Friday, August 31, 2007

Life with a nightguard

After a couple of false starts, I picked up my occlusal guard (nightguard) on Tuesday. It's thicker than I expected, but then perhaps that is what is needed when you can and do bite the enamel off your own teeth.

It snapped in neatly in front of the dental assistant. That night, without an audience, I struggled to get it into place, more or less—mostly less, because my entire mouth was sore Wednesday morning, plus the guard had popped out two or three times during the night.

I was more successful Wednesday night, during which the guard stayed in place. My teeth weren't as sore in the morning, which I thought was a good sign—until I noticed dried blood in three or four places on the guard and tasted blood in my mouth. Of course, I began second guessing myself, as I did about the braces. Do I really need a nightguard? Will it do my teeth more harm than good? Would I really have developed periodontal disease? Then each time I have a muscle spasm and my jaw clenches involuntarily and encounters the guard, I am reminded of how much force that muscle is capable of and what it's like to wake up with the grit of one's own enamel between one's teeth.

It's fascinating because it's involuntary. When I wake up, the first thing I notice is that my jaw is forcing my teeth together, and as I try to relax those muscles consciously the pressure becomes slightly worse before the jaw finally lets go. I imagine that someday I will have to use my hands to persuade it to loosen its grip.

I've heard a couple of different versions of what the nightguard does and how. One explanation is that the guard, worn over the lower teeth, prevents the joint from functioning fully, so the jaw simply can't clamp as hard. I think this may be true for me. Although I can close my mouth, the jaw doesn't seem to work very well. It did try this morning. I woke up and found myself attempting to break my teeth against the guard.

i have noticed one thing—that is, my jaw seems more relaxed and less likely to clench during the day. If you have never experienced an involuntarily clenching of your jaw while you're awake, conscious, and in control (mostly), I can assure you it's an odd, disconcerting, and painful sensation.

I am grateful that modern dentistry is helping me to treat this painful, damaging problem. I am not so grateful that the stress of modern living, where everything and nothing is important, is causing it.

With that said, I'm ready to try to relax this weekend, to focus on the meaningful to shrug off everything—and everyone—else.

Dream: Relative disquiet

I was at home and decided to go for a long walk. The day was perfect for it, as I was thinking as I headed down Route 20 toward Camp Road.

The sky before me darkened as though a tornado and thunderstorms were imminent. The suddenness and darkness were terrible and apocalyptic. I was too far along the road to turn back and beat the storm, so I kept walking, toward it, and found myself in town at a low ranch-style house wrapped around a corner. Lush vegetation everywhere made the whole area dark.

I knocked on the door—and my brother answered. I am not sure he recognized me as he showed me around, but at least I had shelter in this house, which was dark inside. During the conversation or my looking around, I discovered that my father's cousin lived nearby in a similar house.

I felt disoriented as my brother talked and the storm approached (or raged?), and none of what I saw or heard made sense.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Review: The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre

The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre. Edited with an introduction and notes by Robert Morrison and Chris Baldick. Highly recommended.

With the shift from agriculture to industry and advancements in technology and scientific understanding, the 19th century was one of rapid change. This collection of horror stories, anchored by John Polidori's "The Vampyre," reflects the popular tastes and issues of the the times.

A sense of vice, moral ambiguity, and lawlessness pervades many of the stories. Polidori's vampyre does not simply drain blood and life in the literal sense; he tempts the innocent, further corrupts those who are debauched, and supports the sinner financially whenever he can. He is known for his social and emotional vampirism because even the most rational members of mainstream society can witness these evident depravities.

Criminals, living and supernatural, appear in stories such as "Sir Guy Eveling's Dream," "Confessions of a Reformed Ribbonman," "The Victim," and "Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess." A contemporary fascination with madness manifests itself in "Monos and Daimonos," "The Red Man," "The Curse," and "The Bride of Lindorf." The interest in medicine and medical research, exploited in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, appear here in "The Victim," "Post-Mortem Recollections of a Medical Lecturer," and, less successfully, "Some Terrible Letters from Scotland." "Life in Death" touches upon one of Frankenstein's themes: man's imperfect and arrogant attempts to mimic or best God and nature.

The most horrifying of these stories rely strongly on either realism or fantasy. "Confessions of a Reformed Ribbonman," based on an actual event, takes the reader into the inner circle of a criminal brotherhood for whom brutality mocks and replaces morality and spirituality. William Carleton's description of the group's meeting and the atrocities it subsequently commits resonates of a satanic mass and hell itself, complete with a ring of fire. In "The Victim," coincidences are stretched, but the murder of people for medical research specimens was headline news fresh in the minds of readers.

On the other side, "Monos and Daimonos" is written in a dark fairy-tale style, narrated by a giant rejected by society, yet unable to shake his sociable tormentor. The supernatural tale of "The Master of Logan" is wonderfully spun, with the forces of good and evil engaging in near-comic repartee and an exchange of witty compliments before the unmasking. "The Red Man" may be the most disturbing of the tales, as it blends recent history (the French Revolution) with medieval horrors and tortures.

Some stories, like "The Bride of Lindorf" and "Passages in the Secret History of an Irish Countess," are weak because the short story format seems to rush and constrain the narrative. The novel form of Uncle Silas allowed LeFanu to explore themes such as murder, religion, alcoholism, drug abuse, sexuality, and incest while developing a greater sense of the Gothic mystery, atmosphere, and shadows surrounding the title character and the terror of the heroine's helpless situation. For example, the shady French maid of "Countess" is replaced in the novel by the sadistic and depraved Madame de la Rougierre, a memorable accomplice.

The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre is a fascinating and varied collection of stories published in the UK in the early 1800s. For today's reader, the language and style may present an obstacle to enjoyment and even understanding. To me, however, the writing creates a sense of time and place that enhances the richness and even the timelessness of these tales, best read late at night by candlelight.

Sunday, 26 August 2007.
© 2007 by Diane L. Schirf.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Turn, turn, turn

The violent storms of August 23 bypassed Hyde Park. With the number of trees snapped in two and uprooted here during the storms of the past couple of years, it was a relief to me to come home from work that day and see everything still standing. The brunt of the storm hit further north.

With all the rain this month, the grass and trees are now Ireland green, and there's not much sign yet of changing colors. It feels like autumn to me, however.

- The birds are no longer collecting for their nests or chasing potential mates or rivals around.

- I have not been able to spend time in the garden, but during my few visits I have not seen the red admirals flitting about since I came back from Ann Arbor, even when the weather was warm and sunny and perfect for butterflies.

- I am starting to see plenty of Japanese ladybugs, which can become a pestilence at this time of year. They were clinging to the windows during the storm, and I found one in the living room this evening.

- Now I hear the "whine" of a dogday harvestfly or two—a sound that takes me back home 30 years ago, when hot August afternoons brought out the call of many dog day harvestfies in the woods. I had it in my head, quite illogically as I knew, that that "whine" had something to do with the outdoor TV antenna.

- The sun is noticeably further south in the sky, which helps to soften the brightness and harshness of the high midwestern sky to which I have never become accustomed.

- The sun sets significantly earlier every day. There is now little time after work to sit outside, and the evenings seem short, the night long.

- I have not seen fireflies at dusk when I've been out. I know roughly when they appear—the third week of June—but I've never known when they leave.

These, more than cooler temperatures or changing colors, are the signs of fall that I feel more than see or observe. The differences are subtle, yet they affect me and my mood deeply. This year, I have a sense that something that never truly began is already over.

I love the harvestflies, but I miss the red admirals.

Dream: The bookish staircase

As often happens in my dreams, I found myself in a surreal high place, with no idea of how I got there or why, but with the impression that it was my home.

A potted plant sparked a memory, only I did not know if it was an old gift from a former lover, or a new gift from a long-ago one. I hoped for the latter.

I had to wash my clothes in a queer machine that was silver and turned like a drum, or perhaps like a dryer. I filled it with clothes. Because I had only a few things left and there was a mysterious sense of urgency, I overfilled it. It was on a slope, and clothes and perhaps water tried to tumble out with the pull of gravity. Then it abruptly retreated uphill on a wire-and-pulley system; by what agency I do not know.

I had to lead a pregnant woman, J., down from this aerie via very steep, uneven steps made of books. Because they could fall over when stepped on, it was extremely precarious. At one point, we had to step up, which was even more dangerous.

We came upon a very narrow, short step, and I knew that if I stepped onto it the books would scatter, and I would fall. I appealed to people in the library I could see far, far below, but they replied only that they did it all the time. What happened next I do not know.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Dream: Yellow alligators and venomous snakes

To my surprise, I found myself in a lifestyle class at work. I took my old Titanium, the only Apple in the room, to the back row—and there he was, That Boy. I tried not to notice him, and, effortlessly, he did not notice me. I was suddenly very happy. I was telling someone that a comprehensive lifestyle program had been my idea years ago, but it had not been the right time so the idea was squelched. Another boy, Ken A., tried to pass me an impossibly hot pan, but although everyone else looked because he was teasing me, That Boy, sitting with him, did not.

The movie presented yellow alligators in an eerie twilight monochromatic setting, encountering and attacking one another. I appeared on screen during a discussion of venomous snakes. I was lying on my stomach as two or three very tiny venomous snakes crawled across my naked backside. As they passed my face, my hair somehow fell forward onto them. Although I was sitting in the classroom, hoping to be noticed or not noticed, I did not know what had happened after that or if the snakes had been startled and bitten me.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dream: Aunts, sheriffs, birds, Beatles, Indians, and Dad

A flash of lightning, perhaps combined with a sensation of feeling cold and restless, woke me up between 3:00 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Before or after that, I dreamed that I was staying with an aunt (not an actual one) and that there was something uncomfortable about the situation, despite the appearance of a serene household. This was undone when a sheriff's car, light flashing, raced up to the house. I was shocked because I could not imagine why. I saw my aunt then, who told me triumphantly that she had obtained a court order to remove "her" and her daughter from the house, "her" proving to be a sister-in-law. I did not know in what way the woman was offensive, but the angry face of a man appeared in my mind, and I thought, "He must be my uncle; he will be angry, and I don't want to witness it."

I was in the garden leaning over some ground cover when I spotted a chick that had soiled itself, with the down missing from the dirty area on the right side. It appeared to be ill. Not knowing what to do and being afraid of scaring it, I held up my finger. To my surprise, it readily hopped up onto it. It seemed to be preternaturally intelligent and to be trying to tell me something. I took it to a man, probably a gardener, who cleaned it. I returned it to the same spot in the ground cover. Later I found it soiled again in exactly the same way, like it was a sign.

This was to be my last day at my aunt's house, and I found out that everyone had been looking for me urgently because my father had become sick and had been placed on hydrogen. I couldn't find him anywhere, and I couldn't think of what was wrong with him that hydrogen would treat. It sounded serious. I felt scared, both that something would happen to him and that the situation was so odd that I hadn't known he was there and I couldn't picture him.

I came to an area in the house that was like a nightclub. The Beatles and an Indian group with one of my former roommates were below me. He and I started to talk about another roommate, but the Beatles chided him for talking to the customers.

Their act involved what they said was a magical Eastern practice of placing people into bags, hanging the bags up, and setting them on fire. I didn't want to watch. Despite myself, I could see a woman in a bag as clearly as if it were transparent, not opaque, and she appeared to be unharmed somehow. It was too surreal for me, and I had to leave.

I began to look for a bathroom and only then realized how large my aunt's place was. I found jewelry and other shops, and a salon. Then I discovered my aunt and uncle's private quarters, where I hoped I would not be caught because I was under the impression that I was not to know about the extent or nature of the property or where they lived. The quarters had portholes, and I began to wonder if this weren't a cruise ship rather than the New England house I had thought. Now that I had an idea of its size and weirdness, I didn't want to leave. I also worried vaguely about my father; I still had not seen him. I was afraid of what I might find.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Dream: Corporate strafing

It was a lovely sunny day, and I was walking among the hills in the open woods. I was happy. Then I became aware that a corporation had just declared war. I ran to avoid the strafing that began with my awareness.

My brother was playing football somewhere and was even more exposed. I could see him with my mind and tried to warn him.

Some details forgotten.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dream: A lacy apocalypse

I was at what appeared to be a family party, only I didn't recognize the family. As it was dusk, I wanted to go out for a walk or bike ride, but a woman who was not my mother—perhaps an aunt?—kept warning me to be careful. I had to leave.

I found the men in the shed watching television; again, they didn't seem to be my family, and my dad wasn't among them. The shed itself was unusual because it had windows like a car. I began to wonder how the old shed, put up almost 40 years ago, could still be around. When I went out and walked around it outside, I saw that it wasn't the shed; it was the van, but there were overhangs over the windows. It had to be more spacious inside than out.

This made me look up at the clouds, as did some others. I saw that one area was off white or yellow, in the shape of a lacy butterfly. It looked like a coincidence, but soon the whole cloud changed into a complex pattern of lacy angels that could not be coincidence. It was apocalyptic. The conversation turned to the names of the four principal angels, and all I could think was, "Gabriel," as I watched the lace cloud in the dusky evening sky.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Bayeux Tapestry, animated

Clenched jaw

Yesterday, I was sleeping, and suddenly at 3:30 a.m. I was not. I heard and felt what I would describe as a cracking, which turned out to be another jaw-clenching moment in my sleep. The force is incredible; apparently, the jaw muscles are among the strongest in the body.

This time there was crunchy grit between my upper and lower right molars, and my tongue and finger felt a rough edge on an upper right molar. Yes, I had managed to break off a piece of enamel. Fortunately, someone had kindly canceled their 12:30 p.m. dental appointment so I could get in my regular cleaning (scheduled for August 23) and have my tooth smoothed out a bit. After being asked about my stress level, I received an interesting lecture about how I have bone loss between my teeth that's probably the result of bruxism and jaw clenching and that can lead to periodontal disease as the supporting tissues break down.

Yes. I am ready for a night guard. Two impressions and $500 later, I will be picking mine up next Thursday.

Last night I drank chamomile tea and tried to sleep with my mouth open. It isn't pretty, but at least it keeps my unsupervised teeth from doing battle whilst I dream.

Monday, August 13, 2007

August to date book acquisitions

My latest book acquisitions:

Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches' Sabbath by Carlo Ginzburg
The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
Nearer the Moon: From a Journal of Love: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1937–1939
Torn Shapes of Desire: Internet Erotica edited by Mary Anne Mohanraj

Dream: So much anxiety, so little time

I was supposed to see the general counsel about some changes, but when I found her she was in an obvious hurry and ran off waving. I couldn't remember which community the changes were for.

When I got home, my blinds were down, and I thought my dad must have closed them because I couldn't recall doing so.

Dad drove to a friend's house to return something, perhaps a key, but when we got there either I didn't have it or couldn't find it, or the friend wasn't home.

At home, I took the elevator to my apartment, but I might have forgotten to push the right button because I found myself on the roof. There was something surreal about the place and the elevator.

Next, I ended up in a swimming pool on the fourth floor. When I tried to get out of the water, I discovered that I had no clothes on. I couldn't return to my apartment like that, but the person in charge, someone I knew, was both perplexed and sympathetic. We found a sheet and towels for me to use for coverage, but they would keep falling into the water and getting wet. Finally, I put on a T shirt that was too small and which covered very little, and then it was time to panic because I didn't have any apartment keys.

I was at the first day of college and recalled that I had been given a teaching assignment about which I knew nothing. I reassured myself by thinking that it was on Tuesday (the following day) and that it could not possibly be on the first day; my own lack of knowledge confirmed that. I worried that I had no idea what I was teaching, or when and where, and then it dawned on me that I was unprepared.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Einstein@Home user of the day

Me! For the next 24 hours.

Did they run out of interesting people?


Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ten years ago and today

My memories of 10 years ago are vivid and painful, and they remind me that some things do indeed work out well.

Along with a couple of other consultants, I was in a small Midwestern town dominated by a tech company. The trip there had been eventful, and the local hotel did not offer the comforts of the downtown Minneapolis Embassy Suites where I stayed when visiting that office. The phone in my first room did not work, and no one seemed inclined to fix it. The "continental breakfast" proved to be a box of corn flakes with milk and orange juice. There was nowhere to walk, and no time for it anyway. From personal and professional causes, I had slid into a severe clinical depression (diagnosed) that sapped all my energy as I struggled to hide it, mostly successfully, from coworkers and clients.

During this client visit, we were to put the finishing touches on an employee communications program surrounding a rollout. My Minneapolis coworkers, of whom I was fond, teased me by saying that they had insisted that I come, too, to experience their pain. Apparently nervous and controlling, the client seemed to want to be sure that we were working devotedly on their project. To that end, their plan was to put us into a small room with our computers, printer, and supplies, close the door, and leave us to it. Bathroom or water fountain breaks were to require an escort. At 36, there's nothing like having to ask permission to use the facilities, being led to them, and rushing because your escort is waiting.

We arrived late at night, when I would have been tired and most vulnerable to feelings of sadness. I started to feel generally ill, and then I found it—a hard, sore lump in a place where hard, sore lumps have no business. Quietly, I became panicked, almost hysterical. Because the phone didn't work, I couldn't call anyone for reassurance and comfort; it wasn't something I could discuss publicly on the lobby pay phone at 11:00 p.m. So I cried to myself, probably hard and for a very long time. I slept little, if at all.

The next day, I discovered what life was to be like for the duration of this visit—with no privacy, bent over a computer for hours, with creativity and wit and solutions expected to flow like something that can be produced on demand. On top of feeling depressed and ill, now I was exhausted, too. I thought I was hiding it all well, but my coworkers and people from the client told me that I looked terrible and deathly pale. And when I looked in the mirror, I had to agree. Yet I could not excuse myself from spending the next eight hours or so hunched over the computer, being "creative." That experience over two days taught me a little of my grit and resources.

The lump turned out to be an impacted, infected gland that would bother me for more than a year, even with treatment, before finally resolving itself. A year later I would leave that job with few regrets, with those mainly for people who had already left. I would not have survived had I stayed (the practice was sold), and I found myself in a position and a culture then more suited to my personality and temperament. With that, the clouds passed on, for the most part. I still have moments, but they are mostly just that. I live in a better place, I work in a better place, I've met people I might never have known otherwise, and the work that I've done—big projects and small—has made a difference for a lot of people.

I hope never to be so alone and so frightened again. If I am, I know that I have it in me to do what it takes to endure, and that what looks like a storm may lead to a rainbow.

HK, from another perspective

Simon Owens sent me a link to an article he'd written about Harriet Klausner, with interviews with "publishers, professional book reviewers and novelists to see whether she has any effect on the publishing industry." See "Harriet Klausner: the publishing industry's secret weapon?"

Keir Graff of Booklist sums it up well: “I think her industriousness is an entertaining phenomenon, but she’s perhaps a better example of compulsive behavior than genuine book reviewing."

Dream: You can't go home again

I was in a park or forest, and the little girl whom a former boss had just adopted had wandered off mysteriously. Because the forest was so large, there was a general panic that she might never be found.

I looked down and found an underground building, where I could see the girl through a window. She was standing complacently in a hallway, perhaps waiting for someone. I did not know how to approach her or to tell everyone where she was without spooking her. She seemed to know where she was and why.

Then, with no transition, I was watching a theater performance taking place on an odd, round, elevated stage in my hometown. I wanted to perform, too, but some of the characters on the high stage were riding camels and elephants, which seemed dangerous under the conditions.

I began to realize that, although I liked the idea of the performance, it lacked passion and life. I didn't recognize anyone around me and developed a strange feeling. I saw someone sneak out the door, and it occurred to me that I wasn't supposed to be there, either. I tried to slip out unnoticed, but a woman spotted me and told me coldly, almost inhumanly so, that I had to leave because I was not a member (and leaving it unspoken that I could not aspire to become one).

Outside, I remembered how alone and out of place I had been when I had come to Chicago, as I still do 28 years later. Now my old home was strange and unwelcoming to me, too. I had nowhere to go, and the weight of sadness crushed me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Women in art

Dream: Dark college dorm and a murder most unexpected

I was in a college dormitory with my parents (who were not my actual parents) and a female student (who was not my roommate). The room was small and dark, and, although I thought it was supposed to be private, there were three single beds close together at angles in a corner. The area started to remind me of the trailer's extra room, with its heavy orange drapes closed. I felt vaguely puzzled and disturbed.

I found myself wandering around outside and realized that I didn't need to be at college at all—that I already had a degree and could not afford to take another year of classes just for the sake of it. I thought perhaps I was there to earn a master's degree, but I couldn't be sure and didn't know what it would be in.

I could see two people dressed in 1950s clothes in a 1950s-style room, fighting. They may have been my parents in the dream. It looked like a scene from a B-movie. My imagination left them for a while, then returned, dreading what it would find—I expected to find the woman strangled. Instead, the man was lying partly sideways across a sofa, his eyes open, quite dead. The woman was half lying, half sitting on a chair, her eyes closed, but she was breathing faintly and regularly and seemed to be coming around. I was shocked yet not surprised that she had been the victor and that she had killed the man. I realized that that was what I had really expected.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Maine Woods suite private balcony

Originally uploaded by dschirf
I spent my mornings here, writing.

The Maine Woods suite

Originally uploaded by dschirf
None of the photos I took with a disposable camera do justice to the Maine Woods suite, to which I must return like a moose in . . . hey.

Slow summer storm

This one has been brewing for an hour and a half.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A summer 2004 sunrise

Originally uploaded by dschirf
I'm back from Ann Arbor, tired, hot, hot, and tired. And back to the grind tomorrow. Now, for a scenic break, a sunrise taken from my living room in 2004.


2:00 p.m. on the Wolverine from Ann Arbor to Chicago

I'm returning to Chicago reluctantly. I didn't want to leave the Maine Woods room at the Ann Arbor Bed and Breakfast, I didn't want to leave my friends (although they are leaving tonight for Norway), and i didn't want to leave Kerrytown. Time, which so often passes slowly, accelerates the more I enjoy myself, and I feel as though I had no time off at all. I am not looking forward to returning to work or to putting the closet in order. I am tired—for some reason, my mind would not let me rest well despite the comfort of my surroundings.

I would like one more day off, to daydream . . . such daydreams they could be.

This sign is posted at a camera/film store in Ann Arbor: "Please end all phone conversations [before? (hidden word)] approaching the counter. Thank you for being polite." [It's unfortunate that this store, and so many others, have to post signs instructing their customers in basic manners.]

On a streetlight: "An LED test light. Please let us know your feelings." A sign of the times. Once, the question would have been: "Please tell us what you think." Now, feelings reign supreme. I was asked a few days ago how I felt about a certain situation. I'm a feeler by nature, not a thinker, but when it comes to LED streetlights and certain situations, I would rather think than feel. I think an LED street light test is a good idea, although I don't have an opinion about the light itself since I didn't see it in action at night. I think the situation is worsening and could be addressed by doing XYZ.

I try to save my feelings for situations where emotions are the issue and for people.

Even then, I may not feel like telling you how I feel.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Maine Woods

I'm in the Maine Woods in Ann Arbor, Michigan. What this means is that I'm at the Ann Arbor Bed and Breakfast, in a treetop suite named the Maine Woods. it's a marvelous room at the top of the house, so the ceiling is an inverted, slightly flattened V, with three skylights in the suite and one in the bathroom. There's also a balcony that is almost at treetop level, which is wonderful for morning letter writing. I feel really spoiled and will hate to leave on Sunday.

The room comes with nearly everything I could want. King-sized bed, chairs, table, desk, refrigerator, microwave, burners, sink, cabinets, coffee maker, dishes, silverware, and even a teakettle. Fans, which help put me to sleep. Wired and wireless cable Internet. Television and DVD player (and a DVD collection in the common area). The door to all this is at the bottom of my own private staircase. With off-site storage, I could live here.

I also love the Maine theme. Rich green carpet. Knotty furniture. A loon-shaped pillow. Moose and bear bed pillows. Moose and bear seat cushions. Moose, fish, canoe, and tree blanket. Canoe paddle leaning nonchalantly against the wall, while wooden buoys hang from it. Bear paper towel holder and moose napkin holder. Sailboat on the television and a lobster boat on the bedside table. Bark picture frame with a photo of a man holding his catch. Bark canoes filled with snacks, treats, and toiletries. Little chairs on the cabinet and a little chair with fish slats on the wall. Moose in moonlight tumblers. I could go on and on, but never convey the charm. I will have to get a camera.

I imagine the other themed rooms are as well done and that all of them were as fun to shop for and decorate.

I want to stay in them all. But I think I would always come back to the Maine Woods.

Good fences make good neighbors?

8:30 a.m. On the Wolverine to Ann Arbor

On the south side of Chicago, the train passed a grassy area where backless benches painted in bright colors face what appears to be a small round or octagonal stage. I wonder if it is some officially sanctioned Chicago Park District activity (I didn't see enough to know if it was actually a park) or if it is someone's back yard, and if the neighborhood children sing or act there—perhaps even the adults, once in a while.

What a marvelous thing that would be, to have a place where people could come to stage performances for the joy of it. What a wonderful way to explore the imagination, both as a performer and as an audience. No tickets, no money, no costumes, no sets—just characters and story and enthusiasm.

This grassy area may not be any of those things, of course. In my imagination, it is where a real-life Anne of Green Gables dramatically recites "The Lady of Shalott," "The Highwayman," or the contemporary equivalent.

Something about this reminds me of a conversation some coworkers and I had a few months ago about the suburban ubiquity of fences. I had never noticed or thought about such things until a friend from high school got married and moved to a subdivision. When I visited, the solid fences around every back yard struck me disagreeably.

I remembered all the afternoons and evenings when I rode my bicycle to Amsdell Junior High School, then walked my bike around the chain-link fence between the school and the neighborhood, then through the yards of perhaps a half dozen houses until I arrived at my friend's home. I don't recall a single fence. She could stand in her yard while I stood in the neighbor's to play catch or to bat a ball around. No one thought anything of it, and no one seemed unhappy enough over their lack of a fence to get one.

A coworker told us that the yards in her neighborhood also all ran together and that no one thought of living in any other way. In winter, she said, when the ground was frozen one of the adults would run water onto the grass in several yards to form an impromptu skating rink for everyone to use. It was a tradition that brought people together to enjoy the larger community.

When I visited the friend in the fenced-in neighborhood, I stood on her deck and felt an odd sense of claustrophobia. Most of what I could see were cookie-cutter frame houses surrounded by a forest of solid wood fences, making everything seemed closed off and compartmentalized. They did not even provide privacy; because of the slope of the land, from the deck I could see into dozens of yards. Nude sunbathing, open-air love making, any kind of private activity would have been as public as if there had been no fences.

What purpose do fences serve? Perhaps they keep out unwanted irritants, like stray animals and children. Perhaps they offer an illusion of privacy. I suspect the most important feeling they give to people is one of ownership and control. "This is my domain, and to enter it you must have my consent. It is not to be confused with that of the person next door, whose name I barely know and can't remember. It is not to be confused with my place at work, where I have little control over anything. It is mine, and this fence is a reminder to you and to me of that important fact."

What fences don't evoke is a feeling of community, the feeling I got from a passing glimpse of an open grassy space with stage and some simple, brightly painted benches.