Try to Remember

I haven’t seen the musical “The Fantasticks,” but I love a song from it, called “Try to Remember.” It’s calm and sweet and reminiscent, and I think you should give it a listen:)

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

I’m writing for a few reasons–one is that it’s September, finally. And that is worth reveling in, just by itself. The -ember months (including the very loveliest, October) have a way of waking me up inside; in fact, I’m half-convinced I’m doing a sort of sleep-walk/hibernation the rest of the year. The air dries out and a breeze comes down the trees, and the breeze is bringing fall. And it smells like smoke and cinnamon and hope and yearning.

Another reason I’m writing is to inform the blogging world that I got a job, which is weird. Because I can’t just take the job and shut up–I have to do some soul-searching and agonizing before I turn into corporate-brained robot Jo. That’s not what I meant. What I mean is that, well, I wasn’t gonna get a job this year (see The Plan for that particular bit of soul-searching). I was going to read and read and read, and relish just being with my family, and take all the opportunities that would never come once I settled down to whatever-the-future-might-hold. I wasn’t going to worry; I was going to let next year worry about itself.

I was going to be a lily.

So while I’m very thankful for this job, I feel in some way that I’ve failed by doing anything so crude as being employed. (See what an absolute idiot I can be? I can regret anything.) Enough of the regret. Enough enough enough.

The job, if you were wondering, is medical writing/editing. So I do a lot of scanning long documents for numbers and split infinitives. If I describe it any more, you might think it’s the most boringest thing ever, but that is NOT the point I’m trying to make. The point is I get to use what I’ve learned (about sentence structure and the use of semicolons) and I get to help very smart people communicate even better. Because I’m not terribly smart, scientifically, but when I understand what I’m reading, it’s fascinating.

So my job involves detective work: (1) because scientists like to hide their identity with a bunch of passive voice; and (2) because I have to look up every third word in my newly acquired medical dictionary.

And there’s a third aspect to medical writing–it’s a game Mary Poppins might call “Well begun is half done,” or “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

“In the most delightful way.”

I see if I can make it interesting–whatever “it” may happen to be. I just see if I can be intrigued, and sometimes, God grants me a curiosity about things I never would have expected to be interested in.

Not that reading an essay by E.B. White still isn’t vastly preferable (I love that how that man wrote), but today, for example, I found myself staring at a diagram of a human cell, feeling a steadily rising excitement at the prospect of defining “ribosome” or “reticular.” I like learning (or re-learning, in this case). Words make me laugh, words like “glucocorticoid.” It sounds hilarious.

Honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing–either with this blog or with this job. I do know that I’d kind of forgotten what I wanted to write about, or how I wanted to write, so being reminded of the importance of communication has been lovely. The very idea that literature is valuable and science article abstracts are valuable–this has me wanting to go read Poe’s “Sonnet: to Science.” I’m not seeing the dichotomy between literature and science–or at least, I’m not seeing that the conflict has to be there.

I’m thinking of Robert Herrick and his ode to a woman’s breast and how I blushed when we read it in class, hearing the speaker describe, quite beautifully, quite unscientifically, the appearance of his lover’s body. There’s a wonder there, about the way things are, and the sort of delight that, at least in the abstract, I share. Of course, people are more than only their physical bodies, but the physical is there, and it’s funny and intricate and weird.

I think it’s when I forget that, behind the diagrams and clinical descriptions, there’s a design and a Designer, that science ever could become boring to me. It’s when I forget that the same things are signified by literary words and scientific terminology that the definition of amino acids as “building blocks of protein” fails to delight. Think carefully–of what is meant by building blocks, of what your experience of a building block is, and suddenly the picture is there.

In my mind, there’s a nursery with toys strewn around, and a very solemn and holy baby picking out the perfect little protein block to place on the next one, and so forth until a cell, an organism, a human has been knit together in the womb.

Language is lovely.

Science is lovely, if you can just remember there’s something beyond the physical that gives reason and meaning to existence. The idea that the heart pumps blood without my remembering or my telling it to pump–in a way, to my unscientific mind, inexplicable. If it can lead you to wonder at something other than yourself, it has promise, I’m thinking.

I don’t even know about this whole blog post. Better go and read E.B. White, or the rest of this Septembery song:

Try to remember when life was so tender
That no one wept except the willow
Try to remember when life was so tender
And dreams were kept beside your pillow
Try to remember when life was so tender
And love was an ember about to billow
Try to remember and if you remember then follow

Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Although you know snow will follow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
Without a hurt the heart is hollow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember
The fire of September that made us mellow
Deep in December it’s nice to remember and follow

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Letter #6: The Power of Words and the Absence of Coffee

Dear Aglet,

Yesterday was sunny and gorgeous and I was glad just to be alive, breathing in the spring air.

Today was dark and rainy and I hadn’t had any coffee.

If local weather patterns and the absence of caffeine make as much of a difference in my mood when I’m a grandma as they do now, heaven help us, Aglet. Specifically, heaven help you.

Possibly by the time you’re around, they’ll have discovered caffeine is this CRAZY addicting drug (no way!) and they’ll regard my generation as the last of the foolish human societies who imbibed ridiculous amounts of this drug in an attempt to become as gods and work around the clock without consequences.

Maybe it’ll be illegal by the 2040s, and caffeine will be the drug of choice for business men and women, the only ones who can afford to enhance their alertness with impunity. Some poor menial will get busted Thursday because his eyebrows were raised too high during a boring staff meeting.

There’ll be a society formed to help wean people off their caffeine dependencies, full of men with disheveled faces and women with crazy hair, all horribly grouchy, attempting to function as normal human beings.

It’s in that age, Aglet, that I’ll tell you of the delightful days when was young, and getting together and drinking caffeinated beverages was the thing to do. My own parents got me started on it and thought nothing of it–how they’d just reduced their daughter to one of those weirdos who is bummed out all day FOR NO REASON except they’re tired, also for no reason.

There’s almost always reasons, Aglet. People like to blame sad days on the weather, or their hormones, or not having had their fix (of coffee), but I’m not sure why we can’t just sometimes have sad days and admit there might be valid reasons for being sad.

It’s okay to be sad sometimes.

There are lots of reasons to be sad in this world, Aglet. They have a lot to do with how the world is and how the world ought to be, and all the myriad of instances where that doesn’t line up.

I forget how powerful words are, either to lift up or to tear down. They can also wear someone down, through a consistent negativity that’s like clockwork in its accuracy. A thoughtless or impatient word somehow comes out faster and easier than does a kind word.

Tonight my lovely mom–your great-grandmother–noticed I was down and came to the college to talk with me. She bought us ice cream and told me some stories about when she was in college. Later I did some talking, and she listened, and I realized that the kindest thing she’d done was to notice that I seemed sad and ask me about it.

How often do I take the time to ask people if they’re alright? I’m not saying I need to badger people to tell me every detail of what they’re thinking, but if I had to pick a thing that’s truly worth spending time on, it might be in making myself available to listen, or speak good words to someone. Not out of an attempt to fix them, as if being sad is always a thing we must fix (often we don’t have the power to heal their situations), but out of a consideration for the person. Out of a love for them.

My mom needed to do taxes tonight, and instead spent two and a half hours visiting over some ice cream. And oh, how I love her for it.