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I occasionally google myself to see if anything bizarre shows up on the list. I’ve gone from three pages to nine, with a lot of repetitions but only a few links totally unrelated. At least the one linking to my race time in a half-marathon is gone. Years ago I walked in a fundraiser, the only time I’ve ever walked that far without stopping. I’d be embarrassed if anyone from my past googled me and thought I could actually finish any part of a marathon.

One surprise today was a link to a PDF of part of my family’s genealogy. I know the basics, but having this document pop up in relation to my name was new.

My grandmother came from two branches of early white arrivals to what became Massachusetts. I want to try to trace her ancestry through the mothers since the odds of no woman in nearly 300 years getting pregnant by a man other than her husband, voluntarily or involuntarily, seem pretty slim.

But for now, I’ll assume that generations of Groziers and Hopkins brought my mother into the world, and then me. Our first Grozier ancestor on this continent, William, died September 28th, 1734 and was buried at Christ Church in Boston. Christ Church is the Old North Church, built in 1723 with the steeple used to broadcast “one if by land, two if by sea.” Stephen Hopkins, a Stranger, landed with the Pilgrims in 1620 and died in Plymouth in 1644. He’s always been a favorite of mine, because, if the story is true, he got into hot water with the Pilgrims for brewing beer on the Sabbath.

The genealogy notes where many of the men are buried, but often the resting place of the women is marked “unknown.”

It seems most of my ancestors before 1920 were buried in Plymouth, Boston or in the Old North Truro cemetery.

On the grave listing of the Truro cemetery I see many ancestral names. Which makes me sad because I don’t know exactly where my grandmother is buried. Somewhere in Connecticut. I haven’t been to Connecticut since I was 13.

But a casual internet search, lasting a few seconds, puts pins on the map of our family’s lives and deaths. Why do the long dead feel more real than the grandmother who made us fudge and had brown eyes?

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I went to the first open house of the year at my grandson’s elementary school last night. We all gathered in the courtyard in the center of the school to hear a brief talk from the principle. It was a warm humid evening, but the kids were running around having fun behind us and the PTA had set up water jugs and chocolate chip cookies, so it was a relaxed and celebratory atmosphere.

Lots of parents came, and lots volunteer to do stuff for the school. This is a magnet school which uses a lottery system to admit kids outside the neighborhood boundaries, and it’s highly desired. I didn’t see too many other grandparents, and I’m grateful that my daughter in law is engaging me in my grandson’s educational life. As with most other grandparental experiences, I get to enjoy my grandson’s enthusiasm for school without worrying too much about occasional problems or challenges. He loves his school, and that’s what I can focus on.

The principal started by giving us a report on the school’s status with the “No Child Left Behind” act. When she said the school failed on reading, I was shocked. But she went on to explain that the NCLB reading tests are given in 3rd grade. And until this current year, the school didn’t even offer third grade, was only a K through 2nd grade school.

What happens is the kids leave after second grade and feed into their neighborhood, charter or other magnet schools. And if one of those schools fail in reading, any school that feeds kids into it also fails.

I’m not sure how this really identifies where the problems are. I strongly doubt many of kids who left my grandson’s school would fail at reading. But now his school must offer “intervention” classes to address the failure. If that helps even one child read better, that’s great. It just seems a wacky system, and maybe diverts funding from schools that really need more.

I also learned that the arts and P.E. programs exist at our school because of donations. It’s sad, no, it’s neglectful, that so many kids around the country don’t get to discover their talent or love for art, music, dance, or athletics in elementary school. We visited the art teacher last night. She had given her first class this week. She asked the kids what “art” is, and wrote their responses on big white paper.

“Art is music on paper.” “Art is like my heart.”

“Shed a Little Light” by James Taylor. It’s a joyful tribute.

Decided I wouldn’t read much news today, so I spent my first cup of coffee reading the Sunday comics. Every single one. Got to “Pickles”, the one about the older couple, retired, spending too much time together. But in this one the woman was out having lunch with a friend. She says, “I always carry change with me in case I need to use a pay phone. I  know that sounds silly and outdated, because I do have a cell phone in my purse.”

And I realized that’s me! Whether it’s my regular purse or a lighter one for shopping or a picnic, I always put two quarters in. With my cell phone. I do it automatically. If I had no cell phone coverage and urgently needed to make a call, I’d probably ask someone if I could borrow their cell phone. I don’t think it would even occur to me to look for a payphone. Are there any left?

But my mother trained me well.

Oh, the joy of discovery just when you’re turning circles on the straight road of reason. I’ve been pondering In Defense of the Memory Theater, by Nathan Schneider.

His essay explores what we lose as our physical book collections, gathered by mind, heart and soul, are replaced with millions of restless individual books digitized mainly by google and amazon.

“Memory theater”comes from Frances Yate’s book The Art of Memory. I did not know that from the classical period through the Renaissance era people used mnemonic techniques to  retain, and thus pass along, “vast stores of knowledge before the invention of the printed page.”

Schneider writes: “In those millennia between the advent of knowledge worth clinging to and the invention of the printed word, the Western mind had a desperate obsession with memory—or, one could say, a sensible concern. The art of memory made possible the health of one’s soul, the possession of one’s culture, and the means of reaching God.”

He continues:

“In the age of inexpensive, printed books, our memory theaters have become both richer and more banal; we have entrusted them to our bookshelves rather than to tricks of mental contortion or cosmic schemata. As I look over my own shelf, I see my life pass before my eyes. The memories grafted onto each volume become stirred and awakened by a glance at the spine, which presents itself to be touched, opened, and explored. Without the bookshelf’s landscape to turn to, that manifest remainder from a lifetime of reading, how would one think? What would one write?”

And for me: “How would one feel?”

I admire people who can write about tragedy in their lives, especially when it’s fresh. Famous people like Joan Didion writing about her husband’s death, even while losing her daughter. Christopher Hitchens while most likely dying of cancer. Regular people who manage to privately journal through their grief and anger. I’ve never been able to. Death in the family, serious illness…the writing part of my brain screams “abort abort!” and slinks behind a television shoveling mindless trash into the void.

Three weeks ago I didn’t suffer a tragedy. No one died or got sick. No one was injured physically. I just got robbed. Some creep came in through my front window, took my tv, laptops, camera, jewelry, and many small items that  had value only to me. My grandmother’s broken watch. A cedar box from my great grandparents. A small gift for a friend not yet given. Paper shillings from a dream trip to Kenya…

I lost video of my grandson’s preschool graduation ceremony, gone with my digital camera. A gold necklace from my mother. Bracelets my niece made. Most of my jewelry were gifts. Every piece, gone.

And some creep went through my dresser drawers, my closet.  Dumped trash on my bed.

I haven’t been able to write a word.

I should have written about the surreal episode with the police, sweat dripping from their noses onto my dresser, my window, as they tried to get fingerprints and instead left their shoe prints on my carpet. About how I could not remember the color of my laptop or the brand of my television as they stared at me with their little notepads open. Or about the cold insurance claims man who determined replacement value of my stuff by shopping on the internet but couldn’t manage to type in a URL so I could prove how much I spent on something I really needed to replace.

Or how I scrutinize every person who walks past my house and decide on looks alone that they’re a thief.

Or how my home doesn’t feel like home anymore.

Today I decided I had try to write. Am I feeling better? Not really. Some days. Nights, not so much. I race out of my bedroom when I hear a noise. Lay awake wondering. But today I’ll try to write.

President Obama’s DOE released a nuclear weapons stewardship plan as part of its 2010-2011 budget that manages to spend more money on fewer warheads. Or will there be fewer?  Because along with reducing the nuclear arsenal 40-50 percent (but with budget numbers $2 billion higher than for the full arsenal) it includes an additional $8 billion ($175 billion over the next 20 years) on” new weapons production, testing and simulation facilities…That price tag does not include the cost of maintaining and operating nuclear weapons delivery systems, which are covered by the Department of Defense budget.” (quote from the Federation of American Scientists.)

This is yet another example of do what we say, not what we do. YOU must cut back on your nuclear stockpiles, and YOU must not start nuclear weapons program. But WE are special, WE need to be able to build new nukes really really fast if another bad guy shows up.

Or WE need to keep some politicians and defense contractors really really happy.

And exactly where is all the nuclear waste from this program going to? I’m pretty ticked off, Mr. Obama. My grandson just turned five, and this is the gift you’re giving him?

Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Complex protest

At least some folks keep up the fight to make US pay attention:

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2010/jul/05/nuclear-weapons-protested/

Photo courtesy of The Nuclear Resister