Saturday, August 07, 2010

John and I were talking about it over ice cream on the back porch last night. I was basking in the glow of playing my last Cookie Baker Trio gig, and we were both loving the stars and the very cool air. We both like August and September weather: cooler nights, days not so laden with humidity. Good for starwatching.

It was during the months after my separation and divorce, fifteen years ago, that I started to lie out on the back porch on a lounge chair, often wrapped in a blanket, just looking up at the sky. I did that many lonely nights, long into September and October, wrapped in a blanket, to avoid absolute despair from loneliness.

I didn't identify stars, learn constellation names or any of that logical, focused behavior. I just stared into the deep night sky, to realize that my loneliness was the natural state of humanity, that I was not a freak and it would not kill me to be so alone. My sons were sometimes sleeping inside the house. I had a life, a busy career in the classroom, a side gig as a musician. At night, though, I needed the stars for company sometimes. My screen names on the computer were carolstar or starwatcher. It got conversations started when I was chatting with strangers scattered here and there across New York State or northern Pennsylvania...or sometimes farther away than that.

As I lay on the lounge chair on the porch, staring up until the darkness swam around, I was distracted from my self-centered musings by the sheer beauty that surrounded me. I was numbed by the quantity of stars, the depth of view, the cold air. I could return to my bed alone but sleepy and not give up hope, having that beauty in mind as I drifted off to sleep, rather than my woes.

Not consciously, I began to pursue beauty as a therapy. On my daily walks, I enjoyed the variety of greens in the leaves of the forest where my path led me. In the winter, I enjoyed the sound of the crunching snow, the pattern of dark and light in the tree trunks exposed by loss of foliage. In the fall I reveled (don't we all, here in the deciduous belt?) in the changing colors, the subtle shadings, of various trees, depending on the chemistry of their leaves and the change in sunlight exposure each day. In the spring I watched for that day when the leaves were just a twinkle in the eye of the forest, a mist of tiny green pointillisms placed by nature, the great impressionist.

On some of my solitary days and nights, especially when my sons were not with me, I pursued the sound of beauty: the jazz group that played for Sunday brunch, the wrenching blues guitar of newly discovered (though well known to others) artists, the notes my singing partner and I would blend in a new arrangement of an old folk song. I surrounded myself with splashes of color in my house, and mixed textures of cloth and decor. I became a worshipper of beauty. I found I was not alone; many of us humankind like to obsess this way. Not a bad way to live one's life, pursuing beauty. I could do worse, collect child pornography, or guns, or kill small animals for sport.

Of course, all this was related to my love of beauty in words. In my new life alone, I rediscovered poetry, which I had loved in high school, and studied until my love for it was nearly killed in college. I started writing along with my students, and that was a good thing for me to do. I collected beautiful phrases I composed, imagery that reminded me of all I found to love on my walks or in my skyward meditations or window gazing. Yes, you could say I am obsessed with beauty in nature, and that is a topic for poets. I am a poet, though I've only published two poems, and those only in a web 'zine so obscure I have to provide people with the link or no one would find it. This latest manifestation of my love for beauty and my expression of it in words is in the haiku I try to post on Facebook as soon as I return from the daily walk. I have quite a collection now, after starting last fall.

The hiatus, during spring semester, is directly traceable to the pressure of a heavy reading schedule for policy and quantitative research classes and my replacement obsession with homework. That is past, though, and I can't imagine that curriculum and learning theory classes can match the intensity of the focus I had during my first semester back as a student. I will try not to let it distract me from this more important obsession with beauty and its expression in words.

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