Thursday, May 26, 2016

All the world's a stage

I sit in the movie theater and see the adds for Fathom Events, the classic movies that will show for a day or two. I say to myself, “Oh, that looks interesting,” and then I go home and forget what days they were showing. I’ve done this forever. I’m not even sure what “Fathom” is.

Eventually, though, I signed up to receive emails and discovered there are whole lots of Fathom Events that I never knew existed. Monday night, Robin, Julie, and I saw The Shakespeare Show in honor of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. (I didn’t know he died on the same day as his birthday.)
It was put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company and was hosted by Dr. Who and Donna. (That was the real draw for me – David Tennant.) There were extraordinary bits of Shakespeare’s words, of course, but there was also music, ballet, even hip-hop, comedy, and film – all inspired by Shakespeare. I didn’t know Duke Ellington wrote a whole album (Such Sweet Thunder) after being enthralled by Shakespeare. I’d never heard Cole Porter’s “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” … sung by two tough guys.

It was two glorious hours of artists doing their art. They were so very, very good. Clearly the hit of the evening for me was Ian McKellen in Sir Thomas More confronting a mob that was opposing immigration and rejecting the strangers arriving in their land. Or was it the most exquisite ballet I’ve ever seen, the one between Othello and Desdemona? No, I think it was Macbeth’s three witches … done in Zulu from South Africa (Umabatha) and as Japanese theater in Japan. Miraculously, they worked cross-culturally; they were Shakespeare, but they were also African and Japanese.
Oh, there were so many takes on “to be or not to be.” Every time something new happened, I’d think, “Oh, remember this so you can tell Tim,” and then something else would captivate me.

I don’t write theater reviews. I don’t blog about seeing a great movie, reading a great book, or finding a new series even though those happen a lot, maybe even more, in the leisure of my Third Third. Those experiences don’t count as New Things; they’re the continuing facts of my life. But this was something else. There must have been twenty separate vignettes or performances, all of them flawlessly done. What a tribute! In recognizing Shakespeare’s contributions, they were showcasing what artistry there is in adapting his work, performing his work, making it fresh and new.

There were only about twenty people in the audience so it looks mostly undiscovered. But this is the exciting part: they’re doing National Theatre Live in which they bring London’s stage performances to the screen. Julie’s already bought her tickets for October and November, the Benedict Cumberbatch performances. I’m starting with the one in June.

Sometimes, in my quest for New Things to make sure I don’t get stale, I have to hunt them down. I have to extend myself, search it out, expend some energy. Other times, it might be right around the corner – a hidden secret – and I miss the clues. This one may have been right around the corner, but for an evening, I was in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

In Praise of the Jigsaw Puzzle

There are two ways to pursue a jigsaw puzzle. You can be intentional about it, maybe even plan to do it with a group of friends, and then it’s social and part of a good time. I know friends who do a new one every New Year’s Eve. You can also back into doing a puzzle because you’re in task avoidance mode and feel like all you can manage is wasting time, but you need distraction that’s engrossing and enjoyable enough so you can avoid noticing how much you’re avoiding. The puzzle is a cut above empty-headedness and self-medication, but in your mind not as bad as … playing solitaire, for example.

Everyone has his or her personal prejudices as to what constitutes really degenerate time wasting. To me, playing online games probably takes the cake, but I’m sure there are some people who think it helps their reflexes or memory or whatever. Everyone’s poison – or antidote, I guess – is different.

I like a good jigsaw puzzle. It meets all the requirements for absorbing one’s attention without requiring any preparation, knowledge, or brain sweat. You pull out the box and before you know it, you’ve abdicated any responsibility for completing any chores. You’re gone.
In our house, the jigsaw puzzle goes on the dining room table so doing one also means you’ve disrupted dinner times. Maybe that means you don’t really cook dinner. You say, “Everyone for himself,” and go back to the puzzle.

Recently, a friend and I have been comparing what our brain does on jigsaw puzzles. We both notice how we can pick up a piece and “sense” where it goes. We don’t know if it’s a response to the shape or the picture, but we know it happens without too many synapses jumping. Something in us just responds to the piece, knows its place in the puzzle. It’s very gratifying.

I’m sure the solitaire players say that solitaire does something for their brains, too.

But this being our Third Thirds, I’ve had to modify my jigsaw puzzling. Those big 1,000-piece ones take up too much space on the table so I have to lean way over. After a couple hours, I begin to notice the lower back fading. An hour more, and a spasm might begin. If I don’t quit – but how can I quit when I’ve just made so much progress on the sky?? – I can be stuck with a heating pad for the next couple of days. I’ll walk by the table, reach for a piece, and feel a jab as I lean out. And I keep leaning out, unable to stop puzzling the puzzle.

Recently, I’ve discovered smaller-piece puzzles (the pieces themselves are reduced size). And I’ve tried 500-count puzzles instead of the big 1,000s. That means the whole puzzle doesn’t take up the whole table. I can do it sitting down. Once we even found a four-sided puzzle so everyone could work on it from his or her own side of the table.

I get my puzzles at the local thrift store. It’s a little chancy because they might be missing pieces, but folks are getting pretty sophisticated and write on the bottom whether it’s complete or not. When I finish a puzzle, I pass it on to Judith. She gives me hers, and when we’re both done, it goes back to the thrift store.

I anthropomorphize the pieces. I look for a stubby head with a fat right hand. I look for a skinny neck with a sloping shoulder. After working on a puzzle for a few hours, the Zen of it takes over. Then I just hover over the pieces and the right ones start to jump into my hand. Yes, it happens, and that’s the thrill of the whole undertaking. The universe is lining itself up, putting all its pieces in place. (sigh)
When I was in college, I worked a summer job on the assembly line at the Aurora Plastics factory. We assembled plastic models: planes, cars, monsters. Occasionally, we’d drop one, pick up a few pieces, put them in the closest box – any box – and keep the line moving. At the end, the box would get shrink-wrapped, and some poor kid would think that meant his model would have all the requisite pieces.
What if a jigsaw puzzle came off an assembly line like that? You’d be trying to fit houses into landscapes into general stores into street scenes, and you’d be tearing your hair out. But I don’t think that puzzle would show up in a thrift store. I think that puzzle would end up in the trash. My universe is safe.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Newly-Naked Room

This is a story of dominoes. Not as in Mexican Train and lots of fun with a newly-discovered game, but as in one thing leads to another and Southeast Asia falls to the communists.

The asbestos abatement guys are gone now. They were thorough, clean, polite, punctual. They were terrific; it’s not their fault that I don’t want to go downstairs anymore, that I’m living upstairs with my laptop and paint on the dining room table. When I realized my granola was still downstairs, one of them even fetched it for me. Now I really don’t have to go downstairs.

I overheard one of the asbestos abatement guys asking another, “Why are we even doing this? It’s not a commercial property.” I refrained from telling him that the lady of the house is a fussy little worrywart who thinks asbestos abatement is a necessary part of carpet renovation.

If this weren’t a dominoes chain reaction story, if asbestos removal were the only activity, I’d tell you all about it. How they have to coat the insides of the rooms with plastic to make it airtight. How they set up big fans and suck the air out so they don’t breathe the dust. It makes an incredible racket so I didn’t stay around; I didn’t see the gas masks or white suits. I didn’t even see the portable shower they set up inside. They came and went through the laundry room window. They were so good they didn’t even squash the flowers in the garden under the window. If this weren’t a dominoes story, it would be a story of conscientious workers, professionalism, and great customer service.
But it is a dominoes story. The first domino: old carpet needing replacement. Other people do this. Their big aggravation is moving furniture out and back in.

Second domino: Replace some carpeted areas with wood. Oh, the existing wood is discontinued and has to be replaced to match, too? That’s the…

…Third domino. Followed by the fourth: wood installer thinks it’s getting too hard and quits at the stairs. Tim finishes stairs, furniture stabilizes, illusion of normalcy sets in.

Fifth domino: Pick out carpet. Realization that old carpet has to come out before new carpet can go in: furniture has to move out and in, then out and in AGAIN?!?

Sixth domino: Discovery that downstairs has vinyl tile under the carpet, that the adhesive attaching it to the floor has asbestos. Yes, many houses have it, but if you don’t disturb it and just cover it back up, you get to avoid the hassle the resident worrywart puts us through.

Seventh domino: Carpet guys tell us the carpet is “being made.” What does that mean? Is it like going into a restaurant and waiting for them to grow the lettuce?
So now the asbestos abatement guys are done, and the downstairs is naked to its concrete. There is NO WAY I am moving the furniture back in only to have to move it back out again. Moving furniture is not my preferred work-out routine. I can’t even tell if my aching back is from dead butt syndrome or furniture hauling.
So the furniture is going to remain in the heaps and piles where it’s been shoved. The downstairs is going to remain naked. The carpet Tim tore up is going to remain in its gigantic pile in the dining room, there to protect the new wood floors from the furniture moved out of the areas to be carpeted. Whenever the carpet shows up.

Which should be just about the time the summer visitors arrive.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Moving the Body at Rest

My body at rest has become a body in motion. The rest of the time, I’m recovering. I know it may seem wrong to call me a body at rest when I am a distance runner, but it’s really true. I lie on the couch until I get up and run, and then I go back to the couch. This is not just metaphorical. I’m sedentary in my core. Hand me another book.

But not anymore. Not since I signed up to hike the Chilkoot Trail. I’m not sure whether that’s a carrot or a stick, but it’s certainly lit a fire under me. The fire of refusing to be humiliated, the fire of realizing the only way off the trail is over it. So I had to train. That led to the Zumba experiment, but now, with the weather turning glorious (and one little episode of barfing in the middle of a group weight-lifting class), I’m back outside.

A snow-less winter of no skiing meant I was entering the spring with enough flab for several people. I always start off slowly to avoid injury, and I usually run every other day. This avoids injury but also allows me to resume my inertia position of body at rest. This time, though, I have a rooting section called Tim. While I am a body at rest, Tim is a body-always-seeking-motion. So far, I have been able to resist.

But now, he whispers, “Chilkoot Trail,” and I gear up. We’ve added hiking to my days off. Not only do I have to practice steep; I have to practice walking, period. For some reason, I find it easier to run ten miles than to walk six. I think it has to do with standing on my feet that long or maybe it’s momentum, but I reach the groan-level much earlier with walking. Our friend Kris has been organizing weekly hikes for years, so now I show up, too.

One week it was Kincaid Park, hiking the bluff to the beach. I was glad to be with a group; maybe this would be the time I could actually find my way back from the beach without bushwhacking through brush. It was a glorious, sunny day – I applied my sunscreen – until we got to Kincaid, where the wind was ferocious. The first time I discovered the sand dunes at Kincaid, I thought I’d landed on a Star Wars planet. Woods, cliffs, rocks … and sand dunes?

Sand dunes + wind + sunscreen on face = a total crust of sand encasing my face.
The trail goes up and down, up and down. This is called “hill work.” It is work because it’s single-file and you don’t want to slow up the people behind you (Is there a hiking version of corridor rage called trail rage?). There was no smelling of the roses; we hustled along. Up and down. Up and down.

There were lots of tree roots and lots of dogs. I don’t do tree roots well. Not cracks in sidewalks, not uneven pavement, not broken branches or rocks, either. I must be a vigilant trail runner (and sidewalk walker) because tree roots eagerly await me. Tim says they’re like the trees in the Wizard of Oz when they see me. My toes are the usual victims, but I’ve been known to go down whole body, involving even my head in the calamity. Dogs just complicate the issue.
The good side to all this motion: I’ve discovered a lovely, nearby trail that has been here for all 31 years I’ve lived in Alaska and I’d never been on it. I walked a trail that I’ve only skied before – ski trails can be hiking trails in the non-winter! That was a good day; I found Joy, that shy spirit, on the trail, too.

In the midst of all this running and walking, my friend Connie passed on an article about “dead butt syndrome,” otherwise known as gluteus medius tendinosis. Ironically, you don’t get a dead butt from lying on the couch; you get it if you run too much and too exclusively. Your butt is connected to your hips, legs, and back so the pain is well connected, too. This problem goes beyond the sagginess issue, so now I have to add Other Things to my body in motion repertoire.
Some days, I actually do two things in one day: run in the morning and bike somewhere in the evening. Oh, yikes, what’s happening to me?!?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Speed zone ahead

Sometimes I’m fast and sometimes I’m slow. Sometimes I want to get where I’m going and teleporting would be preferable. When I’m in the corridors of an office building on my way to somewhere and a person in front of me is ambling along, I feel something like corridor rage. I try to pass, but she’s just poking down the center of the hallway. This just pops my cork (even if I’m not on the way to a restroom). Why take so much time getting from here to there? I also get incredibly aggravated when I’m on a food line and the person in front of me waits till they’re at the front of the line to decide what kind of pizza they might want. #!x*/%
Other times, I just want to amble along myself, and the world is too speedy for me. I really liked cross-country skiing when it was ski touring and the trails wound in and out of trees. Then someone invented skate skiing and everything became a workout session, with skiers zipping by on newly-widened trails so there was room for their flying skis. Yes, I’m a runner, but when I hike, I like to walk slowly enough for conversation, for looking, for inspecting.

I like public transit because you can only get there as fast as the schedule allows. It enforces a slower pace to one’s life. My bicycle does the same thing: it’s a one-speed with coaster brakes. I didn’t like fussing with gears and I like my bike riding slow (for conversation, for looking, for inspecting). That bike has taken me through triathlons, but the goal was always finishing, not finishing fast.

On the other hand, I have to squash down my impatience when other people’s decision-making seems unenduringly slow, when something can be done smoothly and efficiently but the person seems intent on dawdling and plodding. (We used to come back from a particular post office complaining about “no sense of urgency.”) Maybe the other person is just not alert to what’s going on, but it expresses itself as slowness. Meanwhile, my speedy electrons are piling up in collisions inside me. For years, Sophie thought we played a game at K-Mart: leaving the cart because the checkout line was so slow, I’d get fed up and leave.

Yes, this is a checkered, self-centered reaction to speed: when I want fast, you’d better be fast; when I want slow, don’t rush me. But then I found a wonderful collection of thoughts by Doris Grumbach as she approached her 100th year. She’d seen an article in the Wall Street Journal about Audubon Day at the Louisiana State University’s Memorial Library. A librarian stood in front of a beautiful, open page of Audubon’s Birds of America for several minutes: ‘Very slowly she turned to the next page. A small audience of awed spectators watched. What was most impressive about the description of the activity was the newspaper’s headline: “The Joys of Slow Looking.”’

“The Joys of Slow Looking”

I like it. You can’t look slowly if you’re moving fast or in a rush. You can’t look slowly if you have to be somewhere else. You can’t even look slowly if you’re even thinking about the somewheres else you have to be or do. Slow looking requires looking, not spacing out and staring.

Lots of books and magazines tell me to Be Present in the moment, but when I remind myself, I get all knotted up with runaway thoughts and frantically try to rein them in. But telling myself to “look slowly”? That seems more accessible. It helps me stop because I have to look. To look, not to glance or peek. To look outside my head, not in.

I’m going to try this. The Joys of Slow Looking await.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

I will make a will!

Here I am, looking for purpose, meaning, and simplicity in my Third Third. Fretting over it, writing about it, thinking it to death. Making plans, researching options, supposedly leaving no stone unturned.

But now I am embarrassed to admit – yes, even more embarrassed than being caught peeing by the side of the road:

I do not have a will.

Didn’t hear that? Let me try again: I do not have a will.
The universe screams in outrage: How did you get to be this old without a will?!? And with a daughter?!? How could you have left her care so unprotected?!? What were you thinking???

I didn’t get around to it.

Mostly, I just kept putting it on the back burner. Procrastinating. Tim and I did visit a lawyer and start the whole process, but it kind of derailed over the choice of guardian. I kept observing the changing life situations of assorted family members and I just couldn’t be sure. They kept moving in and out of most favored guardian status. Observing this, Tim went ahead and made an interim will, but I kept dodging closure on the subject.

It’s not like I couldn’t face the Death Thing. I have very clear and thorough Advanced Directives. I’ve covered every base in my attempt to avoid a miserable end of life.

But as to the end itself? I’ve got nothing in writing.

Well, that’s going to change because now there’s Wills Week – this week, May 9-13. Starting Tuesday, there are free community events to guide us through the process. Take a look: On the website, we downloaded a really useful workbook.
Here I’ve been writing about de-cluttering and clearing out stuff so our daughter wouldn’t have to face a houseful of junk, and we leave a potential legal and financial mess for her. What kind of legacy is that? Just when she’d be grieving, I’d give her headaches?

Nope, not anymore. We’re doing this. You, too?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Save or Toss?

By now I’ve learned that de-cluttering is like a fight with several rounds. Just as rockets drop stages as they move into outer space, I’m noticing that more and more stuff gets dropped as I move into further rounds of de-cluttering. First I got rid of the basic junk (clearly defined junk). When I changed rooms, that was round two, and I got rid of more. When I emptied bookshelves for new flooring, more went out. When I returned from New York appalled at how much I owned, I got rid of more. Just move the same shit around a few times and you start discarding more of it.
Now I have to move everything out of my studio/office to tear up the old, dead, beyond-its-Third-Third carpet. Occasionally, I feel productive and attack the job with great energy. But then the dilemmas surface and grind me to a halt.

This is a dilemma: I have copied interesting passages I found in books. If the passage is short, I copy it, cut it out, and paste it in a scrapbook of Interesting Bits I’ve Found. If it’s longer, I just have the 8½ x 11-inch pages. So as I’m clearing out stuff, I came across an interesting piece on translation I’d saved for my sister, a translator. I’d sent her one copy, but it was so interesting – how you capture the spirit of the author even if it means departing from the actual words, and what is the “spirit” anyway? – I saved one for myself, too.

Now, what do I do with that copy? Toss or save?

Toss or save?

Save or toss?
Well, for now, just leave it on the floor until a solution presents itself.

Last de-cluttering round, I came across the posters I made for the freshman dorm for which I was an R.A. in 1973. It has photos of all the kids. I saved it because I thought, wouldn’t it be great to send it down for their college reunion? It sat on the floor for a long time. It was a dilemma.

Last week, I happened to come across the address of a member of that dorm and their next reunion is scheduled for October. Perfect! I’ll send them the poster and it will be the hit of the reunion.

Except that I have searched high and low – where did I put that poster while I was de-cluttering?!? Where? I’m beginning to worry I may have recycled it after all. It sat on the floor for so long, didn’t easily fit in a file drawer, and besides, what would I have filed it under? I’m pretty sure I made the bold decision to get rid of it.

I could have been the hero of the day, and now I’m just the goat. So much for bold de-cluttering decisions.

Today, I was talking with my friend Constance and the subject of translation came up. She was wondering about the same things that piece I’d saved was about! She would really find this interesting … but I’d finally picked it up off the floor and put it in recycling.

Miraculously, I had not taken it to the recycling center yet so I could fish around in the recycling box and find it! I have it in my hands right now. I’m going to give it to Constance and the order of the universe will smile: a saved treasure met its purpose in life, to live again as treasure.

If I were using Marie Kondo’s standard of only keeping those things which give me joy, how do I account for “future joy”? Do I hold onto things because I have an idea they’ll be the perfect treasure once the opportunity presents itself?

You see the problem here? This makes it very, very hard to get rid of stuff. Lots of dilemmas end up sitting on the floor. My clutter is waiting for Godot.

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