Thursday, December 31, 2015

A New Thing for a New Year

A new project for a new year! Just the kind of New Thing that gets me all excited. Years ago, when our Loussac Library was first built, the Youth Services area was furnished with “people chairs.” Shaped like a human body, they were perfect for cuddling a child and reading to her. Except for when you tried to get out and had to roll out onto the floor – don’t crush the child! It was like extricating yourself from a bean bag chair, and that was even before our Third Thirds.
The people chairs were loved to death, but reupholstering was a very expensive proposition: all those angles and odd shapes. After a while, the library gave up, and the chairs have been sitting in the basement ever since.

But now there are guerrilla knitters! And this great idea: have the knitters cover the chairs; put the chairs up for auction at the library’s annual spring fundraiser, Beyond the Stacks; and have the funds support library programs. Win/wins all around!

What I love about our guerrilla knitting and yarn bombing is that it is participatory art. Most art is stand-and-look-at art and people only experience it as spectators. But with the knitting and the attaching, we are all part of making public art. Experiencing this, making it happen, was the first Cosmic Light Bulb of my Third Third: there was something new and fun and rewarding I could offer my community.

So now to the chairs – a chance for indoor yarn bombing! At first, I was thinking maybe everyone could make 4-inch squares and then we’d just attach them to the chairs, like a crazy quilt. 

But after looking at the chairs and seeing just how odd their shapes are, I’m not sure squares would be flexible enough to cover them. Some areas might need two-inch strips. Maybe some knitters do some on-site knitting to fill in the gaps when we’re attaching. Some chairs could perhaps be covered best by spiraling long strips round and round. Of course, no embellishments: the chairs need to be comfortable to sit on.

So maybe the best way to do it is to have someone with an idea “adopt” a chair and make a plan for the rest of us to do the creating. Maybe someone could say, “Everyone, I need yellow and red 2-inch by 6-inch pieces, 4-inch squares of orange.” Maybe someone else could say, “Quilters, I want you in on the action: I need X and Y.” Maybe you? Find us on Facebook if you can help and want to look over the chairs in person.

And then we could have assembly days at the library where we come together to attach, chair by chair.

There are some things to be done first. I’m looking for an upholsterer who could add the padding over the fiberglass frames. I’m checking around with fiber people to see what makes sense. (Remember me? I’m the guerrilla knitter who doesn’t even know how to purl….)

Lesson in my Third Third: I don’t know how to purl, but I do know how to make things happen. Over the years, I have acquired the skills of public relations, volunteer coordination, project management, effective communication. Most importantly, I know where to find the expertise I lack. Isn’t this what we’d want by the time we reach our Third Thirds? That we’ve learned something?

So I am saying this out loud for every other Third Thirder out there, despite feeling horribly uncomfortable about having such ego come out of my own mouth. We have learned things! So now we use those skills outside the workplace. Good for us (and maybe we can take a short respite from self-doubt).
Right now, I’m heavy into “figure it out” mode, a state I like to occupy. (Keeps me from stewing over other things, like where did I put the camera with the pictures of the people chairs I’d taken?)

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

To pee or not to pee

When I drink water, I pee a lot. I’ll drink several glasses of water during a meal, and then I have to make sure I’m somewhat near restrooms for a couple of hours afterwards. If I’m going to change locations, I always pee before I leave because you never know what the restroom situation is going to be like. You never know if you’re going to get stuck in a snow bank, have a flat tire, or get in an accident, either. Better to pee before you go.

That’s also advisable because you don’t want to race into a place careening for the restroom. To find out, for example, that there is no restroom near Banana Republic and you have to head all the way over to Nordstrom … and you might not make it. There is a reason why friends call accidents “Title Wave moments,” after the bookstore one of us just couldn’t quite make it to.

Mostly, no one would ever notice how much I pee. But in my Third Third, I have the time for long, really long, lunches. So I drink a lot of water (no iced tea, carbonation, or caffeine). And I visit the restroom three times minimum while my companions seem to have iron bladders. How do they do that?
On a road trip, my sister couldn’t get over how many times I had to use a restroom. She told me to see a doctor. My doctor said there’s nothing wrong with me, that she has to pee a lot, too. She says it helps to have protein when I’m drinking, but I don’t notice any improvement.

Mostly, this wouldn’t bother me. I know the good restrooms around town. I even spent some of my time as a columnist as the Toilet Police because back then I was concerned that all the stuff they were adding to toilet stalls – mainly gigantic toilet paper holders – was making it impossible to turn around. So I have a little restroom map in my head, and between bookstores, office buildings, and little shops, I distribute my water.
[Little aside: that isn’t my original thought. John Irving, in The Water-Method Man, conjectured that water invented people so it could relocate.]

This is also Alaska so a lot of peeing happens outside. That is so perfect: you don’t have to “find” a restroom. You just have to squat, carry supplies, and take them with you. Once you get used to this, you can pee anywhere. Even by the side of the road, you say, “I’ll never see those people again anyway.”

Which, however, was not the case when I was racing across town and the store restroom was closed and the Costco restroom was undergoing maintenance and the library restroom was occupied and so I looked at one of those green power boxes by the side of the road and ducked behind it. Only to have a bus come by. Me? I used to be the manager of People Mover. I know the bus drivers. So I waved.
But all this peeing has some awkward sides. Like bus tours. On our trip to Machu Picchu, our guide NEVER needed to use the restroom. Thank heavens for Carol; she and I shared “baño” hunt duties. Her husband, Art, pointed out an overhead sign with a stick figure. “No,” I said, “that’s the evacuation route sign. That man is running.” “Oh,” Art replied, “I thought he was running for the restroom.”
So right now, all this peeing is a source of merriment, a route to discoveries (found: new, clean, public restroom in Midtown!), even a bonding experience among women. At worst, it’s only awkward.

But eventually, it gets scary: my mother is 90. She’s so afraid of incontinence, she stopped drinking. Dehydration causes a host of other problems so her kids nag her about needing to drink more. She says she’d have to spend all her time in the bathroom, and it’s a little complicated because she also now wears pads. When I visit, she points out how many of the dining room seats all around have stains from resident accidents.

Is it any wonder I gave up iced tea?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Over-examined Life

Back about 15 years ago, I discovered that other women were shaving their armpits and legs. Somehow, I’d missed that memo and thought that during the ’70s, we’d all radicalized and stopped doing that. It was one of those “Uh, oh. Uh, oh: Am I outside the standard deviation again?” moments.
Yesterday, in the midst of writing this blog, I crashed under another of those moments. I was writing about Dr. Atchley’s stages of retirement, about disenchantment spurring reorientation. That makes total sense to me: when you feel things aren’t working, you change direction. But I began wondering what the time frame of that stage might be: When would disenchantment spur reorientation? After six months, a year? Is there a stretch of disenchantment leading to a period of reorientation? Does reorientation end?

Which led me to the bigger question, the one about Other People. How frequently do Other People re-evaluate their lives? Does everyone reflect every day on whether his or her life had the meaning they wanted it to have? (Uh, oh. Uh, oh.) I am constantly deciding whether today – if it were followed by other days like it – would add up to a good life. And then wondering whether that’s enough because shouldn’t the whole be greater than the sum of its parts? And if not, how might I fix it tomorrow?

Suddenly, it was overwhelming. What started as a literary panic attack (How can I explain all this in the blog?) became a full-fledged onslaught of desperate self-evaluation: was all that questioning a thing to STOP? Was introspection crushing me?
I’m not sure if this has accelerated in my Third Third, what with having the time to think combined with intimations of mortality. I am after all the person who had dozens and dozens of identity crises. And I do like the philosophy that every moment is an opportunity to “repair the world,” to make a choice to do well instead of ill. So that makes for a lot of decision-making over all those moments.

So what happened yesterday was I heard all the whirring of decision-making in my head, the constant muttering of self-evaluation and I thought, “That’s the problem. It puts me too inside myself and not enough outside.”
To the rescue, my friend Linda, who emailed:
“I seem to forever be in an existential crisis of re-evaluation, self-examination, and relentless rumination and would like to get off and enjoy the moments. Maybe this time of year is not the time to expect to jump off this particular merry-go-round as reflection and rumination go along with the New Year, so my New Year’s resolution is to really enjoy my moments instead of trying to figure IT all out.”
Now Linda wrote this at 3:40 in the morning so I’m guessing she was awake and busy figuring things out, but she’s right!

And it means “Other People” includes Linda (and you perhaps?) so I’m not so outside the range of normal! Not so crazy in my own skin.

I don’t know if I’m constitutionally able to stop thinking things to death or if it’s just a deep rut I have to break out of. I was, after all, once a Philosophy grad student. When I work a job or contract, all my problem-solving is on work place problems, strategic problems, project problems, NOT how-am-I-living-my-life problems. That’s challenging and – right now – seems like a refreshing break. But writing about one’s Third Third requires personal reflection.

Living my moments is different from evaluating my moments. I’m going to remember that. It’s my New Thing.

Monday, December 28, 2015

All the world's a stage...

I think the first formalized stages I’d ever heard described were Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief after the death of a loved one or similar bad news.

Recently, I heard of the six stages of retirement described by gerontologist Robert Atchley:

And now, I’ve discovered the Nine Emotional Stages of Holiday Travel:

1   Nostalgia 4   Frustration 7   Annoyance
2   Anxiety 5   Calm 8   Excitement
3   Productivity 6   Happiness 9   Relief

So I guess if we were just looking at the complexity of the process, it takes more steps to do holiday travel than it does to retire, and it takes more steps to retire than to get over a loved one’s dying. Okay, I’m being facetious.

Kübler-Ross’ stages don’t begin with looking forward to something – hers are all about reacting to horrible news – so she’s missing those steps of positive anticipation. But it seems to me that the other two processes are basically the same thing: looking forward to something, making plans, confronting the reality of that which you wished for, feeling bummed, and then recovering. (The travel one has more steps because it’s a round-trip: you get to visit family – with both positive and negative anticipation … and then you get to come home.)

This is called a PGIO. I learned this in college:

After hearing this, I bet you’ll see PGIOs everywhere, too. These same five steps apply to everything:
For instance, a First Third, college example: (1) I really wanted to go to that party, (2) I called up friends to go with me, (3) place was full of drunk assholes. (4) What a waste of an evening! (5) So let’s all talk about it and hoot and laugh over at the coffee house.

Now a Third Third example:
  1. My job ends in April; I can hardly wait for all that free time

  2. I’m going to take an art class, finish binding those books, finish the quilt, travel

  3. I seem to be drifting, not getting any of it done, and I’m not a very good artist anyway

  4. Yikes, what have I done! Am I going to be this worthless and unemployed for the next 30 years?!

  5. Oh, I get it: I’m making my own future. Who knew it would involve blogging, some contracts, teaching, ice skating? But I need to impose some structure for this to work.
The thing is, I have a hard time seeing these steps as describing a period of my Third Third (or any third). It makes it sound like once you move through the steps, your caterpillar has turned into the butterfly. Well, even the grief folks say that’s not true; you can keep repeating the cycle as new realizations or situations hit.

I think there are two versions of this cycle: the daily one and the Big Picture one. I had the daily one just yesterday, with the quest for the calendars: (1) Today I’ll buy my new calendars, (2) Off I go to the store, (3) They’re all out, (4) It’s taking forever to find the calendars I want; 2016 is a mess already, and (5) Wow! I found a way to get the calendars after all.

But the Big Picture one: can we only see it in hindsight? Do we only see the stages of our lives as we move out of them?

[to be continued due to the existential crisis of the author who found herself in a paroxysm of re-evaluation, self-examination, and relentless rumination]

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Mountains out of molehills

I use two paper calendars. One sits on the kitchen counter and is the kind you flip over day by day. That’s where social engagements, appointments, volunteer commitments go, as well as some daily to-dos. That’s where I’m supposed to look in the morning so I don’t miss anything. It is VERY IMPORTANT to turn over the page each morning.
My other paper calendar has a monthly view. I write down all the appointments and social events in this one, too, but this one allows me to plan ahead. I can see that saying “how about next Tuesday” won’t work because there’s already something there. And the important thing about this one is that it’s portable: it goes upstairs, downstairs, to meetings, in the car. It’s paper, measures 7 x 10 inches, has a simple staple binding, and has proven itself as my most valuable tool.
Every year, I would march down to the Calista Corporation offices and pick up the new monthly calendar for the year. Last year, they stopped printing them. It could have been catastrophic, but miraculously, I found a very similar one at Target.

So today I headed over to Office Depot to pick up my 2016 desk calendar refill. They were all cleaned out. So was Target and Fred Meyer. (Take moment to beat up on myself for waiting till the last minute, even after writing about being “on my own calendar.”) So there’s always Amazon, right?

Aiiiieee, not that rabbit hole again! I found the desk calendar refill easily enough, but an hour later, I’m still looking at pictures of monthly “planners” that turn out to have leather covers, spiral binding, or extra pages of stuff. I put in the product number from the one I have and the manufacturer: Mead. Eventually, I work my way to the Mead website. I guess they don’t make this product number anymore. I keep getting shown bigger, heavier, $20 calendars. I don’t want to carry around a tome. I just want my little cheapie calendar.

I finally found one that might work, but of course this doesn’t add up to $35 for free shipping. Aiiieee, $20.30 to ship 8.5 ounces of paper? Okay, so then you know what I have to do? I have to look around for something else to buy to reach $35.

Bridget had recommended a new game, Catch Phrase. Hmmm, turns out there’s paper Catch Phrase and electronic Catch Phrase and a newer version that is not as excellent as another version so you have to be sure to buy product #A4625 or you’ll get the dud version. How do I know this? I’ve been down the Hasbro rabbit hole. I’ve read reader reviews on Amazon, and one guy checked it all out with Hasbro Live Chat. (My kind of guy!) Initially, Amazon tells me that this product is out of stock and doesn’t know when it will be made available. But after an hour of fruitless exploration, the product disappears entirely from Amazon except for one copy that costs $220! I have to wait till Monday to call Live Chat myself and get to the bottom of this.
So now I’m three hours into the quest for a calendar so my 2016 can be as productive as possible.


But this is my Third Third and I have a grown daughter. I think she has Amazon Prime. She gets free shipping. I send her the links for the calendars, and she sends me the order confirmation.

What a great new year this might be!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

On my own December calendar

I just realized that when Christmas time comes around, I know I’m not part of a work place. This is how I know:

There isn’t an unreasonable amount of baked goods showing up at the common tables as people try to get it out of their house … and into their co-workers’ stomachs. (Same goes for post-Halloween) I don’t even let the stuff cross the threshold of my home.
Being Jewish in 24/7 operations like public transit, I usually took the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day shifts to free up others for their holiday. (A plus for a diverse work force!) It was actually easy duty: things just sort of tapered off. Office people started keeping irregular office hours, disappearing here and there. Phone calls and emails weren’t returned or got automatic replies: “Won’t be returning till January 4.” So unless there was some terrible snowstorm or traffic accident, things were pretty slow.

Even when I worked at FedEx, the flurry of the preceding days was finally over. We managers had hustled into uniforms and vans, picking up, delivering, and tracking packages upon packages. Everything was a hubbub … and then it stopped.
Everywhere else, the time before Christmas and between Christmas and New Year’s was slow motion time. I was in the office, but there were no meetings, no deadlines, no critical conferences. It was the time to pull out the stack of unfiled papers and file them, to create new file folders and labels, to clean off the desk. It was like readying myself for a crisp and clean New Year, like the spring cleaning of the winter.

All that changed during the Years of the Child. Then you had to have your plane reservations done a year in advance to make sure you got on school vacation flights. Every family in Alaska was aiming toward sun and warmth and we all wanted the same flights out and the same flights in. Finally, graduation came, and we were no longer constrained by the academic calendar. We could slide into January for vacations. Things got way cheaper and less hectic. I was back in the office, cleaning up files and providing office coverage during the holidays.

But it wasn’t till now, in my Third Third and not part of a consistent work place, that I realize the rhythm of my calendar has changed. I’m on my own calendar, not the work place holiday calendar, not the school vacation calendar, not the Christmas shopping calendar. Yes, there are a lot more parties and receptions – and there were all those pre-holiday crafts fairs – but that only changes my entertainment, not the schedule of my days.
Well, actually, I realize that’s not true: my volunteer teaching gigs are taking school breaks. I actually have a couple weeks without any class times scheduled. I do feel slower, more flexible, readier to say “sure, I can meet you for lunch.” I visit friends in their slowed-down work places.

So what’s different? In some ways, it’s like September. For a large part of my life, September meant school was starting. It’s when we bought new fall clothes and new school supplies. It’s when we were starting fresh, launching into something new, entering new doorways – or shepherding our kid through them. This feeling of big beginnings was way more than an arbitrary, middle-of-the-school-year New Year’s Day could arouse. It took years – years! – after the school calendar ended for me not to think of September as the new beginning. And then one day, September just became September.

And now, December 24 through January 1 is just … December 24 through January 1. What a relief.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Subscribe instructions ... simplified

Nothing like a technological glitch to send you down the rabbit hole of Google-land. And nothing like the rabbit hole of Google and Google Help Groups to leave you feeling incompetent, confused, and defeated. Depressingly, there’s a whole gang of us down there, shouting into the ether.

How this all started was because of the number of requests I get about how to subscribe to my posts. I point out the little box in the upper right that said “Follow by Email,” thinking that would be sufficient. BUT, I discovered the little box doesn’t appear if you’re viewing this on a smart phone. You have to go to the website.
I know it’s a little confusing because there’s another box underneath it that says Subscribe, but it has little boxes for “Posts” and “All Comments.” What are they for? Those are for RSS Feeds, the source of my journey into Google-land today. We’ll come back to them.
As I looked around on other blogs, I realized that a lot of them use the word “Follow” when they’re talking about Twitter. I am not on Twitter and don’t follow anybody on Twitter. And if you’re just looking to get my posts in your inbox, having the word “Follow by Email” on the subscriber box could get intimidating: will it sign you up for Twitter? As of right now, I changed it to say, “Sign up here to receive Our Third Thirds by email.” Does that work better?
After you type your email in the blank, click on “Submit,” and convince the computer you’re not a robot; it sends an email to you, asking you to verify that you really want to subscribe to my posts. Another batch of folks get derailed here. Sometimes it’s because there’s a typo in their email address, sometimes it just must get lost. But you can always try again.

So I wanted to learn a little bit more about RSS Feeds. I visited Robin, who reads my blog that way, on a service called NetVibes. She puts the things she likes to read on her NetVibes account, and when new stuff is published, it goes to her in one big package of “things to read.” Up pops my blog. For Robin, that works as a way of putting those “things to read” in one spot.

While in Google-land, an article described all the terrific things I could learn about my blog and its readers. The author praised the nifty pie chart that shows how readers were accessing his blog – email, on the web, NetVibes or some other feed service. I’ve looked all over, but my pie chart is nowhere to be found. My data shows my NetVibes is “invalid,” even though Robin is looking right at it.

So that became another question for the Google Help Forum. I didn’t want to miss the answer, so I checked the box to receive notifications. Uh, oh! I hope this means I only get answers to my question, not everyone else’s. See, this is why the word “follow” can get intimidating. If you get swamped, there’s no “unsubscribe.” Then you have to Google to learn how to stop notifications….

One response said the answer was described perfectly here … but the link didn’t work. I tried reaching a real human being to ask my questions, but that required joining Google+. Uh, oh, that sounds like following, like more notifications, like Twitter.

Precious daylight hours went into this trip down the rabbit hole. I found too many things I can neither explain nor understand and too many contacts and sources that have expired, were dead-ends, or look defunct. Maybe it proved too much for them, too.

I have that spacy, brain-dead, exasperated feeling that comes from too much machine and not enough humanity. Tomorrow will be a better day; I’m going to clean my bathrooms.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Where is it?!?

I just needed a postage stamp.  I keep all my stamps in a cellophane envelope I got from the post office. The envelope sits in the same slot in the vertical holder on my desk that it has sat in for years. Except that this time, it isn’t there.

     [Little interlude for a tantrum. I hate when things get lost!]

My things have places. My world is a world where things have places. Maybe their place was assigned by me, but I did that with care, forethought, and a bit of obsessive-compulsiveness. It’s a kind of subconscious calculation of frequency of use, ease of retrieval, and hierarchy of need: the stamps earned a top-of-the-desk honor position. Envelopes and stationery don’t merit that kind of position; they’re in drawers. Even the scissors are in a drawer.
But the stamps should be right where they’re supposed to be! Now is where I remind myself that I’d conscientiously bought lots of Forever stamps years ago before the price of stamps went up. Losing my stamps is like losing a gift card.

I’m a little concerned it’s like the disappearance of the paper cutter (which I believe got caught up in the paper recycling and was nevermore). Maybe I took the stamps with me to the post office to attach the right number of stamps and left the cellophane envelope on the car seat with old newspaper circulars. The thing is, if they were in the house, they would automatically head to their designated spot. I’ve trained them.

Not like the AIDS memorial quilt thank you. That could be anywhere. On World AIDS Day, I discovered Four A’s had brought some portions of the AIDS quilt here for a ceremony. Back in 1989, I was working for FedEx and got them to ship up the AIDS quilt as a public service. I’d known Cleve Jones with the NAMES Project when I’d lived in San Francisco and he started the quilt, and afterwards, he’d framed a thank you for me. I thought I’d bring the framed thank you to Four A’s and give it to them. My clutter going to the perfect place where it would be appreciated as treasure!
Except I couldn’t find it. Now I can’t remember if I de-cluttered it entirely, took it out of the frame and put it in a skinnier spot (like a file), or just can’t locate it. I tore the house apart.

This is the problem with de-cluttering: you’re never quite sure if you still have it or not. And if you have it, it no longer has a designated spot.

I have always said things aren’t lost, it’s just that people stop looking for them. (I once found my contact lens on a beach.) In his blog, Steve says he cleans up “instead of looking for something, which always leads to frustration because I never find it; but if I clean up, I’ll find other things and get something done even if I don’t find what I was looking for.”

Okay, I did get a lot done instead of finding the stamps or the thank you. But that doesn’t lessen this unease I feel about things not in their places. Like, what other disorder is operating in my universe? Maybe I’m watching a few too many Star Wars episodes (VI tonight and then I’m ready for VII), but it’s like a disturbance in the Force when things go missing.

I should practice being the kind of person who just says, “It’ll turn up,” and relaxes about it. Instead of being the kind of person who keeps tearing the place apart looking.
“Okay, it’ll turn up.”

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A New (old) Thing

I ice skated when I was little, but when I did it again in college, I could barely stand up. Everyone says you don’t forget how to ride a bike, but apparently, you can forget how to ice skate. Much, much later, when Sophie was little, we faced a snowless winter in Anchorage. Without cross-country skiing, we had to pull out ice skates or we’d suffer terminal cabin fever.

Which is beginning to look a lot like this winter. So, after twenty years, I pulled them out again.

As we reach Solstice, things are very, very dark. Darker than other years, but I think that’s because I have three big windows that look out … on the dark. In my last office, I didn’t even have a window in front of me. I would go to work in the dark and not notice HOW LONG it stayed dark. I would leave work in the dark, not knowing HOW LONG it had been dark.

Now I know, and it’s A LOT of dark.
So just when I’m remaking my personality and trying to be a more generous spirit as my Third Third gift to myself and the people around me, I’m facing the dark. Dark = grumpy, but I’m fighting it off. So when Tim suggested ice skating, I didn’t growl, complain, or ignore him. I didn’t bury myself in a book, look for a DVD, or start on some chores. I went downstairs and pulled out the skates.

I remember when they first started clearing Westchester Lagoon. Families came out, little kids pushing chairs around to help them balance. Some fancy ice skaters, some just skating and talking. The air was crisp, people were smiling, coming together as some great winter community. Sophie was learning to skate, excitedly chattering away at us. Tim can skate backwards – he played hockey – but I was holding my own. I actually remember it as one of the truly Golden Moments of my life; all was well with the universe, with Alaska, with the winter, with our family.

The problem with remembering a Golden Moment is that they can’t be duplicated or repeated. You can’t walk into an experience expecting a Golden Moment. They have to sneak up on you unawares.

If you’re approaching your first time on skates in twenty years with a certain amount of trepidation, fear, and dread – but which you are disguising because you’re remaking your personality – and if you remember that glorious golden time, a sort of loss sweeps over you. I think sometimes Third Thirds have this: a time or place where memories rush in. Sweet memories, but memories nevertheless.

And then you have to get on the skates. I never fell! One circuit around, and Tim commented that I no longer looked like the Tin Man.
Two circuits around and I didn’t have to flail my arms around like a windmill.
Three circuits around and I felt smooth. Four circuits around and I felt punchy with sloppy legs. I remembered that I used to turn corners by overlapping one foot over the other but that seemed kind of elusive right now. But, hey, I skated! I’ll do it again tomorrow. And the day after that.

Dread was gone, replaced by exhilaration. By being outdoors, in the light. By conquering both fear and sluggishness. By identifying a New (old) Thing I can do and get better at. By setting myself up to be ready for a new Golden Moment (should it just happen to pop up and enter my life).

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Profiles in Third Thirds: Allan

When the last son started college, Allan retired, hopped on a bike, and turned his fantasy into reality. That was 14 months ago. Since then, he’s biked 9,817 miles through the United States and Europe, returning home every three months or so for visits. After the winter, he’ll be back at it (when there’s more light and less cold rain). But for now, he had a chance to reflect on the whole experience, what it’s meant, what it does for him.

Allan’s living the life of a nomad. He bikes 40 miles per day on average and spends 98% of his time alone, carrying 80 pounds of gear (with tools, clothing, extra food). He isn’t a “go where the wind blows” kind of traveler; he does tons of planning. He knows where he’s going to make decisions – to go here or go there – and when he expects to stop each day. He has no particular destinations, looking instead for what he calls the “in between” experiences: going through back alleyways, trying to pick the best strudel each morning in Germany, guessing which sausage will taste best.

Yes, it’s being outdoors. Yes, there’s the realization of how very many nice people there are in the world (a real plus after years in code enforcement). Yes, there are moments of pure exultation, of flowing well with the universe, of immense gratitude for all the people who’ve helped along the way. Allan says sometimes he emerges from dreamland, miles down the road, having been pleasantly “off” somewhere. No, he doesn’t really aim for museums; he suffers “museum fatigue” after having worked at one for many years and secondly, that requires stopping for two days so he can make sure his bike is secure. And yes, he does make wrong turns, ends up in terrible mud, has to push his bike.

After many months doing this, Allan notices how it becomes his life. His life home, in Alaska, becomes “that other life.” His wife and son are keeping the home fires burning, with the oldest son now able to handle home maintenance and enabling Allan’s fantasy to come true. As Allan puts it, he was and remains a dutiful son, a dutiful husband, and a dutiful father. Now he has no responsibilities “up until the next phone call.”

Does anyone want to join him on this adventure? No, Allan said, his wife turned down the invitation and his sons are busy with their lives. Besides, right now, it’s a solo, self-supported trip; his one vote makes all decisions unanimous. If he vetoes one of his decisions, there’s no over-ride. And, Allan says, you’re on your own for so long that the whole experience “induces thoughtfulness.”

I can imagine a Third Third life that’s a break from responsibility, from the expectations of other people, from the likelihood that tomorrow will match today. Most of the Third Thirds I know are extensions of desires – more travels, more volunteering, more creativity – but they remain within the confines of their “regular” life. Allan’s is a fantasy realized. To do it, he had to leave his regular life. He – and his family – had to take a big leap and adapt. I think of my fantasy – a year in London, a year in New York City – and I wonder what (other than money) is stopping me. Did Allan just really, really want his more?

Allan had taken a previous long bike journey when he was younger. Now, he says, he’s not 25. He has “weary leg days” – days off for when he just loses his oomph. He tries not to go past 80% of his personal limit. If he does 100%, the next day he’s only at 60%. Recovery takes longer at age 60. Besides, Allan says, “There is always another day,” he can get there tomorrow, and “being tired all the time isn’t fun.”

He’s a stickler for safety, doesn’t ride in the dark. The first time he had to ride on a divided superhighway was scary, but now he realizes riding on the shoulder with cars 12 feet away from him is actually safer than having them right up next to him on a narrow country road. But what about when things go bad, those days of mud or freezing rain or worse? “You always get through it,” Allan says. “There’s nothing I couldn’t do again.” Allan was a professional firefighter: riding a bike in civilization isn’t the hardest thing he’s had to do in his life. As he puts it, it’s not even wilderness.

So where’s he gone actually? He started in Chicago, reached the Mississippi River and headed south. He crossed along the southern border of the U.S. to California and up to San Francisco. After family visits, he again took off from St. Louis, this time east to the Atlantic Ocean via the Erie Canal Trail and Massachusetts. After a summer bicycling in Alaska, Allan flew to Europe, where he’s bicycled along the Rhine and Danube Rivers, stopping in Serbia for this winter’s return to the U.S. Total miles since retirement: 9,817.
Allan’s story doesn’t just push the Third Third envelope; it bashes the concept of an envelope, period. So now I’m sitting here thinking: What if? How far? How big the dream?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ailments R Us

Okay, it’s time to discuss our ailments.

I’m kidding.

No, I’m not. But before I get to ailments, let me remind you of a few things. I remember back in our Second Thirds, I went to a dinner and said, “Listen to us. All we’re talking about are mortgages!” Later in my Second Third, my two sisters and I went on a road trip with (poor) Sophie. Ten minutes in the car, and my sisters were discussing menopause. I had to declare a moratorium before Sophie threw herself from the car.

So I’m trying to chart our life spans by the conversations we beat to death. Somewhere in the first two Thirds, I know every man in America would put “relationships,” as in “Do we have to discuss the relationship again?”

My friend Janet, after visiting Alaska, once pointed out that every conversation included “ordeals we have faced outdoors.” But I think that topic is geographically specific and just rises to the surface when faced with visitors who need to be scared to death. It’s not a topic that is so embedded in the human condition that it arises from our collective unconscious.

Okay, so what ailments do you have? A bad knee? Diabetes? Receding gums? Hearing loss? Do you want to hear about mine?
I remember spending time in a preschool. The children discussed their owies in great detail. They showed them off, inspected them, rehashed all their symptoms.

Just watch someone in a hair salon and the obvious pleasure they get from having someone work on their hair. Then look at apes grooming each other, picking the insects out of each other’s hair, and you wonder, how deep does that pleasure go? To our very DNA? So is it the same with our preoccupation with ailments? Is it embedded in us? Are we programmed to talk about our ailments?

So when do you want to hear about mine?

My guess is that the ailments discussion morphs over time, depending on the life stage. I used to tell visitors to my family’s home in New York that no matter what the occasion, somehow menstrual cramps were going to be discussed at the dinner table. It happened every time … in a house with three girls. Or maybe I just remember it so vividly because it was so monumentally embarrassing.
Pregnant women, new mothers, and nursing mothers share no end of stories: labor and delivery, sleep deprivation, colicky babies. Hmmm, I remember those conversations fondly. It’s how I got suggestions, how I felt like I wasn’t the only inept mother. Those conversations weren’t beaten to death; those conversations were lapped up like balm to the suffering.

So is it time to talk about our ailments yet?

Sometimes the discussion starts at a back door: a discovery of a new remedy. How many conversations about coconut oil were just a lead-in to a discussion about memory loss or … whatever coconut oil is supposed to cure? Costco has things like CoQ10 and 5-HTP and I know they’re supposed to cure something, but I have no idea what. I’m sure if I mention one in conversation someone will have the appropriate ailment to match with it.

Wow, that could be the memory matching game for Third Thirders! But since memory loss is a major, unfunny ailment to most of us, how much fun could that game be?
I’m thinking now that some health problems aren’t even what I’d call ailments; they’re life-threatening. I don’t have really detailed conversations about cancer, and I don’t know if that’s because the folks with cancer don’t want to talk about it and/or don’t want to talk about it with someone who doesn’t have cancer. Same with mental illness. That one really only works with someone who’s been there, but there’s also the stigma that’s still attached to it. Can I talk about it with you without you treating me differently tomorrow?

I’m not sure if injuries are a subset of ailments. Injuries bear no relation to mortality (as long as you survive them). You can tear a ligament skiing and not be any closer to dying. But arthritis means you’re starting to deteriorate. So talking about the former may mean telling an adventure story – right up there with “ordeals we have faced outdoors.” But talking about the latter may ease fear, be a way of reaching for comfort, like all those new, inexperienced mothers did.

Maybe you need to talk about your ailments. Maybe I do. Oops, out of space. Can’t do it here. Have to run. Catch me later.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Apology Test

This is that complicated post I was struggling with. Here’s a little pre-blog survey: When you think of things that require proper apologies, do you think of apologies you need to receive from others or apologies you need to give to others?
    __    Someone owes me an apology for something they did
    __    I owe someone an apology for something I did
By the time I reached my Third Third, I’d heard these two sayings many times:
  1.  First time, shame on you. Second time, shame on me.
  2.  Hate does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to the object on which it is poured.
So while they’re not complete opposites, they do reflect differences in how to deal with transgressions. Other people’s against us. Do we stay on guard and protect ourselves from people who take advantage, are cruel, or are inconsiderate? (#1) Or does holding onto our feelings (like distrust, resentment, even hate) damage us? (#2) When do the healthy boundaries we set for ourselves become grudges?

So here I am with a discussion group on the subject of Forgiveness and Repentance. In Judaism (the framework for our discussion), there’s no absolution that comes from some designated authority. God isn’t “in charge” of forgiving sins against other people. Only the parties concerned can right the wrongs between them. I like that, but it means the question of whether or not to forgive sits right in our court.

The philosophers came up with all sorts of lists as they closely examined the issue. Repentance is when you’re sorry and you want to make it better. For repentance to count, five things must be present: recognition of the act as bad, remorse, not doing it any more, restitution, and confession. And this is the biggie: none of it counts unless you don’t do it anymore.
So let’s say someone does all five things, is the other person required to forgive? Philosophers agree that repentance must be sincere, initiated by the bad guy, and involve some element of personal transformation. There is no easy forgiveness; you have to earn it and deserve it.

So Judaism is mostly big on repentance, stopping doing bad things. Not so big on forgiveness because the big deal is stopping doing bad things. The idea is that if you forgive too easily, you’re allowing evil to continue. But if you forgive too slowly, when do you become cruel?

So there I was, thinking about all the rotten things people have done and mentally cataloging which of the five things they missed in their inadequate – or even absent – apologies. Concluding, of course, that they did not earn or deserve forgiveness. So my big decision was whether to keep my distance from them (#1) or move on (#2). That was my big issue.

Only afterwards did a light bulb go off and I re-read the bit that said “…mostly big on repentance … because the big deal is stopping doing bad things.” Click! I looked in the mirror and had to ask if I was doing my five things, had I repaired things I might have broken and was I not breaking them anymore?
Oh, no, here I am again at the contest between Better Barbara and Shitty Barbara (who made their original appearance here). Shitty Barbara focuses more on the rotten things other people do rather than her own rotten stuff, so my first concern had been Forgiveness. Like, who’s entitled to it? Not you! But now it’s, What counts as a Bad Thing? To me or to you? Do I even notice my Bad Things as easily as I notice other people’s? Will I fix them?

By the time we’ve reached our Third Thirds, we’ve experienced many wrongs, both as the good guy, the bad guy, and the bystander. I keep hoping I’ll acquire some sort of Wisdom-with-a-capital-W, but really it’s always the same: Does the Better Barbara win?

Out of the blue...

Every now and then, good luck just happens. Here I was, sweating over a particularly difficult blog post, trying to figure out my own complicated thoughts and put them down in uncomplicated words. Seeing hours go by, fretting over all the hours, beating myself up for taking all those hours.

And then, good news happened right out of the blue.

Way back in 1996, the children’s book author Eric Kimmel visited Anchorage, and I volunteered to show him Alaska. Martin Buser had offered to give him a dog sled ride, and I drove Eric out to the dog lot. In the car, we got to talking, becoming friends, and Eric said, “I’ve got an anthology I’m editing about Hanukkah. How about giving me a story about Hanukkah in Alaska.”

So I did. And he included it in A Hanukkah Treasury. And the story lived happily ever after.
And then, out of the blue, in 2012, I heard from Henry Holt, the publishers. They’d received an order for 10,000 copies of “Hanukkah in Alaska” for the PJ Library’s December 2013 book of the month. But it wasn’t a book … yet; could they make it a book?

So the publishing adventure began. There was only one moment of horror: when I realized the illustrator had turned the first person narrator into a little boy. She was a girl – had to be a girl! It was after all Sophie’s swing, Sophie’s moose, Sophie’s story. Crisis averted, the little girl became the hero of Hanukkah in Alaska, the book! And the book lived happily ever after.
In 2014, Storyline asked permission for an actor to read the book for video. That sounded good. Time passed, I forgot about it.

Then, just yesterday, out of the blue, came the word that the video was done, with Molly Ephraim reading it. It’s beautiful! Take a look yourself at Hanukkah in Alaska, the SAG Foundation video. And I guess the video will live happily ever after, too.
Saved from a difficult post, right out of the blue! That story is my lucky charm.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

If it's Friday, I'm there

Let me tell you how lucky I am. About nine years ago, when I was starting a radio show/podcast, my friend Shirley burst into tears. She was selling chocolates in the shape of affirmations (“You are special,” “You are beautiful.”), and she had LOTS of inventory sitting in her garage. So I invited Linnea – who was starting Alaska Dinner Factory – to my house because we were all in the same boat: small businesswomen floundering.

We added Rebekah and Kory, Lori and Aliza. We talked about printers, web developers, PR needs, pricing. We invited guests to talk with us about various subjects. We promoted each other’s businesses; Lori even volunteered on mine, helping in the radio station. And we did this every Friday at 9 a.m.

We hung on for those Fridays. First we met at Superstar Bakery, then – when Linda joined us – we relocated to Terra Bella. Some businesses closed, some babies were born, some relocation happened. Eventually, we were six: Shirley, Linnea, Linda, Lori, Ellen, and me. And then, we were way more than our businesses. Every Friday at 9 a.m.
We hung in with Linnea through all her lists, thoughts of selling, and the realization things were finally working well after all. We hung in with Shirley through chocolates, a children’s picture book, and a CD. We hung in with Linda through endless staff turnover, remodeling, and now, the launching of brunch and dinner at Terra Bella (!). We hung in with Lori through her phase down and phase out. And Ellen till she moved. They saw me through the end of one thing and the beginning of another. Every Friday at 9 a.m., give or take an hour if it was hard getting up that early.
We hung in with Linnea through her grandmother’s illness, death, and the garage sale because by then, the businesses took second stage. (And because the garage sale saga was such good sitcom material.) After one morning, I actually wrote down the 16 illuminating moments our conversation had sparked: Death, Race, Compassion. Then we added weekends, other little adventures, a special birthday party, field trips. But always Friday. Now maybe more like 10 a.m.

Slowly, as people added friends, the group got large. We couldn’t fit at one table. I had trouble with side conversations, lots of things going on at once, the resultant rattling in my brain. I stopped going. I slept in. But I always knew my Fridays were sitting at the table in Terra Bella.

Things shifted. I returned. We were now a slightly different six. Judith was there, and we took her through garage sales and a new home. Sunnie – who did not have to dance on the table to get in this blog! – joined me and the guerrilla knitters with amazing creations. She sent her husband to argue with Judith’s carpet installers.

Friday night, Judith organized Joke Night at her house. We had to come with at least three jokes. Linnea had a CD of jokes to practice; she wrote them down. Linda brought New Yorker cartoons. Sunnie was sick (second appearance in blog!). We feasted on Judith’s Som Tum, ginger ice cream, and more, and we laughed and laughed. (Judith says I got some bits wrong writing about her winning the Leonard Cohen contest, but she’s okay with it.)

What has this to do with my Third Third? Every now and then, I think our friend-making days are winding down, that most people have already made their bosom buddies. That we did that in college or when we had young children. Then I realize friendships can blossom because we’re all in some new, shared stage. And that friends and getting together can be one of the structures we create for ourselves.

So what about my Friday morning group? Some of us are working, some not. Some have children at home, some not. Some are married, some not. Some are in our Third Third, some not. I don’t know where my Third Third will take me, but this I know: we’ll be at our table Friday mornings at 9 or 10-ish. Count on it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

"Taking no shit" in our Third Thirds

Every now and then, you get an insight into yourself. Or you see yourself in a certain light, and it’s really glaring. A couple of things happened recently where I became aware that my reactions were different from other people’s. Now I’m wondering if they’re part of my character or part of reaching my Third Third.

The first one happened with my sister. She’s in what I consider an intolerable work situation: unreasonable organizational demands with zero institutional support and a malevolent boss on top of all that. Even just writing that, my blood boils. Maybe it’s because this is my youngest sister whom I love and she should not be subjected to that, but mostly I think no one has to take shit like that. To my sister I said, “Life is short. Get out.” (I admit, I also said, “Tell her off.”)

The second one happened with someone I gave time and attention to, and he didn’t acknowledge me. I told him he didn’t, that I noticed, and that expressing thanks would get him further in the world. He’s a terrific guy. He got the message and thanked me, saying he was glad I “told it like it is.”

Then the third one was a conversation I was part of: did I like the window or aisle seats on an airplane? On red-eyes, I like the window, even though there’s less space, so I can lean against the wall. “But,” another woman said, “then you can’t go to the restroom when you need to” (or something similar). Things like that mystify me: not be able to go to the bathroom? If I have to go to the bathroom, I simply tell middle and aisle seats that I’m getting up. I either climb over them or they get up to let me out. Am I supposed to squirm for hours??
I don’t think I’m a steamroller, mowing down people in my path – I hope not! – but it is sort of vigilante behavior. I don’t think I was always like this. I remember being downright timid in college, intimidated by professors, too nervous to go to their office hours.

But somewhere along the line, I spoke up or got out. When graduate school turned out to be a torture chamber of power and bullying, I left. When friends started dying of AIDS in my 20s in San Francisco, I learned that life is short. I read about a study that researched why some people with AIDS lived for years and others died sooner. They concluded that the survivors were VERY QUICK to remove negative influences from their lives, whether they were jobs, relationships, whatever. That stuck with me. And then, when I was fired from a job after an election replaced the administration, I knew that jobs didn’t keep you warm at night and institutions don’t come with loyalty.

So you see what I’m getting at? By the time we reach our Third Thirds, have we simply learned to “take no shit” or was it part of us to begin with and I just have an extra dose of brash? Will I become one of those old people who push to get to the front of the line? When does healthy assertiveness become “old curmudgeon”?
Yikes, just look at the stereotypes in that last paragraph!

I found myself in a conversation with Connie and Elizabeth: were we “nice” women? When younger, Connie always tried – unsuccessfully – to be quiet. I made New Year’s resolutions to be “demure.” It was never a take. Now, in our Third Thirds, are we claiming our right to be heard … but still feel the pull of being nice? Is this the particular social context our Second and Third Thirds were/are in, where women emerged from old gender expectations?

So maybe this is a nature vs. nurture question. I’m just so curious whether this is learned, whether I bring to my Third Third the benefit of realizing that life is too short to put up with malevolence, discourtesy, ridiculous conventions. Or whether by the time we reach our Third Third we simply have the confidence to express ourselves.

Or whether I’m just not as polite as other people.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Not a way of getting rich

Okay, how many of you are entering more contests in your Third Third than you did before? Uh, oh, is this just my personal aberration? Some way to bring in bonus money or yet more evidence that I can waste time in ever more creative ways?

And it’s not just contests. I’m filling out surveys on the cash register receipts that say Tell Us How We Are Doing! I’m keeping our household in Fred Meyer fuel points, but I’ve had no luck with JoAnn’s, Lowe’s, or Brown Jug. I think this idle wishful-thinking has worn out its hopefulness.
No matter the event, if they have a passport that needs to get stamped at all the stations, I get all the stations stamped. That made me the lucky winner of $100 at my credit union’s member barbecue. And then, because I regularly reviewed the books I read during the summer, I won a gift card in the library drawing. I was on a roll!

So I decided to enter one of the giveaways in Better Homes and Gardens, those ones in the tiny print at the back of the magazine. It was online and I had to click to watch a video ad before it confirmed my entry, but afterwards I was bombed with all sorts of emails from their “family of sites” (even though I’m pretty sure I unchecked all the opt-ins). Somehow they discovered me and time-wasting moved into high gear cleaning up the deluge in my inbox. Now my contest entering is strictly local.

My friend Judith once won two tickets to see Leonard Cohen in Hawaii. When the show was canceled, she was offered her first pick of tickets – in the front row – at one of his other shows. Her friend told her she needed to take advantage of her lucky star so Judith bought a pull tab … and won $20. Now Judith is entering Oprah’s 12-Day Give-O-Way.

We’re both nervous after hearing what happened to a friend of Tim’s. He won a wine-tasting weekend with airfare, lodging, the whole nine yards. They had a great time. But when tax time arrived, he received a 1099 for $30,000! That practically killed him with taxes.

This makes me a chicken about contests, actually. I never go for the big stuff. What if I mistakenly stumble on something and next thing I know, I’m the subject of some tragic news story about falling victim to Scams that Target the Elderly (with a million emails from their “family of sites”)? I’d have to move.

And now I’ll close with the first poem I ever memorized, title and author forgotten:

   Although I try, I cannot spurn
   The place on phones marked Coin Return.
   A strange compulsion makes me linger
   And test with probing index finger.

   Let me but say to those not bound
   By this exploratory itch:
   It’s not a way of getting rich.

Drowning in paper

It’s the paper that defeats me. The mountains of unread things. I’m not even talking books. The problem is magazines. A long time ago, I discontinued magazine subscriptions when I realized Newsweek was oppressing me by showing up weekly.

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up deals with unread books: “Get rid of them today.” Okay, I understand that: I can always get it at the library when I’m ready to read it.

But ending my magazine subscriptions didn’t solve the magazine problem. Just like AARP found me when I turned 50, AARP The Magazine AND the AARP Bulletin found me. Suddenly magazine subscriptions started coming as extra little perks with my donations: Better Homes and Gardens from the Alaska Botanical Garden, Sierra from Sierra Club, The American Scholar from Phi Beta Kappa. PaknTreger from the Yiddish Book Center, Reform Judaism, even Via from AAA. The list goes on.

Individually, I love these magazines. I donate to the organizations because I find them worthwhile and interesting so of course the magazines cover topics I’m curious about. I never fail to find something noteworthy in each issue, something I’ll share with someone or tear out to cook, create, ask about, or follow up on.

For instance, in my latest batch, I discovered a new toothpaste (Livionex) that’s been confirmed as cleaning better than traditional toothpastes. I got instructions on how to cover an old lamp shade with fabric, which popcorn brands aren’t coated with Neonicotinoids, and whether Sophie should get the new meningitis vaccine. That doesn’t even count the book reviews I tear out (to add to my reading lists), the recipes, or the places I fantasize about for our next trips.

And that’s the problem. Magic calls these “papers to be dealt with.” “Make sure that you keep all such papers in one spot only. Never let them spread to other parts of the house.” Ha, ha, ha.

The only way that happens is when people come over. Then I pick up all the papers and magazines that have stopped at the kitchen counter and relocate them to the chest of drawers in the bedroom. Today, in the zealous spirit of Magic, I picked up the whole enormous, tipping pile and polished the furniture under it. Now I’m looking at the pile in the living room.

Mostly, Magic says if it doesn’t spark joy, I should get rid of it. But that’s mostly because she’s dealing with the storage of papers. These papers and magazines are still stuck in triage. They need to be read before I can recycle them.

So I did a little cost-benefit analysis: how many hints/interesting bits did I think I’d get out of an issue and was it worth hunting through it? Four issues bit the dust right there. I opened one to check the contents and saw an article about two friends of mine. Now what if I’d thrown that out?
There are some that will feel like work to read and some that will … spark joy. Mostly, I think the joy comes from being easy and light. The American Scholar is tough to read, but it is … illuminating. Those articles stick with me, lead to many intense conversations, impact my world view. That gives me joy, but it’s a work-hard-for-it joy, not a “spark” of joy.

One reader asked, “If you like something but don’t love it, does that count? How do you know whether you love something or whether you just like it a lot? Is loving something the same as getting joy from it?” Another said that “It’s the emotional energy it takes to make all those decisions that flummoxes me.”

We’re all suffering underneath our clutter and the decisions about our clutter! I have to hope that after a while, in our Third Thirds, we just get sick of dealing with it. We have better things to do with our time than sort, organize, peruse so we just throw stuff out. Then we look at our clean, polished dresser and we are joyful.

Y’know what? I’m getting there. It’s just that my clutter isn’t getting there as fast.

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