Thursday, October 31, 2019

Samheim, somehow

This may be the hour
Something move me
Someone prove me wrong
Before night comes
With indifference

I'm ready for this season to be over.

What season, you ask?

Good question. It's not exactly Halloween, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or even Autumn.

It's this nebulous and drab season that I'm abysmally mired in for reasons unknown.

There have been bright spots, flashes of light and lightness.

But the gray keeps coming back.

Neil and I went to spend a couple of days in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

I wasn't feeling it and raised the idea of postponing the trip, but Neil wanted to go.

He'd played in a punishing softball tournament the weekend before. His knees have been bothering him more and more.

He did see an orthopedist who ordered an x-ray, reviewed the images, and said that Neil is the poster child for knee replacement.

Neil of course wanted to try the most conservative approach, so he's been taking prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, bolstered by ibuprofen when he needs more help.

We drove to the park on a Thursday, stopping in Black Mountain for a delicious brunch at Louise's Kitchen and yarn at Black Mountain Yarn Shop, arriving at the park in time for a late afternoon hike. We chose Cascade Falls, an easy four-mile round-trip hike with a gentle elevation gain. Neil was hurting but stoic, until he took a misstep on the way back, and then he was really hurting.

That was our best day.

We checked in to our hotel, which I'd found online and chosen because it was inexpensive and highly rated. Our room backed on the river, and had a little patio which might have been nice if the weather hadn't become dreary and damp.

The room was weirdly configured. It had a double bed set practically up against the front window and a single bed against a wall that sort of doubled as a couch. I'm pretty sure I'd asked for two double beds, but what are you gonna do? If you are with Neil, you won't ask about changing rooms. It had the usual amenities though and was clean, so there's that.

Frankly, being away from home and out of my personal habitat and routines is hard for me right now, but being with Neil makes it bearable, so I made the best of it. We went out and had a pretty good Tex-Mex dinner too, better than any we've found closer to home in fact.

The second day was rainy, and Neil was still hurting pretty badly, so hiking was out. We drove back toward Asheville and went to SAFF - the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair - at the WNC Agricultural Center, in Fletcher. Neil could barely walk from car to venue, so he found a place to sit where he could prop up his leg. I wandered around the vendor areas and bought exactly nothing. Not sure if it was my mood, the dim lighting, the desolate weather outside, or simply not finding any yarn interesting enough to justify paying full hand-dyed-yarn prices.

We drove back to the park in time to buy a mug for our collection, and see some elk, which I have to admit was a bit magical.

Elk don't mind a little rain.

On the way back to our hotel, we picked up subs so we wouldn’t have to go out again in the cold and wet. Got up the next morning and headed home, stopping again for brunch at Louise's, which will now be a tradition on any trips in that direction. That was Saturday, which meant that Neil had to tough it out until Monday before he could call the doctor and start the process for getting knee injections.

By Sunday he had also come down with a cold and was doubly miserable, while his doctor’s office worked through the insurance hurdles to arrange the cortisone and, hopefully, gel injections.

The timing on all this isn’t great, with about a week left until we leave for Dallas and Kandace’s wedding on November 9. I’m drinking lots of OJ, gobbling Airborne gummy gels, and trying not to catch Neil’s cold.

One of the things on my schedule that I was most excited about was an advanced yarn dying class that I went to on Monday. It was a lot of fun, but when it was over I felt deflated, let-down because that thing that I’d most been looking forward to was over.

I do have lots of pretty yarn to work with and a lot of projects in my mind and a couple on my needles. I have my Tuesday yarn group and a workshop in December, some of the bright spots in this colorless (and seemingly endless) life interval.

Things aren't dark, just gray, a painter's palette in shades of gray.

The wedding is a bright spot of a sort, but it’s interwoven with tension. Travel, interacting with new in-laws who I’ll rarely, if ever, see again, having to dress up at least twice, associating with my ex-husband, all the logistics to juggle, it feels like a lot, too much.

Yes, it will be nice to see my children and my grandson, my stepchildren are coming too, and my brother. But it’s a week away from home, and after that, Neil is going to Houston for a few more days. I didn’t want to go this time, but it’s hard to hear him full of plans for seeing a lot of his friends, knowing that he’s probably relieved not to have to worry about having me along.

And after he gets back, he wants to turn around again and go to see his dad and his mom for a week. I get it, they’re each 90-ish and the time to see them is now, not later, because they won’t be here forever. I was just there in August, and as I said then, staying at his dad’s is a challenge and staying at his mom’s means mostly sitting in her kitchen.

I can do that here, at home, where I’m most comfortable and I don’t have to feel guilty about the cats.

When I was in crisis, back in 2001-2002, I would panic at the thought of all the things I needed to do, all the responsibilities piled upon me and me alone. But then I'd remind myself that I didn't have to live the rest of my life today. All I had to do was to do enough to get through that one day. I only had to do the one next thing, one thing at a time.

So right now, I am trying not to look at the bigger picture. I'm coping with each day as it comes. I made it through the muddle back then, and that was a much deeper, darker colored space. I'm not alone now, everything doesn't rest with me, I just have to play my part as well as I can, and as for the rest, well fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

Trying to end on a more colorful note, here is some of the yarn I dyed.
All the testers and the big cake from my first dye class.

(Come back soon for pix from my advanced dye class)

And just because it amused me, I made a Facebook page called The Dyeing Life. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it, if anything. I have to plans to become an indie dyer, to go into production mode, to do anything more than dye the occasional yarn for a personal project. I can rent space for that at Hearts on Fiber, and the owner, Kim, already said she would help me.

And oh yes, here is something else I'm excited about. They are having a contest with some of their own dyed yarn. They are selling a kit with six colors of their stubby skeins and one full "mama" skein that ties in all the colors. The idea is to make something by the end of February, which you can then enter into a contest. I have an idea that I'm playing with in my head and hope it turns out to be an award-winning one.

Vibrant, multi-hued, polychromatic spots abound. All I have to do is to remember to look for them.

I may know the word
But not say it
I may know the truth
But not face it
I may hear a sound
A whisper sacred and profound
But turn my head

I may know the word
But not say it
I may love the fruit
But not taste it
I may know the way
To comfort and to soothe
A worried face
But fold my hands

If I'm on my knees
I'm begging now
If I'm on my knees
Groping in the dark
I'd be paying for deliverance
From the night into day

But it's all gray here
It's all gray to me
It's all gray to me

I may know the word
But not say it
This may be the time
But I might waste it
This may be the hour
Something move me
Someone prove me wrong
Before night comes
With indifference

If I'm on my knees
I'm begging now
If I'm on my knees
Groping in the dark
I'd be praying for deliverance
From the night into the day

But it's all gray here
But it's all gray to me
But it's all gray to me

I recognize the walls inside
I recognize them all
I've paced between them
Chasing demons down
Until they fall
In fitful sleep
Enough to keep their strength
Enough to crawl
Into my head
With tangled threads
They riddle me to solve
Again and again and again
And again

(Natalie A Merchant © Downtown Music Publishing)

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The key to happiness

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
He says, we walked on the moon
You be polite

I’m still in the woods.

At times I think I’m doing a little better.

I bumped my med dose up a notch and that seems to have helped.

I know that that merely treats the symptoms. Which is something. A respite from acute anxiety certainly makes it more possible for me to address the roots of the problem.

Or at least to define the problem.

Neil listened to a program on NPR about happiness.

He asked me to guess the degree to which these things affect happiness: genetics, circumstances, what you do.

I said, that’s easy. Circumstances, a very small amount. After that, it’s a toss up between genetics and what you do.

I couldn’t find a podcast or transcript of the show, but I did find a lot of info about a formula based on research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues.

According to the formula:
  • 50% of happiness is determined by your genes. 
  • 10% of happiness is determined by the circumstances in which you live.
  • 40% of happiness is determined by your actions, your attitude or optimism, and the way you handle situations.
So I was pretty close, although I though about what you do as being more about what you actually do with your life day to day than about your outlook or attitude.

In college I took a philosophy class taught by a professor of education. He made the claim that work is the greatest source of a person’s happiness. One of the students protested vehemently. She insisted that happiness was to be found on the weekends, in your time off work. She insisted that she was unhappy while working, i.e., studying, writing papers, taking exams, and happy kicking back with her friends and a cold drink at the end of her work time.

I got it though, what the professor was saying. If you’re lucky enough to find something that you are passionate about and follow that passion into a career, then I can totally understand that satisfaction and happiness would flow from the work you did in pursuit of that passion.

I’ve always regretted not figuring out how to channel my passions into a career. I know I would have derived much happiness if I could have put my talent, for writing, for example, into a job in support of a cause I believed it.

Of course, not all of us can be Pulitzer Prize caliber writers, enlightening mankind about the perils of climate change or the mandate for gun control, while getting paid a living wage. Not all of us can be New York Times best-selling authors of novels or memoirs that get optioned by Hollywood and made into blockbuster movies. Nor foreign correspondents covering humanitarian issues, nor evening news anchors, nor weekly newspaper columnists, nor any one of a number of occupations that I’d have found meaningful and happiness-generating.

Or maybe that’s pie in the sky, and all those careers have dark sides, second novel failures, biting annual reviews, ugly competitiveness, ageism challenges, a bullet in your head in the Middle East for your trouble.

I’ll never know.

I did the best I could, I did what I needed to do, I certainly had career high points as well as the low ones, and somehow I staggered through the finish line with enough resources to do whatever the hell I want to do with the rest of my life.

I do wonder about those statistics though. And here I will say that the figures are a generalization of a very complex equation and not a set of hard and fast rules.

So even if, say, depression runs in your family, if there is a hereditary component of mood disorders or an inherited susceptibility to a dearth of neuro-transmitters, that does not unequivocally condemn you to a life of unhappiness.

Nor is the reverse true, that you are immune to sustained unhappiness on the basis that no one in your family tree significantly suffered from psychological malaise.

As for the contribution to happiness of attitude and optimism, this idea skates uncomfortably close to the theory that we can choose to think our way out of depression by adopting a positive attitude. By pulling ourselves up by the proverbial bootstraps. While I agree that we have some choice about our actions and the way we handle situations, I’m unconvinced that we can choose our outlook. Would anyone chose to be unhappy or depressed if they could simply choose to be upbeat, optimistic, happy?

On the whole I’d say not, but I’ve considered the thought that melancholia can become a comfort zone. I can be down, blue, wistful, dispirited, when I don’t know what else to be. But that’s not the same thing as true unhappiness or clinical depression. Which aren’t the same thing by the way. I can be unhappy because a friend died, for instance, but not depressed. And I can experience depression with every reason to be happy.

What I can choose are my actions and how I handle this sort of unbound depression.

I keep going. I keep moving. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next right thing, taking baby steps when I must.

In my specific case that means signing up for classes, getting outdoors whenever the weather cooperates, walking online the treadmill, creating things. It might mean numbing my dinosaur brain for a while with crime drama or or historical fiction. It means spending time with Neil, even if it’s just going grocery shopping or making soup or going out for dinner or ice cream. It means shopping for a mother-of-the-bride trousseau. It means knitting hats and cowls to give as gifts.

It means going through the motions when I can’t be fully enthusiastic. It means getting dressed every morning and taking a bath every night. It means pretending to be OK when I’m not 100 percent OK. It means staying self aware so I’ll know if pretending gets risky and it means seeking outside help should I stop being able to help myself.

Right now I’m holding the black canine at bay. He hasn’t left the building but his jaws are momentarily muzzled. If he hasn’t gone to ground by the end of the year, I have a plan to hire an obedience trainer.

And yes, I know, obedience training is as much about training the master as it is about training the beast.

My mother-of-the-bride costume, unless I find one I like better.

But the shoes I am definitely keeping.

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
In flames are prophet witches
Be polite
A room full of glasses
He says, you're notches, liberation doll
And he chains me with that serpent
To that Ethiopian wall

Anima rising
Queen of Queens
Wash my guilt of Eden
Wash and balance me
Anima rising
Uprising in me tonight
She's a vengeful little goddess
With an ancient crown to fight

Truth goes up in vapors
The steeples lean
Winds of change, patriarchs
Snug in your bible belt dreams
God goes up the chimney
Like childhood Santa Claus
The good slaves love the good book
A rebel loves a cause

I'm leaving on the 1:15
You're darn right
Since I was seventeen
I've had no one over me
He says, anima rising
So what
Petrified wood process
Tall timber down to rock

Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
He says, we walked on the moon
You be polite
Don't let up the sorrow
Death and birth and death and birth
He says, bring that bottle kindly
And I'll pad your purse
I've got a head full of quandary
And a mighty, mighty, mighty thirst

Seventeen glasses
Rhine wine
Milk of the Madonna
He don't let up the sorrow
He lies and he cheats
It takes a heart like Mary's these days
When your man gets weak

Joni Mitchell © 1975; Crazy Crow Music)

Friday, October 4, 2019

A lost month

And now I wish you only roses, baby, without the thorns
And I hope your dreams are always within reach

It’s a little bit like drowning.

Or so I imagine.

Like drowning, if you were sinking down, weighted, submerged, silent.

You are motionless, fettered, torpid, overcome by paralysis.

Feeling as though your lungs might burst?

That’s how it is when my anxiety spirals out of steady state.


I won’t lie to you. September was rocky for me.

I don’t like to use the word depression. I don’t embrace the concept as a description of a very complicated mental state.

For one thing, everyone gets the blues. Everyone feels down at times. Everyone thinks they understand what depression is.

Clinical depression is something else.

You’d think, having suffered, I’d be the first to endorse the the construct of depression as a physical illness and not a moral failing, a bad attitude, a weak, lazy state of mind.

But despite the hard and personal evidence of neurotransmitter insufficiency that responds (at least in my case, eventually) to pharmaceutical intervention, I still feel culpable and guilty.

In fact, I feel as though I should be shot.

I said as much to Neil recently. That was right after I admitted that I had been wondering if I was about over living.

Because everything important in my life is absolutely fine. Sure I wish I had more friends, sure I’m lonely, but I’m healthy, my children and grandchild are healthy, everyone is in a stable situation in terms of career and relationship. I myself am married to someone I love, who loves me.

Maybe it’s not despite these things but because of them that I’m fearful. We’re never safe. Tragedy, trauma, sorrow, loss, anything could blindside us at any time. If something has to happen to someone, I want it to be me. I don’t want to outlive any more of my loved ones.

I know I’m in trouble when I’ve lost the plot, when none of the things I usually like to do are appealing. Fortunately, that feeling comes and goes, so in the space of a day I may be fine and not fine.

I know I’m in trouble when there are things I know might help, things like therapy, or medication tweaks, but I’m paralyzed when it comes to taking any steps toward change.

Years ago, my therapist Tobie told me that, treated or untreated, depression cycles. So I think, this too shall pass if I just tie a knot in the end of my rope and hang on.

You might call it procrastination, but I choose to call it setting goals or deadlines. I pick some arbitrary future date and decide if I’m not better by then, I’ll seek help, or at least reevaluate my path forward.

One of the things that may have been skewing my objectivity is now past.

Months ago, I signed up for a lampwork bead gathering in Asheville on the last weekend of September. For months the prospect of going caused me much anxiety.

I couldn’t tell you exactly why though. When I broke it down into component parts - the 100-mile drive, staying in a hotel on my own, the planned events, the interaction with fellow bead artists - none of it particularly daunted me. The hardest single thing would be walking in to the first social event, and I knew even that would be only briefly difficult and quickly over.

But the whole thing hung over me for weeks. I felt tired at just the thought of the necessary effort of packing and getting myself there. I bargained with myself. If I wasn’t having fun, I could leave at any time. No one would force me to stay the whole four days and three nights.

But I kept thinking, I’m grown up. I’m retired. I don’t have to do things that I don’t want to do, things that make me feel apprehensive or anxious.

I had nightmares. I had flashbacks to summer camps when I was a kid, when I would have butterflies in my stomach at the idea of a sleepover. The prospect of the event was ruining my month. Was it worth it? Why not bail and give my spot to someone on the waiting list?

Neil thought I should push through my uncertainties and go. He admitted to feeling a little bit the same way leading up to his softball weekends away. He though there’d be redeeming value in going.

Two things eventually cemented my decision. One, I noticed that when I took a class or went to open stitch time at the knitting store, during the time that I was there, the invisible heaviness enveloping me would lift and I’d feel more human again.

Two, I made a hotel reservation. Yes, it could be canceled without penalty until the night before, but money wasn’t really a factor. I was reconciled to the idea that I might lose my registration fee and the cost of one night at the hotel if at the last minute I bailed.

Yet somehow, having made the hotel reservation, my mind set changed from, "am I going?" to "I guess I’m going." While I still counted down the days with trepidation, the bad dreams stopped and the anticipation stopped ruining my days. I did still put off actually packing anything until the day before I left, but then I did it all, two trays of trade beads, two trays of glass, supplies, and tools. I did my laundry and packed clothes, toiletries, jewelry, shoes, a book, a knitting project, chargers for phone and iPad.

On Thursday afternoon, I loaded my car and got on the road. I stopped at a yarn store on the way. I checked in to my hotel in Asheville.

If I had to change one thing about the trip, I’d have stayed in a nicer place. I chose the hotel based on it being in the Wyndham chain, which had absorbed all my La Quinta points, and the low price. And it could have been worse. My room was dated, shabby, gloomy, and not as clean as my germphobic self would have preferred. But I liked my location, on the first floor, on the end, near the front. The vending and ice machines were just around the corner, breakfast was conveniently close by, and it was quiet. I never felt unsafe.

I also never knit a stitch nor opened my book, although I did watch a little Netflix before bedtime each night. I really didn’t spend much time at the hotel either, but I didn’t know that would be the case until it was.

I might recap the retreat for you and for posterity later, but here are my initial reactions.

I'm not sorry I went. But if I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have missed the time of my life (although I may have thought I had).

Mostly it was fun, comfortable, and easy. Even the first event was eased by meeting Jean Baruch, the leader of Beads of Courage, who I've interacted with online for more than 10 years. She acted just as thrilled to meet me as I was to meet her, so that was an ego boost.

Me and Jean B
By sheer dumb luck, I had a great seat at one of the two tables, with the people I knew best from social media, and the liveliest crowd. But I may have enjoyed the other table just as much, you just don't know what you don't know.

Sometimes it was a bit tedious. We had demos in the mornings and the rest of the day to either try out the techniques we'd observed or do our own thing.

Related observation: lampwork teachers in general spend too much time on unnecessary perfection, such as getting the shape of the base bead exactly right. It's a demo, we went to see the technique, not how you labor to make a perfect bicone.

We had roughly 9 to 10 hours free to torch on both Friday and Saturday. I'd make a bead, rest, walk around to see what other people were doing, go back and make another bead. The time dragged a bit. Part of that could have been that for me this wasn't a reunion with friends, as it was for the majority of the attendees. If I went again, it might be for me too.

On the last morning, we had a chance to swap beads. I put out my two trays and got a lot of positive reactions, which as you'd suspect was balm to this validation junkie. I even sold a few beads, which was gravy.

The decision about whether I'd go again has been delayed because there won't be a spring retreat next year. A retreat next fall is probable but not definite, and it's uncertain if attendees of this retreat will get first dibs, as they would have in the past.

Having been home for almost a week (and having actually made beads once since, which is more than I did in all of September), upon reflection, I would do it again.


Working standing up
Working working working
That's me top right, working.

Well I know it ain't been roses lately, baby, it's just been thorns
And no matter what we do, nothing seems to change
Love has always been my shelter, for you it's been a storm
But for a while I thought we'd almost beat the rain

Now there's a hole here in my pocket where all my dreams have gone
Fallen out like so many nickels and dimes
And last of all you, you'd always been my good luck charm
I should've known that luck's a waste of time

'Cause it don't bring you love if you don't love
And it don't bring you time if you ain't got time
And it don't bring you strength, baby, if you ain't strong
And it don't bring you kindness if you ain't kind

Now there's a whole lot of life to be unsure of
But there's one thing I can safely say I know
That of all the things that finally desert us
Pride is always the last thing to go

But it won't bring you love if you don't love
And it won't bring you time if you ain't got time
And it won't bring you strength, baby, if you ain't strong
And it won't bring you kindness if you ain't kind

And now I wish you only roses, baby, without the thorns
And I hope your dreams are always within reach
And I wish you shelter, baby, from all your storms
They scared you, but they never seemed to teach

That I can't bring you love if you don't love
And I can't bring you time if you ain't got time
And I can't bring you strength, baby, if you ain't strong
And I can't bring you kindness if you ain't kind

(Mary Carpenter © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Harboring hiraeth

All that was good, all that was fair
All that was me is gone

I’m back out here on the porch on the last of the dreaded summer holiday weekends.

It’s very quiet on our cul-de-sac right now. I can hear the neighbors’ pool circulating, the hum of bugs, an occasional bird, the sporadic bark of a distant dog.

Further off, there is the dull thrum of traffic on I77, like an ever present white noise, and faintly, the siren of an emergency vehicle which grows louder, then fades.

Sometimes I'll hear the sound of an edger, or a chain saw, but not today. Today there is no sound of people.

I wonder if everyone is indoors, playing video games or watching television, or maybe they’re all out on the lake, Off in the mountains or at the seashore.

We have another hurricane off the east coast, Dorian. Originally predicted to make landfall in Florida, Dorian has been drifting northward, and North Carolina is squarely in the cone of uncertainty. Since the hurricane has behaved unpredictably thus far, I’m postponing concern until landfall is more imminent than five or six days away.

Still the irony does not escape me that Hurricane Harvey held us hostage in Houston exactly two years ago, and that Hurricane Florence battered the Carolina coast less than one year ago, on the first anniversary of our arrival in Charlotte.

Once more, I’m sitting on the edge of the Slough of Despond, the swamp of despair. I’m not exactly in the pit, but nor am I at a safe distance. I have absolutely no reason to feel the way I do, other than the fact that it’s another family-oriented long weekend and I’m living in a family-free place.

Neil of course is family, family and lover and best friend all in one. He’s also the reason I’m here in this place, but I’m not angry at him for that. Because really, I don’t know where I’d want to be if not here. I don’t want to go back to Texas.

Honestly, I would have stayed in Texas, but going back wouldn’t be the same as staying. Having gone to the supreme effort of pulling up stakes, packing up a lifetime, feathering a new nest, and setting down small roots in our new city, I want to bloom here. Some plants take a longer time to fruit, maybe I’m just one of those.

If I can just surrender myself to swaying in the soft breeze while waiting for my roots to become better established, there’s a sporting chance that I’ll thrive and flourish.

I learned a new work this week. Hiraeth.
Hiraeth is a Welsh concept of longing for home. 'Hiraeth' is a word which cannot be completely translated, meaning more than solely "missing something" or "missing home." It implies the meaning of missing a time, an era, or a person - including homesickness for what may not exist any longer.
It’s a concept that I make my home within. Not by choice, but just because it is how I feel most of the time. I’m happy, I’m content, but it’s always there, just beneath the surface, this sense of longing for ... I don’t know what. It’s something like home or family but it goes beyond that in some undefinable way.

And now that I know that it’s a thing, can I make peace with the knowledge that it will always be there, that longing, that sense of missing something?

Anything is possible. But some things are less probable.

In the meantime, I’ve developed a small obsession with Outlander.

I know, I know, I started out reacting without enthusiasm to the series, which I characterized as “fucking and fighting loosely interspersed with narrative elements.” Some of the explicit sexual violence was hard to watch and we fast-forwarded a few scenes. Neil bailed at the end of season one, but I’d gotten interested enough to push on.

Season two, I think, is much better written an acted than season one, but it may just be that I’ve fallen in love with the love story between Claire and Jamie. The idea that there’s a heart connection between people that surmounts both distance and time slays me.

I also love that Claire is four years older than Jamie, mirroring the age difference between me and Neil. I still don’t love the more extreme sex and violence but there definitely are more narrative elements. Whole episodes have little more than a kiss and a cuss word.

Another thing that amuses me is how 20 years pass (after Claire returns to 1948 and Jamie fights at Culloden to somehow live another day), yet somehow when they reunite, they look exactly the same. Of course the actors are the same age or a year older, but Claire at 50 is much like Claire at 30 in appearance. Her skin is like ivory, like white velvet, like pearl.

Claire and Jamie in Season 2
And in Season 3 (20 years later)
Well, I was almost 49 when I met Neil and I still felt as youthful and beautiful as ever.
48 years old in 2002
I finished season two on Netflix and had to pay for a one-month subscription to Starz for seasons three and four. I’m resisting the desire to binge watch episodes, because I’ll be sad when I’m done, at least until February, when season five is due out.

To console myself, I’m planning to read the books. Some time back, Neil started reading the first book to me, but we both found it heavy going, and quit, which is rare for us. I recently started it over and I’m mystified about why we lost interest. It’s totally keeping my interest now.

Of course, it’s not the first time that I’ve wound up really loving something that I was put off by at first.

And crazily, Jamie and Claire wind up in North Carolina.

Just like we did.

49 years old (2 months or so later)
Hope I look like that in 2022!

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye

Billow and breeze, islands and seas
Mountains of rain and sun
All that was good, all that was fair
All that was me is gone

Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye

(Steven L. Kaplan, Bear Mccreary, Gavin Keese © Tv Avenue Music Inc.)

Friday, August 30, 2019

Space time friends continuum

A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Can it really be the end of August already?

The calendar says that it is. So it must be.

We were away for almost a week, which is part of the reason for the wrinkle in space time.

It wasn’t the best trip, it wasn’t the worst. We split the time between Neil’s dad’s home and his mom’s.

I got to have dinner with my brother. I didn’t get to see Chelsea, who just moved to New York, and I feel badly about that. But when we booked the trip, her plans were still vague. We could’ve crammed in a dinner maybe, but she got there only one day before we did, and had to go to work the next day.

It’s crazy, because I lived in New York City for the first 18 years of my life, including 6 years at Hunter College High School in Manhattan, and now the city intimidates me. Figuring out how to get there, get around, find a place to meet and eat, it all seems daunting.

And yet, it’s just a city, isn’t it? People go there on vacation, stay in hotels, take cabs or public transportation, dine out, go to shows, go to museums. I’m going to have to sort it out, because I want to go back and visit her when she is settled.

We spent two nights at Neil’s dad’s place, and the less said about that, the better. His place, I mean. Dad Bob is 90, and while he has a lot of spunk to live alone still, his eyesight is failing, and he doesn’t see the dirt. He did have a cleaner come do the bathroom before we got there, bless him, but she didn’t vacuum, and frankly, I would not walk barefoot on his carpet.

He also insisted on giving us his bedroom, which I was uncomfortable about, but he and Ellen, Neil’s sister, had made the bed up, and it was a done deal. And Neil really wanted to stay there, and not in a hotel. There is the nostalgia aspect for him, sitting at his dad’s dining table, drinking chocolate milk, reading the Post and the racing form.

Neil also likes doing odd jobs for his dad, hanging a mirror, tightening all the kitchen cabinet knobs, changing a ceiling light bulb. I got to wash the glass globe for the light, sending 30 years of grime down the drain.

Speaking of drains, the tub/shower wasn’t draining. Neil tried plunging it, which brought up lots of gunk, but didn’t get the drain cleared. Then he used half a bottle of drain cleaner, which also did not do the job. Then I listened to Neil trying to convince his dad that he needed a plumber, and his dad resisting, just as he resisted the idea that the air conditioner in his bedroom wasn’t working properly.

All of this totally baffles me, but Neil says it’s completely in character for his dad. When Neil was growing up, the family car was always breaking down because Bob never did the scheduled maintenance. It’s running fine, he’d say, or, I thought I just changed the oil, when in reality it had been a very long time. I don’t think it’s strictly the cost that makes him balk at making repairs. I think it’s some relic of the Great Depression mentality, when people saved string, reused aluminum foil, and made do.

After a couple of days, we drove to Neil’s mom’s place, another aging edifice, but very clean at least, with a strong smell of moth balls. We spent much time there in her small kitchen, where at least I’m not afraid to take out my knitting. You have to hold down the toaster handle to make toast, but don’t try to buy Eleanor a new one. She’ll make you return it and get your $7 back. Ask Neil’s sister. The microwave oven works but has an antiquated dial instead of buttons. You just have to guess how long to warm your coffee.

The day after we arrived, the family gathered for a 90th birthday cruise. For Bob’s 75th birthday we cruised to Canada for five days. This time we went for lunch on a river boat. Neil’s brother joined us from Texas. We all got together again the following day at Monmouth race track. Horse racing is a deep-rooted family tradition for Neil’s family.

After the track, Neil and I drove Eleanor home. Neil’s dad, sister and brother headed back to Bob’s home. After we dropped Eleanor we headed back too. On the way we got a call. Neil’s brother had left his jacket at the track, with his medication in the pocket. Eric is deathly allergic to tree nuts. So we made a detour back to Monmouth and retrieved the jacket and Epipen. Eric can be a know-it-all and boast a holier-than-thou attitude, so on Neil’s behalf, I didn’t mind the chance to be a hero for fifteen minutes.

Eric had the good grace to be grateful. He and Bob drove us to our hotel for the last night and dropped us off. And I won’t tell if you don’t that Neil directed them to a Hampton Inn, where we found out, after they drove away, that our reservation was for a nearby Hilton. The Hilton shuttle came and picked us up, so other than a short wait and a tip for the driver, it was no harm, no foul. Oh, and no Hampton breakfast. But I won’t complain, because our flight home was on time, and we departed before the weather caused long delays at Newark for the rest of the day, including Eric’s afternoon flight.

And now we’ve been home for a week, and it’s been one of the hottest and quietest weeks of the summer. I went to my Tuesday morning knitting group and not much else. It cooled down enough over the weekend that we took a walk to our little town center for the first time in months. Other highlights of the week were a trip to Trader Joe’s, happy hour at Starbucks, $5 Friday smoothies, stops at Lowe’s and Target. And Neil hung my wall hanging!

It’s an exciting life.

I was so happy to hear from one of my friends in Texas, Carolyn, who’d been in absentia for the whole summer. I worry, because she lives alone and has some health challenges, even though I know she has a good support system. Fortunately, all was well, beyond after effects from a broken wrist and ongoing post-chemotherapy mobility problems.

Carolyn and I met sometime during my first decade at Conoco. A geologist by profession, she reinvented herself as a legal assistant when the energy industry went south in the 1980s. She came to Conoco with pertinent environmental expertise from her work at a prestigious private law practice, but her experience with the company was very different than mine had been to date. While I had felt valued and rewarded, she had been given a difficult assignment where her skills were never fully appreciated.

Over lunches in the cafeteria, Carolyn and I became good friends. I didn’t see her often outside of work, though. I had young kids, Carolyn and Bill, her late husband, were older, and had no children. Once, my first husband and I hosted them for a barbecue dinner. I remember it particularly because the meal was such an unusual fail. Jon was generally a good cook, but we somehow got a less than succulent cut of meat. For reasons I’ve long forgotten, I didn’t make enough of the side dishes, so the comestibles were really dismal. At least the company was good. I hope.

On her fifth anniversary with Conoco, Carolyn shocked me by resigning from Conoco to go back to the private practice where she’d been properly treasured, and where she spent the rest of her long career. We kept in touch though, meeting for lunch or dinner now and then. After my divorce, if memory serves, while I was with Robin, we had dinner with Carolyn an Bill, although many details of that time in my life are blurred.

Over time though, for many years, Carolyn and I stayed in touch only by email. We had some interesting discussions, about happiness and aging, and whether the golden years really were all that gilded. Every year Carolyn would send out a newsy Christmas letter, and I’d respond by email, often provoking a renewed thoughtful dialogue. I have no idea why we stopped making the effort to get together. My kids were grown and flown, and I’d called it quits after 30 years with Conoco. One of my regrets is not trying harder to see Carolyn more often in those years.

Ironically, in my last year in Houston, I was able to meet up with Carolyn for lunch, twice. I’m grateful that we have the sort of friendship that resumes naturally, where we can be together and talk easily, as if 15 or 20 years hadn’t gone by. Despite what would seem to be differences in our background and demographics, we still have so much common ground. At least that’s how I feel. I hope she feels the same.

Right now, as I’m floundering for my own balance with regard to friends, relationships, social life, yada yada, it’s affirming to remember that I do have friendships sustained over many decades.

Carolyn (right) sent me this photo scan of us, with our dear friend Marilyn
(who passed away too soon and not long enough after this snap was shot).
Don't we all look so young? Sigh.

Old friends
Old friends
Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blowin' through the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes
Of the old friends

Old friends
Winter companions, the old men
Lost in their overcoats, waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust
On the shoulders of the old friends

Can you imagine us years from today
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange to be seventy

Old friends
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears
A time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They're all that's left you

(Paul Simon © Universal Music Publishing Group)

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Fighting words

Some would say that we forced our words
And we find that ingenuously churlish
Words are just words
Don't be so pessimistic, weak and girlish

With back-to-back mass shootings in the USA this week, you probably expect me to climb on my gun-control-law soapbox. Again.

Twenty two dead in El Paso. Nine dead in Dayton.

Dozens more wounded.

What is there to say that hasn’t already been said?

Why would anything be different this time?

We have the gun-control-law faction boldly crying, we should, we need to, we really must, this time things have to change.

We have the freedom-of-firearms faction frantically defending, it’s mental illness, it’s video games, it’s not the guns.

Nothing has changed. Nothing will.

Despite incontrovertible evidence that weak gun laws correlate with more gun violence, we are in gridlock.

I am struck by the parallels to the situation in the U.S. government.

We have the outraged citizenry, horrified by the words and actions of President Donald Trump and his minions, who are demanding repercussions and calling for consequences.

We have the beguiled citizenry, patting their fat 401Ks, pointing to low unemployment rates, who are praising the president and defending the status quo.

Inertia reigns. An object at rest remains at rest. The path of least resistance prevails.

Inaction is the watchword of the times. Doing nothing trumps doing anything.

Change is much, much harder.

Color me cynical. Brand me fatalistic. I’ve stopped expecting reason to be reasonable.

It’s not pessimism if it’s realism.

Every time there is a mass shooting in America, gun sales go up. The stock prices of the gun making industry giants go up.

Get those handguns while you can folks, just in case some miracle happens and regulators crack down on gun-ownership qualifications.

In a week or so, the news media frenzy over the shootings will taper off and fizzle out.

Until the next mass shooting.

Words are easy. Words are cheap. Words are just words.

But what else is there?

I once owned a gun. My first husband owned a handgun, a Magnum 357, and a shotgun that had been his grandfather’s.

He’d sleep with the loaded handgun on his nightstand.

One day we went to a gun show and he bought me a Smith and Wesson 22 pistol with a pearl handled grip.

Shortly after that, we went to a shooting range and shot target practice.

For a while I carried that gun in my purse. Loaded.

I took the gun to Florida, in my checked luggage, when I went to visit my parents. Unloaded.

I showed it to my mom who flipped out and was terror-stricken by it's mere presence, even though it wasn’t loaded.

After we got married, the shotgun was stolen when our house was burglarized.

When we had a child, I made sure the handguns were unloaded and stored away.

When I was pregnant with our second child, one night Jon thought he heard a prowler outside. He loaded his gun and went out to confront him.

He found no one lurking, but I was deeply troubled. I insisted that we get rid of the guns.

Jon took them to a gun show and sold them for cash. No questions asked.

If that story surprises you, it’s probably no more than it surprises me. Was I someone else then?

Maybe not. I don’t think that I was likely to shoot anyone. Although I can imagine shooting anyone who threatened my children.

For just a brief time, I thought it was daring and sexy to carry. Not so much now.

Mass murders are shocking and senseless, but only account for a fraction of gun violence in America.

Blah blah blah.

Words are useless.

You shouldn’t argue with a pig. You only get dirty, and the pig enjoys it.

I didn’t make that up. But I believe it.

So now that I’ve concluded that we are, or I am, powerless to change the weaponry situation, where do we go from here?

Do we accept this thing that we cannot change?

Today, I have no fight left in me.

For those who still do, I have a soapbox that I’m not using.

Who's afraid of the sun
Who'd question the goodness of the mighty
We who banish the threat
When your little ones all go nighty-nighty
Well, there's no time for doubt right now
And less time to explain
So get back on your horses
Kiss my ring, join our next campaign

And the empire grows
With the news that we're winning
With more fear to conquer
And more gold thread for spinning
Bright as the sun, shining on everyone

Some would say that we forced our words
And we find that ingenuously churlish
Words are just words
Don't be so pessimistic, weak and girlish
We like strong, happy people
Who don't think there's something wrong with pride
Work makes them free
And we spread that freedom far and wide

And the empire grows
The seeds of its glory
For every five tanks
Plant a sentimental story
Till they worship the sun
Even Christ-loving ones

And we'll kill the terror who rises
And a million of their races
But when our people torture you
That's a few random cases
Don't question the sun
It doesn't help anyone

But the journalist cried out
When it was too late to stop us
Everyone had awakened
To the dream they could enter our colossus
And now I'm right
Here you said I'm right
There's nothing that can harm me
Cause the sun never sets
On my dungeons or my army

And the empire fell
On it's own splintered axis
And the emperor wanes
As the silver moon waxes
And the farmers will find our coins
In their strawberry fields
While somebody somewhere
Twists his ring as someone kneels
Oh where is the sun, shining for everyone
Oh where is the sun, shining for everyone

(Mark Dixon Gable, Ian Graham Hulme, Lindsay Edward Tebbutt, Brett Hastings Williams © Universal Music Publishing Group, Mushroom Music Pty Ltd, Words & Music A Div Of Big Deal Music LLC)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Bag of tricks

Good or bad we think we know
As if thinking makes things so
All convictions grow along a borderline

What’s this? Yet another post from me, and it’s still July?

Yes, I did.

Some people drink to quell anxiety. Some eat, some use drugs. Some work out relentlessly.

I write, it seems.

Who knows why, but I’m battling a lot of anxiety of late.

I mean, I have chronic anxiety, but I’ve learned to live with it pretty well, with the help of a bag of coping tricks and baby doses of medicine.

These spikes are different. They’re not panic attacks, just this heightened sense of foreboding.

I’m trying not to reach for the pill bottle to treat it.

All my life, I’ve grappled with varying manifestations of separation anxiety.

I chalk up the earliest incidences that I recall to losing four relatives in three years, beginning around the age of ten.

Both of my grandfathers died. My father’s sister, my aunt Tess, died. And my cousin Margaret died.

Margaret was just 24 when she died of leukemia, back in the day when doctors didn’t have the treatments that they do now. She was 12 years older than me, so I would have been 12. Margaret was married and had a year-old son.

We didn’t know she was so sick. Her father didn’t want Margaret to know how sick she was, and suspected that a stream of visits from relatives would have clued her in. Especially relatives she didn't see often.

I wasn’t close to her, there was the age difference, and we didn’t see as much of my father’s family as we did my mother’s.

It shook me badly though.

Of course I was a kid and didn’t connect the dots, but year I was 12 was the year I stopped sleeping over anywhere. That summer was the summer between elementary school and junior high, or in my case, high school, because Hunter High School was a six-year program, from seventh grade through twelfth grade.

I remember going to orientation, at the big Gothic building on Lexington Boulevard at 78th Street, in Manhattan. We toured the basement locker room area and I remember that it was very dark and creepy. The who thing, the subway ride, so many new girls, so many smart girls, the hugeness of it all, had to be overwhelming.

That summer my parents packed me off to sleep-away camp somewhere in upstate New York, for eight weeks. My brother and I were taken to a bus depot, where we boarded camp buses. I had an ominous feeling. I may have cried and begged not to go, but I can’t swear to that memory.

Things did not go well at camp. I hated the cabin. I didn’t fit in with the other girls. They’d make fun of their mothers, talk about how goofy they looked and acted. I loved my mother. I couldn’t join in. The girls were boy-obsessed. They planned a middle of the night raid on the boys cabin. After they all fell asleep I got up and turned off the alarm clock.

You can imagine how popular all this made me.

I hated camp life. The heat, the bugs. The food. The sports. I liked arts and crafts, but it made me really angry when I had to stop painting my squirrel portrait to go to swimming. I especially hated swimming, because it meant having to get undressed and into a bathing suit.

I was a “late bloomer.” I didn’t start my period until I was 14. I was flat as a board while the other girls were already showing curves or at least stuffing their trainer bras with cotton. I wasn’t ready for any of it.

At the end of a week, I went to the office and got permission to call home. I asked to come home. I never in a million years expected to not be allowed to come home, but that is what happened. My parents said no.

In retrospect, I think their motives can be rationalized. They thought that I was homesick and that if I stuck it out, I’d adjust and have a good time. They wanted to make me tough. I think also that my mom really cherished her time off from kids. She thought I’d be bored at home, in the summer, in the city. She didn’t want to make plans for me. She wanted to go to the theater and to the beach club with her friends.

She never understood that I was perfectly happy at home with a book.

The camp moved me to another cabin, with older girls, who were at least slightly less immature, and that was better, but not great. Day after day I wrote sad letters home, sometimes to my cat, pleading to come home. Once a week I called. At the end of the third week, my mother said that if I’d stop writing sad letters and write happy ones, they’d let me come home after parents weekend the following week.

So for a week I wrote happy letters and packed my duffel bag. When my parents arrived for parents weekend, they were surprised that I was still determined to come home.

“But you sounded so much happier in your letters,” my mother said.

I went home with them. I was so happy to be home. My mother was so resentful, and didn’t hide it.

Here I should mention that when she was sixteen, my mother left Germany on a Kindertransport, to live with strangers, not knowing whether she’d see her parents again. She had to be tough, she didn’t have a choice. I’m honestly not sure how she felt at heart, but she’s different from me, and I don’t think she ever experienced the neurotransmitter depletion that I’ve wrestled with.

I was glad to be home from camp, but that is when I started to feel massive anxiety about my parents. I was afraid of them dying. I was afraid of that every day. I was afraid whenever they were out of my sight, until I was with them again.

Life went on though, years and years of it. My parents sent me to a different camp the following summer. By the second or third day I was asking to come home. I stopped eating. I stopped doing activities with my bunk mates. I disappeared into the woods for hours.

After a week, the camp expelled me. I went home again.

That same summer, my parents signed me up for day camp. A bus would come every morning and bring me home at night. I cried and pleaded not to go. I went for one day. I did not play ball. I did not change into a bathing suit. I did not eat lunch.

I did not go back.

Instead, I got branded a misfit. My parents took me to a therapist. I didn’t want to talk to her. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. I sat in stony silence for my sessions. The therapist told my parents she couldn’t help me.

So they took me to a different therapist. Same shit, different day. I still would not play ball.

I think what we needed was family therapy, rather than fingers pointed at me, because I was the one who was different, who couldn't adjust, who couldn't be like the other kids who loved camp.

Until the summer before my senior year of high school, I never successfully spent any time away from home. I tried, again and again. There was a horseback riding camp. I was there for one day. There was a teen tour to Europe. I came home early.

It's a miracle that my parents kept trying or allowing me to try, and didn't just give up and send me to Queens College.

But sure enough, I grew up, and left home and launched. And ironically, when I was 23, I moved 2,000 miles away from my family, to Texas, and never lived near my parents again.

My separation anxiety stayed in abeyance until my children were old enough to maneuver in the world without me. Then I could barely let them out of my sight.

How did I go to work every day for all those years? It was something of a miracle. You do what you have to do. But I only ever felt really secure once we were back home under one roof each night.

If I took them anywhere, to the mall, out for pizza, I always had my eyes on them. If they disappeared for a minute, my heart raced. But I coped. I let them go to parties, I let them go places with their friends. Later I got them cars. And cell phones.

What was I so worried about? The usual things I suppose, traffic accidents, child molesters, alien abductions.

Seriously, my biggest fear was that they'd disappear from the face of the earth.

Little by little, just like when I was a kid, I let go. As someone said, at some point you have to let go and let God.

So my kids went to summer camp, but never for eight weeks, and only because they wanted to go.

And they grew up, and went away to college, and neither of them came home again to stay.

As much as the past sometimes haunts me, there are other times when I wish I could go back and have my kids safe under one roof again.

But instead, I moved 1,200 miles away from my kids, because really, if you are 300 miles away or even 150 miles away, you don't really see them any more often.

Still, it's always out there, you never completely stop worrying. I don't.

All the while knowing that worry is ineffective. Useless.

Why worry twice, my dad used to say.

Why borrow tomorrow's trouble, my mom used to say.

Wise words.

At the end of the day though, I can't turn off the anxiety. If I could, I would. Who would choose to feel this way if they had a choice? Not me, not anyone.

I have to live with it. I have to push through it when I can. I have to be kind to myself when I can't.

Nothing new there. Or here. But writing out the words is one of the coping tricks in my bag.

That is all.

Everybody looks so ill at ease
So distrustful so displeased
Running down the table
I see a borderline
Like a barbed wire fence
Strung tight strung tense
Prickling with pretense
A borderline

Why are you smirking at your friend
Is this to be the night when
All well-wishing ends
All credibility revoked
Thin skin thick jokes
Can we blame it on the smoke
This borderline

Every bristling shaft of pride
Church or nation
Team or tribe
Every notion we subscribe to
Is just a borderline
Good or bad we think we know
As if thinking makes things so
All convictions grow along a borderline

Smug in your jaded expertise
You scathe the wonder world
And you praise barbarity
In this illusionary place
This scared hard-edged rat race
All liberty is laced with

Every income every age
Every fashion-plated rage
Every measure every gauge
Creates a borderline
Every stone thrown through glass
Every mean-streets kick-ass
Every swan caught on the grass
Will draw a borderline

You snipe so steady
You snub so snide
So ripe and ready
To diminish and deride
You're so quick to condescend
My opinionated friend
All you deface all you defend
Is just a borderline
Just a borderline
Another borderline
Just a borderline .

(Joni Mitchell © Crazy Crow Music)

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Killing July

All the things you treasure most will be the hardest won
I will watch you struggle long before the answers come

July is flying by, and I don’t have a lot to show for it.

Unless you count the miles of yarn that I’ve knitted and crocheted. And the meters of glass that I’ve melted.

I finished my Montana Mountain Cowl and started my Courage Shawl.

I finally finished the crazy, gigantic, and possibly over-ambitious wall hanging for the bonus room. I made the wall hanging mostly out of cotton yarns, because I figured it was less stretchy than wool would have been. I didn’t account for the fact that cotton is heavier than comparable weight wool. Yeah I know that makes no sense if you’re not a yarn geek. Yarn weights are diameters or thicknesses. Fifty grams of wool will generally have more yardage than 50 grams of cotton.

The challenge is going to be hanging the piece, which weighs roughly four pounds. Neil has some ideas having to do with a plank and carpenters staples. We’ll see how that goes.

In glass news, I finished a 400 bead order for Beads of Courage, for their staff development and bereavement programs. I’m almost finished with a 150 Halloween bead order from a longtime customer, and now Beads of Courage wants another 200 beads. I’ve been enjoying making them, which is good, because I’ve otherwise lost all motivation to make beads.

Which brings me to a decision hanging over me. I signed up for a bead retreat in Asheville in September. I wanted to go a year ago and last Spring as well, but both sessions were full. I got in this time by signing up the instant registration opened - in the car, on my phone. Neil was driving, just so you know.

But now I’m wondering if I really want to go. I can get most of my payment back if I drop out by the end of July. I’m conflicted because going will be highly anxiety-provoking, even though I suspect it will be fun if I push myself. The expense of hotels and meals is a consideration too.

Primarily though, I’m ambivalent about my lamp working future. The thought of a bead swap, which once would have filled me with joy, now fills me with apathy, if not dread. I don’t especially want to make trade beads. I don’t have a ton of inventory beads to trade. And I don’t need to collect any more beads, not even very cool artisan ones. But if I go, I will participate, even if it means giving away some of my vintage creations.

I’ll keep thinking about it, probably right up until the last minute.

So, between beads, yarn, and some treadmill time, the days keep evaporating. Neil and I have been watching some of the 50-year anniversary of the moon walk documentaries. We finished season five of Line of Duty, and now have to wait a year or so for season six. It’s bizarre because Vicky McClure is such a dead ringer for Chelsea (or vice versa?) that it’s almost disconcerting. Especially in the first and last season.

Vicky McClure/Chelsea

We’re also slogging through Outlander, which I described as “fucking and fighting” loosely interspersed with narrative elements. We both loved Good Omens, I the more so because of three episodes with Mireille Enos.

My readership may recall how much I loved The Killing. I actually re-watched it last year. So, I’m not sure how I didn’t know about the series Hanna. It premiered with much hype on Super Bowl Sunday, but just now randomly rose to the top of my watch list. I was pleased to see Enos featured again.

Now this is embarrassing, but I didn’t immediately recognize Joel Kinnaman. In the first episodes he was long-haired, bearded, and spoke with a convincingly authentic Eastern European accent. But even clean-shaven and short-cropped, it took me until episode four to wonder, is that, could it be, Kinnaman. By the time I searched IMDb for the answer, I was sure, I was just confirming.

Heller/Weigler (Kinnaman/Enos)
Holder/Linden (Kinnaman/Enos)
OK, so he looks almost exactly the same. It was the accent that fooled me.
Enos and Kinnaman play drastically different roles from detective partners Linden and Holder. In Hanna, both are criminally violent, even if for somewhat well-meant motivations, and they are adversaries. They have limited onscreen time together, in fact. But there is one moment in episode six, in an elevator, when the Linden-Holder magic is there. It’s in the way the look at each other, in the way they communicate without words.

I didn’t love the show. So much of it centers on 15-year-old Hanna, and the story line of a teenager, raised in isolation, functioning in the real world, isn’t compelling. The violence also is over the top and improbable to boot, unless you believe that a teenage girl, even one raised as a warrior, and her mortally injured guardian are able to overcome squadrons of soldiers with automatic weapons using mostly acrobatics and bare limbs.

The show has been renewed for another season, which raises, or begs, the question, is Erik Heller really dead? Hanna and her friend thought so, and actually buried him, in a shallow grave. It’s kind of hard to picture how he could come back from that. But it’s also hard to picture how the story would go on without him. I don’t mean the plot, that could be worked out, but the Enos-Kinnaman connection is what saves the series’ bacon.

In my opinion anyway.

Some of the series renewal news reported that Kinnaman would be back. But the also reported that another dead character would be back. So who knows. I’ll be googling periodically. Fingers crossed.

And I'll probably re-watch Hanna season one when there's an air date for season two, to fully appreciate the Enos-Kinnaman dynamic.

Now that I know.

Time it was I had a dream, and you're the dream come true
If I had the world to give, I'd give it all to you.
I'll take you to the mountains, I will take you to the sea
I'll show you how this life became a miracle to me

You'll fly away, but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done you'll be the one who knows

All the things you treasure most will be the hardest won
I will watch you struggle long before the answers come
But I won't make it harder, I'll be there to cheer you on
I'll shine the light that guides you down the road you're walking on

Before the mountains call to you, before you leave this home
I want to teach your heart to trust, as I will teach my own
But sometimes I will ask the moon where it shined upon you last
And shake my head and laugh and say it all went by too fast

You'll fly away, but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job's done you'll be the one who knows

(Dar Williams © BMG Rights Management)

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The truth about grandmothers

The company's gone and I'm sitting alone
Away from the noise and the fuss
The pets have returned and this weekend I've learned
Little children are nothing like us

So, our houseguests have come and gone, and for pretty much the whole visit, the soundtrack was Cheryl Wheeler’s song, Little Kids.*

In my head only, of course.

It was a short visit, just four days, three nights, but it felt longer. And it was originally supposed to be longer, two nights longer, but Laurie decided this would be long enough. And it was. Traveling with a toddler is a lot. Hosting a toddler is a lot.

The fun has begun.
We had some of the hottest days we’ve ever had here, but we did cram in a lot. Playgrounds, the pool, the aquarium. Alino Pizzeria, Carrburritos, and the Galway Hooker. Bagels, sandwiches, pop tarts. Pelican SnoBalls, and Whit’s Frozen Custard. Legos, crayons, toy trucks, bedtime stories. Lots of bedtime stories.

We also squeezed in all of season five of Black Mirror, after the baby was asleep.

All in all, it could have been worse, and it could have been better.

I'm reading a book on my iPad to Blake. Notice how entranced he is. By the iPad.
It’s an odd role, being a step-grandmother, especially with the strained historic relationship I have with Laurie. I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t, so I mostly don’t, which is the path of least resistance. I say only positive things, which isn’t hard, because Blake is a good egg, mostly cheerful and very bright. There was a meltdown or two, but as I said, if he were good all the time, then I’d worry.

I’m never sure if she hears me though. She’s hypersensitive to anything I say and filters everything through the most negative interpretation possible. She’s got her antenna up for any word or even look of judgment. And judgment is my middle name, but I try to be as opaque as possible. Which this time meant keeping my eyes on my knitting to the degree possible. Not that that in and of itself wouldn’t have been construed as a form of judgment.

I can’t win anyway, so at least I got some knitting done.

Montana Mountain Cowl pattern by Andrea Mowry. Yarn is
Spincycle Dyed-in-the-Wool in Truth Bomb and Fleece Artist Merino Slim in Silver.
No question, houseguests are stressful. For Neil, it was the little hands on the wall, the milk spilled on the sofa, the pop tarts bits on the floor. For me it was the general chaos, the shoes and toys everywhere, the entire kitchen island covered with cups and books and backpacks and bags and bottles. It was the noise. It was the constant eating, the food waste, the sheer physical size of the extra people in my personal space.

The best part? We survived. Neil said he’s looking forward to a quiet July, and I have to agree. Lazy days of knitting, coffee breaks, smoothies, homemade soup with veggies from the garden. Crime drama on the treadmill, books, maybe beads or maybe not, maybe writing or maybe not.

No doubt I’ll become restive and broody again at some point, but I’ll take that as it comes.

For now, I’ve made a truce with my internal conflict. I’m taking the Scarlett O’Hara approach. I’ll think about loneliness and isolation tomorrow.

And when tomorrow comes, as it is wont to do, I’m planning to approach my Weltschmerz through the lens of the philosophy of Byron Katie, who suggests that we ask ourselves these four questions:
  1. Is it true?
  2. Can you absolutely know it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe the thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?
I only recently heard of Katie and her work (aka The Work), but I’ve long known that some of the stories I tell myself contribute to the impasses I find myself facing. It’s highly probable that I’m the biggest obstacle standing in my own path. And I suspect that shining a bright light on some of my most self-shaming stories might call into question their value as gospel.

Another new tool in my self-defense arsenal was suggested by on online friend, whose therapist told her, when the black thoughts come, imagine a hard stop. Picture a stop sign for example. My friend found that what worked for her was an imaginary buzzer, like you’d hear on a game show if you gave the wrong answer.

I’m already using both the imaginary image and sound. Stop. Just stop. Right now. Not going there today.

I’ll run with that as far as I can.

When and if I can’t, the harder work will come.

I’m not looking forward to it, but it doesn’t truly terrify me either.

After all, tomorrow is another day.

*Little Kids by Cheryl Wheeler

Well hello, come in, great to see you again
Been such a long drive, guess you're beat
Heaven's what's that? It's a dwarf in a hat
Oh no, you've brought the children, how sweet

I'm sure you mentioned it when we'd last spoken
Let me just move these so they don't get broken
He's such a delight, and you're staying the night
You know I just love little kids

Little kids are sticky and cute
Little kids have mud on their boots
And they run through my house
And they torment my dogs
And I surely do love little kids

Now let's sit in here, honey this is your chair
No, kitty's afraid when you shout
Oh, it's ok, it was old anyway
And the other one washes right out

Don't touch the parrot, that's right it's a mean one
How do they do it? I'd need a machine gun
She's patient and kind, I'd be out of my mind
You know I just love little kids

Little kids will cry anywhere
Little kids have milk in their hair
And they run through my house
And they torment my dogs
And I surely do love little kids

Now don't pull their tails
No, they're not mean
And yes, if they bite you, it hurts
It's just a Sears coffee machine
Nobody knows how it works

The company's gone and I'm sitting alone
Away from the noise and the fuss
The pets have returned and this weekend I've learned
Little children are nothing like us

'Cause they put their food in ridiculous places
They leave their fingerprints on their own faces
Oh, how could you say we all started this way?
You know I just love little kids

Little kids, get up way before me
Little kids, leave a trail of debris
And they run through my house
And they torment my dogs
And I surely do love little kids

(Cheryl Wheeler)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

High desert highs

When you spend your whole life wishing
Wanting, and wondering why
It's a long enough life to be living
Why walk when you can fly?

I’m back.

Six nights on the road, almost a thousand miles on the odometer, a lot of time in the sun, and a little in the rain too.

Southern Utah is amazing. America is a beautiful country. And huge. And a lot of is remote, but well worth the time and travel.

We left on a Wednesday. I had less than my usual pre-trip anxiety, maybe because it was just a month since our last trip, and also because our next trip is a couple of months away.

Our flight to Las Vegas was long, more than four hours. We arrived to blistering heat, took a tram to collect our luggage, then a bus to the car rental center. From there we embarked on a 260 mile drive to Bryce Canyon National Park, with stops for food (Cracker Barrel because I had a gift card) and supplies (sports drinks, trail mix, pretzels, M&Ms) at Target in St. George Utah.

As we drove, I had the feeling I was going further and further away, but from what? The house? The cats? Routine? Familiarity?

All of the above, maybe.

We checked into our room at Bryce Canyon Lodge after dark and on Mountain Time. With the two-extra-hour time difference, it was time for bed.

I always feel better with the first night under my belt/body/bones.

Our first stop in the morning was breakfast. Neil had an omelet and hash browns and toast. I ate a half piece of his toast and his orange slice garnish. Next stop was the visitor center by shuttle, where we watched the park film and bought the all-important park mug made by Deneen Pottery. From there we rode the shuttle to the last stop, Bryce Point, and back to Sunrise Point, where we did the Queens Garden hike, part of a three-prong loop. The connecting prong, the Navajo Loop, was closed, so it was an in-and-out (or down-and-up) hike. I ate half a frosted Starbucks cookie at the bottom, which I regretted hiking out.

It was hot and mostly sunny, so we got to model our new sun hats.

We hiked over to the General Store so Neil could get a cold Dr. Pepper and I could sit a spell. Then we had an early pizza dinner because the pizza place (highly recommended by our shuttle driver) closed at 6 pm. After pizza, we headed for the Lodge for some Internet connectivity (Neil) and the gift shop (me). A ranger talk about the night sky was a nice end to the day.

Next morning we had a Lodge breakfast, eggs for Neil, yogurt parfait with granola and berries for me. Our plan was to explore the further reaches of the park, Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point, about a 15-mile drive beyond the last shuttle stop. We hiked the Bristlecone Loop, an easy trail, and then made our gradual way back by car, with stops at some of the scenic outlooks over the Bryce Amphitheater.

Next in our plan was an easy, we thought, walk along the Rim Trail. Brilliant Neil suggested that we walk from Sunset Point to Bryce Point, about 2.2 miles, and catch the shuttle back. It made sense because the shuttle runs in a loop and from Bryce Point it's just two stops back to Sunset. However, we failed to account for the elevation gain, almost 300 feet, which is less than the Queens Garden, but there's a lot of up and down along the way, so you climb a lot more than 300 feet. The views were spectacular and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. But in reverse. Although down is harder on your knees than up, so Neil might not agree.

We'd planned to do another hike, but the Rim Trail took a lot more time and stuffing out of us than predicted. So we rested a bit, then had a dinner of leftover pizza and a fresh chef salad. We finished up the day with some time at the Lodge and a ranger talk about wildlife.

Funniest comment of the trip. A ranger said, I'm a ranger, not google.

We checked out in the morning and opted for breakfast at Bryce Pines Restaurant. Neil had pancakes. I had pie. Boysenberry. A la mode. Breakfast of champions and hikers.

Fully fueled with fat and sugar, we did one last Bryce hike, to Mossy Cave, which is in a separate section of the park and conveniently en route to Capitol Reef National Park, our destination.

One hundred and twelve miles of beautiful scenery and winding country roads later, we rolled in to the Capitol Reed Resort, right on the outskirts of the park. We checked in, then drove to the visitor center for another park movie and another mug.

Most of the action in Capital Reef is along the top third of the 60 mile long, six mile wide park, on Route 24 between Torrey and Caineville.

On our first afternoon we took the "Scenic Drive” to the end of a two-mile dirt road and hiked a couple of miles further into Capitol Gorge. We tried to get to the end of the trail, but every time we thought it was in sight, there was more trail around the bend. So we set a goal, then turned and hiked back out.

We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, recommended by the barista in the coffee shop in Torrey. Yes, Torrey has a coffee shop, quite a nice one, which we made good use of, including breakfast the next morning.

After breakfast we went back to the park for the day. We hiked to Hickman Bridge, a 133-foot natural bridge, and got back to the car just as it started to rain. We sheltered at the Visitor Center until the rain stopped, then hiked along the Fremont River, described as an "easy stroll along river, then steep climb to panoramas." We climbed part of the way up and it wasn't so much steep as treacherous, a narrow dirt trail with a steep drop-off. So we decided that discretion was the better part of sanity and headed to the petroglyph panel for the daily Fremont Culture ranger talk.

We wound up the day with another dirt road to two hikes, the Goosenecks (breathtaking views of water carved canyon switchbacks) and Sunset Point (dramatic panorama of the Waterpocket Fold and Chimney Rocks). Drunk on the beauty, plus a lot of Gatorade, dried fuits, and nuts, we said goodbye to Capitol Reef, which may be the most gorgeous national park you've never heard of.

I carried beads for the first time in a while.

We had dinner in Torrey (lasagne for Neil, veggie burger for me) FaceTimed with Ryland (Fathers Day), and caught the first episode of Season 6 of Endeavor, with one day of vacation to go. In the morning we skipped breakfast in favor of lunch at Bryce Pines, since we passed it on the way to our next stop, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, in Kanab. And yes, I had pie again. Blueberry banana cream this time.

(I also may have sweet talked Neil into a small detour to the Lodge so I could buy a pendant at the gift shop to match the earrings I'd bought at the gift shop.)

We drove the rest of the 176 miles to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, which Neil and I had visited many years before.

And then we backtracked just a little, so that we could take Route 9 through Zion National Park on our way to our hotel in St. George.

This is my favorite map of the entire trip. It has everything.

I want to marry this map.
We just had time for a stop at the gift shop for a mug and a shuttle ride to the Zion Park Lodge where we split a caramel macchiato with almond milk.

I felt so happy on the drive through Zion. It wasn't just the perfect weather, or the mind-blowing scenery, or the fact that I was going home the next day.

It was just a feeling that everything would be OK, that Trump and climate change and loneliness and all the bad things were really not important in the moment.

For a couple of hours, I was present.

It didn't last though. By the time we checked in to the hotel I was listless. Neil thought I needed food, so we went back out, to the Black Bear Diner, where I had a couple of eggs and an over-toasted, over-buttered English muffin. It didn't help though. Before the night ended I was tearful over little things, like my hurt elbow, which sends a shock of pain up my arm if I lean on it wrong, which I keep doing.

I'm rapid cycling, I told Neil. I was so happy at the park, and now I'm crying and I'm not even sure why.

So be it. Our trip home was long, our flight was delayed, we had a lot of time to kill at the airport, but we had passes for the United Club, so we were well-fed and comfortable at least.

More cars to buses to trains to planes to buses to cars. But then, to home, the cats, and our own bed.

It's been so good to be home that I didn't even mind Neil going to play softball again over the weekend. Followed by a week of peace before we have ...

House guests.

In this world there's a whole lot of trouble, baby
In this world there's a whole lot of pain
In this world there's a whole lot of trouble, but
A whole lot of ground to gain
Why take when you could be giving?
Why watch as the world goes by?
It's a hard enough life to be living
Why walk when you can fly?

In this world there's a whole lot of sorrow
In this world there's a whole lot of shame
In this world there's a whole lot of sorrow
And a whole lot of ground to gain
When you spend your whole life wishing
Wanting, and wondering why
It's a long enough life to be living
Why walk when you can fly?

And in this world there's a whole lot of golden
In this world there's a whole lot of pain
In this world you've a soul for a compass
And a heart for a pair of wings
There's a star on the far horizon
Rising bright in an azure sky
For the rest of the time that you're given
Why walk when you can fly?

(Mary Carpenter© Mary Chapin Carpenter Dba Why Walk Music)