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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.

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?

Neighborhoods
    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.

Theater
    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.
Sigh.

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.


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