Saturday, March 26, 2022

North Shore Notes: Rose-Colored Glasses

     Saturday. Whew. Busy week. Interviews, paperwork, heading downtown midweek with the Thresholds homeless outreach team for Friday's column, all the usual obligations. It's a relief to sit slumped in the dugout with my left arm wrapped in ice and watch Caren Jeskey confidently trot to the mound to pitch relief. Her report: 

Design for the cover of "The Raven," by Edouard Manet (Met)


By Caren Jeskey

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!
            — from The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
   My sister’s 8 year old child was buckled into her carseat with me last weekend and asked “what do you know about that raven play?” After a bit of frustration on her part when I was not quite sure what she was talking about—adolescence seems to happen earlier and earlier, doesn’t it?—we settled on talking about the only theater-related black bird thing that came to my mind, the Raven Theatre on Clark and Granville. Improv classes teach us to pick up whatever our partner throws at us verbally, and run with it. This seemed to do the trick and my niece was on board with the conversation.
    From contemplating a world where live theater safely exists, I moved our bird talk on to Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Raven" to see if that rang a bell for her. She hadn't heard of it.
     A little later, at my house, she soaked in a warm tub—does winter ever end in Chicago?—and I read her a redacted (for maturity) version of the poem. She listened raptly, and mostly had no idea what Poe’s words meant. Just as the adults in my life did for me when I was learning Shakespeare at her age (I recall seeing Othello when I was 8, in Loyola University’s library on the lakefront) I gave her the words in modern English.
     I let her know that the person in the poem had lost the love of their life, Lenore. They thought, at the time of the writing of the poem, that they would never recover from the grief. We talked about how hard things happen in life that bring us down. Feelings sometimes change, and ideally people heal— even just a bit— from difficulties they thought they’d never get past.
     It’s hard to be chipper these days. Being artificially cheerful is exhausting. It seems inauthentic to be a Pollyanna, ignoring the strife of the world and always looking at the bright side of life. At the same time, Polyanna author Eleanor Porter might have been onto something when she cautioned against being “too busy wishing things were different to find much time to enjoy things as they were.” Just as my elders gave me hope in a world that was surely hard for them many times along the way, perhaps even unbearable, it’s important to keep some degree of hopefulness and positivity in my heart and mind when I can, especially for the children in my life.
     The raven episode had me thinking about the magnificence of birds. A client recently told me that eagles cast huge shadows on the ground, so if one is out hiking in an eagle rich area, a momentary cloud that washes over us might be a visit from one of our national birds. I took a brief hike in Harms woods recently, and such a shadow darkened my car as I was getting in. I looked up and all around but it was elusive, and had disappeared.
     On my North Shore walkabouts I often keep my head to the sky. A hawk darted past and perched on a tree the other day. I stalked it and waited until I was able to capture a mid-flight photo. One such dude pulled shoppers at Da Jewel out of their early COVID funks in fall of 2020 when he posted up on a bike rack outside of the store. He gave them something cool to talk about at an otherwise undeniably uncool time.
     I was once dive-bombed by a redwing blackbird in San Francisco while others captured it on a recording— they were camped out in the financial district enjoying watching passers-by anger the two winged creature as we innocently walked too close to his family’s nest.
     Another time, I was at a yoga retreat in the Bahamas, I was with a small group getting a tour of the grounds. All of a sudden I felt a firm hand on the top of my head, squeezing. The group stared in shock. I did not know what was happening. I crouched down laughing, thinking someone I knew must be pulling a prank by coming up from behind and palming my head. Suddenly the hand was gone and I swung around to see who was messing with me. No one was there. The group animatedly explained that a dove had landed on my head. I felt lucky somehow, though it was probably just trying to kill me.
     Pollyanna was an 11-year-old who lost her parents and was sent to live with her unhappy aunt just before World War I. She played the “glad game” and found the good in everything. Even though each of us knows that justice along with the power found in numbers can move mountains. So why don’t we rise up, en masse, and use this power to defeat the evils of the world?


  1. Being artificially cheerful doesn’t work for me but being genuinely happy in the moment does.
    Justice along with power found in numbers alone will not move mountains. There must be a leader.
    The good folks are hard pressed to find one. The other side (a.k.a. sheep) have someone they follow.

    1. I agree Les. It's been harder for me to access sustainey joy since February of last year - that's when the big freeze in Austin displaced me, then I lost my rental home in Austin months before I was ready to go (necessitating my 2nd [of 4] COVID move, which scared me), then I ended up in 2 rentals in Chicago that did not work out, while I was moving my car was robbed of valuables & family heirlooms, then I got the flu & now have chronic pain issues. (Starting PT soon!). Oy vey! Stress can do a number on a person, that's for sure. I am relieved to be safe and sound and finding my feet again, which is sure to lead to increased feelings of well being. Thanks for reading and commenting! The other side is terrifying so it's good that we have our sane tribe, isn't it? Wishing you a good weekend-

  2. We were dive-bombed by a redwing blackbird at Gilson Park in the first months of the pandemic. We moved to another picnic table ten feet away and all was good. Sometimes it is the little adjustments that fix things. I think we don’t access this when we become dysregulated, which I struggle with more frequently as the pandemic lingers. I always look forward to your Saturday dispatches.

    1. Gillson is a great spot. I got some great photos of ice there this winter. I agree, regarding the challenge of reversing dysregulation. Please see my comment to Les (above). Wishing you conscious moments of peace today and every day, and I hope you have a therapist or other trusted confidante to support you.

    2. A few summers ago, at a Lake Erie beach, a rather large bird flew directly into my face and tried to peck my eyes out, as I came down the stairs to the sand. It did manage to to peck me on the head a couple of times.

      Normally, I would have retreated, and detoured around it. Instead, I became enraged, grabbed a large tree branch, and tried to clock it. The beach is where I go to find serenity and tranquility, so I must have been in an especially bad mood that day. I blame Trump.

  3. My close encounter with an avian presence happened during a cruise, while I was seated at a table on deck trying to read a book in Spanish by Isabel Allende about her daughter Paula. A small bird about the size of what I call a sparrow, probably inaccurately, alighted on my baseball cap, which I then laid on the table without dislodging the bird. It was pre-everybody-has-a-camera in-their-phone-days, at least for me, and I didn't ruin the occasion by trying to photograph the creature nor did I interrogate it about any of the many love losses in my life. The bird soon flew away.
    If I recall, Poe wrote a magazine article explaining how he came to write "The Raven," which was terrific even though quite obviously fictional.


    1. Great story! And thanks for the Poe insight. I found this:

  4. I was on my lap, looked up and there was a pretty big hawk sitting on a bush. It couldn't have been more than ten feet away. I did get a couple of pictures but as I am a pretty bad photographer they weren't very good. Not sure what kind of hawk it was, maybe a red tail from the pictures I looked up. Wish I would have gotten a photo when it spread its wings. We tend to see hawks flying around here but I have never seen one that close before.

  5. Sweet visitor! Hope you see one again.


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