Friday, May 20, 2022

"Home" vs. "Away"

I’m home now. I’m looking at the flea market couch I brought up from California; I had cushions made three times over the years till I got it just right. Now it’s just right. It’s been in my life 42 years.
Tim has been in my life 34 years, but he had to be out of town this weekend; so “home” as a notion right now is “place,” not “where Tim is.” That makes for interesting thoughts.
Home is Life Admin and Chores
Home is where I came back to two months of unopened mail, piled high. And that’s Issue #1 about home: It comes with what Sophie calls Life Admin. Life Admin is bills to pay, bank statements to reconcile, plants to be repotted, newspaper delivery issues to be complained about, humidifier to be cleaned and put away, etc etc ad infinitum. Life Admin is Chores.

“Away” still comes with Chores, but they’re different. There will always be laundry, but Away laundry is “throw it all in one load.” Home laundry is different temperatures based on color and fabric, which is not a bad thing. In fact, I enjoy being a master launderer, but Away laundry is the three T-shirts and two jeans you brought, and you’ll wait to repair one pair of jeans till you’re home with your sewing machine (Life Admin).
Home cooking comes with a pantry and a well-stocked spice rack. Away cooking is like camping: in a bare kitchen, I discovered the only staples I needed were olive oil, vinegar, and soy sauce. My salmon, broccoli, and spinach salads were easy and delicious, and dishwashing was a piece of cake, too.

Away eating is usually street food (roti, char siu bao, a baguette, a Greek salad, whatever I come across), so there’s less cooking (and I’m eight pounds less, too). Home eating means cooking, so it runs up against the do-over-and-over-again problem endemic to Chores.
Away comes with a landlord; Home comes with homeownership. Home ownership comes with Life Admin; it’s a love/hate relationship.
Away is escape
When I take my Months, Tim, Sophie, and my sister usually visit for a few days or less than a week. This time, Tim came for a month, and I found myself Preparing Speeches in anticipation: “I am not taking care of you.” Wow, I hadn’t expected that, but I realized that Away meant I wasn’t a wife, a mother, a caregiver, a responsible party. I was just Barbara. Although I was first in the Airbnb, I didn’t want to be the household manager, the keeper of Life Admin.
It’s different when Tim and I vacation; then we’re both tourists and equals experiencing a place, and we have a great time. But in my Months, I’m what a friend calls a “resident visitor,” and I’m making a life. It’s an act of creation, and I want to be free to explore it without introducing Life Admin. I startled myself with my vehemence – my ferocity even – I’m still pondering that.
Home means a Car
Away is public transit; Home is driving a car. My car is often my friend and I look forward to road trips; but public transit is my love. My Presto card and the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) open up a whole world for me while I get to look out windows, not worry about parking or gas, be part of society. Public transit is walking out to a bus or subway stop and knowing one will come within a few minutes. It is not having to check a schedule for the 45-minute chance a bus will come. I used to run Anchorage’s public transit system, but Anchorage will always require a car.

My last streetcar ride in Toronto was very complicated: almost every stop involved a person in a wheelchair, walker, or stroller; so the ramp was often deployed and the aisle got very crowded. I could have been annoyed, but instead I thought: this is a place to grow old! People can still get around in their Third Third, no matter their physical state.

Home is comfort
Robert Frost’s home may be “‘… the place where, when you have to go there,/ They have to take you in,’” but Home is also the place that, when you’re not at your best, sick or hurting, “comes with a husband, a couch, a heating pad, a big blanket, Netflix, many library books, a teakettle, and a medicine cabinet.”
Home holds memory
When my mother moved out of the family home, she lamented the wall where all our heights were marked as we grew up. Those marks were a symbol of all that had transpired there, all the life and memories. Home holds that past. Away holds re-creation. In our Third Third, those two battle a tug-of-war.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Goodbye, Toronto

I’m saying my goodbyes to Toronto. I’ve seen my last Hot Docs Festival film, and I’m just back from my last author program. I’ve probably had my last roti, checked out my last book at my local branch library, gone to my last art workshop. Horror of horrors, I’ve even watched my last play.
The thing about my Urban Infusion Months is that I get attached. I embrace my new city – even my new neighborhood – and then I feel such nostalgia over leaving it. I leave little bits of me and my experiences all over.
When I first arrived and wrote my last post about the thrill of being a little bit scared, a little bit curious; my friend Helen replied, “How are we friends when we’re so different?! Reading this one made me realize how much I now like creating new routines and avoiding confusion!!”
As I told Helen, “I definitely create new routines. It’s just that they’re new routines, not the same old, same old for the past 35 years!”
So I’d start off every morning checking blogTO to see what new things they’d found for me. And I’d stop off at my Riverdale Branch Library where the librarian posted a new poem every day of April for Poetry Month.

Many nights, I’d catch The Great Canadian Baking Show – four seasons’ worth! – after I figured out the TV remote. I learned that Montreal-style bagels have bigger holes than New York bagels and they’re boiled in honey water instead of plain water. They look scrawny and burnt as opposed to New York’s plump and golden, but that honey water holds a LOT of garlic and onion. So when blogTO announced the opening of Kettleman’s Bagels, I headed down there to check them out and watch the bakers in the window. I do that a lot. A half-dozen bagels are coming back to Alaska with me.

I learned where the Apple store was when my external hard drive crashed, so I knew where it was when Tim lost a cable. Around the corner, Yael has put the recipe for my hair color in the files so she can repeat it. When I discovered that Nova Era Bakery in Little Portugal has a wonderful little cafĂ© in back, I took Elizabeth and Tim there, too. It’s my new “Spot,” right near Galo de Barcelos.

I have my favorite FreshCo, my favorite COBS Bread, my favorite Bulk Barn, even my favorite Dollarama with my favorite licorice. I have my favorite streetcar (although Tim insists I’ve never met a streetcar I didn’t love). I have a tried-and-true walk up the hill to the subway, and I know where the bad puddle exists permanently in Riverdale Park. I even have a favorite spot on the couch in the apartment living room.

Still, no one sits next to anyone on the TTC yet, and there’s even distancing spaces in theaters, so my salvation has been Meetup: Walking Adventures with Deb. Several times a week, Deb leads us through the nooks and crannies of Toronto to the glorious greenery of the ravines, paths, and rivers. We’re outdoors and unmasked and walking and talking. Siobhan, Penny, Anna, Phyllis, Janet, Alison, and so many other welcoming folks made such a difference. I see what’s ahead on the calendar, but I won’t be here.
On Sunday afternoons, the Danforth Jewish Circle let me be a part of their Jewish community and their art workshop to create a print for a tapestry for the sanctuary. Now I’ll only see photos when it’s finished.

In all my reading and conjecturing about parallel lives and multiverses, I think about all the branches of my lives that take off after I’ve left them. There’s the Anchorage Barbara, the Toronto Barbara, the New York Barbara, the San Francisco Barbara, and even the Costa Rica Barbara. If I’d stayed in one place, I could hold my life close and let it continue. But by starting new lives in several places, I have to let them go.
This is the sweet and sad part. I have to let them go.
Because there’s another part of me that wants to lie with Tim on our back deck in Anchorage and look out over the yard that’s held barbecues and potlucks, croquet games and badminton games, Sophie’s playhouse and once-healthy spruce trees. To bask in all the history of 37 years in one spot.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Toronto -- Round Two

Here I am now – culturally-infused, foot-sore, and exploration-happy – in my latest Urban Infusion Month. Hooray! I’m back in Toronto – three years to the day – but this time for two months. So far, I’ve done Manhattan, London, Toronto, and the Covid-aborted Philadelphia; but Toronto was my favorite of them all.

 I’ve been thinking about what these trips do for me.

  • Yes, they’re a chance to get Spring earlier than it comes to Alaska (although Toronto has had snow and winds that suck the warmth right out of me).

  • And yes, I feed my live-theater lust – I’ve already been to five plays here with two more in the next few days.

  • And yes, I get to be car-less while happily gorging on transit.

  • I get to escape meal-planning; grazing on ethnic street food or fruit returns hours to my days!

These are four really big reasons.
My only difficulty can be social isolation. There was that rough time in London because British people don’t talk to people they don’t know, but Toronto was special because Torontonians talk to everyone!
But this is a Covid-changed world. Even Torontonians don’t talk to everyone anywhere. Everywhere – including on transit – we’re six feet apart, wearing masks, and not making friends. But on the other hand, the rest of the world isn’t very far away: with Zoom, I still meet with my Alaska book club, Bricolage art challenge group, and my siblings. Some days I don’t even feel like I’m gone.

What I’ve learned so far is what my months really do for me. They confuse me. They stump me. They fill my days with riddles and glitches, happy accidents and utter confusion. When I get on a bus I’ve never been on before, I have that squirrelly nervous feeling: What if I miss my stop and end up God knows where? I sit on the edge of my seat.

I seek out this feeling; it’s why I’m here. It’s the Quest for New-ness, the thrill and mystery of non-stale, non-stagnant (without my fear of heights). I do my produce shopping in Chinatown, where everything is way cheaper. Lately, the big crop is strawberries. Two big baskets of strawberries for $2 each (and that’s Canadian dollars!). But over there, on the next table – same vendor – they’re $1 each. How can that be? Why?

Because $1 strawberries go bad twice as fast as $2 strawberries.

I try to be helpful at grocery stores, bringing carts in from the lot to the store. But yesterday, when I saw a woman loading her car, I offered to bring her cart back in, and she looked askance at me. Why? Well, when I returned the cart, there was a little plastic thing hanging, and when I attached it, a dollar – a loonie – popped out! Uh, oh! I bet that woman is telling her family about the panhandler taking her cart money!

My day is filled with things that need figuring out: Why does the remote work easily to turn things on but has a terrible time turning things off? How do people easily deal with their milk in floppy, plastic bags? Does the Sweet’n Low paper go in the Blue Bin, the Green Bin, or garbage?
Oh, I have bigger questions: Why did Matthew Wong’s exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario appeal to me so much? Was it because they were all blue, that they spoke of isolation, that they had simple lines, that Wong was self-taught, that he was bipolar and killed himself at 35? Was it the work itself or the artist’s pain in creating it? Is that why Van Gogh moves me?

In the play, “Gloria,” when Gloria shoots everyone in her workplace except Dean, Kendra misses it all because she’s out getting coffee and Nan is hiding under her desk. All three write a book from his/her perspective and argue about who has the right to “the story.” Who owns any story?
Big questions and little ones. When I wake up in the morning, I have to remember the new place where I store the cereal, which drawer has my underwear. Is it easier to go up Spadina and walk west or Bathurst and walk east?
Nothing is routine, and the strange interrupts the ordinary at a moment’s notice. Every day, at any moment, I can get a jolt of difference, newness, confusion – even panic. And wonder, too. I like living like this.


Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Perils of Updating

It was time for the 6-year-old MacBook to die. It was still living in El Capitan, back in 2015. In the Mac world (where they give their operating systems cute names), I was years behind. Eons and mountains and deserts behind.

Websites were starting to remind me I was out of date, if not forbidding me entrance. Some browsers didn’t even want to know me anymore.

So I decided to update my system. Maybe travel as far as Big Sur or … Monterey! But then an alert popped up: my Microsoft Office 2011 wouldn’t work anymore if I updated my computer. I’d have to update to Microsoft 365.

Aiiiieeee! All this updating! They’re talking to a person who has had the same hairstyle for thirty years, who doesn’t ever rearrange furniture, who kept her beloved Subaru for 20 years and only heartbreakingly replaced it.

I took the plunge. It helped that my sister’s office was burglarized and she had to replace her computer, so some of the replacement research was done. (Sorry, Allison.) Both of us are now proud owners of MacBook Airs.

I can say “proud” because I’m just now recovering from hysteria. The Geniuses at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store must see me and run for the back rooms. Five visits in four days. And that’s not even counting the at-home computer consultant and the chats and phone calls with Apple Support. I’ve been a one-woman disturbance in the cloud universe.

The Cloud! The misty, obscure, and unknowable Cloud. Because I decided I’d have to backup to The Cloud in case (as happened with poor Allison) my laptop was stolen or destroyed. (Allison was wisely backed up.)
First, we had to empty the brains of my old laptop into the new brain. That was a couple of visits which involved the horrors of where did my neat little highly-organized folders go? Then there was the problem of where did my photos go?

And did I even talk about passwords? I could do an entire sitcom on passwords.

That’s when Nancy the Computer Whiz entered my home. She sat down at my computer and explained how to back up to The Cloud, and she made it happen. She explained how to do the password thing, the photo thing. But poor Nancy had me as a client.

So Nancy had to put up with many hysterical emails. Tim had to put up with hysteria in person. The Geniuses don’t know how close they were to having a crazy woman run amok in the Fifth Avenue Mall.

Because everything had disappeared from my computer. It was all in The Cloud, so what if I didn’t have Internet, did I have NOTHING?!?

I find it amazing – if not reassuring – that when I have a problem and ask Google, as I’m typing it out, Google auto completes my query. It means that other people have the same problem. I type in “document not…” and Google comes up with “not loading on my Mac,” “not updating,” “not in my backup,” etc etc. I type in “photos not…” and I get the catalog of everyone else’s problems with photos.

I type in “how to calm” and it’s amazing how many people need to calm down, calm anxiety, calm a hysterical person, calm a panic attack.

Eight emails and Nancy could not reassure me. “It’s all in The Cloud! It’s gone from my computer! Gone!!” Finally, she told me to disconnect from wifi. I did. My things were still there! They weren’t stuck in The Cloud, they’d just changed locations, rearranged the furniture.

My heart rate is slowing down. I can function again. I’d started out writing about things that merely confuse me before I was distracted by things that traumatize me. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get back to mere confusion.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

A Very Good Jar

I made a very interesting discovery – an illuminating discovery – but it came about from a whole other direction, which is often how discoveries come about. It started with this cartoon.

I think it's time to consider the possibility that you might never reuse your old jars.

Which started a typical Third Third conversation about getting rid of things, decluttering, needing things some day, not being able to part with things. You know the drill. Ultimately, the group concluded: No More Jars!

But I replied, “Just yesterday, I used Goo Gone to get the adhesive off a Very Good Jar. I did something creative with the lid.”

Which led to the other question: What constitutes a Very Good Jar? Do you have your own definition of a Very Good Jar? (And, by the way, do you have a definition of a Very Good Box, too?) And if you have a Very Good Jar, do you debate and reconsider and ultimately decide to … keep it?

My Very Good Jar has clear glass, straight sides with no narrowing for the mouth, and a snug but easily rotatable lid that ideally doesn’t have a label on top. It needs to feel sturdy in the hand. This is a nearly perfect jar:

The only problem with this jar is that the label adheres too well. When you soak it and then peel it off, it leaves adhesive behind. It’s a sticky mess. That’s why you need Goo Gone.
Meanwhile, in a totally unrelated foray into my closet (Art Supply Storage), I came across Sophie’s Fun with Beads – Ancient Egypt kit from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Back in third grade, she’d meticulously beaded the “Lotus Bud Garland Necklace for Ipuy or his wife.” The kit was short one color of bead for that project, so I wrote the Museum. Next thing we knew, we were inundated with multiple sets of more and more beads. All of them now reside in Art Supply Storage.

These are eensy beensy little ceramic beads, not suitable for my Third Third hands to do anything involving stringing, but I could glue them. Looking around for a glue destination, I spied a Very Good Jar. And since the Very Good Jar does have a label on top, I could cover that up with beads and improve it further. I glued and sprinkled.

Ta-dah! Something from nothing! Jars rescued from mediocrity. I could give jars with beaded lids as gifts. An Even Better Jar!

But that’s not even the illuminating discovery. In the process of admiring the Very Good Jar, of painting it for this blog, I had to look very carefully at the label. Do you see it?

I am a major spelling advocate. I have taught courses on spelling, I have conducted spelling bees, and I am the Pronouncer for the Alaska Literacy Program’s BizBee, the adult spelling bee. I am the Werd Nerd.

And if you’d ever asked me how to spell bouillon (the soup, not the gold bar), I would have ended it with –ion. There is no second I in bouillon! Apparently, the LL in French comes with its own Y sound. Isn’t that amazing! There’s only one I in bouillon, and I never knew that.

What a day: two New Things. I’ll be talking about that I in bouillon for days weeks.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Baby Steps

Baby steps.

Little by little I may reenter society.

The problem when you feel despair – a “dark night of the soul” – is that you can still interact with people, but when you do, you pull out some ebullience, some pep, because otherwise you’re just a black hole. A Debbie Downer. But then you feel like a fake (not to mention that you can get a little manic in the overcompensation and that’s a whole other alarm). And if you want to be authentic in your interactions with friends, then you’re not presenting properly. You’re presenting positive energy, and that’s not what you have. Other people see a person, but you are just a shattered pile of pieces.

So you just stop.

And because there’s Zoom, you can still appear to be interacting and not missing out on book club or theater group, but that’s because the machine protects you. Maybe people are not doing Gallery View and so they don’t see you. You can always Stop Video.

I wear contact lenses. When I was younger, I noticed that when I wore glasses, I felt like no one could see me. A barrier had gone up around my eyes that shielded me. When I wear a mask, the same thing happens. I get to walk around like the Invisible Woman.

And when the adult daughter spent December with us, my world just moved into our living room. When the temperatures hung out well below zero, I didn’t go out.

So this perfect storm of fakery-avoidance and machines and barriers and home and below zero just allowed me to isolate. And isolate. Even now, I’m not sure how to stop it. It makes many things much easier: less planning, less arranging, less energy required.

I do two things: I read a lot, and I do jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles are disorder assembled into order. That is all they have to do, and I cannot say enough good things about jigsaw puzzles.

How did all this start? No, my “dark night of the soul” is not about Covid.

2021 traumatized me. No, it traumatized me. No, more accurately, it traumatized me. It started with January 6 and watching our legislators have to run and cower for their lives. And it continued with watching some of those same legislators later deny the severity of what happened, watching an entire Republican Party cower to the megalomania of a demagogue.

Then I watched our Supreme Court decide they could control women’s bodies. More recently, they decided it was discrimination to try and reverse discrimination. In Anchorage, I saw our mayor dismantle homeless shelters, close Covid testing sites, even mess with our library. My library! My most prized institution in the world!

Oh, I’ve organized Zoom calls with my senators, email and phone my legislators repeatedly, prepare testimony, teach English to refugees and immigrants, donate to worthy causes; but our democracy is in danger, and all I am is some ineffectual Paul Revere shouting in the wilderness.

The only communication possible became a rant. Or despair. Both socially unacceptable.

I told Tim I was trapped in this world, that if I were an animal I would try to chew off my arm to escape.
So he took me to Mexico, to daylight and warmth and water and beaches. It has saved my psyche every year, and it did again. I have a dopey, leaky yellow plastic raft that can barely stay afloat. And unlike a boogie board, the limp, leaky raft doesn’t keep you on top of the wave. It lets the wave pummel you, flip you up from down, smash you into the sand. You emerge with a scalp full of sand, a bathing suit full of sand, and a shriek of being alive. I laughed out loud. That sound actually came from me. I heard it.

But what really saved me in Mexico was respect. In the restaurant, people would enter with a mask, hang it on the little hook by their table while they ate, and put it back on when they got up. I felt like they cared about the health of their community, about each other. They passed laws to protect themselves and others.

So now I’m back home, and Putin is on the border of Ukraine and I had a dream that nuclear war happened and Sophie cried that she’d thought she’d have her whole life ahead of her and my heart just broke, and this is how my head is working and I just don’t know how to walk around like this in front of other people.

So now you know.

Every now and then, a warm and funny thing happens, and I want to write about it. I imagine the structure it will take – the beginning, the middle, and the end – and it’s a good story. Maybe I will write about it tomorrow.

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.

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