For weeks now, I’ve been trying to recall the name of a landscape architect I worked with a few years ago. I’ve remembered her first name, but her last name continues to elude me, yet I’m sure it’s there — lurking somewhere within the deepest, tallest stacks of my brain’s library.
An aging brain sometimes takes longer to retrieve certain information than it once did. Like many people over the age of 55, my brain’s agility is often, well…on my mind. So when I saw this recent headline in the New York Times,“Pollution May Age the Brain,” I sat up and took notice.
I was working on a post this week about unsolicited advice that was based on an incident at my gym. I was trying to be light and funny about something that many of us don’t appreciate (according to an online poll, 62 percent of us don’t like receiving such advice). I shared it with an editor who usually loves my work. She was happy to hear from me, and even offered to publish the piece, but she ended her email this way,
“p.s. but…it does seem to me (speaking as your editor) that you do come across in this post as a bit too prickly over such a trivial offense.”
Given that I’d rather not appear prickly when it comes to something trivial, we agreed to deep-six the post.
I am, however, proud to be prickly about preserving the environment. The scenery I saw as I traveled from coast to coast and back brought to mind the words from “America the Beautiful,” while it also made me more passionate about halting climate change.
I am also prickly about boycotts. I don’t participate in random ones espoused by individuals. I want my actions to have real meaning and to carry real weight—which they only can when my voice is part of a larger group.
But I wholeheartedly support organized boycotts and petitions for causes I believe in — especially ones that put corporate polluters in their place. For that reason, I signed this petition asking EBay to withdraw its support of ALEC, a group that has pledged to launch “a political tsunami against EPA.” I hope you will too. You can read about why we are boycotting EBay here.
When it comes to important stuff like climate change, I’m prickly — and proud of it.
The past few weeks have brought hot, humid weather to the Northeast. Morning after morning, I hustle Karina along our customary walk, swatting away the multitude of flies and mosquitoes that swarm around us all along the way.
The heat and humidity make it hard to focus, and if I were to have a coherent thought, typing while my fogged-over glasses slide down my sweaty nose (and this is after a shower), is nearly impossible. To top things off, my computer went haywire, the cursor skipping around from sentence to sentence, clicking on ads and other links of its own accord.
I was wallowing. A lot.
It started in early June. A piece that I had put my heart and soul into didn’t get published when promised. It may soon see the light of day, but its timely lead is no longer timely and it is deeply personal. As more time passes, the more nervous I feel about people reading it.
As June progressed, and the weather got hotter and hotter, I deflated and drooped a little more each day. Pretty soon I was comparing my publishing success to that of others….always a sure road to nowhere.
To be fair, June has a history of being difficult. It is a month of anniversaries that clearly demarcate the all-too-swift passage of time. Forty-one years since I became motherless, and 30 years since I became a mother. Yes, I have a child who is 30 years old. That particular anniversary, more than the other one, hit me hard this year.
In mid- June I pulled some muscle or other in my thigh. Swimming and walking are fine, but rooting around in the garden isn’t possible, and so, I’m letting it go feral this summer. Like everywhere else, it’s too hot and buggy in there anyway.
As if I weren’t already feeling decrepit enough, my dermatologist implied that my multitude of freckles/moles were solely due to too much sun. Sun? Really? In the Northeast? Haven’t you heard of genetics, Bub? So I wallowed in that for a while… until I noticed a woman at the pool. Deeply tanned, her skin was covered with large dalmatian-like spots.
Sometimes, comparison is helpful.
Then my computer went kablooey, and there were histrionics.
The atmosphere inside our little house got even hotter, and to escape, I started reading a book with an angry woman narrator. I am so into that book right now (The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud). And I can’t wait to discuss it with the friend who gave it to me — especially the comment my local bookseller made as I was buying it for another friend. He said that he found the opening paragraphs “a little too shrill.”
Female anger is such a bummer, especially for men. My husband can handle it though. As he told me after the histrionics subsided, “… it’s good that it wasn’t directed towards me.”
But today, things are looking up. First off, the temperatures are in the 80’s not the 90’s and I can actually type this post without dripping all over the keyboard.
Then, a couple of days ago, the brilliant D.A. Wolfe reminded me of how lucky I am that my sons are independent, that they still want to share their lives with us, and that both are doing work that they and we can be proud of.
Shameless plug: older son’s band is releasing an album on October 8. Freckles or no freckles I’m still cool enough to rate an advanced copy. I’m listening to it now and the music has enough energy to make even the most lethargic among us want to get up and dance.
And you know what else? My garden is doing just fine without me.
In so many ways, I am a free woman!
We all need work, we all need purpose and I’m glad that those are the things I’ll be obsessing about this summer — rather than who’s publishing where, or who or what is or isn’t to blame for my spotty skin — because the day we stop looking for work and purpose is a day when the wallowing has gone too far.
The spelling is imperfect, but the card and note inside are priceless. My grandfather sent the card to me while I was away at overnight camp. Somehow, I have managed to hold onto it and other letters from home (more about those in another post) throughout several moves and numerous decades.
But my Poppy’s P.S. on this card comes to mind whenever we have a heat wave.
Other than his interesting spelling — which I’m just now noticing — I am also focusing on his choice of words, especially the word “one.” Back in the early- to mid- 1960s when the card was sent, we’d have the occasional oppressive day here in the Boston area — a real scorcher. It almost always cooled down at night and the extreme heat rarely lasted more than a day or two.
This week has been one of several this summer when we’ve had a whole string of days with high humidity and temperatures reaching well into the 90s. A few mornings ago, I walked into our kitchen to find that the outdoor thermometer read 80 degrees. “One day soon we’ll be waking to 90 degrees,” I commented gloomily to my husband. Indeed, I am dripping as I write this from my non-air-conditioned home office.
Many of you know that I write about climate change, air pollution, and their effects on children’s health for Moms Clean Air Force. But while I think everyone should understand the facts about climate change, I also want them to know that we can design, build, and act smarter so that future summer mornings don’t have to be even more oppressive than the ones we are living through now.*
I am fascinated by the idea of understanding and planning for the environmental impacts of what we do. While we must continue to demand that our representatives in Congress crack down on corporate polluters, and that both of our presidential candidates address this issue, I also find it comforting to talk about how we can do better in the future.
That is why I recently interviewed my former high school classmate, writer and historian Catherine Tumber, about how small cities may hold the answers for greener living.
“Renewable energy requires land for solar farms and wind turbines,” she told me. “And next generation hydropower requires special waterways. These smaller cities have those resources, making them a great asset to environmental health. Coal energy is a big polluter. These places have the resources to develop the alternative if we just have the political will.”
You can find Cathy’s book, Small, Gritty, and Greenhere.
My grandfather would be just as proud of me for writing about these issues as he and my mother were of his big fish in the photo below. And he would be horrified to know that there would be a question about the safety of eating any fish I catch today.
He adored his grandchildren as I will my own if and when they materialize. And I’ll want to make sure they have the extras like he did (note the “Enclosed $1.00 for the cat’s milk”), but I also want them to have something that isn’t an “extra” at all: A planet where they can play outside, breath easy, catch—and even eat—a big fish or two.
*In this week’s New Yorker,Elizabeth Kolbert explains that global warming works on a time delay, writing “Behind this summer’s heat are greenhouse gases emitted decades ago.” She also notes that “Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have chosen to remain silent on the [climate change] issue, presumably because they see it as just too big a bummer.”