Literary avatars,Jawara´s story, excerpt

IMG_5726Where do you live when you live in a mattress under a dining table as a roommate to a legal intern? What is your legal address? Do you even have one? You are not freezing at night. You do not go hungry by day. You are alive to the world, breathing, thinking, feeling, and you have a history that walks by your side as you walk past the store fronts on Madison on your way to the subway on 96th Street after your boss has taken off with the food truck towards Queens. His day is not over yet. He still has to drive the truck out, clean and unload it in order to comply with food regulation rules, to keep the truck running that provides both of you with a livelihood but in your case just so.

From the window displays on Fifth and Madison distant galaxies of human existence are reflecting. The entry to these worlds is being jealously guarded by slim young men in well cut suits with cold stares. You don´t even desire the kinds of goods that are hiding behind those faraway windows though you are also not ignorant of them, there is simply no meaning in the acquisition of things that furbish and decorate for events that are not even on your far horizon.

You do desire books though and a place to sit and work quietly. At this moment all you need is a few minutes for yourself, to be a free man and a free agent of your fortune, maybe pretending there was indeed a place for you to go to, not here in the Upper East side, maybe somewhere in Queens like your boss, a place with friends and family waiting for you like back at home. You correct yourself: like it used to be at home.

You stop in front of the book store on Madison Avenue, Crawford & Doyle. You have never once been here during opening hours but you love the window display and the old-world storefront. Your time is ticking, and you are incredibly tired, but you take a few minutes to let your eyes rest on the new arrangement of books. You love book design. Your mother was born in in Saint-Louis, Senegal, where she grew up before moving to Dakar to finish her secondary schooling and becoming a book designer. You know book design because she loves it. You miss her, but you know she approves of you being here and giving it your best shot. And so you feel ashamed that your best shot does not go so very far as you are exhausting yourself working at the food truck so you don´t have to live in the street. Any other city you might be having your own place but here it is all but impossible, all you can afford here is the mattress under a dining room table of a legal intern who is too poor to afford that place on her own.

The studio apartment you share is really small like a doll´s house, which explains why the only place for your mattress is under the table. The intern herself owns next to nothing – but she does own this table that is like a small hut. A table like a boat, like the Arche Noah she once said. New York could drown and all she´d have to do is turn the table over and float out of there. The both of you share the upper part of that table and the kitchen and the bathroom. She has made her own bedroom in a walk-in-closet which accommodates her own mattress underneath the clothes hangers. The arrangement works remarkably well. You are rarely at home when she is, time´s maybe overlapping a few hours at night. She comes in late, often after midnight, you have to get up at 3.30 am to meet your boss set up the food truck in time for the morning crowd of office workers. Both of you try to be mindful of the other´s sleep. Neither one of you brings a lover home though you have once seen her with this tall guy on Bank Street, artist looking type. He would not have fit in that closet. Such a strange thing though to know there is a girl in the closet while you are brushing your teeth. Sometimes she´s talking in her sleep from deep within that closet. New York is a strange place.

All of this you think as you let your eyes travel unseeing over the books displayed in the windows at Crawford & Doyle. You should be writing a book and have it displayed in this book store´s window for people to see and buy, you are a good narrator and a good writer, and you have a story to tell. But even in real life no one here seems to care about your story, you are all but invisible. People ask you for a bottle of Peach Snapple or Newman´s Lemon Ice Tea, they ask for coffee to go, they ask you for a donut with cream cheese or a pretzel with salt which you carefully wrap in a napkin and hand out to your customer, but not before you have carefully counted the change. People don´t care for you touching the pretzel with your hands, they are afraid of touch and life and smell, though the city is full of touch and life and smell, but it is like a playground to them with their own set of rules, it is their playground but your jungle, and they know close to nothing about you and they don´t want to either. You are not their problem, you hand out snacks and food and sugared drinks and coffee in a sanitary, non-threatening, polite way so they can forget about you the moment they bite into their pretzel, you are like an extra to their own, legitimate story while you keep invisible, keep in your place. Your head is so full of life and stories that all you want to do is sit down and start writing, tell a story, only you can´t because you are so tired and lonely and tired again,  so tired you almost hear your thoughts and they are so loud that they are almost painful and the blood rushes to your face, and what you really have to do is to go home and wash the dust off and crawl on to your mattress under the table in order to be able to get up in a few hours to start working again, so you will still have that mattress under the table and water and enough food to survive, and so this will be another night when you don´t start your book. Maybe tomorrow night. Try again. You have not given up quite yet. And you slowly start walking toward the subway station on 96th and your life´s avatars drag behind a bit, still clinging to that beautiful window display.

The invisible Mr. Letterman opens an umbrella on 34th street

No matter how late I left the offices Mr. Letterman never once left before me. The door to his offices remained closed throughout the day and throughout the night. I never saw him coming, I never saw him leaving. I never saw him at all. That might have had something to do with the amount of time I spent in the file closet that was the intern´s work space, basically only leaving for brief meetings with Mr. O´Leary and during office lunch time. I spent a lot of time, really a lot of time, figuring out how to do the most basic things like legal research or how to write a memorandum, more like a first year law student than a graduate preparing for a professional career. In the evening I did a lot of reading. I was never in a hurry to go home. As I had studied in Europe I knew next to nothing about the American legal system when I started my internship. I did not participate in any academic program or training  as I was lacking the funds to pay for that kind of education.  So I spent hours studying, mostly reading up on cases. Mr. O´Leary must have had his own reasons to offer me the internship  during which – strictly speaking – I received more of a general education concerning the legal history of the US than a preparation for any kind of specific legal work. Mr. O´Leary corrected my assignements but he never commented on how long it took me to come up with results. Sometimes a painfully long time. The truth was that I was not qualified at all to fill out the position even as an intern, but Mr O´Leary must have had his own reasons to extend his offer to me.  On my first day he had given me a copy of a handwritten list of chronologically ordered cases decided by the United States Supreme Court . The list concentrated on cases decided during the Rehnquist Court, the tenure of Chief Justice William Rehnquist from September 26, 1986 through September 3, 2005. But there were also cases decided during the Warren Court, the tenure of Chief Justice Earl Warren from October 5, 1953 through June 23, 1969, like Watkins v. United States 354 U.S. 178 (1957) , on the rights of a witness in refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee, or Brandenburg v. Ohio 395 U.S. 444 (1969) on the freedom of speech, incitement to riot, or the during the Burger Court, the tenure of Chief Justice Warren Earl Burger from June 23, 1969 through September 26, 1986, like the New York Times Co. v. United States 403 U.S. 713 (1971) on the Freedom of the press, national security and the Pentagon Papers. And so, I had started reading up on these cases at night, eating take-out at my desk and acting out my very own American dream. At around 6.30 pm most of the staff had left the offices. Mr. O´Leary was gone by 9 pm the latest, having a reservation at his favorite restaurant shortly after each night. Mr. Letterman and I stayed on. Every moment I was aware that my time in the closet was a transient state, to the point of being surreal. And this transient state was somehow counteracted by the reliance of the invisible presence of Mr. Letterman in his office. Sometimes I thought that this balance was the true reason why Mr. O´Leary had offered the internship to me, a transient lawyer who reasoned with the legal avatars who had escaped from the files chosen and who definitely had too much of an imagination to be a lawyer.

If I had theories about Mr. O´Leary, it was really Mr. Letterman who – being invisible – intrigued me. Like all things unknown or unknowable his existence behind the pale glowing door made me curious and inspired me to make up stories. The human mind is wired to fill the gaps with some kind of narrative. And so I invented and then reinvented  Mr. Letterman on my nightly walks through the city that never sleeps.My legal avatars  kept me company for a while and often I did not know who was real and who was invented by me or by someone else, who might be equally subjected to insomnia and trying to people the landscapes of his restless mind. with late night company.  One night it suddenly started raining so hard I took a cab from Bank Street back uptown because I was so tired I was afraid I´d fall asleep on the subway. The rain on the windows of the cab washed down like tears and blurred my night vision of traffic lights and movement  on the street resembling a Gerhard Richter painting in progress. When the cab passed 34th street on Fifth avenue I looked down the street and thought I saw a lonely man with an old fashioned macintosh step out from our office building and unhurriedly opening an umbrella.I recognized him  instantly because he was exactly how I had invented him. I thought about how the act of unhurriedly opening an umbrella could tell you all about a man that you needed to in order to know what to expect of him, what kind if man he was. The moment passed quickly. There was little traffic on Fifth and the cab kept moving. I asked the driver to stop and let me out. By the time I had paid the fare and hurried back to 34th Mr. Letterman was nowhere to be seen. I continued to walk east and kept looking for him without any real plan as to what I would do should I find him again. It felt very urgent to find him but I did not see him or any other man in a macintosh. I carried no umbrella and got soaking wet within minutes. I ended up walking home. That was the only time I ever saw Mr. Letterman.

 

 

 

Mr. O´Leary encounters an act of kindness

 

Mr. O´Leary was highly suspicious of acts of kindness. He had been working in a field – contract law – where nothing ever was what it first seemed to be. As a lawyer he had had to train himself to question not just every contract presented to him, but to question even the expressed will of every client who came to him to have a contract drafted.

This was kind of the connecting negative puzzle piece to the legal plain-meaning rule, a principle used by courts in interpreting contracts that provide that the objective definitions of contractual terms are controlling, irrespective of whether the language comports with the actual intention of either party.

Mr. O´Leary was a specialist in creating contracts that satisfied plain-meaning-interpretation, eliminating inconsistencies and double-meaning phrases, extracting the literal content of the contract from the hidden intention of his clients without making it plain that other than purely legal and contractual reasons were actually motivating his clients to sign a contract that was written thus.

His guiding principle in understanding the lawyer-client relationship was that clients expected him to know about them and their intentions without telling him, in fact, for him to know what they could have known about themselves but preferred not to know and thus would not relate to him in plain terms. He considered it his job to shield them from this kind of painful, self-reflecting knowledge and he was supremely certain that his clients expected him to not ever let them know what they preferred not to know about themselves but to keep it disguised from them while at the same time adjusting the contracts to their hidden goals thus allowing them to continue to feel – reasonably – good about themselves and at the same time satisfy – and justify – their true goals.

When he was a young lawyer still – and green with it – he executed – to the letter and in an irreproachable manner – what clients told him to do and wondered when they paid their bills without complaint and still carried their business elsewhere afterwards. But he was quick on the uptake and soon adjusted his business conduct. There were certainly things they did not teach you at law school. Ever since he´d adjusted his guiding principles , clients, high paying clients, knew how to find him even though he was literally hiding amidst his file boxes like the Minotaur at the heart of the labyrinth Daedalus designed.

A graduate and scholarship student of the University of Chicago Law school Mr. O´Leary in his day had had his choice of law firms who´d have been glad to consider his application. He was extremely smart and had an impeccable work ethic. He´d also been subject to the same prep-talk (he called it propaganda) of „success“ as his class mates. Judged by how their alma mater described her alumni they all were but a group of friends who would pick up the phone anytime one of them called with a question and sat down with him to walk through issues. According to their law school they all were extremely fun, thoughtful, smart, and FUN students, and would continue to bring the same energy to their work as lawyers.

It was not that he did not appreciate the excellent education and rigorous academic training he had received.He also knew that the average salary for newly minted law graduates was nearly about $180,000 per year by now and that the graduates were worth it. It meant that as a lawyer with no experience he could have immediately be in the top 5% of U.S. earners. But for some unfathomable reason he also knew that students graduating from a top tier law school were the same as people on average with the only – significant – difference that they were subject to more diversion and temptation.

He did not graduate top of his class to be diverted from life. He could have taken three or four top performing associates from any top law firm and founded his own big law firm as a naming partner. It was all within his reach. But it was not what he had wanted.

If it seemed strange to others that he had accepted Mr. Letterman´s offer to become a partner on 35th street rather than to join one of the top ten law firms in New York and get worn down as an associate there before being hired by an excellent law firm and becoming partner eventually it was because they did not know some of the things about him, he thought he had realized early on.

It was not a sign of humility that he had chosen Mr. Letterman sen. instead. It was not exceptional that he did not get drunk on the prep talk of success. He had not been a recluse in law school. He had actually differed from the other highly motivated graduates and future pilars of society in a degree up, not down, by a notch. He had wanted more. It had been an extreme act of arrogance and late-puberty idealism (the same) and the result of careful research. He had been very clear to himself about what he thought he wanted and what he thought he did not want.

He was convinced back then – and was convinced still – that life mostly just happened to people, even or especially people who graduated from top tier law schools. Even early on in law school, he was convinced that people wasted about 15 – 20 years of their lives and took another ten to rectify their initial mistakes, if they were so lucky to live as long as that. He was not going to be cheated by life in this manner.

Mr. Letterman had an excellent reputation. You did have to know  how to find him. The office address was not sufficient to get in touch with him. But Mr. O`Leary was a good observer. Mr. O´Leary had also been told that Mr. Letterman sen. was legend and did not accept any applications. He had been told that even if Mr. Letterman would accept an application, he´d be likely not to pay the kind of salary that a University of Chicago Law school graduate legitimately could expect as a starting salary. This was concluded by the state of Mr. Letterman´s cramped office and filing system.

But what mattered to Mr. O´Leary was something fairly abstract and elusive: he was convinced that Mr. Letterman was one of the few lawyers he´d ever encountered who was in charge of his own life. His research showed that nobody took Mr. Letterman sen. along for a ride. As Mr. O´Leary saw it, Mr. Letterman owed nobody a kindness. He certainly did not owe him, a recent graduate, an opportunity to reach out for the kind of life he thought Mr. Letterman had found. He knew though he was depending on an act of kindness for Mr. Letterman to accept his application.

Not that he believed in it. In kindness. He had been practicing law for many years now and he had lived in NYC for as many years and he was sure, absolutely sure, that he had never encountered a genuine act of kindness apart from Mr. Letterman´s willingness – as many years ago – to accept his application.

Abitur 2016

Für einen Augenblick,gerade jetzt, stehen dort draussen vor den Türen die Uhren still, hebt ein Hund regungslos sein Bein am nächsten Baum, lässt eine Greisin die Griffe ihres Walkers los, streckt ihren Rücken so gut es geht und verharrt, schwingt eine Schaukel mit einem kleinen Jungen bis zum Zenith und nicht zurück. Der Lärm der nahen Autobahn verstummt, ein Containerschiff hält unvermittelt gegen alle Regeln der klassischen Mechanik und das Wasser im Kanal sieht aus wie das Meer in der Augsburger Puppenkiste.
Die Elemente,aus denen Ihr Körper gemacht ist, kommen aus dem geordneten Chaos aus Gas und Staub,mit dem die junge Erde vor 4,5 Milliarden Jahren um die Protosonne kreiste. Wenn die Erde einen Tag alt wäre, so träte der Mensch an diesem Tag drei Sekunden vor Mitternacht in Erscheinung. Und Sie selber, auch wenn Sie hundert Jahre alt werden, sind ein elektrisches Flimmern, das sich mit bloßem Auge nicht wahrnehmen lässt. Für einen unfassbar kurzen Augenblick nur entstehen Gestalt und Bewusstsein. Sie haben, mit anderen Worten, 4,5 Milliarden Jahre geschlafen, um für den Bruchteil einer Sekunde auf der Erde zu erwachen, offenbar unter anderem, um ihr Abitur zu machen.
Und deshalb steht dort draussen die Zeit jetzt still. Denn dieser Augenblick gehört Ihnen, und es ist ein verwunschener Augenblick.Und wenn Sie diesen Augenblick verlassen, indem Sie nach dieser Feier wieder auf die Straße treten, beginnt unter Ihren Füßen der Weg, der bis zu den Enden der Welt führt. Ein Weg, der sich tausendfach verzweigt und den man doch in allen Abschnitten eigentlich nur auf eine Weise gehen kann: Never save for the way back.
Die Welt, in die Sie jetzt als Erwachsene hineinwachsen, ist, befürchte ich, zwar in keinem wohl geordneten Zustand. Es wird seit einiger Zeit sehr deutlich: wir, Ihre Eltern, haben es uns zu lange erlaubt, unpolitisch zu leben. Sie werden diesen Luxus nicht mehr haben. Viele der Wünsche für die Zukunft, die ich in Ihrer Abizeitung gelesen habe, werden sich nur erfüllen wenn Sie selbst dazu beitragen, die Welt so zu gestalten, dass sie lebenswert bleibt.
Als Ihre Eltern haben wir nicht das Recht, von Ihnen verlangen, dass Sie hinter uns aufräumen. Es wird Ihnen aber wohl nichts anderes übrig bleiben. Wir haben Ihnen Häuser gebaut, jetzt müssen Sie Mauern überwinden. Wir haben Ihnen Gärten angelegt, jetzt müssen Sie durch die Wüste ziehen. Wir haben Ihnen Gesetze gegeben, jetzt kämpfen Sie um eigene Regeln. Wenn Sie es nicht schon getan haben, lernen Sie es jetzt, uns in Frage zu stellen. Trotzdem wünschen wir uns von Ihnen, dass Sie Ihren Teil dazu beitragen werden, dass es weiter Menschlichkeit, Gerechtigkeit und Freiheit in unserer Gesellschaft gibt, und dass Sie die Überzeugung nicht aufgeben, dass es ohne diese kein menschenwürdiges Dasein geben kann.
Noch einen letzten Rat zum Abschied: Wenn Sie sich derzeit in Ihrer Berufswahl noch schwer tun und sich fürchten, sich falsch zu entscheiden, so stellen Sie sich vor, Sie wären schon steinalt und würden auf Ihr Leben zurückschauen. Dieses fernen Tages werden Sie sich nicht dazu gratulieren, dass Sie 40.000,00 oder 70.000,00 oder 150.000 oder 500.000 Euro im Jahr verdient haben. Aber Sie werden an Menschen denken, die in Ihrem Leben wichtig waren und in deren Leben, mit etwas Glück, Sie wichtig waren. Erfolg läßt sich nicht an Ihrem Abiturschnitt messen, es wird sich nicht an Ihrer Berufswahl oder Ihrem Einkommen messen lassen, sondern daran, ob Sie wirklich lebendig waren in Ihrer Lebenszeit, ob Sie gestaunt und geliebt haben, welchen Weg auch immer Sie gewählt haben, wählen werden. Also wählen Sie mit leichtem Herzen.
Nutzen Sie Ihren Sekundenbruchteil von Bewusstsein in der Ewigkeit und seien Sie Teil dieser Welt, so, dass man es sieht, fühlt und hört, dass Sie da sind. Erkennen Sie das Provisorische Ihrer Zeit. Ich wünsche Ihnen, dass Sie für etwas brennen, dass Sie sich vom Leben entflammen lassen. Alles andere wäre Verschwendung. To give less than your best is to waste the gift. Weniger als Ihr Bestes zu geben ist eine Verschwendung Ihres Talents.
Sie haben Milliarden Jahre geschlafen, jetzt ist Ihr kurzer Augenblick, zu strahlen. Sie haben nichts zu verlieren. Nehmen Sie Ihr Abitur als Ticket für eine fantastische Reise. Machen Sie unbedingt Fehler auf dem Weg. Lieben Sie jemanden. Schützen Sie jene, die schwächer sind als Sie selbst. Finden Sie Freundschaft. Das Leben ist ein Fest.
Und egal, was Sie studieren oder was für eine Ausbildung Sie machen, lernen Sie auch etwas über unseren einzigartigen Planeten, über das Universum, das uns umgibt, über das Wesen der Zeit und über das Kilogramm Gehirn in Ihrem Schädel.

Ice fishing on Lake Willoughby, Sunday’s draft  

IMG_2386

So grandfather went out again in the morning and – coming back in from the cold -declared grimly that they should try and get some sleep

 as the ice was sound enough now, and they would go ice-fishing at nightfall and stay out in the bitter cold until almost midnight. Burbot mainly feed at night and that is when they had to set their lines.
Grandfather in the meantime put on single hooks with a gap between point and shank larger than ¾ of an inch. He stored them carefully in two 5 gallon buckets, each large enough to carry many sets of lines made from dowels. For each line they had about 8-ounce sinkers. Because together these were too heavy for the buckets, they were packed separately in rough hemp sacks. He packed two sleds with supplies, one for himself and Joe and one for Will who was old enough now to do his own fishing at a hole about 70 ft, away from theirs. He packed rope, ice picks and augers, a spud bar, two horse blankets for each of them and extra mittens.

As fishing burbot is done with hooks flat on the ground so they did not walk too far from the shore because the reef at the shore of the lake, as you know, falls off steeply into the main lake basin, deeper than any line is long that has ever been cast down the lake. 300 ft. maybe more. Nobody knows what creatures might be living down there, in the abyss of darkness but I guess they would not be a welcome sight in our world.

Burbot spawn on the rocks and boulders in 2 to 20 feet of water, and that is fairly close to shore, on the reef and the first drop-off at the base of the reef. But staying close to the shore was dangerous, as the edges of the ice can be much thinner and shallow water in general changes temperature more readily and the ice is unstable. And even when the ice had formed to grandfather’s satisfaction, we were aware that sometimes, not too often, the ice somewhere out on the lake from the depth of the basin, could shatter with the sound of a whip or a scream and rip through the ice all the way to shore with deadly speed. If you heard the whip you were to make for shore, leave everything behind, not care for catch nor supplies, just run. That’s why you would never put a good knife down on the ice, while fishing, and why you kept the ice pick in your belt as well. These things were hard to come by – alas not as hard as two healthy sons. So even if, by any chance, you had left your tools where you were not to leave them, you were still expected to run.

It was dangerous to go out there, and both, grandfather and grandmother, were weary to let Joe and Will join in, but they needed the extra hands to make enough catch or else they would starve to death.

Will and Joe did not mind the danger, far from it, they could not wait to get out onto the ice. They were boys, locked in a cabin for many weeks, safe some small outings, and they were missing summer and their freedom. They even enjoyed the idea of danger as much as any boy would, and they trusted above all that grandfather, who could walk on ice as fine as a sheet of parchment, knew when the right time had come for them to go out.

And the adults in their own way also were impatient and found it hard to wait for the ice to get sound enough, for the best time to catch burbot is their spawning season, a time when there was not only burbot but also plenty of whitefish and pike to be caught, while after the season passed the lake could look like a desert and you wouldn’t spot another burbot until next winter for they lived in the depth.

The lake had glazed over and the ice had hardened and grown without any snow, making the safest ice you could hope for.

And the most beautiful, too, though it does get very dark at night at your fishing hole, the ice becomes like a window into the lake. And if you are patient , just before nightfall, and despite the cold hold your position on the ice without moving, you can watch the burbot trough the ice as about a dozen males and females form a writhing ball several feet in diameter and dance what looks like an agonizing devil’s dance under water, rolling over the bottom of the shallows and muddying the waters under the black ice. 

Don’t forget, they are creatures of the deep. They have sharp teeth and they are mighty strong predators, skimming the shallows for crayfish, perch, minnows and even creatures almost their own size when it’s time to feed. Fearless they are. And they will fight back when they have fallen prey to your bait and hooks.

Sonntag Nachmittag beim Malen: Gedanken für das nächste Kapitel meines neuen Buches, eine Skizze

Sonntag Nachmittag, beim Malen, wenn die Gedanken ohne Ordnung kommen und wie Schatten über die Bildoberfläche huschen. Und so entsteht, nach und nach, eine Idee für  das nächste  Kapitel meines neuen Buches: “Unser Bewusstsein, finden wir es nicht reflektiert in … Continue reading

The elusive act of teaching children how to be creative …

To be creative is a basic desire of humans, all humans. It is a genuine expression of who we are even before we are defined by our social and economic circumstances. To teach a child to be creative therefore seems … Continue reading

deep blue pride / from my new novel (nasciturus pro iam nato habetur, quotiens de commodius eius agitur)

IMG_2442One day Aunt Melissy, Uncle Joe and a I had been invited to an assembly on a Sunday after church to the church elder and his wife. The men and boys were gathering in the meeting hall of the church while the womenfolk were expected to assemble at the church elder’s house. His wife was entertaining us with cake and good strong smelling coffee in her dining room that was big enough to fit at least twenty people at the table and then some around the benches placed at the wall. Even at such a gathering  there was no idle chatter but the women discussed who in the community was in need of support or charity and how the community should cooperate to provide it. The girls were clearly as bored as any girl at any time would have been even though I was sure they were working as hard and obediently as I was. We were all seated alongside the wall on the benches, holding on to our mugs and a piece of cake. I exchanged glances with a girl about my age who was seated across the table at the other wall. The girl seemed strangely familiar but I could not place her face. She was dressed just a bit prettier than the other girls and in fact she was a bit prettier than everybody else.  After we had finished our coffee she got up, left the room and returned with a tray to collect our mugs and the dishes we had been balancing on our knees. When she took mine she made a funny face at me, and the girl next to me giggled. I couldn’t tell whether she had been laughing at me or about me but the pretty girl had already filled her tray and carried it out of the room. When she came back into the room she did not reclaim her seat on the bench but stood next to the state elder’s wife, her hands neatly folded in front of her apron and  waiting to be allowed to address the woman sitting at the table. Finally, her mother decided to look up and notice her. As soon as her eyes found her daughter’s smile you could see the smallest glimpse of pleasure and pride you will ever catch in another person’s face. I looked at Aunt Melissy. Nothing much escaped her sharp birdlike eyes and, sure enough, she was squinting her eyes in the familiar way she displayed only when she was alarmed by some misbehavior while observing elder’s wife intently. The lady was well trained though and the moment of satisfaction with her daughter’s beauty and well-displayed training had passed quickly and had been replaced with the usual sober inquiry she met everyone in her church with, never letting on that she was the first lady of the community. I think that in this moment though I knew that behind all of this admirable display of virtue people were as they are through all times – well meaning at their best, proud and ambitious underneath, full of insecurity and doubt. Maybe even Aunt Melissy knew some of these feelings. I looked at her. Nah, not Aunt Melissy, I corrected myself. Maybe every hundred years or so somebody came along who was actually virtuous and good to a fault. In this room I knew this one person not to be the church elders’ wife  but Aunt Melissy.

Coloring a map of the United States with Sennelier pastels

My mother was busy preparing dinner and answering questions my sister had while sitting at the big wooden table and doing her homework. This evening she was coloring and cutting out the states and gluing them in the right place … Continue reading