Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Writing Oxford: Life in a Small Town

A pilot becomes a painter, documenting a half century of a small town and becomes a part of the story he is telling--community exhibits, his paintings hanging on residents' walls, the side of the market bearing a mural of his work.

A real estate agent, who sails, carves decoys and models, and writes books and poetry about his hometown, starts a tradition of decorating docks along the creek with Christmas trees, that are still lit every December. An award bearing his name is given out each year to the people who are doing the most to honor the town's past and move it forward.

A World War II photographer turns his lens to the small community he calls home and helps pen the definitive history book of the town's first three centuries. And along the way, he helps save the old school building, turning it into a community center.

Howard Lapp, Doug Hanks Jr., and Norman Harrington. Just three examples, but ones that float to the front of my mind, about how individuals can and do make a difference in Oxford, Md., and how Oxford's collective history is told through the stories of its people.

This is obviously the case with any small town or community, but Oxford is the one that I know and whose names and people I know and have seen in action. The chapters of the town's history are people and a person has the chance to be an integral part of the story.

I think I have felt that more in Oxford than anywhere else, which is maybe what keeps me close, or brings me back. Oxford's is a story that is unfolding, and anyone could play a big part in what that story is or what it becomes.

In 1704, Oxford was one of Maryland's most important cities. By 1800, it was desolate. In 1900, the town had ten general stores, five seafood packing houses, two restaurants, two physicians, two blacksmiths, two hotels, a flour mill, shipbuilder, cooper, dentist, brick manufacturer, undertaker, druggist, barber, shoemaker, sailmaker, newspaper, bank, and four churches (citing "From Pot Pie to Hell and Damnation: An Illustrated Gazetteer of Talbot County").

I'm not saying Oxford could return as a hub of commerce, nor that that would be a good thing. In my lifetime it's been a town known for boat yards, restaurants, brick sidewalks, boats, and water. A number of the people who live here found it by sailing and decided to call it home. That's pretty damn cool.

I don't claim any special knowledge or insight into Oxford's future. No predictions or prophesies here. What I like is seeing how people, individuals, have made a difference; have shaped the town and helped create what it has been and what it is. And knowing that for wherever the town goes, those people are here now, living and/or working and helping it get there. People whose vision, whose efforts, whose eccentricities, whose time, whose senses of humor, all make a difference and make up the town.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

In October Bloom

Tuesday morning bike to work. The trees haven't changed, but leaves are falling. The breeze ambles alongside, waking the skin on my face and forearms, shirt sleeves rolled up. It's a Phil Collins fall day, "no jacket required."

Fall is a return to school and to field hockey. I've been thinking a lot about what it means to raise girls, or kids in general, so that they grow up and become good people--caring, compassionate, connected; passionate, curious, critical thinkers. Individuals.

A friend shared this the other day, which seemed to me to put things into a solid perspective. Have them learn to care about something other than themselves, to find, for themselves, what is truly important in life.

I think about how much time kids will sit in front of a screen if you let them. That's not a statement about today's kids, we would have done the same thing, but Atari and Betamax can only hold your attention for so long. What makes me happy is how quickly they will leave screens in favor of something more fun, if they think about it, I want to make sure they think about it.

I'm a believer that kids being bored is a good thing, and that it is their job to combat their own boredom. That is where creativity comes from.

But kids model after the people around them, for better or worse, even (and especially) parents and grown ups, wrong as we frequently are. I dig that the girls see running, biking, skateboarding; I love that we play soccer, kickball, go paddleboarding, walk dogs, or that they can be surprised by dad's monkey bar skills :)

There is the active stuff. But there is also the aesthetic stuff that shapes their souls. Going to a concert to hear live music; watching a sunset from the shoreline; filling bird feeders and being able to name some of the birds that come; drinking hot tea; being able to sit still; knowing the names of flowers.

I love that they know what it is to be a part of a family and a community that knows each other, enjoys each other's company, and looks out for one another.

There are different barometers, small things, that overflow my heart. When the girls say thank you, unprovoked; when they turn cartwheels and play in the grass; when they laugh until they are out of breath; when I see them stop and notice something that someone else might walk by. Like a yellow rose in October bloom.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Ring the Bells

I wanted to say something about light. Fractured light, noticeable for being splintered. That's often how my mind works, get an image, find something to say about it. I looked for cool quotes, and found Leonard Cohen saying, "There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in." End of search.

The next morning, I had a picture I took of church bells, one I took while running. I start combing through quotes about bells and find, "Ring the bells that still can ring. / Forget your perfect offering." Also Cohen. Wow, that's cool. Then I see the piece above, and they were backwards halves, the two quotes, of the same verse.

I searched for two thoughts, separate from each other, one about light, one about bells, not looking for them to be connected at all, one at night, and then the next morning, and I might as well be talking to Leonard Cohen.

And I like where Leonard is going. We're flawed. Everything is broken. And therein lies it's beauty. That's what lets us/life shine, our wonderful brokenness. And you know what? Fu** it, ring the bells that still can ring. Don't sit around pining over what used to seem perfect, or waiting for everything to be just right. Carpe the diem, not some unpromised diem down the road.

Leonard's words have been ringing in my head since. And if you don't know his voice, it's not easily duplicated or forgotten. It stays there for a while. But don't take my word for it.

Fractures and fragments send my mind to puzzle pieces. Glimpses, not the full view. If I stick with the night sky that has caught my eyes of late, something like the sky being cracked and letting the stars light through, but not all at once.

Something like vignettes. Last night, walking up Bonfield Avenue, a fox bolted by, sprinting under the street lights and turning down a side street. Last night and the night before, the low-lying yards along the road were under water.

There are singular moments, that feel like more. That feel connected, but I don't have the balcony seats that give me that overarching perspective. I can't tell, can't see that things are connected, but I can feel it.

What to do with a limited view or perspective? Listen to Leonard. Ring the bells.