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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Word Wars 2019

When it’s autumn, you know I’m spelling and pronouncing words and Werd Nerd-ing for the annual BizBee, the Alaska Literacy Program’s annual adult spelling bee. Now it’s time for the less-than-instant replay.

Setting the stage for BizBee skill were our highly-qualified judges, three retired kindergarten teachers – the “Killer Bees.” Taking up her usual position of more than ten years was the “Human Dictionary.” Patricia provides precise pronunciations when teams either (1) distrust my New York accent or (2) are stalling for time. She received more requests for re-pronunciations this year than in all her previous years combined! And teams started a new thing: asking for “word origins.” Just playing for time….
All teams made it through the first round, even with a ridiculous word like mizzle (a cross between mist and drizzle). A climatologist in the audience pointed out that it’s an archaic word, never used anymore. What kind of words does he think spelling bees are made of?

But alas, our Distinguished Leaders in Literacy, the “Elemenopees” of First National Bank Alaska, gave way under pressure to yieldable and picked up the Red Lantern Prize. What can you say about a round that gives the Anchorage School Board team the word curriculum? (It’s just luck.)

What distinguished this year’s BizBee? Full bladders. To maintain the fairness of the competition – just in case a team has hidden dictionaries in the restrooms – if one person has to use the restroom, everyone has to take a bathroom break. This year’s BizBee included a record number of restroom breaks! How’s that for a wild night!

But it wasn’t until Round 3 that the carnage started building. The only thing worse than looking at kohlrabi is spelling it, and ServiceMaster suffered that fate. And because the BizBee came in September, the “Phrequent Phliers” of the Alaska Airlines-sponsored ALP volunteers, weren’t prepared for Oktoberfest and lost their pants on lederhosen. But wait! They pulled out the TeamSaver, the secret, one-of-a-kind, Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for having sold the most raffle tickets. They were back in the game!

No such luck for ConocoPhillips. They may be a Distinguished Leader in Literacy, but their back went out on notochord.

In Round 4, “Pun with Words,” the ALP Board of Directors team, marooned themselves on the archipelago. Alyse for Alaska (featuring candidate Alyse Galvin) wasn’t going to go down easy: they cringed and flattered their way out of gnathonic by passing it to the Anchorage School Board team (who didn’t want it either). Then they mailed off philately, too. Every passed word means more donations to the Literacy Program, but the danger is the replacement word: what if it’s harder than the one you gave away? The heat was on, but they could handle Fahrenheit (with the same cheer that eventually won them the Outstanding Spirit Award).

Only one miraculous rescue is possible, so Round 4 ended with the Phrequent Phliers stopped at the gate by durwan.

Round 5 and Summit Spice and Tea were too explicit for euphemism; Alyse for Alaska lost blossoms on Hemerocallis; the “ALPabets” were carried off to Africa by roodebok; and the “Health Literacy Heroes” of Providence choked on kielbasa. It was an all-out team train wreck.

Round 6 knocked out the biological clocks of MSI Communications with zeitgeber, and witloof poisoned the salad of the DOWL team.

There’s always a moment in the BizBee when the judges and the Werd Nerd have to figure out how to avoid a midnight contest. How do we spell teams out so we’re not there all night? We have to advance on the word list. “Oh, no!” shout the MENSA cheerleaders. “Not #715!”

But it was word #716 that would have drowned the whole crowd: liman (especially hard if you consider it’s pronounced lē män) was passed by five teams. With no more teams left to receive it, it went into oblivion, sunk into the lagoon of its name.

Ravens’ Roost moved too slowly for tardigrade, and the School Board (the last rookie team standing) had no divine connection for afflatus.

So now it was down to the Big Three: 2018 champions Arctic Entries; 2017 champions Holistic Hands (the Rosie the Riveters); and runner-up both years the Anchorage Unitarian Universalists “In Fred’s Name” (for longtime literacy volunteer Fred Hillman).

Arctic Entries lost in the upheaval of geanticline, and the Rosies drowned in the chresard, but could the wildly-colored Unitarians escape their runner-up fate? After years as #2, could they finally claim victory? They successfully launched their Siamese fighting fish betta, and now one word stood between them and victory. With a sharp gravette ... they took the championship!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Other Inhabitants of Bear Land

I’ve entered another parallel universe. This one was populated by bears.

But that wasn’t even the parallel universe that amazed me the most.

Tim and I are back from five wonderful days in Katmai National Park, where the bears hang out in Brooks Camp. They catch returning salmon, hoping to gorge out and get fat for their coming hibernation, and there are lots and lots of bears.

Katmai is the bears’ domain; humans are only the visitors. If a bear is roaming around – it’s called a Bear Jam – the humans have to get off the path and scurry into the woods so the bears have a clear path. It’s their path. We get to look at them from platforms (if everything is working right) and up close (if the bears get curious). Mostly they don’t care about humans because there’s lots of salmon.

We get to watch three “subadult” bears playing in the river every day, bears trying to catch salmon jumping upstream, bears sitting in the foaming “jacuzzi” at the Falls, bears just sitting in “The Office.” The bears are so busy with their fish-catching that they stop seeming ferocious. You could almost forget that they could tear you apart in seconds. It’s Bear Land, and they’re just calmly going about their business (tearing apart salmon in seconds).


Around these bears are Bear People. Bear people know a lot about bears. They know which bear is dominant and grabs the best spot at the Falls, which bear has a scar around her neck from a wolf snare once removed, which bear has a big hump. Which bear has widely spaced ears, spade-shaped large ears, blond tipped ears, upright ears, triangular shaped ears, large and round ears, short and round ears, tall brown ears, ears perched high on head, round peg-like ears, etc. etc.


It’s this universe of bear people that I found so … startling.

Some bear people are park rangers. Others – the really compelling ones – are just bear fans. They’re volunteers who come to Brooks to help out, perform tasks, and watch bears. They work long hours and spend their days off … watching bears. If they’re not at Brooks, they’re watching bear cams. They know each other through years of commenting on the bear cams; they have created a community of bear people. They talk in numbers: Bear #435, #910, #284, #410, and they know each of them individually!

This is a whole parallel universe of bear people that I never knew existed. Thank you, Naomi, for introducing me!

Parallel universes lurk undercover in unexpected places. My friend Robin discovered the universe of dance competitors. Angelo introduced me to the universe of train travelers. Jim occupies the universe of Winston Churchill buffs.

While I read lots of Sherlock Holmes and derivatives, I don’t solve international quizzes on the Holmes “Canon,” I don’t follow a gazillion blogs, and I’m not even a Baker Street Irregular. Sherlockians wouldn’t call me a Sherlockian. I study Time (physics and literature, time travel and Einstein), but while I may be more than a dabbler, I’m not an expert. I’m only a tourist, a visitor to those universes.

I’m a little jealous of parallel universe people (and not just because they have an escape from this one). They have such passion! They have such motivation! My friend Connie says that’s not all: they have a focus for learning and development of expertise, and they have affiliation. They belong to a group of like-minded folks who are interested in exploring the same thing. Really interested in exploring the same thing. Deeply.

At one time, I guess I was utterly and completely fascinated by waterparks. But even that doesn’t count as a parallel universe because it was just me.


Lots of people can have interests, but it takes a roomful of them to become a parallel universe. Parallel universes are in the eye of the beholder, the outsider who stumbles across them, marvels at their intensity of fascination, and can’t believe there are that many of them.

So which one do you occupy? Which ones have you discovered?


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Gizmos: Part II

Gizmos are taking over the world.

Right after I wrote about the discovery of all sorts of “added features” in my Subaru, after many of you reported stories of features you’d discovered; I went for a ride.

Without doing anything, without bumping something or getting close to something or breathing wrong; an alarm went off. A high-pitched squeal. I frantically looked for the icon that was supposed to tell me what was wrong. Where was the icon supposed to be? Which of the 32 different icons in the manual could it be? What was wrong?

And then it stopped.

I don’t know what caused it. I’m left with a slight unease wondering what hazard is percolating, waiting to spring on me when I least expect it.

And then yesterday, in my kitchen, the same alarm went off. Could I hear it all the way from the garage?! This was harrowing. I tracked the sound down … to my watch.

The watch I bought a couple years ago. I needed to replace my simple watch that had a dial on the front, but this was on sale, and it had digits. Not to worry: it still told the time. And it came in purple.

When I went to Toronto, I had to advance the watch four time zones. I had to pull out the eensy-weensy instruction paper. Then I had to read the eensy-weensy writing on the eensy-weensy paper.

I had to get in Time Telling Mode and hold ‘A’ until seconds flashed, then press and hold ‘D.’ To get minutes and hours, I had to press ‘B,’ and then back to ‘D.’ There’s a little diagram that shows what ‘A’ and ‘B’ and ‘D’ are. Notice that they run counter-clockwise.


This is all very hard because ‘A’ and ‘B’ and ‘D’ are just little purple bumps along the edge of the watch. It’s hard to keep pressing without falling off the bumps, and if you hold, it “will advance digits rapidly.” That means you’ll pass your intended digit a few times and have to start the whole sequence over to set seconds then hours then minutes.
Needless to say, I have remained on Toronto time for four months rather than face my ‘A’s, ‘B’s, and ‘D’s again. My watch comes with a special Dual Time Zone Mode which should accommodate both Anchorage and somewhere else, but that involves pressing ‘B’ three times before getting to ‘A.’

Well, a couple weeks ago, I finally faced down the watch and moved myself from Toronto back to Anchorage. That must have been when I activated the alarm. The alarm gets set if I only press ‘B’ once: One ‘B’ = Alarm Mode; three ‘B’s = Time Telling Mode.

My watch can also clock my running time as a stopwatch. It can also do split times. It can also light up (but that involves ‘C.’) It can do all these things if it didn’t have me as the owner.

Yes, “when I am an old woman I shall wear purple,” but I’m just not sure that should apply to purple watches…. I just need to know the time.

Friday, August 23, 2019

My Car of the Future

My car has gizmos.

Last year, when I bought it, I didn’t know. I didn’t realize I’d traded my Flintstones’ car for George Jetson’s. I specifically chose the “non-loaded” version of a car for simplicity. My friend Sharon’s brand-new Subaru beeped and chimed constantly, warning us about things approaching us, us approaching things, flies flying too close to the windshield, who knows what else.

I’m not a gizmo person.

So I ended up with a key fob that beeps and a reverse camera. That’s it. I had to check the manual to learn how to program the radio. (The things in red are things I still haven’t figured out.)


Then I got a letter in the mail from Subaru. My Distance-to-Empty logic software needed updating. I thought they’d made a mistake: I don’t have features like that. I don’t have Blue Tooth or satellites or whatevers.

Nevertheless, Subaru made an appointment with my car. They didn’t say, “Oh, no, your car isn’t eligible.” This would be kind of useful, finding out how many more miles I have left in my gas tank. Today was my appointment.

Very-helpful-Eric told me he’d show me how to find my gizmo, but first, he said, check YouTube.

Oh, WOW! There’s a little lever on the steering wheel – with up and down arrows – to switch my dashboard screen to show Distance-to-Empty. It can also tell me how long I’ve been sitting in the car.


It’s just that there are SO MANY little levers and buttons all over the steering wheel, I just ignored them. I thought they all had something to do with cruise control (which used to be the only thing sticking out of the steering wheel). With all those levers, I decided even cruise control was now too complicated. (Distance-to-Empty is the little red arrow.)


Eric showed me I could change the volume on my radio, switch stations, do lots of things from my steering wheel. Aiiieee! I thought the only problems with technologically-distracted driving were cell phones and texting. This is an airplane cockpit (and remember, this is the non-loaded version). I use my steering wheel to steer. It was even hard to find the horn when I first looked for it.

So all this reminds me of the women who have been honored by the Anchorage Athena Society for their valuable contributions to our community. They each received a Saturn car for a year. I overheard one of them commenting to the others after her year was up, “I just loved those heated seats! I’ll miss them.” Looking baffled, the others said, “Heated seats?” After she explained, one groaned, “I can’t believe it; I always thought I had terrible hot flashes in that car.”

And then there was the man who had no idea he had a CD player because the disk loader was in the trunk. He could load five CDs.

But just this past weekend, I rode in Frank’s car. Frank could readjust the height of the shoulder harness so it wouldn’t cut into his neck. He could slide the harness anchor up or down. I wish I had that feature.

I looked again: I have that feature! My shoulder harness moves, too! My car is “loaded” after all.

Just go ahead, ask me how many more miles I can travel on my tank of gas.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Invasion of "the Other"

My husband has retired.

[Pause for those of you who’ve already experienced this and are either cringing or just waiting to hear what I write next.]

It’s an adjustment. First came panic, then came hostility, now there’s … contentment.

The panic had to do with my space. I have my own office/studio, but pretty much, the Whole House has been mine for the last few years. He left in the morning and came back in the evening. I wasn’t observed.

For the first days after he retired, he didn’t just observe, he hovered. That must have been when the hostility surfaced. He thought I was going to be available, and I had my own agenda, I owned my own days. [Look at all these words in bold! These are strong feelings.]

According to quantum theory, observation of something changes that something; and I know that’s actually happening: his observation of me is acting on me, changing me. I can get really existentialist about all this and quote my own philosophy thesis on Sartre’s horror of objectification by “the Other.” My “Other” is looking at me.

Whoa, I just now realized how my two main areas of intellectual interest actually overlap!


Anyhow, we got that straightened out. He mostly leaves the house in the morning, and I can share the house by going somewhere else in it. Thank heavens for rooms, multiple rooms. (Although he has observed that while he keeps all his personal items in his office, my personal items manage to migrate to every single common space in the house.)

When my mother first visited us and met Tim, she was enthralled. She and I were sitting at the dining room table, and Tim was wandering around the house, looking up and around. He was looking for light bulbs that might need changing. My mother oohed, “Oh, he’s handy! He’s looking for projects!”

Right now, as I write this, Tim is trekking the lawn, looking for dandelions that need pulling. Tim relaxes by doing things.

I relax by doing nothing.

I know what you’re thinking: she’s not doing nothing, she’s writing. Well, I only interrupted my doing nothing because I needed to tell you about doing nothing. I’ll go back to doing nothing.

I’ve always had issues with productivity and categorizing myself as lazy. Mostly, I try to consider a day productive if I’ve done two things. It used to be three things, but in the summer, I reduce my requirement to two. I count lying on our deck as the extra because I’m outside and not on the couch.

Yesterday, I picked up a paint chip to see if the color would work for our front door. That counted as one productive effort, so I lost momentum because I was also doing laundry; my productivity quotient was met. I thought today I might wash the door, but since I’m writing this, my door-momentum has faded. Besides, I also returned a book to the library when I was picking up the paint chip.

I am married to a man who will get the paint chip, wash the door, paint the door, clean up afterwards, and count all that as one productive effort. And he would have finished it by now – in one day! – except that I claimed the door as MY (eventual) productive effort. But with one mumbled comment, it’s clear he has observed my inactivity, thus proving Sartre’s – and my – horror of “the Other.” I am seen doing nothing! It doesn’t help that I am also forced to observe his activity.

Fortunately, “the Other” has other benefits, such as companionship. Today’s second productive effort will be going on an outing with him. I adapt.


Sunday, July 7, 2019

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow?

My hair is in its Third Third. Not just the color, and not just the texture.

It started with sparse bangs on the right side of my head. At first, I thought it was just unruliness, another hair rebellion. My hairdresser thought it was because I slept on my right side, but now it’s yet another sign of Third Third-itis: my head is downsizing my hair.

After my daughter was born, I had little baby hairs sprouting all over my head. They were the signs of recovery from pregnancy hair loss, and I was like a little, furry tennis ball of new hair. Yeah, well, that’s not happening now.

My bangs are getting wispier. (Why mostly on the right side??) I have no idea what’s happening in the back or top of my head. My doctor says it’s only visible to people taller than I. Which I guess is a growing number as I shrink, too.

So first I noticed the bangs problem – which could have been debatable –  but the hair in the shower drain catcher is unequivocal. Instead of cleaning it up with a tissue, I have to use a paper towel. It’s a wad of red.
And then there’s the hairbrush.

My hairdresser suggested Costco’s 5 Percent Extra Strength Hair Regrowth for Men. For men! So I had to think about this: how far was I willing to go to defy age and Nature?

Yes, I dye my hair. But that didn’t begin as a means to cover gray or age; it began as a theatrical requirement for a particular role. It morphed into an identity signature long before age had anything to do with it. So I’ll keep the color. In fact, I’ve noticed that white roots make hair loss appear worse, so now I have to be even more prompt about coloring my hair. [And if anyone is going to Costa Rica, please let me know and I’ll place an order for my hair dye with you.]

But I’m stopping short of putting Extra Strength chemicals on my head. I’ve decided: I’m prepared to lose my hair. I wonder what I’ll end up looking like?

Sometimes, when my hair is looking particularly bizarre, I’ve said I look like Bozo the Clown. But I just checked images of Bozo, and he was bald on top! He had no bangs! And he was actually pretty scary looking.

On the good and very lucky side, I am not losing my hair because I’m undergoing cancer treatments. I am truly grateful.

And then I remembered the Velveteen Rabbit:
By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
My hair has been loved off! I’m becoming Real!

Monday, July 1, 2019

Crazy is scary

This is not a funny blog post. There are no pictures. It’s about mental illness. Most of the time, I’m only 40% mentally ill.

That’s not right; it’s not illness when it’s only 40%. At 40%, it might be called creative or unorthodox or imaginative or intuitive. Or fun or uninhibited or outspoken. Maybe even probing and problem-solving.

But even that 40% comes with a struggle to maintain. I have to watch that I don’t tip over. I don’t touch, taste, or take anything that would mess my mind. I stopped reading Hermann Hesse novels in college. I exercise, I try to straighten out messed-up sleep patterns, I try to expend creative energy. I am a high-functioning crazy person.

But every now and then – rarely – I become 85% of whatever it is. And then, it’s just crazy.

Crazy is scary.

Nothing looks the same when I’m 85%. Reality leaks. The fronts peel off and sadness leaks out. If I look too long at it, it un-reals itself. Or maybe none of that happens outside of me, but inside of me, I know it’s lurking. It’s just waiting to leak. I have to be vigilant.

And then I succumb. I examine it, stare at it, poke it and prod it. I want to get inside this other-ness. It is so complex and compelling, but whether it’s sad or not, it consumes. I can either get to the alive-ness in the world (up) or the sadness in the world (down) …  if I just probe deeper. And deeper. I’m not sure if I’m seeking to understand or if I’m beyond understanding and just merging with unreality. Things “appear” that may or may not really be there.

Have I lost you yet? I’m pretty sure the rest of the world is not 85-percenters. The problem is, you still only know my regular-old 60% which is now down to 15%, and so I’m not even me (to you). So if the me you know is not even present, then I am isolated. There is the world of people … and there is me, without connection.

85% is lost in a mental world, so 85% can’t write or talk or draw. 85% is not creative or productive. 85% can only hide. 85% faked being normal.

The little 15% keeps trying to push on. It always makes sure to wash my hair. With dirty hair, I might be a full-on 100%, and then I am lost. But if 15% pushes too hard, enters a practical world, there’s the possibility of failure. “No, I cannot buy stamps. I will have to talk to the post office lady.” And maybe I can do it, or maybe I have to leave with the crushing realization that I’m probably down to 10%.

I went out to lunch. I think I blathered, or else I froze up. I fell to 10%.

I could talk to my friend Laurie, and she would understand; but Laurie jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, so I can’t. My friend Jennifer told me once that she had no one to talk to about it, and I said (because I was at 60% and feeling good), “Jennifer, you just need more crazy friends.” I was her crazy friend, but Jennifer died, too.

I think I need more crazy people in my life. Crazy people can sniff out other crazy people, but I must have stopped sniffing. How did I get so normal?

Ha ha. That is a funny line.

I am married to a reality anchor. Thank God. He looks at me, utterly clueless. Maybe he’s not clueless, maybe that’s just me being trapped in my head and positive no one’s head can ever be in the same place. He suggested a walk in the woods. No, no, no! Too much seeping reality and free roam brain! He suggested orienteering, and once we got past the registration table, it was just us and clues. My brain had to work on clues and could escape all its other workings.

Afterwards, I washed my hair.

When our daughter was very little, we stuck glow-in-the-dark stars on her bedroom ceiling. She screamed at us to turn the light back on. We thought we’d have to pull them down, but she ran to get her fairy wings, climbed up on her dresser, and told us to turn the lights back off. Then she flapped her arms and flew amongst the stars.

I cried. She was my daughter. She was flying, but maybe she’d crash. Maybe she’d just be “troubled.” Maybe she’d inherited my 40%. I told my doctor, and she said, “Maybe you just have to teach her to land.” I hope I have.

For myself, I’m always trying, always landing (so far). Today, I’m back up to 40%. I thought you might be interested in the craziness among you, about where I go when I’m gone.

That’s all.

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