DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT
I live in a small condominium community, and have since moving back to the PNW. I have come to know a few of my neighbors since I moved in, but it wasn’t until 73 year old Dixie moved in next door that I really started to get connected. We live on an ancient river that never fails to make me swoon. I love to watch the tugs push barges of sand up the river, grain back down. I love to watch the flotillas of fishing boats when the salmon are running. I even loved the river last spring when the clouds were spilling rain and the mountains were melting snow and the water kept rising and rising and locals walked by and commented that they hadn’t seen the water that high since the last flood. I pushed the idea of a flood out of my mind, as if thinking it would make it happen. Instead, I concentrated on the number of times I heard the sirens go off every time the Interstate bridge had to get raised because no boats could get between the water and the span unless they raised the roadbed.
But back to my saga. Another great treat about living on the Oregon side of the Columbia is that the Washington side of the river throws about the best fireworks display ever, each July 4. As it turns out, our little riverfront settlement is in the prime location to watch the pyrotechnics. So last July, Dixie invited me and J over for a get-acquainted dinner on her patio, the culmination of which was the fireworks display which we got to watch without so much as moving a chair. So we three gals had a great old time, Dixie cooked Italian and cracked open a bottle of ’75 California zinfandel and all was right in the world. Dixie and J filled me in on all the gossip around the complex, and I have to admit, the intrigue going on out here at our little village is juicy. There is sex and drugs and rock and roll. Who knew?
J lives in a place that is owned by her father. He lives out here, too. He actually owns quite a few places here, and is best friends with my landlord, whom I think is a swell guy. J fills me in on the dirt from the landlords and since one of them is her dad, we get all the best gossip. Here are some of the things that I have found out about my neighbors from J:
- There was a guy here who threw swingers parties, but the board got him drummed out for raising a ruckus all night long every Saturday night
- There is a lady here whose son got killed under circumstances that no one can quite figure out, but the grieving mother has hit on all the old guys in the complex, including The Landlords and is a general buttinski in all matters having to do with the management of the place
- One resident, who is also an airline pilot, got roaring drunk on July 4, fired a shotgun off his balcony, and got his front door busted down by the local police
I never knew any of this stuff before I got plugged into the local gossip stream. I’ve been missing so much! So, a couple of weeks ago, J told me that her landlord dad thinks I’m a bad influence on her because I am too independent. Now you know that got me all fired up. That cranky old fart doesn’t know me and he treats his daughter like a slave, calling her up at 11 o’clock at night and demanding she go fetch him a milkshake. What is really happening is that he does not like the fact that she is starting to stand up to the old dude thanks to my gentle encouragement (“Let him get his own damn milkshake!”).
So, I come home from work one day last week, and notice that J has a flat tire on her car. I call her up and she drags her 19 year old son out with her to examine the tire. Sure enough, it’s flat.
“You need to get air in it tonight,” I say to her. “So in the morning when you have to go to work, you can just go.”
She looks at me in a panic. “What do you mean?”
“What do you mean?”
“How do you do that? Where do you get air?”
OMG. “I will show you,” I tell her. The 19 year old starts to head back into the house to resume an ongoing commitment to his Game Boy. “Not so fast,” I tell him. “You’re coming too. This is a man thing. You need to know how to do this.”
We get to the gas station and I tutor J on the fine art of tire rejuvenation. We discover that the kid was the last one to drive the car and picked up a nail. J decides that she will ask to drive her dad’s truck to work, and have him take her car to the tire place. Peace is restored.
Now the lowdown is that J’s landlord-dad thinks that I may be useful after all, that I may be a good influence on his daughter. But hey, don’t take my word for it. I’m an uppity feminist who is too independent for her own good.
The Rear View Mirror
I just realized that 2011 is a 9 personal year for me, numerologically speaking. This means of course that it is a year of conclusions. Wrapping things up. Bringing things to a consummation. This line of thinking led me to a sort of personal inventory: what have I learned in 2011? What have I accomplished? Are there any do-overs I need to look at? The answer is yes to all of the above. So, here is my list of 2011, the good, the bad, the unintentionally ugly:
- Started teaching. Again.
- Guided at least 50 adult learners through the wilds of English composition.
- Broke up with the unavailable bf.
- Came to the conclusion that the bf’s deceased best friend’s widow probably held more financial reward than brilliant, gifted writer gf.
- Managed two enormously successful fundraisers.
- Did not land a new job.
- Wrote a couple of amazingly successful grants.
- Launched a new blog.
- Did not publish short fiction.
- Wrote one short-short story. Still unpublished.
- Received an ‘honorable mention’ in a national writing competition for the short story that took three years to complete.
- Took a vacation to wine country.
- Took a vacation to Amish country.
- Renewed my esthetician’s license.
- Got sued by Citibank.
- Sued Citibank back.
- Joined the 8,000,000.
- Purged the storage boxes until the weight of the past began to dissolve.
- Threw out or gave away anything that I don’t completely love.
- Grew a summer garden.
- Discovered an enchanted forest ten minutes from my house.
- Assembled a giant IKEA bookshelf. Myself.
- Moved my bank account to a credit union. (Take that, toobigtofail!)
- Began a new spiritual practice.
- Renewed membership with an online dating service.
- Warned a friend away from a scoundrel I met on an online dating service last year.
- Watched in disbelief as friend pursued ill-advised object of desire.
- Attended nephew’s beautiful wedding.
- Gazed in amazement at Orcas Island floating on the horizon.
- Hiked Eagle Creek with my sister.
- Joined a sailing club.
- Enrolled in a conversational Spanish class.
- Reconnected with an old friend.
- Stumbled upon another old friend on Linked In and purposefully did not reconnect.
- Turned in my smart car lease for a stupid car lease.
- Went vegetarian. Again.
- Went white water rafting on the Rogue River.
- Established boundaries.
- Made annual stash of Christmas Kahlua.
- Went out with a much younger man.
- Came to my senses and did not tamper with said hottie mym.
- Reviewed at least ten great first novels.
- Hosted the fam at my place for the first time. Ever.
- Watched the annual Christmas boat parade with my neighbors.
- Discovered that my condo complex is a hotbed of a) sex, b) scandal, and c) gossip.
- Took the train to almost-Canada.
- Ate cheesy fondue.
- Forgave myself.
- Made a habit of liking myself a little bit every day.
- Began the process of adopting a dog.
SURFING THE TSUNAMI
There are serious surfers who follow waves like some people follow Monday night football: religiously and with fervor. A YouTube video catches one of these gentlemen, beginning with a close up on the surfer followed by a long view, the whole monstrous wave, one hundred feet of water, and like a toy boat in the bathtub, the surfer bobs and weaves on the top of it. My own personal tsunami has been going on all year, creating a condition similar to how the dude on the surfboard must feel as the hundred foot wave curls in over him.
Here’s the quick and dirty: one family member hospitalized for a week with an autoimmune disease, the effects of which have been felt all year; one car accident requiring the purchase of a new car; our 16-year old tabby cat, Chester, passed; a hurricane took out a handful of our beautiful, old trees and caused some serious property damage; a flooded basement; a broken dishwasher (it was relatively new); a shattered glass panel on the oven, and the coup de grace, the kids’ iMac, less than a year old, froze up and wouldn’t budge. Apple says it needed a new RAM which is what directs the desktop. He likened it to having a large dinner party and not much counter space to prepare. At Apple they have a code for it. It’s called “kernel panic,” and may not be terrible because it’s under warranty, but I realize while at the Apple store that this computer has never been backed up. All the little movies the kids have made, all the photo-shopped pictures – devastating. Apple tells me the data is safe, but I would have been in bad shape had the general — the hard drive — been in panic. He also tells me the repair is free. After a year of shelling out cash, perhaps my luck is turning. But then the general begins to emit some panicky symptoms…
… or what I learned from Taylor Swift…
She’s less than half my age yet there’s a thing or two she knows that I’d be wise to emulate, which are, I believe, a combo platter of resilience, optimism and the idea that you’ll never get what you want unless you ask, or better, to quote Joe Jackson, you can’t get what you want until you know what you want. My 11-year old daughter, a rabid Taylor Swift fan, had me listen to a recorded telephone call of a country radio station where they were interviewing Tim McGraw. Taylor Swift had called in to talk about her song, Tim McGraw, which is a song, like every other one of her songs, about love, this one lost. When she wrote it she had never met or spoken to Mr. McGraw although undoubtedly she was a fan. This was early in her career and she couldn’t have been 18, but she asked this famous country singer, her idol, when he was going to start having opening acts again because she knew of a great one. McGraw laughed and told Swift that she really was fearless which she already knew because she named an album after that particular trait of hers. This past summer, I took my daughter to see Swift’s sold out show at the Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia – this is where the NFL’s Eagles play to over 60,000 fans – and almost everyone in the audience sang along to every one of her songs. I don’t know if she ever got the opportunity to open for Tim McGraw, but chances are Mr. McGraw has missed his window.
So how did she get there? Watching her perform, I decided that it’s a triumvirate of simplicity: she trusts her own heart; she doesn’t let other people’s opinion of her rule her head; and she is grateful. Watching that young girl thank thousands of people over and over for singing along with her was a humbling and unique experience. We should all have that kind of grace.
That’s it, just those three things. Truth is simple, really, and only you know what’s best for you. So no matter how many hurricanes or tsunamis, no matter kernel panic or general failure, no matter tree crashes or car crashes, trust your heart and — what’s the saying? — feel the fear and do it anyway? Don’t ask too many questions, you’ll interrupt the flow, especially not why. Better to ask how and what then why. And be thankful for whatever you get. Even if it’s just a chance to do it again tomorrow. Try it. You could end up having the ride of your life.
Rocking the Light
So, my dad is dying. My once big, strong, fierce dad has become feeble, and forgetting, and now is fading by the day. His heart, his indomitable ticker, is winding down. My dad, who once held up the sky, is slipping away from this blue marble of mud and water and I am both relieved and bothered by the process. And fascinated. Should I admit this? That I am fascinated by his passing? I am. Religion tells us that heaven (or hell) awaits, and since this life is supposed to be a) beautiful, and b) terrible, it is supposed to be a relief to get out. Or so my teachers, as well as the authors of NDE (near death experience) books insist.
There is a saying that goes: “dying is easy; it’s living that’s hard.” You don’t have to tell that to my sister. She is fighting dad’s angel of death with everything she’s got. So far, it’s a draw. We Gregory girls inherited that fierce warrior gene from our dad and my sister is formidable. But I suspect this dying business is an endurance test, and I’m not sure she’s got what it takes to go the distance. She’s already starting to crack a little and the flames of Divine Light are only just beginning to build.
As a former RN, my sister knows with medical accuracy, what is happening to the muscle in my dad’s chest that regulates blood flow and oxygen distribution and life force. It is starting to shut down and there is nothing to stop it. My sister made the decision to make no heroic gestures, and we, her sibs fully support her in this decision. There are “DNR” instructions attached to his medical files which means ‘do not resuscitate.’ If there is a major event, they will make him comfortable, but they will not shock him or slice through the paper thin skin stretching across his quivering chest to manipulate that muscle into a regular rhythm again. As it turns out, no heroics is a far easier decision to make when there is no grand episode or if there is an absence of small, painful, indignities that tumble like dominoes toward a sad end. Either way friend, it blows.
My sister, the oldest child of our family and therefore the initiator and caretaker, began to actively look after Mom and Dad about ten years ago. First, she monitored their bills and their medical treatments. Next, she acquired power of attorney and began making a ten-hour round trip from her house to theirs once a month to make sure that their refrigerator, freezer, and pantry were stocked with their favorite foods. When Dad’s heart went from gimpy to fragile to irregular, my sister sold their house and moved Mom and Dad into her home. Last fall, when my sister’s amazing son married, Mom and Dad were official members of the wedding party. Even though Dad wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about or who all of the strange people were, he was there and we have the photos to prove it.
Alzheimer’s disease came sneaking up, and finally overtook. It allows Dad moments of lucid tracking, when he will look around the table at one of we adult kids and smile his sly smile, and call us deliberately, by name. As if to announce that he’s here, he knows who we are, and he is glad of it. Dad. Now, the only people he recognizes with any regularity are Mom and my sister. The other day in the hospital, after he had suffered a major heart attack and was being monitored and tested, my sister was there by his side, holding his hand. Our dear, sweet father looked at my sister, and said, “When is C. coming back?” This was the bitterest blow of all for my sister, C. “Soon, Dad,” she nodded. “Soon.”
A few years ago, I went to see a medium speak . She pointed me out of the crowd and said, “Your father has passed.” I looked around, and the rows of people surrounding me were turned toward me like satellite dishes. I looked at the medium, she nodded, yes: you. “No,” I replied. “But he has Alzheimer’s.” The medium said, “Ah.” She smiled at me and explained. “You know he’s okay, right? He has one foot in this world, and one foot in the next. There are people there, waiting for him.” I wiped away a sudden tear. “I know,” I replied. “His brother and parents. I know he’s okay.”
And I do know he’s okay. In fact, the prayer that I speak alone in the middle of the night is this: “Go to the light, Dad. It’s okay. You had a good run. You were a sweet son, good brother, beloved husband. You were a great dad. The best dad. Go to the light. I’ll see you there. Amen.”
Does this make me a bad person? Maybe. Dying is easy; living is hard. Already, legend has it that Steve Jobs’ last words were, “Oh, wow.” See, I want my dad to have his ohwow moment. I want him to rock that ball of light, all swallowed up by the Great Mystery, and I want him to rest there in that Infinite Heart, blissed to his bones.
Here’s how it started. The day after we got back from vacation a hurricane took out six of our biggest trees, one of which punctured holes in the roof of the garage, pulled down the gutter and busted up the soffit on the side of the house, and for its grand finale, broke the roof rack on the car, leaving several unsightly dings behind just for kicks. That was a single tree. Solamente uno — just one. Another had flung itself across the driveway with such force, I thought I was the unwitting star of a Quentin Tarantino movie: Kill Bill meets National Geographic. Environmental carnage abounded. Sensing that something was up — it doesn’t take a hurricane to get my attention — I decided to look at things on an energetic level. This was some serious upheaval and I needed to get to the root of it (oh yes, pun intended).
Ah, but my beautiful trees. Eight in all had either come down of their own accord or had root systems so badly damaged that we had to take them down later. We’re not talking old growth, but they were well into middle-age as tree years go, particularly in an area that had been clearcut for lumber a century and a half ago. My brother-in-law counted the rings. The biggest and my hands down favorite, the melodramatic one now lying across the driveway, was planted the year the civil war broke out. One hundred and fifty-four concentric circles. One hundred and fifty-four years of life. One hundred and fifty-four years of witness. Imagine what that tree saw in its years on the planet, I thought. So why did I take its service so lightly?
It’s only a tree, you may say, but for 154 years that tree was taking my (and my predecessor’s) carbon dioxide, filling up its little tree lungs — more on that in a minute — and converting it, as only Mother Nature can teach a tree, to fabulous, life-granting, breath-giving oxygen. My tree asked nothing in return other than a nice place to stand and some sun and water, all necessities for which it had already made its own arrangements.
The tree has very few moving parts. It’s like human hair where most of it is dead except for the follicle attaching it to the scalp. The tree has the phloem, xylem, and cambium, all of which encompass a small width of an area beneath the bark. The whole rest of the inside is, by most standards, dead.
On the contrary, as many shamans will tell you, the tree is not dead, but very much alive, possessing its own chakra system with nothing but moving parts, and unlike the static human chakra system — static with regard to the spinal column, not the whirling wheels of light — a tree’s chakras move around and up and down the tree, quite the opposite of what you’d expect from such a stationary object. The Native Americans knew this about trees and would rub their backs against the bark in an exchange that would leave them feeling re-energized. The current day Americans chop them down and use them for firewood. It’s not a judgment — we burn wood all the time — I’m just saying.
So imagine my dismay when we lost not one tree, but eight. Everyone says it could have been worse, and yes, from a property damage perspective it could have been, but as far as the trees go, what’s worse than being totally uprooted?
In pondering that question, I began to ponder the more esoteric points of our shared existence on the planet, and to ask myself, why don’t I make it a point to talk to the trees more? After all, they are the reason I breathe. Now before you get all freaked out, I don’t mean in the literal sense of having a conversation with my Rhododendron. I’m pretty sure my neighbors would think I’d gone totally round the bend if they saw me whispering to the Willows, but in the figurative sense, sending thoughts of gratitude and good intention to the trees that surround our house, especially the ones that didn’t feel the need to crash through the roof of the living room and kill me instantaneously while I watched reruns of That 70’s Show in my recliner. I don’t actually have a recliner, but this very thing happened to a guy in central Pennsylvania. He died when a tree crashed through his roof, crushing him in his living room chair although I’m not sure what he was watching at the time.
In The Secret Life of Plants, by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird (1973), the authors discuss how human intentions can affect plant behavior. Yes, I can hear you even as I type this, but believe me, these guys have scientific evidence to prove their theory. They’d hook up electrodes to different plants, say, for example, a Ficus tree, and when a test subject sat there thinking – as instructed — about how he or she would like to set the Ficus on fire, the Ficus experienced brainwave activity that demonstrated panic. Even more odd, the Ficus two rooms over had the same reaction. Not only did the single Ficus that was the object of the bad thought fear for its safety and well being, all the other Ficus feared for the tree as well. Contrast this reaction: when the test subject beamed love and light to the Ficus, the tree relaxed.
Dr. Masaru Emoto had the same revelation about water which he documented in his book, The Hidden Messages in Water. When water is telepathically sent loving thoughts it forms gorgeous crystalline structures within its molecules and when water is maligned, either telepathically or through environmental degradation, the crystals become horribly disfigured. The real triumph is this: when water with disfigured crystals is sent loving intentions, the crystals realign themselves and form beautiful patterns. Water is capable of rehabilitation! If water can be fixed then why can’t everything?
I haven’t quite determined what aspects of my life the universe is asking me to rehabilitate, but I’m still in cleanup mode. Once the debris has been cleared, the brush recycled, I think the answers will be evident. For now, it’s good to know that the science is there if we’re willing to put doubt aside. We can begin now, creating the gorgeous future we know we deserve. So why not get started right away? Focused intention, coupled with gratitude, and your practically there. Go ahead. Thank a tree today. The tree will award you with years of shade, a place to scratch your back and re-energize your life, and a lifetime supply of free oxygen all for the price of a few good thoughts. I’d call that quite a bargain.
I traveled recently to the place that I lived before I relocated back to the Pacific Northwest. This was an interesting experience in a number of ways. Back when I discovered the Bay Area, I felt as if my heart would leap out through a crack in my ribs if I did not live in that place, if I did not breathe its air, if I did not bathe myself in the light of the evening sky. It was as if there was a cellular memory that guided me like a sextant to that geography. And then suddenly one day, I was done. My heart got called to another place and the insistent thumping in my chest was for another landscape, another shade of light.
How does that work? I am not sure, but I do know that it has happened exactly three times in my life and as if in response to a biological imperative, I answered the call. Go figure. Now, when I drive up I-5 or the plane I’m on banks over the river on its approach to the runway, I feel as if I am home. It’s a small, calm feeling, like an echo in my chest. Home.
This is not to say that I did not have a swell time on my mini-vacay. I did. It was delish. I met a new friend. Well truthfully, she is the lady who owns the B&B where I stayed one night, but from the minute we met, there was a level of connection that we both recognized. From the get, we chatted like pals with a long history. We laughed at the same nuanced jokes. We moved around the kitchen as if we had been doing that dance forever. We parted promising to keep in touch. All this, in less than 24 hours.
While stopping over with my new B&B-BFF, I met a dear friend for dinner just off the square in Sonoma, someone whom I hadn’t seen since I moved away. With the first intake of breath, and the double-cheek kiss of greeting (she’s French, afterall), the miles and months melted away. We connected. We swam in the same warm pool of the familiar we had when all we needed to do was drive across town to meet for coffee. We joined up at the intersection of I See You and Always, and spent an evening eating Portuguese food and dishing on our exes.
Several years ago, I finally made my first trip to Paris. Well, I’m not sure if it was the first, honestly. The minute the plane touched down, I felt as if I was walking into a scene I knew. I was perfectly at home, despite my creaky high-school French and a throbbing suspicion at the back of my mind that I should somehow understand exactly what people were saying ; as if I did know, but had suffered a brain injury and the words individually made sense, but had somehow lost context. There I was, walking the Ponte Neuf, the Tuilerie Gardens, breathing a familiar air. In just one day, people speaking French were approaching me on the street, asking me for directions to museums, galleries, cafes. “Desolee,” I responded. “Je ne pas parle.” It was divine, and I savored every word of “I’m sorry, I do not speak. . .I am not from here.” But even as I said it, I knew that on some deep and mystifying level I was a liar. I did know. I just did not remember.
So maybe this is what Déjà vu is: just a little crack in the membrane of lifetimes of memory. I see you. I know you. We will do this again.
“Mommy, I have a biaaaagrapheeeee!”
I’m sitting at a traffic light, holding my cellphone aloft while my daughter’s wails blast through the telephone. It’s most unsettling, the wailing. I can handle whining, mumbling, kvetching, ill-temperedness and a whole range of other emotions, but I have a hard time with the full-on, flat-out wail. It’s like shifting tectonic plates — serious stuff is about to go down unless someone stages an intervention.
Unfortunately, I’m across town, on my way to a meeting after a full day at work, and this news, a revelation from the response I’m getting, is not sitting well with my daughter.
“You said you were going to be home after work.” [Anger. Accusation.]
“No, I didn’t. I didn’t say that. The meeting’s been on the calendar for months.” [Justification.]
“But I have a biography due tomorrow!” [Panic.]
“Well, write it and I’ll look it over when I get home. I should be back by nine.” [Problem solved.]
“But I can’t write it. It’s about you. I have to interview you first.” [Indignation.]
“Well, why didn’t you tell me that before? I could use a little lead-time, Bub.” [Irritation.]
“Because I didn’t know until today. We just got the assignment.” [Trump.]
I hesitate. This is clearly a grey area. Yes, it’s possible that she did just get the assignment today, but I distinctly remember a discussion at the dinner table last week when the prospect of the assignment was discussed briefly, and tabled until further information became available. So while she may be justified in her assertion, I feel equally justified in my retort. My entire life is booked in twenty minute increments; if it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening.
Like most people. I have a job. It’s not a high-powered, CEO of a multimillion dollar mega-corporation kind of job, nor is it an all-hands-on-deck-this-is-an-emergency kind of job, but like most jobs, it has deadlines and responsibilities, sometimes court imposed, as well as managerial expectations. There’s prep, there’s planning, there’s showing up, among other things. Similarly, I belong to a volunteer organization that has its own set of demands, including meetings, committees, and fundraising events. Notice is helpful, sometimes necessary, if you need more than my cursory attention.
[Now back to our regularly scheduled conversation already in progress…]
The light turns green and I make my fourth or fifth wrong turn of the evening. The address provided for the meeting was incorrect. I don’t have the world’s greatest night vision. Plus I’ve stopped to ask directions twice already, and my kid’s at home having an apoplectic fit because I’m not there to answer her interview questions.
“I really have to go to this meeting. I missed the last one for work. I can’t skip this one, too.”
“But, Mommy…” [Tears. Guilt. Shovels full of guilt.]
[Deep Breath, and Hallelujah] “Hey, I know. Text me the questions. Just a few per text and I’ll answer that way.” I’ve just proposed bringing multitasking to a whole new level.
“As many as you want, but just a few in each text. I’ll sit in the back and text you my responses.”
“Oh, okay.” [A bit of an underwhelming response considering that crisis has been avoided.]
“Just give me about fifteen minutes to find the meeting and get settled.”
We hang up. I hear the text messages arriving, one, two three, four, with that little ka-klinky noise that text messages make. I’m driving around in tight circles, looking for the Willow Valley Cultural Center, thinking about the woman I sat with on an arbitration panel a few days ago. We had been swapping war stories about full-time working and mothering. I recently went from a three-day work week to full time and — oh the humanity! — hadn’t yet caught up with that decision. Some days it practically did me in. My new friend worked in insurance and related the 12-hour days her male colleagues routinely put in and the guilt she felt walking out of the office at 5:30 p.m. after arriving at 8:00 a.m. She had recently switched jobs and was ecstatic because the bit of time off had allowed her to walk her daughter to school that morning — the first time in months.
I’m not passing judgment given that I’m now in the same proverbial and quite assailable boat, but it’s distressing to me that we live in a society where it’s frowned upon if a woman doesn’t live up to a man’s work standards, that she’s made to feel guilty about it, or worse, passed over for a promotion, yet she also bears the brunt of all the doctor and dentist visits, school conferences, and back-to-school shopping sprees, to name a few. Statistically, women comprise half of the workforce, yet receive only 3% of the CEO jobs in Fortune 500 companies, and a mere 14% of the middle management positions. If to do this you need to put in a 12-hour day, whom, may I ask, is watching the children?
You can’t have it all, that much is clear. If you want stability in the home, or a relationship with your husband and kids, you have got to make yourself available. I’m lucky to have a husband who does his share of the getting and driving and schlepping — it’s amazing how many activities these kids have — because I know many women who don’t have this luxury. Yet even that’s not enough. At this rate, statistics will eventually catch up with even the hardiest of us and, like our male counterparts, we’ll be having heart attacks at younger ages and dying within weeks or months after we retire. But I digress…
After half an hour of being lost, I finally find my meeting only to discover the doors were locked. A note read: “Park in the upper lot and use those doors.”
You know what’s coming next, right? Perhaps if it were daylight, I would have found that upper lot, but instead, I circled round and round the complex like wet laundry in the spin cycle, twirling and whirling until I was wrung half-dry.
I gave up. I went home.
In retrospect it wasn’t the dark, or the fact that I had the wrong address, or anything else. It was that my child’s reach is long, like the gravitational pull of the moon on the ocean, and that even from miles away she was able to obfuscate my vision with her: “Mommy, I need you.” It wasn’t intentional on her part, I assure you. It’s my gig. So I went with it.
Perhaps I won’t ever get a promotion, or maybe the stellar career will have to wait until the kids have grown and gone — as a woman, my life expectancy is about 15 years longer than that of my male counterparts — but I am sure that no matter to what levels I may rise, my children will always come first. Whether the rest of the world is okay with that doesn’t matter, because the only opinion that counts here is mine.
I WANT TO MARRY MY PILLOW
I had a session with a psychic last week and my spiritual advisor said, “Is your neck bothering you?”
Once again, I was astonished. My psychic is in Florida. I’m in Oregon. We meet by phone and if she doesn’t like the quality of light in the room I’m in, she will ask me to move. Don’t ask me how she knows, she just does. I told her my neck ached constantly.
“Are you a side sleeper or a stomach sleeper,” D asked during our session. I had to laugh. “Are you kidding? I’m all over the place. It’s like a night in the WWF.”
“Yeah,” D said. “Your neck is a mess. You should consider getting a new pillow. You take care of your neck, and the rest of your back will take care of itself.”
When it comes to bedroom décor I’m all about the fluff. I love my feather pillows. I adore my pillow-top bed. I sleep beneath the cloud of a down quilt. And yet, for months, I have awakened in the morning stiff and creaky. I blamed it on middle-age. I blamed it on job stress. I tried chiropractors, I tried hot pads and cold compresses, I booked deep tissue massages. Nothing worked. I thought about D’s suggestion for about a minute. Phfft! A pillow!
So I hit my favorite Tuesday Morning store and found an ergonomically correct memory foam pillow at a fraction of the original tripledigit retail price. What’s the big deal, I thought. Can it really be that good?
Oh. My. Sweet Ganesha. Can I just say? I’ve found nocturnal nirvana. After one night with The Pillow, I awakened in the morning pain-free for the first time in months. It was awkward at first, getting used to the flatness of the ortho-fix. But see, it’s not flat, really. It has two long edges that have a raised surface. The bigger raised surface is for “side” sleeping; the small hump is for “back” sleeping. The Pillow is engineered to give just the right amount of neck support.
Now a bonus point that may be relevant here is that the occipital nerve is the point in the back of your head where your spine joins your skull. This delicious little divot is a place of profound bliss where, when slight pressure is applied (as in cranial sacral work, or even a regular massage at the hands of a master), opens the channels between higher consciousness and heaven, or something very near it. The Pillow, that dreamy little cushion of therapeutic support, touches my occipital nerve. All. Night. Long.
I thought I wanted a BF, but maybe I just wanted a better night’s sleep. I love my pillow. It loves me back. We will live in nocturnal bliss together, Babes in Dreamland.
It’s all too big. And it’s all our fault. But may I propose that the American preoccupation with bigger is better is on the outs, or at least, in the nascent waning stages.
Supersize me. Remember that guy? Morgan Spurlock. He ate nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days and supersized his meal every time he was asked. in less than 30 days, he’d gained ingested so many toxins and gained so much weight that he almost died from liver failure.
Now the mega bookstore known as Borders is dying, and not from liver failure, but gluttony if that word can be applied to an entity that has the legal definition of person, but doesn’t suffer from consequences. (e.g. ever see a corporation go to jail?)
I loved Borders, okay. The frothy lattes, the welcoming place for readers and writers to gather and discuss books or maybe write their own, the abundant magazine section. But something happened over the years. Borders went from being a trendy, alt-hip meet spot that intuited customers needs, to a corporate megalopolis that in its quest for book domination lost sight of the big picture. Is it any wonder we withdrew our affection? I mean, wasn’t it Borders that put the chic little independent bookstores out of business? You know, the one on the corner of Main Street with the hard to find treasures mixed in with the best sellers.
Yet the closing of Borders has raised nary an eyebrow. Rather, consumers flock to the store to take advantage of the 50% off tables. It’s reminiscent of the scene in State and Main where Alec Baldwin gets into an accident with an underage groupie. Rather than worry about the jail term that could result from such a dalliance, Baldwin says: “Well, that happened.” And so with Borders, just like Tower Records before them, companies too big to fail have fallen.
It’s not just the U.S. The book stores in London are closing at a rate of 2 per week. Notting Hill Travel Books, the backdrop for the movie Notting Hill, is closing, too. The staff volunteered to work for free if it would save the store. But in this economy, not even Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant can save it.
Unlike Borders, the Citibanks and the Goldman Sachs were not allowed to fail which is unfortunate for the American consumer. Had the financier been run like a true capitalistic enterprise, then fail it would. In the wild, the rule is survival of the fittest. But here in the states, in the land of the free and the home of the franchise, it’s survival of the most politically connected. He who has the best lobbyists survives. Yet it’s hard to love these guys. They used to only take the best cuts of the meats and leave the rest for the rest. Now they take 85% of the meat, and tell the rest to like it or they’ll take it all. They foul the air and water with out of date manufacturing plants and if they have to upgrade a plant to comply with environmental laws, the ones that make our country inhabitable and keep our kids asthma free, they’d rather close it down or send it to Mexico. They sell our children’s future by sending American made products, translation: jobs, overseas. Now only kids from overseas can afford American colleges.
Isn’t it time to get back to thinking globally, but acting locally? Back to knowing the names of our next-door neighbors on both sides of our house, or that of the coffee jock who serves us our morning cup of joe? Back to the corner bookstore?
Borders, I will miss you, but truth be told, these last years you were only a shadow of your former glory. Perhaps now, instead of driving to the closest mega-mall for my latest NY Times Bestseller, I can ask my neighbor if she wants to take a walk down to the corner bookstore with me. We can have a coffee on the way.
SAME STORY, NEW PLATFORM
I made personal history last week, though no one but me and my editor would notice. After a string of years and a slough of book reviews, I reviewed my first e-novel. It had to happen soon or later, but now that it is behind me, I feel much better about it.
There are so many things I agree about with the e-book. I love that it is eco-friendly. I love that I can carry a library in my smart phone so that no matter where I go and how far from home I travel, I’ll never be caught in bad traffic or a glacial grocery store line again without chewy reading material. I was a skeptic, but lo, am now a believer. I wasn’t sure that the small screen could hold enough text to satisfy my hunger for a steady supply of clever words. After all, the screen is the size of my palm, and a book is four times that, containing hundreds of words at a glance. But you know what? I love “flipping” a page with the touch of a finger. I love that no matter where I put the book down, I will not bend a page or break the spine and my smart little phone will live up to its name and remember the exact page where I left off. Clever little gadget!
I know; if you’re reading this and you’re under the age of, oh, 30, I sound like a creaking prehistoric grannie. But tough beans, sweetie. I love the myriad ways that technology has improved the world, in ways you’ll never fully appreciate. Vinyl records. Transistor
radios on a sandy beach in the summer under a sizzling sun. IBM Selectric typewriters, for god sake.
Anyhow, I’m not crazy about how the publishing industry, which has prevailed despite a completely insane business model that dances to the beat of sycophantic pop culture while spitting on truly brilliant writers, charges nearly as much for a virtual book (without the associated printing/storage/shipping costs) as for the real deal. But no matter, it all works out in the end.
I will always love the feel and the smell of a bonafide, carbon-leaking book. I have books I treasure and will never give up, no matter how dusty the cover, how yellow the pages. I will hide and continue to rediscover with delight, notes, letters, and photos in the pages of
my library of printed books.
But e-books? Cool has arrived and it fits in the palm of my hand.
Yipee, yowza, and wahoo!
WHEN THE PAST BECOMES YOUR PRESENT
God only knows what possessed me, but the other day I did the unthinkable. I looked up an old boyfriend on facebook. (I blush even as I type this.)
The information he’d listed was minimal which was fine by me because I don’t want to spend time reading a bunch of useless information. I’ve got too much of my own useless information to process. Nobody’s interested, unless you’re looking for a mate, and then once you find the mate, you almost immediately become disinterested. (Lighten up; it’s a joke.)
But really, between the kids’ soccer, swim team, music lessons and the myriad activities we’re either dragged or dragging our children to, I, like many other women, barely have ten minutes a day to themselves – let alone to speak with their husbands – and with that bit of time all we seem to be able to manage is to triage carpooling duties.
As a result, I spend very little time on facebook. I don’t find it to be the social mecca my kids think it is. I’d rather pick up the phone than spend 30 minutes exchanging superficial bon mots with my BFFs. Which is why facebook continues to elude me. I can never see the whole picture, just bits and pieces of an ever changing landscape, like being in a high speed train and not getting the window seat: you see every tenth frame.
Rarely do I access my account unless I’m friend requested or someone sends me a message. My email gets the message and off I go to figure out what just happened, whether I have a new friend, a new message, a new wall comment, or horror of horrors, a tagged photo of me. Photos of me now pepper the internet, thanks to my kids, as if I’m some long-reigning dignitary in town on holiday. Left up to me, I’d have a profile picture and nothing more. Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the makers of facebook for their ingenuity and creativity, but wouldn’t we all save a step if we just sent an email?
Yet, it’s the magic of facebook that’s allowed me the opportunity to take this ill-advised stroll down memory lane so I may as well tell you what happened. Well nothing, really, it’s just that I had a series of small epiphany’s that I wanted to share. Perhaps I was longing for a day when life was slower, simpler, not jam-crammed with so many [expletive] activities, when a day in the life was just that: a day… with life. But as many of us know who have mined the rose-colored fields of our youth, the rose tones fall away when they bump up against our 20/40s with a bifocal lens.
I didn’t stop at one. I searched boyfriend after boyfriend. My first high school crush. My first real love. My first long-term relationship. And what I found was that my 11-year old is right when she says: “step forward and never look back.” Everyone who texts her gets treated to this message, a pithy little bit of Confucious with her every response. And if she’d walked with me down memory lane that day, the one with the busted up sidewalk and weeds bursting through the cracks, she’d say that none of those ex’s were a good match for me anyway, and that’s why they’re ex’s. If they weren’t right then, they really won’t be right now.
The traits and characteristics, both the ones you loved and the ones that sent you running from the room screaming, are still in play within the confines of that person’s DNA. You’re not going to change them simply by showing up 10 or 30 years later. And at the same time, we have changed, all of us, and most fundamentally. The world is not the same idyllic place I thought it was in my 20s, my risk-taking meter not as friendly. For example, no longer will I take off on a motorcycle in the middle of a Greek island on a dare. (Well, maybe if my husband went with me.) I fear for my children’s welfare, for their sanity, for their ability to cope in this information-overloaded society. “It’s not as easy as it was,” I hear myself telling them. But didn’t my parents say the same?
I don’t know if facebook has cured me of the need to know what’s become of my past, but I think it cured me of the need to make it my present. I’m not missing out on anything. No one is. We all get there eventually, but not before we deal with our own stuff, every benign or lurid detail, every secret thought, every character flaw, a swirling vortex of love and judgment and compassion and humanity, right there under the trendy blue and white facebook logo. So – how to navigate through the vortex? I’m going to take my 11-year old’s advice: step forward and don’t look back.
I went car shopping the other day. The lease ran out on my car and I thought I had another year to think about it, but alas. I was out of time and had no bright ideas so decided to sign myself up for another hitch. Yes, I should be better organized and I keep meaning to be, but there are these right brain left brain issues and before you know it there I was with the lease running out and the hourglass draining sand like the days of our lives.
So I did my homework. I shopped the web, prepared my plan. Everyone was perfectly nice at the dealership, especially Bruce, of the crystal blue eyes. Well, everyone was perfectly nice after I blew in on a frosty breeze and let every grinning sales associate know that I would not be patronized, intimidated, or coerced. You know how it is: a woman walking into an auto dealership. It’s like a wounded impala on the Serengeti surrounded by marauder ants. She doesn’t stand a chance. They will pick her bones clean. It isn’t pretty; but there I was, and there was handsome Bruce, and his fresh-faced assistant, Nate.
Car shopping has improved since the advent of the Internet. Shoppers are well informed. Shoppers have options and the dealers are nervous. Two cars ago, I pre-negotiated the price of my car through the AAA website. It was divine. I walked in, friendly Debbie had the paperwork all ready to go and I drove away without breaking a sweat. The next car was something of a gang-rape nightmare. I went to a dealer, and after they took my keys from me to “inspect” my car, reeeeeally pushed me to buy a car I didn’t want, and then withheld the keys to my vehicle until I had to raise my voice loud enough so everyone in the dealership could hear my demand for the return of my keys. Still, the oily salesman hissed in my ear that my car was a death trap, that I was unsafe in it, that I would be back. Seriously? After that, I brokered a deal online for a hybrid and was treated like the Queen of the May when I walked into the showroom.
So, like nature, the dealers have adapted. Bruce was grace itself, if Grace was paid on commission. The experience was not unpleasant, but still definitely a grind. Afterward, I had to blow off steam by seeing a ridiculous summer movie; not terribly artful, but adorned with a pretty cast and intermittent moments of funny. Then I drove my new car home and started devising plans for my next vehicle. I’m thinking a personal jet pack would be nice.