Friday, September 23, 2016

Mnemosyne and the City Block

By chance, I was in the vicinity of my old neighborhood the other day and decided to drive through. I frequently drive by it but very rarely through it, though when I lived in my last place, its streets were almost as familiar to me as the back of my hand. As often happens with the passage of time, I found that I now had a different feeling about it. What was once merely commonplace and familiar now had a heightened significance: the brief excursion was like a homecoming of sorts, in spite of the fact that I still live in the same general area. (You'd probably laugh if you knew how close my current place is to my last one, but sometimes even a small distance can make a big difference. It feels like a different world over here.)

So I drove through and noted something that shouldn't have surprised me but did, a little. The streets of modest bungalows mixed in with a few apartment buildings were mostly intact, but here and there houses had been torn down and replaced with what I take to be student housing, newer construction that doesn't match the look of the older brick dwellings and single-family homes of the neighborhood. I'm not certain if a person unfamiliar with the old look would be struck as much as I was by the patchwork quality of the neighborhood as it is now, but to me it was as if I had seen the handwriting on the wall. The neighborhood is changing--I wonder how much of it will even be there 20 years from now.

A eulogy is still somewhat premature, and I really have no say in what happens to a neighborhood I don't live in, so I'm strictly giving my personal reaction here--but it did make me sad. It's not the fact of change in itself but the way in which it seems to be tearing holes in the fabric of something that used to seem organic and of a piece. I used to walk those streets every day without thinking about them much, but after driving through the other night, I started thinking about Joni Mitchell's song "Big Yellow Taxi." It is indeed true that "you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." Understand, we're not talking paradise here, but rather a very ordinary neighborhood . . . though I don't know, I guess it depends on how you define paradise.

I started to remember small things from the days when I was a familiar sight on those streets: the day in late April, finals nearly completed, when I suddenly noticed how gorgeous the dogwoods were at the end of one street. The flat-roofed home that I always thought looked like a Florida house, an anomaly in that neighborhood but a reminder of my childhood. The stretch of shady street overhung with trees that somehow gave the impression, for a quick half block, of a country lane, especially on a hot summer day. The house with the lamppost in the front yard that gave me a comfortable feeling, especially that night I was out walking with friends and the lamp was on when we passed by. I couldn't find it the other night and don't know if I just missed it or if it's been torn down.

After my detour through the neighborhood, I was in a thoughtful mood, thinking about things, people, and places that have passed through my life. In a strange miracle of timing, a friend from the old days called the next afternoon to say she was going to be in town. I told her about what had happened. We didn't spend a lot of time reminiscing, but the subject of how much time has passed did arise. She commented on how long ago it all seems, and I said that to me it feels like almost another lifetime. She herself, however, seemed unchanged, which was some consolation.

I was just writing about the inevitability of flux last week. If someone is going to put up a new building, I would rather they did it with some regard for aesthetics, but realistically speaking this isn't always going to happen. Nevertheless, places matter, as do trees, buildings, and homes. One realizes that paradise will occasionally be paved over, as Ms. Mitchell says, for a parking lot (or parking structure, in this case), and you're going to lose a lamppost here and there, and as long as some things remain constant, I guess it's not a total loss. Knowing that it won't always happen, I still wish, though, for some attention to things past and some respect for the spirit of place, something our society hasn't always been good at giving.

If we don't respect where we've been, how can we build something worth moving toward?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Innocence and Experience

You know, I think Heraclitus was right: we really don't step in the same river twice. I've certainly found this to be true of my relationship with authors and books. I know I've mentioned the way a book can seem different when you re-read it after many years, but I also find that a new work by an author I'm familiar with can elicit reactions I wouldn't have had the first time around. It's not always a matter of enjoying the work more or less (though sometimes it is); it's more a function of relating to it from a place of wider experience. It can mean you're more critical, or it can mean you're more deeply appreciative. It can also mean you miss being able to see things with "Beginner's Mind." (I'm not going to say that being more critical is always an improvement.)

It's a little like the experience of going back to a place you knew as a child--a school building, for instance--and finding that it looks so much smaller than you remembered it. In a certain sense, it is smaller, because you yourself have grown, but the apparent change is only the result of you getting taller. Objectively, the building's dimensions are unchanged.

Recently, I managed to get hold of the edition of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that I remembered from my childhood and had been searching for for years.  Trying to locate this book, in which I first encountered the story of the Holy Grail, had itself almost taken on the elusive quality of a Grail Quest. I remembered what the book looked like but not the author or publisher. For years I looked in bookstores, often finding illustrated versions of the King Arthur story, but never "The One." The edition of The Romance of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Alfred W. Pollard that I came across years ago and purchased came the closest in its solemnity of tone and language. I knew, though, that it wasn't the one I was remembering; the illustrations didn't match, and the telling didn't include a key episode I recalled at the beginning. Nice, but no cigar.

But years later, behold: the power of the Internet. One day it occurred to me to try just typing a description of the book into Google. There was a time this wouldn't have worked, but the sophistication of search tools these days along with the sheer volume of information that's out there now made me realize this method really wasn't all that quixotic. And it worked! After a couple of tries, the object of my search appeared on the screen in front of me, the same cover, the same title page. With a few keystrokes, my quest had ended. A short while later, I had the book, and although the edition arrived with a different color cover than the one we'd had as kids, it was undoubtedly the same book.

Or was it? It was definitely the right book, though a slightly different edition. The color was blue instead of the deep maroon I remembered, and it seemed smaller (and may actually be smaller, although that, too, may be an illusion). It would be exaggerating to say that the experience of opening the book again was on par with Keats' experience "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer." I didn't gaze with "wild surmise" or fall silent, as if staring "from a peak in Darien," but I was pretty excited. The episode of the dragons was there, and the illustrations, so vaguely remembered, were the right ones. But as I looked through the pages, I found, to my great surprise and dismay, that the language, once so evocative, now seemed more obviously written for a child. The glowing, full-color illustrations had lost their high magic and seemed more ordinary than I remembered.

Alas, what is this? Is this what we call "growing up"? I recall how remote and mysterious the doings of Arthur's court seemed to me as a nine-year-old, part of the mystery deriving from the fact that the characters were all adults, with adult motivations and aspirations. Now that I am an adult, I guess the glamour has worn off that particular part of the rose. The characters, not only in the telling but in what they represent, seem much less compelling than they once did, even more cartoon-like. I have not re-read the book from start to finish; it may be that in doing that, I will rediscover some of the magic that was formerly there. One thing's for sure, though, and that is that it will not be the book it once was for me.

Last year, I had a similar experience in re-reading the book of a very accomplished travel writer--similar, but with a difference. I found that I enjoyed her descriptions of places and activities--the angle of light on a certain street corner, the taste of a particular dish--more than ever. I often felt that I was seeing things right along with her, and this must surely be because I'm more in touch with the world of the senses than I was when I was younger and tended to have my head in the clouds. I appreciate the simple justness of a description, the precision of a scene well rendered. On the other hand, I found myself getting angry with her over what I experienced as her uncritical religious faith, which she wrote of openly. I was constantly thinking things like, "How can you believe that!" and "Yes, but . . ." Of course, this merely reflects my own thinking; another reader may well find her expressions of faith beautiful and inspirational. The point is, I don't recall being bothered by that aspect of the book at all when I first read it.

More recently, I've been reading a book by an author in the depth tradition whose work I know. For me, it's a new book, and while I'm familiar with his thinking, I find that I'm arriving at it from a different place, that I'm much more likely to engage in mental arguments with him. Early on, he was one of the first modern thinkers I came across who was writing from a mythic and Jungian perspective, and I treasured my experience of his books. I still find what he has to say thought provoking and useful, but I sometimes find myself in profound disagreement with him. Instead of plunging in headlong, as I used to, I read now with a bit more resistance.

Of course, this merely means that I'm a more critical reader, which is not at all surprising, but I have to say that I am missing the lost magic of my King Arthur book. There's a time and a place for the critical mind and a time and a place to be open to wonder. I've known people who get the greatest satisfaction from figuring out the mystery or anticipating the end before it happens, but I'm not really one of them. I'd rather have joy than be right every time. Do we have to lose all innocence in the name of experience? I hope not . . . though some people will tell you otherwise.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Genius Loci

As a follow-up to last week's post about Rebecca Solnit's book on the anthropology of walking, I should mention that I went out of my usual bounds today to take a short walk downtown. I used to work downtown, and its streets, buildings, cafes, and sidewalks were a part of everyday life, but I rarely have reason to go there anymore. I was only there today because I needed to go to the library on an errand and decided it would be easiest to go to the main branch. I was struck by how little downtown felt like a "hometown" any more, in any sense of the word. I almost had the feeling that I had been living elsewhere and dropped in for a visit after an absence of several years--that's how alien it felt. And yet I've been here all along.

There have been many, many changes downtown over the years; I'm old enough to remember "Urban Renewal," and even before that, what the city looked like when it still had department stores on Main Street. I have nothing against shopping malls per se, but I do think the decline of downtown areas as principal shopping districts has had a bad effect on many communities that they have spent years trying to compensate for. In many cases, "downtown" is still the principal business district and offers such diversions as restaurants, museums, and nightclubs--such is the case here. But the changes I felt were more subtle than the coming and going of a business, the resurfacing of a street, or the introduction of a new parking lot. The soul of the place seemed to have leaked out somehow.

It looks much the same now as it did when I was down there every weekday, but it felt foreign to me. Of course, you have a major problem any time the center of your downtown district has, literally, a hole in it. Directly across from the library is a huge pit in the ground that takes up an entire block, the result of a stalled construction project that began a number of years ago, when I still worked downtown, in fact. Why would any city, especially one with such pride in its historic districts and one-time reputation as the "Athens of the West," allow such a gaping hole to exist for years at a time in one of the most visible spots in the entire city? Good question.

Some people regarded the long-existing buildings on the block before demolition as eyesores; others saw them as treasures. I remember trying to frame what was happening during the initial controversy over the project, a proposed multi-story hotel, in mythological terms. Certainly it seemed that two diametrically opposed forces were at work, one that valued the old and one that championed the new, a sort of clash of the Titans. Regardless of the merits of the project itself and who was right and who was wrong about its benefits and costs, it's tough to argue that having what looks like a rock quarry in the middle of Main Street is an improvement over what was there before. It gives downtown an air of neglect.

I can remember when it was fun to walk around and notice little things, a pocket garden here, a public art project there, something in a store window that caught the eye. A public art project called "Horse Mania" once transformed the streets into an outdoor sculpture garden with creativity and imagination on display at every turn--who would have thought there were so many ways to interpret the basic form of a fiberglass horse? Another project involved the installation of doors recovered from a demolished housing project that had been transformed into works of art--pure genius.

When I looked around today, I noticed a couple of sad-looking murals, neither one of which did much to appeal to either the eye or the heart. I actually stopped and asked a parking lot attendant who had painted the mural of the somewhat demented-looking elvish creatures presiding over one corner. He couldn't tell me. Any city that allows something like that to pass for art needs a bit of shaking up, if you ask me, and you didn't, but I'll tell you anyway. No amount of Thursday Night Lives or Gallery Hops is going to cover up something like that. Why is it even there?

It seems to me that the genius loci of our town is either missing in action, falling down on the job, or has something else in mind. If that's what passes for progress, I guess I'll stick to the suburbs. They're only marginally better, but at least there's no risk of stepping off the sidewalk and falling into a chasm that could lead, who knows, right into the center of the earth. I mean, it's a really big hole.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Walking in the World

This week I finished reading Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust, a book about the anthropology of walking. I bought it in the gift shop of a labyrinth site years ago, around the time I was starting to write my dissertation, and while it includes a section on labyrinths, it covers many other topics, including walking as politics, art, recreation, travel, and protest. The genius of this work lies in the way it takes a simple, everyday act and reveals how complex it really is when viewed through multiple lenses: scientific, poetic and literary, religious, sociological, legal, historical, and artistic.

As Ms. Solnit describes it, the history of walking can almost be seen as an analog of the history of human consciousness. There was a time when people simply walked to get from place to place, without necessarily thinking about it. When they did become conscious of walking as an act that could be indulged in for other than utilitarian reasons, it rose from the level of biological behavior to cultural phenomenon. A person might walk for enjoyment and the expression of individual freedom, as did the Wordsworths in the Lake District; in concert with others as an expression of social solidarity or political protest; for religious reasons, as in a pilgrimage, for reasons of health; or, in an especially self-conscious and highly evolved version of the act, as performance art.

Some of this may sound a bit frivolous or light-hearted, but underlying all of these various dimensions of walking is the fact that it is ultimately an expression of individual will. The author's exploration of the ways in which societies have attempted to limit where and when their citizens may walk reveals that there are reasons besides those of safety and order for imposing controls on this basic act. Especially intriguing, as Solnit points out, is the role public spaces play in facilitating or hindering the movement and assembly of citizens as participants in their government, especially when they are advocating for change.

Solnit mentions two cities as particularly conducive to citizen gatherings: San Francisco and Paris, both of which are known for vibrant street life, protest, and revolution. Especially enlightening was her consideration of Paris as it was during the Revolution (still a largely medieval city with many narrow streets and byways) and as it was post-Baron Haussmann (redesigned, with many wide, straight boulevards), both of which managed to accommodate a determined citizenry seeking social change. The fact that Parisians utilized the city streets to advantage both before and after the redesign says more about the ingenuity of the people than it does about the success of the government in controlling their behavior--but it's also true that cities can discourage people from moving about, assembling, and engaging in civic life, either by laws or design decisions.

I would have enjoyed a look at some of the American cities, such as Boston, that played a role in our own American Revolution. I do know that in its modern form Boston is a great city for pedestrians; I'm not sure what role its layout might have played in the events of the eighteenth century. It's certainly possible to argue that, based on events such as Occupy Wall Street and other recent protests, any city, even some of those Solnit deems less conducive to activism, can be transformed when people are motivated enough to hit the streets.

Of course, I read the book through the lens of my own experiences as a walker, which are largely centered on exercise, enjoyment, and the need to get from place to place (with an occasional foray into protest as well). And here, I'll make an admission: although I enjoy walking and hiking and have engaged in both in all kinds of weather, and although I have written a book on labyrinths, I'm not especially fond of labyrinth walking. I find labyrinths beautiful, but in actual practice they usually don't conform to my idea of pleasurable walking, being too narrow for the purpose, with too many awkward turns. If mobility and freedom are the chief pleasures of walking, labyrinths act to constrict that freedom, requiring you, if you stay within the lines, to curtail your movements to a predetermined path. I know that some people find this meditative and soothing, and I'll certainly allow that there are times this might be so, but when I set out to walk, I like the idea that I am the author of it, not the reader of someone else's signposts.

One of walking's great benefits is that, under most circumstances (unless you're a stair walker or something similar), you're required to keep your feet on the ground or close to it. It may seem too obvious to matter, but walking, by its very nature, encourages a mindset of groundedness, even if you're daydreaming, writing poetry, or solving mathematical problems while you're doing it. Your mind can roam at will, but your feet are still on the earth, and your view of things is similar to what it has always been for human beings, close to the ground, looking up at the trees and the sky. I rather like that aspect of it; all I ask for is sturdy shoes.

If you're interested in such questions as: How did humans become bipedal? What is a flaneur? Why do Jane Austen's heroines spend so much time walking outdoors? Is walking on a treadmill real walking? and Why would you spend three months walking across China to greet someone and then keep going? you will likely get much enjoyment from Solnit's book. She answers these and many other questions and may transform the way you think about walking.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

I Dreamed of Hibiscus

In Biblical times, dreams were apparently taken far more seriously than we take them today. They were considered revelatory and even prophetic; to act on the basis of a perceived message or warning in a dream was not considered foolish, but wise. I've heard stories of many modern people, most of them quite rational, who also believe that some vital information or answer to a problem came to them in a dream, and I have no trouble believing it. I've sometimes been surprised at a dream that seemed to reveal knowledge I had about a person or situation that I wasn't at all conscious of at the time I had the dream. "How did I know that?" is no longer a question I ask. Wisdom comes to us through a variety of experiences that we file away but don't entirely forget.

I had a very vivid and colorful dream this morning, and I'm sharing it because I think it encapsulates what I think of as the spirit of the times, at least as I see them. I'm not the Oracle of Delphi--I think the same information is available to all of us, but maybe I have more training in dealing with my intuitive side than many people do. I'm not afraid of it, as I think some who value logic and pure reasoning above all else sometimes are. Our society tends be weighted more towards thinkers than feelers, as I understand it. I don't think of the type of intelligence represented by dreams and intuition as irrational but rather as just another type of knowledge, another source of information to take account of. In fact, at its core, intuition is probably rational knowledge based on sources of information you weren't entirely aware of when you picked them up, simple as that.

The order of events in the dream is a little confused in my mind, but I'll start with the part in which a friend suddenly appeared outside the door of my building. I was quite surprised to see her, and she told me she thought I had moved. Apparently, there had been a letter that I hadn't answered, and she had told me about her intention to visit. The joy at seeing a friend was tempered by a sense that there was some confusion or misapprehension on her part about what I had been doing with myself.

We went inside, and there was a restaurant on the first floor, where we spent some time placing an order at the counter. Up a steep flight of steps, there was a room with a large bed in it. My friend, who had a couple of people with her, one of whom may have been her husband, got into the bed and sat there chatting with me as I sat at the side, partially covered by a blanket. I believe there was also someone standing next to me. I wondered whether I should go to bed, too, but instead, I got up and started pointing out the features of the room, the color of the walls, which were a soft peach, the beautiful, gleaming hardwood floors, which had evidently received a recent coat of varnish (prompting some laughter when I pointed it out), and some rays of sunlight that touched the floor in a couple of places.

The room was pleasant but rather empty. I looked out the window and saw the yard outside, and after that, I seemed to be by myself for a short interval, floating above a canopy of tropical flowers and foliage, as if there were a conservatory on an upper floor and I was hovering over it. There were a number of red flowers similar to hibiscus, and I saw a large spider walk over one of them before climbing down a wall to the floor. As I floated down the aisle, I saw that there were quite a few of these large spiders walking on the foliage.

After that, I confronted my friend and told her that I didn't believe we were where she said we were at all. I didn't entirely blame her for the confusion, but I felt it was important to clear it up as a sort of Matrix type of fluidity of space and time was occurring that was very disorienting. At that point, we were outside, standing on a street with some commercial buildings nearby, as if we were in the outskirts of a town. A few other people were standing about, as if some public event were taking place, and though the scene looked more like suburban Louisville than anything else, I told my friend very firmly that she was wrong: we weren't at my apartment building, we were in Texas.

There were other parts of this dream in which I was in a hair salon (hair salons and appointments to get my hair cut are a recurring theme in recent dreams), but that's basically the gist of it. The overriding tenor of the dream was an awareness of multiple versions of reality being presented at a rapid-fire pace and a reluctance to accept someone else's version over my own.

If you're wondering why I said this dream is an emblem of the times, you must not be paying much attention to the news, for, of course, in an election year, one does hear multiple claims of truth-telling, the problem being that they mostly conflict with one another. I often get the sense when perusing the news that various viewpoints are actually screaming for my attention; I just consider what makes sense and refrain from rushing to judgment. I consider that some of what I read is true but not all of it, which is but stating the obvious. This is no doubt the way it is all the time, but this year the process seems to be in overdrive, with two major party candidates anathemic to large portions of the public having risen to the top.

There is also a sense in which this dream is personal, of course, and I don't consider that any less important than the collective aspect of it. Personal and collective seemed to very intertwined in this dream, but I won't bore you with any analysis of what my dream means to me personally. That's a story for another day. If you insist on a summation of what message there might be in this dream that's of any help to anyone, it might be, "Well, enjoy the flowers, but don't overlook the spiders. And actually, don't make too many assumptions about the relative merits of flowers and spiders. They could both be iffy."

OK, the anti-oracle has spoken. Now back to our regular programming.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Rabbit's Life

This week, from the Re-Visiting Books From a Long Time Ago department: Watership Down. If memory serves, I first read the book 35 years ago this summer, which is an amazingly long time ago when you think about it. The only thing I remembered was that it concerned a group of rabbits who were displaced from their burrow by a construction project and had to find a new home. I'd forgotten everything else, except that it had seemed a novel concept for a book-length work of adult fiction. (I just learned that some people consider it children's literature--if it is, it's an extraordinarily nuanced and sophisticated example of the genre.)

Once more, I find that the passage of time seems to have turned a work into something completely different than I remember, so different that it's hard to believe this is the same book I read all those years ago. It's almost as if, as Shakespeare puts it, it has undergone "a sea-change." Of course, I know that isn't right, because the words on the page haven't altered--it's the reader who is different. Back then, I found the book moderately diverting, but this time, I was struck at every turn by the sheer humanity of the author, if that doesn't sound like an odd thing to say about a novel about rabbits. My own imaginative powers seem to have expanded enough that I can now take in the great feat Richard Adams accomplished by entering so sensitively into the lives of non-human protagonists.

The book almost made me want to be a rabbit--in spite of the inherent hazards of the lifestyle (and the fact that you have to live underground). Humans do not come off particularly well in most of the book, and while the rabbits have their faults, it would almost be worth giving up the advantages of being human for such companions as Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Holly, and their friends. Their resourcefulness, courage, ingenuity, and loyalty to one another put the rest of us to shame, I'm afraid. I was so engrossed in the story that I had a hard time putting the book down, and I cried at the end, which rarely happens. I was hoping against hope, every time the rabbits faced seemingly impossible odds--trying to cross a river, escaping from foxes, stoats, and cats, escaping a snare, battling a formidable enemy--that their wits would carry them through just one more time. It's a spirited adventure story, well told.

It may be that the first time I read Watership Down, I objected to what I saw as anthropomorphizing. I'm glad I got over that, because I think the novel's presentation of a fully realized animal world--the rabbits have their own stories and mythology, their own games, diversions, worries, and dreams--gives us, in a totally non-preachy way, a richer, more penetrating view of our own world. It's hard to think the same way about a new housing development when you consider it from the point of view of the creatures who suffer because of it and have no say in what happens to them. Seeing the world from the perspective of a rabbit might be enough to give you pause, for a little while, at least, on the whole "might makes right" philosophy. In any case, it's a pleasant antidote to human presumption.

Besides being entertained by the spirit and humor of the rabbits' mythology and storytelling, I was struck by something else that I suspect went over my head the first time. The novel is firmly planted in the sensate world, in all the sights, sounds, tastes and scents of the Hampshire countryside. Every blade of grass, every individual leaf, has character, and the rabbits' keen senses, especially their hearing and sense of smell, pick up so much more information than I could gather at my most observant. The novel luxuriates in descriptions of wildflowers, weeds, and grasses and a multitude of other objects a rabbit would recognize instantly; I would walk through the same scene and experience it much more monochromatically.

So, who is smarter, humans or rabbits? I think it depends on what you mean by smart. There is certainly something to admire in the simplicity and economy of the rabbits' lifestyle and in the way they live their lives as part of the whole. And in the book, at least, they seem to know a thing or two about humans that most of the humans have failed to notice about themselves. (Who knows, this could be true in real life as well.) I believe these particular characters are also meant to show us how we ourselves are at our best. It's perhaps a gentle reminder that human nature is also animal nature, however evolved we may have become.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Through a Glass, Darkly

I happened to read the other day that the public schools here were starting fall classes this week, and in fact, they began on Wednesday. It seems to me that the date of school opening has inched much closer to the beginning of August than it was when I was a student. It's not that I have any stake in it, but it goes against my grain to think of going back to school while summer is still in full flower. It seems a little cruel and unusual, but don't tell any school administrators I said so. It's just my personal opinion, which means little.

I tend to think that school should start, at the earliest, at the very end of August, or better yet, right after Labor Day. The Christmas holiday should be two weeks long, and there should be a full week of spring break or Easter recess, whichever you prefer to call it. Summer vacation should be three months long, and it should begin either right before Memorial Day or immediately after. Of course, my first elementary school experience was in Florida, where snow days never wreaked havoc with the school calendar, and a schedule like this was actually possible.

As much as I liked summer vacations as a child, I was usually a bit excited about going back to school in those early years. There would be new clothes, a new lunch box, and that wonderful smell of new composition books, pencils, and ink cartridges. When I was in school, I didn't mind it most of the time and sometimes quite enjoyed being there. It's just that vacations and the freedom that came with them were so much more fun, and sitting in a classroom all day is difficult even for a good student. In many ways, it was a more innocent time, though I know it's a truism to say so.

I reminded myself when out and about this week to be on the lookout for school buses and have, indeed, seen several. Yes, everything seems a bit muddled when school buses appear only a week and a half into August, but as muddled as the state of the world is generally, an anomaly like this is only a drop in the bucket. I pulled into the parking lot of a local Catholic Church the other day, purely on impulse, because I wondered if it might be open (it has wonderful light, which is great for meditation). In the parking lot was an expensive-looking SUV with dark tinted windows and the engine running, a slightly ominous sight that I'm pretty sure would have given me pause even as a child.

I went to Catholic schools where the church was next door to the school building and seemed a fairly benign place, even if you didn't exactly believe everything they told you. Church was a place where they had bingo and spaghetti dinners, not weird-looking SUVs that kept their windows rolled up and engines running for fifteen minutes at a time. I considered whether this was any of my business or not, as all kinds of strange things seem to happen these days without anyone taking notice, but in the end I decided to report it to the church. The woman I talked to seemed to take it in stride, though she did say they had noticed an uptick in the number of people pulling into their lot to check their cell phones.

OK, well, I'm old-fashioned, I believe in no school till Labor Day, watching out for school buses, and reporting suspicious activity--so I did my part. I hope someone would think it a little stranger if this happened in a school parking lot with kids around, but it does seem to take a lot to get people's attention these days, so I don't really know. I guess the truth is that I just don't like tinted windows.