Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Name tags everyone?

One of the things lovely about Anchorage is that we still get great theater – even though we may all have to see it within the same week – but during intermission, we know most people in the audience. Now, however, after having lived here 30 years and now in my Third Third, I have this problem: while I may know everyone in the audience, that only means they look familiar.

“Tim, over there – NO, don’t look! – the woman in the striped blouse. Who is she? How do I know her?”


This is not very helpful. And if that woman actually approaches me (despite my trying to hide while I rack my brain), I can go into panic mode. If I smile casually and say “hi,” what if she’s someone I went to high school with 4,000 miles away who just happens to be visiting Alaska … and I just say “hi”?

My friend Linnea is very helpful. Linnea worked out that she sticks her hand out, says, “I’m Linnea. And you are? How is it you and Barbara know each other?” Isn’t that fantastic! But I can’t have a Linnea in my pocket to pull out in all emergencies.

Recently I sat at a party and a woman approached me … with her name tag dangling on her jacket but facing the wrong way out. I slyly said, “Gotta fix your name tag. New people won’t know who you are.” Ha! But name tags don’t solve the other missing data: the context in which you know the person. Previous job? Parent of kid’s friend? Friend in common? (Where is Linnea when I need her?!?)
My situation is complicated in that there are plenty of instances in which people might have seen me (on stage, in the newspaper) but I never met or even saw them. Sometimes, those will really freak me out. Four people in a row saying “Hi, Barbara” and I have no clue – that’s grounds for agoraphobia.

I tell people I have prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces. Years ago, I was in a fellowship program that put me on assignment Monday through Thursday. Friday I’d be with the group, returning on Monday to my assignment. Every single Monday, I’d show up and greet my mentor, “Good morning. And you are?” I cringe just to think of it. No matter how much I forced myself to memorize her, she just never took hold. “Oh, did you change your hairstyle? What’s different about you?” This excruciating thing didn’t happen with anyone else…

…except for a woman in Anchorage. She and I were once in a book club together, but her visual image just can’t stay in my head. I see her occasionally, but she knows the situation: “Hi, Barbara, I’m Patti, the one you can’t remember.” That helps me remember her and my history with her, but never her face. I’m sure she changes her hair.

It’s even worse when people are out of context. Once, a naked woman approached me in the locker room at a pool, chatting away. “Do we know each other?” “Yes, we sat next to each other at Back-to-School Night. I’m Dylan’s mother.” I came home and told Sophie this:
     “She was naked?” (horror)
     “Were you naked?” (worse horror)
          “I couldn’t help it. I was coming out of the shower.”
     (extreme horror)

I have my own locker room story. I approached Marlis and said, “Hello, you’re at a different gym than usual. We usually meet at Midtown.”
     “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”
“I’m Barbara.”
     “No, the Barbara I know has bright red hair.”
“Oh, sorry!” I tore the towel off my hair and recognition flashed across her face.
But these are out of the ordinary examples. It’s the old garden variety failure-to-recognize and failure-to-place-in-context that’s such a problem. So I propose a better name tag. In large type so we can read it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My house is in its Third Third, too

The carpet was the first to go. I’d meticulously cleaned every stain that appeared, every food item or glass of wine that found its way to the floor. Sophie’s weekly job was vacuuming, and she did it till she left for college, gleefully saying goodbye to the vacuum cleaner and spouting that “other mothers” had let chores slide over the years, why hadn’t I??

So the carpet was well-maintained and looked lovely…

                ...until it didn’t.

The first sign were little frays at intersections. Gradually, ripply waves started moving across its surface. It no longer fluffed up the way it used to after shampooing and vacuuming. Eventually the intersections became actual gaps.

The carpet is in its Third Third, too. No, it’s worse than that: the carpet is dying.

I decided the dining room carpet was going to reincarnate as wood laminate floor, like the kitchen. In fact, where carpet wears the worst, we’d switch to wood. Do the hallways and stairs, too. Look how great the kitchen is. Do it just like that!

Except that Pergo discontinued the color of the kitchen floor. If it’s all going to match, the kitchen has to be re-done, too.

This is what happens with remodeling. This is why I can only do remodeling every ten years or so, when the memory of the previous remodel has receded. Remodeling is like setting up dominoes: one job requires another which leads to a third. Soon your house is a demolition site.

First the tile guy did the entry way. I was trapped in the house till the grout set. Only that night did I realize, “Oh, we have a back door.” That’s what happens to your brain on remodel.

Last night, Tim ripped up a perfectly beautiful kitchen floor. I loved that kitchen floor. My hairdresser had installed it in her new salon and we got the specs and bought exactly the same stuff. It was indestructible, easy to care for, always looked great. Now it’s shards and splinters and I’m bereft.
The dining room bookshelves had to come out, too. Now all the books are piled in the living room. I’m thinking optimistically about how it will spur me on to further weeding and culling, taking books to the library as donations, putting the rest on the shelves all dusted and freshly arranged. I am trying to look on the bright side of piles and piles of books laid out all over the living room floor … but then the floor guys call to delay till next week. My optimism is fading.
After the wood floors, we’ll be re-carpeting the bedrooms and living room. Everything in them will have to be moved out … and moved back in. It’s all so daunting. And then it hits me: I had just switched rooms with Sophie’s old bedroom a few months ago. I’m going to have to move those dozens of tiny tea sets again!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Save the World ... from goose poop

When I first unemployed myself, I was looking for Save the World kind of endeavors. I thought that I would be valuable as a mature person to do something heroic. Like, if there were still voter registration drives in the South, that’s what I’d do. As it was, all I could think of was lying down in front of bulldozers in the West Bank, protecting olive trees and residences. That idea just didn’t get the needed traction….

So my next Big Idea was to establish a mobile long-term contraception van, like the ones that do mammograms. Sophie had awakened me to the idea of long-term – like 5 years! – contraception, and I thought, Wow, wouldn’t that make a difference in the lives of some women! And if the problem is access to the clinic, then the van could go around where the women are and provide this service.

Way back, I started volunteering with adult literacy, feeling bad for adults who missed out on learning to read. But eventually I felt that it would be best to intervene before they fell so far behind, so I started teaching at the university and volunteering in elementary classrooms. Then I started doing storytimes for preschoolers. But even that wasn’t early enough: I spent the last 5+ years working in early childhood, the formative years from birth to 5.

And you know what? That isn’t soon enough.

So I was hot for this mobile contraception van. When Colorado provided free long-term contraception, the teenage birth rate fell 40% and abortions fell 42%. Is that incredible! Think of the time this gave young women to get themselves on track. Think what better mothers they could be!
I was ready to Make This Happen. I even set up a meeting with people who could be part of something like this. They were into it. And then … I ran out of steam. My disinterest ho-hum paralysis hit. I don’t know if it was the perception that it was too big or if it would mean doing the outreach and project management I wasn’t wanting to do anymore or if I was somehow de-energized. I just drooped. That was the blah period which made me very worried about my Third Third. Would I stay like this forever?!?

Eventually, I got myself motivated. (If nothing changes, nothing changes.) I looked around for a replacement Big Idea and said, “What could I do that needs to be done, is do-able in manageable bites, and that nobody else seems to be fixing?”

That’s when I looked at the vile, filthy cesspool that the geese have turned Cuddy Family Midtown Park into. The geese are eroding the pond banks. They’re disgusting, combative, and constantly pooping. Goose shit covers the paths. And people keep feeding them! I said, “I can start to get this pile of goose shit fixed.”
Fortunately, on just my second fact-finding mission, I met Cherie with the Anchorage Waterways Council. Cherie’s big concern is the water pollution. Did you know that the pond at Cuddy Park has about 400 times the amount of E. coli you’d want in a place where people played around the water?

So slowly but surely, we’re assembling knowledgeable folks who can take a stab at this blight. Some people are wild life people worried about the health of the birds. Others are parks people who worry about the yuck factor and the erosion of the banks. Others are public information people who want to get people to stop feeding the waterfowl. And everyone’s worried about airplanes.

This is one thorny issue. I had no idea the Cuddy Park pond problem began as the solution to the Spenard flooding problem (the Law of Unintended Consequences…) So forget about “do-able in manageable bites.” More like “chew-able in manageable bites.”

Ha, it might have been easier to get a contraception van.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Something new in my own backyard

Okay, I know that it was right here that I said, “When I think about the downsides of living in Alaska, it has nothing to do with cold or even dark. It has to do with what I call the ‘one-road-north-one-road-south’ problem. By the time you’ve lived here 30 years, you have traveled every square inch of what you can do in a 3-day weekend.”

But I must have missed a few inches. Recently, I’ve discovered some really stunning trails practically right around the corner. I don’t like steep and I don’t like sliding on scree coming down. I like rolling terrain, leafy, sound of creeks, fall colors, that sort of thing.
Mostly I like the element of surprise, as in “Where are we?” because this place is so quiet and isolated and did we really just get here by walking around the block? That actually happened a few years ago. Even though we’d lived on the same block many years, Tim and I somehow never quite walked to the end of one cul-de-sac. When we did, we discovered the Helen Louise McDowell Sanctuary. Yup, right there, hidden in plain sight in the middle of Midtown. With boardwalks over the wet parts even.

So a few months ago, we started using the Anchorage Park Foundation’s mobile app. Tim and I would find ourselves in a certain part of Anchorage, and we’d click on Find a Park Nearby. (Sort of along the lines of Find a New Thing to Do Together.) The blinking blue dot would take us to a park, and when we got there, we’d click on the Passport, and it would “stamp” that we’d been there. We’ve now been to 51 of the 205 parks in the directory.

We have found beautiful places! Right off the bat, we found Forsythe Park. There was a little playground, but as we set off on a trail, we ended up curving round and round. We found a family collecting mushrooms. The trail kept going and going. Eventually, we were in that “Where are we?” place.

Right near home, we discovered Carlson Park. That’s another shocker: there you are, walking through a neighborhood full of houses, and there’s a little sign so you turn in. Suddenly, there’s a wide, open, green space right up against Lake Otis. And there are canoes there. So you imagine lolling in a canoe on a lake on a sunny day, and you’re transported.

And sometimes, you can get so transported you get hopelessly lost. That’s what happened when we wandered into Old Rabbit Creek Park. It was a déjà vu sort of experience because a friend had taken us there once before. Things looked vaguely familiar, but not enough for us to keep our directions straight. We ended up on the opposite side of where our car was parked … and kept coming out in the same place. Over and over again. Finally, a helpful guy escorted us to the right trail junction.

So, am I still feeling stagnant about Alaska’s “one-road-north-one-road-south” problem? Even though we’re still finding these new-to-us places? I’m not sure. I think I like the newness of the discovery more than I appreciate the discovery in itself. Is it the beauty of the trail or the fact that the trail was unknown to me till that moment?

And the fact is, it’s still a trail. If there’s anything in Alaska, it’s trails. Old trails, new trails, it’s still a trail. I can reach my fill of trails. (“A tree is a tree, how many more do you need to look at?” – Ronald Reagan) Is that jaded or what?

Most times, I’m a total creature of habit. I only run on the Coastal Trail for my regular runs. It takes a lot of oomph for me to even consider a new route (but that’s exercise). Even so, I keep thinking of my most recent find; how after two trips, I still haven’t made it to the waterfall. I can hardly wait to head back out again to find it.

So what’s the right recipe between familiarity and discovery, old-shoe comfort and new-thing thrill? That depends. On whether I’m feeling tranquil and content … or irritable and dissatisfied. Nothing new in the Third Third about that.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

"Turning" to the Better Barbara

Sometimes I wonder if religion will get more important in my Third Third. To me, religion is that opportunity to contemplate the “still, small voice” within me. Maybe that’s a God-voice, who knows? What is essential is listening to it, thinking about it, trying to consistently act on it, having conversations about it, wondering about it, not listening to it and messing up, recommitting to it. All that can come from a novel or play same as it comes from a prayer book or sermon.

But there are certain times when the sound of the “still, small voice” is more focused and intense, and Yom Kippur will always be that kind of day for me. It’s not so much that I’m fasting; it’s that I’m sitting in a synagogue for a whole day reading a book that says the same things over and over with a synagogue full of people saying the same things over and over. You say things so many times you can’t avoid hearing them.
All day during Yom Kippur, we hear that we can “turn,” become better people any time. So I sit there going over what a shit I can be, and I vow to be kinder, nicer, more understanding. Less critical, unyielding, and stingy. And then I beat myself up because I’ve said that in previous years and what good did it do? (Think New Year’s Resolutions…)

So we get to the part about needing “courage to do and to become, not only to look on with helpless yearning as though we had no strength.” And then I beat myself up not only for being a shit, but for lacking courage and being a helpless whiner.

Yom Kippur – with all my thoughts of all my inadequacies – is not a bummer day. It’s actually exalting and awesome to contemplate improvement, to have a vision of a Better Barbara. To sit in a roomful of people all thinking of their Better Selves and making plans to bring them to life, to contribute to a Better World. Eventually, I get an idea for something specific I can do, and Better Barbara gets moving. Better Barbara is pretty good at that, but unfortunately, Shitty Barbara usually follows her along.
Once, though, I had some success, and I’m trying to figure out how to duplicate it. I used to be a shrieker. Shriekers shriek things like, “I told you I was buying milk!” or “I told you I would be ready to be picked up at 5!” Shriekers even shriek things like “Who put the bath sponge in the floor-washing bucket?!” Shriekers think no one is listening to them. Then, one day, I heard a friend shriek at her family. I saw the reaction on their faces, I heard her voice – really heard it, for all its screechy ghastliness – and I stopped shrieking. Wham. Gone. Just like that.

No, not “just like that.” It took years of Yom Kippurs. Maybe the message just finally got through. Now, what about the rest of the list?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

It starts with a class

In my quest for my new life (one that would restore my absent creativity and use my hands) and recognizing that I needed structure, I decided to sign up for a fiber arts class. It was a great class: phenomenal teacher, warm and supportive women classmates, very demanding course work. I decided I would Do Art!

It had been a long time since I Did Art. It soon became clear to me that these women were Artists-with-a-capital-A. They’d been doing art for the last 20 years while I’d been doing other things. So the problem with trying new things in your Third Third is that other people have been doing it longer and better so you’d better be prepared for your own mediocrity.

While they’re making masterpieces, you’re making things to put on your refrigerator with a magnet.

Or else, while they’re making lovely felted hats (and you find wool too itchy for a hat), you make a lovely tea cozy. Except that your teapot is a large, 10-cup teapot, so your tea cozy becomes known as the “tea yurt.”
So if my Third Third is going to be about keeping curiosity alive, trying New Things, then I have to let go of needing to feel skillful and accomplished. I have to accept being an apprentice, a beginner. Actually, being a beginner is easy. It’s being an intermediate that’s harder, when mastery proves elusive because it takes those 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours. Do we really have 10,000 hours to devote to mastery? Well, we would if we’d decided on The Big Passion, but what if we’re still experimenting around? What if we’re exploring several Lukewarm Passions?

The thing is, it is really electrifying to be around master craftspeople. They have tried so many different materials and techniques. They introduce you to papers and yarns, things named matte medium, gesso, roving. They add illumination to their sculptures, layers to their papers. They drape fabric and plaster over metal frames. And they are so generous with their acquired experience.

Best of all, the studio is open. So you can drop in, work on art, and get to know each other. Taking a class automatically satisfies the “structure” requirement, but if it’s filled with friendly folks, it also moves into the “sense of community” category. And then, miracle of miracles, you might discover – if not The Big Passion – a little, entertaining, enjoyable, creative Little Passion. For me, it was embroidery, the means to make gifts for my friends. Wine glass cozies!

Afterwards, you might re-figure your work space at home to include an art space. You might start hanging out at Michaels and Jo-Ann’s and racing there every time a new batch of coupons shows up with the Sunday paper. After a while, you might end up with the critical mass of art supplies. Other friends may discover Art, too, so old friendships might take a new turn, and then – lo and behold – you try drawing and next thing you know, you start a blog with pictures.

Wow, that was some art class!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Profiles in Third Thirds: Sherry

Sherry and I have been friends since high school. Last summer, she and her husband quit, retired, sold their house, and moved to their cabin in the Yosemite area. When Sherry read my blog, she sent me a note with phrases like this:
“I learned that I love and need a schedule of activities to help me organize my days.”
“I learned that I need to be around other women and I need to exercise!”
“I also need to be around children and help in a classroom!”
Uh, oh, I can read between the lines: all that learning meant Sherry had figured out life wasn’t so good without those things. Sure enough, she said they’d never really planned any of this to happen, but when the ball started rolling, it went unexpectedly fast, and she found herself without “a job, a schedule of daily events, or close friends to hang out with…. After retiring and moving, there was an abrupt halt after a life of movement. I did visit … friends and we also did some traveling, but when we were home all day, I was lonely. I didn't know exactly what I needed or wanted.”

Sherry had been a much in-demand tutor and had a very full schedule. Now she was asking, “What should I be doing? What is my purpose?”

Oh, she and her husband had spent the last year “getting our lives in order: our cabin, our finances, our cars, our travel, our health insurance, our digital & paper files, our photos, our old clothes, our furniture, our recreation, ad nauseum!”

So cleaning out the detritus of our lives doesn’t count as purpose…. But this is a very happy story because Sherry discovered Silver Sneakers!
Silver Sneakers is a gym class “with a boisterously funny and warmly welcoming group of women our age. Talking to the women in the silver sneakers class taught me a lot about the area, like shopping, hiking, swimming at the high school, local events, and that, in turn made my life richer.”

She’s now working with a personal trainer and filed an application to volunteer in a kindergarten class. “We bought kayaks and go out to explore our lake in the early morning before the boats are allowed to tow skiers, between 7 and 8 am. At the top of one of the tallest trees is a huge eagle’s nest and sometimes we get to see the mother and baby eagles up there.”

What a happy Third Third story! Is there a Silver Sneakers in your life?

Sunday, September 20, 2015

They shouldn't have had to wait till their Third Thirds

Yesterday, Jay and Gene were married for the fourth or fifth time. But only now – finally, finally! – is it legal in all its details. Their first marriage in Anchorage was commitment-only, not legal. The Portland marriage was nullified by the State of Oregon. In between there were Canadian and South African weddings, but those were either missing some certification or only led to civil unions. (I may be inaccurate on some of these; it’s very confusing.)

So a love that blossomed in their Second Thirds had to wait till their Third Thirds to finally be legal. It’s a terrible shame … and yet finally, a fabulous victory.
I can’t remember exactly how we met. Probably theater. Not only did Gene offer me my favorite role of my acting career (Janice in Italian American Reconciliation by John Patrick Shanley) – the role responsible for the present color of my hair) but together we staffed Out North. In fact, if Out North were their only legacy, it would have been enough.

Right off the bat, I must have met Jay, too. As one woman put it, you learn very quickly they’re a package deal.

Jay and Gene were married in a Quaker wedding, which was a New Thing for me to experience. As weddings go, it’s between eloping and hiring the hall, but a lot more meaningful. It’s silent. Everyone thinks about marriage, about Jay and Gene, about commitment, about things. And when they feel moved to share, they speak up. Then everyone silently thinks about what was said. Until the next person feels moved to speak.

Tim and I eloped. I’m uncomfortable with being the center of attention (unless I’m on stage) and so I’m not very good about celebrating life passages. Someone once told me that attitude doesn’t give the community a chance to celebrate with you, and I guess I never understood that until Gene and Jay’s wedding. We all wanted to be there. We wanted to witness this finally-have-the-opportunity event.

This is what was right and fitting about this whole milestone: Jay and Gene were the first step in the quest for same sex marriage in Alaska. They were the actual pioneers, the ones who filed the first lawsuit after their marriage license was rejected. When the battle became too wearisome over the years and years and years, they moved to England.

Only at the wedding, when Taylor spoke, did I realize the hurt that went into leaving. Somehow I’d always thought of it as another political statement. Somehow I’d missed the emotional toll. But Taylor reminded us that Jay was raised here, that they were embedded in the fabric of this community. Only now, when I’ve looked at relocation, at how wrenching it would be to leave where you’ve built a home, do I understand how hurtful the process of feeling you have to leave could be.

It was a right too long delayed, this marriage of their Third Thirds. Who knows what else they could have done if they hadn’t had to expend energy on this hard-fought, well-won road to legal marriage? But Gene and Jay crossed one off the “to do” list. That’s a capstone for anyone’s Third Third.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Wanted: Daytime Friends

If one of the Big Three requirements for a happy Third Third is a sense of community, you may cheerfully look around and say, “I’ve got that.” So you quit your job and pretty quick you realize that many of your friends are still working. The daytime playmate pool is pretty meager. If time goes on, and you haven’t resolved this, eventually you don’t just need daytime playmates; you need human interaction.

Talking to cashiers and the postman just won’t cut it.

When I first quit my job, my daytime socializing was lunch. If everyone was busy working, I’d grab them during intermission. This worked pretty well, but mostly, I’m not a lunch-out-every-day person. So then we expanded to meeting for walks or lunch at my house.

I don’t drink coffee and I don’t work on a laptop so I haven’t hung out in coffee houses. Only recently did I discover that coffee people have their regular places and times so they meet the folks with those same regular places and times. It’s like the college dining hall: you don’t have to extend yourself and actually invite someone or make a plan; they’re just there.

This “just there” thing becomes pretty important when you start suffering social isolation. You start thinking everyone is busy during the day except you, and you get pathetic. It is just too hard for a pathetic person to call friends and make lunch plans. You are not just lonely; you’re also socially deficient.

Even if you went to a coffee house, probably no one would talk with you. Because you’re socially deficient.
I’m guessing stay-at-home moms may have had these same social issues, but the Third Third person lives in an empty nest so there isn’t even a kid.

I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve always had Fridays off. Many years ago, a group of us started meeting Friday mornings. We were all sole proprietors, and when it felt a little too solo we had each other. We ended up tight friends … who are still there Friday mornings. Many weeks, Friday morning was my social anchor.
When Irene retired, she started a regular Thursday morning group that rotated meeting in coffee houses all over Anchorage. That’s a little more drop-in so everyone is “just there.” Irene did a great public service arranging that. It even works for non-coffee drinkers.

So if I were to clarify the bit about needing “a sense of community,” I’d say “a sense of community that includes daytime friends unless the structure you’re created for yourself takes care of those daytime hours.”

A therapist with daytime openings does not count.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

When Structure Goes

When I quit my job, I torpedoed structure. Left to my own devices, I’d get involved with something and stay up all night. I’d have commitments, contracts, or meetings, and I’d do them just fine; but the rest of the time, I was a free agent. Nothing was “fixed” and there was no regular schedule. I did something because I felt like it, not because it was routine. In the beginning, this was joyful, glorious freedom.

When my book club read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work; everyone shared the daily rituals of their lives, and I cringed. There was nothing routine about my days. But instead of feeling liberated and free, I was beginning to feel erratic and unstable. My sleep hygiene was a mess, and I tended to drift aimlessly between being and not being in the mood to do this or that. Sometimes I ran in the morning, sometimes in the evening. I always ate breakfast, but sometimes that was at 9 a.m. and sometimes at 2 p.m. While other people might think it was the sign of a free spirit, I knew it was courting craziness.
I told my book club, “I believe the absence of routine in ordering my day is really thinly-veiled absence of self-discipline. So I did something I ‘didn’t feel like’ yesterday … and it was just fine. Then I stayed up till 1 a.m. to give me back the part of the day I’d relinquished.”

I enrolled in an art class that met twice a week and had demanding homework. That helped in many ways – and I’ll write about that more – but doing art with deadlines for projects means you’re still pushing the sleep hygiene envelope. Or maybe that’s just me; everything pushes my sleep hygiene envelope. I’d charge ahead highly motivated, get stuff done, and then walk around spacey and sleepy getting nothing done.

While I was flailing around uselessly, I came across a newspaper article which quoted Ernie Zelinsky, author of The Joy of Not Working. In the article, he said, “There are three big needs jobs provide that people have to put back into their lives in retirement….” I’ll call them the Big Three, and I’ll write about them a lot more:
That’s it! I knew structure was an issue for me. Even back at college, I learned to sign up for the breakfast plan so I “had to” get up at 8 a.m. And when I was finishing my thesis and worked part-time, I worked 8-10 a.m. and then 1-4 p.m. It was my way of imposing structure on my days.

But now, with no external source of structure (job, driving kid to school, etc.), I was rootless. I’d sit in the living room free to read a book on an afternoon, but I couldn’t relax. Somehow, without a Time to Go to Work or a Time to Go to Class, I felt like I didn’t have a Time to Relax either. I don’t think it was feeling that relaxation was undeserved, just that it didn’t have a beginning or end. My friend Sherry called it feeling “untethered.”
Yup, that’s the word.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Quest for New-ness #2

When Tim and I were visiting Portland, I told him I didn’t want to drag him around to “my things” (art festivals, transit rides, fruit stands) without his getting to put “his things” on the agenda. So he said, “I’d like to see the World War II exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society.”

Lesson learned in marriage: If you ask for something, you need to go along with it. You need to positively reinforce the other person’s contributions to your life together.

But World War II exhibit?!? Not a World War II exhibit! Although I could have expected this: when we were dating, I once told Tim he had to introduce a topic of conversation. He said, “What do you think of Reagan’s foreign policy?”

So off we trotted to the World War II exhibit … and if Tim didn’t drag me away from the enigma code display, I’d still be there. There was a terrific way to view local WWII veterans’ stories that made me want to see if Anchorage could do something like that for Viet Vets. They even had one of those battle planning tables with the wooden pushers to move your armies and planes around.

In the quest to keep my life fresh and interesting, sometimes I have to research, sometimes I have to dig deep, and sometimes I have to put up with a suggestion from left field and go ahead anyway. Other times, I get real lucky, and a new experience just lands in my lap. That happened with the invitation from my friend Talis to his “8th Crushing of the Apples.”

We arrived to bushels and bushels of already-picked apples. 2,116 this year. In alternating years, Talis can get more than 10,000.
And there was a beautiful wooden, hand-crafted apple crusher and press. Apples went in, were crushed and pressed in cheesecloth sacks, and out came delicious apple cider. Sometimes we couldn’t get the pitcher in fast enough to catch the juice, and cider spilled over. It was a bounty of apple cider, an abundance of apple cider!
Different apples made slightly different tastes, but all were delicious. This cider was even pink. (Why is store-bought cider yellow?) I’ve been drinking apple cider my whole life, but it took till now to experience its true, fresh taste.

What else is out there?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What To Do with The Diary

Every now and then, while Sophie’s visiting, we’ll hear hoots of laughter, and she’ll say something like, “January 9. Tonight I get to go over to Helen’s house because daddy couldn’t find a sitter.” Or “April 22. Today I went with Helen to walk her dog Lefse. Lefse sure can run. She pulled me down smack on the concrete.” Then “April 23. My nasty scrape (from Lefse) the scab grew into my pajamas (stuck), Mommy yanked, Ahhhhh!!! Wa wa sob!!!”

She’s going through her 3rd grade diary, and we’re all hooting and laughing.
While in Portland, Tim and I saw an evening’s performance of Mortified. Locals go through their attics and basements, finding old diaries and “artifacts,” and then they read them to an audience. It’s so hilarious, there’s now even a documentary about it. We heard from “socially stunted home-schooled girl” with a crush on a boy in Sunday School; a young New Yorker who did “a secret thing at night when he was in bed.”

But I sent my journals to the shredder and recycling.

There were two issues I considered before doing that:

  1. If I ever became famous, my journals would be valuable history. Like coming across Beethoven’s journal about how he felt about going deaf. Or the development of Hemingway’s writing from youth to old man.

  2. If I didn’t become famous, my journals might provide valuable insights to the people of 3015 trying to figure out what life was like for a regular, ordinary inhabitant of earth. I got this idea when some diary was recently uncovered from a plain-old woman in the 1600s, and everyone said it was a “major find.”

I rejected both those arguments:

  1. I wasn’t going to become famous, but even if I were, my journals were about how I felt about discovering sex, how I felt about feeling lonely, how I felt about making a mistake, how I felt about which path to take, etc. I must admit, they were a terrific example of teenage/20- and 30-something voice. It was right there on the page, out loud and glaring.

    Aiiieee, even I had to close it up. All that angst, those ups and downs! I felt at risk of contact angst just reading it. If I read it out loud to an audience, either they’d all need psychological counseling or they’d send me away for more.

  2. 2015 is not like the 1600s. We have plenty of documentation of ordinary life now. My journals would be no “major find.” 
I’m very happy with the empty, de-cluttered space where the journals used to be … and the assurance that my daughter won’t come across them.

But if I could locate the little pink diary with the tiny lock that I kept when I was eight, that would be fun to read. I’d laugh and hoot over that.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Adult Daughter: A Total Treat

A few weeks ago, Tim and I got a phone call from Sophie: “I haven’t been back to Alaska in a while. I’d like to book a flight for a visit.”

Delirium! Not only was she initiating a visit – INITIATING a visit – but she was booking it herself. She’s arriving today!

And recently, we’ve been getting phone calls. Phone calls! Sophie has been at her job one year now. She loves it, but she’s discovering the world of work. And she solicits my advice!
Ironically, one of her calls came just as we were hosting a freshman send-off for kids going to college. Later, I found this on my computer – the story of Sophie’s departure – and it still triggers tears.
Much of what she tells us is like a message from another world. (She does, after all, work for a company with an onsite chef preparing their meals; she did work recently in their London and Berlin offices.) This is not the employment world Tim and I know.

And she wanted our advice!

My father used to say the only thing he wanted from his children was naches. That’s Yiddish for “pride.” I hated naches. I felt like it made demands on us to achieve, to produce. Whenever he was proud of me and talked about naches, I’d blow up. I vowed I would never expect naches. Let Sophie be whatever she wanted to be, however she wanted to be it.
But to be wanted for advice! Ooh, that feels good.

And this advice giving is a two-way street. Right off the bat, Sophie told me that if I bought underpants cut lower than my jeans, they wouldn’t stick out the top.

Love moments in our Third Third. Maybe we did something right.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Second Wave Feminist Meets Riot Grrrls

While in Portland, I went to a curators’ walk-through of an exhibit titled “Alien She,” a look at the art and artists of women who’d been involved with Riot Grrrl in the ’90s. I didn’t know anything about Riot Grrrl except that it was sort of punk feminism, which puts it right up my alley.

A giant banner of the “Riot Grrrl Manifesto” talked about women fighting violence, sexism, homophobia, negative body image, and labeling; reaffirming their value as women with the power to express themselves and make change. It sounded like me in a real out-loud way. I liked it.
The exhibit was full of wonderful art: a giant pink knitted barbed wire cage, women-created videos, lots of zines of print-it-ourselves writing. When it was all done, the curators asked if we had any questions. I raised my hand.

“I’m part of that old ‘second wave’ of feminism, and I really notice how much we agree here, especially about violence, but I’ve looked all over and don’t see anything about reproductive rights here, about a woman’s control of her own body. In the ’90s, did women think that battle was won? Now it’s under assault even worse, but was that not the feeling then?”

A few heads nodded, but one young woman spoke up: “That’s because the second wave of feminism was all about white, heterosexual, middle-class women from the suburbs. Poor women and women of color have other issues and reproductive rights don’t affect them. It’s not their issue.”

Disclaimer: I was so blown away by her remarks that I can’t guarantee that I’ve got it down exactly right. I gaped at her. She was a young woman of mixed race, I’d guess, and I wasn’t going to say anything in that moment.

The curators said they remembered workshops held at Riot Grrrl conventions teaching women how to do abortions in case a woman couldn’t get one. That there’s a Hot Pantz zine, Do it Yourself Gynecology, that’s included.

“Thank you,” I said. “That’s what I was hoping might be the case. I just hadn’t seen it.”

Afterwards, three older people approached me (including two women of color) to say they appreciated my remark. One liked the way I “deflected that response” I’d received.

So what exactly is so unsettling about all this?

  1. I moved to Alaska from San Francisco partly thinking it was time to live in mainstream America again, to know what was going on in the rest of the world.

  2. After 30 years, I am tiring of the “real” America. In Alaska, for instance, the response to my question could have been “Here we go, another baby killer shows up.” Okay, this is not fair, but the main thing is, I’m used to attacks from the Right, not the Left.

  3. I have been an active feminist since I was a teenager. I have worked in a health clinic and taught women how to do pelvic self-exams, staffed a Women’s Center, co-wrote a women’s guide for survival resources, worked in D.C. for Bella Abzug, mentored other women, written plays about women’s experiences. I believe in women and a world women can make possible.
  4. When I first moved to Alaska, I found it startling that there were only two genders here. In San Francisco, gender is sort of … fluid. We all pass in and out along the spectrum. I embrace this.

  5. I believe that in America, class and race are the main issues, the usually-denied but horrible underpinnings to inequality. Racism is part of America’s fabric.

  6. Yes, I know that Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was about the “click” that suburban housewives felt when they realized they were sidelined in life.

Why am I saying all this? Is this some sort of “radical cred” I feel I have to put out there? Why did I find the remark so disturbing?

Because I felt discredited. Maybe that woman didn’t mean this personally towards me, but I felt repudiated. Like, “you old women got it all wrong.” I admired Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony; we’ve stood on the shoulders of pioneering women. They didn’t do it all, but they got us the vote. We women of the ’70s made mistakes and failed miserably to get it all done, but does that make us Bad Guys?
My friend Shirley, who is Black, said when she participated in a reproductive rights event, protesters yelled at her “Black babies are being killed,” and she turned to them and said, “How many Black babies are in your home? What are you doing to take care of the ones born?” (Yay, Shirley!) But Shirley also said “control over your own body” is a larger issue for Black women, going all the way back to slavery. That it’s way more than reproductive rights. I get that.

If my Third Third is anything about a legacy, I like to think my work on behalf of women will be part of what I leave behind. And here it was so sneeringly put down – by someone I thought might have called herself a sister.

Maybe it’s a stage in her personal evolution. Maybe she’ll grow older and wiser. Maybe I look like her mother. Maybe she’s just a negative person. It’s no use. I’m not old enough or wise enough to stop stewing over it.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

My Third Third Is my Mother's Ninth Ninth

Let me tell you about my mother, who turned 90 last week. She once held elective office. When she saw that women in the court system were paid less than men, she had them switch bargaining units, get firearms certification, and get equal pay. I would come home and all her picket signs would be leaning against the walls. She wrote stories. She cooked dinner every night, typed school papers, walks two miles every day, and voted in every election ever held in New York. We can never reach her by phone because she has such an active social life.
But this past January, my mother had the shakes and asked to go to the E.R. Somehow it came up that she had to reach for something and she said, “I can’t lift my arm.” That’s because a while ago she had rotator cuff surgery for her shoulder that didn’t take. But that wasn’t in her chart and someone thought that meant she’d had a stroke. So they admitted her.

Five days of tests later, my mother had what is called “hospital psychosis.” She wanted my father (long dead) to get her out of the airport and bring her back home from Germany. Her confusion was total. When the hospital concluded she was actually fine and could leave, they would only release her to a rehab/nursing home because five days in bed had left her unsteady on her feet.

At this point, I flew out on a red-eye. The rehab place had her in a wheel chair that was alarmed if she stood up. She had one hour of physical therapy a day. I insisted I was taking her out; they told me it would take at least a week to have a Discharge Planning Meeting.

So my sister and I kidnapped her, stealing her back to her apartment so that familiar surroundings could bring her back. Later, I had to keep kidnapping her back and forth because she wasn’t officially released. I had to force that release, hire an aide, convince the facility the aide did not have to sleep in, and try to restore my mother’s grip on reality.

I met with medical administrative types and social workers, took her on practice walks despite protests that I wasn’t “certified,” borrowed wheel chairs and bought a walker. Everything was a constant wrestling match with institutions and rules that made no sense.

During one meal, one woman said she didn’t like the selection, could she have a plain tuna fish sandwich like the man across from her. She insisted. It was like a scene out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the staff deciding she was a troublemaker. I thought my mother would go into old age feisty like that. I assumed she’d argue with the officious caregivers, demand her rights, know what she wanted for her Ninth Ninth and make sure she got it. But now I see how fearful and confused she is, and I’m terrified she’ll be prey to a system that doesn’t care what she wants for her Ninth Ninth. I don’t worry about my mother dying; I worry about her not dying well.

I told my siblings I had encountered a problem bigger than me. That was it. It was just too crushing, but it had to be handled, and I was there. I think the whole experience left me with PTSD. America’s medicalization of aging is bigger than me, bigger than any one of us. I’d never felt so defeated. And the sad thing is, the medical people think I “won.”

My mother is now settled in back home. She lives in one place and her four offspring live in four different places. We fly in and out, try to balance what care she needs with what care will rob her of abilities and autonomy, make telephone calls and try to ensure her medical records reflect her wishes.

But as my brother pointed out, Advance Directives only work on an unconscious person. A frightened, nervous 90-year-old with the flu might insist she go to the E.R. Who’s going to stop her? And once in there, will we have to launch yet another rescue mission?

My Third Third is inextricably intertwined with my mother’s Ninth Ninth. Together, 4,000 miles apart, we sit precariously and fearfully on the edge of a rabbit hole.

A Love Affair Reawakened

I’m back! Tim and I took a rescheduled trip to Portland, highest on the potential-relocation-over-the-next-years-if-we-relocate locations. It’s high up there for a number of reasons, but this trip was a recon mission to see if it would survive inspection. With Mimi’s generous offer of a place to stay, we got to see it close-up.

Not a fair test: It only rained once when we were there and never soared above 80°. I’ve been really worried about this summer’s 90-100° days. They’ll have to refrigerate me. And I’m not too comfortable with grayness absent the bright reflection from snow.

I will have a lot more to say about Portland in the next few days, but

What I liked a lot:

  • all the almost-self-contained little neighborhoods with their own distinct characters

  • Art in the Pearl – an outdoor festival (crowded, too!) and the programs and speakers and interesting things I kept finding on a daily basis – New Things!

  • the front porches on most of the houses – I could imagine sitting on one and saying hello to my neighbors or just reading.
But on all those porches, we only saw two people actually occupying them. It reminded me of a Bay Area essay I read once: a woman bought Adirondack chairs because she had visions of having lemonade, sitting the glass on the wide arms, relaxing and enjoying life. She got rid of them years later, having never sat in them. A story that just stuck in my brain.
Now, what I loved about Portland: the MAX and buses and streetcars and 1-day Passes and Red Lines and Blue Lines and the #19 bus and the #12 and the #83 and the Washington Park Shuttle.

As we got in at 1:30 a.m., I said to Tim, “Thank you for a terrific time,” and he said, “You’re just happy because you got to ride buses.” Yes, yes, yes! Lots and lots of buses and MAXes.

I’ve liked soccer in my time, but it faded. I’ve liked gardening, but that faded. I even liked cheesecake, but that faded, too. But it is so thrilling, so affirming to see that my love affair with public transit is still thriving, that it still brings me tremendous joy. Here I am, in my Third Third, and a great love endures.

When I first moved to San Francisco and got my first monthly Fast Pass (unlimited rides!), I felt like I was given the key to the city. I would ride buses from one end to the other on a Saturday just to see where they went. I marveled how at 7:30 a.m. all the people were Here and then, by 8:30 a.m., they were There. Ultimately, I was a founding member of a citizens’ group to support public transit and then eventually, I went to work in the transit field. That’s what brought me to Anchorage, too.

Since then, I’ve done a bunch of things, but whenever I travel, I ride transit. When I realized Portland had a 1-day Pass, I was delirious: the key to the city again! I don’t think Transit Joy is explicable: is it the view from the window, the figuring out the schedule and the map, the order in the universe that’s affirmed when my transfer is right there when I get off my first bus? I try to figure out the logic of why a bus is routed here and not there: what’s it connecting? what’s it missing? I watch the bicycles being loaded on and off and wonder what happens when a third bicyclist wants on and there’s no room?
In San Francisco, people used to try and schedule meetings on top of meetings, and I would say, “No, I can’t get there at 5:30 if I’m not finished till 5:15 here.” And people would say, “It’s only 10 minutes away,” but they’re traveling by car and they’re forgetting the time it takes to get in the car, park the car, walk from the car. So the bus schedule reinforced the pace of life I wanted to live. (And yes, I know all the things buses can’t do well: taking kids to child care and school, schlepping stuff, doing ten errands in one afternoon.)

But bus love – it’s not really a thing with reasons.

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