Thursday, January 28, 2016

The last vestige of teenage angst

This is how I know I’m in my Third Third: I wore my glasses out in public.

I didn’t explain it. I just showed up. No groveling about putting drops in my eyes and not being able to wear my contact lenses. No qualms beforehand about how I looked. No nervous skulking in the shadows hoping I wouldn’t be seen.

This is a far cry from the teenage Barbara who actually coined the term “Be Ugly Days” for the days when she didn’t put in her contacts and stayed in glasses all day. Granted, eyeglasses back then were a little weird. Funny little pointed things. I can’t remember if I still wore the ones with the silver speckles in the frame, the ones that earned the “Four Eyes” title. The day I got my contact lenses I was set free!
This is also a far cry from the Barbara who brought a DOME HAIR DRYER to college so she could sit under it with giant rollers and tame the frizz. And who wouldn’t answer any knocks to her freshman door until she was properly smoothened and out from under. Whose boyfriend never saw her without what he called her “finely lined” eyes. And he meant eyeliner, not crow’s feet.
There are two sides to this “not caring what you look like” issue. On the one hand, there’s the self-confidence and maturity that mean you’re not stressing and worrying over appearance. On the other, there’s the downhill-slide schtunk problem (which I’ve already clarified here) and my promise to stop wearing slogan T-shirts in public.

Actually, it’s not really a two-sides issue; it’s a continuum. At the far end – things I swear I will never do – is – oh, wait! I have worn sweat pants in public, but I was just on my way to the athletic club. And yes, I have gone out with dirty hair, but that was just for a run and I was going to shower afterwards. And I did spend the entire time in New Orleans in a bright blue “Anchorage Beautiful” slogan sweatshirt, but that was because it was unseasonably cold and I didn’t have any other layer. (Or rather, the other layer – a stylish gray jacket – well, that was too dressed up for just sightseeing, right? And this was a sweatshirt, not a T-shirt, so technically it wasn’t covered by my pronouncement.)

Maybe I need to be more specific: Today, I intentionally went out in public – expecting to be seen, interact, and socialize – with my glasses on. I wasn’t just slipping out on an errand hoping not to run into anyone on my route. I’ve done that before and it doesn’t count because I’d still feel compelled to explain if I did run into someone I knew. I’d still start fumbling around about drops in my eyes.
These drops in my eyes – it’s for five days. I had a little twinge about a social event on Saturday night, but that was about my vision, not about wearing glasses. I am in my Third Third; I don’t have to feel self-conscious about how I present myself in public!

But why is it I can imagine my daughter looking at me, her eyes sliding down my clothes, hair, giant pink sunglasses, and green-purple-pink felt hat, thinking, “You’ve been self-conscious about your appearance???”

Yes, I was a teenager. Now, in my Third Third, I’m not.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Quest for New-ness #3

If I don’t want to get stale in my Third Third, I need newness. I need jolts and shake-ups. Actually, my whole life has been about wanting and liking jolts and shake-ups, but the difference is that now I feel I need them to ward off any encroaching stagnation. (We’re doing the difference between want and need in my literacy classes, can you tell?)

My friend Mark said I’m his friend with the longest same address and longest same phone number. That’s kind of frightening. So travel seems to be one way to add newness to my life.

I read somewhere that Americans are now putting shopping at the top of their list of travel pursuits. Shopping?!? And not even for local specialties or products, but for … T-shirts? Things they could find at home?! Not my idea of adding newness.

Even though we mostly travel to Central and South America, New Orleans was still a “push” for me. The things everyone talks about – food, drink, and music – are not so high on my list. As I get older, I’m noticing that alcohol doesn’t feel so good in my body. I made it through the holidays without gaining weight so why would I stuff myself on vacation? And music is tied up with either the piano lessons that gave me ulcers when I was 12 or dancing to the Rolling Stones, so I’m not very good at sitting and listening either.

Aiiiee, does this sound like someone in need of jolts and shake-ups or what? So how’d New Orleans hit me?

Well, I did discover that certain drinks are pretty easy on my system. Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes, for example. Prude that I am, I usually frown on alcohol as some sort of anesthetizing that people shouldn’t be doing – and when I saw the debauchery on Bourbon Street, I went Temperance Union on myself – but it felt pretty good to get a little loopy in the sun. Call that a pleasant little jolt, a rolling, happy little jolt.

When we went to Antoine’s for lunch and they offer a maximum of three 25¢ cocktails, I thought, “Who’d ever have THREE?” Well, I loved those three Blue Bayous just fine. Tim’s father had served in World War II with an apprentice chef from Antoine’s so we were on a quest, but the Blue Bayous were a pleasant little addition.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to talk about the food because everyone was right. I found my great gumbo place and we went back again. My jambalaya spot, too. Not to mention the beignets, which I still don’t understand because doesn’t everyone have state fairs with funnel cakes?

But it was the MUSIC! I couldn’t get over the fantastic musicians just setting up on street corners or in Jackson Square. I heard Doreen on clarinet like I never knew a clarinet could be played. And Wael and Anna on violins with baby Mia strapped to Wael’s back. I remembered their corners, sought them out, bought their CDs. I learned I like some jump to my jazz, but not so much brass that it sounds like a marching band.
We managed to find ourselves at the start of the Second Line in honor of David Bowie, which was a jam-packed, hilarious mess but if you’re on vacation, it’s an adventure. Later, we caught a wedding parade coming out of the cathedral. The band played as the bride and groom danced down the street, with the wedding party following in gowns with glasses of champagne. Tim and I had eloped. I told him if I’d known there was a way to get married like that, that’s what we would have done! I just kept imagining the in-laws realizing they weren’t in Kansas anymore.
So that’s the heart of it really: encountering a whole new way of doing things that never occurred to me before. That’s the kind of New Thing that lights up the corner of your brain that hadn’t imagined it, and travel is a spark to the whole power grid.

Now, as always, the question is how to keep that spark lit, how to create a Third Third life that reinvigorates and replenishes on a regular basis.

Do I drink to that?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How do you spell kindness?

You already know I love words, that I pronounce the words for the BizBee, the adult spelling bee. I used to pronounce the words for the kids’ Alaska State Spelling Bee, but mostly, I wish there were a happier alternative to kids’ spelling bees. It’s just so traumatic when there’s one winner and 200 “losers” who may be able to spell any other word than the one the luck of the draw dished out. And the kids cry.

So I always begin a bee by having the kids realize they got where they are because they were already good spellers, that no matter what happened, they wouldn’t be a “loser.” For the rest of their lives, people would always call out to them, “Hey, how do you spell _____?”

And then I tell each participant to turn to the person on his/her left and wish her good luck. Then turn to the right, and wish him good luck. Mostly, they think this is goofy, but if they think I’m goofy, they relax a little.

So today I was back volunteering for my friend, Dawn, pronouncing for her school’s spelling bee. It’s always a tightrope: do I have enough “easy” rounds so the kids can feel some satisfaction and accomplishment before going out, or do I risk taking too long and the bell rings and the buses are waiting? So sometime during the bee, before a new round, I have to jump ahead to harder words, and the kids drop like flies.

Which left just Michaela in the front row and a pack in the back row.

And then, when Michaela herself went out, the auditorium (which had been a miracle of quiet and attention) erupted in cheers for her as she left the stage.

“What grade are you in?” I asked the back row. “Fifth,” they all said.

“And Michaela?” “Third!” shouted the audience. Ah, I thought, she was the triumph of little kids over big kids. She’d hung on and all those third graders were rooting for her. She was theirs. But it was louder than that: the whole school knew this “little kid” had stood with the fifth graders.
Eventually it came down to three students: Angelica, Craig, and Sofia. After Angelica spelled out, I whispered to her to wait in the hall, that if the others misspelled, she’d be brought back in. When Craig spelled out, I told him the same thing.

But as Craig left the stage, he turned back towards Sofia and whispered, “Good luck!”

There. That’s it. That’s the reason for today’s post. My heart is happy.

Vietnam: It was "our" war

If we’re all in our Third Thirds, then Vietnam is a big part of our past. Whether we fought in it, fought against it, had brothers who did or didn’t, friends who did or didn’t; it haunted our lives for a time. And long afterwards, we lived with the decisions we’d made during that time.

Maybe it was a formative time in my life – high school and college. Maybe it was the combination of civil rights, feminism, and Woodstock, but I feel the Vietnam War helped make me into the person I am now.

Nevertheless, I seem to be visiting a lot of World War II museums lately. First Portland, now the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
I learned a ton of things I never knew. I hadn’t heard of Ruperts, dummy paratroopers that made the D-Day invasion look larger to the Germans. I hadn’t heard of Operation Bodyguard which was the giant deception plan to make the Germans think the invasion was going to be somewhere else, complete with inflatable tanks so they’d appear real to enemy aircraft. In the “Road to Tokyo” exhibit, I realized I knew not a bit about the geography, the islands, and where things were fought; it was all a big empty space in my brain.

But something is bothering me about all this. I’m going to bounce it around here so please help me out if you can clarify. When my book club read To End All Wars, we were blown away by what was happening on the home front during World War I. There were disagreements, raging controversy, political divisions. Big ones, like domestic war.

This is one of the things I got from the World War II Museum: it was won by America’s massive, unprecedented, and truly astonishing production. Planes, tanks, the invention of the Higgins boat right there in New Orleans. When I read about the HUGE load of materials needed overseas for D-Day – it took two years to accumulate it – I saw the enormity of the task.

Yes, the Museum had a Rosie the Riveter poster, but my own mother was an air raid warden, yet I’ve never seen that in a museum. I don’t even know how wartime rationing occurred in the U.S.: were there coupon books?
I know there’s a difference between risking your life and screwing in a bolt, but if everyone says that was a time when everyone pulled together, then where’s the “everyone”? Museums have gotten better in some things: there are panels about the highly decorated Japanese regiment and the Tuskegee Airmen and about how those soldiers came home to discrimination. There were photos of the liberation of the concentration camps … but no mention of the turning away of the St. Louis and its Jewish refugees.

I guess what I’m driving at is the messiness of war. We used to say the Vietnam War was fought in our living room. Uncles insisting their sons would go; sons planning moves to Canada. Families glued to television sets, waiting for lottery numbers to be drawn. Black armbands, marches, protests. “The Ballad of the Green Berets,” body bags, Agent Orange. Pentagon Papers. My Lai.
I don’t know if there’s a Vietnam War Museum in the works. Is it even possible to make a Vietnam War Museum? Would the fights about what goes in it be the same as those fights in the living rooms? Do we have to wait years and years to reflect on our history and does that tend to smooth it out, soften its edges? Give it a false nostalgia? Paint it with a “greatest generation” brush and erase any controversy?

In World War II museums, I’m shown patriotic movies that stir the soul, not Japanese internment camps, for example. I learn “how,” not “whether” (and I’ll grant the necessity of the war itself). But if the intent is to thank, isn’t that a war memorial, not a museum?

When I walked through the state museum exhibit about Hurricane Katrina, I saw the heroism of individuals, the supportiveness of community, the sheer glory and tenacity of human beings. But I also saw an indictment of political apathy and infighting; scathing rebukes of political deceit and negligence; rethinking of scientific policy. There was no dancing around the issues. I saw how things went bad, thought about how they could be improved.

A Vietnam War museum would have to be as tangled as the jungle, as angry as protesters, and as unsure as the newest recruit. Brave enough to look at the mistakes and damage, the heroism, sacrifices, and lessons. Inclusive enough to honor all viewpoints and to remember the home front, but sensitive enough to lead us to understanding. I’d spend days in a museum like that.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Shaking and quaking back home

The wonderful thing about travel is all the excitement that gets added to your life, and the wonderful thing about our Third Thirds is that we get to travel more.

So why was our wonderfully exciting trip to New Orleans so totally upstaged by an Alaska special as we landed back home? A special 7.1 shaker of an earthquake to be exact.

We were coming in from Seattle about 1:30 in the morning. I was wrecked, jet-lagged, tired, and the turbulence was rough. I was thinking how living in Alaska means you’re always flying home wrecked, jet-lagged, and tired. I hate turbulence. It’s just such a relief when we land on firm ground and taxi in.

Except then the plane went cockeyed. Bumping and wagging, flopping and bucking. It felt like it was jumping and kicking. I thought the pilot had a heart attack or something. And then he announced it was an earthquake. The airport had lost power so we couldn’t get the jetway hooked up and the door opened. So we sat.

When finally power came back, it was dark in the jetway so the pilot asked people to use their phones to light the way. I pulled out my trusty headlamp (so pleased it had a use other than not keeping Tim up when I read in bed).

At home, the parrot was on the floor. The wooden parrot. He sits atop the bookshelf and is our too-late warning system; when he falls, we’re in the middle of an earthquake. And all the kitchen drawers were open. But since I’m such an earthquake preparedness fanatic, all our shelves, water heater, etc etc are braced so we’re good. (Remember the Great Alaska ShakeOut?) But I’m sure we’ll be finding cracks and little relocations over the next day or so.

This trip to New Orleans was not a relocation reconnaissance trip; it was just a fun vacation. And I’ll tell you all about the fun, the music, the curiosities, the eye-openers. But it’s interesting what feelings the trip and the earthquake have left me with.

We spent time in the Louisiana State Museum’s terrific “Living with Hurricanes” exhibit in the Presbyt√®re, and it convinced me I didn’t want to live with hurricanes. There were all sorts of facts like how Louisiana is losing a football field of protective wetlands every 90 minutes, and how people are realizing now that the flood control structures they put in place decades ago are the source of the problems today. While we were there, the river was 17 feet above normal, and it all seemed so unsustainable. And our river guide told us about having to strip his entire house in order to rebuild the drywall and there was just so much muck and devastation after Katrina.

And then, of course, the East Coast was just getting pounded by blizzards and they were folding up streets and transportation and battening down the hatches for the siege. I thought of our last trip to Colorado: Sophie’s iPhone interrupted our drive with a warning to take cover from a tornado expected in 8 minutes. All I could think was, I don’t want to die in a tornado.

I didn’t even need to hear our New Orleans river guide tell us that during the summer he has to change his shirt seven times in a day because of the humidity or how our B&B hostess rests after a shower so she doesn’t work up a sweat toweling off.
So there I was, reflecting on hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards for which people are unprepared (like lions and tigers and bears) … and then I land in the middle of an earthquake. And I’ll tell you I was … relieved! I was glad to get home to the place where snow isn’t an enemy, where we know just what to do with what Nature throws at us because this is what our Nature throws at us.

Is this just a really odd way to say “home sweet home” after a trip?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Stop! Do you see a pattern here?!

I’m leaving on vacation to New Orleans this week so I’ll be offline for about ten days. (Attention: thieves, burglars, and arsonists) But before I go, I’ll start by telling a little story from my second third.

A while after Tim and I were married, everything about him started irritating me. No, it was beyond irritation; it was the D-word. How had I gotten myself mixed up in this marriage thing? to him? Now I was just angry, full of regret, and searching for escape.
We went to a counselor. She asked if we were there to figure out how to separate or how to stay together. “Separate,” I said. We had a couple of visits and then had to take a break; we’d previously made plans for a trip to Mexico (when I still liked him), and we’d be away.

But after the trip, we never went back to her. Had no problems. Love was restored.

Just about a year later, our marriage was (in my opinion) back on the rocks. Any fix must have been temporary. This was a bleak story of a marriage that could not be saved. So we went back to the counselor. But again, we had to take a break for a previously planned trip to South America. True Alaskans, we always make sure to head to sunlight, sunshine, and warmth in the winter.
A little dose of light, and we canceled any future visits to the counselor. Life and love were good.

The next year, the counselor said, “Stop! Do you see a pattern here?! You always come to me the third week in January, and then you go to Central America in February. Why don’t you schedule your trip for the third week in January and then you might never have to see me?”
Worth her weight in gold that counselor! We made our light-seeking trips earlier – have done it ever since – and never saw her again. My mood stopped sinking as low as it did back then because now I knew what was going on. But even dawn simulation lights and other remedies just weren’t enough to keep me … pleasant. I needed my infusion of light to come from natural reality. Just earlier.

So, the marriage was preserved, and the lesson learned. Tim and I are leaving on vacation this third week in January. Oh, but this has been a snowless winter. There’s no snow to reflect back the minimal light we have, no snow to be out and about in. No cross-country skiing, no winter wonderland. It’s even hard to find addresses in the dark, to drive on certain roads. It is dark, dark, dark. Not even crisp and cold dark; it is soggy, wet, dingy dark. (Attention: tourists and visitors)

So I looked back on my last few posts, and I see the pattern there! All that moaning, all that doom and gloom. Depression and lethargy, DVD binges and sleep disturbances. In a snowless winter, I needed to be out of here earlier!

At least, by my Third Third, I’d learned it had nothing to do with my marriage. Thank heavens I wasn’t dragging us back to marriage counselors. Now, whether Tim might feel differently … hmmm, I’m not pushing my luck: he had to deal with that zombie on the couch, the voice from the abyss.

See you all in about ten days!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Robots, Aliens, and Humans -- oh, my!

I read a lot. In fact, one of the total pleasures of my Third Third is that I get to keep on reading and reading and reading no matter what time it is. I figure I can sleep in or switch the next day’s activities from “challenging” to “laundry,” and put my brain on hold. Sometimes, the words swim because I am so tired … but the book is so good.

Every now and then, Tim will lift his head, scowl at the clock, at my light, at me. I won’t move, won’t say a word. Maybe he’ll think this is all a bad dream. And when he goes back to sleep, I put a pillow over his head so the light doesn’t bother him. Sometimes, I’ll go out to the couch. That’s if I know the book is so good I’m going to keep on going and going.

A friend recently asked me if I’d join her on Goodreads. The idea is great – book sharing is always great – but I just can’t handle another online thing. So I rely on my book club, on the recommendations of friends. Once, my friend Robin picked Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card for book club. It was an odd choice: sort of young-adult-ish, science fiction-y, but I was hooked.

I like a good story in a book, a creative imagination that tells a good story. But if the book can also shed light on what being human means, then that book turns on light bulbs, sparks conversations, dominates my waking life for a while. I think and think about it. To me, thinking has a lot to do with being human so thinking about being human just maximizes the whole business. Science fiction thinks about being human a lot (what with all those aliens).

I just finished an extraordinary book, Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer. The main character is married to an astronaut roboticist who is also autistic. I love autistic characters (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, among others) because they think a lot and they think in very unusual ways. So an autistic roboticist is thinking about what makes a robot a robot and what makes a human human.
‘There are three things that robots cannot do,” wrote Maxon. Then beneath that on the page he wrote three dots, indented. Beside the first dot, he wrote “Show preference without reason (LOVE)” and then “Doubt rational decisions (REGRET)” and finally “Trust data from a previously unreliable source (FORGIVE).”
He is saying this because those things don’t make sense, there’s no logical reason for them – maybe reasons against them – so it wouldn’t be a robot thing. But then the bigger question: why are they human things?

Okay, you get the picture. If you were here and not in the ether, I’d be delirious if you read the book so we could talk about it. [Please comment if you do read it. We’ll talk.] But if you were here, you might roll your eyes because I could really talk about it to death. Sometimes my idea of human is a little too much thinking and talking.
Anyhow, Ender’s Game is like DVDs with lots of seasons and episodes: it has sequels and sequels. So I just read The Speaker for the Dead (the sequel), and in it, one of the little alien characters (who’s sort of half-animal, half-tree) is describing his life to the human colonists:
“The first life is within the mothertree, where we never see the light, and where we eat blindly the meat of our mother’s body and the sap of the mothertree. The second life is when we live in the shade of the forest, the half-light, running and walking and climbing, seeing and singing and talking, making with our hands. The third life is when we reach and drink from the sun, in the full light at last, never moving except in the wind; only to think and on those certain days when the brothers drum on your trunk, to speak to them. Yes, that’s the third life.”
Get it? He’s entering his Third Third, too! It’s his time in the sun, his time to reflect, to advise, to feel the full light.

The whole universe has a Third Third – even the aliens!

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Great Sunglass Saga

Losing sunglasses did not start in my Third Third. I have left sunglasses all over the globe, wherever there is sun. Once I’m inside and remove them, they’re at risk; restrooms, restaurant tables, fitting rooms – all are like quicksand ready to suck the abandoned up.

But years ago, I acquired a pair of sunglasses that proved unlosable. I was visiting my high school friend, Rieva, in California, and I was left in a sunglass warehouse for an hour or so.

Rieva has a neighbor who managed to break her windows twice while pruning his family’s tree. He came over to fix the window, and a friendship developed. He wanted to start a sunglass kiosk, and Rieva was involved with writing about, coaching, and supporting entrepreneurs. She helped him out. That was back in 1995. Over the years, Rieva advised, he and his brother worked hard, and Sunscape Eyewear grew. By the time I was left to entertain myself in the sunglass warehouse, they were signing papers for international deals.

Their family is Muslim; Rieva is Jewish. But strong bonds developed and Rieva became an honored guest at family weddings. As discrimination against Muslims has grown, sometimes the family – and the business – faced harder times. But their friendship/partnership thrived.

And that meant lots of sunglasses. Lots and lots. I tried on dozens of sunglasses, checked myself out in the mirror. Tried on more. And then I found them:
They were perfect! Big and bold, bright and goofy. Just my style, like “wearing purple.” When Rieva and her friend got out of their meeting, I modeled. Everyone laughed and he said, “Take them,” told me the model name was “Dazed and Confused.” Even more perfect.
Those sunglasses were never left behind, never lost, never misplaced. True to form, my daughter hated them. “No one wears pink sunglasses,” she said. I’d point out pink sunglasses to her, and she’d say, “No one over ten wears pink sunglasses.” But I loved them, and they endured.

Until a friend sat on them in the car.

She felt terrible, immediately ran into a store to buy a replacement, which I ungraciously refused. I tried not to pout, but I’m pretty sure pouting symptoms escaped: “I’ll fix them,” I muttered. She was really a star, and I was really an immature shit.

I do repair things. If something’s torn, I mend it. If something’s broken, I try to get the new part. If something’s faded and dirty, I restore it. If I can’t do any of those things, I may even use it all torn, broken, and dirty. But even I know when it’s beyond hope. Those broken sunglasses were beyond hope. (My daughter did her happy dance.)

Not only had the metal hinge on one sidepiece snapped, but the plastic anchoring the hinge was shattered. I took them to opticians’ offices, where everyone looked, shook their heads, and said, “Not possible.” But I hung onto them, not ready to throw them away.
So here I was last week, blogging about eye doctors, preparing to go on vacation to a sunny place, and I decided to try again. I brought the sunglasses to Southside Optical, and instead of the shaking head and “not possible,” I was told to leave them for Chet. A half-hour later, Chet phoned.

He’d fixed them! He showed me how he’d had to re-melt and rebuild the plastic, cannibalize a hinge from somewhere else to replace the broken one. In the process, the other half of the hinge broke so he replaced that one, too. He said he was the only place that had “hot fingers” (or something like that) so he could melt it and fix it.

Chet saved the day, saved the sunglasses, saved it all from a “not possible” fate. Sometimes, the world just works.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Not dark: glow-in-the-dark

I found a New Thing, a really new, New Thing. Sure, it was in the dark, but it was right under our noses, here in Anchorage for five years, and I didn’t even know it was there. What a discovery!

My friend, Jinnie, and her husband, David, invited us to glow-in-the-dark miniature golf. I’ve done neon bowling, but miniature golf was new. I was ready. Six of us were ready. Well, as ready as you can be when you have to weave around industrial buildings to get to the right spot, and you’re sure you’re lost, but then it’s there: Putters Wild. Hidden treasure!

It seemed a little confusing at first: why were there 3-D glasses at the sign-in desk? Oh, it’s indoor, blacklight, 3-D miniature golf! Oh, this is getting interesting. We have to pick out two color balls and decide whether we’ll do the Pacific course first or the Polar 9 holes. We start with Pacific.

Yikes, it’s black – except for the glowing walls, fish scenes, underwater-looking sculpture things. The rims bordering the holes are glowing, seeming like they’re elevated in the air. You’re positive you can roll your ball under them, but it’s all an illusion. It is all so disorienting, you love it.

Picture this: six adults – sort of lost in the dark – bumping into things. Realizing the walls are soft canvas, painted with spectacular 3-D underwater scenes, but that the next time we stumble into them, we might fall through. Putting things down and not knowing where you put them.

And six adults, all of whom have a different understanding of the “rules” of miniature golf: one closest to the hole putts second, one furthest from the hole putts second, putt until your ball goes in, putt in order, keep the same order for each hole, change based on how you did on the last hole. But you’re all in the dark, bumbling into bumpers and incredibly disoriented by the dark and the illumination and the 3-D. And someone has to see in the dark to keep score.

Tim has an orange ball. It looks like it’s floating in the air. Julie can’t figure out how he ever hits it. I feel like someone has put a sack over my head and is steering me from adventure to adventure.

And then we get to Humpback Hoop-Dee-Do, and the ball whirls around and shoots out. I try to take a photo, but I can’t use flash and it’s very dark, and it all glows and so you can’t even imagine how you’ll translate this into painting without blacklight.
At Beluga Bend (but I can’t be sure because I’m keeping notes in the dark), the ball goes in a hole, up an elevator, and then down a glowing path whirling all around before it lands on the green.
And Jinnie says she loves miniature golf so much that just as I’d crossed the country visiting waterparks, she wants to cross the country visiting putt-putts (which I think is a regional thing; what did you call them where you grew up?) And we reach the end of the Front 9 and the joke-telling hole takes our first balls while Tim sticks his head in the Killer Capture. It was that kind of night.

And afterwards, we talk to the new owner, who says, “No, this place has been here for five years.” And you can’t believe it because you’re in your Third Third, ready to relocate from Anchorage because there’s nothing new under the sun here and you always thought of yourself as the kind of person who could sniff out anything that was fun. And look, here was something incredibly fun and you didn’t even know about it!

Something fresh and new – and disorienting and goofy – and suddenly you light up with freshness and newness and having the friends to enjoy it with and you think “what else is out there?”

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Anatomy of a Descent

The problem with getting depressed in your Third Third is that you’re missing the guard rails that keep you on track. There is no job where you have to be at the desk; no kids you have to get up for school. Even your volunteer teaching is on winter break. There is nothing forcing you to suck it up: you are free to fall into the abyss with no hand holds.
On Monday and Tuesday, I felt the mood descending. I was like a balloon slowly deflating, air leaking out of me, but I had some scheduled distractions and engagements to keep me afloat. But Wednesday, there was nothing on the calendar.

The night before, I’d posted the blog about my travails with the Internet and drawn the picture of a hysterical me. Immediately, regret and panic took over: I re-examined every sentence, positive they were signs of a woman too desperate, too over the edge. Positive I’d missed the humor entirely, that I’d gone too public with my craziness. My God, I’d even given her crazy eyes.

I worried about this all night long. I never went to sleep. I tried reading, but the woman in the novel wasn’t in a good head place either. Besides, my whirling thoughts were drowning out any thoughts the author could possibly have put on the page. At 5, I decided I had to turn on the T.V. It’s in the living room. I got out of bed.

Evidence of descent #1: Watching T.V. in the daytime. (I have never done this before in my life. This is a really Big Sign.)

But at 5 a.m. in an Alaska winter, you could still count it as “night.” Thank heavens for Netflix. I discovered Blacklist. Not only does it have mysteries and twists in the plot, but it has a zillion episodes. After each, Netflix gave me a few seconds and then would automatically feed me another episode. I chain-smoked Blacklist episodes. When Netflix was worried I’d left, it asked if I was still watching, and I told it to “continue.”
Evidence of descent #2: I did this for 13 hours straight.

My mother battled depression most of her life. I think her solution was to stay busy, mostly cleaning, dealing with four kids, working till she was 72. She did things to make sure she was “up and at ’em” – she always made the bed as soon as she got out of it.

Evidence of descent #3-6: I never made the bed. I didn’t even brush my teeth, comb my hair, or put on a bra.

I didn’t have to be anywhere, didn’t have to look presentable for anyone, didn’t have a reason to engage. This was my Third Third: I could create my own dungeon.

Evidence of descent #7-a million: Whirling thoughts.

In between Netflix episodes, I thought some more. I thought about how I’d gotten off track in my Third Third, how I’d abandoned my future of worthwhile employment. How this blog idea was an egotistical amateurish pursuit. How I was looking flabby and old. How my daughter made such thoughtful, measurable resolutions for her new year and how I didn’t even make resolutions because I wasn’t going to fulfill them anyway. How we’d had people over and had a great time, but it was over and now seeing friends again would take Effort. Mostly, about how my “otherly-mental,” double-edged sword of a brain would always betray me eventually.

Evidence of descent: You don’t even muster movement when exposed.

Tim came home for lunch. Now it really was daytime … and I was still watching T.V. Even embarrassment didn’t move me. Tim said the freezing temperatures had refrozen the lake, there was ice skating again. What I suspected he was really saying: “What’s the matter with you? Get up and get out, get some exercise, see some daylight.” I went to the bathroom and then back to the couch.
Evidence of descent: refusal to take remedial steps

You think, “Go ahead, force yourself, put on your skates,” but you don’t. And then you decide you’re sabotaging yourself and you’re the problem. Which you already knew.

Towards evening, the phone rang. It was a friend.

Evidence of recovery: I picked up the phone

I’m not sure if our conversation cured me. I honestly think 13 hours of T.V. did it. (I did finally turn to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries for some fluff so I could eventually sleep.) I think I had to get my thoughts out of my head. That night, I slept soundly and thoroughly. I went to a morning meeting and luncheon, had a great time with friends, went ice-skating.

The freedom of our Third Thirds is both liberating and terrifying. Mostly, I have quiet, non-busy times when I can feel content and reflective, letting my thoughts drift pleasantly without the constraints of Job or Kid. But I also have unquiet, non-busy times when my thoughts – unconstrained by the usual “guard rails” of Job or Kid – drive over the cliff.

Moral of this story: this Third Third is a new road under construction. Just as I’m laying the route and building the road, I have to include new guard rails, new structures that work for me personally. (Not to include 13 hours of T.V.)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Gasp. Choke. Unwelcome adventures.

Oh, yikes, the wrong people have found me on the Internet. I am beyond upset. I am vibrating with agitation.

I was looking through my blog analytics, and I noticed that two of the blog visits had an extra bunch of letters in the URL. So I clicked on it.

It went to a fake version of my blog: no header, no right-hand side, just the words and drawings. I totally panicked: my computer must be crashing, I’d ruined its brains, my blog was disintegrating. So then I Googled just the extra letters, and it turned out to be on lots of other websites. Just inserted into them.

I asked Google, “What is XXXX?” but all I got was a homepage, written in Asian characters. The Chinese must be violating international copyright laws with my blog; I was a victim of cyber crime! I was also clearly out of my depth.

So then I had to figure out how to ask Blogger my questions, how to get on the “Forum.” Other people put their questions there, but I don’t even know the process.

Brief interlude for hysterical outburst:
I AM a tech dinosaur! There, I said it! I can’t get an answer to a question without negotiating another completely separate hurdle: I have to ask questions about how to post a question. And don’t even get me started on how am I supposed to receive the answers. Why does everything seem to lead to an endless trip down a technological rabbit hole?!?

Deep breath, deep breath. Remember: every hurdle is just another boost to maintain my cognitive abilities.

I figured out how to ask, and I asked. This morning, a very nice guy responded, and his little button said he was a “Google Expert.” Hooray! He said he couldn’t duplicate the result, could I tell him how I found the bad blog.

So I did my Google thing, and they were gone! Everything with that bunch of letters in it was gone except for the home page. So I checked my analytics again, and there was a third person going to that bad site! From Google! Oh, yikes, this was a mess. (Afterwards, I did figure out that was my Expert looking it up, but by this point, I was so freaked out, I felt like every incident was a cyber threat.)

I explained everything to my Google Expert, and he said “It looks like that site is taking content and hosting it on their server. You might want to contact the website owner to remove your content from their servers.”

Cyber thieves taking my stories and pictures! I was furious, but I worried that contacting them was like trying to unsubscribe from spam, that it confirmed to the bad guys that you were alive and then you’d never get rid of them. Not to mention that everything was in Asian characters. But my Expert told me to, so I went to their home page and clicked “Translate.”

Gasp. I’m even afraid to tell you what I found, that it will add me to their list again. Can I say they called themselves “erotic images” without the word “erotic” showing up in Google searches? (Too late.) And they’re sending people to a fake version of my blog! (Deep breath, deep breath.) I even feel icky touching my keyboard.

Immediately, I thought of the butt lineup from Costco, but that was a while ago. Why would I first hit their radar now? Oh, no! It must have been my butt peeing outside, hiding from the bus. Look here: is that an erotic image to you?

So I quickly replied to my Google Expert, asking him what I should do now, but he’s not responding! Maybe he’s checking my blog and Google will remove me! Already, “3rd Thirds” is only yielding searches about Third Graders. Here I am, in my Third Third, and I’m a Japanese porn attraction.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Agony at the eye doctor

You’re sitting in the eye doctor’s office, your face up against the machine, the doctor clicking away and rotating assorted lenses. Then he says…

…and you brace yourself for the most traumatic question imaginable:

“Is it better with A … or B?”

Okay, maybe the question is nowhere near the trauma of Sophie’s Choice, but for the lifetime I have spent in assorted eye doctors’ offices, my stomach still clenches at the question. I once wrote a short story about that question. I know I’ll be going back again soon and facing the question.

There is such responsibility in answering. A prescription will be written, contact lenses ordered, eyeglass lenses ground – all based on the answer. And the answer is always so … fuzzy. Is that D-E-F-P-O-T-E-C any better than that other D-E-F-P-O-T-E-C? So maybe you say, “Can you do that again?”

“Is it better with A … or B?”
They look the same! And you blink, but then they look a little different. Is that just the tears in the blink or is that your vision? Okay, you take a stab: “A.”

More clicking, more rotating. All you’ve done is buy yourself a few seconds:

“Is it better with A … or B?”
“Can you do that again?”

“Is it better with A … or B?”

“I think B.” But then you listen for a groan; are you becoming too difficult? Is there some decision tree that you’ve just failed, some auto-cross-check that means your answer is impossible? Why does your vision have to hinge on YOU? Can’t they just measure your eyes?

Over the years, more and more machines have shown up in the doctor’s office so maybe they are in fact measuring my eyes. Which doesn’t help because – as one doctor put it by opening my file and circling my age – my eyes are in their Third Thirds, too.

I get that our ability to focus (presbyopia) changed a while back. That was when all those menus started being held miles away, as far as our arms could reach. But I wore contact lenses with a close-up region and a distance region and miraculously, they both worked!

I think I could have been happy forever. Until the manufacturer discontinued the brand.
That meant my trials moved from the doctor’s office to the contact lens station. I became that woman’s worst nightmare. We went the monovision route where one eye sees close up and the other sees far away … and your brain rattles around trying to make sense of it all. We tried every different manufacturer, and I was like Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to fit into the glass slipper. Nothing worked. Finally, in desperation, after months of experimentation, I said, “I’m going on vacation. Just give me these.”

So I’ve been kind of getting around. I can watch movies and read highway signs. On a good day, I can read the newspaper and a book, but I bought my first pair of Peepers so I can magnify if I need to read a label or a map. (I got them in bright red so I could still look outrageous and bold with reading glasses; but I’m not fooling myself.)
Lately, though, I’m losing depths. At the grocery store, I can’t see the products if they’re two feet away, which is exactly where they sit on shelves. Everything else is still there, and I can put on the Peepers to read labels, but I’m missing that crucial two-foot span.

If I have to paint or sew, I pull out my old trusty, probably expired eyeglasses. Eyeglasses that never went out in public during my vanity days. So when I make plans outside my home, I have to know what I’m doing: movie, I can wear contacts; conversation, contacts. Painting class; contacts to see the teacher or eyeglasses to see the paper? Book club; contacts to see friends or eyeglasses to refer to the book? This is getting ridiculous.

I didn’t get a reminder notice from my eye doctor this year. I think the contact lens woman probably got a vote on that. I made an appointment on my own. Already, I’m having alphabet nightmares:

“Is it better with A … or B?”

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Biggish adventures from smallish quests

This is why it’s so hard for me to get through my piles of reading matter: there is always something interesting. So if I just toss them before perusing, I’ll miss out. What if I had missed the Signals catalog with Light Up Balloons? I would never have heard of Light Up Balloons!

We were launching the New Year with friends over and suddenly I wanted Light Up Balloons. In this snowless Anchorage winter, life is very, very dark. I really wanted Light Up Balloons.

But sudden isn’t how catalogs can deliver so I went on a quest. First stop, Party World. They didn’t have Light Up Balloons, but the woman there said she’d seen them at Dollar Zone. (pause for a yippee)

Now things were getting really exciting! My book club had read the book The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henr√≠quez. The two star-crossed lovers, Mayor and Maribel, meet in a Dollar Tree Store. I had never heard of a Dollar Tree Store … but now I was getting to go to … well, one like it. I guess a Dollar Zone is like a Dollar Tree, but really, I wouldn’t know.

First Dollar Zone: no, they don’t have Light Up Balloons, but the woman there definitely knew they were at another Dollar Zone. She’d seen them. “Oh, but I think I’ll look around while I’m here.”
A Dollar Zone store is like going to a flea market of brand new things. Along the side, it’s party land. That’s where the balloons are and all sorts of decorations. In another section are the soaps and shampoos and hair doodads. Then there’s the wall of kitchen gadgets and plastic things.

Do you remember the first time you ever went into a Costco? There’s a sort of nuttiness that took over – my sister, who lives in Berlin, said they had a word for it in German: Konsumterror. It’s about the pressure for materialism, like a consumer frenzy. All over Costco, that first time, we discovered what we called “orphans,” products that people had picked up and then abandoned later, when they came to their senses.

Well, I’m now immune to Konsumterror, both because I’m a Costco regular and because I’m in my Third Third and anti-acquisition. But I could see that the Dollar Zone was built to feed Konsumterror. Oh, oh! Could they have the little bottles I need for my raspberry liqueur? And my hairbrush handle broke; look at all these hairbrushes. And – not to be believed – they have the exact calendar I’d been looking for for only $1.75! (Too late, I’ve already written about that quest – but I’ll be back next year!)

I fought off any balloon-related Konsumterror by acknowledging that I had to blow up whatever I bought, so I only bought six. Inside the neck of the balloon is a little plastic thing: you click once for a fast blink, twice for a slow blink, and again for a solid light. It took one balloon for me to realize that it was hard to poke through an inflated balloon so I had to turn them on before blowing them up.
Tied on to the mailbox, they were everything I could have hoped for: bright, blinking, colored lights on a dark, dark night, welcoming friends to our home. Well, for a while. Only the blue and green stayed bright the length of the evening. Green is still going 24 hours later. The others are still pulsing but … dimly.

I feel such optimism for this new year. Two New Things right off the bat: Light Up Balloons and Dollar Zone. There’s no way to feel jaded when there are still discoveries to be made and adventures to be had. Adventure is a state of mind.

(PLUS, I figured out how to put Our Third Thirds on Facebook!)

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