Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Be as happy about spring as you were sick of winter

     A shame that we don't greet the spring with the same zeal that we apply to loathing the winter. Maybe because we don't have to shovel the warm breeze. The flowers that poke up —like these purple crocuses in the trees beside our house Monday — can be left where they are. 
     Over the weekend, I got in a little yard work -- mainly scraping up the leaves that eluded me last fall. We went crazy with bulbs last year, and it is good to see them coming back in numbers. Can't plant tomatoes yet, of course —Mother's Day — but I'm tidying the garden, plotting my crop. More butter lettuce, less arugula.
     As I went about my tasks, I for some reason thought of bucket lists, all those romantic quests people assign themselves, claiming they must do before they die, climbing Manchu Picchu and going on an African safari, bungee jumping off a bridge over some gorge in New Zealand. These things, they seem to suggest, will give their lives texture and completeness and meaning.
     Maybe so. I can't answer for other people's lives. Nobody can. You can only explain your own. Me, I honestly don't want to do any of those. Maybe this means I'm getting old, but what I really want to do before I go is more of this. Puttering around this yard. Seeing to these bulbs and trees and bushes. The things that highlight my life aren't things found on any brochure. I'm really glad I had kids, got a dog. Contentment gets a bad name, but not among those experiencing it. Certainly nothing to be embarrassed about. I don't want a bigger house or a better car. I've seen Paris and Venice and London and Rome and Tokyo and and Tapei and Jerusalem and Casablanca... Not that I've seen the world or anywhere close and now have no where else to go.  Hawaii would be nice. Edie and I are going to go there, we've decided, next year, for our 25th anniversary. I imagine they've got really nice flowers.
    But I'm in no rush, and if we never make it there, I won't be calling out "Kealakekua Bay!" on my deathbed in regret. It's spring right now, right here. The winter was a beast, as Chicago readers know. Too much cold and too much snow for too long. But it's done now. And we should be at least half as happy about spring being here as we were mad at being mired in endless winter. We're not of course. Human nature. We have a certain genius for unhappiness. We're Mozarts of complaint.
     Speaking of which. Don't get me wrong; it's work, the yard. Sometimes I abandon it to practice lying on the sofa, reading a book. Another top item on my personal bucket list of small, quotidian tasks. And none of my garden turns out perfect, none of those fancy Versailles-like flower beds that some people manage. We have a really big yard, and it's old and overgrown and there's just me, but I do the best I can, and parts look okay sometimes. Well Edie, too, God bless her, pitches in. The bulbs were her baby.
     The cat marker, by the way, is for Hercules, a lovely, lithe tabby who died young. He was a fan of apple sausages, and I would feed him bits at breakfast—I hope that wasn't what did him in, although, if it was, he died happy, which is what I hope somebody says about me if they find me pitched over in the garden someday.  Better there than on the train. 


  1. Neil,

    I know that writing obituaries was part of your job in the past. Do you have one already prepared for yourself? If so, can you share any of it with the rest of us. Those of us who are definitely older than you probably won't have the chance to read it in the flesh. If not, I understand.

    1. No, and I'll tell you why. A certain reporter, known for his solid writing style, did exactly that, and I inherited the obit when he left, a puffed up piece of pomposity focusing on awards and side aspects that were meaningless to the general public. I scrapped it without a qualm, and wrote my own, better one, for him when the time came. By the time I die there won't be newspapers, which is no great lunge toward longevity. If people do such things online, which I imagine they will, I'll hope that somebody skilled handles mine, but if not, I've left enough behind to serve. Were I going to die tomorrow, and I HAD to write one, were it mine or none, I might begin it. "Neil Steinberg considered himself an explorer in the land of the dull. He liked nothing better than a factory making cardboard tubes, an obscure medical procedure, an arcane subject like the death of the men's hat industry, or the National Spelling Bee. He would rush in, through the doorway marked 'BORING' that kept stout-hearted writers out, fill his pockets with rubies, and then rush back to what readership he had to share what he had found." Something like that.

    2. Neil,

      I understand. However, if I should pass on before you, would you consider changing the name of your blog? I doubt it's going to make it through the site blocker in Heaven. :-)

    3. Oh, everything I know about God suggests a wicked sense of humor, and a cruel streak to boot.

    4. Time to change your "missed it the first time" entry

  2. That's a good obit and add: never dull.


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