Thursday, August 26, 2004

Beth Kavanagh

Beth Marie Kavanagh, my dental hygienist, died last weekend. Her obituary was in the newspaper today. She was 47.

When I moved to Boston in 1991, I hadn't been to the dentist in nearly three years. While brushing and flossing kept my teeth relatively OK, I sorely needed a dentist's cleaning.

Jenn said I should go to her dentist. They had an office two blocks from my Back Bay apartment. Beth would be my hygienist. It took her two visits to work through all the plaque that was on my teeth.

I have kept up my dentist visits since then (twice a year). My appointments were with Beth. She was a wonderful person to be with. I always felt like she was attentive, and interested in what I was up to. I considered her a terrific conversationalist. She has read this BLOG, and she regaled me with her views on cycling (she was an avid cyclist) and movies and books. In the obituary, it's reported that she was the same way with many others, and I'm not surprised.

The last time I saw her, in May, she was walking around with a cane. She explained that she had a condition that required a lot of physical therapy. A few weeks after that visit, I received a form letter from her on her office's letterhead. She was asking her patients to keep their scheduled appointments, and not to switch dates to when she would be able to work on us. According to the article, she died of chondrosarcoma, a form of cancer.

As a patient, lying on the dentist's chair, I would sometimes watch her eyes as they looked into my mouth. She worked carefully with her instruments. I could sometimes hear her stomach rumbling, depending on the time of day. When she smiled behind her mask, her eyes gave it away. She was consistently full of mirth, and she made each visit pleasant.

My next appointment with Beth would have been in the December. I will make my appointment, but I'm sad because my favorite hygienist will not.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

At the Beach

Today, thanks to a company outing, I was at the beach.

I went swimming. The water was chilly, but after a few teeth chattering minutes, I got used to it. I swam alongside the coastline, and away into the deeper water. I haven't been swimming in probably many years. (Coincidentally, I was at this same beach for another company a few years ago, and it was probably then that I was last in water.)

I marveled at the feeling of suspension, just at the ledge of the beach where I couldn't touch the bottom with my feet. I waved my arms and legs trying to stay afloat, and then my body remembered that all I had to do was lie down in a relaxed prone position to stay floating. The water was murky, and it was salty (I didn't open my eyes underwater). But I put some of it in my mouth and squirted it out, like I was some sea animal.

There was a buoy probably a hundred or two hundred yards beyond the beach. A boat was settled next to it. From land, the buoy seemed reachable, but in the water, my amateur swimming stroke only got me a third of the way there. I didn't trust myself to get back to shore even if I could reach it.

The company party largely stayed on the beach, but a few of us die-hards romped in the New England water. There's the bigness of the water that is both comforting and mildly terrifying. Someone nearby reminded me not to panic. Don't flail. Relax. Your body is naturally buoyant.

The longer I stayed, the stronger the pull of the water. The tide was coming in. Near the surface, the water was warmer, but at my feet, at my legs, were fast moving streams of cooler water. Nature at work on me, around me. I was in her element. I could see the crest of the water rising above my head, the strength of the water. I tried to catch the modest waves as they began their break into the beach.

I clambered out onto the beach, exhausted, elated, and feeling all rubbery. I was experiencing gravity anew it seemed.

"I can't believe you went in there!" some people said. I looked back at the marvelous water. How could I not?

Friday, August 13, 2004

Lack of Cream

There was no cream or milk at work this morning, so for the first time in quite some time, I'm having my coffee black. While hunting for the milk, someone suggested looking around our kitchenette for some of powdered non-diary creamer. I couldn't find any. Perhaps I should buy some for my desk, in case of "emergencies".

Of course, just as I'm typing this, I realized that I could have walked over to the other kitchenette on the other side of the building. It's Friday the 13th, and I think it's going to be one of those days.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Some Kind of Monster

There's one scene in Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, in which James Hetfield, the lead singer, openly wonders whether the filming of their own documentary should even continue. When the directors (who appear in the film) ask whether Hetfield remembered his motivations for doing the documentary, he said (I'm paraphrasing): "I figured 'We're Metallica'; we're supposed to have a documentary."

This at once sums up the nature of "the monster" that is Metallica. A heavy metal icon, the band has been around for over twenty years. They have sold an immense amount of records. Their fans are loyal and legion. Should this band have a documentary? That's a silly question. Of course it should have a documentary.

I enjoyed watching Metallica's creative process so openly documented. The song writing, the riff conjuring, and the music making process is depicted as awkward, frustrating, and hardly glamorous. Their efforts in the studio and in the mixing sessions seem to yield precious few rewards.

The core band (Hetfield, outspoken drummer Lars Ulrich, and guitarist Kirk Hammett) have accumulated much wealth, and it is in full display, but throughout the movie they yearn for things that money can't buy: the love of their families and parents, the time and space to think, the opportunity to become better versions of themselves.

There are some inadvertent references to Spinal Tap, but Monster proves that art does imitate life. You see their children parading around in their studio. You see the band whining about their group therapy sessions. You see the rehabilitated Hetfield quitting "work" at 4 so he can catch his daughter's ballet class.

During the documentary, the group constantly struggled with the fear of being considered 'yesterday's music.' The ending suggests that they're still as vital as ever, but we've learned that it takes a lot of work to stay vital. It's a lesson worth seeing through this movie.

Sunday, August 1, 2004

A Walking Commute

My commute home begins with the walk from my office to the Kendall Square "T Stop". From Kendall, I take a train to the bus stop at Alewife. The train ride from Kendall to Alewife is about fifteen minutes. The 6:25PM bus gets me home in about twenty minutes.

The key factor to making the 6:25PM bus is the walk from my office. I leave work by 5:50PM. It takes a few minutes for the elevator to rise to the eighth floor office where I work. By the time I'm street level, it may be 5:53PM or 5:54PM. The walk from my office to the train can be done in ten or eleven minutes at a leisurely pace.

But I don't go at a leisurely pace. I walk heads down, long strides, taking a criss-crossing path that gets me to the T in about nine to ten minutes. A few days ago, however, I walked to the train with another person who went a completely different way. She said her route was faster, and I was amazed when we got to the T in slightly over eight minutes!

The new route crosses fewer streets, and when it does cross a street, the intersection is less busier, so I don't have to wait. The new route also cuts an angle. The sidewalk on this new route curves away from the T, but she cuts across this curve, going straight, making the walk seem even faster. The new route also avoids traffic lights, whereas my original walk crosses at least three lights.

We go through life accepting things as being 'set'. "That's the way I always walk." "That's the turn I always make". I was starting to get 'set' with my walk. It's rewarding to reexamine old habits, and to make new discoveries about them.

Now if I could only call up the elevator from my desk.