The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
I’ve been thinking longingly about a sailing trip we once took with friends in the Caribbean. It was a certain version of heaven. A catamaran (to minimize seasickness), with a crew (we don’t know how to sail a boat) and good company. Blue sky, gentle waves, cooling breezes, white sand. There was little to interrupt our tranquility. And there were pina coladas to boot!
My current longing has nothing to do with the climate, the boat, the rum, or even the friends. It was, rather, that once we left the dock, putt-putted out of the harbor, cut the motor and raised the sails, we were completely out of touch with the mainland. There were no cell phones. No internet. The captain could call ashore if necessary, but that was pretty much reserved for emergencies. We had no idea what was going on in the rest of the world. Aaaaah. Right around now that sounds pretty good.
Every time I open the computer to my home page, The New York Times, or listen to the radio in the car, or even look at Facebook to keep up with the adorable antics of my grandchildren, I’m laid low with any one, or more, of an assortment of unpleasant emotions. Fear. Dismay. Anger. A sense of powerlessness. Depression.
There’s the situation in Aleppo – not to mention the rest of Syria – and the ones in Yemen, South Sudan, and elsewhere. If you don’t know what’s going on in those places, I envy you, but a lot of it involves children who are dead, injured, or starving. And massacres. It’s more than I can bear.
And then, of course, there’s the election. (If you’ve read any of my blogs, you’re not surprised I feel this way.) Chasms where once there were “only” cracks. Our current national fracture has even wended its way to my town, a beautiful historic community with an agricultural tradition where citizens have always gotten along pretty well. Since the election, there have been two incidents that, in the context of this town, were shocking. One was the defacing of a Jewish cemetery, and the other an explosive, almost violent, public meeting about a blue line down one of our streets to demonstrate appreciation for our local police department. Things like this just don’t happen here! But now they do.
And so I’ve been thinking about the sailboat interlude and considering cutting myself off from the news, including Facebook. It feels drastic – and, frankly, I don’t know if I could actually do it – but it would just be temporary, to allow my emotional immune systems to regroup. On the boat, I had no choice, but to self-isolate is a different matter.
I’ve been more-or-less of an activist since the 1960’s, and it would feel eerie to be unmoored from the rest of the world’s events. The deep blue sea. But it feels worse to mourn for my country and the world. The devil.
I’m not advocating giving up. I’m glad others are out there fighting the good fight. This would only be a sabbatical. But I’m not sure it’s a responsible thing to do.
Where Were You When…..? Those of us who were around at the time will always remember where we were when we heard about JFK’s assassination. I was in my dorm room, blissfully unaware of what was going on, until my raucous roommate told me how the universe’s axis had just shifted. The man who would turn out to be my husband was in a small town in Senegal as a Peace Corps volunteer. He had to figure out what the kid who spoke only Wolof was trying to tell him. And it was the same with 9/11. We were in Paris, in a rented apartment. TV, yes, but no CNN. We felt very cut off and extremely American. Read more here
Life in Three Acts. Setting: Tanzania. Photographic safari. Act I: We were in our jeep, along with a whole lot of other jeeps, watching a cheetah stalk….. something. We didn’t know what it was, but were mesmerized, waiting to see what would happen, hoping for some action. Read more:
People, Identity….. and Mattresses: My husband and I once did volunteer work in Thailand with an organization whose mission was to promote sex education, mostly with an eye toward preventing AIDS. Their primary method was to train university students to make presentations to adolescents who would be encouraged to spread the word. Read more:
A Tree Grows in Warwick: Next week is Arbor Day. It doesn’t get as much commercial attention as, say, Valentine’s Day or Groundhog Day or Mother’s Day. But it’s very special to me, and here’s why: Read more:
Time Travel: Back in the day, we wrote letters. On paper. We knew that by the time our friend got the letter – even if we splurged on air mail postage – it would be outdated, but so what? Read more:
To Know Home, Leave Home: Sometimes people ask me why I travel so much — or used to travel so much. Certainly, on a beautiful hopeful spring day like today, with my magnolia advertising its splendor to come, I wonder myself. Then I remember that time at JFK airport. To read more:
Happy Kindness to All: Two Jews and an Episcopal missionary walk into a bar. In Uganda. Really. A little backstory: My husband and I were doing two months of volunteer work on behalf of American Jewish World Service. We’d become good friends with “Samuel,” the American missionary doctor who’d ….. To read more:
That Silent ‘e’ Speaks Volumes: The mailman came to the door to deliver the John Gnagy (NEGGy) “Learn to Draw” set I’d ordered. (You can Google him if you’re too young to know who he was.) Looking at the mailing label, where Carole Goldsmith was written as clearly as could be, he nonetheless asked, “Does kuh-ROLL-ee Goldsmith live here?” My visiting playmates overheard and forever mocked. To read more:
Never Too Late: I already know how to read. And write. I can ride a bike, speak French, drive a manual transmission, knit, and a whole host of other things. You do too, of course, though your list will differ from mine. The rub is, though, that I learned all those things a long time ago. When you’re young, you learn things all the time, but when you’re not so young and not in school, you know a lot but you don’t learn as constantly or as much. To read more:
New Lives: We’re a country of immigrants. And every immigrant has a story. When my husband’s great-grandfather came to America, like many immigrants at the time, he planned to send money for his wife and family to join him. (Little did he know that at the time he left, his wife was pregnant. He thought he was leaving a wife and five children but there would soon be six.) To read more:
Have it, Give it, Still Got it: Once upon a time, boys and girls, there was a magical place. Anyone who had enough of a thing could give some of it away to someone who didn’t have enough. The magic: as soon as the person gave it away, her supply would be replenished. To read more:
I Expected to Like My Hiking Trip: And I did. Yellowstone National Park, with its spooky-looking landscapes of mud bubbling like pea soup, steam emerging from below, and, of course, geysers. Grand Teton National Park, home of bears, elks, bison. A week of beauty, exercise, good food with good people. In a word, perfect. What I didn’t expect, though, was how much I’d love the three-day train ride back home. To read more:
Wish List: It’s my birthday today. There, I’ve said it. If you’re wondering what you could get me, and you can’t manage to bring about peace in the Middle East or an end to childhood hunger, here are some other ideas – of both the sublime and the ridiculous persuasion. If you could work any of them out, I’d really appreciate it. To read more:
Community: Quick: What community or communities are you a member of? Chances are, you thought of your town/city. Maybe your congregation. Or your family. As far as I’m concerned, though, communities come in many other shapes and sizes. To read more:
You Talk; I’ll Listen; Vice Versa; Repeat: I’ve been thinking about an idea for Congress. True, it will take them longer to get anything done. Then again, maybe they’ll actually get something done. To read more:
What’s in the Box?: About 15 of us were gathered in a hot and dusty room in Accra, Ghana. Two young Ghanaian women wearing identical purple polo shirts walked in. One of them carried a tattered cardboard box with wooden sculptures. When she put the box down, I could see the sculptures were penises. To read more:
Boredom: When I was a kid, it didn’t take me long to learn that there was no point in complaining to my mother that I was bored. Her answer was always the same: “Well, you could always knock your head against a wall. Then it will feel soooo good when you stop.” Ha, ha, mom. To read more:
Meet My Old Friend, Senegal: Have you ever been to Africa? West Africa, in particular? Senegal, in very-particular? Probably not. I’ve been there four times over 30 years. The first time was for a year in 1974, with my husband and newborn daughter. Next was a six-month stay in 1981, when that daughter was seven and we had to choose between a crowded French-speaking school and a missionary-run English-speaking school which included mandatory instruction in a religion that wasn’t ours. To read more:
In Competence: There I was, driving in warm and sunny South Africa on Christmas Day. It wasn’t only the climate that was reversed. I was on the left side of the road. In a car with the driver’s seat on the right. I felt like I’d gone through the looking glass. I needed to think through my every move in advance, as in, “Get ready to shift from 2nd to 3rd. Gear shift on my left, check. The gears are arranged the same way as in the U.S., so it’s lower left to upper right. Lower left to upper right. Here goes.” To read more:
Quiet Gratitude: I’ve never been a fan of expressing emotion on demand, as in, “Before we eat turkey, let’s go around the table and everyone say three things he or she is grateful for.” If people choose to speak of their gratitude, I’m all for it. It’s the “on demand” part at which I bridle. Don’t get me wrong: I do experience abundant gratitude and I do love Thanksgiving’s focus on it. I just don’t want to be told when and where to go public. For me, spontaneous gratitude is more powerful, more meaningful, more uplifting. To read more:
The Power of Story: The joy of story-telling is more-or-less always on my mind because my granddaughter and I frequently make up stories. They usually involve playgrounds and dinosaurs and they’re always a hoot. I recently saw a more serious kind of story, though (lucky me!): Pierro della Francesca’s “The Legend of the True Cross” in Arezzo, Italy. To read more:
Knit One, Purl Two: It’s astounding what you can do with 26 letters: billions (trillions?) of books, poems, essays about summer vacations, shopping lists, letters, book reports, emails, texts and tweets, greeting cards, blog posts, and a whole lot more. Knitting, with only two stitches to its name, may be a tad less astounding, but it’s still pretty impressive. To read more:
A Plain Ol’ Cover Story: In a recent nightmare, I was wandering around a bookstore. I wanted to get some idea of the kind of covers I’m drawn to, since I was going to be working with a designer on the cover of my upcoming Best Seller. (I said it was a dream, didn’t I?) Plus I wanted a couple of books for summer reading. I wandered over to the “Staff Picks” table because that’s where I’d found some treasures in the past, probably because the owner/staff were women and we seemed to have similar tastes. But…..wait a second! All the books looked the same. To read more:
Tikkun Olam: If you ever want to feel every one of your years (I was feeling 57 of them on the night in question), try to sleep in one of those smelly, orange, molded plastic chairs in an airport. Not for a nap, but for the whole night. My husband and I were among the hundreds trying to contort our bodies into the elusive “comfortable position,” occasionally giving up in favor of the gritty floor, on Christmas night 2002. This was not at all the way we’d envisioned starting the two-month volunteer assignment that was the kickoff to our retirement. To read more:
Old Friends: It happened over and over: Two people introduced themselves to each other. There was a brief moment in which each reconciled the other’s older face with his or her memory of that same face 50 years ago. And then there was an intake of breath and an outburst of unfettered affection. The joy was palpable. To read more:
“Ask Not…” If you were around when John Kennedy was inaugurated in January 1961, you can easily finish the famous statement from which the title of this piece above is excerpted. For the rest of you, it’s: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Still good advice, in my opinion. He didn’t waste any time in giving us a new way to do something for our country: he started the Peace Corps two months later. To read more:
A Love Letter to My Magnolia: Back in P.S. 106, in the Bronx, I learned that the magnolia is the only tree that gets its flowers before its leaves. I think it was Mrs. Sills who taught us that little nugget in 3rd grade, though I can’t be sure. It’s amazing that I remember it at all. But there’s another reason that magnolias are special — to me, at any rate. To read more:
You Can/Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover: In a bookstore in Paris, all cluttered with tomes, I was looking for Madeline … for my granddaughter. (She doesn’t speak French, but she does speak Madeline.) After I found the book I wanted, I wandered around, as if the books might be an insight into aspects of French culture. And indeed they were…. To read more:
The Toilet and the Classroom: Our first volunteer assignment was in a village in northern Senegal, at the edge of the Sahara. The only housing available was one bedroom in a four-bedroom house. Right away, I knew I had a problem. It wasn’t the lack of hot water…. To read more:
Bronx Statues: My blog posts to date have been about traveling. This one’s different. Time travel, maybe, but not the going-far-away kind. Still, it opened my eyes to something new-ish. I went back to visit my old neighborhood and, in particular, the apartment building where I lived from age 2 to 15. It’s one of ….. To read more:
“Souvenir” Means “To Remember” in French: After ten straight days of work in Chiang Mai, Thailand, we finally had a leisurely day in the walled Old City: Buddhist temples, lunch dishes whose names we’d never know, and heavenly $3 foot massages from women whose oils and sticks were in boxes like shoe-shine kits. To read more:
Love to Travel, Hate to Pack: The bright blue duffel bags had taken up residence in the corner of the bedroom, on the treadmill. Geoffrey’s was getting pleasantly plump. Mine wasn’t. It was hard to ignore, much as I tried. It accused me daily. “Carole, what are you waiting for,” it seemed to say. “Tick-tock, tick-tock. You’re leaving in a week.”….. To read more:
Happy Any-Holiday, Wherever You Are: Count me among the many Americans who think Thanksgiving is the best holiday. My reasons are all the usual suspects: food, family, tradition, gratitude, and no presents. (Frankly, I could live without the…….To read more:
Me and Mr. Silverback, Oh My!: Of all the trips I’ve taken and places I’ve been, there’s one breathtaking moment that’s in a class by itself. It was in the aptly-named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, where half the world’s 700 mountain gorillas live. We were tracking them……. To read more:
The Laundromat, Not the Louvre: When I vacation in Paris, I’m like everyone else, transported by the beauty, the history, the food. A lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing with an occasional ooh-la-la. Living there for ten months was different, though….. To read more:
Art is Art: During our two months in Accra, Ghana in 2009, I started looking forward to our Saturday excursions to the beach, and to Bob’s sculptures, around Wednesday or Thursday…… To read more:
Trekking, Traipsing, and Writing: I caught the travel bug from my husband, the intrepid former Peace Corps volunteer. Since I met him, this girl from the Bronx – who’d previously been as far as Niagara Falls – has done her fair share of packing and unpacking, schlepping, trekking, and traipsing. Forty-odd years, fifty countries and counting…….. To read more: