Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Novel Moment

The beautiful weather and light today surprisingly have inspired me to share this scene from my slowly-emerging novel, which is set in the 1870s (or thereabouts).

* * *

Jacob Struggles with Adelaide’s Death

In keeping with his usual and somewhat rigid pattern of time and place, Jacob Werner is sitting in the leather chair behind the massive mahogany desk that occupies the northwest portion of his office. His wife insisted on dressing the office windows with dark, heavy draperies, but each morning Jacob pulls these shrouds back as far as he can so that the room is flooded with natural light throughout the day. This freely flowing light both makes his lawyerly tasks much easier and affords him more than a little aesthetic pleasure. In the late afternoon, when most of his work is done, Jacob normally relaxes into the sumptuous cushions of his chair, ankle crossed over thigh, hand cradling chin, eyes narrowed and lips curled upward with pleasure – what Adelaide always called his musing pose. Once situated, Jacob takes a few moments to appreciate the simple yet surpassing beauty of the office that is his sanctuary, and he savors the spectacular view from its unusually large windows. Jacob particularly loves these late-afternoon moments during the perfection of mid-September, when the oppressive heat of summer is gone but the full crispness of fall has not yet arrived and when the quality of the light is at its most indescribably beautiful.

On this particular mid-September day, the sun slants through the naked window nearest Jacob’s desk to produce a glorious symphony of light and shadow as it plays off the many books, stacks of paper, statues, artifact collections, and other precious things that make this room so beautiful and dear to its occupant. However, today this unique display of light, which normally would please Jacob so, passes completely unnoticed by him as he slumps with his aching head pressed against the chair’s generous wing. Since his wife left his office a half hour ago, all he can manage to do is stare at the crystal inkwell and pen holder on his desk – the only gift that Adelaide ever gave him.

What pleasure Margaret had taken in bringing him the news. “Well, Jacob, our Adelaide finally has succumbed. She just didn’t have the strength left to fight the consumption any longer, poor dear.” Her words ostensibly showed affection for the departed, and the hint of a smile that played on her lips after she spoke would be interpreted by almost anyone else as a stiff-lipped attempt to mask sorrow for Adelaide’s death. But Jacob knew the inner workings of his wife’s mind and how those inner workings manifested themselves outwardly, so he knew better.

Jacob held up his hand in protest as she approached the window to draw the curtains to block the path of the sun that, for her, was such an intrusion. “Leave me in peace, Margaret,” Jacob dismissed his wife wearily, as he rose to stop the simple wooden mantel clock and adjust the hands to what he understood to be the moment of Adelaide’s death.

After his wife nodded curtly and brushed hastily by him to honor this request, Jacob returned to the refuge of his chair. Although Adelaide’s death had been expected for some time, Jacob found that he nonetheless was unprepared to face the finality associated with its occurrence. The light that he loved most in the world had departed, and Jacob would now begin the long and arduous process of adjusting to a world left in a substantially darker condition. So it was that Jacob passed this beautiful September afternoon grasping for some insight about what to do next, for some trick of the mind that might possibly assuage his sorrow, if only for the briefest time.

* * *

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Beauty of Impromptu Meetings

Last night my fiance and I went for pho at our favorite Vietnamese hangout, and we saw some of our favorite friends from the dog-walking cemetery, K and her husband S. We joined them for dinner and had a wonderful time. The funny thing is, K and I have been trying to set up a formal coffee date for the past month but we haven't quite been able work things out. Yet we have seen each other randomly in the Vietnamese place and hooked up for an impromptu dinner twice in the past month. Sometimes, the best encounters can't be planned - they just serendipitously happen. I love impromptu meetings.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Time, Light, and Leaves

Backyard Leaves -- 9/25/2008

After teasing us to varying degrees for the last several weeks, fall is now with us in earnest. I've been keeping a close eye on my next-door neighbors' tree, which hangs over my back deck and which I can see from the upstairs den window as I sit at the computer. Its slender green leaves are taking on a bit of fluorescence and a few already have begun to turn yellow. For the last two days, these lovely leaves have been making a wonderful rustling sound as a persistent fall breeze stirs them. Soon they will fall onto my deck in a blanket of yellow.

The morning light is arriving perceptibly later these days, too, which means that I am rising later. Most of the 7 a.m. dog-walking crowd at Congressional Cemetery is long gone by the time I arrive at the gate with Jacob and Amos. Although part of me misses my fellow dog-walkers, a bigger part enjoys the experience of walking alone in the cool morning air with only my two dogs and the spirits of the departed to keep me company. Call me crazy, but it does seem to me that the graveyard spirits, which are at peace for most of the year, make their presence known in the fall. Sometimes I imagine that they, rather than the wind, are responsible for the rustling of the cemetery's trees.

The waning light, cool air, changing leaves, and livening spirits all are beautiful reminders that time is marching on, as it always does, and that things never stay the same from one moment to the next. With a plummeting economy and an important election hanging in the balance, it is an especially apt time to reflect on these truths.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Cat Dog, Part Two

As requested, here is a photo of Lincoln the Cat Dog with his shepherd friends, all napping together peacefully in the messy den. That's Amos on the left and Jacob in the middle. It is not uncommon to have Jacob as the intermediary in this bunch. Amos is still a little frightened of the strange gray feline who embedded a claw casing in his curious snout and still tries to eat his dog kibble, so Amos looks to Jacob as a buffer whenever possible. Jacob is still the pack leader, but he won't be for long if Lincoln has his way. This is a smart cat we have on our hands here. I don't know if anyone else noticed, but Lincoln left a comment on the previous post. Not bad for a creature without opposable thumbs. Not bad at all!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Cat Dog

We have seven furry critters residing in our house -- two dogs, four cats, and Lincoln, pictured here, who is our "cat dog."

Lincoln looks like a cat and meows like a cat, but we think he's really a dog in what is either a very clever or very dangerous disguise. He plays with the dogs, naps with the dogs, tries to eat the dogs' food, and howls after the dogs when J takes them for their nighttime walk. He even sits on command in return for a small taste of dog kibble. The only time that Lincoln associates with the other cats is when I dole out cat food or when he needs to use the litter box. The rest of the time, you can pretty much bet that he is hangin' out with the shepherds, Jacob and Amos.

To further solidify Lincoln's claim to dogdom, J got him a kitty harness-and-leash combo and is toying with the idea of taking him on the nighttime dog walks. I'm largely in favor of this plan because, if successful, it would spare me from having to listen to Lincoln howl for 20 minutes every night. However, Lincoln is a gray cat, and we are a bit concerned that the other dogs in the neighborhood might mistake him for a squirrel and try to go after him. Jacob and Amos made that mistake -- once. Lincoln quickly and fearlessly let the dogs know that cat-chasing was not acceptable, and then he decided to make friends. Now we think that he is trying to work his way up to pack leader. Although Jacob and Amos still don't know what to make of this somewhat unorthodox arrangement, it has become a constant source of amusement for J and me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Simple Pleasures

I spent this weekend doing very ordinary, but very gratifying, things.

On Saturday morning I made vegetable stock, which I then used to make tomato-garlic soup for my stepdaughter. There was something so wonderful about making soup for someone I love on a crisp fall morning. I then delivered the soup to Johns Hopkins hospital, which involved a very lovely drive along the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The weather was beautiful, the traffic was light, and I got a chance to listen to some great tunes (Eva Cassidy and Chuck Brown, followed by Annie Lennox). When I arrived at the hospital, I was pleased to find H in good spirits. She seems to be adjusting to the new hospital and taking her treatment in stride. We had a brief but very pleasant visit, and then I had another good drive down the parkway. The rest of the day was spent running errands, followed by a wonderful dinner with my fiance at one of our favorite restaurants. We hadn't been there in a while, and the wait staff treated us especially well.

On Sunday, my fiance and I walked down to the shops at Union Station. I needed to pick up contact lenses and have new lenses put into two old pairs of glasses that I am recycling. While we waited for the glasses, I bought some new shoes (something that I do about once every 18 months), and then we went for coffee. We also spent some time browsing in the book store, which is something we both love to do. It was a nice, rather lazy, trip to the mall. I had been putting off the optician and shoe errands for about a month, but having J for company transformed the dreaded errands into a fun afternoon. Afterward J went up to Johns Hopkins to visit his daughter and I had some time alone to read and do sudoku (I confess to being totally addicted).

All in all, it was an uneventful yet really good weekend. I'm not sure if I'm generally acquiring a new appreciation for the little things in life or if my powers of appreciation are just particularly heightened right now because the energizing fall weather is finally arriving. Probably it's a bit of each. Whatever the cause, it feels good being able to get so much satisfaction out of the ordinary little things that make up most of life's moments.

Friday, September 19, 2008


My stepdaughter starts a new and promising leukemia treatment today, and her outlook toward her situation is beginning to brighten (she's not technically my stepdaughter yet, but I don't let the absence of a wedding ring stop me from thinking of her as such).

The dogs are both doing well and have perked up in the crisp weather that's now visiting the DC area a little more frequently. They are happier than ever - 'tis the season for chasing squirrels, and their squirrel-hunting antics are highly entertaining, both for them and for all who watch them.

The sky is blue with some very interesting clouds floating about (it's a great day for all your cloud spotters!), the air is comfortably cool, and the quality of the light is spectacular, especially in the morning.

The smile that came to my face yesterday as I read some humorous blogs was the first real smile I'd cracked in a while, and it has stayed with me. I'm now sitting in my favorite chair, which doesn't happen much because it's also the favorite chair of Jacob the Dog. As I feel a lovely breeze waft through the window beside me, I rest easily in the satisfaction of knowing that all my needs are met.

In this moment, I am thankful - simply but genuinely thankful.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Magic of Cleaning

I spent most of this beautiful Thursday cleaning the house from top to bottom, doing laundry, changing linens, and washing dishes. Now the house is all bright, sparkly, clean, and fresh, and I am reaping the benefits of a good day's work. I also am feeling a great deal brighter myself. It's as if the act of clearing all of the dust and dirt out of the house also has cleared all the cobwebs and other mental obstructions out of my head. Amazing how that works sometimes!

I want to say a special thank you to everyone who has commented on yesterday's post. Each comment has provided a unique and important insight about how to decipher the phenomenon of being haunted by animals in distress, particularly dogs. I thought that I had developed a full explanation earlier this afternoon, but a new comment just arrived that has provided yet another line of enquiry that I need to pursue and add to my analytical mix. I do believe that I will find a satisfying answer, though, and that belief alone already makes me feel a lot better. Thanks again to all who helped -- when I come up with The Answer, I'll let you know what it is!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Animals

There is something going on between the animals and me, something that I want to understand but don't. It was held in check for a while, but now it's returned with a bit of a vengeance. I thought that perhaps by explaining the situation in writing I could reach some kind of conclusion about it and find some kind of solace. More likely than not I will just sound like a complete nut, but I am desperate so here goes.

Late last year and earlier this year, I was tormented by dreams about animals, particularly dogs. In my dreams, the animals were injured, frightened, or dying. In the early dreams I was powerless to help them, but in the later dreams I found myself being able to provide some amount of assistance. In one dream a caravan of vehicles with animals had wrecked on I-395 in DC, and wounded and frightened animals were all over the place. I was able to rescue either a sheep or a rabbit, I can't remember which, but I felt bad because I wanted to rescue more but couldn't. In another dream I reunited some lost dogs with their owners, but in that same dream I also flushed my own dogs down a giant toilet and watched them come out, safe and sound, on the other side of a river in the middle of a campground. Weird!

While these dreams were occurring, I also was having some real-life animal experiences that were very disturbing. I was driving east down I-40/I-85 through Burlington, NC during rush hour one morning, returning from a visit to my parents. The road is 4 or 5 lanes in each direction at that point, separated by a barrier in the median, and there is a wide left-hand break-down lane. I was in the far left-hand lane and saw a beautiful but very frightened shepherd mix trotting in the break-down lane to my left. He was trotting against the direction of oncoming traffic, and I experienced a sharp jolt of adrenaline as I realized that I was seeing a live animal on the interstate and locked eyes with him for the briefest of moments. I told him not to panic and not to cross the road before it was clear. I drove for about another mile before I decided to turn around and go back for the dog. I went back at least two miles past where I'd seen him before turning around again to retrace my east-bound path. I'm still not sure how I was planning to accomplish an interstate rescue without spooking the already-scared dog or getting creamed myself, or both, but I felt a compelling need to at least try to find this dog again. However, I didn't see any sign of the shepherd, dead or alive, on or near the road, so I tried to tell myself that he'd made it across the traffic lanes safely and now would be in a position to find help from someone else.

About 60 miles later during this same trip, after the road had narrowed to two lanes, I saw two puppies approaching the highway. This time I didn't hesitate and stopped as quickly as I could (not easy when you're doing 75 mph), but the puppies ignored my call and crossed safely to the other side of the road. I didn't worry about the puppies so much because they looked as if they were out having fun, and they were together, but the vision of my frightened shepherd friend haunted me for a long time. I had dreams at night about him, and I frequently found myself pondering why he was in the road in the first place and wondering what ever happened to him. I was frustrated at not having concrete answers to those questions, but eventually I worked through the list of possibilities and got comfortable with the idea that no matter which (if any) of my possible scenarios was correct, whatever in fact happened was the right thing.

The NC-to-DC trip was followed by several short trips to take my dogs sheep-herding in northwest Virginia, during which I saw an extraordinary number of dead dear in the road. Not just one or two per trip, as one might expect, but lots. They were nearly everywhere I looked. Each one of them grabbed a heart string and held on for days.

These animal dreams and experiences subsided for a bit, but now that particular wound feels as if it has been reopened. I finished a book called The Story of Edgar Sawtelle a couple days ago. It is an exceptionally well-crafted book. It's essentially Hamlet set on a Wisconsin dog-breeding farm in the 1950s/1960s. The author amazingly manages to make the old Hamlet story different and fresh, I think largely because of the dog angle (this book features the best inside-the-dog's-mind view I've gotten since reading Jack London). It's Hamlet, so of course it's tragic, but for me the usual tragedy of Hamlet was compounded because there were dogs that experienced adverse conditions and died prematurely under especially heartbreaking circumstances. The main character is a 14-year old boy, and midway through the book the dog that is his soul mate dies -- essentially she commits suicide -- just as the boy, who has run away from home, is returning because he can't stand being separated from her any longer. Although the dog's soul visits the boy later in the book and they resolve their unfinished business, I have been upset about this scene since I read it. I just cannot seem to let it go.

As I was in the midst of reading this book, I saw my friend H's dog, who clearly is dying. Dying at age 14 under the careful watch of someone who loves him and will not let him suffer needlessly, but clearly dying nonetheless. I gave the dog some reiki the first time I saw him in his weakened state, and now he slowly seeks me out whenever we are in the dog park at the same time. I have not been able to let that vision go, either.

To top all this off, I was reading one of my favorite blogs yesterday, and the most recent post involved a dying antelope. He was chasing girls one day and then dying the next because there was a food shortage and he resorted to eating a poisonous vine. The post was absolutely beautiful. However, when considered in combination with my reaction to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and my friend's dying dog, the story of the dying antelope left no doubt that my animal angst has returned in full force.

What is it with the animals and me? From earliest memory I have always been especially tender-hearted when it comes to animals and deeply troubled by their troubles. It's difficult to admit and I'm not sure what this says about me as person, but I frequently am more unsettled by stories of animal distress than of human distress. My ability to cope with animal strife and death has never been good, but I feel that, unlike most of my troublesome issues, this one is getting worse over time instead of better. And I really would like to know why. Am I indulging in (over-)sentimentality? Am I trying to feel emotions on behalf of these creatures and take on their strife and, if so, is there any way in which this might possibly benefit them or me? Are the animals symbolic of me, or of someone I love, and if so what's the best interpretation of the symbolism? I acknowledge that sickness and death are part of life and my conscious mind says that I am OK with that reality, but maybe the animals are telling me that deep down I really am not yet at peace with those ideas? Am I needlessly giving meaning to things that I should just let be? Am I merely being silly?

If anyone out there has any theories that might shed light on this subject I would be pleased to hear them (even if they are not particularly flattering to yours truly), because I am at a total loss.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What Will We Do if Things Get Really Bad?

Yesterday I joked about withdrawing my life savings and putting it under the mattress. Although I made that comment tongue-in-cheek (or at least mostly tongue-in-cheek), it started me to thinking about how we Americans would respond if things got really bad. And by "really bad" I mean Great Depression bad, not just giving-up-some-of-our-toys bad.

My grandparents lived through the Great Depression. They were poor before it started and became even poorer. My grandmother, who in her later years could solve the Rubik's Cube and the Rubik's Revenge without any hints, couldn't go to high school because she had to work to help support her family. My grandfather had abandoned school for work after the sixth grade. They both worked and saved and invested and worked and saved and invested until finally, when they were in their 60s, they decided it was safe to retire.

My grandparents died comfortably well off, and I think that by many standards they probably were considered rich. In spite of their greatly improved financial position, they lived frugally their entire lives. My grandmother let me make the creamed potatoes for Sunday dinner, and one day, as I ran out of margarine and went to grab a new tub, I watched my grandmother get at least another tablespoon of margarine out of the "empty" tub that I was about to discard. Then there was my grandfather, who continued to wear shoes that appeared to have been purchased during the Great Depression well into the '70s and '80s, and who continued to wear his shirts long after they started springing holes. Sometimes I was embarrassed to go in public with him because he looked so raggedy. When I'd suggest that he might want to go shop for new duds, he would reply that the old ones suited him just fine. My grandparents raised their own fruits and vegetables in the spring and summer, and my grandmother canned what we couldn't immediately consume so that we'd have it during the fall and winter. Nothing ever went to waste. Ever. "Those who waste will come to want," my grandmother was fond of saying. She and my grandfather both knew from experience what it was to want for the basics, and they didn't plan to be doing that again any time soon.

My formative years, the good ol' Reagan '80s, stood in stark contrast to my grandparents' childhood and early adult experiences. In the '80s, the government ran exploding deficits and encouraged the citizenry to spend, spend, spend, even if that meant that all of us went into debt, too. "Buy now, pay later" was the prevailing societal "wisdom" when I was forming my views of money and its place in life. The "pay later" part always seemed to me like an afterthought, as long as I was able to get my hands on all the stuff that the glitzy advertisements succeeded in convincing me that I could not live without. No wonder my grandparents, who never had a debt except their mortgage and hardly ever bought anything besides food and sundries, looked so out of place to me.

Going from a childhood of poverty to an adulthood of financial security is one thing, but most of us in my generation would, were the financial situation to worsen, be going in the opposite direction. Although I don't particularly want to be poor, I am genuinely interested in what we, as an affluent, even downright extravagant society, would do if plunged into a state of widespread poverty. It obviously would be a huge shock, but it might well force us to get our priorities straight as a society and that, I think, actually would do a lot of us some good.

In a recent comment on another blog, a good friend of mine observed that we like money because we equate financial security with personal security. I think that was certainly true of my grandparents, who spent a lifetime clinging to what money they had, even when that amount became considerable and they could have afforded to let some go -- they didn't buy stuff to compensate for the stuff they lacked during the Great Depression, but it was important to their sense of security to have the ability, the money, to buy stuff if the need ever arose. I think that equating money with security also is at the core of our society's current focus on rampant consumerism, which tells us that the more buying power we have and use, the better off and more powerful we are.

The problem with this, of course, is that financial security does not, indeed cannot, provide the kinds of personal security that so many people seek from it. Money can't keep you from getting sick, it can't make people like you, it can't keep you out of conflict, it can't keep you out of harm's way, and it sure as hell can't keep you alive forever. Money doesn't ultimately stop any of the things that we fear most in life -- at best it can keep the bad stuff at bay a while longer (e.g., it can buy superior health care to increase the odds of health and longevity), and at worst it can makes some of the things we fear more likely (e.g., the more stuff we have the more there is to fight over, and the better equipped we are to conduct our fights).

I personally think that a better strategy would be to make peace with life's unalterable ebb and flow, and our place in it, instead of engaging in a misguided attempt to try to shield ourselves from the inevitable with material wealth. Although I'm not advocating that everyone go off and build a hut on Walden Pond and live off nuts and berries, I do think that living much more simply, whether by choice or necessity -- or at least cultivating the awareness that it is possible to live much more simply -- increases our ability to distinguish what is real from what is window dressing.

If and when our wealth diminishes in a significant way, will we spoiled Americans be able to see the reality, and therefore the beauty, of what is left? Will we be able to see that true security comes not from money or what it buys but rather from accepting that things are ever-changing and that we are vulnerable to certain things no matter what we do or have? Or will we just keep chasing after the almighty dollar and eagerly embrace the boom times when they return, as they surely someday will? A downturn in the economy may or may not cause folks to shift their attitudes and priorities toward the role of money, but as long as times remain affluent my bet is that most Americans will not voluntarily consider such a shift.

Maybe my grandmother was more right than she knew -- or maybe she was wise enough to know already just how right she was -- when she used the adage that "those who waste will come to want." And maybe, just maybe, having that adage come to fruition wouldn't be such a bad thing. Whatever happens, I am very thankful to have had the example that she and my grandfather set for how to live simply yet also live well.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Financial Meltdown

Lehman is filing for bankruptcy, AIG is restructuring in an attempt to avoid a similar fate, and Bank of America is buying Merrill Lynch. What a day on Wall Street!

As a consumer, I am trying to resist the urge to withdraw all the money I have and shove it under my mattress before things get even worse, because I believe it is likely that they could.

As a bank regulatory lawyer who cares deeply about financial regulation and policy, I think that the current financial mess should spur a major overhaul in the regulatory regime for depository institutions and other financial institutions, and I would love nothing more than to have some kind of an impact, even if only a small one, on how things get restructured.

I need to go back to work. Soon.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Welcome, All Black Boxers!

I discovered the Black Box yesterday and immediately became riveted to it. My fiance already has expressed worry about my compulsion to the press the "decide" button. It's a good thing that "Black Box Anonymous" doesn't exist (at least not yet!), or I think my fiance would be dragging me off to meetings. And this within 24 hours of discovering the Black Box!

It is heaps of fun, though. I'm particularly intrigued by the consistent patterns emerging in the results that the Black Box produces. With only one possible exception, all of the "mystery blogs" to which I've been directed (and there have been many!) are penned by people who have a deep appreciation for the written word -- everyone is a professional writer, an aspiring writer, or has a "favorite book" list that is a mile long. Also interesting is that almost all the blogs I've discovered through the Black Box are written by Brits, and the remainder are written by women who live in Africa and who have a real talent for painting with words. On top of that, it appears that several of the bloggers I've discovered through the Black Box were commenting on one another's blogs even before the Black Box made waves. Wow! I think I've found some new "blog kin!"

For those of you who got here by way of the Black Box, welcome, I'm glad you're here! My blog is less than month old and I could use some more readers! If you have the time and inclination, by all means let me know that you stopped by.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ahhh...the Sun!

The last few days in Washington, D.C. have featured blank, gray skies with virtually no color variation, moderate temperatures, and stagnant, unmoving air. A good friend of mine characterizes days like this as "non-days," which I think is a brilliant description.

My moods coincided perfectly with these past few bleak and depressing non-days. During them, I found myself overcome with grief from multiple sources: a family member learned for certain that her leukemia was no longer in remission and that she will soon be undergoing a bone marrow transplant; I learned that my friend's dog, who is nearly 14, is quickly dying of an illness that came upon him suddenly; and this week included the anniversary of September 11, which, as a Washingtonian who has many friends in New York City, is always a difficult time for me. In my grief-laden state, I felt indifferent about pretty much everything.

The only real bright spot for me this week was that yesterday I saw my all-time favorite massage therapist, who over the course of the last couple years has become a dear friend. She is a very astute observer of both people and weather, and she has a healing touch that never ceases to amaze me. While I received a massage from her, I felt the week's grief releasing its grip on my body, mind, and spirit. As we parted ways it started to rain. My friend looked skyward and said, "the weather explains everything."

The rain picked up quickly and I got soaked on the way home, but that was fine by me -- at least something was actually happening on the meteorological front for a change, and it seemed fitting that the skies were experiencing their form of release just as I was experiencing my own. Plus, I felt that what little remained of my grief was being washed away by the afternoon shower.

I've been reflecting on my friend's statement about the power of the weather since we parted company, and I think that she is correct -- the weather really does explain a great deal. Today the sun is showing its lovely face for the first time in several days, and all aspects of the world seem brighter along with the weather. People are smiling while they run their Saturday errands; Eastern Market is full of a bustling joy; the wildlife, which hunkered down a bit during the bleak period, has resumed normal activity with what seems to be gratitude; and my fiance just put on a lively jazz CD that is cheering everyone in our house. With the sun, my feelings of grief and indifference have been replaced by feelings of hopefulness and keen interest.

Thank you, beautiful sun, for coming back to see us -- having missed you in myriad ways while you were gone, I am all the more grateful to you today.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Poem

I was skimming through Rainer Maria Rilke's Book of Hours this morning and found myself drawn to the following poem. These verses, which Rilke wrote in 1903, describe with stunning precision the world as I know it today.

The cities only care for what is theirs
and uproot all that's in their path.
They crush the creatures like hollow sticks
and burn up nations like kindling.

Their people serve the culture of the day,
losing all balance and moderation,
calling their aimlessness progress,
driving recklessly where they once drove slow,
and with all that metal and glass
making such a racket.

It's as if they were under a spell:
they can no longer be themselves.
Money keeps growing, takes all their strength,
and empties them like a scouring wind,
while they wait for wine and poisonous passions
to spur them to fruitless occupations.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Many Levels of Heartbreak

The events of September 11, 2001, as they occurred, were an example of heartbreak writ large. It's not every day that terrorists attack Americans on our own soil, killing and injuring large numbers of us and destroying important symbols of our society in the process. Some day I will write a blog post about how I spent that day, but for now let's just suffice it to say that, as someone who lived in Washington, D.C., I will never forget the sheer terror that I felt when I asked myself where I reasonably could go that was safe and found the honest answer to be, "nowhere." September 11, 2001, was the first, and thusfar only, time that I have felt panic and resignation simultaneously, and it was a heartbreaking combination. Even greater heartbreak ensued as I learned about people who I knew whose lives had been taken or who had lost loved ones.

Although September 11, 2001, came and went like all days do and took its immediate pain with it, it left more subtle levels of heartbreak in its aftermath, some of which continue even to this day. I think that life changed for all Americans on that ill-fated day, but those of us who were in DC and most especially NYC at the time of the attacks bear a special burden. When I hear my former colleagues at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York describe their experiences being at the Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and the days immediately following, and when I think about how many of those people lost numerous family members and friends, I begin to appreciate just how lucky I was. Nevertheless, I know that September 11, 2001, still did affect me profoundly, albeit in much less apparent ways.

In the period immediately following September 11, 2001, I would sit in the living room of my Capitol Hill row house, my thoughts consumed with the awareness that my home was vulnerable to attack and the angst of not knowing when or in what form the next attack might be. Whenever I heard a fighter jet or more often a helicopter fly over my house or office, I would wonder if DC were under attack and my heart would race. My fear, insecurity, and anxiety were ever-present, and there were some times when I thought that my body might collapse under their weight. I chronically felt like this, although to a steadily lessening degree, for at least two years. I am not a mental health professional, but I wonder if perhaps this was some kind of post-traumatic stress reaction. Thankfully, that impending sense of doom that followed me so closely for so long is now gone, or at least mostly gone. There still is a moment every once in a great while when I get a flash of that old visceral, heart-sickening feeling, but I now thankfully am able immediately to restore a sense of balance to my heart and mind.

There is one sense, though, in which September 11, 2001, will always be with me. This probably will sound weird, but to me one of the most disconcerting things about September 11, 2001, was that it was, at least from a weather perspective, a day of surpassing beauty. Cloudless blue sky; clear, dry air; temperature in the 70s; gentle breeze rustling the leaves; that especially beautiful quality of light that occurs only in September. I couldn't have produced a more beautiful day if I'd had the power. That the world as I knew it fell apart and changed forever in the face of such natural beauty was at the time, and remains, nothing short of incomprehensible to me. Whenever the world now produces what I consider to be perfect weather, I enjoy it to a point, but then I find myself haunted by the specter of how such awful things once occurred against a similarly lovely backdrop. "September 11, 2001, was a lot like this," I find myself saying on all the loveliest days of the year. Each "perfect day" candidate becomes it own kind of anniversary of September 11, 2001, even more so than the actual anniversary in many cases. For me there are no more truly "perfect days," because any day that might otherwise qualify brings with it the difficult memories of September 11, 2001. This is a dull and subtle kind of heartbreak, but sometimes I think it is the most painful of all because I know that I will have it for as long as I have a memory.

For all that I experienced on September 11, 2001, and for all the emotions that the memory of that day brings up, I know that I am profoundly lucky. I know that my version of 9/11 heartbreak pales in comparison to that of countless others. To all who suffered and who continue to suffer the effects of September 11, 2001, you have my deepest sympathy. I share in your heartbreak on this, the 7th anniversary of the event, and I will continue to share in your heartbreak for all time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Eat, Pray, Love

Yesterday afternoon, I finished Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love. This book was recommended to me highly by a friend earlier this year and had been on my reading list for a while. A couple weeks ago, another friend mentioned in her blog how she disliked the book and found the author narcissistic. This led to a flurry of comments on the blog post, with the commenters divided squarely into "love it" and "hate it" camps. After seeing this exchange, I immediately moved the book to the top of my reading list.

I count myself in the love it camp. Of the three memoirs that I have read this year (The Glass Castle and The Spiral Staircase being the other two), I liked Eat, Pray, Love by far the best. I think there are several reasons for this. First of all, I identified with the author. She was a person who seemingly "had it all" at a young age yet found herself deeply depressed. I also suffered a major depression in my late 20s when I supposedly had it all, so I related immediately. I can see how people who don't have first-hand experience with depression might find the author "spoiled" or "a whiner" for not being satisfied with all her money and success and her fancy house, but as someone who has lacked serotonin for a prolonged period of time I could totally understand how she felt.

I also deeply appreciated how the author could assess herself and the people and situations around her with balance, honesty, and good humor. This stands in marked contrast to the other memoirs I have read recently. The author of The Glass Castle painted her crazy-as-a-loon, child-abusing parents as "brilliant" and "artistic" and she painted herself as even more brilliant and artistic, as evidenced by the "fact" that she rose above her chaotic childhood and found success in New York City without anyone else's help. Now that struck me as narcissistic! The author of The Spiral Staircase tells a more complex story and does so with what usually is a pleasing, philosophical voice, but even she paints the characters in her life as one-sided and tends to blame all her misfortunes on other people while giving herself all the credit for her success. Elizabeth Gilbert's willingness to give equal time to her frailties and her good points without being either self-pitying or self-aggrandizing, and her willingness to see the other people in her life as equally multi-faceted, provided a breath of fresh air by comparison.

The Glass Castle and The Spiral Staircase both tended to have an "I was there, now I'm here, and I am so great for rising above my past" feel about them, while Eat, Pray, Love struck me as being more about the journey itself and what the author learns along the way than about the starting and ending points. Elizabeth Gilbert is not just telling you where she wound up and describing for posterity how she got there so much as she is asking you to come along and share the ride with her. The reader not only hears about Gilbert's experiences but also is invited to think about how what Gilbert learned through those experiences might inform the reader's own journey. She has some wonderful insights and provides some real nuggets of wisdom along the way. I therefore thought that there was a universal focus in this book that was lacking in the other memoirs I have read, which really have been all about the authors.

In conclusion, I thought that Eat, Pray, Love was a very good book, especially for a memoir (which, as you no doubt have discerned, is a genre with which I struggle). I feel uplifted for having read it. I am looking forward to reading Gilbert's upcoming book, which will tell about her life after she returned from Indonesia. I will be especially interested to see if the wild success of Eat, Pray, Love has gone to her head, or if instead she will be able to retain the grounded perspective and delightful voice that made Eat, Pray, Love such a pleasure to read.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sweet Sorrow

I have friends from the dog-walking cemetery who just moved to Vienna, Austria. I have known C and J for only about 8 months, but I totally fell in love with them and their dog Barney during that time. I know that we will keep in touch, and maybe even visit each other at some point over the next year or two, but it will not be the same as seeing them almost every day. I miss them already. I also don't know how my younger dog Amos is going to take their departure, because he and Barney not only look just alike but also are the best of wrestling and running buds. Peas in a pod, those two. I wonder if dogs miss each other in the same way that we do?

The way in which I miss my friends right now involves a combination of two sets of emotions that seem to be occurring equally strongly all at once. I find myself deeply saddened at the prospect of not seeing my friends and Barney on a daily basis -- they brought such a bright, happy light to the cemetery dog-walking community, and their departure leaves a hole in the fabric of that community. But this woe-is-me reaction is accompanied by a feeling of great happiness for my friends. The move to Vienna comes because of a wonderful new job for J, and I have no doubt that both he and C will relish living in one of Europe's most beautiful and culturally rich cities. This is such a great opportunity for them both, and I am so glad that they had the courage and sense of adventure to seize it. Plus, their presence in Vienna -- which is one of my favorite cities -- gives me an added incentive to go there.

I think that Shakespeare got it right, as usual, when he said that parting is such sweet sorrow. The sweetness of new possibilities brought about by a parting is mixed with the sorrow inherent in being separated from someone dear. At the moment I am letting both the sweetness and the sorrow do their thing inside of me, trying to make my peace with both these emotions so that I will be free to move on to the next thing that comes up. And I also am wishing that C's and Barney's first day in Vienna (they should have arrived this morning) will be a splendid one.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Kind of Prayer

Say what you will about Mother Nature, but she is always fair when it comes to this one thing: when she pommels you with a major tropical storm one day, she immediately follows up with a crystal-clear blue sky, bright sunshine, low humidity, and a gentle breeze the next. The Washington, D.C. area currently is experiencing a particularly glorious day-after-the-storm. There is absolutely nothing about this day not to like.

But you know what? Although it interfered slightly with my ability to be outdoors, I actually liked yesterday's stormy aspect quite a bit, too. I found it very comforting to know that the rain was watering the crops and replenishing the water table, and in so doing making human life in this part of the world possible. Remembering the vital role of the rain and watching it, mostly from the safety of my home, put me in a very relaxed and contemplative mood.

As I walked my dogs in the crisp, cool morning air earlier today, I thought about the contrasting styles of beauty that yesterday and today offer. Appreciating whatever is happening in nature at the moment is something that I find myself doing on a regular basis these days, and my powers of appreciation are heightened when I am outside walking. Even after walking my dogs for over an hour in the morning, I often will go for another long walk in the National Arboretum so that I can get a better feel for what nature is doing at the moment.

When I focus on nature in this manner, I always am saying "thank you" to the universe for the current state of the world. Sometimes I also am looking for a more balanced way to exist in the world as I find it -- my walks provide a wonderful opportunity to release anger, to calm restlessness, to assuage sadness, to sort through confusion, to revel in happiness, to appreciate a moment of peace, to share uncontainable joy, and to cultivate thoughts of love. Through my observances of nature, I become acutely aware of the divine without, the divine within, and the inextricable links between them. I begin to glimpse the sublime oneness of people and things that I normally would view as separate and distinct, and I wish only good things for this collective union and all its constituent parts. This is the manner in which I pray, and the more often I do it the more I begin to think of life as one continuous prayer.

Friday, September 5, 2008

What Makes Us Human

There's someone in my life, someone whom I love dearly, who is very sick. When her illness first emerged last year, I so wanted to be positive for her sake and also to assuage my own discomfort, so I donned a fake, pasted-on happy face and talked of positive attitudes and keeping spirits up and so on. I felt like such a fraud the whole time I did this. What a relief it was when her illness went into remission -- what a just reward for enduring such a grueling course of chemotherapy. And how convenient for me, that I could pack away all that repressed ickiness I had felt deep down but never fully acknowledged.

Yesterday I learned that the symptoms of my loved one's illness have returned, and now I feel horrible. I feel sad and angry on behalf of the person who is sick because, by all the standards that I can conceive for judging such things, her situation just flat out isn't fair. I also feel sad and angry on behalf of her parents and siblings, who are all wonderful people and who each suffers in his or her own way because of this illness that is not theirs to bear yet that cannot but help to affect them all. In addition, I feel sad and angry for myself, because I am frustratingly powerless to make this young and vibrant person as well as I believe she deserves to be, as I so earnestly want her to be.

I now know from experience that trying to deny all these difficult emotions, as unpleasant as they may be, is not a wise path. Despite my most valiant efforts last year to suppress them, the uncomfortable emotions didn't ever really go away -- they just found new and creative (and usually not very productive) ways to rise to the surface and force me to acknowledge them. I reflected on last year's emotional repressions at great length today as I thought about the possible future journey that lies ahead if the tests next week confirm what we all suspect.

It now is clear to me that emotions do not stand for being suppressed, greeted with shame, or otherwise overlooked. Our emotions are one of the things that make us human, and we should feel them -- we need to feel them, and when we ignore or deny them we do so at our peril. After having that thought, I explicitly said to all that complex and intertwined stuff otherwise known as my emotions, "Bring it on!" From now on, I intend to feel each and every emotion that enters my heart or crosses my brow, and to feel it fully. The good ones, the bad ones, the ones that make me so uncomfortable I want to move to Timbuktu just to get away -- bring them all on. I can handle them.

I can handle all these crazy emotions, and here's why: All emotions are by their nature fleeting. We feel good today, we feel bad tomorrow, we feel kinda-sorta OK the day after that, and so the cycle goes. Actually bringing ourselves to feel all these fleeting and ever-changing emotions is how we know we're alive. I think we get ourselves in trouble, though, when we don't let a fleeting thing do its thing and flee. The trick, in my view, is to feel each emotion that arises for all it's worth, but then when its worth is expended to let it go. The trick, in other words, is to not get stuck.

This is what I want to say to my family, and to myself, right now: Tough times may well be ahead, but don't be afraid of your emotions and for god's sake don't deny them. Your emotions are what make you human, so embrace them. Embrace each one of them for whatever time it seems to serve a useful purpose, and then let it go so that you can feel the next thing just as fully. Because there will be a next thing. There always is.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

It is taking quite an effort on my part not to use this space to vent my reactions to Sarah Palin's debut speech and the Giuliani tirade that preceded it. Instead, I decided to make a list of a few of my favorite things in life, the vast majority of which, I realized with a combination of relief and gratitude, would survive a McCain/Palin administration. Here goes, in no particular order --

- My fiance, especially his keen mind, good looks, and goofy sense of humor
- My parents and brother
- Jacob and Amos the dogs and all the endearing and funny things they do to make me smile
- The wonderful, small-town feel of my Capitol Hill neighborhood, and the many friends I've made while living there
- My home state of North Carolina, particularly the beaches, the mountains, and the beautiful green smell that permeates the air of the Piedmont region in between
- Congressional Cemetery
- The National Arboretum
- Really great massages
- Reading books, especially outdoors on a beautiful day while dining al fresco
- The voices of Cecilia Bartoli, Kiri te Kanawa, Samuel Ramey, and Thomas Quasthoff
- The music of Beethoven and Bach
- Lazy Sundays
- Cooking, especially for people I love
- Going on long walks
- Feeling that I am making a positive difference in the world
- The afternoon light in my upstairs den as the sun hits the skylight
- Taking good vacations
- Living in a place where I can feel the full measure of all four seasons
- The English language and all its many, beautiful nuances
- Having a strong sense of familial and regional history
- Magnolia trees
- Lilacs
- The buttercups that blanket the cemetery in the spring
- The silence of snow
- Figs, in part because they are delicious, but mostly because they remind me of my grandmother
- Ideas and the free exchange thereof
- Wine
- The Lebanese Taverna
- The British Virgin Islands
- Living simply
- Contemplating the ocean and soaking in its healing waves
- Sitting by the fire on fall and winter days
- Crossword puzzles and sudoku
- Collecting art as I'm moved by it
- Going to museums, especially on a rainy day
- Santa Fe
- Doing work that I feel is important and doing it well
- The Constitution of the United States
- Watching Duke basketball
- Being on a sailboat
- Eastern Market
- Tomatoes
- Having choices (although sometimes I have so many that I get overwhelmed!)
- Being a Luddite in a techno-crazy world
- The Library of Congress
- Chanel perfumes, especially No. 19 and Bois des Isles, which smells the way I think heaven must
- Coffee, especially in France and Italy
- Architecture
- Sunrises and sunsets
- Sitting behind the fish pond in the Duke Gardens
- The feeling of knowing that I am truly loved

I probably could keep going all day, but my food-and-drink entries above have made me hungry so I'm going to stop writing now and go eat. And I'll do so feeling a whole lot better than I did before I made this list!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A Woman and Her House

I bought my little row house on Capitol Hill in March of 2000 on somewhat of a whim. I had run out of space for bookcases in my tiny 1-bedroom rental in the Penn Quarter, so I decided to check out the Hill as a possible place to upgrade to something bigger. I figured that I had a decent shot of actually affording a house somewhere in that area (those were the days!), and I liked the fact that Capitol Hill was within walking distance of the National Mall and reasonable commuting distance to work. I was not in a mood to buy at that time, just to check out what the area had to offer with an eye toward buying in a year or two.

On a bone-chilling rainy Sunday in February 2000, a friend and I had brunch at Jaleo (an excellent bribe to enlist someone to go on a house-hunting mission!) and then drove up Capitol Hill with our list of open houses in hand. After spending a day trudging through one house after the other, I loved the feel of the neighborhood, particularly around Eastern Market, but all of the houses we’d seen were kind of blah – too small, too in need of work, too modern an interior for a Victorian-era building, too unappealing a layout, and so on. Just as we were headed to the car to go back downtown, my friend spotted a sign for an open house that wasn’t on our list but that was, conveniently, right around the corner from where we were parked. I reluctantly agreed to give it a look – I was cold, tired, grumpy, and ready to go home, but I figured that checking out one more place wouldn’t do any harm.

When I walked into the house that I now call home, I knew within about 15 seconds that it was “my house.” I immediately loved everything about it – it had been updated but all the charming Victorian details had been left intact, and it had a wonderful flow and a very comfortable vibration about it. As I climbed to the second floor, I saw a cozy den through the banister rails – it had once been the middle bedroom and narrow upstairs hallway, but a previous owner had removed the hallway wall so that there now was an open space in the middle of the second floor overlooking the staircase. This room featured a wood-burning fireplace flanked by built-in bookcases and a sunny window seat, and it was lit by a skylight above the stairwell. When I saw that room, I decided that I absolutely had to buy this house. I already was envisioning where to put all my things, which I knew would look just perfect in a Victorian house. A rapid succession of calls to The Bank of Mom and Dad, a realtor I knew from the Penn Quarter, and a mortgage lender immediately ensued. After stumbling upon this marvelous little house serendipitously on a Sunday, I participated in a 3-way bidding war the immediately following Tuesday and emerged victorious. I settled one month later, on the Ides of March.

Wow! Me, a home owner at the age of 29! Remembering how I felt when I turned the key in the door of my new home for the first time still gives me chills. This was my dream house, and my dream had actually come true. Man was I ever lucky! The movers weren’t scheduled to come until the day after settlement, but I was so excited that I moved the kitchen and bathroom stuff (there wasn’t much of it) over myself on settlement day, and Arthur the cat and I slept on the window seat that first night. At least I attempted to sleep, which was difficult in the face of Arthur’s endless serenade of sounds that were part meow, part howl. He didn’t settle down until the next day when all of our stuff arrived, and then he was fine until a couple months later when I decided that more space was an excuse to get him a new cat.

After a honeymoon period of a couple months, I found myself cataloging the flaws of the house. The wallpaper in the kitchen had to go, I wanted the walls to be a different color, the floors needed refinishing, the molding looked like it had about 20 coats of paint on it, the 100-year old windows rattled when they were closed and had to be propped open because they had no sash cords, there was lots of noise because of the buses and fire trucks zooming by, the deck was in need of repair, and the list continued. Whenever I fixed one thing I’d immediately notice at least two other things, so my home improvement list just kept getting longer no matter how much time and money went toward repairs. Now I knew why my parents and countless others called their houses “money pits!”

I found during the first few years that, as much as I really loved the house, I did not appreciate all its beauty and good attributes because I was so focused on what was “wrong.” I got so frustrated by all the perceived flaws of my home that I spent most of my non-working hours finding ways to stay out of it. Looking back on it, I see that this attitude toward my home in many ways mirrored my attitude toward myself during those years. I had long tended to focus on my own flaws to the exclusion of my good traits, and I always felt a need to stay in motion, to keep ahead of what I might find if I dared to be still for a moment.

These days, as I have relaxed into accepting myself as I am, I concurrently have been spending much more time at home. I now find myself really savoring all the good things about the house – things that I never fully appreciated before – and I marvel at how numerous those good things are. I see the lovely wall colors, the growing art collection, the updated kitchen in which cooking is such a pleasure, the lovely wonkiness of the original glass windows, and the furnishings that remain both pretty and comfortable despite the damage from cat claws. Although I still have something in the way of a to-do list, at this point I tend to see the items on it as things that will lend character and charm to the house until such time as they are addressed, which in many cases may well be never. So be it. Such is the beauty of an old house.

The newfound ability to pause, and to be comfortable with exactly where things are during that pause instead of grasping for something more or different, has blessed me with numerous benefits, not the least of which is the ability to appreciate the true loveliness of my home sweet home.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Who Am I, Really?

I recently have started having conversations geared toward finding myself a job sometime between now and the beginning of next year. There have not been any formal interviews yet – I’ve simply been testing the waters to get a feel for where I might have the best chance of cutting a deal to my liking (which, by the way, would involve policy-centered work in the bank regulatory field, enough money to pay the bills, no more than 3 days per week, and a reasonable assurance that the part-time aspect of the arrangement would be honored – if anybody out there is reading this and has any ideas, please let me know!).

In anticipation that the real employment negotiations will start taking place soon, this morning I dusted off my résumé. What a flurry of thoughts and emotions that brought to the surface! There was a time, as recently as last year, when I more or less defined myself by reference to my résumé, my job title, and my annual job performance ratings. Looking at my résumé today was a stark reminder of those days and how miserable I felt during them -- always looking to my job for fulfillment, always looking to my academic and job accomplishments to validate my self-worth, always competing to be better than those around me and better than I was last year, always feeling that no matter how well I did it was not good enough, always ticked off when someone else did better or got promoted faster (especially if that someone went to crappy schools and/or wasn’t, in my view, of above-average intelligence). Sheesh, what a draining way to live! No wonder I needed a year off!

At this time last year, when I was weighing the decision of whether or not to take a year off of work, one thing that I remember vaguely wondering in passing was, “Who will I be if I’m not a lawyer at the Federal Reserve Board anymore?” Answering this question certainly was not on my list of conscious reasons to quit my job and take a year off, but I think that in many respects it may have been my real reason for doing so. The part of me that really knows stuff knew that this question needed answering, and that there was only one set of circumstances under which I would bring myself to answer it. I needed to be in a place where I no longer had a job title that I could use as a substitute for a sense of self and where the list of academic and professional achievements that I was substituting for self-worth became completely irrelevant. I needed to throw away the psychological crutches on which I had so long depended to see what would be left standing without them. I have always liked a challenge, and boy did I get one!

Doing away with the conditions that nurtured my particular brand of the “I am what I do” belief resulted initially in a fair amount of self-pity and self-doubt. However, seeing what is left standing without the old crutches has been more than worth that early discomfort. What is left standing is a human being who knows that her true self cannot be pinned down and neatly labeled and is OK with that reality. What is left standing is a human being who knows that trying to convince herself of her worth by amassing external achievements is completely beside the point because self-worth comes from within. What is left standing is a human being who realizes that trying to assert her superiority over other human beings also is completely beside the point because in the end we are all just people who are born and die and who are essentially the same while we live. What is left standing is one human being among billions who knows that we are all in this soup called life together and that we need to honor one another, not compete against one another, if we are to have any hope of satisfaction, individually or collectively.

Today, after a year of reflecting on many topics, including my own sense of being, I looked at my résumé with new eyes. Today, for the first time, I did not look at that piece of paper and think, “This represents who I am.” Instead I thought, “This describes how I’ve chosen to spend my time.” This shift in perspective is, in my book, further evidence that the benefits of taking a year off were more than worth the costs.

Monday, September 1, 2008

It's Labor Day?

For the last nine years, I was a lawyer at the Federal Reserve Board and a total slave to the federal holiday schedule. I typically would start looking forward to Labor Day weekend no later than July 5. Labor Day kicks off that wonderful 5-month period during which there are one or two federal holidays a month. It also features hands-down the best weather of any federal holiday and does not involve either cooking for a crowd or going over to someone else's house to be part of a crowd (a real bonus for the introverts among us). I think it would be safe to say that Labor Day always has been my favorite federal holiday. I even like Labor Day better than Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which falls around my birthday and frequently got me a long birthday weekend.

In light of my enduring fondness for Labor Day, something very strange happened this year. I did not even realize Labor Day was coming until last Friday, when I just happened to hear someone mention it on the radio. If it hadn't been for that, I probably would not have known about Labor Day until this morning, when I no doubt would have been caught wondering aloud why my significant other was not going to work. What a difference a year and a non-working perspective make! I guess that's to be expected, given the purpose and title of the holiday.

Now that I finally am with the program, I would like to wish everyone, workers and non-workers alike, a happy Labor Day. It is a beautiful September day out there -- at least in the DC metro area -- and I hope that folks will make the most of it.