Monday, June 17, 2019

It's MY Body

My grandmother was left to die on an illegal abortionist’s table. She pulled herself up, dragged herself home, and raised her five kids.

It was the Depression, and she couldn’t afford another mouth to feed. Eventually, my grandfather left her, and she raised the five kids. She’d also marched down Fifth Avenue as a Bloomer Girl for the vote for women. She is the matriarch of our family, and my daughter is named for her.

When I told this story to a long-ago boyfriend, he was shocked. Then his grandmother spoke up, “I had an abortion, too. How do you think I kept from having too many children?”

So how do we think women made do before effective birth control? How do we think they made sure their already-born children had enough to eat? Did you ask your grandmothers? Those women did what they had to do to raise that Greatest Generation, and they had abortions.

I know women who, after being fitted professionally for cervical caps, became pregnant. I know women who consented to abortion should in vitro fertilization yield multiple embryos. I know women who were told they were carrying fetuses with genetic abnormalities. I know women who became pregnant in college and would lose scholarships if they had to leave school. I even know a girl pregnant by her father.

These women – all these women, all of us – had control of our own bodies and had a legal option: abortion.

We women in our Third Third know these stories; we know that legal abortion saves lives – the lives women want to have that an unplanned pregnancy would disrupt.

I’ll say that again:

I’m going to stop here before I march down my fury road. I’m going to stop here before I go on about poorly-funded budgets to work with hungry children, abused children, and homeless children. Before I go on about slaps on the wrists for rapists, for unfunded birth control, for de-funded childcare.

I’m stopping here just to stick with that one thought: many of us have the lives we have because brave and desperate grandmothers or mothers faced illegal abortionists so there’d be enough food in the mouths of their children.

The lives I want to save are the potential lives of the young women with dreams. Dreams to go to school, dreams to get out of an abusive relationship, dreams for their futures. Who is anyone to say they deserve less, that their lives get deferred?

So some law wants to force a vulnerable 14-year-old to a nine-month sentence of prolonged occupation of her body while rapists are still getting slaps on the wrist? These are the same people who covered Viagra with health insurance, but not birth control. These are the same people who want to eliminate maternity care from lower-cost health insurance.

I know people who stretch poorly-funded budgets to work with hungry children, abused children, and homeless children. Low-income women have to find jobs, but childcare is de-funded. I know people who work with rape survivors, women suffering domestic violence, women sold into sexual slavery. Indigenous women just “disappear,” rape kits get lost, and yet the big issue is what’s in a woman’s uterus? My own uterus – which is no business of yours.

As I march down my fury road, I start inventing scenarios. I imagine some rich and powerful guy – maybe a legislator or a judge – a guy who “can do anything” – having an extramarital affair. Many of them do. What would he do if that other woman got pregnant? I am pretty sure he’d locate a quiet and confidential abortionist. What do you think?

I am in my Third Third and pregnancy fears are long behind me, but they’re always present for a new generation of women. I am in my Third Third, and I cannot believe women still have to argue for control of our own bodies. I am in my Third Third and this is my body.

These are dangerous times, and I’m marching down my fury road because abortions save lives.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Why I Do It

Why do I go to a city all by myself and spend a month there? On the one hand, there’s attraction: the search for capital-A Art and Capital-C Culture. On the other, there’s prevention: not wanting to become stale, avoiding stagnation. Both of these fall under my Quest for New-ness.

Basically, during the month, I can walk to more places, experience more things, and learn more things than on the average day in Anchorage. I wake up not knowing what the day will bring. Nothing is familiar; everything requires preparation or resourcefulness. I have to be on my toes, and for me, that’s a very pleasurable feeling.

In Anchorage, stimulation has to be personally created. Sometimes I feel like I have to work hard to remain curious because it’s all so familiar. Maybe it’s lazy to ask a new place to add zest to your days, but if the goal is zest, then I’ll take it however I can get it. And in my Third Third, the goal is zest.

So what did Toronto do for me? What gave Toronto its 10-out-of-10?

    I stayed in Cabbagetown (named that because it used to be the farm area, and there was still a farm behind my street). But even a Martian would know this was Cabbagetown: the big welcome sign, the cabbage flags flying in front of houses, the murals on the side of buildings.

No matter where you are in Toronto, the street signs will tell you what neighborhood you’re in.

In Leslieville, the rainbow-painted benches will let you know you’re in Leslieville. In a big city, you belong to a little corner of it.

Ethnic Food
    Guidebooks and magazines wax enthusiastic about Toronto’s food scene and recommend all sorts of restaurants, but I could count the number of restaurants I ate at on one hand (maybe with six fingers). Instead, I eat “street food.” So I had my vegetable roti from the lady in the Absolute Bakery around the corner, my falafel from the guys at Zaad, my focaccia from Sud Forno, my souvlaki from the guy in Greektown. I even had the knish shaped “like a hockey puck” from Pancer’s Deli, but my only absolute and total bust: the famous Peameal Bacon sandwich which caused a gag reflex at the time and bad dreams afterwards.

    New York has Broadway and London has the National Theater, but Toronto has dozens of smaller, intimate theaters doing brave things. I went twice a week and still fell behind.

The only challenge: the proliferation of 90-minute, no-intermission plays: panicky women line up at the restrooms washrooms beforehand. I once had to escape through an exit sign … and ended up outdoors in an alley. (I got back in.)

Restrooms are called “washrooms.”
    Does that inspire more people to wash their hands? Some of the uniformly clean, readily-available, beautiful, designer-quality public restrooms washrooms even have high-tech automatic door locks/lights/openers.

100 Branch Libraries!
    After a while, I just started going to anything because they all turned out to be so interesting. Some of the highlights of even the less-famous events:
  • Free Tuesday afternoon documentaries (Faces, Places such a wonderful French film)
  • The “eh list authors” (Barbara: What does E-H stand for, electronic what? Librarian: It’s our A list. Took me a while…)
  • The author of Woman Enough dealt with a challenging question: if there are many, many human variations on the spectrum of chromosomes, hormones, and testosterone levels; how do we begin to create a level playing field when sports only has two categories: male and female?
The sign in Type Bookstore
    Other bookstores have the usual: History, Cookbooks, Graphic Novels, etc. This one made me laugh.

The Dish with One Spoon wampum covenant
    This is an agreement made between the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and the allied indigenous nations of the Anishinabek in the area: everyone is eating out of the same dish (shared hunting grounds) so they have to limit what they take to one spoon so there is enough for everyone. A land acknowledgement precedes every event in Toronto, but I especially like this imagery.

Bata Shoe Museum (shaped like a shoe box)
    Who would have thought to create a whole museum around what shoes can tell us about history and anthropology? From The Gold Standard and all its golden footwear to the U.S. military Reconnaissance Boot from the Vietnam War (which left a Viet Cong footprint, not an impression of an American boot); a whole afternoon easily slipped by. I only wish I could have taken my mother to see that.
The Impact
    Toronto: I’m going back.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Jumping Hurdles

When I was in high school, I was the manager for the boys’ varsity track team. Somehow I got the idea that when I reinvented myself at college, I could tell people I did the low hurdles. I was going to lie to be someone I pictured myself to be but wasn’t.

I don’t think I actually did the lie, but Wikipedia says, “Low hurdle races are a now, generally defunct form of track and field hurdle racing.” I find it fitting that now in my Third Third, my first third aspiration is … defunct. But low hurdles are still in operation for women’s track, so I guess I’m all right (if I were to reinvent myself).

I think of low hurdles as obstacles in my path that seem more do-able than impossible. A high hurdle – a whole foot higher – might stop me dead, like a wall. But the low hurdle is a challenge to get past. And what’s a low hurdle for me might be just a blip for you.

As I was preparing to leave Toronto, my sister phoned. My month there had been a 10-out-of-10, but I was in the middle of my hurdle accounting: I had to get on the plane ... with less than fifty pounds in the suitcase. I told Elizabeth the trek to the airport was rife with hurdles:
  1. I had to pack less than fifty pounds in the suitcase without a scale to measure. And I had accumulated a lot of paper: theater programs, books for my friend Mark on Toronto’s urban planning, four magazines on Toronto’s culinary treasures for my friend Judith, library handouts, maps, more maps.
  2. I had to get the suitcase on the 65-Parliament bus, and if the old style bus came, it would be hard to get in the front door. I needed the new kind of bus to pull up to the stop.
  3. For some strange reason, Toronto’s subways only have escalators that go up and stairs that go down. Usually that’s no problem, but not with fifty pounds of suitcase. I could always bump it down one step at a time, à la Winnie the Pooh, “bump, bump, bump.”
  4. And then, here it was, the Big Hurdle, the one that chilled my blood: weighing in at the check-in with my suitcase. What if it were more than fifty pounds?!?
Some of you might be thinking: what’s the big deal? So you pay extra or you move some stuff around.

No, hurdles are personalized. This was my Big Hurdle, maybe not yours. You may have problems going to live in an unknown big city all by yourself for a month, but that’s a blip for me. My Big Hurdle was facing an airline agent with a suitcase to be weighed. It kept me up at night.

My other sister said, “Mail stuff.” I had already been that route. Canada Post, even with its lovely pink mailboxes all around town, cost A LOT. It took me $30 to mail a 1-pound picture book to a friend. A woman I met said there’s a service called Chit Chats; they drive your stuff across the border and mail it in the U.S. for way cheaper. My sister said, “Use Chit Chats.” Uh, oh, new thing, new thing! That’s another hurdle alert!

When I think of my Urban Infusion months, I think of my first time using a borrowed cell phone, my first time using VRBO and Airbnb, my first time using Lyft, my first time not knowing my geography, my first time all alone; and they were harrowing. But they were low hurdles and I made it over. Once you make it over, hurdles become blips; but they still start out as hurdles.

Chit Chats was a hurdle.

So I prepared: I isolated my paper products in a bag inside the suitcase, so if it was too heavy, I could move it to carry-on. I chickened out and left the culinary magazines behind in the apartment. I departed the apartment a hurdle-fearing nervous wreck.
  1. The right kind of 65-Parliament bus came.
  2. As I approached the stairs of the subway, a man reached out, grabbed my suitcase, and took it down the stairs.
  3. At the airport, I mustered my courage and thought, “Project confidence. Be friendly, and she’ll let your overweight bag on.” I slid the suitcase on the scale: 47 pounds exactly.

Monday, April 29, 2019

What Taxes Buy

Buying anything in Toronto comes with a moment of surprise. I think I’m paying $2 to scan my artwork, but the clerk turns to me and says, “$2.26.” I ready $3 to pay for my $2.99 beverage, and the clerk says, “$3.42,” and then I have to fuss around in my wallet again.

It’s called tax, something tax-less Alaskans are not used to.

Now I’m going to describe a sample day – yesterday – in Toronto. First, I walk out to catch the 506 streetcar on the corner. Within a minute, it shows up. There are seats available – red plush upholstered seats – and I can tell when my stop comes up because the recorded announcement is clear and the sign showing “next stop” works at the front.

[This was so shocking at first: in New York City, the public recorded announcements sound like this: “ssshhhhXXXchchchhsssdsttt.” Here they say, “The next stop is Yonge Street, College Station subway.”]

So I get out at College Station and switch to the 1 subway at no extra charge. It comes within a minute, too, but that’s because it runs every 2-3 minutes. Every 2-3 minutes! I am in transit heaven – with more plush seats!

I’m going to the Deer Park Branch of the public library. I’ve never been there before, but Joanna Goodman, author of The Home for Unwanted Girls is speaking. There are 100 branches of the public library, and I have three within blocks of my apartment. I am always stumbling over yet another branch library in my wanderings.

Every few feet, I pass a litter/recycling box. All the litter boxes include recycling. At first, I thought people were just throwing litter in the recycling hole, not separating their recyclables, and it annoyed the daylights out of me. But then I discovered that here they recycle EVERYthing: any rigid plastic like plates and cups and containers (as long as they’re not black), juice boxes, milk cartons, pizza boxes, foam coffee cups and takeout boxes. So it’s not messing up the recycling; it’s DOING the recycling.

The compost bin even takes my dirty, food-covered napkins!

After the author talk – where every seat is taken and we’re all impressed and enthralled – I dawdle around downtown. I pass a homeless person asleep on the sidewalk, and two community service women are talking with him, asking him to stand. Yes, I’ve seen homeless people in this city of three million, but not to the numbers I’ve seen in Anchorage (one-tenth the size). I have also passed many clinics, social service buildings, detox centers. One storefront had a sign that it was a Sewing Repair Hub offering classes in sewing repair and then helping the women set up mending businesses (while keeping textiles out of the waste stream). They are addressing their social ills.

I stop at Soufi’s restaurant because I see that it’s a Syrian restaurant and I can have manakeesh, which I’d loved in London. Then I head to the main Toronto Reference Library where about 500 of us have been lucky enough to reserve a space to hear Sally Rooney, author of Normal People. (Did I mention that all this is free?) I pass the Newcomer Services Desk, where a woman is helping a new immigrant. Many of the libraries have those desks.

I’m sitting next to Joan, who turns out to be a major theater-goer, seeing two plays every weekend! Two plays every weekend! She turns me on to a play I hadn’t heard about, and when I get home, I immediately buy a ticket for it.

I could have waited till Saturday morning, when I go to my branch library and get a free MAP, Museum + Arts Pass. That’s how I’ve been to the Art Gallery of Ontario, for example. I can get one pass a week, but I didn’t want to take a chance the performance would sell out.
Heading home is no problem because even at night, the buses and streetcars and subways still come frequently and there are nice shelters that say when the next one is due.

A friend of mine lives here and says the taxes are very high, but his husband is very sick, and they can receive many, many services and quality care.

That’s what taxes pay for. This is what a community looks like when its citizens and businesses contribute financially to its operation. This is what a government can provide when it has financial resources. Only Alaskans believe it has to come free.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Reality Intrudes

Every now and then, reality delivers a crushing blow to fantasy. Take Niagara Falls.

This is the Niagara Falls of my imagination: Honeymooners go there because it’s so romantic, the power of the waterfall underlines nature’s majesty, the shared border gives it international significance. All that and the extra my fantasies add to it.

When our family was in Argentina in 2012, we visited Iguazú Falls on the border with Brazil. It was beyond spectacular. The force of the waterfall filled every fiber of your person. It thundered through you, pounded your atoms. You had to hike trails to get to the overlooks, and it was all Nature-with-a-capital-N.

So imagine my distress to discover Clifton Hill right across the street from Niagara Falls.

No one warned me! The shock of a giant Frankenstein eating a Burger King hamburger, King Kong on the side of a tilted over Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Dracula’s Haunted Castle – it’s monster land! Then there’s Big Top aMAZEing Fun and Lazer Tag and Mini Putt. And Rainforest Café and IHOP and DQ.

“Clifton Hill: the Street of Fun at Niagara Falls.” Everything all jammed together with outside loudspeakers proclaiming the horrors within. I couldn’t imagine anything more horrifying.

This is what travel does: it opens your eyes. To wonder and beauty and novelty and awe. And sometimes, disappointment and shock that what you see is not what you imagined and just not pretty.

Tim turned to me and said, “At least we’re not here on our honeymoon.”

No, our honeymoon was spent in horrendous winds and rain on Twin Lakes. Wind so bad our tent poles bent and snapped. Wind so bad there were white caps on the lake and our pilot couldn’t get in to pick us up. Wind so bad we hunkered down under the tarp and never even dreamed of unpacking the kayak.

But at least we weren’t at Niagara Falls!

P.S. What was pretty, even very pretty: the ice to the side of the falls, the swooping cloud of birds in front, the spinning swirls of water, the mist, the Niagara Parkway, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Beauty lurks.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Welcome to Toronto!

I’m pretty sure it’s something in the water. Something that seeps into the bodies of people in Toronto and … activates them.

I’m doing my annual “urban infusion” month in Toronto. Before this month, all I knew about Toronto was that it was in Canada and wasn’t Montreal, but I’m not even sure what “not-Montreal” meant.

So I did my research and discovered that Toronto was loaded with theater, with art, with neighborhoods, with public transit – all my prerequisites. I bought tickets, signed up for email newsletters, squelched several pre-trip anxieties. But the British-thing still haunted me, the part where people don’t talk to strangers in public. I can still flinch over the trauma of my first week in London, my week of zero human interaction. Weren’t Torontonians kind of British?

There I was in Union Station, facing a steep staircase with Robin’s massive suitcase and the need to find a Shoppers Mart to buy a transit pass. What’s a Shoppers Mart? Or rather, What’s a Shoppers Mart?!? how am I going to find one? how will I get downstairs? and WHY can’t Lyft find me where I am because three drivers have abandoned me after supposedly reaching me where I’m NOT?!?
Then one very nice man carried my suitcase down, another walked me to the front of a hotel so Lyft would have a destination, and another gave me a specific address to tell Lyft. I am beyond grateful.

Two hours later, Presto transit pass and library card in hand, I was an hour early for a library program. Everyone else was there with a friend or knew the staff or was a “regular.” I could always read a book, but David, the man next to me, engaged me in conversation and, before I knew it, we had exchanged contact information so David could send me some additional information. We’re now Linked In.

Two nights later, I happened to sit next to the theater reviewer at a performance. She knew all the local companies, the casts, the playwrights, the artistic directors; she was in her element. She and I discussed theater, watched Iphigenia get sacrificed, and afterwards, Lynn offered me a ride home.

Yesterday, I stopped in at a Japanese restaurant to ask about their miso soup. I left, but several minutes later, the owner found me at my bus stop to tell me something else about miso soup. He offered to give me the paste so I could make some by myself at home.

Do you see it? This spirit of welcome, of assistance, of openness, of friendliness?

[Alert! You cannot read these next few paragraphs without noting my delirium of excitement about the miracles of right-time right-place. I can’t put exclamation points after every sentence.]

In the library calendar, I discovered that the Toronto Public Library has a special Arthur Conan Doyle Collection – Sherlock Holmes and fairies and séances and spiritualism – and that the annual lecture with the Friends was to be held Friday!

So, again, I walked into a room where I knew no one, but this organization has been together for 18 years and they all knew each other very, very well. A man and woman approached me, introduced themselves, asked what brought me here. Turns out Barbara has written a play about Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, and Harry Houdini meeting in the afterlife with unresolved issues about Arthur Conan Doyle; and she introduced me to Mike, the man next to me, who is head of the Bootmakers of Toronto. I am just in time for their bi-monthly meeting about Mycroft Holmes and more and more Sherlock! (Now I must use exclamation points!)

It’s not just that one Sherlock Holmes fan by luck found herself in the midst of many, many Sherlock Holmes fans. It’s that they welcomed me, they invited me in. How many times have I been at a meeting or gathering back home where lots of people called hellos out to others and moved seats to sit next to friends and there were some New People or Strangers who were on the periphery? How we might say hello … but then get right back to our conversations? Did I ever offer a Stranger a ride home? Did I embrace the Stranger?

I’ve been in Toronto only five days, and yet I’m flush with the warmth and friendliness shown me. Maybe it is in their water – it seems pretty widespread and contagious – but I’m not going to forget how welcomed I feel. I’ll bring that back home with me.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Found it!

I found it!

I found a whole ton of things! Lost things are popping up all over! I am on an incredible roll!

When too many things need to be found, the frustration eventually erupts into a war on crap de-cluttering. So I went to my art desk, saw an old, unfinished project I wasn’t interested in any more, and picked up the papers to recycle. Guess what was underneath?

The broken piece of the glass mobile! And I still had the glue and the broken mobile. All required pieces accounted for! Hooray!
So that freed me to stroll down another mental tangent. When Sophie graduated from high school and had her senior picture taken, I showed her mine. It was startling how much we looked alike (and I’ve always felt she looked exclusively like her father). So recently I came across my mother’s graduation photo, and I thought I’d line them up next to each other.

You know what that means: I have to have three things in the same place at the same time. That’s a challenge. First, I had to find my high school photo. I pulled out the carton of saved memories (yes, the same one that housed my Tab Hunter novel that my mother did not throw away).

Sitting right on top was the marionette! The marionette without shoes. And I still had the shoe. A shoe. (I actually believe one was thrown out many years ago in one of the earlier iterations of this recurring lost-and-found story.) So I put the shoe in the bag with Yvette, the Marionette, and they will lie there together, resisting de-cluttering. At least, when they go, they’ll go together – minus one shoe.

But still no senior class photo.

This saga requires another mental tangent. Two weeks ago, out of the blue, I heard from Jim, a former freshman when I was an R.A. in his dorm. We hadn’t crossed paths in forty years, but he’d discovered that Sophie and his son had shared the same freshman dorm.

A few years ago, when Jim’s class of freshmen were having a reunion, I wanted to send them the posters I had made to welcome them to college. I’d arranged all their senior pictures in a floor plan I made of the dorm, roommates with roommates. But, of course, I couldn’t find the posters….

So here I am now, looking for my own senior picture. Under the Tab Hunter carton, I discover another carton. I open it up, and right on top are the dorm posters! Jim won’t have another reunion for three years, but I’m putting the posters in the mail today. I can’t be trusted to find them again three years from now.

Eventually, in that carton, I find my senior photo. Whew! Then I have to find Sophie’s, but that should be easy. Well, not quite. She tells me over the phone that I’d picked the wrong one, she describes another photo. I’m very confused, but I have a photo that will work (although not as dramatically as I remember). This is us:

Distracted now by this box, I find all sorts of stuff. One of them is a newspaper clipping from 1972 from the local newspaper in my hometown, The Long-Islander. My high school social studies teacher, Mrs. Angela P. Ryan, had edited a book and noted she was inspired by my graduation speech, which she quoted. I remember trying once to find the book on Interlibrary Loan, and I remember trying to find her; but I never had any luck. I decided to try again.

This time, the Internet yielded a home address, and I’ve written her a letter.

If my luck holds – and some amazing alignment of the stars is putting things in their places in my universe – then I may find Mrs. Ryan, too.

A broken piece of glass, a shoe-less marionette, an old dormitory poster, a senior class photo, and an address – together, they feel like a triumphant victory of Order over Chaos. What was lost is found, what was broken is restored, what was forgotten is remembered. Now – in this very moment – my world feels so stable and organized and meant-to-be; I must be in my right spot, too.

Sharing Button