Life on Land (Part I)

“I am no scientist. I explore the neighborhood.” Annie Dillard 

The Highline, 27th Street

I wanted to start where I am, but even that sounds wrong—should it be where I "was"? So then, how about both present tense. I want to start where I am. But I can't even do that. Heisenberg Principle: behavior changes under observation.

I am falling away from my blog, but only in practice, not in theory. (Yogi Berra “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”) Certain themes have emerged. The idea of how much control we have over our lives, a lot more than we want to admit. Realizing now that more than anything for me having an overpacked schedule is resistance to bigger life goals and life questions. Ignoring big life questions is not a problem I face, but making them so huge that they’re unanswerable and irrelevant is something I do on an hourly basis. (The problem of the earth being engulfed by the sun and vaporized into it, for example—this will happen, ask any physicist, but not for a while.) Start with small things. Start with—What did you do today? A blog is so accessible that way. That's the only question you're being asked to answer. And it's a huge one. For almost a decade now I've been hounded by an Annie Dillard line: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives". What did you do today? It's an essential question. Put them all together and that's how you spent your life.

When a friend asked me that on the playground recently he answered his own question, following up with, “Same thing as yesterday, same as tomorrow.” But the truth is, that’s how I want it to be, how I dream of it being. A sameness, a rhythm, a flowing tide coming in and then receding. Instead it just keeps changing. Here’s Annie Dillard again, this time from American Childhood, a book I felt compelled to read given the name of my blog: “Scenes drift across the screen from nowhere. ..These aren’t still shots. The camera is always moving. And the scene is always just slipping out of sight.”

I tried to capture some of those scenes from the moving camera last year on these virtual pages. Why write about playground dynamics? Why even sensory and sensibility stuff? Why the empty garden? The family reunion? The west village library? The seven days of mice? The pink trees? The Boy Choy? The time capsule? The slow, painful runs, the changing friendships, the hope for a return to Gowanus, taking things apart and carrying them away? Dillard answers, this time in Pilgrim on Tinker Creek, a far superior book to American Childhood in my opinion. “The first question—the crucial one—of the creation of the universe and the existence of something as a sign and an affront to nothing, is a blank one. I can’t think about it. So it is to the fringe of that question that I affix my attention, the fringe of the fish’s fin, the intricacy of the world’s spotted and speckled detail.”  

So we start very tiny. An hour in the park. A slight betrayal. An awkward conversation. A moment of forgiveness that we maybe did not deserve. And see what we can dig into, pull up or apart, expand upon, extrapolate, make meaning from, find a theme, a point, a glimmer, a hint.

My struggle over the past year—to pull away from others’ opinions and advice and to recognize my own shadow in those I imagine to be hounding me—has been undertaken largely because of the desire to document my time with Wally.

It’s been about a year since I started writing on a sort of steady basis. It’s natural to use a year as a marker, a measuring device, to ask: Where was I last year at this time? How are things different now? Are they what I expected them to be? Last spring, when I began these chronicles, I was writing about the despair of playground mingling, the bleakness of what my friend Hein called “the zombie mom scene”. I was beginning to read about sensory processing disorder, getting used to Wally’s therapy schedule, trying to reign in my frantic days, change my expectations, bring my life more in line with my priorities. I was flooded with unwritten years of my own life, Thoreau's unexamined years, questions about how I ended up where I ended up. (There's a great quote in Little Children about how adulthood is basically an accumulation of weak moments.) My days were all over the place.

I was beginning to get past the myths of my own childhood, culminating just recently the post about changing interpretations of utopian childhoods. When trying to answer what did I mean by last American childhood, it became apparent that our generation may have lived not only the last but one of the first. I don’t trust people looking backward or forward. I wouldn’t trust myself, had I not recorded it here, to reflect back accurately on "what did I do" each day of last year. And this is part of the resistance to writing too. The desire to maintain an artifice, a history continually revised in the retelling. But writing requires observation. And there’s that Heisenberg principle at work. Writing forces you to see more clearly. Reading back over past writing, even more so. When you write honestly, you’re almost forced to decide whether to make a change or not.


  1. Writing clearly makes you think, which conjures up Descartes (though not truly in the epistomological realm that he meant it). Yet Perls advises: "Lose your mind and come to your senses." Trying to integrate these two seems formidable enough, but then we have to toss in emotions, and finally, actually do something. Putting all that together in a coherent package seems to me to be a full day's work, and one that we might be very happy to spin out for a lifetime in accord with Annie Dillard's dictum.

  2. I can feel the accurate sense of where you were, but for some reason I do not feel the same of where you are. What DID you do today?

    Partially I journal because I like to reflect on where I was a year ago, 2 years ago, etc. But mostly I journal so I can remember what I did today. (and of course so my kids can remember some day too).

  3. Ridiculous that I never answered these comments! Hawkeye - It certainly is a full day's work, and then some. It's exhausting, but endlessly satisfying, to keep writing, thinking, and trying to make changes to one's behavior.

    Rhonda - What DID I do that day? I'll have to look back and see..I've forgotten now. And I'm sorry I didn't answer at the time. Surely you won't be reading this comment now.


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