Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Dark Side of Organizing

The very first post I wrote for this blog outlined the issues my Third Third had raised. The second post was about de-cluttering, and included eight thoughts on de-cluttering. Here I am years later, and all those are still big issues.

In the first blog, I asked, “Why is this Third Third such a big deal?” I gave ten answers, but the first one began, “It’s colored by mortality.” So now, get ready for a pandemic-influenced, dark-outside, morbid blog.

This is how my Third Third began: with organizing! I loved organizing/de-cluttering! It meant things that were strewn all over the place found their preferred location in my now-orderly universe. That new place was more attractive, aesthetically pleasing, neat, accessible, tidy. So, for instance, my hundreds of Anchorage Daily News columns found their way into my handmade books. Books were donated and only favorites held prime spots on the bookshelves. Videos became DVDs.

Organizing made my present and future more pleasant, cleansed of clutter.

It’s not that organizing itself was always smooth and pleasant. Every project suffered from setbacks and lost momentum, but when they were finished, it was terrific!

But lately, some other feeling appeared. After finishing the glorious collection of family recipes in my exquisite, artful, photo recipe book, friends called it a “legacy.”

How lovely! In that first blog, the fifth point in “Why is this Third Third such a big deal” was “What legacy do I leave behind?” Wow, now I had a legacy!

One I’d leave behind. After I was dead. (Cue the dark and the pandemic.)

Then I tackled the photo albatross: I culled, I tossed, I labeled, I mounted in a photo album for easy viewing. I actually finished it! Victory! … Not really. It seems I went from De-cluttering Reason #1 (“You have to toss some of your old life to make room for a new life.”) to #8 (Your kids don’t want your shit.) In other words, my organizing stopped feeling like I was making a new life, but rather packing up my old life for posterity.

My sister says, “Yeah, but as you went through the photos, you were reminded of each fun time and enjoyed them all over again.” Yes, all those fun times in the past.

Here’s another example: Tim and I have been meeting with a financial counselor, as we have every now and then over the years. Previous visits were like: Is this the best way to save? What can we do now so we can REALLY do something big next year or in two years? And how big can it be? Now, our financial plan has this big word in it: Estate. We’re not just looking at bank accounts or mutual funds; we’re looking at our estate.

Estates are for dead people.

Oh, I am getting very morbid. Instead of feeling like every paper I put in its proper file is clearing my desk, I feel like it’s making it easier for my survivors to find.

My siblings, who have no children, have different reactions. My sisters worry about where it will go; my brother happily says, “In the trash.” “But who will sort through it? Who will handle it?” the sisters ask. “No sorting. Whoever gets the house just throws it all out.” And he sweeps his hand across the Zoom screen.

Just today, my friend Chris asked, “What if all your photos, all your saved stuff, just vaporized? Isn’t it just … stuff?” She’s right. My files of community projects, places we’ve visited, high school yearbooks, appliance warranties – those can all vaporize.

But I have a different feeling about my writing. My mother used to write stories – she called her collection “Chicken Every Friday.” I read them once as a teenager, and they were really good. But they’re gone. Just gone. I would have liked to sit with her innermost thoughts. I would have liked to remember her that way.

So every time I encounter another piece of my writing, I don’t think happy organizing, clear-the-clutter, how-clean-how-tidy thoughts. I think of being remembered. Isn’t that what we’d all like, to be remembered well? Isn’t that a part of our Third Thirds experience?

In the dark of Covid winter, some thoughts are too bleak to entertain. But in the dark of Covid winter, some thoughts just sit and sit. That’s why this post has been so long in coming. I gave you a warning sign!

(I have heard that opening the door at midnight is supposed to help put 2020 to bed. And for extra insurance, I’ve Googled how to make a hot toddy to toast the arrival of 2021.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Pearl of Wisdom #2

I didn’t even realize this was a Pearl of Wisdom until today. My sister Elizabeth and I were trading memories (or non-memories, which seems to be the case more and more – is there a word for forgottenings?). She’d come across a mention of the play, Bye Bye Birdie, and remembered that I starred in it in sixth grade.

For those of you who may have missed it, Bye Bye Birdie is a take on Elvis Presley going into the Army. Some lucky girl is picked at random to get Conrad/Elvis’s last kiss before he’s inducted. The lucky girl is named Kim, and Ann-Margret became a super star with this role.

In 1963, I was a dork. I had pointy speckled eyeglasses, a flat chest, and scabbed-up knees. I was a member of the Math Club. At my own birthday parties, I hung out in the corners.

I was not Ann-Margret material.

But I had a very active imagination and fantasy life, and the part of Kim became my quest. My totally unrealistic and ripe-for-disappointment quest.

The director of the play was my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Faella, who was truly dedicated and did nothing halfway. She was going to pull off a spectacular production. For the scene where all the teens are talking on the phone in big squares, she’d have us on platforms with ladders and tables. We were going Broadway!

Yes, there was the problem of who was going to be Hugo (Kim’s boyfriend) and who was going to be Conrad Birdie (the kiss). The available pool were the sixth grade boys after all. I’d have to cross that bridge when I came to it.

Besides, I was still a dork.

The day of the audition, all the popular girls lined up. We were reading the part where Kim gets the phone call that she’s been selected as the lucky girl who will get the Last Kiss. Kim has just finished telling her mother that she is no longer going to be treated like a child, that now she will call her mother “Doris,” when the phone rings. She listens and is blown away. She shouts.

One after another, the girls read, “Doris! Mother! Mommy!” Next girl: “Doris! Mother! Mommy!” Next girl: “Doris! Mother! Mommy!” No crescendo, no variation, no increasing volume.

Back in the line, I had a crushing realization: if I read it just like the other girls, I’d just be one in a long line of girls. Plus, I’d still be the dork who thought she could try out for a starring role. I had to do something – ANYTHING – that would distinguish me.

You cannot imagine the crushing realization this sent through me: I had to do something DIFFERENT. I had to separate from the peer group and do something DIFFERENT. Even now – sixty years later! – I can feel the sweat and near-hysteria that gripped me on that line. It was either step out of my comfort zone and risk total and complete sixth grade humiliation or … remain a dork and abandon a fantasy.

My turn came. I read “Doris!” with a whimper, “Mother!” with desperation, and positively WAILED “Mooooommmmmyyyy!”

You could have heard a pin drop. Classmates stared at me. I had broken every rule of sixth grade peer-enforced decorum. But Mrs. Faella said, “Well, there’s no doubt about that. You have the part.”

Bye Bye Birdie was the biggest thing in my life for a long time. I did not become a popular girl; I remained a dork with scabby knees. But the dork was an actress. I had starred on the stage.

So now I’m sitting in my Third Third, musing on sixth grade Barbara. I didn’t know at the time I was learning a lesson, that I had broken through a wall, made something happen by the sheer force of will to appear stupid. I think I’ve revisited this lesson over and over again throughout my life – not just auditions, not just trying for a part – but encountering all sorts of barriers and obstacles and trials.

I’m not sure what the fear is exactly: the fear of losing out or the fear of actually being proven stupid. It seems an impossible effort to break through and risk utter stupidity. It takes practice.

If that 10-year-old Barbara could do it, so could this Third Third one. So can we all.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Art vs De-cluttering: A Play in Three Acts

The Setting
I save art supplies. Not only paints and brushes, inks and pastels, pencils and papers, fabric and yarn; but things that could possibly turn into art. Pieces of bark, sticks, wire, metal. Old scraps of rubber, plastic, sponges, things with texture. Mesh net that once held onions or cheese or whatever. Bins of this sort of stuff.

The key phrase is “could possibly turn into art.” Anything can possibly turn into art. Anything can also turn into clutter. Junk. But junk can turn into art.

You see the problem here? Quilters nicely call their hoard of fabric their “stash.” That’s because fabric looks like fabric. My sticks and bark and scraps look like junk.

Way back when, I bought Crab Cake Minis at Costco. It was an experiment. Then Covid-19 happened and what was I going to do with 36 crab cake minis and no guests? So they sat in the freezer until Sophie visited and I thought, “only chance to get rid of the crab cake minis,” so we ate them.

They came in a distinctive plastic shell, sort of like Costco apples, but mini. It was a sheet of little half-globes, each holding a tiny crab cake. The angel on my shoulder looked lovingly and imaginatively at that sheet, dreaming of how it might print a pattern or turn into something else.

But the devil on the other shoulder shouted, “No more junk! You have bubble wrap and other plastic textures. Just junk! Throw it out!” Which I did.

Art Inspiration (the Motivating Action)
My assignment from the Anchorage Museum’s Book Arts class is to make an accordion book of one of my collections. I’d already done something with my pressed leaves, something else with my tiny rocks. This time, I looked at my collection of flying women, the ones gathered around my computer as my muses. I would paint a sort-of-somewhat 3-D image of each doll and give her a page.

And there’s one of my Marilee Dupree dolls dancing over me, sitting on a globe. 

A globe that would be perfectly represented by a Crab Cake Mini half-globe!

[Brief episode of foul language]

Shopping Expedition #1
Costco has apparently moved on from Crab Cake Minis to Mini Tacos and Mini Quiches and Spanakopita. No more Crab Cake Minis.

Supporting Cast: The Friends
I turn to my Thursday Morning Women and my Friday Morning Women. They have lots of ideas, but it comes down to the packages that Ferrero Rocher chocolates come in. I’ve never heard of Ferrero Rocher chocolates, but I Google it, and Target has them.

Shopping Expedition #2
Target has them, but while the plastic packaging holds individual little chocolates, it has flat bottoms. No little half-globes. But while I am at Target, Friday Morning Judith has been on a thrift shop expedition of her own and has brought a plastic egg carrying case to my doorstep. It’s hard, too hard.

Supporting Cast: The Family
Obviously, I’m getting pretty boring by now, talking about little half-globes. My sister Allison, who lives in Germany, knows international chocolate. She’s also an incurable researcher, so during our Sibling Zoom, her head disappeared. We all know what that means, so the rest of us started yelling, “Stop it, Allison! Stop researching!”

But the flurry of emails couldn’t be interrupted: for a German chocolate named Toffiffee. Followed by an email for Toffifay, the name in the U.S. Followed by the directions to a Walgreens that sells it in Fairbanks. Followed by the directions to the Walgreens on my corner!

Shopping Expedition #3

The Encore
One of the other dolls hangs from the ceiling on a parasol.

Aha, there were those paper cocktail parasols Sophie got a long time ago for a birthday party. There were some left over that I’d saved for years. ... But I’d finally de-cluttered them, too.

[Another brief episode of foul language]

What’s to be done? I obviously can’t live in a house filled with all the infinite possibilities of junk-to-art. Right now, my art space is getting overwhelmed with projects-in-process. It’s driving me a little crazy, crazy enough to do some serious de-cluttering … and repeat this show in a few months.

Ah, but Judith to the rescue again: she has a stash of little cocktail parasols! So now I’ve reduced Judith’s clutter while she saved me from my over-eager de-cluttering error. Such a win-win!

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Sweat/No Sweat

I’ve been doing a daily nighttime diary for 14 days for Carnegie Mellon University: “Help Us Learn about the Impact of the Coronavirus on Individuals, Couples, and Families.” It asks me what Covid-19 measures I do, what activities I’ve done during the day, and whom I’ve interacted with and for how long. Then it asks how I’m feeling, both emotionally and physically. I recommend the study.

Most days, the only person I’ve seen in 24 hours is Tim, and most days – especially bad weather ones – we’re in our house for a lot of the day. That’s usual for me, but Tim has always been a coffeehouse or daily athletic club, get-out-of-the-house kind of guy. That’s not possible now. Our house is our only inside place. Our only inside place.

Usually, we inhabit the house very nicely together. This surprised me, but I’d had to adapt to his invasion presence when he retired, so this was old business. I go downstairs, he stays upstairs. I am so grateful for this space!

But with Covid-19, how Tim and I occupy the house is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

It started with his little 8-minute workout routine. I’d hear his phone beeping and he’d start jumping or sitting up or hopping or stopping. It was so cute! I offered assistance: “Why don’t you use the old ensolite pad I still have? Oh, what about those weights I got for exercises when both my legs were broken (and haven’t used since)?” 

Little by little, those eight minutes grew. Tim rediscovered the monkey bars on the ceiling in Sophie’s old room – which has been My Precious Space for years – and he’s added pull-ups to his workout. He comes in while I’m writing on the computer and he grunts and lifts and sweats right behind me.

He moves from room to room on his now-hour-long circuit. Hopping things seem to happen in his office, but stretching things seem to happen in the living room. I’m not sure where he does the giant blue ball things. Or the lunging things. (I’m downstairs and just hear thumps.) And now, there’s The Box.

I only exercise outdoors, period. Indoors, I may interrupt inactivity to do things, but the general backdrop is inertia. For me, Covid-19 means there is no consequence to laziness; if I don’t know what day it is, everything can happen tomorrow. Tim does Covid-19 strenuously and in motion. Outdoors and indoors. He just finished building The Box.

I love boxes. I love a good, clean box with a snug-fitting lid. A box just the right size for whatever contents. I am a Box Person. Boxes hold things.

Tim’s box is empty. It’s 18 inches square, wooden, beautifully crafted, and empty. He jumps onto it. Yes, he stands in front of it and jumps up vertically and lands on the box. Apparently, according to YouTube, it’s a Thing.

I stood in front of the box. Nothing happened.

I don’t even know what muscles to tell to move to make me jump up vertically like that.

Now, if you can see where this is going, it’s obviously about more than a box. I have to adapt to living with someone who is doing Covid-19 very differently from me. In the same house as me. I can’t just tell him to stop jumping and sweating and hopping and sweating and lunging AND SWEATING all over the house.

Omigod, what happens when it’s winter and the windows are closed?!?

I have to appreciate that Tim’s taking care of his health and wellbeing in the best way. (The Carnegie Mellon researchers would be very impressed.) I have to appreciate that he just purchased a giant floor mat so his sweat won’t land on the carpet. Finally, I have to appreciate that just because I am a slug, I do not have any moral authority to begrudge the non-slug in my midst (especially when the non-slug doesn’t complain about my craft supplies invading the common space). We share this Covid-19 interior space, and I    have    to    adapt.

Uh, oh. This might be harder than jumping onto that box.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Challenges of Art

This is a gratitude blog. Two weeks ago, I was abysmally [my word] grieving Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and the potential end of the world. I was a blob of despair…, yet hours later, I managed to sit at my computer with a burst of creative energy. What sparked it?

My Bricolage art challenge group. Bricolage means “something created from a variety of available things.” Five of us meet regularly to draw another creative challenge from our Ziploc bag of challenges.

Jinnie convened us and then moved to Idaho, but we’re still here. So first, I’m grateful to Jinnie for getting us together, for reintroducing me to Art as Play.

We used to meet indoors, but when Covid-19 happened, we had to come up with something else. We brought our chairs to the huge lawn in front of the closed universities and spread ourselves out very far apart. We were so happy! It was our first chance to see faces and bodies in real life.

We’ve become a little nervous about the weather going bad on us, but last week, it didn’t rain, and we’re determined. We’re checking out overhangs.

The challenge this time was “weaving.” Jane (who shared her art with photographs) wove gold-flecked paper and embroidery thread through paper. Pam wove yarn into the Y of a branch and covered the branch in yarn. Betty made a frame of four branches with jute and wove in natural items – feathers, flowers, even a wasp’s nest. I made two branch pieces; the big one is now on the living room wall. This is the little one.

Usually, Cathy is there, but she couldn’t make it this time. Both Cathy and Betty know about materials. I may have ideas, but I don’t know what kind of paint, what kind of coating, what kind of ink, etc etc. They are my go-to resources. But hints come from everyone. Pam kept her weaving tight by using a fork to squeeze her rows together – a fork! That would have made my weaving much easier! Now I know.

In my very first blog post, I asked myself, “How do I re-insert creativity into my life?” I’ve taken art classes, but it’s been the Bricolage group that has consistently kept me thinking and percolating over my creative choices. The challenges stew in my head till they take shape.

When confronted with the “playing cards” challenge, I turned it into painting a card on a rock and a whole book of face card characters and their royal scandals. When the challenge was “postcard,” it turned into a transparent, multi-layered postcard to the poet, Billy Collins. “Tea bags” became Happy Uterus Tea. “Paper dolls” is a continuing project as my protesting Barbara still has lots and lots to protest.

Jinnie reintroduced me to Art as Play, but I still cling to Art as Project: I visualize an idea or concept before I create something. And then I have to figure out how to make it difficult challenging.

So when the challenge was “envelopes,” I decided I would learn how to do curved piece quilting.

There have been a few duds. “Upcycling” occurred when our house was overflowing with brown paper bags from curbside grocery pickups. I happened to be at the Recycling Center when two guys were unloading cartons. They discovered the cartons were filled with packing material they didn’t know what to do with. “I’ll take it,” I said, “for an art project.”

So now I had brown paper bags and packing material. I read that you could make faux leather by wetting the bags, crumpling them up, then ironing them and varnishing them. If I stuffed them with packing material, I’d have trivets! Or, as the group dubbed them, “cow pies.” Fortunately, I got rid of all that packing material by standing outside the UPS Store and offering it for free. I’m still loaded with paper bags….

I really like the cards I made for “ravens,” but “leaves” is a project I haven’t let go. I keep making pressed, dried leaf notecards. Now’s the perfect time to collect more leaves.

“Plastic” meant a stained glass window for our bathroom. It’s colored plastic bags glue-sticked onto clear plastic. I’d wanted to do that ever since I took a workshop during one of my months in New York City, but it would have sat in the “someday” pile of ideas if it weren’t for my Bricolage group.

I often suffer from some creative paralysis, creative lethargy. I’m an in-the-mood creator, not a disciplined one. But if any creative juices flow, it’s usually sparked by a current challenge picked out of a Ziploc bag. The new one: “wire or metal.” I’ve had an unrealized metal idea since high school. Maybe now?

I am so very thankful that I am part of a warm, supportive circle of artists who inspire, challenge, and educate me. That’s why this is a gratitude blog.

Monday, September 14, 2020

A Day's Gift

I woke up this morning after an incredible night’s sleep. It was 10 a.m., so I’d just missed a gathering of friends, but instead of feeling disappointment, I only felt amazement: I had SLEPT! Sleep has always been elusive for me, but with Covid, I tend to sleep only every other night for a few hours.

I woke up to glorious, glorious sun in Anchorage. Sparkling cloudless skies. And I had an adventure planned: Tim and I were going to get an ice cream pop.

The adult daughter had visited us for the whole month of August – a whole month to outlast quarantine! – and we’d covered almost all the wished-for-and-missed food. With Forest Fair and State Fair cancellations, it seemed we’d never be able to have those chocolate-dipped Original Gourmet Ice Cream Bars again. So I searched and searched … and discovered they’d be at the “Friday Fling” in Palmer, 45 miles away.
I cannot tell you how delicious that ice cream bar was. Vanilla ice cream with delicious chocolate, all covered with Oreo cookie crumbs. I think it was the best one they’d ever made. We sat in the sun far away from anyone else, unmasked and in ice cream delirium.

As soon as we arrived home, the phone rang. Sophie just had to tell us that she’d had a great victory at work, wonderful choices presented themselves, and she was happy (but jealous about our ice cream). My mother used to say she could hear a “ring” in my voice on the telephone when I was happy; Mom, I now know what you meant.

Afterwards, I had to get to the library to pick up three books on hold before they were closed for the weekend. (Desperation lurks if I perceive I may run out of books.) So off I biked. When I turned in my library card to the always-helpful Sophie (a different one), she returned with five books! Two more had come in off long-time holds. A bonanza of library books!

As I biked home in the sunshine, it hit like a ton of bricks: a feeling of unadulterated joy. I can’t even describe it: it’s like sunshine lit up my soul with energy and happiness. It was a miracle. I was like the bike scene in E.T.
A miracle because it had been such a very long time. So long that I’d decided joy was no longer happening, that I wasn’t even marking its absence because it was just a non-event. Not sadness, not depression, just not-joy.

So what was it? Sleep? Sunshine? An ice cream bar? A bike basket full of books? A happy daughter? Living in a place where the air is clear and I can simply hop on a bike to ride to the library? A husband who may not think a 45-mile drive to get an ice cream is an “adventure,” but who happily does it with me nevertheless? (and who laughed as he pointed out that he only shows up as #6 or #7)

I am living a very fortunate life, free of violence, fire, smoke, financial collapse, hunger. I know that. All I “suffered” today were irritations:

  • the unmasked lady on the ice cream line who kept coming closer and closer to us

  • the next-door neighbors who added a sixth parked vehicle to the junkyard they call a backyard

  • the creeping crud that invaded my house plants

I could go on, fully aware that those are just irritationsnot hardships or catastrophes – but most times, I guess, even irritations get in the way of joy. Something gets in the way.

But somehow, SOMEHOW, joy crept in. I don’t know why. I wish I did so I could know how to hold onto it, how to usher it in when it’s absent.

But joy is not a function of reason. There is no formula that dictates sunshine + ice cream + library books = Joy. There is no chemical equation – no necessary and sufficient causes – that make joy the inevitable result of anything.


This joy was just a gift. Maybe it will be gone when I have a sleepless night tonight or if it rains. It will certainly fade when I read the news and hear about another political crime, racist murder, and/or environmental disaster.

But I’ve written it down; I’ve now documented it: Today, I felt Joy.

Joy exists.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Covid Choke

You’re going along, doing the grocery store pickups, seeing friends six feet separated, Zoom-ing. You might even say to yourself, I have a rhythm, I’ve worked this out, I’ve drawn on inner resources. But then – all of a sudden – it hits: the deep Doom feeling, the big Dread. It’s a Covid Choke. Do you have a better word?

My latest one came in a dream. In the dream, I was living the “old” life: I was facing … complexity. Things were happening, a lot was simply …  occurring. I was faced with decisions about paths to take, things to decide and take responsibility for, things to figure out. Things to go and do and experience. Choices to make.

It was such a rich life, a full life. There was theater and movies and travel and potlucks and lunches out and visits. It was just so FULL. Not busy and fast and rushed, but FULL.

So then I woke up, Covid-Choked by Doom and Dread. Would this go on FOREVER?!?  Would we always have to trade our rich lives for this sort of minimal life?

[Okay, we’d watched The Old Guard on Netflix, so part of the nightmare involved that horrendous iron cage the woman was put in for ETERNITY.] 

Let me repeat again because it bears endless repeating: my Covid is on a secure boat in a relatively undisturbed sea. I am not facing financial ruin, educating a child at home, dealing with death or serious illness. I am LUCKY! My heart and donations go out to the seriously challenged members of our world and the Food Bank of Alaska.

But I still choke. Occasionally. Still feel the punch to the gut, the horror of never-agains, the catastrophe of what ifs. The darkness that descends, scares the shit out of me, and then … dissipates. Because life goes on and this is what we have.

Yes, I’ve been artistically inspired and discovered new things. Yes, I’m navigating new technologies. Yes, I’ve learned to manage a household with inconsistent resources. Yes, I’ve learned how to visit with friends in physically-distant ways. Yes, the library reopened so I can consume books again. Yes, I actually liked Hamilton on TV better than Hamilton on Broadway (I could tell all the guys apart.) I haven’t gone blank or morose or bitter.

But it’s all taking place on the same stage. I’m watching every play being conducted with the same set, the same lighting, the same direction. I get outside, I explore in Nature. She’s still here, but – heresy! – she’s still trees and mountains and trails and creeks, and while those might be astounding, they can’t cover up the holes in the human-made, cultural universe. Everything has to fall within the same guidelines so no wonder everything feels sort of same-same, bland, no surprises. As one friend put it, it’s missing … dimension.

Maybe that full, rich, vivid dream came because the adult daughter is with us for a month. She can work remotely, so she was able to stay beyond the quarantine period to achieve “normalcy.” She faced airline travel, three Covid tests, and isolation and masking in our house to get to spend quality time with us. So as we approached “normal,” I guess I was left to dream of what the Real Normal used to be like. The rich, complex, full, tangled Real Normal with things HAPPENING. In person.

So of course I’d wake up to a Covid Choke.

And then, when I went out, I put on my mask. Choking doesn’t mean anyone gets to throw a tantrum.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Male Menace

Surprise, surprise: a man just called me a “fucking bitch” on the street today.

We were both on bicycles. I was going across the street, and he was going perpendicular to me; but we were both on the curb at the same time. I was headed down the little curb-cut across the street, but I was in his way and he wanted to go across my path. He had to swerve. So he yelled, “Up yours, you fucking bitch.”

Wow, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and I have this in common, too.

I’m sure any other woman and I have this in common, too.

I just finished reading Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men. We may all know the big ones (drugs not tested on female subjects, female prescriptions not covered by health insurance, etc.) but Caroline Criado Perez uncovers hundreds more. Glaring examples of how science, government, and corporations cater to the Default Male.

In one section, she looks at all the behaviors that men do that “make – and are often calculated to make – [women] feel uncomfortable … that add up to a feeling of sexual menace.” Mostly, these don’t happen when women are accompanied by men, “So men who didn’t do it and didn’t experience it simply didn’t know it was going on. … Another gender data gap.”

So, for example, you can use Google maps to get directions that are the fastest, that use the least mileage; but can you get one that shows the “safest” route? Men don’t see it, don’t collect it, don’t care to make that information useful to women. It took women to create Safecity, which crowd-sources personal stories of sexual harassment in public spaces to create a map indicating trends at a local level, mostly in India, but around the world.
A couple weeks ago, before Anchorage had a mask mandate, Tim and I went to Baskin Robbins for ice cream. Baskin Robbins has plexiglass to keep the staff separate and decals on the floor to keep the customers separate. It’s hard when everyone wants to look at the ice creams to see the selection, so I stayed way back, waiting my turn. I was the only one in a mask. (Tim was in the car, still futzing with trying to tie his on.)

One unmasked man kept moving over towards me. We weren’t near the counter, so there was no reason to. I moved away. He moved closer. I moved away. Finally, I told him, “I keep moving away, you keep moving closer. Please keep your distance.” He walked right up to me, stood in front of me, swelled his body, and STARED. I stared back and walked out.

I passed a now-masked Tim just coming in and told him we were leaving.

Yes, yes, Covid-19 has added a new agenda to the world, but he was an asshole looking for an excuse. And yes, I’m a reasonably assertive woman who can hold her own. And no, I don’t think I attract any particular negative energy in the universe. And no, I’m not a “victim.” And no, I was not going to get the young, teenaged, ice cream scooping staff involved in this. And yes, I’ve gone through multiple after-the-fact responses I could have made but didn’t and wish I had.

So this is what I’m doing. I’m reporting these instances of female-targeted male aggression to my husband. To my brother. To men around me. They’re all nice men, men who treat women with dignity, but I don’t think they know how common “fucking bitch” behavior is. And they need to know this. Not to protect me, but to know.

Actually, I experience it less often during Covid-19 because I’m not near other people, but obviously, it still lurks.

I don’t even have to ask any woman: you know what I’m talking about. I will take any and all suggestions for responses. Ones that illuminate, educate, humiliate preferred.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Making of a Recluse

Uh, oh. It’s happened. I’m a recluse. A hermit. I’m no good around people.

It’s always been brewing. You can’t be a writer and a distance runner and not be comfortable with solitude. And if your other pursuits are reading and art and lap swimming, you’re not quite a party animal.

So when Covid-19 and self-isolation first hit, it was almost business as usual. I remained absorbed in my projects, my reading, my quiet contemplation. My well-developed art of doing nothing. My mother used to say I needed five hours of alone time a day in order to be good around people. Even though Covid-19 gave me lots of Tim Time, we’ve learned to be alone in our house: I go downstairs; he stays upstairs. And Tim’s not a chatty guy.

Withdrawal crept up on me gradually. Most of my human interactions involved doing things with other people. I’m good at finding things to do, and other people make it more enjoyable. Want to see the quilt show with me? Want to go to the movies? Want to come over for dinner?

When things-to-do shut down, things quieted. Then there was Zoom.

Lovely Thursday and Friday morning gatherings became Zoom gatherings, as did book club. For a while, that was a New Thing and it worked. We could stay in touch. But after a while, the faces in the gallery became facsimiles of people, mug shots. Staring at mine was disconcerting at best, excruciating at worst. I took to turning off video. That helped, but it’s still video conferencing – for meetings! – not relaxed human conversation and play. (Except my weekly sibling Zoom call: siblings can still tease, play, and goof on Zoom. It’s innate.)

Staring at a screen is now torture. I’ve gone way past Zoom fatigue; I’m in Zoom abhorrence.

Fortunately, there are now social distancing meetups. My art group was my first, and it was glorious. We sat in a very wide circle on the unoccupied university lawn and heard real human voices with real human bodies. Then my book club did it, too. Hooray!
We have visited with friends sitting six feet apart outside. I have walked and biked with friends six feet apart. So why am I now a recluse? Why now do I feel socially awkward, like a misfit who would do socially inappropriate things in public?

I often do socially inappropriate things in public. (Ask my daughter.) It’s a battle I’m constantly fighting because there have always been rules my mouth and I just don’t get. Until I get home and review all the mistakes I’m sure I’ve made.

Now, some people might say, “Oh, Barbara, recluse isn’t you! You’re such an extrovert.” Actually, introverts are mistaken for extroverts because we overcompensate when in public – we can be ebullient in public! – even socially inappropriate – but then we have to recover in private.
The thing is, if we don’t have a “public” for months on end, we forget whatever social skills we might have had. Or we become convinced we’ve forgotten. It’s not exactly fear, more like reluctance or resistance. Or fear. It’s not the fear of catching the virus; I protect myself enough for that.

It’s simply the fact that I’m out of practice with being around people. For communicating. It even makes writing difficult – even this blog – because I’ve become so well-separated from communication. And it actually started with texting-instead-of-phoning; we’ve all been on elaborate back-and-forth texts that could have been resolved with one phone call … but the phone call doesn’t happen. Now Covid-19 has introduced even newer walls in our lives, but they don’t get dispelled with conversations, time together, empathic listening. Like I’m a bumper car banging around – bumping, not touching.
Lately, I’ve seen articles on “How to be Alone,” advising people how to use Covid-19 time as an “opportunity not to escape solitude but to lean into it.” But nothing about the people who’ve leaned in so far they’ve tipped over.

I think I’ve tipped over. Sometimes I actually hide. Tell me, am I the only one this is happening to? Hello? Helllllooooo???

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Eager for the Revolution

I’m apologizing in advance. This post is about Me, in a time when Me needs to shut up and let others do the talking. But if my voice can add volume to the uproar and support to the weary, here I go.

I’m in my Third Third, and I have been waiting for the revolution since 1968. Or maybe it was 1964 when the three Freedom Riders were killed in Mississippi. I was sure it would happen in 1968 as assassination after assassination shook us to our core. I thought once you get horrified, once you SEE; you fix things.

But with every single new outrage – and we have had lots of outrages since 1964 – I thought, “This is SO HORRIFIC, so INHUMANE, this will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. This will spark the change.”

But it just kept on happening. Last week, I would have just chronicled all my furies, thrown my rage and MAD CAPITALIZATION around, and succumbed to the despair that nothing changes, injustice wins, hope is lost, racism is forever. I wasn’t going to see it end in my lifetime. That’s what I was going to say.

But maybe, maybe, this is a bit different. (Can it be? Can it be?) Maybe, maybe, eyes are opening. (Can it be? Can it be?) Maybe, maybe people are willing to see – can’t avoid seeing? – that racism is poisoning our society. That people of color have had to walk a much harder and more dangerous life. A MUCH harder and way more dangerous life.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, America was “appalled” at the poverty exposed. Mostly white police blocked an escape route out for the mostly black refugees; they didn’t want them in their suburb. It took a recent book to expose the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks, an African American woman whose cells were used to develop a polio vaccine, advances in medicine, potential anti-cancer drugs … making lots of money for pharmaceutical companies but her family can’t even afford health insurance. And people are only now noticing that people of color receive unequal health services because they’re over-represented in Covid-19 cases? Only now??? 

Uh, oh. My optimism is precarious; it’s starting to give way. I wake up and tell Tim I’ve had another angry dream. He looks at me, “And that’s a surprise?” I want Martin Luther King’s dream, dammit!

Unarmed Eric Garner can’t breathe in New York in 2014, but unarmed George Floyd still can’t breathe and is murdered in Minneapolis in 2020. In between, there were unarmed Michael Brown and unarmed Freddie Gray and too many others. Can this be any clearer?

But to me, the thing that really shows the ugliness and racism that lurks and poisons is Amy Cooper. A regular white woman who doesn’t want to put her dog on a leash in a park KNOWS that she can call the police and shout “African American man” and get results. She can scare the shit out of him and potentially get him arrested or killed.

Isn’t that just the ugly truth of our society?
In 1964, people died trying to help black Americans vote. In 2020, Republicans decide people should die voting in Wisconsin. In 1965, police broke up a peaceful march in Selma with nightsticks and tear gas. In 2020, police tear-gassed a peaceful protest in Washington, D.C. so the President could get a photo op with a Bible in front of a church. In our third thirds, we’ve witnessed the sheer tenacity of injustice. It’s the story of our lives.

Can I even face getting my hopes up again?

White men with automatic rifles stand in front of the Michigan state Capitol; no police break up their protest. Yet African American protesters carrying signs and “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” get tear-gassed. Journalists with visible microphones and cameras are deliberately attacked.

No wonder people are angry! I’ve been waiting decades to see justice done, to see racism faced, to see privilege acknowledged, to see wrongs righted … and I haven’t even been paying that price. A whole host of our population has been waiting – and paying the price – for hundreds of years. I’m angry that this is the world we’re giving our children.

This America that we value is just a popular and enduring myth. It’s only aspirational until – finally – we face ourselves and our institutions and make it a reality. Is this the time? Is it finally NOW? Finally? In our lifetimes?

We have work to do.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Beware: Exciting Project Ahead

You may be wondering where I’ve been. Well, of course I’m still hunkered down at home, but that’s where I fell down the rabbit hole.

I promised myself – as I heard tales of people learning Italian or finishing novels or writing sonatas during Covid-19 – that I was not going to be one of those people.

I most certainly was NOT going to organize my unsorted photos. I’d flunked that before.

This all started with the daughter – who used to have a chef at work preparing her meals – phoning to ask for some recipe favorites from home. I felt so … flattered. I eagerly pulled recipes from my cookbooks, magazines, index cards, folders, and scraps of paper and sent them on.

But as I scanned a few cookbook pages, I discovered other recipes – long forgotten ones – that had “delicious” marked on them. In my ratings hierarchy, “delicious” is the top. Those recipes get added to what I call The Repertoire. Yet these had been forgotten, buried in the pages of the cookbooks, lost in recipe clutter.

In this Covid Spring, I’m ordering grocery pickup like a military logistics person: how can I use every bit of produce so it doesn’t go to waste? I go through my cookbooks, maximize my ingredients. When I see an unknown, unremembered “delicious” – marked in my own handwriting so that other Barbara must have really made it – I try it again. It’s still delicious!

I am not and have never been a foodie. When I take my urban infusion months, I don’t visit fancy restaurants; I eat street food. I don’t know the names of famous chefs or 5-star restaurants. My fascination with food starts and stops with The Great British Baking Show.

But it’s Covid Spring and I’m reading cookbooks page by page.

I’m also getting my daily email from Shutterfly to make a photo book with big discounts and free shipping if you order by Tuesday. That’s not going to happen, but maybe I could eventually make a photo book of our favorite recipes. Maybe I could scan in those original, oil-stained pages – unbury them. Maybe I could do this over a year or so and catch whatever discount was in play.

So I start.

Soon I’m immersed in recipes. I’ve broken the bindings of two cookbooks from scanning. I have little slips of paper with headings: Holidays, Soups, Salads, Appetizers and page numbers. Or magazine pages, torn out. Or more slips of paper.

I’m artfully arranging pages, designing headings and comments and stories. This is so creatively absorbing, I can’t blog. I can’t garden. I can’t watch Netflix. I am a recipe-aholic. It’s delightful.

Then I get an idea: add photos of our family eating some of the dishes.

That’s when I pull out the huge carton of unsorted photos. That’s the door to the abyss.

The floor of my office is covered in photo envelopes and little tags: 1999, 2000, 2001, etc. Instead of just looking for food photos – which I found – I became obsessed with … ORGANIZING.
Organizing is a curse. I emailed my siblings: what year did we go to Victoria? What year was the first Girl Scout Encampment? I’m not only dealing with photo clutter, now I’m dealing with the terrible confirmation of memory loss.

It gets worse. For the Salad section, I wanted the photo our family calls “Sophie Salad.” She is an infant, and we have put her in our giant wooden salad bowl. I go right to the album, and the spot where that photo has always been is BLANK! Yes, I remember I’d pulled it to make her yearbook collage in high school, but didn’t I put it back?!?

I tear the house apart. Ultimately, I go through every single photo envelope looking at negatives. Negatives! Hundreds and hundreds of negatives. This is not a rabbit hole; this is solitary confinement in the cuckoo’s nest.

But I found it!

This is a Pyrrhic victory. I have won the battle, but lost the war. My enthusiasm for the great recipe photo book has waned. I don’t even want to cook any more. I can’t face the piles of photos and tags strewn across the floor. I should just pack them up, clear them out, and de-clutter my brain.

So now I’m gardening.

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