Kinisi 8

Solitude. Prophecy. Communion.

 

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Did I jinx the Camry?

Not long ago, or so it seems, I posted a Tendril on 10 cars I’ve had in my life. (I was going to say “owned,” but one was a company car.)

Guess I’ll have to make that 11 now.

My 2002 Toyota Camry fell victim to rust damage, which would have kept it from passing state inspection. It also needed new tires and an oil pan or some such. Besides, the key worked only on the driver side – not the trunk or passenger door – and the costly air conditioning coolant disappeared after a month or so of summer and, oh yes, the ignition did freeze up several times in recent winters. I know I’m overlooking other defects.

Still, it was paid for and I was hoping to hit 300,000 miles.

Alas, I bit the bullet and agreed to let go now at 283,000 miles. Gee, 17,000 short – I wanted just one more year.

In its place is a 2016 Chevy Sonic. I’m downsizing, for sure, but I no longer have a long daily commute or kids and their gear at home, and my wife’s Prius is what we’ll use when there’s more than one passenger.

I’ll spare you the calculations and experiences of used-car shopping, but will say that maybe if I’m lucky, this will be my last car purchase. Who knows?

Or by then we may just be into the revolutionary era of self-driving vehicles.

In the meantime, I still have a long way to go in catching up with all the new technology on the dashboard.

Polycentric community adds up

With the release of Subway Visions, I’ve been returning to considerations of urban affairs. It’s not all New York City, either, even though the novel takes place there.

For me, the big city these days is Boston. I live an hour to the north – or northeast, more technically. I can even take the train in, as well as the hourly bus, which is quite comfortable and also links us to the airport. (You’d be surprised at the number of pilots and other airline personnel who are boarding from here.)

So we can go in for concerts or museums or dim sum on weekday mornings. We’re not exactly stuck in the sticks.

On the other hand, I live in a city of nearly 30,000 – the largest of a cluster of small cities that together form a larger population base to sustain our varied interests.

Portsmouth, 15 minutes to our south, is wealthier and more fashionable. It has probably as many restaurants per capita as Manhattan as well as several theater companies, the Music Hall, and art galleries.

The state university is ten minutes to our west, and about a third of its students rent apartments in our city. The school runs its own buses to serve them and anyone else who wants to pay to ride. Its library, of course, is a marvelous resource for independent writers and scholars.

In other words, I have no reason to feel deprived. Well, sometimes I wish the Harvard Book Store were closer or Symphony Hall. But I still have my choir in Watertown.

Looking at this has me recalling my mentor in political science, Vincent Ostrom, who coined the concept of “polycentric” to describe the overlapping jurisdictions that govern American polity. A city typically falls within a county, for instance, as well as a state and then the nation. Nowadays there may also be special districts to address things like water, pollution, or transportation needs.

As mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer took the concept in another direction by enhancing neighborhood identity and decision-making to revitalize a big city. Adjustments could be made in neighborhood settings even while having a central tax base, police and fire services, water and sewer system, and so on.

So my city has a much different identity and feel from Portsmouth or Durham or Rochester or Somersworth or the Berwicks over the state line in Maine. And yet we’re all conscious, even proud, of our identity as the Seacoast Region.

Do you see how these many circles begin to overlap, each adding to the richness we enjoy?

As the hippie phrase used to go, “Small is beautiful.” But, in this universe I’m describing, it doesn’t have to be confining or impoverishing, either.

For now, I do feel I have the best of both worlds.

One on each hand

Wendell Berry’s two Muses (Standing by Words – highly recommended – page 204): “There are, it seems, two Muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form.

“The first muse is the one mainly listened to in a cheap-energy civilization, in which ‘economic health’ depends on the assumption that everything desirable lies within easy reach of anyone. It is the willingness to hear the second muse that keeps us cheerful in our work. To hear only the first is to live in the bitterness of disappointment.”

Here, a different slant on work from an unabashedly Christian poet and essayist. (North Point Press, San Francisco, 1983.)