instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

QUINTESSENCE

Riding the Dream

"Riding the Dream," Cross-Country America, 2016

This week's post is in special honor of two extraordinary guys. My first husband Kenneth Grunzweig, and, his best friend, Perry. Ken died of lung cancer in 2003. A lifelong marathoner and long-distance cyclist, his unexpected illness and death was a shock and a terrible loss. Perry had been friends with Ken for most of their San Francisco years, and he is the godfather of our daughter, Kate. On May 7th, Perry and his fellow adventurers embarked on a cross-country cycling challenge: Los Angeles to Boston. Perry is riding in honor of Ken, an incredible tribute to their friendship.

Briefly, here is an excerpt of Perry's letter to his cycling mates, friends, and our family:

As an introduction, my name is Perry. I am 68 and Durango, Colorado has been my home for the last 20 years.

This bicycle thing got a hold of me at a young age when I ordered a new 10 speed bicycle from Birmingham, England. Shortly thereafter I achieved my Boy Scout Cycling merit badge and it was all down hill from there, so to speak.

The seed for a bike ride across America was planted by my very best friend and bicycle buddy, Ken. He and I were on a three week self-contained bike tour from Missoula, Montana to Jasper, Alberta. We were resting somewhere in the Canadian Rockies, looking at our 50 pound bicycles, when Ken said to me, " Ya know Perry, we could take a credit card and a change of clothes and motel our way across the country without all this shit we are hauling with us." We shared that dream and talked about it every once in awhile, but sadly, Ken died of lung cancer before we could make that ultimate ride.

Ken died, but the dream did not. So with Ken in my heart, and with a photo of him front and center on the head tube of my bicycle I am going to ride our dream in his honor and in his memory.

My efforts to ride across America have been recognized by a private philanthropist, who, upon my successful arrival in Boston, will make a donation to the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation (lungcancerfoundation.org)

My family and friends have been very supportive, some are amazed, and some think I should have done ride this 30 years ago.


I know you will understand when I tell you how moved I am by Perry's undertaking and fundraising in Ken's name. How deeply honored my kids and I are by Perry's tribute. Indeed, this ride is just the thing Ken would do. When Kate was born, he made her a tiny personalized American Express card. She had his heart, his wallet, and a ticket to her dreams, he said with a chuckle. Often, especially on a family camping trip, Ken would muse that his real idea of roughing it was the "nearest Hilton in the woods." In a summer during high school my son cycled with an adventure group across the country - porting his gear and supplies, camping coast to coast - something he would have done with his father had they the opportunity. David is cheering Perry on. We all are.

I know Ken will be Perry's guardian on his adventure. Keep him out of trouble and make sure he has fun. Ken, always funny, deeply loyal, adventurous, and courageous, knew how to cherish and protect the ones he loved. He also knew how to have a good time - even if he had a famously terrible sense of direction and zero skills as a camp cook, the man could be counted on to bring a great wine. He was the wit and laughter of the party. As you may know, Ken is the central subject of my 2008 memoir, THE GEOGRAPHY OF LOVE.

So here's to you, Perry. You've got the Rocky Mountains over your shoulder by now. And here's to the end of lung cancer - to all cancers. We lose too many of those we love too soon.
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Archeologists On Site


I have looked and looked
for myself,
not sure

who I am, or where,
or, more importantly, why.


- Mary Oliver, from A River Far Away and Long Ago

My daughter graduates from medical school next week. From California and from across Washington we will gather at her hooding ceremony as she receives her degree with honors in medicine. I will be filled with thoughts that if they weren't so familiar to all of you... What a long strange journey it's been. The years bound up in talismans and objects, symbols and charms.

I thought back to a post here, written exactly two years ago. I was having a conversation with my daughter on the ways her college major in Art History prepared her for medicine. The study of art was a path of joy for her, a genuine, lifelong passion, and midway through her medical studies, she noted the unexpected ways one passion had bridged to another. Art History had become her foundation for the study of medicine. She spoke about the ways understanding, cataloguing, researching, and appreciating art taught her to notice details; trained her to retain enormous amounts of relevant, sometimes incomplete data; underscored the importance of provenance (source and diagnosis); and developed skills in correlation and interpretation. "Learning to see," she said, "comes before knowing what it is you're looking at."

This thought has stayed with me. I had the experience, as many of us have, of helping someone close down a house awhile ago. As I helped to sort and toss, piling things for charity, for the dump, for storage, I thought about all the ways "stuff" stands as this great, strange emporium of our lives. A map of experiences and transitions. A personal imprint left behind. A room of 1000-piece puzzle boxes... Owned by someone who loved intricate challenges, or an extremely lonely person? Baby gifts in their original wrapping, never given. Canning jars in multiples; light bulbs, winter tires. A wine cellar with an impressive collection hidden behind a messy and cluttered junk room. A grand unfinished library. A cross-bow. A broken violin. Bulk stale chocolates. Mismatched diningware and drawers and drawers of holiday tea towels. Fake flowers with the price tags on. A dog's ashes in an unmarked tin canister on the mantle.

Personal belongings speak a strange truth: what we are drawn to, once found precious, what things we ignore or leave behind. Some of us believe everything, even junk, has value and nothing of value should be dismissed. Or we are minimalists - too burdened by objects to invite them in. Maybe we are sentimentalists carrying the objects of generations around with us - human "family attics."

Kristine Trego, PhD, Professor of Classics at Bucknell University and underwater shipwreck archeologist, spoke to a group of us in the Mediterranean about her work on ancient Greek trading vessels off the coast of Turkey. From the most mundane daily objects in a sunken ship's galley she was able to gain insight into the daily lives of people from long ago: a weighted candle cup, a remnant of navigation, small good luck charms. Foods from multiple lands suggest the origin of the crew or the ship's trading path.

Dr. Trego was fascinated by the human tendency to collect: a passion shared with other species as it turns out. Inside an almost perfectly preserved amphora found on the sea floor, her divers disturbed a small octopus. Inside his watery pottery "home" were artifacts from a nearby shipwreck the archeologists were interested in recovering. When they reached into the jar remove an item, the octopus snaked out an arm and pulled it back. This tug-of-war went on without end, much to the amusement of the divers, finally prompting the crew to make a rule in honor of this creature's tenacity: No one was allowed to catch or eat any of the critters inhabiting the objects of the wreck. Bad karma, their thinking went. The sea dwellers were the "archeologists on site" before the humans were.

I've often wondered at the public appeal (and melancholy) of anonymous thrift stores, yard sales, and auctions. Curiosity and sadness lies in the exposure of the contents of our "jars." When we are gone or move on, without context these once-important things seem to diminish and lose their luster, take on a worn fragility. We turn the objects over in our hands, wondering what on earth someone would do with a can of bent nails.

As my daughter packs up her student life to head east for residency, she is thinning through the objects - the stuff - in her young life. Parsing memories from objects, aligning value and function. Wrapping with care. As the great British designer and curator William Morris, the focus of her thesis, famously said, "Have nothing in your homes that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful."

It's not a bad rule for the inside of our heads either.
 Read More 
Be the first to comment

Transience and Imperfection

Gardens of Kyoto: branch supports, moss, cherry blossom petals

THE SOUL FOX
by David Mason

My love, the fox is in the yard.
The snow will bear his print a while,
then melt and go, but we who saw
his way of finding out, his night
of seeking, know what we have seen
and are the better for it. Write.
let the white page bear the mark,
then melt with joy upon the dark.


My recent travels throughout Japan and her islands have left me with a profound appreciation of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, as indelible to the Japanese expression of beauty as classical composition and line is to the Greek.

Often described as an aesthetic infused with the beauty of "the impermanent, the imperfect, and the incomplete," wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society, and sabi meant "chill", "lean" or "withered." Wabi now connotes a gentler rustic simplicity, freshness, or quietness of both natural and human-made objects. An understated elegance. It can refer to the unexpected unique: the marks or anomalies in construction that add originality and elegance to the object. Sabi is that beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear. Sabi encompasses the imperfection and its visible repairs. I think of a cracked piece of worn pottery. The 300 year old branches of a pine tree leaning on man-made supports across the pond. Wabi-sabi mirrors the inherent integrity of the natural world. Extended to the arts, or to a philosophy of life itself, wabi-sabi connotes elements of the unique, asymmetry, asperity, austerity, simplicity, intimacy, modesty. The appeal and the flaws in all that is organic.

Buddhist author Taro Gold has described wabi-sabi as "the wisdom and beauty of imperfection." Several definitions of wabi-sabi address the lingering emotional impact of the artistic world I experienced in Japan. Performances from drumming to geisha dance, curated objects of both the ordinary everyday and those of prized rarity. Extraordinary landscape gardens both grand or intimate, and the elaborate but intriguing meal presentations. "Wabi-sabi," Richard Powell writes, "nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect." Andrew Juniper succinctly addresses what I frequently felt throughout Japan, "If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi."

Understanding emptiness and imperfection is honored as the first step to satori, or enlightenment. In today's Japan, the meaning of wabi-sabi is often condensed to "wisdom in natural simplicity." In art books, it is typically defined as "flawed beauty." For me, wandering through zen gardens perfected in moment by moment evolutions...where the smallest corner of a garden holds a rock basin of rain water reflecting leaf and sky, wabi-wabi carries within it a sense of presence. Attention to the moment; to existence in all its profound renewal and decay. And to balance between what is natural and man-made design. The raked white rocks of the Zen meditation garden are not to be trod upon but to invite reflection. The fallen pink cherry blossoms scattered by the breeze on the forest moss are a distinct beauty: a perfection separate from the riotous bloom of the blossom upon the tree. When we pause to appreciate the patina of an antique, the weathered barn, the accidental poetry of birdsong against a thunderous sky, we experience wabi-sabi.

The Japanese venerate the old. The poignancy of time on all things. What I brought home with me from my travels was a sense that everything is at all times in transience and imperfection. This asymmetry, this attachment and release, is our deepest sense of understanding of what it is to exist.

 Read More 
2 Comments
Post a comment