Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Library for ALL my Thirds

I’ve been suffering withdrawal the last couple of weeks. Library withdrawal. Our main library, Loussac Library, was closed for the big remodel, and for a library-aholic, this has been rough.

As I thought about it, I realize the library is the one institution that figures significantly in all my Thirds. From my first introduction to the little old library in New Jersey that smelled of books, to the library I inhabited through high school, to the Youth Services section Sophie and I practically lived in, the library is where you might find me if I’m not home. Even now, I’m an every-other-day-er.

I’ve had an office way in the bowels of the San Francisco Public Library, did the public information and promotion for Anchorage Public Library, and got my library cards as soon as I arrived in Manhattan and London for my months. I’m not part of a community till I’m a Friend of the Library.

The library took me through the First Third of preparing for adulthood. At midnight, when the library closed on campus, hundreds of bicycles took to the street. The library was the place where I read the reserved reading for my Human Sexuality course. When I perceived that the guy on the opposite side of the carrel was masturbating, and I was reading that I wasn’t supposed to give him the thrill of my fear, I got up and calmly walked to the desk … until a friend reached out for me and I screamed bloody murder. (Bet you didn’t expect that last little bit of history to hide in this paragraph!)

Then in my Second Third, when Sophie expressed an interest in anything, we’d race to the library to get a book on it. Amusement parks! Rocks! Gems! The discovery of very old editions of Flower Fairies of the Garden sparked years of poetry, fairies, and gardening. When there was a parenting issue (me-first-itis, big bed fears, honesty), the librarians would help me find a picture book that dealt with that issue. As the Storytime Lady in the Alaska Botanical Garden, I spent years reading every picture book on flowers, bugs, trees, gardens, vegetables, seeds, and forest animals.

And now, the library accommodates my Third Third self. I get to do the pleasure reading I want; I get to reserve and watch too many DVDs. Even the Guerrilla Knitters meet there and decorated trees there. The library is there whenever my flexible schedule puts me there.

And then it wasn’t.

The remodel has been going on for a year. Things moved around. DVDs changed floors. Elevators opened on strange territory. Visqueen and plastic decorated the walls. Nothing looked like it used to. It was so disconcerting that I gave up on hanging out there. I put holds on my requests, picked them up on the ground floor, and went home grumpy. I felt like a curmudgeon who couldn’t happily adapt to change, and the only thing worse was when the library closed totally for two weeks.

Grump, grump, grump.

But then Wednesday happened, grand re-opening day! I took my shift as a helpful volunteer, opening the main door and greeting people coming and going. What a happy day! What a happy task!

“Welcome to the new Loussac Library!”

It was rainy and gray, but Anchorage came out for the big re-opening. People were curious, happy, and just eager to get back in. The library is the place where all of Anchorage shows up: the preschoolers, the elderly, the high-schoolers, the families. The professionals, the loungers, the get-in-get-a-book-and-get-out folks. The clusters of friends, the quiet and solitary.

“Welcome to the new Loussac Library!” I was meant for this job! What a great way to spend my time. I felt like I was opening a golden door, a welcome to heaven, to a new shiny place with new spaces and new places to sit. It will take some getting used to, but that should be easy: I’ll be spending a lot of time there.
“Welcome to the new Loussac Library!” See you there.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I was there.

So if we’re going to talk about music, I have to tell you about Woodstock.

I was there. That is my big claim to membership in our generation, my major 1969 merit badge. My big attention-getting, conversation enhancer for Third Thirders. I was at Woodstock.
I was 16, na├»ve to the nth degree, and had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t really follow music except folk: Peter, Paul, and Mary; Arlo Guthrie; Joan Baez. Music was not my big motivator, even though it was called “3 Days of Peace & Music.” Peace was motivating, BUT the tiny little ad in the Sunday newspaper also said there would be art in the woods. There’d be potter’s wheels in the woods.

I went to Woodstock to throw pots in the woods.

I paid my $18 and bought my tickets in advance by mail.
We went up in two cars driven by parents. Kevin’s car went up earlier with the tent. Debra’s car – with me in it – sat in traffic for hours. We were going to find each other at the entrance gate … which ceased to exist when the 100,000th person entered, I guess. We arrived to utter chaos, and Debra’s father was having none of this … until I spotted Kevin over thousands of people. I waved, “Hi, Kevin, we’re over here!”

That was only the first proof of Woodstock magic.

We moved our stuff into the tent and then went in search of music, which lasted till 2 in the morning. As we trooped back to the tent through the mobs of people, something was wrong. The tent was gone! Kevin’s mother, freaked out by news reports, had come up to retrieve everyone and bring everyone back home.

Hey, I’d paid my $18 and I was not leaving! Fortunately, three boys nearby from Penn State heard all this and said I could stay with them.

So I did.
One of them was named Jack. Jack was my second bit of magic because every time I got lost, I’d call out “Jack!” and he’d always find me.

There was a lot of getting lost. The sea of people between me and the porta-cans didn’t mean I could give up needing the bathroom. I went to the truck that distributed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, turned for half a second, and got lost again. Getting lost in a crowd of half a million mud-covered people and tents is a scary proposition. The odds were you would NEVER find your tent or your stuff.

And then, of course, I just had to go into the woods to throw pots.

Except that everyone in the woods throwing pots was naked. Everyone in the woods was naked. The woods must have been the center of clothing optional land. I ran out of there so fast I couldn’t remember what direction I’d entered from.

The trucks that gave out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches also gave out Spam sandwiches. I’d never heard of Spam. Spam was very weird. I would try to swallow it, and it would float back up. Spam can’t go down me. It refuses.

In the end, it was time to go home. I remember wandering around and then shouting, “Oh, there’s Debra!” She’d stayed behind and her father would meet her somewhere. I have no idea how this happened. I have no idea how I found that ride back home. Magic, I think.

We had to take trains and buses. For days, whenever you traveled and came across a starry-eyed, grubby, our-age person, you’d say, “Were you there?” and they’d understand … in our shared starry-eyed, magical way.

Only years later did my two younger sisters explain what it was like at home, with my parents watching the news and freaking out. I came home starry-eyed (it was epidemic) and dirty and told my father nothing was wrong with marijuana – which I hadn’t tried but those Penn State guys did, and look how helpful and friendly they were! (My bold adventure was taking my bra off.)

A few weeks later, on a family vacation to Montreal where Expo 67 was still continuing, my father deposited me in the P.O.T. Pavilion. After eight hours of truly scary films about the dangers of drugs – displays of babies born with their skeletons outside their bodies and people “flying” out of windows to their death – I was cured of any curiosity about marijuana.

And then, in the 1980s, while I was chairing a political meeting after-hours in a San Francisco bookstore, a man came in shooting a gun. He told us to throw our wallets into his bag. I actually asked if I could keep some bits – my Woodstock tickets – but he waved his gun, and there they went.

End of an era.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Musical Memory

If you’re in your Third Third, Carole King’s Tapestry album was the soundtrack to your emotional life. Released in 1971, each song tracked with the phases of our lives. Maybe you’d met someone new and weren’t sure where the relationship was going, and then Carole King sang “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” so you learned the words and sang along.

Stop right now! Sing it! You know the words:
Tonight you’re mine, completely
You give your love so sweetly

Tonight the light of love is in your eyes

But will you love me tomorrow?
Confirmed in new love and positive no one else had ever felt like that before? Did you feel the earth move? Was that when you felt like “A Natural Woman”?

Yes, you know that one! Belt it out. Even just the chorus counts.

But then you had to head home for the summer from college and the love of your life was “So Far Away.” Heartbreak and the end of a relationship because “It’s Too Late”? And then, as we all consoled each other, it was “You’ve Got a Friend.”

Do you know the words? Do you picture where you were, how your heart was throbbing or breaking? Join the club.

I’ve just seen Carole King in a live concert in Hyde Park, London. Or rather, I saw it at the movies, but I was there. 65,000 other people (plus the ones in the theater) and me. As the cameras panned the audience, their lips were moving. They knew all the words, too (and many of them weren’t even born yet in 1971).

No, I take that back: I wasn’t there. I was back in 1971 with a first boyfriend, in 1972, in ’73, in ’74 with long-distance separations, break-ups (several), good friends (several), and new loves (a few). Listening to that concert touched all those old, sensitive places. All those places where Feelings were just so big and new and raw, and then later on, when the Feelings were familiar and recognizable and still big.

And on the stage was Carole King. She was beautiful and energetic and … radiant! Behind her, the very young Carole King was projected on a screen, and that Carole was so very, very young, with smooth, smooth skin. The camera pulled in for close-ups of Carole on stage, and she had wrinkles and a sagging chin and deep lines. Her hair was unruly, her stomach and sides came with flab and bulges, and her upper arms had a life of their own. She was so BEAUTIFUL! She said, “This is what 74 looks like.”

It was an epiphany moment for me: she was beautiful! I abandoned the painting I made; I can’t do justice to her. She shone and glowed and radiated brightness. I was so enthralled, I turned to my friend Robin and said, “Look at her. All you see is her life force. She has lines and aging, but all you see is her life force.”

And Robin said, “Don’t you know that’s what people see of you, too?”

Is that true? Yes, it’s what I see in everyone else. But here we are, looking at ourselves up real close in the mirror, noticing every new hair or spot or line; and no one else sees that! What a miracle!

I thought then that our life force is what makes us beautiful, and I felt … hopeful. Suddenly I could see a life past bad knees, sagging eyelids, flabby upper arms. I could see that I just had to hold on to my life force. Oh, that’s right; she told us that, too: “You’re beautiful as you feel.”

Carole’s daughter, Louise, came out and they sang “Where You Lead” together. Carole just beamed at her. I thought, No one gets to have an adult daughter and still look 25. She looks like a mother, and she loves being that mother, that singer, that 74-year-old.

I’d love to hear the song she writes about that.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Limping into our Third Third

Last week, as I arrived at my book club, I limped out of the car. Coming from her car was Chris, limping. Robin met us at the door, limping. If Riki were with us, she’d be limping, too.

None of this had been planned in advance. We weren’t reading a book with a limping character. No Hunchback of Notre Dame, no Treasure Island. No game of charades, no funny ha-ha mimicry.

Our bodies are just crapping out on us.

I even cringe writing that because I harbor the desperate hope that my currently bad knee is just a temporary aberration and has nothing to do with long-term degeneration.

But, of course, it does.

One day, I was biking and running and walking, and the next day, I was in terrible pain. No fall, no twist, nothing catastrophic. It just happened. It was going to go away in a couple days. That’s why I hobbled, iced, and Aleved my way across the Badlands and South Dakota. That’s why I foolishly thought the 422 stairs of the Presidential Trail at Mount Rushmore wouldn’t be a problem. That’s why they’re probably still talking about that crazy hopping redhead.

So, of course, I was at the orthopedist the day I returned. (Yes, the same orthopedist. I trust him. He gave me my knee back before.) That’s why I was in an MRI machine the next day and physical therapy the following week.
Sample thoughts while limping and freaking out: What if I don’t have my knee back?!? How can I run? How can I go up and down stairs? What do I do when my mental health requires movement? How will I not get fat????

And on the Fourth of July, I went to two parties where people enthusiastically discussed ailments. Or, as Our Third Third readers have put it, “organ recitals.” Then the New York Times did an article on knee interventions, which everyone shared. And shared. My doctor said that as we get older, we can injure ourselves sliding a shoe box with our foot. We are all degenerating.

My physical therapist has pointed out that my right knee doesn’t line up with my right foot when I walk. I have pointed out to her that I can’t even balance on one foot, period. Basically, I have to re-do my whole skeleton. My friend Irene has to re-learn how to sit. We should have done this when we were three years old, but if we can fix it now, we’ll have mobility.
The looming Third Third question is: what do we have to give up? I used to play soccer and tennis, but I had no trouble giving them up. They weren’t worth the injuries. The doctor and the physical therapist feel the same way about running. They call it pounding, and they wince when they say it.

I’m not a devoted runner. I don’t train with intervals; I don’t go fast. I don’t like races. Very often, I try to find excuses not to run (rain, wind, laziness, other things). But running is outside, tires me out, maintains my weight, keeps me healthy, and wards off depression. It’s cheap, easy, and accessible anywhere. I just haven’t found anything else that works on all those levels.

So a bum knee starts a cavalcade of reactions in me beyond the initial five-months-of-crutches freak-out. Beyond the “Oh, no, we have stairs now!” It starts all sorts of “beginning of the end” scenarios in my mind, visions of restrictions and incapacities. Of no outlet for all the parts of me that need an outlet. Of limitation.

This is my first encounter with Aging-with-a-capital-A. (Well, not really: there is that issue of my face sagging….) But this could mark the transition from getting-older-means-you-get-to-do-more to getting-older-means-you-get-to-do-less. That’s going to take some mental readjustment. If this is a first step, no wonder I’m limping.

I know I’ve been lucky. There’s a woman in physical therapy who’s trying to walk at all. When my mother’s memory went, she had to give up the reading that she loved, and that would be HARD. Maybe you’ve already had to cross this bridge; what was it, and how’d you do?

Monday, July 3, 2017

No Leg to Stand On

This is a Second Third story, but I’m going to tell it here because you need it for my next post, the Third Third version. Sometimes it’s a hilarious story that I tell when I’m in stand-up comic mode, and sometimes it’s a lesson-learned story that I need to re-tell myself. Feel free to take it either way, but it does sort of occupy an epic place in my life experience.

Thirty years ago, Tim invited me on one of our first dates. We were going to cross-country ski with his friends in the back country. His circle of friends skied better than I, a fact I discovered right away when I blinked at the trailhead and they disappeared. So I shuffled along by myself – muttering all the while this would be the last date with That Guy.

It was the kind of ski outing where you catch up with everyone else as they’re finishing lunch, and they stand up and say, “Okay, time to get going.” But there’s a mountain, and then they’re all laughing and falling, falling and laughing, which seems do-able to me. I could certainly laugh and fall. Except that my fall was accompanied by a very clear twang as something in my knee gave way.
So Tim and the rest raced back to the car to plan my rescue, and eventually I ended up at the emergency room in a temporary cast. The next day, I was fired.

I know, that seems out-of-the-blue and maybe even un-related. It was. A new mayor had been elected and, since I served “at the pleasure of the mayor” managing the transit system, I was fired. It’s political. I get that.

The day after, I went to an orthopedist. In his office, the receptionist had some forms for me to sign. As she slid the window to hand me the forms; in a freak accident, the window, the frame, and the molding fell out of the wall, landed on my good foot, and fractured it.
You read that right. I went into the doctor’s office with one broken leg and left with two. Or, as the doctor put it, the knee meant I couldn’t stand on that leg and now the fractured foot meant I couldn’t stand on that leg.

“But can I still swim?” I asked, panicking.

“Uh, you’re not going to be able to sleep in a bed,” he admitted. “You’ll be on the floor for a while.”

All this ended up translating into five months of crutches, braces, and limited mobility. My doctor made a case for conservative, non-surgical treatment so I’d have my knee for the rest of my life. In the meantime, I learned a lot:
  • You cannot collect unemployment if you are physically unable to take a job. If, as a healthy 30-something, I had not magically checked the box for “short-term disability” when I took the job; I’d be broke fast. This is how people end up homeless.

  • I felt helpless and weak, totally un-strong. I felt ugly, pathetic, and worthless. Eventually, a new definition of strength had to emerge: it had nothing to do with lifting things; it had to do with keeping my spirits up.

  • I was part of a community of friends that rose to my aid: doing my shopping, making my house a social center, installing bathroom hardware, driving me to physical therapy, checking in on me. I needed help, and they were there. “There-ness” made all the difference.

  • I was totally unproductive. When it takes 40 minutes to get to the bathroom, you quickly run out of time in your day. All I could do was Be. Amazingly, I got very, very happy. I think the universe had been telling me to slow down. When I wasn’t listening, it broke the first leg. When that didn’t work, out went the job. Still focused on too much Doing and not enough Being? There went the second leg.

  • I learned what it’s like to be disabled. I suffered through office buildings that had ramps outside yet no elevators inside, people parking illegally in the parking space I needed to get into a building, power doors that opened out and knocked over my crutches. Happily, I lived in a ranch house all on one level.

  • I had a good story. No, a great story. People loved hearing this story. Telling it helped me be cheerful rather than pathetic. There were the side stories, too: the one about the taxi driver who got lost and I, thinking he was taking me to some dark alley, extracted the crampons on my crutches and prepared to attack him from the back seat.

  • During all this, I was in new-love, and love conquers all.

As I fought my way back to mobility – passing through the stage Tim described as “might be called walking … in a prehistoric kind of way” – I set a goal for myself: I would run the Alaska Women’s Run, 6.2 miles. That would be my sign that this episode was over.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Did you Duck and Cover?

If you’re in your Third Third, you know what “Duck and Cover” means. Maybe you hid under your desk at school during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Maybe you thought your father should build a bomb shelter in the backyard. And you certainly know what “Cold War” means.

Our trip through South Dakota included a thought-provoking counterpoint to all the natural beauty – the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site – with the potential to destroy it all. The wonderful visitor center took us through the Cold War and the arms race, mutually assured destruction, and ultimately, arms reduction.

You can see the visitor center; it’s above ground. Delta-01 Launch Control Facility and Delta-09 missile silo are mostly underground. Delta-01 is where the two missileers worked on 24-hour alert duty shifts, ready to launch ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) in the event of nuclear attack.

I thought of that word missileer. It sounded like Disney’s imagineer so at first I just didn’t feel the heaviness of it. It seemed creative, musical even. But the exhibit took us through the psychological pressures, about what it would take to be trained to “press the button.”

There were photos of little kids under their desks at school. Little kids wearing the dresses and hairstyles we wore in the early ’60s. They looked just like us. I still remember my Weekly Reader emphasizing that Florida was just 90 miles away from Cuba. My friend Denise grew up in North Dakota knowing they were a big X on the USSR missile map.

At the height of the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the U.S. had more than 10,000 nuclear warheads. The exhibit takes us through the build-up and the reduction. Acronyms like SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) and START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) suddenly make sense on a timeline.

And then we get to the last room, the one describing “the man who saved the world,” Stanislav Petrov. Petrov was the duty officer in the USSR on September 26, 1983 when alerts went off that five missiles were headed to the Soviet Union. He made the crucial decision not to alert his superiors, guessing that if the strike were real, the U.S. would have sent more than five missiles.

The tension he endured was immense. He guessed; we all won.
Apparently, a movie was made about this in 2015. I’m trying to get it on interlibrary loan. September 26 is Petrov Day: “Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, take a minute to not destroy the world.”

That last panel goes on to describe other false alarms: one where a training tape of a Soviet invasion was mistakenly inserted into the early-warning computer, another where a Norwegian rocket on a scientific mission to study the aurora was mistaken for a missile.

These were equipment mistakes, technological errors; they can happen any time. But the humans staffing the machines have to be able to stay calm and process the evidence rationally. Always it comes down to the one person who might be the one who “saves the world.”

Many times in my life I’ve explored what it takes to make peace as opposed to making war. This exhibit put another layer on it: how do we train people to refrain from pushing buttons, to pause, to consider? Because so far, the only time the world was saved was when a button wasn’t pressed.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Not Made by Humans

Living in Alaska, you can get complacent about Big Nature. The mountains are always on the horizon, the giant moose are often on the trail, glaciers fill the Sound. Mostly, you can end up just seeing the space in front of the windshield, bicycle, or your own two feet.

It can take a wholesale change in scenery to knock your socks off.

Fortunately, South Dakota and Wyoming come with Big Nature, overwhelming Nature. Nature that amazes. But they also come with rolling, calming, on-and-on-and-on-and-on Nature.

I thought we’d need books on tape or something else to get us through the prairies, the grasslands, the range lands. I couldn’t imagine just sitting and looking out the window – at grass! – for hours and hours and days and days and never growing tired of it. Turned out I could look at that grass for weeks.

It wasn’t just the cows or the horses or the rolled up bales of hay. It was the lushness, the abundance of space and time and … grass. Interrupting the greenness of the grass was the reddest soil I’ve ever seen. I stopped and collected some. I’m home now, and it’s still red, so it wasn’t just imagination tinged with vacation.

You come through the grasslands all soothed and still – and then suddenly you’re in the Badlands. Erosion has made the Badlands. Erosion has dug out their layers and peaks and valleys and sharp edges, and erosion will erase them entirely in another 500,000 years. You’d better hurry and go!

I’ve drawn log splitters and apple crushers, copied Picasso and Monet, but I don’t think I can paint the Badlands or the grasslands and do them justice. The problem is scale. A little doodle does not a whole landscape make. A little doodle doesn’t fill up the earth and air and sky.

The Badlands are striped reds and golds and blacks. The Yellow Mounds are yellow. The scrub is green. The dust is tan and white. You look over one set of craggy peaks and discover another batch of different colors. But the color is only part of it: the shapes are what haunt: this is the stuff of another planet, an intimidating dreamworld. Except it’s our Earth, but it’s primal Earth. It is raw, untamed, unbuilt, sharp and pointy Earth.

And if you’re driving along westward and Devils Tower rises on the horizon, you gasp. To see Devils Tower is to know why Close Encounters was filmed there. If extraterrestrials are to land on Earth, they will land at Devils Tower. No doubt about it. Native Americans honor it as a spiritual center, and it just throbs with whatever is more-than-meets-the-eye.

I can draw Devils Tower because everyone in Close Encounters did. I bet I could even make it out of mashed potatoes.
At Wind Cave National Park, we met a couple from Florida who said Mount Rushmore had disappointed, that it was smaller than they’d expected. We went to Mount Rushmore. We went to the even larger Crazy Horse Memorial. And you know what? They’re smaller. They’re smaller because they’re not everything. They’re not the whole landscape, the whole mountain range, the whole world. They’re a piece of it. A masterful, inspirational piece – what an artist can accomplish with pure will and tenacity! – but a piece just the same.

They’re Art. Humans made them.

The Badlands, the grasslands, the sky, the clouds, the Black Hills – they’re the forces of Nature. The universe made them.

I’m glad on this trip I was reminded of the difference.

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