Monday, November 28, 2005

(The Fairy Godmother Delivers Cinderella's Coach)

(The Baffled Prince Holding The Slipper After The Ball)

(The Slipper Fits The Lady)

When I turned on the television in our Chicago hotel room Friday morning, a local station was doing a story on the Marshall Field's Department Store holiday windows. The eleven windows of the State Street store develop a fantastical story every holiday season, complete with elaborate design and animated figures.

The exquisite detail and charm of the windows would warrant a news story each year entirely of their own accord. The interviewer spoke with the chief designer, and showed us the storage space housing decades of costumes and sets -- all interesting stuff. But the story has a different twist this year, since Field's has been bought by Macy's and the future of the windows is uncertain. People are unhappy about the acquisition of a local landmark store by a national retailer -- as we were out and about later in the day, I overheard one young woman telling the story to a companion and planning her own boycott of Macy's.

Why do these things matter so much? What difference does it make whether we shop at Macy's or Field's, at a Home Depot or a local hardware store, at a Walmart or a neighborhood retailer? What's good for business is good for America, right?

Oops -- that speaker was discredited over 70 years ago. Good business is good for America, and the world -- but what is good business?

We've obviously had a chance to reflect upon that over the past week or so in AOL Journal Land. And I think we all know that one of the things good business does is build community, or create a climate in which community builds itself. Certainly some of the apprehension felt by Field's customers has to do with their fears concerning the destruction of community.

The folks at Marshall Field's never had to create those display windows on State Street. They didn't have to continue thetradition decade after decade. People would still do their holiday shopping there, even if the windows were full of nothing more imaginative than plasma television screens and the latest in X-Box technology.

But the windows became a gift to Chicago, a gift that built community. Whether they are "consistent with Field's objectives" remains unstated -- but my guess is that they are. Community, good feelings, loyalty -- they are all precious business commodities as well as personal treasures. They are created by a business that cares enough about its customers to welcome them to its premises, year after year after year, and to treat them like royalty once they arrive.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

En Route

Most of the sandhill cranes in easern North America pass through the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refuge in northern Indiana on their fall and spring journeys. There are probably 10-12,000 cranes in northern Indiana right now, although to see them en masse you have to be at the right place (J-P) at the right time (sunrise and sunset), which we weren't. Nevertheless, we saw several hundred in mid-afternoon yesterday. And we were treated to a view of a large herd of deer, a flock of wild turkeys, and four coyotes, all mingling in the fields far beyond the cranes.

Friday, November 25, 2005


We're in the Windy City for a couple of days, hanging out with our college junior sons while college freshman daughter spends the holiday with her roommate's family in southern Oregon.

We had a fabulous dinner last night at the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant, and have otherwise thrown all outdoor plans to the winds (literally) -- it was a rousing 13 degrees not counting wind chill when I got up this morning. So we've been to the Museum of Science and Industry and the top of the Hancock Building and the Field Museum. We left the Field tonight as the snow showered down and took off for the Marshall Fields' windows (Cinderella this year -- the last that the windows will appear under the Fields' moniker, as the stores have been bought by Macy's) and, quite by accident, the downtown holiday tree lighting.

I have lots of photos to share when I return, although many tonight were taken under less than optimal conditions: a huge and jostling crowd in a white Christmas snowstorm. But it's been fun.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Not Yet. . .

I'm not ready for full-fledged blogging yet, not here or on aol or anywhere. I'm just wading through the flotsam and jetsam of what remains of my creation of the past 1.5 years, kind of deciding: what next?

But since one of the nice and wholly unexpected benefits of journaling was that I now have a way of looking back over what I've been doing for 18 months ("Unexpected?" you ask ~ but I certainly never expected that I'd be able to keep it up!), I know that I don't want to lose track again of the particles of my life. Herewith, therefore, the last few days, of little interest to anyone but myself:

I wasted a good deal of Friday on the aol Journaland crisis.

I spent some of Saturday morning with my friends, all of whom I managed to offend by commenting that young ladies who wear spaghetti-strap tops with their bra straps showing look like sluts. Since this includes all of our daughters on occasion, people took offense. (On the other hand, most of them are far more offended than I am by the show-your-belly look. To each her own, as always. At least we were all able to agree that very few women, regardless of age, have bellies that bear baring.) I am perhaps less inured than my friends to the slut look because of my employment in an Orthodox Jewish school, where the young women dress with extreme modesty. I have reached the point where I find all that skin and underwear on display somewhat offensive. And no -- not because I think it is the responsibility of women to keep men in check. I just think people look better with more clothes on than less, Tyra Banks being the possible exception that proves the rule.

Saturday night we went to see Jarhead. Now THAT was a depressing evening. I had read the book when it first came out and, as I told my husband, the movie is no more uplifting. I'm not exactly sure how it is that we can looked at charred bodies of young men and continue the human enterprise of warfare, but it seems that we do.

Sunday morning I made a presentation to our church adult ed class on St. Benedict and Benedictine spirituality. It was extremely well received, which was pretty nice for me. I did a Powerpoint, which I have never done outside a high school classroom before -- my path to technological competence continues apace, thanks in part, I suppose, to aol.

Sunday evening our church hosted a series of dinner discussion groups of Jim Wallis's God's Politics: Why the Right is Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. A friend and I were discussion facilitators in another home -- a home so huge and lush that you would have been hard pressed to guess there was a discussion of poverty going on over dinner. Or was there? We had a tough, tough time with our group. Two of the gentlemen defined politics as "the art of manipulating social and governmental relationships" and consequently argued that there is no such thing as God's politics. Hence, I'm not sure we ever got past the cover.

So. A week-end. The week will bring vacation and a trip to Chicago, and maybe some time to mellow out.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Why Search the Sea? Why Gannet Girl?

The immediate and obvious answers have to do with the current implosion at AOL, where I have kept ajournal for 1.5 years. Myopic corporate vision, contempt for customers, technological incompetence. Who knows how it will all play out? I have loved my journal there, and the small cadre of friends I have found -- thoughtful writers, brilliant artists, sensitive photographers. But, as I said yesterday, to everything there is a season (well, okay, someone else said that, thousands of years ago, but I can plagiarize with the best of them) and perhaps for me this is a season of change.

I had actually begun and abandoned this journal sometime back. I wanted a more private place -- people, including all those in my daily life at home and work -- have known me by my aol screenname for over a decade. (Ironically for aol, those of us with the longest ties to that entity seem to be the most enraged by its dismissal of our concerns and the most willing to forge a new life elsewhere.) But I find the technological aspect challenging (think of that as an understatement) and there were a great many pros to sticking with the identity and space I had created at aol.

Nevertheless, I've been pushed out of my little nest and, like the gannets I so admire, I'm feeling a little adventurous. Here's most of what I wrote when I first opened this journal:

To see what a gannet looks like, all you need is a google image search. Gannets are enormous and sleek creamy-white seabirds, with black wingtips, yellow heads and necks, and startlingly outlined eyes. They nest on the rocky cliffs of the European and North American coasts of the North Atlantic and, once grown, spend their days sailing across the ocean. The acrobatics by which they make their living ~ steep climbs into the air and speedy plunges straight into the sea ~ are rivaled only by those of pelicans.

I've only seen gannets off the coast ~ far, far off the coast ~ of St. Augustine a few times in the early spring. They are propelled inland when storms rough up the seas, and on sunny days their gleaming white and black wings and torpedo-shaped bodies in the distance are unmistakable.

And I've only seen one up close once -- we were on a motorboat headed out into the ocean for a parasailing trip and our guide was surprised to learn that the massive bird placidly riding the swells was something other than "an ordinary ole' gull."

What better metaphor for a sweeping search of one's life choices and opportunities than a gannet extended above the waves, a regal and yet restless surveyor of the vast ocean surface? The gannet reminds us that life is an adventure in both beauty and profound unease, and that the sea itself is limitless in its textures and possibilities.

Friday, November 18, 2005

High Tech

If you saw me, you would know. I mean it -- you would really KNOW. I am so not functional in this century.

And yet, surprisingly, I am. I am sitting here in the dining room, where books and papers are crammed into and onto every surface, where my great-great grandmother's china sits in the cupboard, and where a cat making funny little brrrrpiiiiing noises is perched on a carpet on a hardwood floor, with all her feet tucked under her. The only concession to the modern world is this little gadget on which I am typing away with my two index fingers.

So here's what I've done today to justify my presence in the century in which I happen to live -- besides work and yes, I did do a tiny bit of that. If I hadn't gone there, I couldn't have accessed my lonely AOL journal to send people here.

1. I added links! A few at a time. It's an arduous process but I'm getting the hang of it.

2. I moved some entries over. That process isn't any easier.

3. I cleaned out my AOL cookies and cache, whatever on earth that means, and had a very pleasant exchange with AOL Joe, who is indeed trying to share helpful (albeit ultimately useless) assistance with respect to the problem of saving AOL entires.

4. I did write a new AOL entry, and stashed it in Joe's comment section. It's about how advertising really is a significant social issue for the 21st century. Unfortunately I have no idea how to do in-text links over here yet, so if you want to read it -- well, you'll just have to go look for it. It wasn't all that good or even interesting, so you probably won't want to bother.

5. I navigated the Tulane University website and made several phone calls to some lovely folks in New Orleans in a (succcessful!) attempt to find the college course description catalog online -- now THERE's an internet task. My lovely daughter in Oregon is now registered for classes in Louisiana with a little help from her mom in Ohio.

6. In the process of muddling my way through the various Tulane links, I learned that several people might not be available to help me this late Friday afternoon because they were throwing a bon voyage party for a colleague who lost her house and all its contents.

So don't worry about my inability to distinguish between the significant and the trivial. Every time I call New Orleans, I am reminded how lucky I am to have the dining room, the books, the papers, the china, the carpet, the floor and, most especially, the cat.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

To Everything There Is A Season

I don't actually do change.

I wouldn't have changed my name for man, institution, or convention.

I wouldn't have moved for a job, mine or anyone else's.

I would never have left AOL Journals on my own initiative. I had created a wonderful cyberspace there, far more successfully than any attempt I had ever made to address a three-dimensional space in the physical world. I was all curled up in a big, wide, soft chair, surrounded by reading material, paintings and photographs, and friends. What more could I have asked for?

It seems, however, that even I can be propelled into a new world, however unwillingly.

It's not so easy. I don't know where to get my oil changed or where anything is located on the grocery shelves. I don't know where to walk. My friends are scattered all over the place and I don't know how to find them. I don't know how to link, either literally or figuratively. It's going to take months to move my baggage down the street. I just deleted an entry and screwed up a photo, so obviously I don't have a handle on the new place, but the old place is cluttered with debris -- and locked up.

Well, I will figure it out. I will locate my friends. I will learn how to do the technology, which means that I will find other people who can lead me through it, one word at a time. I will learn to use Bloglines. I will even learn what words like RSS and feed mean. I will probably learn that the new can be better than the old.

But at the moment, it all feels kind of sad and lonely.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

In A Pickle

I've spent quite a bit of time on what can only be described as a conservative Christian message board. But I have come to the conclusion that staying there is such a violation of who I am that it is impossible for me to continue. At the same time, I can't really say good-bye to some of the people whom I genuinely like and respect, since "drama queen" would be the inevitable label.

Here's the conundrum:

When someone posts something with which I completely disagree, my choices are:

(1) I can state my disagreement, which enables me to be true to myself, my beliefs and values, and my friends, but invites vigorous disapproval and accusations that I am trying to create controversy where none exists.

(2) I can, without indicating my opinion one way or the other, note that we had agreed to avoid controversy, in the hope that people will stop posting on the topic. This prevents me from being true to myself, my beliefs and values and friends, but enables me to remain a gracious observer rather than a pot-stirrer. Nevertheless, it invites vigorous disapproval and accusations that I am trying to create controversy where none exists, just as if I had made an argumentative statement to start with.

(3) I can remain silent, keeping my objections to myself, as I very often do. This also prevents me from being true to myself, my beliefs and values and friends, and enables the original poster and supporters to believe that their position is unquestionably supported. It is also unhealthy for me, as my ears begin to steam and my blood pressure to rise whenever I see the disputed topic heading, which almost no one else will publicly admit to seeing as controversial.

(4) I can stop visiting the site. This also prevents me from being true to myself, since I do believe that reconciliation among people is a Christian imperative, and since it, too, enables the original poster and supporters to believe that their position is unquestionably supported. However, my presence is hardly mandated -- it's a message board, not a community in which I must live, and my absence will no doubt improve my mental health.

I think I choose (4). In my own community, the real life one in which I live, I have an obligation to vote my conscience and to speak out against injustice at least once in awhile. I am extremely fortunate to live in a place in which most people share my views on political and social issues. I suppose that those who do not share them agonize over whether to leave, just as I would if I lived in a real-life community in which my own values were attacked on a regular basis. I know that people have left my church over the liberal social views of our pastors, and I would have to leave if the situation were reversed. I guess a message board is about the same.

It's discouraging, though. I was at a church meeting tonight in which we talked about how devastating it would be for the worldwide Christian community if we cannot find ways to talk to each other across political lines. Easier said than done, that's for sure