How Do You Be?

by Francine Ringold

The question, said neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks, should not be, “How are you?” but “How do you be?” I reply with the following:

It is sometimes disturbing but more often lovely to live amongst people — under a cloak of men and women and children — especially the children. Ah, there goes Georgie, two-year-old carrot-top curious George.

Yes, it is still a novelty living in an apartment by the water and not in a private home walled in by shrubbery and brick, with neighbors hidden from view who only occasionally peek out their heads to water a bush.


At first one’s eyes follow the lift and sway of calming water, then there is a cacophony of noises and chatter: teams of rowers being urged on by a coach on a megaphone; the guy with abundant tattoos who looks like a surfer but spouts stock reports on a cell phone; the slender French woman, always on high heels, sashaying a Pekinese—all in front of my sliding glass door—briefly in front of my door, and then skirting past like rare birds batting their wings and squawking.  And suddenly, like now, silence, and only the sea, water, and sky.

Going out a few steps beyond my glass door, walking my famous dog, Pete, or leisurely strolling, there is a new world, different from yesterday yet the same — fresh faces and company.  As if out of a storybook, a girl with enormous red-framed glasses perched on a small face emerges from the bushes, where she has carefully “picked up” after the baby beagle beside her, named, to my astonishment, Cyrano.  Did she know, I ask, where that name came from? And so, with her father Gabriel (I am not making this up), in the middle of Old Harbor Lane, we discuss Cyrano de Bergerac, and Molly Sue, the girl, decides she wants to read it through her huge glasses.  “And did you know,” her father asks, “that her brother’s name is Shout? We all love that Mockingbird thing.” All this, trivia though it may be, before 9:00 a.m., to be followed by sylphlike former fashion model Amanda from Brazil with her three young children: one-year-old Zion, three-year-old Kowie, six-year-old Luma hugging me and whispering my name with reverence.  Iranian/German engineer neighbor Barush Murgani has already left for the last of his two final exams on solar energy, promising to fix me dinner in celebration.  This evening Caleb will drop by to bore me with pseudo-philosophy and cuddle his dog and mine. I tire of his endless attempt to impress me, though he is kind and good-looking in a scruffy kind of way.

And so it goes: the roving twin Russian boys, about twelve, who did not understand my proudly spouted sentence in Russian, Простите меня пожалуйста (Excuse me please!), until I had repeated it five times with increasing panic; Happy, the small, aged, white mixed-breed, wobbling to us each morning with owner Paige, gazing longingly at Pete as though he is her big brother.

But there they are again, the elegant white birds silently standing erect—egrets, I think—and the deep black crows cawing a warning.  There are Great Blue Herons too, soaring above the trees, widespread wings like two large kites attached to thin legs trailing behind, pointed like an arrow.  And the greedy cormorants lunging for fish. Good to learn the names of things, to parse not words but living things, how they breathe and change colors and fly.

One would think this is enough—to drift with the clouds.  It is not!  Remember May Sarton’s words: “To work is to feel whole!”  So I pick up my pen and write.


Francine Ringold, Ph.D., edited Nimrod International Journal for 47 years. She served as the Poet Laureate of Oklahoma for two consecutive terms.  Her most recent book: From Birth to Birth: My Memoir and a Guide for Yours.



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