Saturday, June 29, 2013

On the Bench Again

If loneliness is the disease, the story is the cure.   
- Richard Ford

    There are lots of folks who sit on the bench in my neighborhood but the quietest one, and one I highly favor,  is the observer.  He generally straddles the end of the bench, chin in hand, eyes covered in RayBans.  His curly dark hair is always bunched under a hat, often a fedora but occasionally he sports the black and orange of the home team.  This dude just watches.  He's not above a chuckle and a high five when a passerby or someone else on the bench makes a remark but his primary goal in life appears to be contemplating the world.  He notices the details:  the cop waving to the little kid, the punk on the bike chomping his gum, the sexy lady singing to herself while walking downtown .  He hears that rat dog whining, the engine on that 1990 silver Toyota knocking, the blender in the kitchen across the street making margaritas.  It's all there.  Recorded for future reference.

     Yes, what isn't obvious from the bench is that the observer is also a recorder.  What he reckons is that everyone has a story.  Everyone.  Sometimes people know their story and sometimes they don't.  Not yet, anyway.  And maybe never.  He is curious about  their stories but he knows enough to realize that you can't force the telling of the story.  So he watches.  He lets people tell their own details, even if they can't hear their story.  He waits for the unfolding.  And records what he knows.  In the stillness of 4:00 in the morning,  the stories fall out of the observer and onto the keyboard.  And he feels connected.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Bucket Lists

    I don't have one.  A bucket list, that is.  You know,  like in that movie The Bucket List?  Jack Nicholson, Morgan Freeman?  Old guys trying to do the things they want to do before they "kick the bucket"?

    I don't quite get it.  I get lists and sometimes I even make lists but I don't have any check off list of what needs to be accomplished before I fold into the mystic.  That seems so huge and so transient to me.  What I want right now is, in all probability, not going to be what I want in six months or a year, let alone in ten years.  I guess you can make the list and change it a lot but what exactly is the point of the bucket list?  Do you make one because you might forget what it is you want to do?  Or is there some internal satisfaction in checking off the old list.  Just wondering.

   Do you have a bucket list?  Tell me one thing that's on it.  Make it something that doesn't have to do with travel, if you can.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Into the Mystic

     I stumbled over some vintage Van Morrison the other day on my way to somewhere else.  Isn't that how it often is?  On your way to one place, you find the real treasure along the path?  The cosmos gets us like that.

     I hadn't listend to this little piece of Van in a long time and it knocked me over when it fell from the sky.  Thing is, you know, I am still wrapping my head around my friend's death and then this little wondersong stops me in my spinning.  It is such a powerful, sensual, and haunting almost hymn. Some  might even claim magical and spiritual. What I know to be true is that it made me pause for a minute and just be. That's a good thing in my book.

     Life is finite.  I know that:  "We were born before the the wind, also younger than the sun"
     The call is to live it to the fullest:  "Smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic."

    Make room for love:  "I will rock your gypsy soul, just like back in the days of old."

    And make room for acceptance:  "We will magnificently fold into the mystic."

     The thing is, I hold Van Morrison's music close.  Common Irish roots?  Don't know, doesn't matter. His music makes me feel alive.  This is one song that I wouldn't mind hearing someday, on a warm summer evening, as I say goodbye to this world that has held me for lots of years.


We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic

Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

And when that fog horn blows
I will be coming home
And when that fog horn blows
I wanna hear it, I don't have to fear it

And I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like back in the days of old
Then magnificently we will fold into the mystic

When that fog horn blows
You know I will be coming home
And when that fog horn whistle blows
I gotta hear it, I don't have to fear it

And I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like back in the days of old
And together we will float into the mystic

Too late to stop now?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The (Body) Machine Shop

      To my dismay, I have become way too familiar with the physical therapy clinic. Because I am a highly active person who also happens to have inherited arthritic tendencies, I have become a fairly regular visitor at PT over the past ten years.  The sessions have sometimes been related to the arthritis issues but sometimes are a result of overuse or accidents that have occurred because I like to move. No matter why I am going there,  I am grateful that I have access to physical therapy (even if it is a literal pain and a disruption to my day).  I am also finding the clinic to be an interesting classroom for the study of human beings.

   When I walk in for any appointment, I take in the big room with all the equipment and the various combinations of therapist/patient at work.  It's odd to me that, although this is a medical establishment, privacy is not a priority.  The room is open and the conversations are accessible for anyone in the room.  My current therapy is entirely related to the joint replacement surgery that I had on my right hand  in early March. I am primarily ensconced at a table in the "hand section" of the office.  I mostly sit at the table while my hand is massaged and manipulated, electrified and examined, heated and cooled.  I do WWF, or make with the chit chat with the therapist or sometimes other patients who are also having their hands entertained.  But mostly?  Mostly I just watch the people there.

     People come in with their broken body parts, each broken in its own way and each significant to the owner.  But to the physical therapists, each body part seems to be just that - a broken part of the machine.  Isolate the problem and attack.  Most of the PT's, frankly, look bored. As in, here I am repeating these same old knee exercises for, what, the 5th time today?  the 10th time this week?  the 100th time this year?  They stare off out the window or make jokes with the other PT's while their victim groans their way through the exercises.

   The patients are a diverse lot.  They are a collection of bodies, more over 40 years old than under 40.  Most seem perplexed or uncomfortable with the exercises. It's almost as if they don't know that part of their body very well. That last description includes me.  The patients come in all sizes and shapes.  Very few fit the cultural profile for attractive but they all come with bodies that are functional and in need of some kind of repair.  I observe some patients just resting on tables or enduring (enjoying?) some hands on therapy.  Awkward.  Some are working out on machines or with big exercise balls or long rubber tubing. Yes, you read that right.  Long rubber tubing that you use to stretch and strengthen muscles (it has been part of some PT sessions in my past).  Most appear not particularly graceful nor comfortable with what they are asked to do but they plod their way through it.  I am more interested in what their faces say than in what their bodies do. Faces say things like, "You want me to do what?" or "Well, this is fun!" or "Is it time to quit yet?".  Or maybe those are just the thoughts in my own head.

     When I walk into the room, I tend to distance myself from the others, as if somehow I am above this.  What's that about?  I am self conscious and wonder what other people watchers are noting about me.  I don't know why this place makes me highly uncomfortable.  Perhaps it speaks to vulnerability and flaws?  That makes sense to me.

     What's your take on physical therapy? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Saying No

    I had a dream the other night which engages me on several levels.  In the dream I am at a medical facility.  There is a group of 6 or 8 doctor types gathered around me.  They are telling me that they need to do some kind of highly invasive procedure that will be quite painful.  They tell me that there is no guarantee that they will be able to gather any useful information but they MIGHT get some answers to some questions they have.  They want me to sign the paper so they can go ahead with this.  I very calmly look at them and tell them no.  No, I don't want that procedure.  What?  They are aghast!  What do you mean no?  This is what we have to do in order to attempt to fix you.  You will have to submit to this procedure or we can not help you any more.  You might die.  Okay then, I say calmly.  So be it.

    Weird, heh? I like that I say no in the dream.  I like that I make the decision for myself.  No one is going to railroad me into something that doesn't work for me.  I suppose I could be seen as foolish.  After all, they are trying to "fix" me.  I should comply with them.  But I am not interested in the painful, invasive procedure.  Not if there isn't a payoff.  I don't like their attitude.  It is as if they know what's best for me and I should take their word for it.  Guess what, peeps?  I am the only expert on me.

   I suppose part of this dream might stem from the sadness and frustration I feel about my friend Lesly's recent death.  Lesly and her family fought with cancer for over three years.  If she had known from the start how this was going to end, would they have fought the battle so long? The last six months were especially difficult, fighting always for some, if not improvement, at least pause in the cancer's progression.  Such a hard time and yet the ending came anyway.  Far too soon.  Who knows what avenue I would take in a similar situation but I wonder if I would carry on as long as Lesly did.

Monday, June 24, 2013

How About That 2013? (Part 2)

      On January 1, 2013, I made a list of fifty things I might do in 2013.  These were not meant to be high pressure goals but just random thoughts about what lay ahead in the new year.  I checked in in March to see how that list was looking in the light of spring.  Now it's time to see what the mid way point in 2013 looks like.  I'm not going to review everything on the list but I'd like to consider three things that I have actually done and three things that I might still choose to do.

     In March I celebrated the progress made on kitchen improvements and hand surgery.  Neither of those items can be completely checked off the list as done but they continue to move forward.  Item number 12 seems to be a focus for now:  paring down possessions (see Dump It All).  That feels important and freeing.  I know I am also well aware of item number 13:  avoid accumulating even more possessions.   In April, I reveled in the stunning peace and beauty that is Yosemite.  Those few days definitely take the prize for being the highlight of 2013 so far.  I enthusiastically placed item number 7 on the list in January.  I was so jazzed to plan to participate in the A to Z Challenge.  That tower of enthusiasm crashed as April got under way and I moved on.  Some things just don't go the way you planned, you know?

     Reflecting in June on the list made in January makes me keenly aware of how much things change.  For some unknown reason, many of the items on the list don't capture my attention these days.  So be it.  Maybe they will come into focus again later but not now.  I am experimenting with item number 20:  accept the darkness.  I would make it much broader now.  I am learning to accept a lot of things as the way it is.  Not good, not bad. Just the way it is.  Number 28 (Learn what it means to make and apply my own rules to myself) seems to be a theme for these summer months.  I wonder where that will go. I suppose it will be influenced by number 38: engage in frequent and random conversations with myself.  Interesting thought, that one.  Sometimes I feel as if I am the only one available for me to talk to.  The people with whom I might want to talk are, for lots of reasons, just not available right now.  I am an observer, a recorder, and a reflector.  I have to know that a person wants to engage in real conversation before I begin to share any of those self to self conversations.  Real conversation means they will talk back about things that matter.

     In theory, I will check in again in September.  I expect that number 47 (Look for surprises) might be on the agenda.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Speaking of Anger

       Last night my good friend and neighbor Lesly died.  She had been diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2009 and lived the ups and horrible downs of life with cancer ever since.  There is a huge hole in the world this morning with Lesly's departure.  She was a smart, creative, caring, and fun person.  She leaves a beautiful family mourning her death.  Her presence in the community was quiet, helpful, and always accompanied by good wishes.  She was a highly valued employee of FedEx and the customers along her route cheered every time she returned to work after facing yet another round of chemo.  We will miss her.

    Lesly was the parent of two children.  Her insurance with FedEx paid for not only her medical care but that of her children.  She accrued retirement benefits and those should be useful for her family, right?  "Should be" - operative words.  Lesly was not married.  In fact, Lesly was legally not allowed to marry her life partner.  Even though Stacey and Lesly were committed to each other for 27 years and had two now teenaged children together, they could not legally marry.  A very practical outcome of this situation is that Stacey cannot access Lesly's retirement account.  It died along with Lesly.  Social Security benefits died with Lesly too.  That enrages me.

      I am married and have two children.  If my husband dies, I am entitled to his retirement and SS benefits. Stacey and Lesly would have been married if the love they had for each other was recognized by the state of California.  Stacey, Clare, and Ian would have at least had some kind of financial security if that marriage had been recognized.  I understand that some people hold onto a belief that marriage is a union only between a man and a woman.  Explain to me, please, how Stacey and Lesly's union cannot be recognized as the marriage that it was. Certainly people are entitled to their own beliefs and, trite as it sounds, if you don't support gay marriage then simply don't choose that option for yourself.  But it is wrong to deny benefits to couples like Stacey and Lesly simply because your religious beliefs stand in the way of such a union for you.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Rhetoric of Pop Culture

   That was the name of a course I took when I was an undergraduate in the field of Speech -Communication.  That class focused on the movies, music and tv of its time and I really enjoyed it.  I was pop culture savvy at the time and thrived on all things contemporary.

    I am still intrigued with pop culture but feel so removed from it.  I suspect that this distance is common with people who are old enough to remember vividly the Summer of Love but that doesn't make it acceptable to me.  How does this happen?  How is it that younger people can be infused with pop culture while older people are distanced?  Or are they?

    Really, I want to know this.  I want to know how I can rejoin the popular culture.  Or is it even possible?   I get distracted by a demanding profession.  That profession does involve teenagers so you would think that might help and it does - a little.  I also get overwhelmed with the abundance in the culture.  How do you make time to stay tuned in to new music, new technology, new movies especially when your first impulse is to read and do physical things outside?  Do I make myself not read the contemporary fiction and non fiction (leaning the most toward biography, sociology, and philosophy) but rather read lots of blogs and on line periodicals?  And I'm not talking about being plugged into celebrities.  I don't really care about them.  I am talking about being plugged into the ideas that make the culture alive now.

    For those of you that fancy the pop culture, what is the route I should take?  Four years ago I secured a  part time job at an Apple store mostly because I wanted to develop Apple acumen.  I did.  I gained a lot of knowledge but I also wore myself out (I was still working my "real" job).  That attempt at staying current was fun but too much. My best connections to now include Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Wired, The Atlantic, The Rumpus, other websites, and, of course, my own kids who are in their 20's and plugged in.  What avenues would any of you recommend for touching the ideas that float around the culture these days?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

News to Me

    I love being a life long learner.  And the lessons are so all over the place. Here's a subject that I am finally getting around to really studying.  I don't want to take the final exam but I am curious to see how I would do with it.

   The subject is anger.  I grew up pulling anger out of my pocket every couple of weeks when the nuns would drag us over to the church on Friday afternoons for confession.  It was my "go to" sin.  I could always count on having at least three or four episodes of anger that I could point to and claim as my sins for the week.  Anger was a bad thing.  NOT okay to be angry.  And I was always angry.  Angry at my mom for making me do chores.  Angry at Mark the Park for calling me Dog.  Angry at my sister for messing with my stuff.  Angry at the other kids at school because they had nice stuff and I didn't.  Angry at the stupid priest (horrors!) for embarrassing me because the car pool made me late for the required attendance at morning Mass. Angry at having to go to Mass.  Angry at having to go to school. Angry angry angry.

    And here is the unbelievable part.  I never lost that piece that says anger is bad.  I spent much of my life yelling at myself for being angry.  Bad person.  Get rid of that anger and do it right now. You have no right to be angry.  Get rid of it, I said!  NOW!  Guess what?  I am only now learning that anger is really NOT a bad thing.  Anger is a feeling and it just is.  Sure, you might do something when angry that could be harmful or mean but anger, in and of itself, is not bad.  What a revelation. Amazing.

  So what I am learning now is that it's okay to make a place for anger in my world.  I can feel angry and notice where I feel it.  I can observe anger and maybe paint or write about it (or not).  Then I can decide what, if anything, I want to do about it.  But the big lesson here is that anger is not the bad guy. And I am not the bad person for feeling anger.  This is all new to me, folks.  I am not sure how this new knowledge is going to play out in my days but I am curious to find out.

  How about you?  Are you comfortable making a place for anger in your world?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More About Stuff

I'm going to whine more about stuff.

I like my house in the neighborhood.  I like that I have room in this house to leave all my paints and
works in progress on a table.  I like that the kitchen is spacious and airy, that we have an extra room that makes it easy and convenient when we have guests (especially when our 28 year old son comes home for the weekend).  I like that RR can watch baseball in the living room and I can retire to our bedroom at the back of the house to read and/or nap.  I like that the dining room table does dual duty as my writing space and yet it can open way out for family events that require space. We have a small wall closet in our bedroom but, in the upstairs loft area (that provides RR with office space), there is a catch all closet where off season clothes can be stored.  I like it.  There are two bathrooms in the house.  Do I need to say how convenient that is?

I like the generous half acre parcel in town that allows us room for fruit trees, vegetable garden, flowers, and a fenced dog run.

So where's the whine?  That would be maintenance.  All these "things" need to be tended to.   I could just ignore the those dirty (but beautiful) south facing windows.  I could allow the crumbs and dog hair to simply sit in the corners and sulk. I could let the kitchen counters and bathroom sinks gather gunk at the faucets.  I could let the leaves on the house plants sink with accumulated detritus and just say I enjoy the dusty leaf look. Ditto the blinds on the bedroom windows.  Don't you think dust just adds some texture and interest to the otherwise boring cream colored blinds?  That yard is lovely but, unless  you prefer the natural look, you need to spend hours on the raking and sweeping.  Regular maintenance (dishes, laundry and occasional sweep of the floor) I can handle.  It's the serious vacuuming, dusting, clean the bathroom, wash the windows, blah blah blah, that I resent.  And get mad at myself for not doing.  If I didn't have the house and the stuff, I wouldn't have this discussion with myself.  If I lived in a small, even condo sort of place, I wouldn't have to maintain it all.  Or, I could just stop maintaining the house to "decent" standards and do what I want with my time.  My choice.

What do you do?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dump It All

What the F word  is all this STUFF I have?

I am in a toss-it-all-out sort of place.
Just dump this and that.

Dump anything you don't use on a regular basis.
Dump books that don't speak to you any more.
Dump clothes that don't fit or don't feel right.
Dump pieces of furniture that just take up space.
Dump all the friggin dishes and kitchen stuff that you don't use anyway.
Dump the art supplies that you bought and don't use anymore.
Dump the stuff  that is in the bathroom that was purchased years ago and never used since.
Dump the flower pots that sit empty out on the deck.
Dump the letters and cards from long ago.  
Okay, keep the ones from people who have the power to break your heart.
Dump the kid stuff from years ago - games and puzzles.  Dump it.
Dump the self medicating stuff that doesn't work anyway.
Dump anything where the expiration date was pre 2013.  Duh.
Dump blankets and pillows and linens that sit in closets.
Dump the Walkmans and the worthless printers.
Dump the the tangle of computer/electrical cords and the cameras that require film.

Dump it all.

Make the place empty
That's what I want.
I want to be empty except for core essentials.
But then what happens?
What happens when everything is empty?
Will I get lonely?
Will I fill it up with new shit?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bye Bye, Airlines

      I'm not saying that I will never fly again but I am emphatically saying that, until something changes in the Land of Corporate Greed,  I don't plan to buy any more airline tickets.  I am on strike against the airlines.  Last January, in the dark and cold of winter, I thought a trip to Chicago in the summer would be fun.  Now that June has arrived,  I wonder what the heck I was thinking back then?  Now, a trip to Chicago sounds exhausting and expensive.  A big expense (in my budget) is the $330 airline ticket.

      Here's the question:  Can anyone out there give me any reason why the airlines get to be so unreasonable about the return or exchange of airline tickets?  A reasonable explanation will have nothing to do with "national security".  It infuriates me that I can buy a ticket on January 4th, 2013 for a flight on June 27th, 2013 and, no matter what happens, I am stuck with that ticket.  I don't get why there can't be a refund on tickets purchased so far in advance?  Oh, that's right, Corporate Greed.  Someone will throw out "national security" as an explanation but that is so lame.  If I get my ticket refunded then my name is out of the system.  Where's the problem?  Hotels will often have a 72 hour cancellation policy (money refunded if cancellation is within 72 hours of scheduled stay).  Why can't there be a 72 hour window in which an airline refund is not allowed rather than a forever window?  Why do airlines get to rip the public off like this?

     Equally appalling is that I can't even give that ticket to someone else.  This is infuriating.  Again, I don't buy any "national security" excuse.  If I want to give my ticket to my friend, why can't I contact the airline and have the name changed on the ticket?  When boarding, the ticket holder will still have to show photo id.  What is the deal on this?  Right, Corporate Greed.

    In addition to these horrible business practices, the airlines stuff people and bags into those planes.  They also have the nerve to charge you for your suitcase.  Yes, it infuriates me.  They try to sell you cardboard that passes as food for some ridiculous price and, in general, act as if they are all that so that you can get from one place to another in a timely manner.

      As for me?  I've decided that, for the most part, "a timely manner" doesn't matter any more.  I like travel.  I like broadening my world and exploring other places and ways of living.  But, I refuse to support the airline industry.  I will go by car, train, boat, foot, or bike.  I will not plan to fly again.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tattoos and Scars

"I don't want to die without any scars."

Chuck Palahniuk - The Fight Club

    A blogging friend of mine recently wrote about the design he has selected for his tattoo.  He seemed excited about the upcoming piece of body art and asked his audience for their thoughts on tattoos.  Did they have one?  Had they ever thought about getting one?

    Though I went through a phase when I considered getting a tattoo, I never did and, frankly, I'm glad now that I didn't. Tattoos are permanent and that bothers me. I would have to care passionately about something to have it etched into my skin.  Everything changes so what is important now may well fade in importance as I move on through life.  Do I really want to always be reminded of who I was back then?

     I also don't like the colors that I have seen on tattoos.  For the most part, they are creepy to me.  Perhaps that is simply related to being a little kid and noting tattoos on people (mostly men) who seemed frightening to me. The colors seem dark and haunted.

    I will say that I do like scars. I have several and I wear them proudly. They say to me that I endured (and, in one case, survived) major pain and they mean I was, at one time, broken but now am functional (if not whole) again. Tattoos? Tattoos don't have that meaning to me. About the only tattoo that appeals to me now would be one that I would get to physically hold a loved one who has died.

    But, that is me. Hats off to anyone who wants and gets a tattoo for their own reasons.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

To Be Human

         I know a man who occasionally makes comments like this: "We humans are like that" or "We're human, right? That's what humans do"  or "Human beings do that sort of thing".  When he says things like that, I find myself somehow soothed, as if recognizing that whatever behavior he is commenting on is normal and natural (instead of the wrong or bad I might have been assuming).  It is such an accepting way of seeing the world.  A conversation with him a couple of days ago set me to thinking about what it means to be human.  What is the essence of being human?

         Human beings are the same in so many ways. Human beings are different too.  Yes, they all have fears and dreams but those fears and dreams are different from person to person.  All human beings hurt sometimes but they hurt in different ways and for different reasons.  But the experience of pain is a commonality.  As Tom Robbins says,  “There is no such thing as a weird human being, It's just that some people require more understanding than others.”  I like that.  It speaks to the complexity of being human.

          Human beings are a bundle of everything.  I would say that the life of a human being is messy.  To be human is to have conflicting needs and wants.  There's the messy part.  It can be so confusing to sort it all out.  So complex.  To be a human who is alive is to be a human who experiences both what it means to be broken and what it means to be whole - sometimes at the same time.  To be human is to fight and  to surrender, to be strong and to be weak, to be cautious and careless, to be clear and to be muddled - all at the same time.  Messy, messy, messy.

       Being human also means being flawed. No one is perfect and the flaws show our humanity.  You can be messed up and confused and scared and it doesn't mean you are defective.  It only means you are human.  Human beings are also not fixed in stone.  Feelings or aspirations from one day may be gone in the next. Curiosity calls forth new roads and yet old roads can remain too.  To get what we want or need is not necessarily easy.  Our eyes may turn in one direction and our bodies may crash into the wall in that same instant.  It takes effort and focus.  And you can pay a price for effort and focus.  Nick Harkaway said it like this: " Being human isn't like hanging your hat on a hook and leaving it there, it's like walking in a high wind: you have to keep paying attention. You have to be engaged with the world.” 

     I am curious.  What do you think it means to be human?