Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A slow sort of country?

"Before you came into my life I missed you so bad. And you should know that. So call me, maybe!"

I've been running the Red Queen's race lately - but haven't we all?! Everyone is busy. It's our national pastime.

From Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, pen name Lewis Carroll.
"Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
I started the month of August with an online trunk show that I wasn't completely prepared for. On the heels of the Bead Bazaar at the annual ISGB conference (held in Houston this year in mid-July) and having spent the first part of July making Carry-a-Bead pairs for Beads of Courage, I knew I didn't have enough inventory. Or, more accurately, I didn't have enough of the sort of inventory that sells well for me.


For the first time since I've been making beads, i.e., for the first time since 2008, I could sell more beads if I could make more beads. I have plenty of focals all ready to sell, but my Facebook customer base clearly prefers my sets.

I limit my bead-making time to three hours a day at most. For one thing, it's too hot to work past noon and no matter how early I wake up, I can't seem to get it together to start torching much before nine. For another thing, I have to conserve my arms, hands, shoulders, neck and head, which are screaming badly enough as it is.

Pretty much as soon as the trunk show was over, Beads of Courage commissioned me to make another 200 Carry-a-Bead pairs. I try never to say no. I want them to keep asking me. It's bread and butter money. I enjoy making the kind of pairs they like. I usually have free reign with regard to colors and styles and it's especially fun to make dot beads and challenge myself to come up with new patterns and color combinations.

We negotiated a time frame of 100 pairs to be mailed before my trip to PA and NJ (we were gone from August 19 through August 23). And here they are.

I'm working on the second 100 pairs now. Daily. I'm shooting for 10 pairs a day, which leaves me hypothetical time to make one nice bead set and a couple of focals each time I torch. I say hypothetical because I can't stay on task well enough to finish a set in a session. If I make seven to nine matching beads, it's a dead cert that I won't make any accent beads that coordinate until the next session. If I remember to, that is.

Beyond the bead wars with myself, I'm trying to walk three miles on the treadmill almost every day. At three degrees elevation, which Neil says means I climb 800-something feet in the hour it takes me.

On Monday I started two classes. Yes, folks, I'm back in school again. Summer flew.

This semester I am taking 2D Design at Glassell. I thought it might help me with better bead designs, but based on the first class, it sounds like some of it will be a repeat of learning the same design elements that we studied in my Digital Photo class and my Color Theory class. But tuition is paid and I've spent another $140 for supplies (for starters). Maybe this time something will stick and translate to designing beads. In the meantime, I can look forward to spending six hours a week on projects. We get a bye this week, since this coming Monday is Labor Day.

I've also signed up for my second online class at Colgate, Living Writers. We will be reading four books and, like my class last Spring about the atom bomb, there will be videotaped lectures, a discussion board, live-streamed guest speakers, and other yet-to-be announced opportunities for engagement. As an alumna, I'm empowered to participate at whatever level I choose. For example, I might read only two books instead of four, or (if I were crazy) I could read all four books plus another half-dozen on a reading list.

Here's what we're reading.
The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
Did I mention, the course could be called International Living Writers?

I've already got the first two books in hand, and even cracked the cover on Orchard. I really want to do this. Interestingly, one of the professors team-teaching this course is Jane Pinchin, who taught my Survey of English Literature class. Now here's a dirty little secret. I had to repeat the first semester of this course during my senior year because I almost failed it when I was a young and foolish freshman who had yet to figure out that you can't coast in college the way you (I) did in high school. The grade I got wasn't good enough for my concentration in English.

I earned an "A" with Dr. Pinchin.

I think that's a good omen.

I have one other "project" right now. His name is Biscotti, but I call him Cotton. Or Yiddle One. Or Chiclet. Or any one of a dozen other nicknames. He came to live with us on July 27.

It's been a stressful adjustment for Loki and especially for Zamboni, but it's all good now. Loki waits patiently for Biscotti to finish his three kitten dinners a day before jumping up to clean the bowl. Zamboni (who was traumatized at first) now roughhouses with him in (what I hope is) the spirit of good brotherly love.

The first few days were a nightmare, until I got them all hopped up on synthetic cat pheromones.

Thank goodness for Feliway. I'm a believer.

I threw a wish in the well,
Don't ask me, I'll never tell
I looked to you as it fell,
And now you're in my way

I'd trade my soul for a wish,
Pennies and dimes for a kiss
I wasn't looking for this,
But now you're in my way

Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
But here's my number,
So call me, maybe!

It's hard to look right
At you baby,
But here's my number,
So call me, maybe!

And all the other boys,
Try to chase me,
But here's my number,
So call me, maybe!

You took your time with the call,
I took no time with the fall
You gave me nothing at all,
But still, you're in my way

I beg, and borrow and steal
Have foresight and it's real
I didn't know I would feel it,
But it's in my way

Before you came into my life
I missed you so bad
And you should know that

So call me, maybe!

(Carly Rae Jepsen)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Dead Comedians Society

"For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause."

Yes, it's another post about Robin Williams.

The news of his death by his own hand shocked the world this week, and I was no exception.

I was sitting right here when Neil called out from the TV room and told me Williams had taken his own life, and that he'd been suffering from severe depression.

And I am not proud to say that my first reaction was along the lines of, what does he have to be depressed about.

I, who of all people, should know that depression doesn't need a reason. I've written a bit about my own struggles in this space.

Depression moves in with you and lives with you and lies to you and tells you that life is too hard, too painful. And even when you know, intellectually, that your life is good and you have everything to be grateful for and nothing to be grieving about, sometimes you just feel too weary to fight back.

And yet, those are the times when you just have to sit with it and wait. A day at a time. An hour at a time, a minute at a time if you must.

Maybe I was lucky that even when I was sickest with it - and it is a sickness - I was able to hold on to hope. I couldn't think my way out of it, I couldn't will myself to be well, but I could put my faith, my chips on the belief that I would get better.

I got better.

I don't kid myself. There is no cure. I've beaten it into submission and I've had a very long run of joy, but I know it could come back. I'm not afraid it will come back at random. Loss brought it on in 2001 and loss almost surely would bring it on again. Since there isn't a damn thing I can do about that, I don't dwell on it. I don't borrow tomorrow's trouble.

Still, I have mixed feelings about Williams' suicide. I have compassion for his pain, but I feel angry about his action. He had kids. A wife. Friends. So many people who loved him. I can't help thinking that what he did was the ultimate eff-you to all of them.

I won't use labels like cowardice and selfishness, labels bandied about in the news stories about Williams' passing.

But in a way, what he did was akin to saying, my pain is greater than any pain I might cause you, my suffering is more untenable than any suffering my death might cause, my pain is the biggest, most important thing in the world.

I.e., it's all about me.

When I was struggling to keep breathing all those years ago, when I was so tired and everything was overwhelming, when going to a party was no more appealing than cleaning the bathroom, I can remember considering suicide and crossing it off my list. It was something I could think about in the abstract but knew I would never, could never do.

I had children. Challenging, hormonal teenage girls, but they were mine, I chose to have them, and I owed it to them to keep living. I had parents. A brother. People who cared, people who would have been devastated if I did myself in, people who would never understand.

And I don't understand. Oh, I understand how bad it can be, which I definitely would not understand if I hadn't lived it. I'd have been one of those people thinking the afflicted were weak and morally lacking, and that they should just suck it up and get over it.

At least I understand that it is a real illness, as real as diabetes and allergies and obesity, as real as cancer and heart disease.

I used every tool possible to treat it. Therapy. Diet. Rest. Herbs. Tea. Hot baths. Support groups. Exercise, although sometimes getting up off the sofa and going to the mailbox was all I could manage because I felt as wrung out and exhausted as I imagine I would if I'd had the flu. Medication, which was a complicated process that sometimes involved long periods of feeling no better or even much worse. I was atypical, treatment-resistant. I dubbed myself the side-effect queen.

And the shame. I felt so ashamed and guilty for suffering and even a fraud for calling it suffering when there were people in the world who were enduring real tragedy. The stigma. You have to hide it from the world. And even when you summon your courage and try to tell some of your friends what you are going through, they are uncomfortable, as if you were telling them that you had HPV. Or AIDS Or leprosy.

Much mention has been made in the press about Williams' addictions and treatment programs and relapses after years of sobriety, as well as his recent stay at Hazelden for "continued sobriety." Not for falling off the wagon, but for a sobriety tuneup.

You see, addiction and alcoholism are more socially acceptable than depression.

In stark counterpoint to Williams' suicide, a fellow bead-maker passed away this week from acute lung and brain cancer. She was here, she was happy, she was living her life, and now, quite suddenly and against her will, she's gone. People die all the time, every day. It underscores for me how transient life really is.

When you're in the clutches of clinical depression, life does not feel like a gift, but unless you are truly insane, somewhere, somehow, you have this knowledge. If you've ever mourned for anyone, if you've ever grieved a loss, if you've ever felt warm sun on your face and smelled clean air on a spring day, you must know.

Despite depression (and its fucking lies) your lifetime is a gift. I give myself permission to say this because I lived it.

So yes, I think Williams should have muscled on through it. We're all under sentence of death anyway. But what I think really has no bearing on Williams' decision. I don't get to vote. Even if I think no one has the right to end his own life, that doesn't make me right. It's just my opinion. As the saying goes, opinions are like assholes. Everyone's got one.

And while I have no palpable faith in heaven or hell or an afterlife or reincarnation, who's to say when we die we won't immediately be reborn in a rice paddy in some third world country.

Then again, you could wind up pitching for the Yankees.

Shakespeare put it so brilliantly in Hamlet's pivotal speech.
To be, or not to be- that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them. To die- to sleep-
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die- to sleep.
To sleep- perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub!
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Just say Yes

"Catching the swirling wind, the sailor sees the rim of the land."

I rarely feel old. Most of the time I don't even feel my age. I'm still a girl inside, the same girl I've always been.

I see women who realistically are probably about my age and I think of them as much older. I have a group of three women friends and I'm the eldest but I feel like the youngest.

I'm lithe and I'm limber and I have lots of energy and I'm healthy and strong and I still get carded. OK, not carded for drinking age, but for senior discount eligibility. Vendors are surprised that I qualify.

But I hadn't been to a rock concert for quite some time. A couple of days ago, Neil and went to see the band Yes.

I should back up and tell you that while Neil and I are in sync and compatible about many things, there's also a large arena where our interests overlap very little. Sports. Movies. And music. Music most of all.

I don't think Neil likes most of what I listen to and I know I don't like most of what he listens to.

But Yes. Who can dislike Yes? I wouldn't exactly call their sound elevator music, but it's certainly, in my estimation, background noise. Maybe that's because I've heard their popular songs so many times on the airwaves without ever liking or disliking them enough to consider the members of the band as human beings, let alone music artists.

Yes are Neil's favorite band, to phrase it as their native Brits would do.

As I've said here before, I'm selfish and protective of my time. I don't like to do what I don't like doing. I'd rather stay home than to do any number of things, such as play miniature golf, or bowl, or see a Star Trek film, or listen to a stand-up comedian, or go to more than one hockey game a year.

But I say no to Neil so many times and I feel guilty about it. He's been a fairly good sport about doing things with me that wouldn't have been his first choice, or second, or third. So when he asked if I'd go to the Yes concert with him, I didn't want to say No.

So I said Yes.

I didn't dread it, I didn't look forward to it, it was what it was and I was prepared to wither it.

So off we went, downtown, to the Bayou Music Center. We were early because we weren't sure how parking would be, and it turned out to be a piece of cake. We found our fold down seats in section 104, row F, with an hour to spare. Thank heaven for iPhones.

The crowd looked a lot like us, aging boomers, a few younger people, but that's to be expected I suppose when the band has been playing gigs since 1968 and it's lead musicians are 66 and 67 years of age.

(Original Yes member Chris Squire, 66, right, and early member Steve Howe, 67, left.)

Showtime was 8 pm and it was 3 minutes until the hour when the house lights went down and the stage lights lit up. But the band that took the stage was not Yes. No. It was an opening band called Syd Arthur. I'm at a loss for how to describe their sound. Except that it was LOUD. Very loud. Neil handed me some ear plugs (we boomers are smart that way) but the band sounded just as loud to me with earplugs as without.

The venue vibrated and my brain did too. My earplugs were not only inadequate, they kept popping out. I took off my sweater and tied the sleeves around my head, covering my ears, hypothetically holding the earplugs in place. That wasn't nearly enough sound protection, so I pulled the back of the sweater up over the tied sleeves, making it into some really weird headdress but I didn't care.

The aural assault lasted through six songs, during which time I desperately considered my options. Taking a cab home, my first choice, wasn't really an option. Sitting in the lobby, or possibly a nearby restaurant were possibilities. There was no way I could spend the next two hours listening to that many decibels. When the band finally said, good night Houston, the throbbing in my head drowned out whatever Neil was trying to say to me.

We went out to the lobby, and Neil gave me an Advil. I said, I usually take three. He gave me another one. He kept the last one for himself. I needed something to take them with, so Neil bought me a $4 bottle of water and I washed them down.

Obviously something is wrong with me. I didn't see any other boomers having meltdowns. Perfectly sane looking people were acting perfectly normal, and I was on the borderline of a breakdown. I told Neil he needed a different wife. That goes to show how close to lunacy I was feeling. He didn't disagree with me.

We returned to our seats. I was wound up as tight as something tightly wound, but I didn't know what to do. The house lights went down, the light show began, Yes appeared on stage, and something that sounded plausibly melodic emerged from their instruments and voices. We were a couple of songs in when relief and optimism started to seep in. I got this. I can do this.

By the time the band finished playing the entire album, Close to the Edge (in reverse order) I was pretty close to enjoying myself. Yes played some new material and I honestly liked it. After that they played the album Fragile, also in its entirely, and by then I was feeling good. I'll admit, part of that had to do with knowing we were on the down side, that the show was more than half over.

After Fragile, Yes left the stage and the crowd ran through the usual cheering, clapping, whistling ritual, and Yes returned, as we all always knew they would, to play some old favorites. At the end the band made a big show of bowing and waving and holding up their instruments, and the crowd reacted as if they were royalty. No. As if they were gods.

It was silly really.

Although they seemed like genuinely nice chaps.

(Bassist Squire, guitarist Howe, drummer Alan White, 
keyboardist Geoff Downes, lead vocalist Jon Davison.)

So, I've become my mother, my parents, my parents entire generation, who thought our music was too loud and not really music at all. Music was a symphony orchestra playing classical music, music was opera, music was the big band sound, music was The Sound of Music.

Yes, because of Yes, I've become not only old, but an entire generation.

Pretty impressive. No?

Of course, you're only as old as you feel and while I did feel eighty-something for a bit, I'm thankful to say it passed. And it could have been worse. It could have been Lynyrd Skynyrd, another favorite of Neil's. Oh Yes, it could have been much worse.

I mean, how long can you let a band affect you when arguably its best-loved song has lyrics like these:
I'll be the roundabout
The words will make you out 'n' out
I spend the day your way
Call it morning driving through the sound and in and out the valley

The music dance and sing
They make the children really ring
I spend the day your way
Call it morning driving through the sound and in and out the valley

In and around the lake
Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there
One mile over we'll be there and we'll see you
Ten true summers we'll be there and laughing too
Twenty four before my love you'll see I'll be there with you

I will remember you
Your silhouette will charge the view
Of distance atmosphere
Call it morning driving through the sound and even in the valley

Along the drifting cloud the eagle searching down on the land
Catching the swirling wind the sailor sees the rim of the land
The eagle's dancing wings create as weather spins out of hand

Go closer hold the land feel partly no more than grains of sand
We stand to lose all time a thousand answers by in our hand
Next to your deeper fears we stand surrounded by a million years

I'll be the roundabout
The words will make you out 'n' out
You spend the day your way
Call it morning driving through the sound and in and out the valley

In and around the lake
Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there
One mile over we'll be there and we'll see you
Ten true summers we'll be there and laughing too
Twenty four before my love you'll see I'll be there with you

(Jon Anderson, Steve Howe)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

All the wrong stuff

"I should spend more time playing with my dog and much less money on this needless junk I buy."

The truth will out.

I'm a hoarder.

Oh, A&E won't be coming out any time soon to shoot a documentary about me. I'm fastidious about taking out the trash, and you can easily walk through my house. You might think it a little messy or cluttered, but nothing extraordinary.

Because I'm a clandestine hoarder.

Almost everything is put away, out of sight, even organized in a somewhat tidy way.

There's just too freaking much of it. I have an ungodly amount of stuff.

I've already confessed to the socks, underwear and shoes. Shirts and sweaters. Nightgowns. Hand soap. Toiletries. Purses. Watches.

This goes deeper.

It's the boxes the watches came in. The never-worn jewelry. The little boxes that once held jewelry, and might come in handy for something. Someday.

The flip side of this, one might say the commendable side, is that I hate waste. Throwing away perfectly good little boxes, even tossing them in the recycling bin, goes against the grain.

But as a redeeming value, it barely scratches the surface of redemption. No one should have this much stuff. No one needs this much stuff.

So, the answer is simple, right? Get rid of it, right? Make a large donation to charity. Hold a garage sale. Sell it on eBay.

Aye, there's the rub. It would be a lot of work to sell it. A lot of work even if I donate it, because I'd have to make a record for tax deduction purposes. Writing it all down is just ... scary.

But that's not the main reason. The main reason is that I'm attached to it. I bought it because I liked it, at least at the time. And I still like it, when it surfaces, although when it's out of sight, it's assuredly out of mind. I've forgotten half the stuff I have squirreled away.

I have two daughters and a stepdaughter. At one time I thought my girls would like some of the jewelry at least. And then I thought I might have grandkids. Well I do, I have one so far, and he already has everything. Between gifts, hand-me-downs from friends, resale shops, and the fact that my daughter is savvy and thrifty, he has every toy, gadget and gismo, and he outgrows clothing before he wears some of his cute little duds more than once.

My children won't thank me when the day comes that they have to clean out my stuff, unless I take drastic measures toward un-hoarding.

A simple step in the right direction would be to stop buying. Just stop. Buy nothing unnecessary again. Just stop collecting coffee mugs from every vacation spot we visit. Just stop going to Bath & Body Works because I have a coupon. Or because they are having a sale.

No more soap. No more lotion. No more collectibles. No more jewelry. You don't need it Liz! Start winnowing it down. Baby steps. Fill a bag for Purple Heart once a month. Use what you have, don't stockpile, don't squirrel it away, don't save it for a rainy day.

The time is now.

I love the idea of simplifying my life. Traveling light, leaving a small footprint. But open a random desk drawer and find several dozen magic markers. I can't just throw them away. I have to at least save the ones that still write. Close that drawer. I'll think about it later.

It's funny, one of the things I've collected is storage containers for my stuff. Plastic bins. Carts. Boxes. Baskets. Racks. Displays. Chests. Bowls for little things. Pencil cups. Cigar boxes. Crates. It's endless.

And you know those plastic tubs that baby wipes come it? I have one in every bathroom and when they are empty, I keep them. Some have contents, some are just stacked up waiting. So why don't I just buy the jumbo refills? Well, because the price is about the same and when I find uses for the tubs, they're really quite, um, useful.

That's what Neil calls magical thinking. I call it screwy logic.

Oh yes, shipping boxes, bubble wrap, and packing peanuts. I do use them sometimes and the right size box is well worth adding to the collection in my closet. And return address label stickers that the Nature Conservancy keeps sending me because I once made a $15 contribution. I use maybe one return label a year, shipping labels get printed online, checks are sent directly from my bank, everything is deposited and debited electronically. But I have to keep those labels, it would be wasteful to pitch them.

I'm not even going to talk about the beads. OK, I'm going to talk about the beads. I've been selling lots of my beads, which is good, but I've been buying lots of beads from other artists, which has to stop or slow down. I'm quickly filling the mini file cabinet that I got when three jewelry boxes couldn't hold my spoils. At least I do enjoy owning them, and look at them often, usually when I add the latest one to come in the mail.

And the "bead store" beads. The Czech glass, Austrian crystals, gemstone beads. I'm not a jewelry designer, I don't make jewelry but every once in a while I string a necklace using some of my lampwork beads, usually to wear myself, and to use as examples when people ask "what do you do with them?" at bead shows. (Come on, it's a bead show. Seriously.) That doesn't stop me from loving them (the bead store beads, not the customers, although there are a few customers I'm truly fond of). So I buy glass and gemstone beads, crystals. You might say I collect them. I'll never use most of them but owning them does make me happy.

Happy. Except on days when I think about the bigger picture and feel guilty and overwhelmed with the excess. I wonder why I have any money at all when I've spent so much on stuff. I wonder if it would have made a material financial difference if I'd bought none of it, if it's just a drop in the proverbial bucket. Maybe I'm just normal. Maybe other people have secret stashes of something or other. Maybe most people. Maybe there are support groups for hoarders.

Maybe I need to find one and sign up.

Or maybe I'll summon up some steely resolve and start making a dent in it. I've taken the first step.

I've admitted that I'm powerless over stuff — that my hoarding has become unmanageable.

It should be downhill from here.

"I'm unworthy, and no matter what I'm doing
I should certainly be doing something else
And it's selfish to be thinking I'm unworthy
All this me, me, me, me, self, self, self, self, self
If I'm talking on the phone I should be working on the lawn
Which looks disgraceful from the things I haven't done
If I'm working on the lawn I should be concentrating on
Those magazines inside, since I have not read one

I should learn how to meditate and sew and bake
And dance and paint and sail and make gazpacho
I should turn my attention to repairing
All those forty year old socks there in that bureau
I should let someone teach me to run Windows
And learn French that I can read and write and speak
I should get life in prison for how I treated my parents
From third grade until last week

I should spend more time playing with my dog
And much less money on this needless junk I buy
I should send correspondence back to everyone
Who's written, phoned or faxed since junior high
I should sit with a therapist until I understand
the way I felt back in my mind
I should quit smoking, drinking, eating, thinking
sleeping, watching TV, writing stupid songs

I should be less impatient when the line just takes forever
'Cause the two cashiers are talking
I should see what it's like to get up really early rain or shine
And spend three hours walking
I should know CPR and deep massage and Braille
And sign language and how to change my oil
I should go where the situation's desperate
And build and paint and trudge and tote and toil

I should chant in impossible positions
"Til my legs appear to not have any bones
I should rant at the cops and politicians
And the corporations-in indignant tones
I should save lots of money to leave Audubon
Plus all the rocks and animals and plants
I should brave possibilities for plotting plums of problems
Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah I'm unworthy."

(Cheryl Wheeler)