Things I didn’t know I loved

A few months ago, a person who had recently moved back to Jackson after having lived for a while in Austin, TX, mentioned on a Facebook group for gardeners that he wanted to start a bonsai club, where we could learn about bonsai – the Japanese art of growing trees in pots – together.

I’m a social introvert, meaning I’m a person who enjoys people but for whom they are exhausting. I don’t really like clubs. Or gatherings. Or meetings. My preference is for very small groups, often over coffee or slow meals. Group dynamics often annoy me. But mostly, I take obligations to others very seriously, and groups like this often feel like signing up to be handed obligations over which you have no control.

But the last few years have been particularly lonely years. The combination of pandemic life while being married to someone immuno-compromised, foster parenting six different children in two years, and moving to a new city all exhausted my social skills. And then there is the peril of meeting new people when you live in a place where the majority of people hold political opinions that differ from yours, in a time period when we are as politically divided as we currently are.

As I said on my blog last week, adding new friends during this period has been difficult.

But I’m trying to stretch myself these days. I’m 50, and only a fool or optimist would believe I am middle-aged. I’m closer to the end than the beginning, and people I love are dying at a prodigious rate. One does not want to be the last man standing.

So, I signed up to be part of this bonsai club. We gathered at a local coffee shop this weekend. The convener gave a little presentation on a particular type of tree that several of us had bought at his suggestion. We then spent an hour or so trimming our tree’s roots and repotting them. In the end, the trees looked basically as they did when we started, but we were dirtier and had spent an hour laughing, telling stories, and meeting each other.

Among others, there was the mullet-having, trucker-cap-wearing landscape worker, the young lesbian mother who had her 7-year-old in tow, the Jack Black lookalike who does marketing communication and plays in a band, the 70-year-old dentist, plus whatever it is that I am. It was a group of people unlikely to be in the same room by accident, and I found myself having fun, despite my apprehensions.

Clubs are dying out. My parent’s generation thrived at the end of the reign of things like the Rotary Club and The Lions Club, which still exist but as a shadow of their former glory. Archie Bunker’s bowling league sounds quaint and archaic when one watches All in the Family reruns. But one advantage they served, for which technology has yet to give us a substitute, is the fostering of unlikely relationships. And I think we are poorer for the loss.

Five things I thought were beautiful.

Many of us have felt isolated over the last 30 months or so. I know I have. So I resonated heavily with this poem by Nazim Hikmet, written in 1962 when he is on a train after having been released from prison, and he is falling in love again with ordinary things he had missed, like stars and the sea and the clouds.

The oldest film footage showing New Orleans has been found, in of all places, Amsterdam. It shows Mardi Gras in 1898, when the Mardi Gras celebration was already almost 200 years old in the US (The first celebration was in Mobile, AL, not New Orleans, but New Orleans has better marketing people.) If you have ever been to New Orleans, much will seem familiar to you, but the suits, the parasols, and the formality seem foreign, as if from another world.

The Birdsong Project is “a community dedicated to the protection of bird life, and to the celebration of the joy and mysteries of birdsong.” They have many ongoing projects, such as an installation at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden that looks amazing, but I came across them via this video of YoYo Ma performing a song he had written for the cello, played in the forest, and accompanied by birdsong. The song is part of a two-album collection of songs and poems by artists, involving and accompanied by birdsong.

While researching the link above, I stumbled across this Tiny Desk Concert of YoYo Ma performing 3 selections from Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, along with commentary. He is so incredibly talented.

The James Webb telescope has gotten all of the press recently, but these pictures of Jupiter from the camera on NASA’s Juno mission in 2019 are amazing.

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