy combination of soil and sunlight, hops and yeast, malt and time, shines in your glass like jewels bright on velvet, and how will it compare to others that have gone before? You never know until you taste, and that anticipation is a sweet intoxicant….near as sweet, and timeless, as the beer itself.

Read Full Post »

Nocturne

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

A few months ago, I discovered something amazing. I’d seen it thousands of times before, but never really paid attention–it was just there, a background as I hurried from point A to point B, a wordless blanket shrouding my house as I slept, an invisible backdrop to an outdoor concert or a rooftop drink with friends.

What is this wonder, so unquestioned yet so fascinating? It’s nothing fancy or exotic, and you don’t have to go far to find it. It’s no more or less than night itself—implicit, deep, and intricate. Perhaps you’re wondering what I’m talking about–we all know what night is, right? What’s the big deal?

Night isn’t just the absence of day, though it certainly is that. Night can be a time of freedom as we leave our jobs, commutes, and daytime stress behind. Other things fall away with the sun’s light too–colors are less bright, shadows become less sharply defined, and the busy noise of day fades quickly as the moon ascends the arc of heaven. In their place, night brings treasures of its own: softer and more subtle colors, richer and more complex shadows, and the music of its many creatures, varied and evocative.

Next full moon, go outside, stand still, and just be in the night for 10 or 20 minutes with nowhere to go and nothing to do but pay attention. No doubt you’ll notice something new. At first, it may be your own breathing, or the beating of your heart, sounds the busy press of daytime overrides. After a few minutes, perhaps you’ll be struck by the way the air moves and breathes, the way the stars and planets track overhead, or the way the moon’s glow transmutes ordinary into extra-ordinary. Make the night itself your sole intention, for a minute or an hour, and who knows what you’ll discover?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: