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Monday, March 27, 2017

Marijuana's Third Third

You know you are deep, deep into your Third Third when you are listening to a conversation about marijuana and the women are discussing cannabis and hot flashes, night sweats, and menopause.

Pause. I need to recover from that sentence.

It gets worse. They went on a personally-organized field trip to local marijuana dispensaries. Another woman is upset she wasn’t included.

You look at them. They are wearing fashionable clothes – with accessories! Their hair is nicely coifed, gray is either stylish or colored.

Another pause for brain readjustment. Sometimes I think I should not be writing blog posts; I should be writing a pilot for a sitcom.

The women decide I have to disguise them so no one reading this will guess who they are. “Angela” has always wanted to be an Angela so she is very excited at giving herself this new identity. She assigns aliases to the others. “Jolene” and I stare at the group; who are these people, and what did they do to our friends?

The women had a general idea of where a dispensary was located so they drove up and down the street till they were sure one building might be it. Once, while traveling out of town, they’d come upon a long line of people on the sidewalk. It was either a soup kitchen or an iPhone giveaway, but when they Googled the address, it turned out to be a dispensary. So I guess that gave them experience in dispensary identification.

The proprietors were very helpful. The women learned about CBD oil, which is supposed to be curative but doesn’t make you high. (But one of the women already knew about CBD oil from her son.) They learned about vaporizers. “Is that a bong? Like a perfume atomizer?” No. They got free, hand-made, terra cotta pipes as a little gift. They bought a small caramel/chocolate star.
Angela learned why her first foray into cannabis was not a success. Apparently, she learned, you have to toast something to work with it. I think she was making salve. (Not being on the field trip, my understanding of all this is a little sketchy. I took notes for the sitcom pilot, but they’re a little sparse, and there were no visual aids.) So Angela wanted to borrow someone’s toaster oven to do this in her garage. The concern: the neighbors would smell it. The solution: smoke some salmon at the same time. So maybe she’ll apply fish-scented salve to her body or eat marijuana-laced smoked salmon.

Angela tried her little star. Just a point. I’m not sure if that’s the experience that left her singing through housecleaning or if that was something else.
“Jolene” has been quiet throughout the adventure travel recap. She spent her youthful rebellion moving in the other direction from a counter-culture mother. While every now and then we all feel like we’re turning into our mothers, I imagine Jolene is watching her circle of friends turn into her mother. The field-trippers turn to her.

“Jolene, do you think your mother has some other source for marijuana?”

Jolene must recover enough because a few minutes later, she shares a text from her mother: “OMG.” Is this shock speaking or mother-daughter bonding?

Meanwhile, another friend of mine has organized Ellementa, a start-up for women to learn about cannabis wellness. And a Seattle-area assisted living community is organizing Pot 101 field trips. My Jewish newsletter just sent out a recipe for pot-laced matzoh brei for Passover: Potzoh Brei. What is the world coming to?

Unfortunately, the women have learned that cannabis doesn’t do anything for wrinkles.

But that’s because they’re not lying around on waterbeds listening to Pink Floyd. It has nothing to do with not being 20 anymore either.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Not a scaredy-cat – a worrywart

Recently, the subject of bravery came up, as in “Barbara, you’re so brave to head off to another city for a month alone.” So I started writing about fear, but realized I kept mixing it up with worry. I wrote that “fear and worry riddle my life,” but by the time I finished, I knew that was wrong: fear compels decisions, worry riddles my life.

Sometimes I make choices based on my personal hierarchy of fear: is this less scary than that? So, for example, I’m not going down the Grand Canyon. When I wrote here about Becoming a Wimp in my Third Third, it was a full year-and-a-half out from the planned raft trip. I canceled. Heights and cliffs and rapids – nope. I’m going to London instead. Compared to the Grand Canyon, London didn’t even register on the trauma charts. (Not even today.)

Some things simply don’t scare me. While surveys show that most people fear public speaking more than anything else – more than death – it doesn’t give me pause. Just give me a little preparation, and I’m good to go. I even enjoy it.

People who don’t live in Alaska think much of our normal, daily living is fearful. Moose in backyards, bears in parks, mountains, wilderness, earthquakes – those may send a tiny speck of shiver down Alaskans, but mostly they just arouse caution.

The big list of American fears includes heights, bugs and snakes, claustrophobia – I am all about being scared of those things – but there are SO MANY other things that fuel fear. This is my current big fear: Tim will drown in the Grand Canyon, I will crash on the plane to London, and Sophie will be all alone.

I cannot believe I even wrote that sentence down, as if voicing it unleashes some horrible karma in the universe. Right now, my superstitious self is crawling with anxiety.

And then I worry that all the resultant cortisol pumping through my system is wreaking its own havoc.
Fear cascading upon fear. What ifs generating more and more calamities. Imagination run amok. Is this the process that turns fear into worry?

Gasp. Do other people do this???

In my Third Third, as I reflect, I don’t think I really discovered fear until I had a child. The responsibility for someone so essentially vulnerable is the biggest, scariest thing I’ve ever encountered. Even so, I didn’t want that child to be limited by my fear so I kept our lives open to travel and outdoor adventure. Ziplines, climbing, skiing. Trusting strangers, being independent. Caution, but not fear. Now that she’s older, some of the things she tells me scare the willies out of me, but I keep my mouth shut.
My siblings used to joke about two kinds of people in the world: “emotional cripples” and “kamikazes.” I was the kamikaze of the family because, when faced with decisions, I often leaped. That must have looked like bravery, but it’s really fear of sluggish indecision, of dawdling about in some hesitant limbo land. The reason I do is not because I have no fear of doing but because I have a HUGE fear of stagnation. Of letting my world become small.

I realize it’s not all about fear. It’s about interest, curiosity, and preference and how they can offset fear. Something in me dreams about London but worries about the Grand Canyon. So while I might be worried about a long airplane flight, it’s required if I’m going to get to London. (It’s required to live in Alaska, period….) In the hierarchy of fears, it had to get displaced. Maybe the secret is displacing the fears that don’t serve us.

The opposite of fearful might be brave, but the opposite of worried would be … calm? My interior worries – the imagined what ifs, the squirrelly feelings, the worst-case scenarios – are things that scare me from the inside out and have nothing to do with heights or river rapids or cliffs. I’m not a scaredy-cat; I’m a worrywart. You would think by my Third Third I would have dealt with this.

But right now, I’m worried that while I’m writing, sitting is the new smoking, and how many hours a day do I spend sitting?
Next I’m trying meditation. Do we do that sitting down?


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Something Old, Something New

My latest New Thing is transforming. Literally. Last year, a friend invited me to Transformed Treasures, a luncheon and auction to benefit Salvation Army’s shelter and treatment programs. But it wasn’t just any old auction.
Artists sign up to be admitted to Salvation Army thrift shops with vouchers to purchase items, items that they’ll transform into treasures. Oh, the imagination on display at that auction! I saw a dog kennel transformed into a child’s reading nook, everything in the world transformed into beautiful lamps. You’d marvel at the artistry evident in an item – and then look at the “before” photos and be amazed.

Yes, I’ve fixed up an old chest of drawers with a great paint job, but these things at the auction were now Art. Useful art or decorative art, but really spectacular. So, of course, I wanted to try my hand at it.

On the appointed day, we all descended on the Salvation Army thrift shop with our vouchers. Some people picked up items to bring home and wait for inspiration, but my creativity needed some focus; I didn’t want to RE-clutter my house. Other people had discarded their clutter, and I was going to bring it home?

Then I discovered a batch of brown, metal, alphabet letters with broken light bulbs. I’d seen them at Michaels; they look sort of rusty even when new, and I’m not quite sure what people do with them. Ah, but the ampersand! If I weren’t looking at a tiny toy motorcycle, would it have occurred to me to think “racetrack”? That ampersand just shouted, “I could be a racetrack.”

And the rainbow-striped strap – wouldn’t that make the rusty brown prettier? Could it all be mounted on that cutting board over there? What about the little desktop toy aquarium with the magnetic wand for swishing the fish around – could that magnetic wand be a light pole? I was on my way.
With coupons in hand, I haunted Michaels for supplies for the transformation. I’d need metal paint. Oh, a black foam sheet could cover the bottom, making it smooth for the track surface. How about some little trees for landscaping?


As things took shape, I checked out NASCAR sites, painted signs for the track. The magnetic wand became the checkered flag post. When Tim and I discovered cart racing in the Valley, we managed to win points in the arcade; those were redeemed for race cars. The result:


I’m so excited! The Transformed Treasures luncheon and auction isn’t until May 6, but tickets are already on sale. I’ll be glad if someone decides a transformed racetrack is just what they need, but now that I understand the process, I want to see the other re-creations. For a recycling fanatic like myself, it’s inspirational (not to mention, a creative solution to clutter).

But then a bigger thought occurs: If an old, rusty ampersand can find new life as a rainbow racetrack, what else is awaiting “new life”? What else is possible?


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Stumbling down Memory Lane

Somehow the subject of traveling to Russia came up in conversation with a friend. “Tim and I went in 1990,” I said, “when friends of ours were living in Moscow. We went on diplomatic visas, so we weren’t part of an organized tour. In fact, we went on our own to Leningrad by train, and …”

And I froze. Suddenly, big questions consumed me: How did we get around Leningrad? We don’t speak Russian. We met a guy and went home with him; how did we meet him? How did we get to the Hermitage? How did we even get off the train?

This is a Giant Memory Chasm, the place where things you know are isolated by a vast unknown of things you can’t remember. It’s like a bad DVD with a glitch that suddenly jumps from scene 5 to scene 7. You try backing up, but it skips again and again. If you’re lucky, you might catch an intermediate blip of action, but mostly it’s all a big mystery.

What I did remember was a box downstairs with “1990 Corsica/USSR Trip” written on the side. I pulled it out, and Tim and I pored through it. Tim remembered some things: a Finnish hotel. I remembered Peter the Great’s palace (But how did we get there?!?) There were lots of receipts and flyers, but all in Russian. Fortunately, I had a little calendar book that I’d written notes in: “Find Intourist, get directions to sign up for tour.” I found the little note from our tour guide who took us home: Grigory! A guide to the palace refreshed that memory, but the rest is very, very dim.
There was a note about going on a river trip to the Bay of Joy, but I figured that was on the Moscow end. Suddenly, a light bulb went off: I recalled going down a river, looking out at the shore where houses were. That’s where that was! A glimmer of that memory had endured, but I thought it must have happened in Berlin with my sister – but we weren’t on a boat there. So that memory – uprooted without context or location – now had a location! (if it really is the right memory…) It wasn’t my sister; it was my friend, Susan. The houses were dachas.

Oh, the elation when random bits of memory assemble themselves into something recognizable!

Photographs, diaries, little calendar notes all help refresh the memories, and when I find the USSR photos, that’ll probably help a lot. But sometimes the evidence just establishes how bad the memory is. While browsing the photo albums, I came across a picture of me in Pinnacles National Monument, a place I’d recently considered visiting for the first time. I would swear I have never been to Pinnacles National Monument, but there it is:
Sometimes I feel as if unmoored memories are some sort of crime, like incorrect addition or a poorly constructed house. Then I try to think of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

We are the product of our memories; creating them is what made us. Remembering them is a bonus; forgetting them, a glitch. An annoying, disturbing, frustrating one, but maybe a glitch just the same.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Where have all our mothers gone?

I have Stacy on my mind. We met when our two different junior highs merged into our one high school. By the time we graduated and I got my driver’s license, my car knew how to drive to Stacy’s house. The summer after our freshman year in college, we were both back on Long Island. Stacy invited me to ride horses with her, but I went to the beach instead. She fell off a horse and broke her collarbone; I dislocated my shoulder body-surfing. Neither of us could work, so we had another summer together.

Stacy became a New York executive; I moved to Alaska. We’d get together when I visited my mother or for high school reunions, and she and her husband came out to kayak in Prince William Sound. When I began my month in Manhattan last year, Stacy was with me when I first entered my rented apartment. She gave it the stamp of approval; now I could relax in the Big City.

Stacy once wrote me one of the most precious notes I’ve ever received. It was after a visit:
“…whenever we get together … it is as though we’ve seen each other everyday for the last 30 years! Yes, our bathing suits are bigger and the subjects of conversation have changed…, but we always go right to the heart of the matter with the knowledge that thoughts shared are always safe, feelings are treated with care, and we still laugh like a couple of teenagers! So beyond the trees that have grown, the neighborhoods that have changed and all the things we have each experienced over the last three decades, there is this indestructible, invisible bond, like a tap root that stretches for miles and miles through time and space….”
I was traveling to visit Stacy in Maryland – where she’s retired with horses – when I had to turn back to see my mother before she died.

Why is Stacy on my mind? Because last week, her mother died.

I can see Mrs. Frank so clearly in my mind. The way she would throw back her head, squint her eyes, and say something about “you girls.” I can picture myself in their living room. I spent a lot of time at that house, with that mother.

About a year ago, when my mother’s memory was mostly gone, Stacy drove over to pick me up for a visit. I told my mother, described who Stacy was.

“I know who Stacy is!” she interjected. She raced out to the car and hugged Stacy hello with clear and unfogged memory. My mother knew Stacy.

I walked past the telephone yesterday, thinking I’d call my mother to let her know Mrs. Frank had died. Moments like that happen. Continue to happen.
We’re losing our mothers! And so we in our Third Thirds – we motherless children – turn to the ones who knew our mothers, too. That “indestructible, invisible bond” that Stacy wrote about – that “tap root” that connects us – it included our mothers.

Stacy must feel the same thing. Yesterday, I received another note from her, coaxing me to visit her place in Maryland. She wants “to sit and reminisce about our Moms together.”

So do I.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Unglued and Unstuck -- Take 2

I’m going to London. For a month. Solo. I leave in three weeks.

Aieeeeee!

After my month in Manhattan, I decided I’d make that a regular event, but I wanted to add newness to it. What other place could boast enough culture to keep me busy for a month? London!

So I went on VRBO, and an apartment magically appeared. When I checked with friends of mine to see if I’d be near them, they said my neighbors were William and Kate. Yes, I checked the map: I’m across the street from Kensington Palace.

Four years ago, when Sophie was at Oxford for a semester, she and I did the London tourism thing: the Tower of London, the British Museum, Greenwich. So this time, I do the immersion-live-as-a-resident thing. I went online and found a whole bunch of excitements: a play with David Tennant (my Dr. Who, swoon…), Slow Art Day at the National Gallery (“Join a small group in a closed-off room and be guided towards a deeper connection with a painting.”), and the Robots exhibit at the Science Museum with a play Last Supper – of robots! And then, of course, I found things like “16 Incredible Library Bars in London.”

But now it’s 4 a.m., and I’m buzzing because:
  • The phone thing. I have an old phone of Tim’s that I had to “unlock.” When I get to London, I have to go into a phone store and get a local number, a plan, and a SIM card. Everyone says this is “easy.”

  • I think we must have the right electricity adaptor somewhere in the house.
  • I want to catch an author program for Cityread London, and they’re at libraries all over: Camden, Stratford, Westminster, Kingston, Ilford, Bexley, Bromley, Slough, and Reading. And then it hit me: I have absolutely no geographic understanding of London. I can’t tell boonies from next neighborhood over.

So, yes, on one level I know I will conquer all these things, and I will appreciate the adventure. But right now, they’re swimming around in my head. How do I phone the apartment owner to meet me at the apartment if I don’t have a phone?!? At Jamaica Station in New York, I borrow a phone from a stranger when I know which train I’ll be on (since there are no pay phones anymore). Sophie says people will think I’ll steal their phone, and British people will think I’m suspicious. Gene in London says: “if you try to start up a conversation with a stranger you will be assumed to be mentally unwell. One does not DO that in London.” Uh, oh, I DO that all the time!

And then it hit me: my month in New York was like re-entering a culture where I fit in. I could swim in familiar waters. Strangers talked to each other all the time. I knew where Penn Station was, that Battery Park was there, and Central Park there, even without ever having lived there.

So this is a BIGGER adventure.

I don’t recall thinking like this before living in Costa Rica for a summer. Why is that? Because it was a homestay so I had someone to ask? Because I was traveling with littler-girl Sophie and had to be the Mom? Because I knew it was going to be Foreign-with-a-capital-F and took it slowly (not with a calendar already swimming with entries)? Because Central American culture works for me?

Because no one had phones and SIM cards to deal with?!?
These are 4 a.m. thoughts. I have to remember that when I first planned my trip to Manhattan, I called the blog post Unglued and Unstuck. So I’m unsticking and getting unglued again.

Time to go back to bed.

But first: What should I see and do in London? What’s on your list? What discoveries have you made that I shouldn’t miss? (Still relishing the recommendation to visit Macy’s wooden escalator in New York….)


Monday, March 6, 2017

Spelling and Grammar and Punctuation – Oh, my!

It started when I was very young. Sometime during dinner, someone would make a grammatical error in speaking, and it was corrected. My mother would then say, “Speak good English, and good English will speak for you.” It always happened this way – without exception.

My mother was full of proverbs, but the grammar one was about creating a first impression, putting forward our best selves. It stuck. Four siblings continue to monitor the grammar (and punctuation) of the world. By monitor, I do NOT mean correcting people! I mean quietly noting the offending tense or case or number disagreement and letting its disturbance pass through our systems.

If we’re occupying the role of editor, yes, we make the correction. If something is being published, it needs to be correct. And that’s probably how grammarians find each other. Maybe you’re in charge of editing a document and you make a change. Someone speaks up and says, “I was debating whether it would fall into the objective or subjective case, but …,” and you glow all over because you’ve found a kindred spirit.

Abbe and I found each other because we both insert the comma in our emails: “Hi, Abbe.” After a while, you start passing grammar questions back and forth to each other. Eventually one of the kindred spirits sent me this video, Vigilante Copy Editor. This is the story of a sculpture garden with placards describing the art – but the placards have lots of grammar mistakes. A rogue grammarian corrected them with a Sharpie. Was he or she being an asshole … or someone restoring the dignity of the art after the poor wording on the descriptive placards?
I walked by a white board in an elementary school with the science word of the day: “spongue.” It killed me. Children would learn the wrong spelling! So I crept up and secretly erased the offending “u.”
We former philosophy students enjoy exploring the narrow boundaries between behaviors: what’s acceptable? What’s reprehensible? Grammar problem as moral issue.

A while back, I discovered a whole new literary genre: humorous grammar and punctuation books by copy editors. Eats, Shoots & Leaves was my first, but then I loved Between You and Me. Now I’m reading Yes, I Could Care Less: How to Be a Language Snob Without Being a Jerk. Sometimes I laugh out loud. Sometimes I cringe because I’ve discovered an inadvertent mistake I’d been making. (A real grammar nutcase enjoys a cringe as much as a laugh.) And now I’ve discovered that there are wars among “descriptivists” who say grammar is what people say, “prescriptivists” who say grammar has rules, and assorted “purists,” “sticklers,” and “bullies.”

So there I was, writing my blog post about Stealth De-cluttering. Right there in the third sentence, I faced a grammar dilemma:

“I tried to find the owner, waited for him or her to call, but they never did.”

Oh, the problem! Owner is singular, so if I’m going to be gender-neutral, I have to say “him or her.” But two “him or hers” in a row?!? “I tried to find the owner, waited for him or her to call, but he or she never did.” That’s a mess!

I took the high risk alternative: I opted for the “singular they.” Since English doesn’t have a gender-neutral singular pronoun, I’d heard talk of this “singular they.” I debated including an asterisk so my vigilant grammarian friends would know I wasn’t making a stupid error in number agreement, but I thought that would just call attention to it.

Minutes later – minutes later! – Abbe sent me this: “The singular ‘they’ has been declared Word of the Year.” Immediately, I went back online and added my asterisk.

Meanwhile, the family grammarians have weighed in. My brother pointed out that I’d just needed some more thinking ahead to steer clear of the difficult words: “waited for him or her to call, but no one ever did.” Yes, yes, yes! That would have done it!

I could go back, delete the asterisk, change the wording, fix the whole mess. But where would the story be in that? The story of dilemma and conflict, decision-making and revelation – the grit of a good grammar saga.

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