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Requiem for Quin the Eskimo

purple, dragon

My uncle Quin died today. Born in Mississippi, he traveled the world as a geologist. To Cuba, before Castro. To Alaska, before it became a state. To Algeria and all over the Middle East. Once, in the 1930's he traveled to the wilds of Upstate New York, where he met and married my aunt. Visits from Uncle Quin & Aunt Billie were momentous occasions in my life. They came with suitcases loaded with presents from their travels. Dolls, textiles, treasures, music, food, stories. Once they brought King Crabs from Alaska that were so large we didn't have a pot to fit them. Those magical nights when the family would gather at my grandparents' house for their arrival were like a troubador visiting a remote medieval village. Out of those voluminous suitcases, out of this jet-lagged, laconic man with the rich Southern accent, came the world. When he awoke in the morning, I would beg him to take me fishing in the Susquehanna, just down the hill from our house. With his pipe and fishing tackle, we would descend through the weedy cow pasture to the river. I don't remember anyone else taking me fishing, just the man who had just flown into Albany from Oman. Always busy, even on "vacation",  he built me a sandbox and taught me about gardening. He was so grounded, yet they moved constantly. To England, when my Aunt was weary of the Middle East. To Texas, when his field work came to an end. Penultimately, to Florida, where he had a whole swamp in his backyard to turn into a garden, despite the snakes and alligators. Finally, they returned home to Alaska, where they had raised their children, survived the earthquake of 1964 and found a community to hold their restless spirits. It's a place that looms large in my imagination, although I have never been. I'm sorry that I never got to visit him there. Thank you, Uncle Quin. You made my world a much richer, bigger place and I hope to pass that on to my children. Maybe I will take them fishing in Alaska one day.

Postscript: Here is his obituary. I forgot to mention that he was a pilot in WWII in the South Pacific. He was also "human computer" and quant who wrote a book called "The Solution of Equations in a Field".

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/adn/obituary.aspx?n=cecil-williams&pid=171777687

Boston Confession

purple, dragon
I'm not Boston Strong. I found out a few weeks ago, on March 26, when a fire engulfed a building on Beacon Street, killing two fire fighters. I stood in the kitchen of my office, looking out the big windows and wondered why there was fog on Boylston Street on a sunny, windy day. Could it be smoke? A jolt of fear went through me. A fire, I found out. A really big one. My anxiety started to rise. I needed to get home. I had no meetings so I left as soon as I could. Pushing open the front door, I froze when I smelled the smoke That's when the real panic hit. Fighting the wind up the stinking, smoke-filled street, I got to the subway as fast as I could, desperate to get out of there. My body pumping adrenaline into my blood saying - this is a dangerous place, remember?

I was out at a farm in the suburbs looking at baby goats when I heard the news on April 15, 2013. The buzz spread through the parents in the barn and I went outside to check twitter & field anxious messages from family. We stayed at the farm as long as we could, then drove back in to the city.

My office on Boylston Street, was closed the following day, since it was inside of the crime scene perimeter. Wednesday it opened and I went in, full of trepidation, making sure to hug & kiss my kids goodbye. I thought of walking all the way but decided to get on the train and see how I felt. The other passengers were silent. Dour, anxious, suspicious. Too afraid to pass through the closed train station at Copley, my stop, I got off at Hynes, gulping for air as I ran upstairs. Newbury looked oddly normal as I walked the first block. Except for the police and soldiers on patrol. Except for the quiet. The closed stores. No traffic. On the first cross street it hit me like a cannonball in the stomach. The blocked off street was filled with trash, the things dropped when ten thousand people fled for their lives. Water bottles, hats, mylar blankets, bags, signs, jackets, bottles - all guarded by police officers in vests & helmets. As I walked up the street the scene grew more surreal. Media trucks, posters of encouragement, FBI trailers, more police, more trash. I made it up to where I could cross to my building, where a memorial was being created with bundles of flowers and shoes and stricken, sad people staring down the closed street with TV cameras and security everywhere. I ducked into the calm of my building, which seemed like a sanctuary except for the fact that our windows face west and look right out on Copley Square.

The closed street haunted us. It remained a crime scene for weeks as the area and all the trash was all searched by dogs, cops and people in white suits. Otherwise, it was silent and empty. Just mylar blankets blowing in the wind. I'd get a cup of coffee and stare out at the post-apocalyptic scene outside our windows.

Boylston_afterS

It got to me. The horror of that day sunk in deep, even though I was not in any danger. I was thoroughly terrified. Terrorized. The second day, I dared to ride the train all the way home, holding my breath, my heart pounding, as we passed through the dark, closed train station. Nothing happened to me. I was a victim of my imagination more than the Tsarnaev brothers, but it persists. As I found out the day of the fire, the memory of danger is powerful.

I am in awe of the people who are going back. The runners, the medical staff, the families and volunteers who are returning to the marathon. One of my colleagues is going to run. Her courage is inspiring but I can't begin to match it.  I'm not ready for tomorrow. I'll take the kids up to see the start of the marathon as it passes through our town, then we'll drive out to the country to find some goats.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

purple, dragon

I have a very vivid memory of the first time I read "One Hundred Years of Solitude". I was home from college, It was probably 1987 and I went to the lake. Lying on the beach, I read the last third of the book. I was totally engrossed in it. When I reached the end, where one realizes that they are reading the book that is written in the book, I felt dizzy. I sat up, extremely disoriented, to find myself on a beach in upstate New York. The spell of his words was profound. Having been transported, I couldn't bear to be outside of that world and I turned back to the first page.

This book was my first exposure to what is called "magic realism" but which is now, at least in my library, called a good story.

A great light has gone out of the world, but it has ignited a creative forest fire.

Skating

purple, dragon
I took my daughter skating yesterday for this first time this winter. I make it a priority, because there are so few days we can do it. We like to skate outside and there are only 8 weekends left when the rink is open. Sometimes it's raining or just too cold or we have obligations. I'm acutely aware of how precious those days and times are. Having spent the morning at a funeral, I was even more determined to get out on the ice yesterday and we had a wonderful time. I reflected that for people who love to ski and skate, winter in New England is too short. We only have about 10 weekends when conditions might be good. For people who don't do winter sports, the season is too long. They sit inside and wait for spring, looking forward to the precious few summer weekends. I relish those too. In fact, I'm working on enjoying ALL of it.

On New Year's Eve, I saw a Dan Zanes concert and he led us in singing "Turn, Turn, Turn" with lyrics for kids, written by Toshi Seeger's wife, instead of the text of Ecclesiastes.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

The tune is resonating with me this year. I hope I learn to appreciate the time I have, to take advantage of opportunities and not feel anxious about things that have passed by or are still on the horizon. Turn, turn, turn.

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Reunion

purple, dragon
On the long drive to my home town for my high school reunion, I reflected on my classmates. I thought about their careers and life choices. How curious, I thought, that none of them are writers. My stomach did a backflip and I felt a tingling sensation rush through my veins. "It was supposed to be you", said the voice in my head. I'm not sure what to do with this. I'll just leave it here.

Oh, those summer nights

purple, dragon
I took the girls out to Larz Anderson park after dinner. It was one of those "Top Ten" summer days, pleasantly warm, dry and sunny that you dream of in February. We walked around the pond, smelled the fresh cut grass and watched for bunnies (2) and mermaids (0). One thing that age has given me a is an understanding of how precious these moments are. Time appears to move faster when you get older. Summer flies by. I took off my shoes and walked in the grass, then lay down and watched the magnificent clouds. It was a welcome break from the stress of the bat mitzvah planning. Looking at the sky and feeling the earth at my back helps me remember what is real.
purple, dragon
were it not that I have bad dreams.

I'm waking up every night with anxiety attacks about my daughter's upcoming bat mitzvah which is in 3 weeks. They last from 1-2 hours. The next day, I'm exhausted, which means it's hard to get things done which means more anxiety and so on and so forth and scooby doobie doobie. This is like planning a wedding or the invasion of Normandy except that people will have comfy beds and blintzes. The important things are covered. My daughter knows her stuff, prayers and Torah and reading from Isaiah, food is ordered, guests RSVPing but what about table decorations and shoes and the kids' karaoke party? I'm going to be early tonight, expecting to wake up at 2:30 or so to freak out. Reminds me of having a newborn. I'm hoping the writing will help.

Birthday log Star Date 12 April 2013

hello48
I turned 48 yesterday and it was delightful so I thought I would write it all down. My spouse did a great job making it pleasant and delicious. It started with breakfast. I slept in while he got up early to make the lunches for the kids and make quiche and chocolate croissants. We had breakfast together and I got my presents. Lovely cards, socks with water lilies, dolphin earrings, tickets to the Muppet Movie at the Brattle, a promissory note for the Donkey Show AND tickets to see ICARUS, the new Liars & Believers play. I had despaired of seeing it because of the expense for the tickets and baby sitting, but he bought them as a present. I think experiences are the best presents. So then, kids to school and me for some yoga. Then work, clean, shop, cook but nothing ambitious. I had a blast doing Madlibs with my daughter for the first time too. Dinner was nice. We had amazing Clear Flour bread and for dessert a delicious Rosie's Mocha cake. I read the Borrowers to the kids on the couch. No dishes tonight! Replied to many, many facebook and twitter birthday wishes and got the kids to bed. Then Doctor Who & champagne! At some point there was more cake, but who's counting? Then a bit of Sherlock Jr. and to bed. I'm pleased that I don't have a hangover so that I can keep this party going! Today we've got the Muppet Movie and other delights in store.

Letting go

purple, dragon
We spent Sunday cleaning for Passover. As always, I am reluctant to let the chametz go. I don't want to throw out the pasta. I want to preserve the option of having toast for breakfast. What if the kids want something? But this always ends in frustration. It always comes to the point where I just have to give in. Surrender to the inevitability of Passover. Of time and the journey. And then, when I let go, it gets easier and I get excited. The pieces fall into place and I enjoy the process of cleaning and bringing out the Pesach dishes. Remembering the recipes. The melodies. And we're off! Cana'an or bust.
hello 46
My colleague and mentor passed away. He had a minor stroke and went to the hospital where he had a major stroke and never regained consciousness. It was a sudden and terrible loss. Last time I saw him we spent an hour and a half in a conference room talking about knowledge management; the data, software, information architecture and how to get people to use and appreciate it. He was an expert in the field but so humble and supportive of my efforts. His enthusiasm was contagious. More than anything technical, I learned from him how to manage the demands of working with people and their data. We commiserated over limitations and got excited about possibilities. He was so enthusiastic, so curious and persistent. It was contagious and working with him boosted my skills to the next level. I don't know how I'm going to go forward without him. After years of trying to explain to others how I think about data structures and how they should be organized, here was someone who understood. Information architecture was in his bones and he had that sense of where things should be best placed in the system. So often in meetings, when our users would be suggesting some new field or categorization scheme, he would look at my face, curled up in a sour expression, and laugh. He would be the one to explain why this wasn't a good idea in a friendly, articulate way, while I could barely contain my impulse to say it was a priori WRONG. I will miss his counsel, his good humor and the comfort of a like-minded soul. At least I still have the system that he built, in some ways a map of his mind, which will sustain our organization for a long time. And I hope to catch glimpses of his ghost in the machine.