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Friday, January 14, 2022

Lost Voice

Sorry, I seem to have lost my voice. Nothing comes out.

It’s either because I’m empty or maybe I just won’t unleash my storm into the universe. Mostly, my whole self just stopped. It takes A LOT of oomph to un-stop, and all my oomph just goes to putting one foot in front of the other. That’s all.

Not sure how long this will last.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Road Trip: One Amazing Thing

I started writing a post titled “Human beings do amazing things,” and I was telling you all about the amazing things encountered on this trip: art, museum exhibits, architecture, theater, food. But there was just too much. It got boring: This great thing, that great thing, oh and another great thing.

So I’m just going to tell you about one thing. Who knew that the Gettysburg Museum & Visitor Center would float to the top of my list?

I had my qualms about the whole stop in Gettysburg, thinking it might be a chronicle of this general and that battle and those maneuvers. I’m tired of the militarization of American history; our chapters go from war to war: Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, World War I, etc etc. What if instead our chapters went from invention to invention or economy to economy, peace to peace? What would things look like if most of our monuments were all about peacekeepers, good Samaritans, educators, farmers?

There were 51,000 casualties in three days at Gettysburg. This is no victory celebration site; this is a cemetery. By the end, the Civil War killed more Americans than any other war: 620,000 people.

Gettysburg is a museum of War – of the toll it takes

of the people who die

of the people who have to bury them

of the equipment they have to carry

of the equipment they don’t have

of the heat

of their heavy uniforms

of the photographers and journalists who witness their deaths

of the weight of decisions to make and mistakes that are made

of canteens collected and water not found
of regret and despair

of the whims of chance and who had the higher ground and who they couldn’t see in the dark

of medics and disease and amputations
 

of the women left behind and the families splintered.

of freedom fought for and yet freedom undelivered.

It’s all arranged chronologically, by the three days of the battle. We walk those three days. It’s a brilliantly designed museum. We feel those three days.

Sometimes you learn things by slowly absorbing them, bit by bit. And then, every now and then, you get a direct infusion to the brain. The Gettysburg Museum is a 2 x 4 to the head and heart: War is hell; freedom is worth fighting for; equality is not done.

At the end of the museum, there’s a continuously-running film that ends with the 50-year reunion at Gettysburg. President Wilson invited white veterans of both sides, and a famous handshake between white Union and Confederate soldiers took place. Black soldiers were relegated to setting up tents and cleaning latrines.

All those dead people, and this is where we are.

I read further and the story of the racism of the 1913 centennial is even worse. In 1963, at the 100th anniversary, President Johnson gave his Gettysburg address:

“The Negro today asks justice. We do not answer him — we do not answer those who lie beneath this soil — when we reply to the Negro by asking, ‘Patience.’”

That was in 1963, but still equality is not done.

The next day, we did the outdoor tour of Gettysburg. You can hire a guide or you can follow along in your car and listen to Ranger Gwinn describe the sites on your smart phone.

Little light interlude because this is all so heavy:

I was very happy because Ranger Gwinn does a wonderful job at each site, but mostly: I got make-your-own waffles for breakfast! All through this trip, the hotel breakfasts have been reduced to grab-and-go breakfasts because of Covid. I love make-your-own waffles, but I have only been able to stare longingly at the dormant waffle makers. Not in Gettysburg! Waffles for breakfast!

We went on to Washington, D.C, where white flags at the Washington Monument memorialize American Covid deaths – 700,327 when we were there. As far as the eye could see. We’d passed the Civil War milestone.


No, Gettysburg was not a depressing element of our trip, but it was thoughtful, sobering, and unforgettable.





Saturday, October 23, 2021

Road Trip First Stop: Logistics

When I take my urban infusion months, I live in a place. I become a resident, not a tourist. This trip was different (and not just because Tim was with me); it was a sightseeing trip. We stayed in hotels, not apartments. We ate out; we didn’t cook. I didn’t get a library card; Tim never unpacked his suitcase. We didn’t become “regulars” anywhere.

Becoming a resident means some days you just hang out. If the African-American History Museum is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, that’s okay because you’ll still be here on Wednesday; you don’t have to kill yourself to fit it in on Sunday.

We were going to be gone two months. We couldn’t do it. We cut it short. Tim said I could always stay on and do my “month,” but I’m tired. I want to lie in my own bed, sleep and wake on my own schedule. I want to do nothing for as many days as I feel like it, walk around the house in just a T-shirt. I am pooped. This New Yorker cartoon says it all.

 

By the end of this trip, I was traveling bench-to-bench. Time to go home, the bench at the end of the rainbow.

I did learn a few things. That’ll be today’s post. Then I’ll get to the good stuff.

Things I learned schlepping four bags across the country:

  1. Never schlep four bags across the country. If you’re going to camp, go on a camping trip and bring a duffel of camping supplies. If you’re going to stay in hotels, bring a bag with clothes and stuff. Do not even think of bringing both at the same time.

  2. If you’re going to schlep four bags, do it once. Don’t rent a car, take a plane, another car, switch to a train, take a taxi, back to a plane, onto an air train. With hotels in between. With staircases, streets, long hallways, and curbs in between.

Things I learned staying in hotels:

  1. The people who write reviews of hotels online are very crabby people who seem to run into a lot of stained sheets, hair on pillows, worn-out carpet, and nasty check-in staff. I stayed in some of those places, and I liked them just fine (except for one, but I should have known better). Some places were even great. I’m going to give them 10s to offset all the crabby people.

  2. Towels multiply. You start out with two of each towel. You leave them hanging up to use again, but when the room is serviced, there are now three washcloths and four big towels. By the time a week is out, there are zillions of towels. At least they aren’t pillows.

  3. The pillow situation is out of control. Why would any bed require six pillows – plus decorative ones! – and no place to move them so you can actually sleep? I haven’t had to clear out a bed like that since Tim evicted my stuffed animals years ago.


  4. I need to buy new towels. Hotel towels are fluffy and white and they absorb water. While I like the color of my towels at home – and have liked them for many, many years – I’ve learned that towels are not supposed to be threadbare in places. Unless you’re outfitting a hotel for a crabby hotel review.

Things I’ve learned about hot places:

  1. The only reason to go to a hot place is to swim and loll around a pool or ocean. Otherwise, hot places are just hot. Hot, hot, hot.

  2. If a hot place comes with beige-colored terrain, it is just a hot, hot, beige place. Avoid in the future.

Things I’ve learned about places with mask mandates:

  1. Life is good! Things are open, people feel happy and comfortable! People walk around, pause before a doorway, reach into their pockets for their masks, put them on, and enter. Occasionally, they have to show a vaccination card, but that just means something wished-for is finally able to open (whether it’s live theater or a restaurant). It’s no big deal! (Thank you state of New Mexico, District of Columbia, and New York City!)

  2. You cannot imagine how nuts the rest of the country thinks Alaskans are right now. Anti-mask lunatics in Alaska are spreading disease at crisis levels because – wait for this – they think it’s unbearable to put a little mask on. And in the process, they have to trivialize the murders of the Holocaust by comparing that little mask to genocide? Really? Theirs are not protests, they’re tantrums. With consequences for all of us.
But I got to vacation in Adult Land – good stuff next post!
 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Lucky in so many ways

We’d spent the day at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, seeing things I’d never seen before – cliff dwellings – and camping in a terrific campground. But now we were off to Taos via Los Alamos. But as we drove into Los Alamos, I saw an even bigger sight: white tents! White tents mean farmers markets or craft fairs or art shows. “Tim, stop the car! And, oh, look! There’s a bagel place.”

Anchorage has lost its real-bagel places. The only one left makes bread and shapes it into circles and calls them bagels, but they’re not. I wanted a real bagel, a Ruby K’s Bagel CafĂ© bagel. I got two. Tim and I sat outside at their tables, loved the bagels and how pleasant it all seemed, and we were on our way to Taos.

 Somewhere along the way, the road did a little twisty thing along the edge of a mountain. There were those scary sharp arrow signs in a row – not even the curvy arrows: “Tim, slow down, you don’t know what’s ahead. You’re going too fast if the curve keeps curving. There are edges here!”

 

Yes, it’s my edge problem. My we’re-up-high-and-there’s-an-edge-to-the-drop problem. But it was brief and we were through. And then, halfway to Taos, I spotted a roadside stand. Roadside stands are right up there with white tents. “Stop the car!”

So I jumped out of the car, reached into the back seat for my fanny pack, and it wasn’t there! Where was my fanny pack! Did it slide forward off the seat? Had I shoved it into my daypack? No, the crushing realization loomed: I’d left it somewhere. The bagel place. I’d looped it over the chair outside.

 Cue the mindless blathering: “It has everything in it. Both our credit cards so now neither of them can be used. It has my vaccination card. It has that iPhone you gave me that I haven’t set up or charged. How can I be so stupid?

I remembered the dozen times I’ve left that fanny pack in movie theaters. I remembered the time I left it by the side of the road while fixing a flat in Costa Rica and, even though I realized it in seconds, with the one-way streets we had to go around the block and by the time we did, the fanny pack was gone and our credit card was buying pizza and candy and costume jewelry. “I have just totally fucked up. I have to stop this. I have to tie that thing around my waist no matter how stupid it looks. I have to never do this again.”

Tim turned the car around. The GPS lady went crazy: “Make a U-turn at some place and return to New Mexico 68 north.” Tim said, “Call the restaurant.”

“How do I turn off the GPS lady so I can Google the restaurant? “Make a U-turn at some place and return to New Mexico 68 north.” How do I make her stop? “Make a U-turn at some place and return to New Mexico 68 north.”

I dug out the receipt from the restaurant. It had a phone number on it. “Make a U-turn at some place and return to New Mexico 68 north.” How do I stop her so I can phone???

And, of course, all the while, I’m blathering about what a fuck up I am, how I have to stop leaving this stupid fanny pack in places. Tim is calmly driving back. GPS lady is yelling at us. Somehow, I get her to go away. I phone the restaurant. No one answers. Their mailbox is full.

I remember there was a Starbucks next door. I manage to Google “Starbucks Los Alamos.” There are two. One seems right. I tell the man that I can’t reach Ruby’s, that I have left my fanny pack outside, does he have a number for Ruby, can he check? He says he’ll go outside and look. It’s not there. Ruby is closed and doesn’t reopen till 8 a.m.

Tim says, “We’ll get a room in Los Alamos tonight.”

I Google “Los Alamos Police Department.” My hands are shaking so bad that I’m Googling Los Alanow Polive and Lps Alampa Polive and everything else till I finally get it right. (You realize I’m still blathering about being a fuck-up and how am I going to get this fanny pack purse carry thing right.)

I tell the dispatcher I’m a tourist and we were driving to Taos when I realized I’d left my fanny pack at Ruby K’s and maybe somebody turned it in but I don’t know how to reach Ruby and they’re closed but maybe she can find out how to phone Ruby’s owner? She says she’ll call me back.

More blather, more hysteria. Tim calmly driving. We get to the scary road part with curves and edges, and I whisper to Tim, “You remember this part means slowing down.” He does.

We get to Ruby K’s. The door says they closed at 2 p.m. A young girl is sitting outside.

“How long have you been here? Did you see a fanny pack on this chair?”

“I just got here. But the door is open. They’re inside.”

The door is open? I walk in. I say, “I left my fanny pack,” and without a word, the guy hands it to me.

The dispatcher calls to say she reached Ruby’s, and I tell her I’m holding the fanny pack. I go next door to thank the Starbucks guy and tell him it worked out.

I tell Tim I am going to write about this, about all the wonderful people who helped out. He asks, “Will I be the hero of this story?” I tell him yes, yes, YES! We get in the car. We drive through the scary, curvy part yet again. I don’t say a word. We get to Taos.

When I get out of the car, when we stop, I count and say out loud: “I am putting my fanny pack down, my sunglasses, my mask. Three things. When I leave, I have to pick up three things.” Maybe this will work.

The next day, we stop for a picnic. I count my things. As I’m packing up, I say, “Someone put the spoon away with the peanut butter still on it.”

Tim says, “The same someone who didn’t leave his fanny pack in Los Alamos.”

Friday, September 17, 2021

A Worrywart Goes on a Road Trip

I’ve felt fear, I’ve felt angst, I’ve felt panic, I’ve worried. I’ve been a scared little rabbit, a scaredy cat, and a wimp. I’ve even detailed the finer points between fear and worry in a blog called “Not a scaredy-cat – a worrywart.”

Yes, I’m occasionally brave, land on my feet, am tough as nails. But not right now. Right now, I’m planning a road trip into Covid Land USA: the Lower 48. (Well, actually, Alaska is a worse Covid Land. The whole U.S. is Covid Land.)

Tim and I just returned from a 3-day ferry ride on the Alaska Marine Highway’s Tustumena to Dutch Harbor. The trip had been canceled on us for the last two attempts over the years, so this was Our Chance. We were also going to spend an additional three days in Dutch Harbor.

These were my pre-trip planning concerns:

  • Will I barf for three days of seasickness?
  • Will the Scopolamine patch behind my ear be enough to not barf? Do I need (as advised by friends) anti-nausea drugs given to chemotherapy patients?
  • Where will I barf if we don’t have a private bathroom in the stateroom?
  • What about traveling in a state with only 50+% vaccination rate … and an assertive non-masking contingent? And what about tourists?
  • What’s the hospital capacity if I get sick?
  • Oh, no – we’re coming back on a small plane?!? How will I keep from barfing on a small plane?

Okay, that IS a lot about barfing. I have, in my life, been known as the Barf Queen. I have barfed on many a ship, so it’s not some idle fantasy. But – amazingly and wonderfully – the ocean was calm and peaceful, the weather glorious, and the plane ride smooth. No cell coverage and no wi-fi just increased the relaxation. The landscapes were beautiful, the hikes through World War II sites fascinating, and the burger at Norwegian Rats Saloon the best in my life. Hooray!

The passengers: unmasked, unconcerned, and too close for comfort. Oddly, I hadn’t worried about Covid onboard the ferry because these were the published rules: AMHS currently requires passengers and employees to wear masks inside, but the CDC order makes refusal to wear a face covering a violation of federal law. But there was NO enforcement at all, even when four people had to be put off at King Cove for testing positive. The seating deck where many hung out in close quarters was a frightening petri dish I never entered. They advertised a safe environment and then didn't deliver.

That was the trial run for Barbara Takes a Road Trip. Obviously, barfing is no longer a concern, but Covid is. As in:
  • The Delta variant is running amok!
  • Hospital ICUs are full! If anything else goes wrong, we can’t get in.
  • What if everything around us closes down and seeing new stuff – the reason we’re headed to the Lower 48 at all – becomes impossible?
  • There are 170,000 NEW cases!
  • What if we get a positive test and are stuck in some hotel somewhere for ten days? Ordering in pizza?
  • Even being vaccinated, we could still be spreaders.
  • And almost on a par misery-wise: It’s 90° down there! Yikes, it’s more than 90°! How do people live???

Okay, I can really worry myself into a corner, but I’ve already had one trip fall apart around me when Philadelphia closed down. So packing for this trip became a stop-and-go activity; we’re going, we’re not, we’re going, we’re not.

But then Connie told me the New Mexico State Fair was happening in Albuquerque. I love state fairs! When I checked, I saw that they require full vaccination or a recent test to enter! Hooray! New Mexico, here we come!

But yes, I still have a Plan B. Wherever we are, we can just come home. We have no reservations, no commitments – just the open road.

Hello, open road.

Monday, September 6, 2021

How do I know you're you?

I was watching an old YouTube clip of musicians doing an impromptu street concert in New York City.

Then, at :46, I spotted my father in the crowd!

My father died in 1980. I haven’t “seen” him for 41 years, but this man had his build, his eyes, nose, white hair. He was even wearing clothes my father would have worn, clothes my mother would have picked out for him; he was in a leisure suit. (So it would have been before the time I asked why he was dressed like a pimp, and he glared at my mother and never wore it again.)

But it really wasn’t my father. (I’m pretty sure.) For one thing, my mother wasn’t next to him in the crowd. There is no way my father would have been in that situation – an impromptu street concert! – or remained in that situation – without my mother, and she wasn’t there. (I’m pretty sure.)

So there’s this duplicate Dad, and I know it’s not him. (I’m pretty sure.) So it leaves me wondering: what is it that makes someone someone? What is it that would make me sure that man in the movie was my father?

When I was pregnant, I read that mothers could find and identify their babies by their smell. After Sophie was born, I spent a lot of time sniffing her, memorizing her. My postpartum existential worries included whether or not I could pick her out of a crowd of babies.

I’ve read about animals and birds that throw an intruder baby out of their nest, that they can tell if it’s not one of theirs. Yet, in reading The Lost Family by Libby Copeland, a wonderful book about DNA tests, there was one terrifying photo of a cartful of babies in a Manhattan maternity hospital. The babies were collected from the mothers – without little name bracelets! – and then redistributed after baths. Apparently, a big, switched-at-birth mix-up occurred. Aiiieeee!

Well, now, I would know my daughter anywhere. When she was in a play in costume and whirled around the stage, I’d just hunt for the blond ponytail … and end up tracking Seline, who also had a blond ponytail. Seline’s parents had the same problem. And recently, in a photo she shared of her friends all dressed up at a wedding, I asked, “Who’s the one in the middle?” and it was my own daughter.

So what makes us us? How do we recognize each other?

When I would visit my parents after a long time away, I would search the airport as I disembarked with a certain bit of panic pumping my heart: would I know them? Sometimes they’d look different, they’d aged, and I’d hunt for their “them-ness.”

Okay, this may be complicated by my own prosopagnosia, facial blindness. My brain has trouble processing faces into memory unless I can link it with posture, gait, expression, hair style, voice, etc. Unfortunately, my worst case involved a boss: I would show up every Monday after a weekend off and introduce myself to the “stranger” in the office. Sometimes I just stay home because it’s too stressful to run into people I’m supposed to recognize.

One benefit of Covid and mask-wearing is that finally, I can ask people who they are without risking social gaffes. I used to cover my cluelessness by blaming it on sunglasses, bike helmets, hair styles, poor lighting, or anything else I could claim…. Now I just blame it on the mask.

In the midst of my mother’s dementia, she’d often fake it, offer exuberant hellos to friends when she had no idea who they were. So that’s a memory thing; she couldn’t remember them. But I remember my father, and in photos from my childhood, I know that’s him. Is it because I was there, I know the situation, the environment, or is there something I see?

And would I be able to see it and recognize it 41 years later if he showed up in a video on YouTube?


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Silver Lining #2

As we sit around in that halfway state of not-a-pandemic/still-a-pandemic, I still have about a zillion negatives, and they clearly outweigh the positives for both the world and the sufferers, BUT I can stretch myself to actually put a word to one more silver lining.

Theater.

Did I actually write that? Did I actually put the death of live theater in a positive column?

Yes, because theater didn’t die. It transformed. Which is not saying that I don’t miss live theater – I do! – but I discovered a new way to enjoy it: Livestreamed or On Demand or Archived or however else theaters figured out how to get it to audiences.

Right away, by April 2020, I was watching London theater at home with National Theatre at Home and PBS Great Performances. By July, everyone was watching Hamilton on their TVs. And by October, I was watching theater from Los Angeles, from Oregon, and even from Isabella Rossellini’s farm on Long Island. Sometimes at crazy hours to catch a London livestream.

But I missed other people. Other people as in “let’s go see a play, let’s go out afterwards.” As in spontaneous applause, ovations, reactions. Now I know that I was missing “collective effervescence” (by the same guy who taught us about “languishing”).

So, in a rare Covid moment of energy and initiative, I emailed a few friends to watch theater with me. We’d be no more than seven – to save us from Zoom overlaps and interruptions – and talk for no more than an hour – to save us from Zoom fatigue. We’d watch a play in our own living rooms, but we’d talk about it afterwards on Zoom (with my sister hosting).

We started with Phyllida Lloyd’s The Tempest, and it blew our minds: all women – in prison! – even filmed with GoPros so we were there, on stage! From St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn – how had I missed them during my months in New York?

In the beginning, theaters were focusing on one-actor plays: easier to film, less Covid issues. So we saw some terrific one-person shows. Mary was so enthralled with Sara Porkalob’s Dragon Mama that she wants to search her out in Seattle.  And all of us think Anne O’Riordan’s performance in Irish Rep’s Ghosting topped the charts. We’re still talking about it.

We didn’t forget Shakespeare either. We saw two Julius Caesars: one all-women (from Phyllida Lloyd again) and one with standard casts. Marla thought a play about the ravages of testosterone needed men, I thought having all women emphasized the relationships, and we discovered Riki had taken courses in Shakespeare.
Fat Ham was Hamlet with a Black cast at a backyard BBQ; the play-within-a-play was a game of charades! But then the PBS Romeo and Juliet left me thinking: I hadn’t remembered Juliet’s mother being so caustic. When I checked the actual play – and Mimi is usually the one with those on hand – I discovered that by giving Lord Capulet’s lines to Lady Capulet, it really brought forth a whole new mother/daughter tension.

Sherri took notes … and changed the way I watched theater. I used to watch, enjoy, wonder about, talk about for a bit, and that was it. But once I started really watching, knowing I’d have to discuss, knowing I’d have to remember who was who and who did what, my appreciation grew. Chris says the whole experience opened her eyes to theater. We all loved The Approach, but we all had to watch it twice because it was so … meaty. And the three women, in discussing their play afterwards, said the intimacy of their conversations was actually more profound with a camera instead of having to project to a 500-person audience. How interesting!
So many different approaches to audiences, too! Every Brilliant Thing gave his audience parts, had them participating with his lists. And The Last 5 Years was a love affair in song: he started with meeting her and she started with their break-up, and their scenes moved chronologically either backwards or forwards. How creative; how heartbreaking!

The big question: What’s the difference between theater and a movie if the theater is filmed? Is it confinement to a stage, a set? We’re not sure – still debating – so I guess we have to keep watching. So far, we’ve seen 22 performances together, and I’ve watched another 34 on my own. Theater did not die during Covid!

We’re now meeting in person – all vaccinated – for our discussions. Not everyone knew each other beforehand, but now we do, and our connection helped me through darker months. Yes, we’re eager for the return of live theater; but I’m so grateful to the actors, the companies, the playwrights, and the techs who tackled a whole new medium and kept their art alive. Some days, they kept me alive, too.


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