Tag Archives: age

tools of the trade

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I was a young man when I first began writing professionally. It was what I expected to do… what I’d set as my personal goal. I had been so grateful for the advice and friendship I had received from writers in my childhood and youth, that I felt a personal debt to them, and in this way I hoped to repay them. I wrote long pages in blue-black ink from a fountain pen on white linen bond paper. That same pen is still in one of my drawers. The act of writing was as gratifying to me as the possibility of conveying thoughts to paper. I could smell the ink. I enjoyed watching the trail of blue-black ink slowly drying on the page as I continued to write. I had a number of different pens, and numerous nibs which enabled me to write in different styles as well as different languages. I preferred a fine line, but used wide nibs as well… sometimes to emphasize something in the text, I used italics as well. To me, good writing meant no spelling or grammatical mistakes, and the ability to organize my thoughts in such a way that they would be readily understood by the reader. This was so important to me because if I (or my editor) found a mistake, I would usually rewrite the page. Which took some time. Such work was drudgery.

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My first typewriter was a present from an aunt. I was greatly moved by her gesture. It seemed such a personal and appropriate gift. And strangely enough, I received another three typewriters through my life, from very close friends. But as much as I enjoyed typing, I felt most comfortable and most natural writing by hand with pen on paper. Though I felt no need to study journalism or creative writing, I did take a typing course so as to learn to put my thoughts on paper as quickly as possible. Typewriters could only write in one font, which meant that I needed separate machines for Hebrew and Latin letters.

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The machines stayed with me for decades, and became part of my physical presence in this world from my point of view. In a way, they were more an extension of my body than the pens I used, maybe because I typed blind. The Royal portable traveled with me across the world on ship and in airplanes. I used to feel a sense of intimacy in my relations to tools. But since the start of the digital age, tools come and go. The life expectancy of a computer is so short that I haven’t really gotten attached to any of them. Software programs change and become more complicated. I would discover that I didn’t have enough RAM, and by the time I moved on to a new computer I was glad to get rid of the old.

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Language too, is an intimate tool. A tool of the mind by which we communicate our deepest thoughts and feelings. And that too is changing. When I was young, our ancient language was sacred. Educated people went to great pains to conform exactly to the rules of grammar. The language we heard on the radio was elegant. When a word was added to our vocabulary, it’s addition was decided by The Academy of the Hebrew Language, and though we laughed sometimes at the new inventions, they were necessary for scientific and technological subjects that hadn’t existed when our language first flowered. But then slang appeared in the army, and folks were amused by these new additions and used them. Foreign words were included in our speech as well, and slightly changed to correspond to our rules of grammar. Slowly, gradually, the slang increased, and nowadays when conversing with the young, I have to ask the meaning when hearing an unfamiliar phrase. It makes me feel less grounded.

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The pictures on the store front windows, were found on Jaffa Str., here in Jerusalem. They represent visual illustrations of Jerusalem slang and expressions unique to our town. The artists involved in this project wished to decorate the city with local expressions.

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another generation

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Passover is coming to a close. This evening we will celebrate the last day of the holiday which will continue through tomorrow. Then on Saturday we will continue eating matzot instead of bread, and maintaining the passover diet, because the sabbath will have arrived without giving us the time to change our pots and pans and dishes back to normal.

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The holiday was a continuous social event with many meetings of dear friends and relatives. I’ve grown used to a lot of solitary time, and found the emotional pitch, the many conversations… even meeting with so many very different individuals, somewhat enervating.

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What an intense experience it was to be in a room filled with my youngest grandchildren, each of them different, a world onto himself or herself, part of the family… and at the same time, part of a generation that I can barely understand. Looking at them and listening to them I became very aware of the new world and the new souls already on their way to replace almost all I’ve known in my lifetime.

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These young souls had great sensitivity, and much sensibility, though occasionally I would hear a blood curdling scream or a growl of discontent. So different from one another, and yet managing quite well to co-exist in peace. So many words. More than stars in the skies. I listened for a while, but just couldn’t keep up. I saw some youngsters putting together a building from plastic semi transparent and brightly colored plastic. Is this something like Lego, I asked. No, they explained. This is magnetic.

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Spent time with people of all ages, from the very young who had just recently learned to speak their minds to old folks like myself, and most of them were completely unconcerned with the things that usually occupy my mind. But that didn’t bother them or me. There were a lot of rickety old bridges between us, and we had no fear. We sat around long tables and short. Round tables too. And the variety of food was amazing.

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My biggest problem was the immense contrast between the light coming through the windows, and that within the rooms when visiting with some of my grandchildren. I would have had to photograph with flash in order to get some sort of balance in many of the pictures or arrange people in better relationship to the light. But I like to catch them as they are.

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I was reminded of the many stations of life I’d gone through, the decisions; turning a house into a home; finding a balance in life; bringing children into this world with my wife; learning the characters of those children, and building bridges. I’ve been reading a book by Wendell Berry called ‘Hannah Coulter’. Here’s a short passage from that novel: “Nathan and I had to get used to each other. We had to get used to being two parents to Little Margaret. We had to get our ways and habits into some sort of alignment, making some changes in ourselves that were not always easy. We had to get used to our house. We had to get used to our place. It takes years, maybe it takes longer than a lifetime, to know a place, especially if you are getting to know it as a place to live and work, and you are getting to know it by living and working in it. But we had to begin”.

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life and times of a species

We are by nature very self-centered. At every stage in our lives, we look at those younger than us as being ‘young’. And those who are older than us are ‘old’. People from other countries, or other cultures, are ‘alien’. But we’re okay, we’re ‘normal’.

When relating to the animal world, I myself have a special regard for butterflies and frogs. Both of them have two incarnations, and I can very well identify with them. I have a feeling that we too have more than one incarnation, so to speak. The butterfly starts out as a worm, and the frog as a pollywog. Anthropology has always fascinated me because of both the similarities and the differences between people around the world.

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I remember reading an article many years ago about the life of species. I don’t remember who it was that wrote it, and don’t remember the name of the article. But what impressed me then, was that some researchers had found a type of snail that had lived slightly off shore of a Greek island, and they were able to evaluate the age of the shells by carbon dating. They came to the conclusion that they had before them the history of that species; from when it was a very young species till it had grown old, and was nearing extinction. As the species became more mature, the form of the shell became more beautiful. But at a much later stage, some of the round areas became more angular. The species was getting decadent.

This same process is seen in individual people, and in societies… and in nations. Sometimes it evokes sadness. More often contempt. Life at the height of its development, has contempt for weakness… but even in decadence we often see ourselves as superior to others, more aware… more connected to the truth. It takes a rare wisdom to be aware of the world as a whole; to leave our egocentric point of view and start searching for the wonders outside of ourselves.

Why do it? Because we are connected to all of the world, and the more we learn, the more we understand the world around us, the richer this life of ours becomes.

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a song from the past

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woke this afternoon, drenched in sun
unprepared for happiness;
had gone to sleep half numb…
your voice unexpected… a technical snafu
the stubborn player’s persistence
had awakened me with you

and the song…
long ago etched in my mind
now interpreted with your great love…
immovable, I relished a taste of the sublime
as images tumbled across the plains
raindrops of enlightenment
holy words of prophesy,
a string of pearls in rhyme

blissfully, lying in my bed
the cat on my shoulder,
the two of us breathing together in time …
as an infinity of images streamed through my head
with life and its meanings entwined.

words resounding from history’s halls
forty some years already faded and bent
yet, remembering every nuance
and where every phrase would go
the illustrations like dew upon the grass
awakening new wonder with every image that passed
and a little dry humor, to assure me I was alive
like the birds in the chorus, singing
have faith, for you shall thrive
and though I was frozen in my place
for fear of losing our embrace,
no pain nor discomfort reduced my ecstasy
for all was well, as I heard tell, from your sweet lips
the intimate tale of our history

how long would it last, did it matter
how much joy might a body contain
while out for a break with effortless pleasure
the pulse in our veins like a metronome
thoughts and feelings recounted
your voice bringing it all back home
hadn’t our longings been fulfilled
and all our anxieties long been stilled
need it continue… did I still have the will
as I lay there in your arms so tight
and heard your sigh as life went by
till I whispered it’ll be all right.

Oh the ache of it

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Oh the ache of it…
and the crying out loud of it
carrying bits and pieces of me to burial
in this town that has been my refuge and inspiration
all my life…
and wasn’t it a heartache too
when first it started… not much more than nostalgia
just old glasses then… that were too dear, it seemed
after years on my nose
straightening out my distorted vision of reality
and so they were buried tenderly in the park
by the roses…
but the years go by,
and with the years…
it’s no longer symbolic gestures
but pieces of me… really…
that fall by the wayside…
and going into town…
on such a mission
that same town that provided harmonies
for aspirations and exhilarations…
which were easily fueled by a few pints
and the strumming of chords
on a cheap guitar
with a taste of whiskey here and there
and the taste of adventure…
sometimes a drum,
or fingers clapping on the back of a chair
enough to remind us, that we were a part
of the fermentation all around …

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oh, how strong were our hearts then
how exuberant our lives…
now, in pain, through the same streets
that have known all the variations
of the howling winds,
the highs and lows…

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and it is no surprise to my weary soul…
that I’d find the beggars
and the street musicians
to give me solace on this cold winter day
to sing me songs as I went about my way…
down this mild pedestrian street
that once carried my much younger feet

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sometimes to the movie house at the intersection,
were they the same stores then, and businesses squeezed in
between restaurants, and the smell of hot Turkish coffee…
children running this way and that with messages,
or bringing a missing part for daddy
three wheeled motorcycles sweating diesel oil
as they pulled their wares up the hill
the smell of the diesel oil intermingling with that of fresh bread
from the bakery, my earliest memories of Jerusalem
before each aspect of my home town was given
its right and logical place in the new order of things…
before the center of town was given a heart transplant
to a weather proof insular commercial mall
with magnetic gates to protect the citizens
from still another terror attack

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no beggars lying there on the pavement floor…
no individual cigarettes sold by the hotel door…
no, they’ve got an escalator there that never stops…
going up or going down… without a sound
no squeaky wailing shutters to be opened each morning
defying the cold winter ache in the hope for light
we knew one another intimately then…
even those we didn’t know by name…
and in parts of this city, we still know,
just about… everyone on the block
at least the oldsters do…
we remember you, when all was new
when sitting on a railing, or on a knee high wall…
now we rest on a stylish bench
and nod to each other
after spitting out
a few of our last teeth…

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children and art

It was a great pleasure having two of my granddaughters over for a visit the other day. An all day visit. And just two girls, so it was very peaceful, compared to many other get togethers we have had with the grandkids. We did the normal things that grandparents and grandchildren usually do… eating, exploring beautiful places, talking about what mattered to them, and trying to answer their questions of curiosity.

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They painted pictures with crayons, and played a bit with plastic dough. Their grandmother knew exactly which little treats would appeal to them. And I had the opportunity to think about childhood in ideal circumstances.

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It occurred to me that the difference in age between siblings, determines differences in the way we experience childhood itself. The older child usually experiences a sense of responsibility towards the younger. He or she has to restrain herself from the abuse of authority; has to entertain the younger brother or sister; and usually tries to be sympathetic and helpful even when that younger brother or sister are irritating or annoying.

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And for the younger child, the older brother or sister always seems as if he thinks he knows it all, and has more rights, and knows the tricks of how to represent things to authority figures, and the world at large. In large families, each child finds his place within the framework of the family, but there is a greater urge among younger children to be rebellious and stubborn about what they want.

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As I watched the girls playing with the plastic dough, and painting, I was reminded of something Janet had said, not long ago, quoting Picasso, that all children are artists. But it seems to me that that is not completely true. Children do have the ability to throw themselves into the representation of their vision without an excess of self consciousness. But they also have less awareness of what art can do. And what artists have done in the past. And how other people are going to see their creations. Moreover, there are vast differences between the talents of different people, even when those people are children.

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I was aware of certain frustrations when they were unable to put the image on paper that they had envisioned in their minds… and sometimes… a difficulty, and sense of impatience when others didn’t recognize the image that they had created. One can also see a difference in the ability to draw an image, related directly to the age of the child.

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Watching them, and relating to them, many memories came back to me from when I was a young parent, and my children were at the same stages as these grandchildren. I am sure that the experience was a pleasure for all. It also reminded me of how important it is for children to relate to people of all ages. And I’m convinced that the extended family makes for a much more balanced environment as a background for the development of young children.

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looking at orchids

My mother celebrated her 100th birthday recently. I had planned to let it go by as quietly as possible. After all, she had told me on more than one occasion, that she felt she’d lived long enough, and was ready to die. If she’s sick or feeling badly, she is more emphatic about this. When she’s still in bed at 9:00 o’clock in the morning, and has absolutely no desire to get out of bed, she can be quite expressive about old age. But even when she’s feeling good, and has taken a walk in the morning, she still feels she’s had enough. And so, when one of my sisters wanted to make a party in honor of her birthday, I felt obligated to ask her what she thought about it.

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my mother on her 100th birthday

She thought it was a terrible idea. She told me that there was nothing to celebrate, and that she finds it confusing when she has to relate to a number of people at the same time. And moreover, it’s embarrassing for her to meet with a grandchild, or a great grandchild, and not to remember his or her name; not to remember the exact connection to the person. I told her I could understand her point of view, but that there were a lot of family members who wanted to congratulate her on reaching this ripe old age. She made a face, and then said, that she would be pleased to meet with any of her descendents, but she would rather it was one or two at a time, and not a party. But my sister wasn’t about to make concessions when it came to something so important. And she insisted on a party. Not everyone came to the party. Some folks made private visits to her, and for a while there, she was dead tired by the end of each day after thanking one person after another for their good wishes. When I would get together with her, it was difficult to find room for all the flowers she received in her small apartment. But if I would suggest getting rid of some of them, she strenuously objected. It would be an insult to the person who gave her those flowers, to treat them lightly, she explained. She couldn’t remember who had given what, but she told me she valued their intentions, and she would keep the flowers as long as they lasted.

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So there we were, surrounded by flowers, and some of them were exotic. I didn’t know the names of more than a third of them. One type of flower particularly entranced me, because the leaves of the flower looked something like a rose, only more ornate, but the cup looked like that of a carnation. Neither of us knew what it was called. And then, my mother told me that of all the flowers, she thought the orchids were the most beautiful. They weren’t cut. She had gotten a plant in a small pot. We both looked at the orchids, and I asked her to tell me a bit about them. She had always known more about flowers than I did. But she has forgotten a lot. Her memory gets worse all the time, and she claimed that she had never really known much about them.

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So I started looking up information on orchids. I had always thought they were very delicate. I’ve known a few people who grew them, and I’d read a bit about growing them in the past. I thought of them as ‘hot house’ flowers, and believed they had only survived to the present day because of people who were crazy about them, and willing to invest time and trouble in taking care of them. But I quickly learned that the Orchidaceae, the proper name for the Orchid family, is a widespread family. It’s considered the largest family of flowering plants with more than 22,000 currently accepted species. The number of orchid species equals more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species.

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What surprised me most, was that the vanilla plant, which I especially love, is also part of the family. Charles Darwin discussed the ways in which orchids evolve in order to achieve cross-pollination, in his book, ‘Fertilization of Orchids’, which was published in 1862. It was also amazing to learn that they grow all over the world, and in almost every habitat. The majority are found in tropical regions, but they can also be found in the arctic circle and close to Antarctica! Since the introduction of tropical species in the 19th century, horticulturists have produced more than 100,000 hybrids. Reading about them, I was actually tempted to try growing some. But then, I remembered that I already have too much on my plate. There is so much more that I would like to do, than I have time for, in this world. So I suppose I’ll have to be satisfied, just contemplating their beauty from time to time.