Saturday, June 13, 2020

Eager for the Revolution

I’m apologizing in advance. This post is about Me, in a time when Me needs to shut up and let others do the talking. But if my voice can add volume to the uproar and support to the weary, here I go.

I’m in my Third Third, and I have been waiting for the revolution since 1968. Or maybe it was 1964 when the three Freedom Riders were killed in Mississippi. I was sure it would happen in 1968 as assassination after assassination shook us to our core. I thought once you get horrified, once you SEE; you fix things.

But with every single new outrage – and we have had lots of outrages since 1964 – I thought, “This is SO HORRIFIC, so INHUMANE, this will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. This will spark the change.”

But it just kept on happening. Last week, I would have just chronicled all my furies, thrown my rage and MAD CAPITALIZATION around, and succumbed to the despair that nothing changes, injustice wins, hope is lost, racism is forever. I wasn’t going to see it end in my lifetime. That’s what I was going to say.

But maybe, maybe, this is a bit different. (Can it be? Can it be?) Maybe, maybe, eyes are opening. (Can it be? Can it be?) Maybe, maybe people are willing to see – can’t avoid seeing? – that racism is poisoning our society. That people of color have had to walk a much harder and more dangerous life. A MUCH harder and way more dangerous life.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, America was “appalled” at the poverty exposed. Mostly white police blocked an escape route out for the mostly black refugees; they didn’t want them in their suburb. It took a recent book to expose the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cells were used to develop a polio vaccine, advances in medicine, potential anti-cancer drugs … making lots of money for pharmaceutical companies but her family can’t even afford health insurance. And people are only now noticing that people of color receive unequal health services because they’re over-represented in Covid-19 cases? Only now??? 

Uh, oh. My optimism is precarious; it’s starting to give way. I wake up and tell Tim I’ve had another angry dream. He looks at me, “And that’s a surprise?” I want Martin Luther King’s dream, dammit!

Unarmed Eric Garner can’t breathe in New York in 2014, but unarmed George Floyd still can’t breathe and is murdered in Minneapolis in 2020. In between, there were unarmed Michael Brown and unarmed Freddie Gray and too many others. Can this be any clearer?

But to me, the thing that really shows the ugliness and racism that lurks and poisons is Amy Cooper. A regular white woman who doesn’t want to put her dog on a leash in a park KNOWS that she can call the police and shout “African American man” and get results. She can scare the shit out of him and potentially get him arrested or killed.

Isn’t that just the ugly truth of our society?
In 1964, people died trying to help black Americans vote. In 2020, Republicans decide people should die voting in Wisconsin. In 1965, police broke up a peaceful march in Selma with nightsticks and tear gas. In 2020, police tear-gassed a peaceful protest in Washington, D.C. so the President could get a photo op with a Bible in front of a church. In our third thirds, we’ve witnessed the sheer tenacity of injustice. It’s the story of our lives.

Can I even face getting my hopes up again?

White men with automatic rifles stand in front of the Michigan state Capitol; no police break up their protest. Yet African American protesters carrying signs and “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” get tear-gassed. Journalists with visible microphones and cameras are deliberately attacked.

No wonder people are angry! I’ve been waiting decades to see justice done, to see racism faced, to see privilege acknowledged, to see wrongs righted … and I haven’t even been paying that price. A whole host of our population has been waiting – and paying the price – for hundreds of years. I’m angry that this is the world we’re giving our children.

This America that we value is just a popular and enduring myth. It’s only aspirational until – finally – we face ourselves and our institutions and make it a reality. Is this the time? Is it finally NOW? Finally? In our lifetimes?

We have work to do.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Beware: Exciting Project Ahead

You may be wondering where I’ve been. Well, of course I’m still hunkered down at home, but that’s where I fell down the rabbit hole.

I promised myself – as I heard tales of people learning Italian or finishing novels or writing sonatas during Covid-19 – that I was not going to be one of those people.

I most certainly was NOT going to organize my unsorted photos. I’d flunked that before.

This all started with the daughter – who used to have a chef at work preparing her meals – phoning to ask for some recipe favorites from home. I felt so … flattered. I eagerly pulled recipes from my cookbooks, magazines, index cards, folders, and scraps of paper and sent them on.

But as I scanned a few cookbook pages, I discovered other recipes – long forgotten ones – that had “delicious” marked on them. In my ratings hierarchy, “delicious” is the top. Those recipes get added to what I call The Repertoire. Yet these had been forgotten, buried in the pages of the cookbooks, lost in recipe clutter.

In this Covid Spring, I’m ordering grocery pickup like a military logistics person: how can I use every bit of produce so it doesn’t go to waste? I go through my cookbooks, maximize my ingredients. When I see an unknown, unremembered “delicious” – marked in my own handwriting so that other Barbara must have really made it – I try it again. It’s still delicious!

I am not and have never been a foodie. When I take my urban infusion months, I don’t visit fancy restaurants; I eat street food. I don’t know the names of famous chefs or 5-star restaurants. My fascination with food starts and stops with The Great British Baking Show.

But it’s Covid Spring and I’m reading cookbooks page by page.

I’m also getting my daily email from Shutterfly to make a photo book with big discounts and free shipping if you order by Tuesday. That’s not going to happen, but maybe I could eventually make a photo book of our favorite recipes. Maybe I could scan in those original, oil-stained pages – unbury them. Maybe I could do this over a year or so and catch whatever discount was in play.

So I start.

Soon I’m immersed in recipes. I’ve broken the bindings of two cookbooks from scanning. I have little slips of paper with headings: Holidays, Soups, Salads, Appetizers and page numbers. Or magazine pages, torn out. Or more slips of paper.

I’m artfully arranging pages, designing headings and comments and stories. This is so creatively absorbing, I can’t blog. I can’t garden. I can’t watch Netflix. I am a recipe-aholic. It’s delightful.

Then I get an idea: add photos of our family eating some of the dishes.

That’s when I pull out the huge carton of unsorted photos. That’s the door to the abyss.

The floor of my office is covered in photo envelopes and little tags: 1999, 2000, 2001, etc. Instead of just looking for food photos – which I found – I became obsessed with … ORGANIZING.
Organizing is a curse. I emailed my siblings: what year did we go to Victoria? What year was the first Girl Scout Encampment? I’m not only dealing with photo clutter, now I’m dealing with the terrible confirmation of memory loss.

It gets worse. For the Salad section, I wanted the photo our family calls “Sophie Salad.” She is an infant, and we have put her in our giant wooden salad bowl. I go right to the album, and the spot where that photo has always been is BLANK! Yes, I remember I’d pulled it to make her yearbook collage in high school, but didn’t I put it back?!?

I tear the house apart. Ultimately, I go through every single photo envelope looking at negatives. Negatives! Hundreds and hundreds of negatives. This is not a rabbit hole; this is solitary confinement in the cuckoo’s nest.

But I found it!

This is a Pyrrhic victory. I have won the battle, but lost the war. My enthusiasm for the great recipe photo book has waned. I don’t even want to cook any more. I can’t face the piles of photos and tags strewn across the floor. I should just pack them up, clear them out, and de-clutter my brain.

So now I’m gardening.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Einstein was right.

Einstein was right. Covid-19 proves it.

In his theory of special relativity, he looked at “space-time.” That’s where the three dimensions of space are linked with the dimension of time in the space-time continuum. So, we don’t just live in a place and we don’t just live in a certain time; we occupy “space-time.” Then, in his theory of general relativity, he realized that gravity could cause distortion in space-time, that it would warp space-time. Think of it as the weight of something pressing down like a marble on a blanket of space-time.

I study Time. I read physics books about it, science fiction about it, watch movies about it. But on some level, it’s non-intuitive. You just can’t wrap your head around it.

Until Covid-19.

My days used to begin, proceed, and end in a very linear path. (That’s called the Arrow of Time.) I woke up, did things, and ultimately went to bed. Many times, with my always-disrupted sleep cycle, things re-started somewhere around 11 p.m., but they still moved. Linearly. One minute after another.

Until Covid-19.

I still wake up (thank goodness!), and I still walk downstairs to my computer. Somewhere around the ninth or tenth news story – or maybe it’s the fourth or fifth review of the peak Covid-19 projections by state or the map of cases around the world or does the size of the dose of the virus make a difference and what about serum antibodies – time starts to leak. Or warp.

For a while, when I was researching the best prototype of face mask to sew – elastic or fabric ties or T-shirt ropes? with or without a pocket for a filter? pleated or form-fitting? – time actually disrupted. Ruptured, the physicists call it, and it’s what a black hole does.

When two black holes collide, they send gravitational waves rippling through space-time. I think the black hole of Covid-19 news updates collides with the black hole of Facebook and distorts my space-time. You probably know this scientific phenomenon as a “time sink.”

Because next thing I know, when I go upstairs – when I move my gravity-weighted body upstairs – it’s like a whole different day. I’m not quite sure where the day went.

Because I’ve bent space-time.

So maybe I’ll do something noteworthy, like go skiing. That used to be one thing in a day of many things. Now, I’ll come back from skiing, take a shower, and the whole day is gone!

That’s what happens when there’s an actual event – skiing. Many days, I’ll come upstairs and … the whole day disappears! I have so warped time that it just … folded in on itself. I am living in a Star Trek wormhole.

I’ve tried looking at the clock to see if it’s still moving at a regular pace (which is sort of pointless because Einstein said it was all relative anyway), but when I look away; whole hours pass.

In fact, some days Thursday happens before I’ve ever had Tuesday and Wednesday!

I’ve been narrowing it down a little. If I have a Zoom conversation at 10 a.m., Time holds steady for a while: Zoom keeps track and does a 40-minute countdown. But around 11 a.m., it suddenly becomes 3 p.m. The wormhole must be in there somewhere.
There’s external evidence, too. Before Covid-19, we ran the dishwasher maybe once a week. Now, we eat the same number of meals – even re-use mugs and dishes – and the dishwasher needs running every other day. Having soup each night just adds a few soup bowls; that shouldn’t explain it. Time is warping.

Passover was eight days. I don’t think so. I’ve never finished eight days with leftover chocolate macaroons, but there they are. I even loaded up and had three yesterday. (Was that yesterday?)

I can induce a total time warp. I can actually cause a black hole collision and a total rupture of time by simply pulling out a jigsaw puzzle. Time stops for jigsaw puzzles … but then it suddenly accelerates when you look up at the clock.
I wonder if Einstein did jigsaw puzzles.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

More than a Vegetable Quest

Somebody on Facebook said he realized what he misses are non-essential businesses and touching his face. I miss browsing vegetables. I miss grocery shopping.

It’s hard enough saying goodbye to the farmers’ markets in the fall, those luscious, healthy, green and orange and red and gold vegetables in all their glory. But at least I could go to the grocery store and see my vegetables up close. I could observe them, evaluate them, choose them.

But now I’m supposed to use the free pickup service, to send in my list and have some stranger decide which bananas to give me. Would they be the just right greenish-about-to-ripen ones, neither too big nor too stubby? And what about asparagus – would they choose the young, skinny ones or the old, fat, stalky ones? If the eggplants were no good, how could they revise the menu I’d planned and skip the mozzarella if they didn’t know what meal the eggplants were for?

Obviously, this is a control issue. In our upside down world where we’re losing control over so much – seeing friends, teaching students in person, being able to travel – here I am, fretting over being able to pick my own vegetables.

My friends say, “Stay inside.” My friend Margie says, “Adapt.”

She’s right. This is just my own personal stumbling block. I have to get over it.

So I do. I go online to the Fred Meyer website and am pleasantly surprised by the range of selection: they have photos of everything, detailed descriptions of brands, and even a whole catalog of things I’ve purchased in the past. I’m so relieved, I don’t even freak out about how much Fred Meyer and Kroger know about me.

I place our order, but pickup is five days out. Although I’m still just cooking dinner – same as what I did Before – it’s now a much bigger process. I don’t cook meat, so I rely on vegetables. But now I have to plan meticulously, maximize my resources without any waste, get what I need because I can’t just dash out if I forget something, make sure I use all the spinach before it goes bad. It feels like a strategic operation, a battle plan. It takes way more time.

But all goes smoothly. A friendly young man delivers the groceries to our car. We get home, stage some things in the garage, wipe down the other things. The bananas are just right, so is the zucchini, the eggplant, the green pepper. But what’s this? Where I’d asked for about four stalks of celery, I now have four whole bunches of celery.

What can someone do with four bunches of celery?

At least it’s not what happened to my friend, Michele: she ordered four chicken thighs and got four PACKAGES of ten thighs each.

My friend Sharon of the 400+ cookbooks went on a research mission to find me celery recipes. I now have jars of pickled celery brewing, but the most promising recipe, the one that could make a real dent in four bunches, called for Half & Half. I didn’t have Half & Half.

So, for the first time since before quarantine, I donned my double-layer-batik-quilt-fabric mask and went into society. I went to Fred Meyer very early. The store was mostly empty. I passed by an enticing, colorful, delicious-looking produce section – oh the temptation! – but raced to the dairy cabinet and grabbed the Half & Half.
The cashier was behind Plexiglas, but afterwards, I felt compelled to thank her for being there, for coming to work, for being so essential to us all. She thanked me, told me to have a nice day. But when I got home, I realized that in thanking her, I was probably beyond the Plexiglas. I’d probably leaned closer, probably closer than 6 feet. I’d put us both in terrible danger!

I thought of the 1980s, when I lived in San Francisco and friends were dying of AIDS right and left. One night, a gay friend called me, totally distraught: he had just had unprotected sex – what had he done?!? How could he have been so reckless?!?

That’s how I felt for starting a conversation with a grocery store cashier.

Unprotected conversation. How could I have been so reckless?!?

Saturday, April 4, 2020

How do you open your mail?

How do you open your mail?

This is a loaded question. Answering this question will prove to be an insight into how you’re dealing with Covid-19: are you current on every little bit of virus news? Are you fastidious in your virus avoidance? Have you become a little bit crazy?

I used to just go out to the mailbox, retrieve my mail, bring it into the house, open envelopes with a letter opener, and recycle the envelope and junk mail.

But that was Before.

My siblings and I have been Zooming regularly. Massachusetts, San Francisco, Berlin, and Anchorage are a lot better connected now. (In Germany, they call hoarding “hamstering.”) We share news blips and hints that usually send one or another of us into a tailspin. Like this...

My brother said, “We have post-it notes on the table downstairs near the garage door: Monday, Tuesday, each day. Mail is put next to that day’s post-it, and we have to wait four days until we can open it. I’m staring longingly at my New Yorker right now.”

Oh, no! We’re not supposed to open our mail?!? Our mail is carrying virus?!?

So I read up on it. Apparently, Covid-19 can last on paper products and cardboard for 24 hours. And someone saw a mailman with … bare hands! So now, we retrieve the mail with gloves and leave it outside on the front doorstep for a day.

About the same time, while I was still in quarantine because I’d returned from out-of-state, I was desperate for books. The library had closed with my holds inside, and I could only catch a couple books before Title Wave bookstore closed. So I put out a call for books.

Betsey came by with a book. I told her through the window to just leave it outside on the doorstep. It was a paperback and needed 24 hours to de-viralize. Connie came by with jig saw puzzles. Mary came by with a great assortment of books and spotted the jigsaw puzzles; could she borrow a couple?

“Sure, they’ve been out 24 hours. They’re cardboard and they’re safe now. I’ll put you in the jigsaw puzzle rotation.”

Then Julie came by with a book and Judiths came by with more jigsaw puzzles. (There are two Judiths in the jigsaw puzzle rotation.) I had to stage them so the de-viralized books and puzzles wouldn’t touch the newly-deposited books and puzzles. And yes, I wipe down the hard cover books with wipes. Things were piling up.

My front doorstep is a Trading Post. I manage it from behind glass.

Meanwhile, I had not received my primary ballot and couldn’t download the one from the Internet because our printer is on the fritz. So Connie (a different Connie, not jigsaw-puzzle-Connie) printed the ballot and Diane delivered it to the front door while I was out skiing. She texted, “You have a bunch of stuff on your doorstep! People left books etc.”

I explained this was all very deliberate, that they were awaiting decontamination. The difficulty was that she’d put the ballot in a plastic bag – which can hold the virus for nine days – so was the paper ballot still free after 24 hours or did I have to get it out of the plastic bag first?

These are the Big Questions of life right now.

I’m the same person who doesn’t understand the people who seem to be disinfecting their house A LOT. Tim and I are the only ones here, we rarely go out, but we wash our hands as soon as we enter the house; so why would we have to sanitize our surfaces every day? We’re the only ones touching our doorknobs.

But this just means we’re all going a little bit nuts in our very own personal ways. For me, it’s mail, books, and jigsaw puzzles. For you, it may be doorknobs.

Or laundry. Or someone petting your dog. Or faucets. Or groceries.

Uh, oh – groceries – that’s another one of mine. Lots of ways to go a little bit nuts here.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Philadelphia, here I was...

Just before I left for my annual “urban infusion” month – this time my New Thing would be Philadelphia – my friend Barbara asked, “Do you ever get nervous? Arriving in a place all by yourself?”

Nervous? Not at all. I get catatonic. I vibrate with anxiety. I shake and quake and wonder why I put myself in this position, no one had a gun to my head. Whoever thought it would be “fun” to explore a new Big City on my own?

And that was before I was walking into a virus.

When Barbara and I had our conversation, my big fear was not the train from the airport to Center City, Philadelphia – I already had that covered in my head – it was getting from the train station to the VRBO apartment. Should I try Lyft?
Oh, no! remember how the Lyft guy couldn’t find where you were in Toronto? Three Lyft drivers abandoned you because you weren’t where it said you were?
And what about the VRBO place? Remember the apartment in New York where you walked in and all the mailboxes were vandalized or rusted? Even Barbara said that would be too much for her. Or the place in London; when it got dark, you realized you didn’t know where the light switches were? I called that being unglued and unstuck.
So why do I do this? I do it because it’s fun … ultimately. I think of all those British movies, the ones where a cup of tea cures every ill. They say things like “needs must.” If something has to be done, and you don’t like it, it doesn’t matter: “needs must.” The daunting things have to happen for the fun things to happen later.

And I had LOTS of fun things planned: art workshops, tours, author programs, films, lectures – I voraciously feast on culture. I get LOTS of tickets. For Philadelphia, I had a ticket to hear Hilary Mantel launch the third book in her trilogy, a ticket to the Cashore Marionettes, a ticket for a free book binding workshop, Opening Night of the Jewish Film Festival. I was loaded!

But by the night before my flight, the virus was looming. I was walking into an unknown apartment with no vast pantry of food supplies, no trove of Alaskan camping food or fish in the freezer. What if I were stuck there for 14 days? What if I were stuck all by myself without things that occupy me: books, to-dos, art supplies, clutter? What if I felt as bad as I did after my recent bout with pneumonia?

So I had a Plan B: I would phone my sister Elizabeth and head to her home in Massachusetts. I could do this Philadelphia thing.

Well, of course, NOW we all know how stupid that was.

My usual first step in my Big City adventures is to get a transit pass and head to the public library and get a library card. At the Free Library of Philadelphia, I started a conversation with a librarian: “Which room will the author visit be in?” “I think that’s canceled.” Sure enough, their website marked it as canceled. An hour into my month.

Thus began the onslaught of emails. First were the ones describing how much they were cleaning and sterilizing and providing hand sanitizer. Then came the “wait and see” emails, things were happening. Then the cancellations and closures, but you all have seen this progression, too.

Within two days, every single event I had planned was canceled … and I was stuck in a strange city where I knew no one. I tried to go to a museum, but anxiety stuck in my throat and I thought, “What am I doing?!?”

I called my sister. She came and got me. She rescued me. I am home now in 14-day self-quarantine because I came back into Alaska from out of state. Delta got me home with no change fees, my VRBO landlady refunded my rent, my daughter is in lock-down in San Francisco, and Tim is right here with me. I could kiss the ground.

Right now, I “needs must” stay away from people, wash my hands for 20 seconds, wipe all strange surfaces. I “needs must” reach out to other people in Zoom-y ways, buy take-out to keep restaurants alive, and not touch my face.

This is way more anxiety-producing than arriving in a strange city all by myself, but you’re all arriving in this strange city, too. This time, we’re all traveling together.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Monopoly of the Third Third

Did your Monopoly game have wooden houses and hotels or plastic ones? And are they green and red?

Did your Monopoly have a cannon as a token piece to move around the board? Or an iron? A wheelbarrow? A thimble? And pewter ones, not golden?

Did your Monopoly have yellow Community Chest cards? Were Mediterranean and Baltic purple?

Alas, the Monopoly of our First Third is no more, and not just because of all those variations (Boston-opoly, Big Bang Theory Monopoly, National Parks Monopoly, etc etc etc). Not only is Monopoly now cashless – with plastic debit cards! – but the newest involves voice banking. You press your token’s button and say, “Buy Park Place,” and your bank account is adjusted.

So, I asked, “How do kids learn how to make change without paper money?”

No one uses cash anymore? Oh.

One sister may have the Monopoly game we grew up with, but the box fell apart after all the masking tape holding it together dried up and fell off. Now it’s somewhere in a giant Macy’s gift box.

My Monopoly is a “deluxe” edition: my tokens are golden-colored and I have a steam locomotive, but my houses and hotels are still wooden. I think I requested it as a birthday present one year, but it suffered from two-on-one-itis and fell out of favor. (two-on-one-itis: when the other two greedy, cackling players gang up, make a deal, and leave you with nothing but going round and round until eventual bankruptcy).

During my month in London, I discovered a whole museum exhibition on board games. Monopoly was created in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie as The Landlord’s Game and was designed to illustrate the evils of exploitative landowners (yes, the ones who cackle when you land on their property). It was produced in the U.S. beginning in 1935.

More recently, my friend Steve blogged about playing Monopoly with his granddaughter, and he discovered the cashless version. So that’s what sparked my latest Monopoly investigations.

For example, during World War II, MI6 made a special Monopoly for POWs held by the Nazis. It had maps and compasses and real money hidden inside to help with escape attempts. Wow! And Neiman Marcus once sold a completely chocolate Monopoly – even chocolate money and deeds – for $600.

You can really go down an Internet rabbit hole about Monopoly: “speed dies” and documentaries, world championships and strategic analyses of which properties to buy. Even Monopoly metaphors: Don’t we all know what a “Get Out of Jail Free card” means? Or “Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.” It’s part of our language.

I once thought the most drastic change to Monopoly was when I first played with friends and they did that Free Parking jackpot thing: all the tax revenues get put there for the lucky lander. Well, the Free Parking jackpot has nothing on these variations:
  • Collecting $2 million at GO, not $200
  • Airports instead of railroads
  • Houses, hotels – and skyscrapers
  • Buying brands (not properties) 
I guess if you’ve been around since 1935 – not us! – you need a few makeovers now and then. Think of it this way: Monopoly is actually a great Third Third role model, creatively reinventing itself over and over again.

Yes, but the Monopoly my Third Third remembers will always be that Monopoly of my First Third. And yours?

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