Thursday, June 30, 2016

When the dust settles

Let’s talk about dust. As in, how much dust is socially acceptable? Or, how much dust is acceptable by health standards? Or, how much dust can you get away with and still feel … civilized?

I’m not talking allergies or asthma. I’m talking plain old dust tolerance. What’s okay in the world of dust levels? Like, does everyone have to blow on the tops of books they remove from their bookcases?

Way back in my First Third, I was in my first apartment with my first job, and I called my mother. “How did you manage to clean a house, hold a job, raise four kids? This is killing me, and I don’t have kids.”

“It’s easy,” she said. “Get a dust mop. Every morning, swish it around under the bed and around the floors. It will make your weekly vacuuming much easier.”
There were so many things in that conversation that just didn’t compute: Daily anything? What would be left to vacuum if you dusted daily? And who vacuums weekly; I was already moving from monthly to quarterly. I’m pretty sure my mother didn’t have to blow on the tops of books on her bookshelves. I know she complained about the dust bunnies that blew out of my sister’s and my room; we offered to lay towels under the door rather than vacuum.

When Sophie was little, our house was mostly clean. It was fun to clean with her, and I’d heard that you should start cleaning behavior when kids are little and think it’s fun rather than wait till they’re teenagers and whine. Sophie loved mopping floors. One day, she came to me and asked if she could mop using water. “Sure,” I said.

A little while later, Tim came downstairs and said, “Why is Sophie mopping the floor naked?” I had no idea.

“I’m mopping like Mommy. She gets hot and takes off her shirt. Then she gets hotter and takes off her pants.” Tim looked at me. “I mop in my underwear. I’m not naked,” I explained. But, I admit, I did teach Sophie that we clean the tub from the inside … naked. (Tim put a stop to that: “Do you know how much cleanser she’s using???”)
I digress. I do not dust naked. In my Third Third, I’ve pretty much abandoned dusting entirely. I just can’t fathom how I once worked a regular job, raised a kid, managed a household, had fun, and still dusted. I polished the wood! Now, in my Third Third, I have knocked out half those things and there is no time ever to dust. (Well, I do the obvious shelf in the dining room whenever people come over.)
It’s not like I own tchotchkes; they were de-cluttered a long time ago. It’s just now, as we readied the house for the elusive carpet guys, we moved lamps, bookshelves, couches, chairs. The rungs of the chairs have dust! The lampshades have dust! The games on the game shelf have dust! The tops of paintings have dust!
Aiiieee! Is this acceptable???

I must admit, it is very satisfying to vacuum, dust, and polish all this stuff now. Once something becomes a Big Job, you can see the accomplishment. There are pleasurable psychological rewards. As opposed to mere maintenance, which is an abominable sinkhole of time yielding no visible satisfaction whatsoever because it’s “preventive.”

Before you say it, No, I do not want anyone professionally cleaning my house. It’s my nest and my responsibility. The only time I had someone clean for me was when I had two broken legs. I’m a little too anal retentive and controlling to let someone else move my shit around.

So now this is my question: when I put all this clean, dusted, polished stuff back; how long before I have to do it again? Do they call it spring cleaning because it’s an annual thing?

I just want to know: what are the dust rules?

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Way more than a drop in the bucket

Let me tell you about Shirley Mae. She sings, she acts, she organizes. She travels, she tells stories, she makes things happen. You would think she doesn’t have time to sit down for a minute, but I’m lucky because she does that with us most Friday mornings.

Shirley’s written a children’s book, produced and acted in a play, is now bringing the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project to women in prison. She ran an after-school program (and ended up taking the kids on a dream trip to Ghana). She even ran a chocolate company for a while, producing “affirmations in chocolate.” Last week, Shirley held such a great cross-cultural summer camp for kids that now adults want one.

My brain gets tired just running through her list.
A few weeks ago, Shirley turned 70, a reason for her to organize another event with purpose in the world. So she gathered folks together to sew 70 dresses for young girls in Africa. Shirley’s done this before – last time, she sent 78 dresses on. This batch is going to Uganda with the nieces of friends.
Let me tell you about that day: it was a Role Model Day. There were so many good things about it, so many things to emulate, to try to bring into our own lives. I walked into the Cooperative Extension building to a bustle of activity. Over there was the donated fabric, already cut and sized. In the back were the ironing boards. Along the walls were sewing machines. In the middle were cutting tables, mats.

And everywhere were people working, talking, giving directions, laughing, and learning. Who are these people? They are the lucky people who have somehow intersected with Shirley somehow in her life. Some know her from singing in choirs, some know her from travels, some from helping her on writing projects, cross-cultural activities, or music. In 70 years of relentless community-building efforts, she’s met a lot of people. I wasn’t sure how all the champion Kenyan distance runners ended up in the group, but Shirley says they’re helping her organize the Anchorage Cultural Summit for September. (See, she never stops…)

So why was I there? Well, I know how to sew, making a little dress would be a New Thing, it would be social, it would be helpful. I’d just run the Run for Women that morning so I was already feeling virtuous.

Kate and I arrived at the same time so we got instructions together. By folding two varieties of fabric together in an odd little burrito, one seam made a tube. When we pulled the tube inside out, we had a dress with trim along the bottom. It was pretty nifty. Elastic along the top, seam binding along the armholes, and we had a little sleeveless dress with ties.

Well, okay, I cut my armholes in the wrong place so my little bottom trim morphed into a little bodice on top instead. No problem, said the helper women, and they were right.
Soon the finished dresses piled high while the fabric pile dwindled. Sherrie was taking counts; we’d hit 70 with some people finishing more at home. I even took the materials to make another.

Yesterday, I finished that second dress. Since I already knew what I was doing, I whipped it out in 90 minutes. Then I hung it on a hanger and admired it for about an hour. I’ll give it to Shirley Friday.

What’s the moral to this story? This is a “drop-in-the-bucket-story,” a “little acorn” story. Many times I pass on little acorns in my quest for purpose. I think, What does that do really for income inequality? For fighting racism? For peace in the Middle East?
Shirley doesn’t pass on little acorns; she plants them. She made sure there was fabric, elastic cut to size, seam binding cut to size, sewing machines, irons. She didn’t do it herself; she enlisted people who were glad to help. She put out the word. Maybe every one of us only made a dress or two, but 70 dresses are going to Africa. And all those people sewing and talking, laughing and learning, were experiencing each other happily and productively. We learned new skills (one guy learned the serger!), met new people, had a good time.
Next time Shirley calls, we’ll feel even more motivated to say yes.

That’s the point, right?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Breath of Fresh Air

I had a nature break. Sophie came up for a visit and we all went out kayaking in Prince William Sound.

This is what happens on a nature break:
  • You breathe air that has not been inside walls. (Tent walls don’t count as walls.) Air flows. Do you know this feeling?

  • You get to be inside a tent while mosquitos hover outside or rain pelts the tent. The sense of protection is very immediate. I am home right now, and it is raining outside, but I don’t notice it. In a tent, you notice.
  • You pay attention to the tides. You have to locate your tent above the high tide line. You choose lunch spots and new camps by the tide tables. In my regular life, tides don’t even get a mention.
  • Your day consists of waking up, preparing breakfast, packing lunch, and setting off. The big decision: choosing a lunch spot. In between, you look around. That’s all: you look around. When you come back to camp, you make dinner, maybe read your book, wash a pot, bowl, and cup. Your day is FULL and you feel satisfied.
  • Whatever you look at is beautiful. Giant glaciers and mountains, tiny wildflowers, spectacular waterfalls, smooth beach rocks, oddly-shaped icebergs, orange-billed oystercatchers, a whale (!), paths through foliage. Tim explores a little, says he’s found a “magical world.” He shows you. Yup.

  • All your personal items fit in one small dry bag: underwear, one extra pair of clothes, rain gear. Two books. A camera. Nothing electronic.
  • You cook and eat things you would never buy otherwise: salami? Instant mashed potatoes? Cup-a-soups? Black bean flakes? Instant oatmeal? Beef jerky? They’re incredibly delicious – those black bean burritos were phenomenal – and they’re done in one pot.

  • You smoothly fall into your camping roles. Tim handles kayaks and tarp erection. I pack food and organize tent interior. I am intensely proud of my system of using the plastic bags I have saved from every shopping venture to code the meals: lunch was in the Container Store, beverages in AARP, noodles dinner in Alaska Regional.
  • Nevertheless, when you figure out that poking the paddle into a corner of the tarp raises it just right and holds its position, you feel like you have accomplished an architectural feat.

  • You get really, really dirty. You are a medley of salt water, sunscreen, bug dope, glacial silt, sweat, mud, berry stains, grass and seaweed stains. After a while, you look like something discovered out there, not something that came from somewhere else. You have to stop brushing your hair because it is a gluey mass of bug dope.

Back home, you have to pick up the mail, catch up on emails, water the plants, tend to the garden. You have to clean the sink and tub, make the bed, recycle the newspaper, check voice mail. Doing the laundry and cleaning and storing the camping gear is a pleasure because they are Big Jobs. Those other tasks, they’re Maintenance. They’re Chores.

Back home, there’s another Mom Crisis. Back home, Sophie has to leave.

Back home, the air is inside walls.

Back home, you take a shower, get clean, sit on a toilet with a sink right next to it. You brush your clean, sweet-smelling hair. Tim shaves. You get into a delicious bed with sheets and pillows.

You’re back home, the same You who was there before the nature break. Your demands on yourself resurface. How come days of just preparing meals and exercising were so full out there, but back home they feel lazy, maybe self-indulgent, not “enough”?

Back home, you realize you need an attitude adjustment. You need to figure out how to bring the pleasures of the break back home. How to feel full, how to just look and find beauty, how to de-clutter the maintenance tasks.

How to pay attention to the tides.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Is it finally too much?

“Call them mommy” “Hurry”

I still can’t even think of that text message exchange without crying. I can’t imagine being the mother on the end of the phone at 2 in the morning and feeling so utterly helpless. No, I can imagine it. That’s why I sit here with tears splashing down my face even days later.

Every now and then I think I’ve become numb to any more horror. I notice on Facebook that everyone was “Charlie” once for a while, but now they’re not “Pulse.” We just can’t keep thinking of new ways to say “This time it got to me, this time I am so so so so sad.” And then I hear of a text message to “mommy.”
If you’re in your Third Third, then assassination looms large in your life: President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X. Those were horrific and formative to the selves we were to become, but did we ever think our futures would involve this number of shootings against the general public?

Yes, there’s an important qualification to this: many of these acts aren’t against the “general” public; they’re against African Americans or gays. They’re hate crimes. But as one friend of mine put it, if you can kill 20 little kids in an elementary school in Sandy Hook and NOTHING CHANGES, then we’re all sitting ducks.

Oh, not you? Because you carry a gun? Oh, lucky that your kid isn’t hiding in the closet, you think it’s a home invasion, and you shoot your kid. Or you shoot the poor trick-or-treater. Or your kid finds your guns and shoots himself.

I live in Alaska. I know people can use guns responsibly. I’ve eaten meat killed by someone with a gun. I even did a day of Shotguns and Stilettos with Becoming an Outdoorswoman. I’ve also been a victim of armed robbery by a guy who shot off his gun before robbing us (real sign of crazy man). The only time I felt fear in the outdoors was when three guys showed up at camp with a boom box, lots of six-packs, and three rifles.

I ride a bicycle. Every single time I’m on the road, I am aware that cars are bigger than I am and I have to make choices that reflect that: Get eye contact before you cross, ride here not there. I am more careful because cars are bigger. (And yet you also had to take a test and get a license before you could drive that big car on the road.)
I used to feel a certain measure of control about physically defending myself; I took self-defense classes. But introduce a gun, and he’s bigger. Introduce an assault rifle and he’s HUGE.

If other people keep getting bigger, we run out of ways we can compensate by being careful. We all run out of ways of staying safe. If my gun is bigger than your gun, do you have to get a bigger gun? We’ve created mutually assured destruction in our lives, our very own escalating arms race.
People say guns don’t kill people, people do. So what’s the problem about looking at the people buying them? What’s the problem with saying guns are meant to kill meat (if you must) or even one person at a time (if you really must…)? But what’s with the kill-dozens-at-once assault rifles? I have not heard anyone pause, think quietly, and give me a good answer to these questions.

The thing is, there’s so much anger floating around right now, we’re all on somebody’s list and we’ve all got our own lists. Somebody doesn’t like your political party, the country his parents came from, how your pants hang, her grammar, your fancy car. Face it, none of us are list-proof and none of us are without our own lists. We’ve become a boiling mess of anger and this is whom we’re arming?

Make no mistake, we are arming them: We set them loose on the elementary school kids in Sandy Hook. We set them loose on the employees at a holiday party. Our silence and inaction set them loose on the 141 other mass shootings listed on the Gun Violence Archive for 2016.

And yes, all of us set the guy loose on the young man who asked “mommy” to hurry. I hope it’s not your kid or my kid who calls next.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Running for Women

This is how women in their Third Thirds do the Alaska Run for Women:

They visit the Port-a-Potties. A lot.

No matter how many times they’ve peed at home, they have to visit the Port-a-Potties as soon as they get to the starting area. If that one visit isn’t enough, they might claim that they’re just reviewing the interiors of the decorated Port-a-Potties, but don’t believe them. They’re peeing.
And when they’re not peeing, they’re talking about how worried they are about having to pee.

One of us woke up at 3:30 in the morning to pee, hoping that would start the urinary cycle early so she wouldn’t have to pee that much later on, once the run began.

This is how women in their Third Thirds do the Alaska Run for Women:

With names of friends, sisters, mothers, aunts, and co-workers on their backs. Or pink breast cancer survivor caps on their heads.

I used to do the Run for Women in memory of Mrs. Goodhartz, the neighbor growing up who taught me how to crochet, the good friend of my mother’s. But now, in my Third Thirds, the women I honor on my back are my contemporaries. I have to stack up the cards because there are many of them, but at least they’re “honor” cards and not “in memory” cards.

Still, as I run along, I watch all the cards in front of me, to the side of me. I think of it as a moving, living Vietnam Memorial – the names of the victims etched on our backs. We are a living, breathing, donating wall trying to save lives.

This is how women in their Third Thirds do the Alaska Run for Women:

They’re hot and sweaty. But then again, they’re always hot.

This is how women in their Third Thirds do the Alaska Run for Women:

More of them walk. Sometimes it’s because of knees, sometimes it’s hips. Sometimes inertia. This means that the ones who run find themselves moving up in the age group rankings. At this rate, I will eventually break into a top ten. I have become an Athlete-with-a-capital-A by default in my Third Third!
A runner friend – hot, red-faced, and sweaty – says all this racing is difficult and unpleasant. She uses stronger language. Then three friends cross the finish line, chatting, smiling, enjoying themselves. They walked. They had a great time.

I wonder what it’s like to decide to move from the running to the strolling category: Do you do it because of injury? Do you do it with nostalgia for a more active self? Do you do it with relief because now the experience is less competitive?

Somehow that decision seems monumental to me, a recognition that physical decline has taken place. But then I remember what it was like to do the first runs with my daughter. She wanted to stop at all the water stations, was astonished you could throw the cup down on the ground. We went slower, we talked, we had a good time. I had simply changed the way I participated; it was new and different but pleasurable. Maybe that’s how transitions happen.

I watch a woman cartwheeling towards the finish line. How on earth does she have the energy for cartwheels after five miles?!? While I never did cartwheels, I realize I have, in fact, made a transition: I am not trying to do cartwheels in the finish chute. I have no aspirations for doing cartwheels nor a sense of loss that cartwheels are relegated to my past. I am healthy enough where I am.
This is how women in their Third Thirds do the Alaska Run for Women:

Afterwards, they have a delightful brunch at a friend’s house where they encounter women they haven’t seen in twenty years and we all have to repeat each other’s names and remind ourselves how we knew each other. Someone makes a comment about name tags.

This is how women in their Third Thirds do the Alaska Run for Women:
With a sense of gratitude that so many good friends are still alive, that we are still kicking (if not cartwheeling), that a community cares.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Skin Well-lived-in

One day I woke up and my eyelids sagged. Bammo, just like that! Sudden onset eyelid sag. I met with my women friends, and all of them said their eyelids had started sagging, too. We examined each other’s eyelids. We denied the sag in others – except Lori, we got worried about hers – but still remained positive our own eyelids were still sagging.
This is how aging seems to work: all of a sudden, the years show up. Wrinkles or odd necks or furrows between our brows aren’t a gradual accumulation. SUDDENLY, they’re there.

Lately, I’d been noticing a new thing. I look down at my thighs while I’m running, and I notice jiggle. That’s not new. But this thin, crackly-looking, spidery skin is new. I know Alaska is dry and non-humid. I know our winters leave my skin dry, flaky, itchy, and parched; but I pour lotion on my whole body all the time, year-round. Now what’s happening? Oh, no, it’s at my elbow bends, too!

And then I’m on Facebook and a Suggested Post pops up: ‘Here’s how I tighten & lift “crepey skin.”’ I looked up from the computer horrified, as if someone were in the room examining my body. That’s what it is: skin the texture of crepe paper. But why did someone suggest this to me??? Are they looking at me?

Now, what to do? Do I click on the post and risk getting crepey skin posts for the rest of my life? But what if there really is a do-at-home remedy? I wouldn’t want to have missed out on the best way to de-seed pomegranates or use silica gel packets or peel ginger with a spoon – those were good hints. So I clicked.
And was subjected to a long – very long – promotional thing by some Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. It didn’t have the progress bar at the bottom so I had no idea how long it would go on, so I ended up quitting before the big reveal. I don’t know how anyone lifts and tightens crepey skin at home, but I do know why the post got lots of “angry” marks.

I know all these suggested posts are based on my Third Third demographic and our secret worries or obsessions. That must explain why I’m targeted with “The Heart Attack Culprit” or “Symptoms of Adult ADHD” or knowing my metabolic type. But I’m a little confused about all the college posts: “21 Colleges that are losing applicants.” Do I care? Do women with crepey skin still have kids applying to college?
Way back when, I was in a hair salon reading a Ladies’ Home Journal. Mysteriously, Anchorage had been profiled as the Beauty Capital of the U.S.: “Anchorage, Alaska comes out of this at the head of the class, largely due to its spectacular skin-index score.” The women in the salon were astonished: “Do we win a prize for dry, flaky skin?” I was dispatched to get to the bottom of this. I phoned the editor.

According to the editor, Anchorage is cloudy. According to the National Weather Service and based on altitude, cloud cover, and humidity, we are high on the “complexion-kindness index, based mostly on UV radiation levels.” “Ultimately,” the editor said, “on hair days alone, Anchorage may not be the most stellar performer,” but for skin, you’re THE BEST.

So there.

The crepey skin on my upper thighs covers muscles that run long distances. My skin is only skin-deep. It’s crepey, not creepy. (I’m practicing affirmations.)

And my latest Suggested Post: “The more intelligent you are, the easier it is for cults to brainwash you.” Hmmmm…

Monday, June 6, 2016

It's rape, dammit!

It’s my Third Third, and I’m pissed as shit. That is just how angry I am.

I went to Stanford University. I was part of a collective of women activists, and we created a survival guide for women. We talked about rape. I taught a non-academic, political women’s studies class. I had a newspaper headline displayed in my room: “Victim slays rapist,” about a woman who killed her rapist with a nearby ice pick.
My sister went to Stanford, too. She and her friends made a film about rape.

And now it’s 40+ years later and a Stanford rapist gets a measly light sentence for what his father calls “20 minutes of action.” The judge says, “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.”

How many Thirds do I have to live before men stop excusing other men for their violence against women?!? I am running out of Thirds before women can expect to live in safety from men. It is 2016, and we are still putting rape victims on trial?!? When she was unconscious, beaten up, and only saved by two passersby?

In this whole horrible episode, there is a story of astounding heroism: the victim’s. Her statement to the court and her rapist is eloquent, blistering, and too very truthful. My heart breaks for her but sings for her strength.

Recently, a friend’s daughter complained that she has more controls placed on her than her older brother had. Her parents’ answer: “It’s not about fairness; it’s about reality.” I have actually practiced (to myself) how to helpfully respond to my daughter in the event any violence were committed against her, how to help her maintain her identity and self-esteem.

I have a rape whistle on each set of keys.
No, I am not a weird little scaredy cat. I am a woman living in 21st century America.

Yes, I know we have too many people in jails in the U.S. That was an issue 40+ years ago, too. But we also have too many men making excuses for violence against women. This isn’t just one case; I’ve read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town – hell, I read the newspaper!

There is injustice everywhere, and I try to speak out wherever I can, but this one has just inflamed me. There are so many fights for justice that are won and so many that suffer setbacks, but that a student athlete – on the campus where I fought to raise awareness – still thinks he can attack a woman, hire a fancy lawyer, and get off easy just puts me over the top. That the judge agreed with him – that the judge said he was more valuable than she – means my First and Second Thirds blew away like dust in the wind.

I am probably too angry to even write this right now.

Granted, Stanford University quickly barred the rapist from campus. And the twelve jurors unanimously convicted him. And people all over the world are outraged.

Are those “positive” signs enough?

Not for her. Not for me. Not for any woman.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Our Expanding Universe

I get it! I understand! I had to reach my Third Third, but I finally have the answer. So, what’s the question?

It’s about the Big Bang and how our universe is continuing to expand. I get that. (Stay with me; it’s more than a metaphor.) But when I was in New York City, I blogged about this problem I had:
In the Hayden Planetarium show “Dark Universe,” Neil deGrasse Tyson (one of my heroes), said that when things move away from us, their light waves “redshift” [as if we’re seeing tail lights], that from our position in the universe, everything is moving away from us. He distinctly said that from ANY point in the universe, everything is moving away from it. How can that be? Something has to be in front of something. In fact, one of the panels mentioned the galaxy “in the foreground,” so wouldn’t it be chased by the galaxies in the background? This bothers me.
Then the UAA Planetarium featured a special event in which Michael Turner of the University of Chicago delivered a program in the Adler Planetarium and we got to watch it live here. His topic was “From the Big Bang to the Multiverse and Beyond,” and he said the exact same thing I’d heard in New York.

By now I was truly bothered, but with the audacity of my Third Third, I decided to get to the bottom of this. I wrote them both emails and asked for an explanation. I got two replies, and now I get it! Years of planetariums and reading and I just didn’t have my head wrapped around the universe just right.

This is the answer from Dr. Turner, Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics:
“The expansion of the Universe is NOT galaxies moving away from an explosion; but rather, an explosion of space with galaxies being carried along. Think of a rubber sheet (space) decorated with my hand drawn galaxies being stretched; that is the big bang universe. Space expanding in all directions and galaxies being carried along.”
And this from Dr. Or Graur of the Hayden Planetarium:
‘The problem here is with the word “moving.” When we talk about the universe expanding, we mean that distances between objects are getting larger. That creates the illusion that everything is moving away from you, and is why you’ll see this effect no matter where you are in the universe. But it doesn’t mean anything is moving, only that the distances are getting bigger.’
Aha! It’s not that we’re moving; things are just enlarging around us. Something in my world – my universe – just got more explicable. Something was illuminated and made sense on a foundational level. My understandable universe expanded!

This is a Helen Keller moment – the awareness that the word “water” is what water is. I’m sure you know what I mean. Maybe the expanding universe is not your thing or maybe you already understood about space and expansion; but you know that giant light bulb moment. The world shifts and makes sense. Aha!
I feel sort of pumped about emailing those guys. This time, I didn’t just give up and resign myself to my little vexing confusion – how many times have I done that! When you’re in your Third Third, “now or never” is an even less flexible ultimatum.

Now I’m deciding what other things I need to clear up.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I'm converting ... my videos to DVDs

I did it. I did the DVD thing, the Third-Thirds-DVD-thing: I sat down with the VHS videotapes and now they’re being converted into DVDs.

It was the carpet that pushed me over the edge. Of course, that’s what it’s been doing with everything. The pile of videotapes is in a crate that sits on the carpet. If the carpet has to go, I have to face the videotapes.

Videotapes come in several sizes. Big cassettes which have been copied from little cassettes. Uncopied little cassettes and even tinier where-did-those-come-from-what-are-they cassettes. While the little cassettes have no labels, they’re still first generation, which is a good thing. To watch them, you have to put them in the adapter thing. First one in got munched. Now I know how to use the adapter.
So I had to sit and watch. Unfortunately, last week I finally donated the pile of dust-covered remotes for things we didn’t own anymore. Hmm, one of them must have been the remote for the VCR….
I have a friend who said, when her daughters were grown, that she still saw herself as a mother of young girls. I know how she felt. Going through those videos, I remembered that bond and I craved it. Craved it. I was like a long-sober addict who still feels the biological pull years later. When that little girl in the video spied me in bed, she giggled and ran under the covers to cuddle with me. When she put on dress-up clothes and pranced around like an actress possessed, I marveled at the world she inhabited. Even later on, when we were filming her science experiments and had to do a dozen takes because things weren’t working and she was in such despair but then it FINALLY WORKED, I knew our family was a team.
The most dramatic thing about those videotapes? How much laughter they record. You can’t watch hours and hours of people laughing and enjoying each other’s company without being affected. It’s like that guy who cured his disease watching funny movies. I got in the car, drove to Tim’s workplace, and kissed him.

You don’t take videos of making beds, vacuuming, cooking dinner. You don’t take videos of watching TV, mowing the lawn, going shopping. No videos of laundry, being bored, writing to-do lists. But to see all of us laughing and enjoying, telling stories and laughing, ice-skating, swimming, riding waves and laughing. The camera operator always laughed at what he or she was filming; you could hear it. All that laughing! The laughing was contagious.

Studies have shown that Facebook makes people depressed. They look at all those fun, happy things other people are doing and get bummed out. But the videos were of US! We were looking at ourselves having a terrific time. Yes, some of those videos were taken during times of unemployment, stress, fatigue. But despite that, we were still laughing – there’s evidence!

Maybe watching videos for so many hours is like brain-washing. There I am, kind of negative and harassed about carpeting, and I spend six hours watching laughing videos. You can’t come away unchanged. I am resolved: I will add more laughter to my days and appreciate all the people who are part of that laughter.

At the same time, it’s bittersweet. Time has passed. I discovered the oral history tapes I’d made of my mother in 1997. She was thrilled to be filmed, needed no prompting to tell me of her grandparents, her parents’ immigration, her life growing up in Brooklyn. This is the woman who now can’t remember the beginning of a sentence by the time she gets to the end. It made me want to fly to New York and watch these videos with her.

The videos just keep on giving. Pulling out the camera back then meant it was a special occasion and made it even more special. (It was before iPhones, before oppression-by-camera.) Watching the tapes this week has been such pleasure, such happiness. Taking them into Karl at Action Video was such a treat, too; all that personal attention! Now, when the DVDs are ready, I get to share them, to spread all that laughter around to my extended family. I can hardly wait. I bet we laugh.

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