Friday, November 30, 2007

NaBloPoMo - structure and improv

NaBloPoMo Nov 30, 2007

Yea! It's the last day of NaBloPoMo.

I can say that if nothing else, I have learned how to remember the acronym. hehe
But wait, there is something else. I did actually write every day--my main goal. I did explore various topics and thoughts--a secondary goal. I also explored ways of writing something when no inspiration was forthcoming--a happy rediscovery of using stream-of-consciousness writing to generate writings.

Now I'm almost surprised that somehow the month has gone by.

It's been a good exercise for me. Sometimes one has to "practice your scales and persevere." To make good art, sometimes you have to be willing to make bad art. And it's good for me to start letting go of, not my standards, but of my perfectionism. Such as: everything has to be just right; it has to be worthy of exposure to public air, and all that crap.

Well, the slow and steady approach actually works. Improvisation actually works. Preparation and practice actually works. Revision also works. I can't remember who said that good writing is in the editing. I've found that to be true in my writing process, but good editing was not my goal this month, it's more about letting go of my perfectionistic needs, not being too be hard on myself for not living up to some wildly unrealistic ideals.
Karen Kohlhass (a NY based theater director and teacher, among other things) wrote something about this, too. See? FlyLady works for all kinds of people. ;)

Anyway, it's part of the creative process... not waiting for inspiration to strike, but doing your scales, keeping the skills toned and honed so that when something especially important comes along, one can sweep into position and play it for all its worth.

I've been trying to be more improvisational with my life the last few years. I once took a wild and out-there, movement-mind-voice, not-quite-yoga class that helped me into this idea. One of the exercises we did several times was to practice a single movement until it felt familiar, and then to play with changing it in small ways, moving into larger variations, riding the impulse to see where it took us before coming back to the original movement to see how our feelings had changed about it.

It was way cool, the power I had; I realized I could improvise with almost anything! It's very different than just flailing about, trying to do something completely different, although sometimes that is what you arrive at.

I saw that my life was an improvisational canvas too. I could play with my usual ways of doing something. That's an incredibly valuable perspective when I get caught in trying to do something "perfectly" or worse, not even attempting something because I think I will fail at doing it perfectly. So life improvisation saves my sanity on a regular basis, freeing up energy for trying new things, just seeing what happens.

I can fall into a habit quite easily. Sometimes I find a good fit, and if it feels comfortable, I will stay there, using that same strategy or sequence or habit until it doesn't work any more. Now, when I talk about improvising, I am not talking about changing for the sake of change, necessarily, but I am a big fan of minimizing the time I spend on unimportant decisions.

My thoughts are partElaine St. James
(Inner Simplicity and Simplify Your Life), part Steven Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), and part efficiency expert
a la Frank and Lillian Gilbreths in Cheaper By the Dozen
(the book, not the movie). [Oo, linkies]
and FlyLady again for structures and routines.

If something is non-vital, I want to just find what I like and what works and stick with it. Why make that same decision over and over and over again? Waste of my energy, and it's not as if I don't already have plenty of other stuff clamoring for attention in my head. :) So, I simplify where I can.

Sometimes I will prioritize my decisions. What can be decided upon relatively easily and/or is not that important, and what requires more thought and/or has a weightier import. It's a skill I didn't realize I had, until I noticed other people who seemed to get easily bogged down in what seemed to me to be relatively trivial decisions.

Caveat (of course): sometimes I get bogged down too! Too much detail, too many pieces, too many decisions among many. Oo, bright thing! Oo, another possibility! Whoa, man, that is totally cool! Next thing I know, stuff is whirling around in my head, and I'm stuck trying to make order of it.

So yeah, I can get completely lost in the fragments and bogged down trying to sort through those possibilities at times. Yet, when I CAN manage it, triaging my decisions helps me streamline my thoughts. And wow, that is a great feeling.

Sometimes I DO have a very specific idea of what I want, and that's cool too. Visualizing the outcome clearly is sometimes an even better guide to getting where I want to go. But if I don't know exactly where I want to go, I doodle, perambulate, mull things over, try new variations, improvise a little! And even with the lemons that life hands you, well, one can always make lemon meringue pie, lemon sorbet, lemon-lime palettas, grate a little peel into coffeecake batter, not just make lemonade.

Sometimes it's so freeing to not have the "perfect" outcome in mind, but to throw myself in the general direction and see where it takes me. Having ONLY a perfect image in mind almost guarantees that I will not achieve that thing. Besides, sometimes I can't visualize the perfect thing until I play around enough to know what I want. It really helps me to have my structure and routines in place first (thank you FlyLady), then improvise from that. After all, I do deal with a lot of unstructured and structured time in my life.

... and finally, sometimes, it's good to, know when to stop, let the dough rest. Now that I've done this structure of NaBloPoMo month writing, I can improvise, and see where this blog is taking me. So I'll let this one rest now... let it fluff a little and come back to it. I can't wait to see what happens next!

* * * *

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Looking Like/Unlike

Between doses of cold medicine, soup, and chocolate, I managed to put this down today... Maybe it makes some sense.

* * * *
Liana at Welcome to the Dollhouse has an interesting post earlier this month musing over how people tended to say her adoptive daughter looked so much like her. She is black, her husband is white, and her daughter is considered mixed, and also happens to be adopted. So there are all kinds of reaction that could be going on there.

Commenting on a child's likeness to family members... is it veiled prejudice or awkward small talk or what? There doesn't seem to be an easy take on that.

Sometimes we do get vibes from other people that they are uncomfortable or downright hostile to our combination of family/racial mix or whatever. Those questioners feel very uncomfortable and on some level want to make us uncomfortable about our choices or about who we are. In that case, I don't have any qualms about issuing a smack down or freezing them out as needed.

True, one sometimes runs into the clueless, as did one poster on RQ recently who was chased through an airport by a teen and her mother crowing how cuuuuuute her daughter was to the point of being uncomfortably objectifying. What was her remark, again? "My daughter is not a puppy!" heh Too right.

Objectifying anybody for any reason is objectionable. As if any one characteristic could represent the whole person. Even a beautiful woman may not appreciate having her obvious beauty drowning out her other talents. People are more than their faces, physical characteristics, or racial backgrounds, one way or another.

I didn't ask to be made this way, even if it looks sometimes looks attractive, so for me, it's part of my persona in the world, but mostly incidental to who I am as a person.

Anyway... What really came up for me while reading her post was the way people used to remark on my family when I was growing up.

As I've said before, I have striking coloring. I had any number of friends and strangers remarking on it. The attention was mostly favorable, but it was a little odd. I didn't look obviously like my parents since the coloring feature drowned out other similarities. I got so many people asking me (in cutesy or admiring tones) "where did you get your lovely___??" that my mother taught me to say, "I got it from my dad's ___." I think she heard a bit of a jab in some of those remarks, so my response would gently point out that I was actually related to them. And in my extended family, it's true this coloring is not at all unusual; it just wasn't present in my immediate family that most people saw.

Now I wonder if my Mom was uncomfortable with friends and strangers implying that I was not my father's child, and was trying to head that off. Of course, in the process, she also squelched any hint that I might consider myself attractive, but that's another story. Maybe she thought she was trying to protect us from judging ourselves on looks alone.

When I got older, the more common remark has become "you look JUST like" so-n-so. "Let me guess," I say, they have "____" coloring feature. I try not to be too sarcastic, but the odds are great that its the ONLY feature I have in common with this so-n-so. I've even had people mistake me for some other person who looks NOTHING like me except for that x feature. It's a permanently annoying aspect of my existence.

Occasionally, there will be a deeper similarity. My old college roommate and I looked similar enough that college friends called us "twins." But it wasn't facial features or anything. It was a hint of coloring, plus body type, plus a goofy sense of personality and humor. Once she got a perm that made her hair poof out, and I thought it hysterically amusing how she looked *that much more* like me. :D

* * * *
But anyway, the strange thing in our family is that myself and my sisters look so different from each other and our parents. Through some wild and crazy genetic mix, we each have different coloring, hair texture and facial shape. We used to sometimes get people who would accuse us of lying that we were sisters! You can imagine how annoying this can be-- people who knew nothing about our family trying to rearrange the truth to suit their limited sense of the world!

For those people who insist that families should "match," I say, "meh!" They don't know the complexity of human genes and human connections.

* * * *
If you know where to look, you know that my middle sister and I look more like two different grandmothers on opposite sides of the gene stream. She's also very striking, my sister, but she has a whole different look.

We do have emotional similarities. We are locked tight together like pieces of a puzzle, despite sometimes locking uncomfortably closely, or with little knobs that catch or grind on our connection. We used to write letters to each other when we were away at school. Long, rambling letters that touched on our frustrations, our passions, the curiosity, the need to know, to organize, to connect... We are keyed into a similar sensibility. We are literary, questioning, creative, wounded, strong, appreciative, expressive.... We functioned as undeclared best friends back then, intuitively understanding each other from our shared background. We are still alike in so many ways, but not in our looks.

* * * *
I think we are keyed from an evolutionary standpoint, to search for similarities and likenesses. You know how the human brain can discern patterns lightening fast. So if people are related (and even if they are not), we look for similarities.

I used to search photographs of myself and relatives looking for similarities. The source of my hands and frame is dead easy, but what about my eyes? My nose? From where did I acquire that funky little cleft? The occasional dimple? My tendency towards IF? My artistic tendencies? Yes, where DID I get my unusual eyes? Or for that matter, where did my sister get *her* amazing eyes, those brilliant deep blues that capture us all? It's a mystery; there's no direct lineage marker; knowing my genetic ancestors does not help clarify the answers.

Once I saw a graduation picture of myself, and I suddenly saw my long-dead grandmother in me... the one that I don't resemble was suddenly rising to the surface. I was both startled and thrilled. I AM my mother's mother's child.

My husband, now, I can see the aspects of his mother, his dad. I love seeing how my nieces and nephews have a combination of this person's eyes and that person's smile.

My BIL's brother adopted a little girl from China. I've never met her or him, but when I saw her pictures, I was struck by the similarity of expression. There were those family eyebrows, placed high as if in perpetual question or surprise--it was there in her face, I tell you! I didn't say anything because they would think it was silly.... a relative stranger pointing out an "impossible" resemblance. I just keep it to myself, a small delight that the matchers picked up on something that went together...

So what if we search for similarities? It's like working a puzzle, looking for evidence of our connections. And isn't family all about connections? What makes family, family, and not just good friends or bad acquaintances? (Oh, but that's another post!)

It seems to be that similarities are part of the glue that binds us together, whether those similarities are visible or not... and part of our inheritance, too, whether genetic, emotional or from the box labeled "other."

It seems like a grand mystery to me. Cue the sweep of violins!

* * * *

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

send soup!

What's that? NaBloPoMo is almost over? I never thought I'd say it, but good! I am having a rough week.

But I do have something for you in an imperfect state. I will babble on for a while, but I think there's some good stuff there.

I've been meaning to post about this all month, and here's my chance--while avoiding other vital work projects while sick! (hack, sniffle) I can't avoid the deadline OR my whatever-it-is, but I can avoid with the best of them.

* * * *
A while back, I read a very appealing book (novel) called The Last Chinese Chef, written by Nicole Mones, who also wrote Lost in Translation (which you know I loved). TLCC also explores the theme of two people out of their element developing a relationship of sorts and finding new aspects of themselves, unraveling parts of their pasts, but it's less depressive overall than LIT. It really is a wonderful read.

Since my brain is not really up to originality today, I draw on some reviews for adjectives:
"Luminous" "poignant" "sumptuous" "butter smooth prose" (Diana Abu-Jaher) "nourish[ing] the head, the stomach, and the soul." (David Henry Hwang)

"A dazzling journey ... through the mysteries of ... Chinese culinary arts to produce a feast for the human heart." (David Henry Hwang)

Of all the reviews on the cover of that I've seen, I like the blurb from Kirkus Reviews the best:
"Mones has a subtle touch when portraying growing affection between genuinely nice people. Meticulously researched gastronomy will entice foodies, even those whose familiarity with Chinese food is limited to takeout. Warning: avoid reading while hungry."

I would also add the Warning Caveat: Avoid reading if you have lost a spouse, especially tragically.

The main characters are very sympathetic with complexity and flawed but endearing human detail. The book depicts how people work through some of the questions that haunt their lives... past and present... how do I take the past and turn it into something I can understand and live with in the present, into the future? Not the usual boy meets girl kind of story. It was a very satisfying read that I could really sink into. I may have to buy it for my library.

In addition to the human relationships, I was loving the little details of Chinese culinary ideals, and the terms and phrases to describe qualities.

* * * *
Some notes on cuisine from the book... most of these are quoted straight from the book.

Formal ideas of flavor and texture:

Artifice and illusion. Sometimes food is made to appear to be one thing and is actually something else. A kind of intellectual play. Food to fool the diner. Food as theater. Food for healing. Eating as community. Every meal is eaten as part of a group. All food is shared.

Flavor ideals: (four main ones)

xian - the sweet, natural flavor, eg butter, fresh fish, clear chicken broth (it's natural but it's concocted)
xiang - the fragrant flavor, eg frying onions, roasted meat
nong - the concentrated flavor, deep complex taste eg meat stews, dark sauces, fermented things
you er bu ni - the rich taste of fat without being oily

Texture ideals: (three main ones)

cui - dry and crispy
nun - like taking something fibrous and making it soft and yielding
ruan - perfect softness, like velveted chicken, a soft-boiled egg

Sometimes a dish focuses only on texture, not flavor!

Then you mix and match flavors and textures. The art of that is called tiaowei.
Then match dishes in their cycles, and then the meal as a whole, "which is a sort of narrative of rhythms and meanings and moods."

"there are three kinds of menus ... the extravagant, the rustic, and the elegant."

Some food sayings:

Zhi feng mu yu - I am determined. "Whether combed by the wind or washed by the rain."
Cu cha dan fan - eat simply "crude tea and bland rice"

* * * *
In short, this book is zhen bang - great!

I shall now go attempt to fall asleep (hack sniffle ugh)

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One of those posts

I got nothing today. Or I have something and I don't have any energy to deal with it. I feel like I'm coming down with something. This is the worst possible week to get sick, with the exception of any of the following four weeks...

*sigh* later...


Sunday, November 25, 2007

7 Random Things Meme

I was tagged by Tracy at A Map of my Life So Far

So here are the rules.
1. Write your meme, then link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
So people can know whether to thank you or curse you.
2. Share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself.
You know the weird random stuff, that you think could make for a interesting blog post, but you were shy to tell about.
3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
and do this step wisely,You know who is game to play and who isn't.

* * * *
So here it is:
7 random and/or weird things about myself

1. I don't own a TV. It's just not part of our lives and we like it that way. We do enjoy watching certain things while traveling.

2. I learned to like coffee by eating coffee-flavored chocolate in Germany.

3. I was a baton twirler in my youth. Don't laugh, now! My troupe went to South Bend every Summer for the big national tournaments. 'Twas a lot of work and a lot of fun. Especially since we had routines to things like "Love Machine" and "American Woman" and even "Pinball Wizard." Ah, the '70s.

4. My second toes are double jointed. I inherited this from my mother.

5. Having a china cabinet feels like the height of domestic bliss and coziness to me. It's like it *makes* the household.

6. I have a fondness for quirky humor, so it's probably not a surprise that I am a big fan of certain quirky online comic strips. It's the art, it's the characters, it's the dialogue, it's the snark, it's the sly and subversive humor.

My current must-reads are:

PVP by Scott "damn it, Brent!" Kurtz

scary-go-round by John "looks, brains and everything" Allison, and

diesel sweeties by R. "why do I even bother asking you rhetorical questions" Stevens
Now with a print series as well: diesel sweeties - print edition

7. I don't do deadlines well. Partly it's that I can be really absent minded. But mostly, it's that I am too easily distracted to figure out things like web stuff without screaming in frustration, literally. I call my husband tech & emotional support because he can do things for me when I have run out of patience, thank god. It thrills me no end when I can actually get something to work. Like for instance, look! There are linkies in this post! And a block quote thingie! (wheee!) It only took me about 6, I mean 7, edits, but hey, it's an improvement. Okay, make that 8. OMG look at those linkies! Is that cool or what? Um, what was the question again?

* * * *
I will have to add other links to tagged blogs later 'cause I am a little behind with so many other things, this will just have to go on the pile.

* * * *

Labels: , ,

Traveling Numbers

Well, we made it home in one piece. Today has been a good bit of travel--a long distance, but not unbearable or undoable by our standards.

* * * *
Today, we traveled through 4 states.

We drove about 9 hours (including stops).

We changed drivers three times.

We stopped 4 times total, including one quick pee break and one longer meal break.
(We stopped at our favorite mid-point travel plaza for dinner, but there was a long line just to *park* so we veered down the road into town to find a relatively calm pizza hut we've eaten at in the past.)

We each took one nap.

We refueled twice.

The highest price we saw for regular gas was $3.27.

The lowest price we saw was $2.69.

The median price we paid was $2.99.

We traveled on 13 different numbered highways and routes.

We went through umpteen small towns and through 5 largish cities.

We traveled through two tunnels.

We traveled over at least two major river bridges.

We paid $3.75 in tolls.

We got as high as 80 mph and as low as 5 on the highway.

We saw numerous cops.

We hit only one scary traffic jam.

We saw a couple traffic stops, but only one bad accident.
(Sedan flipped on the side of the road with people trapped inside. We missed seeing it by minutes--there were folks all over the median and berm, people still stopping up and down the road, but no cops or emergency workers yet. Saw various cop cars and a fire truck tearing past later. That got me distressed for a good hour.)

We saw cows and horses and ponies.

We saw three sets of geese "V"s flying across the sky.

We saw three cars with Christmas trees tied to their roofs.

We had more than 6 hours left in the day by the time we got home. Not bad...

* * * *
Hope every one's travels go safely and smoothly. Godspeed and all that.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 24, 2007

the family rub!ks cube

* * * *
It's interesting, reconnecting with cousins and family that I have not talked with in years. Family shifts in the last couple years have made some of us look at each other with new interest outside of our habitual typical connections. It's completely unexpected but invigorating too.

Some of the old patterns lurk in the background with the potential to trip us up, but wow, there is so much possibility. We are adults now, with experiences and perspectives that let us rise above childhood petty needs.

We are still testing each other out in some ways... I hear echoes of other generational issues sometimes. Mostly though, what stands out is how we have broken through some of the old crap that kept us apart now that older members of the family (whether through death or aging) have lost the old controlling grip on what we think and feel about each other. Or maybe we are simply learning to know each other as adults. Instead of playing out old patterns from our parents, we are making new ones, improvising a new relationship.

I am interested to see how I click with relatives I never thought of as friends before. And conversely, some of the people I was closest to early in my life have receded in importance, mostly through personality and philosophical differences. Toss it all up in the air, and it all rearranges.

Relationship improvisation. It's way cool...

* * * *
Seeing a pile of children, a new set of cousins, tumble and play on the same floors where we used to play, I couldn't help seeing with double vision the past overlaid with the present. Familiar voices drifted about. I kept expecting my aunt (recently passed away) and my Dad (not here this weekend) to walk into the room... and I caught myself looking around to see others not present.

Once, talking to the child of a cousin, I gestured to my uncle and referred to him as "grandpa," and had to pause for a second to get my chronological bearings! (My uncle actually is his grandpa.) What year is this again? I'm watching the years expand and contract simultaneously, refracting in all directions, and we're all caught in time, the same cycles and family connections over and over again. Whoa!

It used to be me, down there playing with my cousins, all of us. And now the generations have moved up a bit, and I'm in the middle generation. It feels kinda nice, actually. I enjoy being a relative to a new generation, one of the responsible adults who entertain and raise the younger ones. I enjoy being in this sea of family.

* * * *

Labels: , ,

Post for November 23rd

Hi! This is another post from the road. Well, my post for this day was sadly delayed because my inlaws' neighbors put a password on their wireless network, thus depriving us access to the internet. :D Too bad. Wait til tomorrow.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

...and not use all the parts of the buffallo...

* * * *
Happy happy Thanksgiving to you all. May you be enjoying good food (pie!) and the fellowship of family and friends. I've been thinking of those of you (some of you my own relatives) who have been facing this holiday as the first Thanksgiving without a loved one. And wishing you comfort. And pie, of course. At least there's pie.

I am thankful for relatives within traveling distance, and that we can still share the details of our lives in a meaningful way.

I'm thankful that we are relatively healthy and mostly aging well.

I'm thankful for my nieces and nephews--giving me the opportunity to hold a special place in their lives and to pass on my hard-won wisdom and family goofiness.

I'm thankful for my SIL and that we have become friends over the years, trusting each other with sensitive details of our lives.

I'm thankful for games in which we get so silly that we all start laughing helplessly until we are gasping and crying--and that such moments come especially for those who could use the rare occasion to laugh these days.

I'm thankful for meals in which so many contribute--the people who grow and harvest the food, the earth that supports us all, the people who bought and prepared and cooked, arranged the food, and brought it to the table for us all to savor.

I'm thankful for the Internet which keeps me closer to friends and family despite physical distance.

I'm thankful for my husband, a most intelligent and compassionate and loving person.

I'm thankful that I can see and hear and touch and taste and sense the world.

I'm thankful I decided to blog more to stretch myself and connect more with other bloggers.

I'm thankful for my Flickr peeps and my blogger contacts.

I'm thankful for my real life friends who make a huge heart of a community. I just love that...

I'm so grateful I have my fingers and voice and body and face with which to express myself.

I have my home (when so many do not).
I have my love (when so many are lonely).
I have good food (when so many are hungry).
I have my family (when so many are estranged).
I live in peace (when so many live in war--some of it our fault, eh?).
I live in the US with all its greatness and flaws, short-comings and ideals.
I am alive (when so many are no more).

I might have left some out...

I am alive. I think that about covers it. :)

* * * *
On a lighter note, I bring you...a Thanksgiving comic from the PVP online comic:

A PVP Thanksgiving

* * * *

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Posting from the Road

I am posting from a borrowed laptop, so pleases excuse my funky typing.

My oldest niece is of the age that people started asking her about her college plans. Well, she still has to take the SAT (arrgh, arrgh, she says), and she doesn't know where she wants to go or what she wants to do... I took the opportunity to do the auntie thing and give her aunt-advice.

College is so discipline oriented, meaning you decide on the discipline you want to study and spend four + years becoming an expert in THAT. But the real world is multi-disciplinary. It's usually after you get out of college and into the real world that you discover what you might actually enjoy doing and the skills that give you the most satisfaction using. There's a big difference (or there can be) between a major subject and the application of that subject in the real world. And ones idea of what a subject "means" or how it is applied can be very skewed. My own ideas were very simplistic. My friends also thought of their majors fairly simplistically. You performed or your taught or you were the artist, but nobody thinks of being a consultant to a museum, for instance... Kids approaching college plans do not usually think of these kinds of complex applications.. and by extenstion, where their degree might actually take them.

I have started to think that experience is the real teacher. how can we really know what we want to do without trying a few things? ...I had to restrain myself from telling her that it might be good to hold off college for a few years, work, live (oh yeah, must get that drivers license first), and see what things really pull you to know more, do more, be the person you want to be... Well, I did not tell her to go into the Peace Corp--my SIL would probably kill me-- I fully expect that the pressures to go to college and get a degree will not go away. Right now, she is using a process of elimination. She doesn't like math, she doesn't want to teach, she doesn't want to get a liberal arts degree only to be qualified for nothing but teaching... (that may be my BIL talking).

It's an interesting question: how do you figure out what you want to do and what you need education/training for. It's a process, I tell her. We tell her, she's ahead of the game for exploring and not yet knowing... we shall see.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Old Friends...

* * *
Thinking of my friend this morning - his birthday is this week--tomorrow in fact--but he killed himself a couple years ago. I can easily visualize his face and voice in all his moods. He could be so silly and funny, so compassionate, so sad, so caring, so insecure. So much fun, music, and talent for understanding. I still miss him.

Thinking of another man we knew from our extended community - he had disappeared in August, and just this week we heard he'd been found... It's just sad, sad. I haven't seen any announcements by email... I've just been tracking it by google news alerts. There must be at least 2 football/basketball players with a similar name because I've been hearing about random sports crap for months. But this week, there was a real news hit. He'd been found not far from where they had searched originally, but a little distance away from where he had disappeared. Then a couple days afterwards, the cause of death was confirmed. Sad, sad. One never knows the kinds of demons that people wrestle with out of sight.

* * *
If you feel hopeless and depressed, please, please talk to someone and get help. You don't know the kind of joy you bring to the world.

* * *
Now we will go traveling for 12 hours! Oh, happy day. Maybe we will have internet at the end...
* * *

Labels: ,

Monday, November 19, 2007

Assume this

* * * *
At a party potluck last weekend, a good acquaintance hugged me hello, then asked me what was new, while continuing to hold his hand on my belly. I raised my eyebrow, moved away, and said "not that much."

What the fuckity fuck? Yes, I am looking a little heavier these days. I don't appreciate the reminder. Yes, no doubt those other "friends" (the ones who do not understand the word 'confidential') are gleefully gossiping excitedly amongst themselves that now that we are adopting, we are *sure* to get pregnant any week now! Oh, glee!!

Of all the insensitivity. It pisses me off to have people speculating about our lives as if it were on tv. If they are looking for excitement, I am not giving them any fucking thing. I look forward to responding to the inevitable "are you pregnant?" with my standard "no, I'm just fat." Embarrass them into the ground. It's a good defense against nosiness.

* * * *
But all things considered, this is a minor annoyance. We have pie to make, and packing to start and finish, and miles to drive to see nieces and nephews. It'll be fun. It's hard to ruin my mood, so don't even try, people.

* * * *

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chocolate and Jackets

* * * *
Despite being hit yesterday by that news of that poor little girl in St. Louis (and the sorry excuse for parental adults who harassed her), I had a decent day yesterday.

* * * *
After Lindt truffle comparison shopping, I realized that the going price had gone up to 50 cents! Ack! And most places are not carrying the amaretto flavor this year; what is up with that? I guess when I attempt to make some this year, they will have to be amaretto, or at least almond flavored.

It used to be umm... 20-25 years ago or so, that to get really good chocolate, one had to find a specialty store that stocked imported chocolate bars. In college, there was one old musty wine and import coffee shop down the street where I could find the good stuff. And boy, was it expensive. The variety was pretty limited, maybe four flavors of one brand, almost all of it Lindt or RitterSport or similar brands of German or Swiss chocolate. I am not complaining about that... it was then when I realized that chocolate was more than about the sugar. That was also about the time I got a copy of the book, Chocolate, the Consuming Passion: "written, illustrated and overresearched" by Sandra Boynton. hehe A fun and informative read.

I appreciate that I can find really good chocolate in a number of places now, and even more varieties and brands. I go for the fair trade bars when I can. So it's still expensive, but that's the price we pay for this precious stuff. Not to mention the extra prices for travel and distribution since oil prices are going up. We manage to consume $5-20 in good bar chocolate a week. (shh!)

In aaany case, I bite the truffle yesterday and bought what I needed in the flavors I couldn't get cheaper elsewhere (except the amaretto). Plus other sweet things good for distributing.

There's a local massive food and gift store which carries all kinds of wonderful things, both local and imported items, so that's a good place for me to stock up. It becomes a massive chaotic maze during Christmas season--a madhouse. In even the best of times, I always get lost and have to wander hopelessly in a certain direction to get where I need to go, and god help me when I have to try to get OUT. I have a strategy that cuts down on panic attacks... Enter on the far end and stick to the coffee and cheese section for half a mile until I hit the cutting boards, bowls and knives... carry on past the cast iron and tart pans and then weave left through Italian dinnerware until I hit the chocolate.... Then, if I can manage it, I leave through the mall, so I don't have to navigate the other way. It's bloody unnecessarily complicated. Don't ask why I can't just start in the mall...

Anyhow, now I may not have to go back there in December at all! The thought makes me very, very happy. It was already difficult to find parking at the mall. What's up with that? Maybe "everyone" has the same idea that I do--get ahead on shopping. Now I have to hide the whole package from myself for a while. That's how many pounds and dollars in sugar/chocolate?

* * * *
More fun things: A women's clothing exchange. I have become a big fan of these because it gives me a place to pass on clothing I need to get rid of, AND to maybe find new free stuff, AND hang out with cool women (who I may or may not know) while we all try out new looks.

Part of what I enjoy about it is the potential possibilities of the situation. All sorts of random clothes and women get thrown together, and almost everyone can find an unexpected connection that is a pleasant find. It's like going shopping with the camaraderie of your girlfriends, even if you don't have the kind of girlfriends in the rest of your life who you can do that with.

So what do you think? Is it me?

I scored a couple of really wonderful jackets I can wear for teaching or to more formal (glitzy/sober) occasions, plus a bunch o' other stuff. Even a couple of men's shirts for M. These days, I get most of my jeans from exchanges because I can't find what I want in the stores... and apparently, at least one of the women in the group wears my size. And has fabulous taste. I've been lucky that way. :) Good fun for a sunny Fall morning.

* * * *
Well, I'm off to bake some before the day gets (even more) hectic.

Wishing you all a relaxed and enjoyable day with loved ones.

May we all treat each other with kindness and grace, even when we get annoyed with each other.

* * * *

Labels: , ,

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I Read the News Today II

* * * * *
Guess which recent news item lead to *this* reaction:

Oh my god...

Oh my god...

..... God dammit!

It's not right.

Apparently some people can't be trusted to be human beings, god fucking dammit. Okay, I'm sorry I am in cursing mode, but that's all I can do right now, cry and curse. I hope the Universe metes out some justice.

* * * * *

Edited to add:

Sorry, I didn't leave a link. Here's the story from the Chicago Tribune (not a hot link): Net Hoax Turns Deadly.,0,2946138.story?coll=cs-home-headlines

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 16, 2007

Is it Christmas season yet?

I usually roll my eyes over the too-early advent of major holidays, but this year, I have been hearing Christmas music in my head since October or earlier. I know it's insane, but there it is.

So... I am working ahead for Christmas this year. I've worked out a list, a rough budget. I've started buying things for baking and seasonal greetings things (like stamps for cards). I am actually working ahead! Weee!

I'm doing the FlyLady thing, making my lists and buying a few more items each time I am out to spread out the cost. There was even some fairly large bill that is not due until mid January that we've already paid this month, to avoid piling on to the already impressive list of non-holiday bills due in January. We are trying to ease the pain of expenses coming all at once, and reducing stress overall.

The only rough spot is looking at our budget for gifts and charitable giving. The last few years, we have tried to give as much charitable gifts as we do to our family, spreading our gifts around to include more people who don't have as much to begin with. But the total can burst up to the top of the scale very quickly.

At the moment, at our (realistic) budget, we have about $15 per person (since we have a pretty good sized family). If we wanted to raise the total, we'd be up to ... uh $20. That doesn't include things like truffles that family members love to get in their stockings. (It's not like they can't go buy their own truffles, but they seem to taste better when they are given, and it's an easy way for me to make lots of people very happy. :)) Some years I have done things like construct fruit & cheese baskets.

* * * *
I am feeling ambitious about baking this year, too. My plan is to make more varieties of cookies, but a smaller batch of each kind. Otherwise, we end up with tons of cookies that we feel obligated to eat, and no, we don't want to eat that many cookies in one month!

Also, I hope to do a cookie exchange with some of my friends. (That's fun!) I also like to get in a baking visit with my sisters. I think my youngest niece is about old enough to decorate cookies this year--glee!!! I also like to include a few things that I can mail to far-away cousins.

* * * *
And of course, I loooove my Christmas music. I have a collection that ranges from the Vienna Boys Choir to the Roches, the Peanuts Special to early medieval carols to the Karl Luboff Choir. A little Celtic, a little jazz, a little Patsy & Elmo (of Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer fame). I have some Windham Hill Christmas collections on tape that are just lovely, and too many more to count unless I want to type a freakin list.

It's one of my favorite parts of the season.

I also like to add a CD or two to my collection every year... if I can find something I actually like. I have all kinds of funky options on the list, a carry-over from a place I used to work where the bosses had extensive and eclectic music collection. So these days, I search for the Christmas albums from the Modern Mandolin Quartet, and Blue Hawaii (Christmas on the Big Island), and The Squirrel Nut Zippers (what's that up there on the roof?!), maybe some Amy Grant.

But regardless, I am restraining myself for at least a couple more weeks before I break out my tunes.

Here's a question, if it doesn't make you burst out in hives. What's your favorite Christmas music to enjoy next month? Reverential or raucous, peppy rock 'n' roll or antique motets? Or all of the above? What's dear to your heart?

* * * *

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 15, 2007


* * * * *

I've been noticing a giddy air of silliness sweeping around the blog sphere like a virus. It seems especially prevalent among NaBloPoMo-ers. I speculate that it is correlated with the "hump day" of NaBloPoMo. Everyone has been posting for days and weeks, and we are getting a little punchy from the effort. Can't sustain perfectly serious-thoughtful-well-written-humorous output every day.

When I went to a special seminar/ week-long camp a couple years ago, my coach there warned us early on that most people would get "a little toasted" mid way through the week. It was inevitable that everyone would stay up too late, try to do everything, engage in all sorts of concentrated work and silliness... and then get emotional, irritable, wacky, go a little nuts and/or retreat.

And that's exactly what happened. Everyone had their signature breakdown moment, some more noisily, some more quietly. It was just human nature to react to the extended push, especially as we were pushing ourself away from our usual familiar environment.

And we had been forewarned to give ourselves and others a little slack for just such an occasion. But, whew! That was a little stressful. Because our usual trajectory was what? a long weekend? We are not used to running on creative adrenaline for long stretches, unless we have worked up to it and have learned strategies to pace ourselves.

Notice anything this week? Yes, some of us are getting a leeetle bit punchy. It's funny, this mostly cheerful wailing. Fortunately, we've been forewarned to give ourselves and others a little slack. haha. Bullet points do not offend me! The synapses are firing madly, trying to keep up with demand. New synapses are being built all the time. It's physically tiring work, I always tell my students. And yet we keep on, even when we falter. Keep on keeping on!

A toast! To all NaBloPoMo-ers heaving themselves over the hump! There. You've been officially toasted.

* * * * *

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Random Things of Desperation

* * * *
My students were really silly tonight, loose and happy. Must be something in the water, and now it's made me wired, too.

O-kay! A meme! Yea! Saving me from drooling over belly button lint for today's post...

When I started shrieking over finding this post-saving idea from AmFam, M said, "This is a NaBloPoMo thing, isn't it." Actually, I'm highly entertained that he pronounced NaBloPoMo correctly. Rhymes internally with Mos Def. NoMoFo, yo.

* * * *

Four, I mean Eight, Random Things About Me  (or Thanks, AmFam!)

1. Ummm... Oh yeah. I've started to lose my short term memory. Half the time, I forget what I am saying in the middle of a thought. Sometimes because I get distracted by another thought. Sometimes I just wander off. Usually that's when I have a lot of competing thoughts, not all the time. Other times it's the name of things. It is, of course, the usual sign of aging that anyone older than myself will roll their eyes over. Except one friend who started demanding why my doctors hadn't told me anout memory techniques. Uh, 'cause they think it's an age thing, too?

2. I am very visually oriented, but my visual memory is poor for some things, like for how word are spelled. Big vocabulary, bad spelling. Can't type worth a darn either.

3. I can remember random snippets of languages I have learned years ago.
"Ni hau ma? Wa hen hau!" Learned from a friend in college when she was taking Mandarin to get on better with her Chinese boyfriend. He was from Taiwan, so the Mandarin was diff, but oh well.
"sooramus" means ring in Finnish, and
"huk@p@ hethew@the" means something very, very bad in Singhalese. How edifying.

4. I like collecting heart shaped objects. Maybe you've already heard that. I'm not as obsessive about it as I used to be.

5. I always resented the kids who were tracked into a more creative and welcoming classroom environment than I was. My thought is, it's those of us who are not living up to their potential who *need* that extra touch. But noooo.

6. i dont work well undr pressure, but ti concetrates the mind beautifully. (4 minues and counting) (see: typing)

7. I used to know all about cotton rag papers.

8. And.......... I name my cats as much for the sound of their names as for the meaning. Or a little of both.

* * * *


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Inner Critic

* * * * * *
Isn't it interesting how the inner critic jumps up almost immediately and starts picking away at us? The more ambitious the project, the more vociferous the "helpful" comments. It's almost guaranteed that if I do something large and possibly spectacular that the inner critic will be right there to tell me all the ways it is wrong, could be improved, or is just plain crap. Even when the inner critic has a valid point (needs more editing), it rips into it with petulant glee... No, not helpful.

Also interesting how Kyran recently wrote about the benefits of The Artists Way. I confess I have had this book for years. Decades, it feels like. *pauses to go look at book* I've never persisted all the way through the exercises, although I've read and marked it up extensively. I'm sure it would be beneficial (for me to go through the real program) rather than approach it piecemeal.

The value for me at the time I first had this book was realizing that the man I was with would do anything than allow me to be the artist I was. Ironically, I had learned to tolerate all sorts of emotional abuse, but I eventually sustained the will to leave *because of my art*. I saw that if I did not leave, he would manage to drown the artist I was in the bathtub, sort to speak. Classic crazymaker. Now of course, I carry the internal critic with me, but that's another matter. At the time, I observed myself acting as if from behind a screen. So I didn't leave for myself, but for my art. Hey, gal, whatever gets you going. :)

I don't often get nervous on stage or at a presentation any more, at least with the ones that I have found a good groove with. Unless it is a new one. Then I get nervous and irritable beforehand. M is familiar with this state I get into, especially leading up to a new endeavor or presentation. Once I am in the flow, I am completely absorbed in the task, and too happy to worry much.

But then, afterwards, oh my god.

I have learned to anticipate the internal critic's tactics. If I didn't do so well, I will hear about it immediately, but that's valid. I can even judge a not-so-great evening fairly evenly these days. M says I am seeing myself more accurately... taking in both the strengths and the weaknesses and learning from both without becoming over-inflated or overly-self-critical. So, yea me.

But the morning after... ohhh, the morning after. Even if I have done a marvelous, bang-up job, in *particular* if I have done an amazing job (!), and there's lots of details for me to mull over and congratulate myself on a job well done... that's when the inner critic wakes up and begins to lash me for any tiny false detail it can find...
I wish I were kidding.

The first few times this happened (depression and nit-picky criticism after an astounding success), I was just carried along. Oh, the weeping, moping, and self-loathing. Oh, the What the Hell Is This? Because, you know, I had been, often, pretty darn masterful and here my critic was scraping the bottom of the barrel to find *something* to throw at me, so Whaaa??

After a while, I realized the pattern, and I've learned to roll with it a little better. Yeah, yeah, internal critic, huh? I must have done a fabulous performance for you to be coming out today! Yeah, too bad. I'm feeling pretty good about it regardless...

My mantra is often: There's always something more to learn, something to improve.

In fact, one of my workshop coaches gave me a great concept: She says that mistakes are our friends because it shows us where our learning point is. What a concept, eh??

This turns the internal critic somewhat on its head. I am enjoying successes, but almost enjoying the mistakes.

-- huh, that's a new one! I'll say.

-- no, no, the mistakes are for feeling wretched, you worthless fool! the critic will moan.

I just smile and go on. --oh, hi critic. it's you again, huh?

The inner critic is a little baffled. --WTH? why isn't she falling over in despair?

--not today. I smile and go on.

* * * * * *

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 12, 2007

Traveling Conversations with my Mother 1

* * * *

I went driving around looking for quilt fabric with my mother today. It was part of my birthday present. My parents are old hands at giving the gift of themselves, and we like it that way. So today was the day out and about together, with a pleasant lunch on the side.

We drive out to a small town in the far reaches of our region to check out a quilt shop rumored to have a decent collection of vintage-y fabric. Flags and bunting are all over the streets from the parade yesterday, clustered thickly in bunches of two and three. Unlike some small towns, the crossroads of downtown are lively and well cared for, small shops and cafes in use, even on a holiday. I happily drool over a few old buildings and their brickwork.

The quilt shop itself is not so large as to be overwhelming, but with lots of nooks to discover. They do even have a section of Civil War and vintage reproduction fabrics--yes! I have an old family scrap quilt to reconstruct and modern prints just won't do.

I pile up potential fabrics and then audition them in batches, putting them through their paces, holding them next to different sections of the original, squint and decide. Being as quick and ruthless as necessary, I throw them into yes, no, and maybe piles.

Some colors seem impossible to find... blue faded to indigo and a burgundy plum red. Most of my finds are either too and bright and colorful or have an appropriate palette but an unfortunately modern print pattern. Some prints might work, but are on too bright of a background. When I lap the sample over the quilt, the contemporary fabric just glows! No, that won't do at all. The fabric has to fit in somewhere in the mishmash of eras represented in the quilt.

We don't know when the quilt was made, or by whom. We only know it came from a family farm. The two sides are subtly different, one more faded and older style fabrics than the other, as if one side was completed more recently than another, but both are machine stitched. We speculate that perhaps an aunt made one side and a niece or daughter finished it. It was certainly made to be warm; the batting was thick and heavy to stand up to a Midwestern winter in a farm house with little or no central heat.

I go another round, compare and contrast. I whittle the massive pile down to six, with extra yardage of a particularly versatile print.

I used this quilt, though frayed, all through college and into my twenties until the fabric started leaking old musty batting. It was becoming a health hazard of sorts. Rather than let the thing molder, I cut apart the remains of the binding (which was already shredding with glee), threw away the nasty innards and gently babied the two pieced tops. They've been in my closets ever since, and now my mother is willing to help me revive them. What a task!

I contemplate my goals here.

I don't want this small part of family history to be trashed. I have some nostalgia for the juxtapositions of different old fabrics, part well-worn farm country, part 20ish teeny classy prints, with a few blouse prints with 50ish squiggles thrown in. And the plaids, oh, the plaids. Some of it sedate, some almost garish.
I want to be able to preserve the pieced tops enough to use them if I want, for either warmth or display. They were never quilted originally and the fabric suffered.

There's a practical side to me, wanting to actually *use* family antiques. If I have old glass plates or salt & pepper shakers, I will keep them in circulation. Silver keeps polished better when used...

I do like a certain old farm style, mostly because of my growing up around farm relatives and the old possessions that never got thrown away (note: Depression era values). I wonder how I will convey that distinct aura of farm life history to my daughter. Not to sentimentalize it-- it's hard and dirty and frugal. You canned and froze the apple sauce you had scraped out of the one apple tree fruit not because it was fun, but because it was part of your food sources, and it was incumbent on you to make every use of your resources.

I have cousins still living that farm life style, albeit with a slightly lesser air of desperation to survive.

Everything all squeaky clean and brand new--what's the fun of that? I like my life with some character to it. But not to hang on the wall... I want my history as a living tradition, not locked away in a display case.

It's a debate that rears its head in other writings and genres. I remember a book--can't remember which one-- in which two adult daughters disagree on how to best honor their mother's quilts. One, still living the rural life, is happy to use them on her own bed and remember the people who made them... The other, the more urbane sophisticate, is horrified that such "valuable antiques" are still in use. She wants the quilts to display in her house, to give them the "proper" respect.

My attitude is somewhere in between. I can't keep the family quilts pristine because they were never pristine when I got them. I can't really refurbish and preserve them perfectly, either. I'm not going to merely lock them away to save for someday, nor hang them on the wall as if in a museum. Well, maybe. I can give them new life, blending a little subtle modern material in the mix to help them survive another several decades or more. And enjoy them meanwhile.

And I can remember the bedrooms where the quilts were in use and the people they kept warm, including my father in his boyhood.

Here's to keeping the past warm while warming the present.

* * * *

Labels: ,

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ma Vie En Rose - Explorations in Identity

We just saw the most interesting movie on DVD:
Ma Vie En Rose (My Life in Pink), about a little boy who feels that he should have been born a girl. His older sister tries to explain to him, how girls have an X&Y, and boys have two Xs. Ludovic concludes that he was meant to be a girl, but that his Y must have gotten lost when God tossed it down... it's scientific!

The story follows he and his family as they move into a brand new neighborhood, and progress (if we can call it that) through misunderstandings to scandal, to stress and hostility from the neighbors, school. Ludovic gets pressure and blame from even within his own family. His grandmother (who dyes her hair and drives a bright yellow convertible) is the only one comfortable enough with herself to give him unconditional love and nonjudgmental support. Everyone is trying to force Ludovic to be the little boy they expect him to be, not the little girl he feels himself to be. So much pressure on a 7 year old from even his own family. At one point I turned to M and said--this is why so many gay, lesbian and transgender kids try to commit suicide!!! I'm not spoiling much to say that at one point Ludovic does not want to live, either. Although at the end, a new change of scene seems to bring a lift to the future, it's still so sad.

The movie has strong elements of fantasy and conformist absurdity. Ludovic is such a personable and likable kid... but we see him become confused, hurt, desperate and then sullen like his light has been stamped out... his despair and hopelessness is oppressive.

The movie made me vow to myself that if I ever have a gay, lesbian or transgender kid that I will support them to my outmost. I never want to have a child asked to eradicate his or herself deepest self. Heartbreaking...

* * * * *

Edited to add a recent link (sorry-it's not a hot link) to a post of a similar real life life-story. Thanks to ZoeB.

* * * * *

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Blog starter

* * * *
Favorite part of today other than flirting with my Sweetie: Making strawberry-cranberry cobbler for a potluck, and shredding the cranberries with my lovely little food processor instead of chopping and slicing by hand. Whirrr!

* * * *

I often start a blog post by looking at what I have written before. I even have bits of thoughts and writings that float around in an unfinished, sometimes barely started, state.

It's rather like bread starter. Take a bit of yeast and let it warm and sit and fluff up. Take a piece, and viola! A new batch for bread! My blog starter is much the same. Bits of older posts or snippets of ideas, random thoughts, half-written things... I have to let them sit and fluff up, and sometimes I get inspiration from some of it, and viola! Another post!

It's a good thing I have this blog starter because I was seriously about to post an exhaustive list of everything I'd done today. Whew! Stale. Yes indeed, it certainly is good to have this starter... Mm-hmm. It's still fluffing, though. Maybe something new tomorrow.

Here, you want some blog starter? How do you get your writing started?

* * * *


Friday, November 09, 2007

g-d-m it

Okay, I also read the other news, that's why I'm so damn grouchy and morose.

Did you catch that part about 4 years? No, really more like 5 years. Another punch in the gut.

Before I spiral into another depression, let's ignore that for while, shall we? I have other life to live.


I read the news today, oh boy.

Another two teens killed in a car accident this week. Why why why??

Nothing but youth and inexperience. Overcorrecting mistakes that turn out to be fatal. Often the overcorrection is the mistake, not the original error. How to teach avoiding such a thing?

Kids these days being hit by the immutable fact that we are not immortal. It's one thing to lose someone to old age. There is some sense to it. But the random errors that turn deadly. It's not what most of us could predict. It gives the impression that death comes at random, at any time. It's not such a bad lesson, really, but how painful and sad.

I remember the first time I was shaken by accidental death. I had already lost three grandparents, but to me, they were old, so I had learned this happened when people got old and physically worn out. Then 15-some years ago, a good friend of our accountant at work suffered a single car accident. Coming home from an event in the middle of a rainstorm, she hydroplaned on the highway, hit something... She was in a coma for less than a week before her family decided to turn off the machines. It was so sad, so wrenching. It was worse, not that I even knew her, but watching our colleague suffer the anguish. Later someone printed a B&W photograph that they had taken of this woman and framed several to give to her friends.

This had a huge emotional impact on me. It seemed so mercilessly random. I remember crying in church "this could have happened to any of us!" And a woman telling me (she thought, kindly), this is the kind of thing that most people learn when they are much older...

Well, how old do you have to be to lose a friend or loved one?

The last several years, the deaths have picked up. I've lost friends to lung cancer, brain tumor, complications of breast cancer, pancreatic cancer (that sucker moves fast),Alzheimer's, more than a couple to bizarre unexplained heart illnesses that moved either fast or slow. There is no age that is immune, unfortunately. (I do actually know many other people who have *survived* brushes with cancer or accidents.)

The very worst have been those friends I've lost to murder and suicide. The community pulled together admirably each time, but we worry and fret that they could have somehow been prevented, that we didn't HAVE to lose them. Not even accidental, these deaths, but deliberate. No rest for those left behind. In fact, the trauma of the deaths still leaves chaos in its wake, 3 and 5 years later. Lives survive, but relationships may either strengthen or crumble under the stress... This too I learned.

This has the overall effect of leading me to periodically ponder and obsess over the next random thing. That and really appreciating the friends and other joys of my life. I've learned a lot about how to die gracefully. I've learned a lot about how to protect oneself while mourning. I've learned how to be more supportive of others. I've learned the path of grief as it progresses through the body, through a community. I've learned to not assume anything. I've learned that there are few certainties, so to make the most of it.

Oy, what a downer post! Well, it's life: heart fulfilling and heartbreaking. Another two teens killed in a car accident this week. I read the news today, oh boy.

* * * *

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Culture adaption

* * * *

One of my international students today relayed the sweetest compliment to me. His wife (also one of my students) thinks I am the most kind-hearted person she's met in the US. *big grin* heehee! I am very flattered!

It also makes me feel sad about all the culture shock and stress that people feel when accommodating to a new culture. Everything you've learned about how to act, what to say, how to treat others, to ask or not... all those subtle clues are now wrong in this new context! It's hard to be confronted at every turn with another culture telling you that you are not acting right. It makes me want to take all newcomers under my wing. Never-mind that it's impossible...

I just hate to see anyone lost or confused or out of their depth. Cultural understanding, that's my thing. I used to think I should be an ambassador. One of my ex-s once told me I should have been a diplomat, but I don't think he meant it as a compliment. Does it hurt that I notice nuances of non-verbal behavior? I've learned to adapt and fit in to some unusual circumstances in my life. I'm proud of being able to do that, but sometimes I wonder if it's really a talent or actually a weakness. Holding onto your identity while others tell you that you should be something different, now that's an interesting challenge.

* * * *

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Coming up on Transitions

* * * *
First let me get some snippets out of the way.

My cat, he is bugging me. Cat! When you want attention, you stretch up to my leg and scratch the chair, sometimes snagging me as well. Stop it; it hurts. Then, after I invite you up, you fake a jump, then purr loudly at my feet instead of just jumping up like I know you want to do. And no, I am not going to pick you up simply to make your life easier. Jumping into my lap is some of the only exercise you get. If I deprived you of that, soon, you'd be able to move even less! I will not indulge your learned helplessness. Work those muscles! ...Okay, now you're good. Just try not to interfere with my typing, okay?

* * * *
It was summer forever and now the backs of my hands are all cold again. What happened? Oh, my usual circulation. It's the first week of cold hands for the next several months.

* * * *
I mentioned mid-life transition in my last post. The cliche is that you turn 40 and run off with the cabana boy or buy a red convertible. It never occurred to me that such a thing would have anything to do with *me*.

Well, it turns out, it happens to just about everybody. My theory is that it's only a crisis if you deny it or resist the change until it blows up in your face.

Also, apparently, mid-life transition typically starts rumbling in the mid-thirties.

But in my early-mid-thirties, I did not know any of this. I was in a job that I enjoyed, but under management that drove me crazy. I couldn't really move laterally, so I ditched it and went in a new direction, went back to school, threw myself into this. It was so good for me, both the direction and the being back in school, learning new competencies. I was also lucky that at that point, my husband-to-be was extremely supportive.

I was also feeling some unsettled moods... not really moods, but underlying rumblings of existential portent.

Then we went away on the other side of the country for one Summer. One of those extended conferences. The plan was that I would entertain myself while M was in class/meetings all day, then we'd travel and sight-see on the weekends. Not a problem to entertain myself. I bring projects, I get a local library card, I go on local tours and bird-walks, that kind of thing. I'd have fun exploring the area during the day. And we sure did have fun traveling and sight-seeing.

Yeah, so it turned into a mini-retreat. Or a major retreat. It turns out that in that area, one could not spend that much time outside. I spent a LOT of time inside, listening to music, reading, writing, dreaming. I mostly loved it. I was a respite from my everyday life, keeping me so busy that I hadn't had time to reflect. The reflecting, though, was hard.

I was fortunate that I had brought one of those life exploration books with me. This one was called The Three Boxes of Life and How to Get Out of Them (An introduction to life/work planning) by Richard Bolles. The author is more famous for his "What Color is Your Parachute" series, but this book suited me fine. It's more of a workbook with lots of encouragement to explore and consider. M had actually pointed out to me months earlier that I didn't seem very happy with my work situation, and that maybe I should consider another direction. He is an amazing sweetie giving me that kind of loving nudge, but oh, I resisted that. I fought against that idea that I should "give up" what I'd wanted and worked for. (Does this sound at all familiar in respect to later events? *ahem*)

But with lots of free time on my hands, I gave myself permission to consider that my current direction, that I had spent so much time in training and trying to make a career out of (in addition to the challenge of working for myself), was really not working for me. I had somehow slipped into the mode of valuing quality over quantity, and this career that I'd spent so much time on was a polar opposite from what I wanted. Ack!

So in this book, I explored all kinds of new things, considered radically different ideas for myself, even careers that I have never heard of, based on my aptitudes and interests.

In the library, I searched for things like the search for meaning. I found things like, ummm that woman who has written some wonderful books. Yes, the Secret Life of Bees (that I'd read earlier) and others. I'll edit her name in when I get a chance to track it down. She's *wonderful*! I read her book about her own search for meaning, a painful but ultimately fulfilling reassessment of who she was, her life, her faith, her all. She wove parts of the narrative together so well, but not linearly. It was perfect for reading a half chapter then musing.... Sue Monk Kidd, that's her name. There you go: the elder mind creaking into gear. :)

I will tell you frankly that SMK's books gave me solace. I was not alone in the scary straits of what they hell am I doing and what is my life.

Then at a bookstore, I stumbled across a book by an Australian author, Robyn Vickers-Willis, called Navigating Midlife: Women Becoming Themselves. Despite its flaws, the big light bulb went on, and I thought--ahhhh! Is THIS what has been going on? Hey, cool, maybe she has some insights that will help me figure out where I am going.

And that's enough for one night.... :) Love ya chicas! More tomorrow.

* * * *

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


My last post showed how I love to hold onto little things. I like the special details, but still... there's a lot of crap. Or as some more ruthless, less sensitive relatives might say, it's ALL crap! The older I get, the more I tend to agree. If it's not useful, it's Crrrap!

I remember my grandfather later in his life grousing about photographs. I had asked him about the rest of his collection of family photos, and he started talking about how they were all "meaningless." At the time (this was 25 years ago), I was really shocked to hear him say that... he'd been a photographer all of his life, even had a tiny darkroom under the stairs when my mother was growing up. In my family on both sides, family photographs were part of the very fabric of life, documenting the generations, holding the threads of family history and narrative together.

But now, these many years later, I've started to appreciate what I think he meant. I have boxes and boxes of journals, letters and photographs. A few years ago, I started feeling oppressed by the vast *volume* of all these so-called precious memories, blah di-blah. I thought--my god, I've only lived barely half my life and already I have *this* much stuff??? What the hell am I going to do for the next umpteen years? And who will want to look at all that? (I had already seen my future with my parents' house full of things that, as executor, I would someday have to distribute and sort.) It was becoming a chore to store all that stuff, rearranged or no.

I started to plot ways to give things away. I went through photos and threw away double copies of bad photos. I ruthlessly tore through boxes of memorabilia and culled down to the smallest volume (I'm still working on that one; I have a backlog).

I got a Flickr account and started putting photo images there. I still take lots of photos, maybe even more than when I was shooting film, but I've printed maybe 20 photo images in the last 2 years. And I save only the really meaningful images.

Even with my writing, I started feeling oppressed by the writing I used to do. All this excessive documentation that I've been schooled in since I was a child, it's not the sacred task it used to be. Who the hell am I saving it for? Myself? I'm bored with it. For my future theoretical children or future generations? Do they really need my life notes from when I was in junior high? For my husband if he outlives me? Same thing, plus I've already shared the juicy bits. For my literary future biography? *snort*chuckle* For historical purposes? *heehee! as if!*

The only reason I can see to save my journals (for instance) is to reflect on who I have been and how I got where I am now. I do like that. But although it can be useful to return to the past to evaluate where one came from, I'm not feeling it now. The sheer volume weighs me down.

* * * * *

I used to like feeling the coziness of being surrounded by things that I loved. More often, these days, I can't breath from all the *crap* surrounding me. I just can't stand it, and start flinging things away left and right.

But I don't think I have given up having things that I love. I am no ascetic to live in a spare, blank space. I still love coziness.

But my priorities have changed. Some things I thought were so important, even some of my best-beloved possessions or activities, I don't find so vital any more. It's so strange to see such loved things receding in importance. Such goes the mid-life transition.

It's as if I have been shedding the person I used to be, and the old skin doesn't fit. It itches and binds. It's painful, shedding. Like a bad sunburn of my youth, I'm rubbing it off in curls and sheets, peeling, both horrified and relieved, knowing new skin wants to come through.

It's very sad to see parts of my old self go. As much as I cherish the self I have become, the self I am becoming, I look back on my younger self fondly. So many hopes and dreams, frustrations and learning accomplishments. I don't want to forget all that. I keep small mementoes. As one comic wit once said... Everyone carries baggage, but you want to aim for carry-on luggage, not steamer trunks.

Here's to the shedding...

* * * * *

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, November 05, 2007

Art & Life Detritus

I meant to muse on arranging of personal space, and instead spun off on collected clutter, AND about other related aspects. So maybe I'll post it over several days. Ridiculous, now that I've written enough for several days to post it all at once, eh?

* * * * *
I am a magpie by nature and inclination. I tend to collect what I call neat things. Some of that is just paper crap. Some of it art or articles or neat little, well-designed things that catch my eye.

Since I am very spatially and visually sensitive, I like having a clear space AND interesting detail. It's hard to live on either extreme of the continuum. The detail is stimulating, but I need clear space to actually think. So I have conflicting desires for ahhh... clear empty, clean space with good light.... and reminders of all the cool things I notice.

Too much empty space? Things start piling up almost immediately.
Too much clutter? I can't think.

* * * * *
A small list of some of the things I have collected and/or still have around:

1. Tiny wooden paperclips. Some teeny, others just child-sized.
2. A child's antique aluminum cup with cute scenes on the sides. (family antique)
3. A little colorful inspirational note that one of my teachers gave me.
4. Three different nickels with three different designs on them.
5. A little bauble of a baby in a red blanket + bell from OCDF.
6. A little 2005 calendar from Italy that my sister gave me -- I still enjoy the pictures.
7. Several whelks of different sizes. Actually, I have many seashells collected over the years.
8. A metal entrance fee tab from a local art museum that has a cool design on it.
9. One of those wire and bead orbs that can be pushed and pulled into myriad shapes--a tiny one. I rearrange it every so often.
10. Small paint mixing implements from college.
11. A tiny mother of pearl bird bead that was from a necklace from my childhood. The necklace broke; I still have the bird.
12. An artists-quality pencil sharpener. An artist's Magic Rub erasure.
13. A "panic button" that looks like a computer keyboard key.
14. A hair clip with an iridescent crystal flower on the end. Acts as a worry stone.
15. An array of vintage plastic toys, probably gotten from cracker jack boxes 30 years ago.
16. Postcards of an Ansel Adams tree and graveyard. (not my only art postcards)
17. A piece of old wrapping paper with a very cool design on it.
18. A green stone heart.
19. A list of hexadecimal color codes for colors I was trying to use in my blog. bg color = 99FFCC = pale green
20. A Danish star ornament my cousin gave me when she visited there one year.
21. A small screwdriver from my grandfather's farm.
22. Small poetry wrappers from Italian Bacio candies. Sample verse: Love is a sudden revelation: a kiss is always a discovery.
23. A commemorative "Heroes" postage stamp from 2001 showing firemen and EMTs raising an American flag.
Other "art" postage stamps over the years.
24. A paper tanagram made out of card stock.
25. Cat nail clippers.
26. Finishing knobs for the coat rack I have not hung up yet.
27. A card my husband gave me for our first anniversary.
28. Several teeny stubs of fabu quality drawing pencils.
29. A small thumbdrive.
30. A small strip of artist's information from a print I framed ten years ago.
31. A seamripper.
32. A a cool illustration from an artist friend's exhibit announcement.

This is only a short list, barely scraping the surface. I could go on... but I know you're ready for me to stop, already.

* * * * *

Some of the reasons I hang onto things:

It's a cute color.
It has a clever shape or design.
It's small.
I have several of the same kind of thing and are interesting as a collection.
It reminds me of positive things in the past.
It reminds me of friends or family.
Someone gave it to me.
It is from an earlier era.
I like physically manipulating it.
I actually need and use it.

* * * * *

Some of my "purging" strategies:

Give it away--regift or give to goodwill.
Ask myself if I will every look at it again.
Ask myself if I love it, need it or use it.
Throw stuff out.
Take a picture and then throw it out.
Shred and then throw out.
Have it accidentally destroyed.
Let it get mildewed so I am more motivated to ditch it.
Put in on the curb and wait for someone to scavenge it.
Throw some things out before they get added to a pile.
Do the FlyLady 27 Fling Boogie! Find 27 things to throw away in 15 minutes.

* * * * *

Some of my "arranging" strategies:

Categorize and containerize attractively (my favorite).
Scrapbook it.
Stuff it in the closet.
Hide it away, and whenever I try to reevaluate, agonize over what to do with it.
Rearrange so that it looks more like art.
Use it more frequently.

* * * * *

However, as FlyLady says, you can't organize clutter, so if I don't use something, it gets more scrutiny.

Sometimes I bargain with myself that if I don't get rid of something, the price is that I use it more often. Appreciate what you have. And if I don't use it, *pfft!* Out it goes.

* * * * *

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Spaces speak

Why is that some spaces feel so good to us and others turn us off? In my experiences of house and apartment hunting, I've seen many spaces that strike me strongly.

When we first moved to (state of current residence), my parents had to rent a house for a few years. There was no center to the house; once you came in the door, the interior scattered in all directions. It never felt like there was a place to relax and settle.

When they started looking for houses again, they considered several options. Funny that I remember the duds best.

One house was nice inside, but the house felt completely exposed on the lot. It was a fairly large house, on a corner lot with little landscaping. Strangely enough, it felt as if the gaze of the entire neighborhood was focused on that one house with nothing to shield us from that gaze.

Another house was light and airy upstairs, but the bedrooms were little dungeons below ground level. It felt oppressive.

My in-laws chose their current house based on the "feel" when they first walked into the kitchen area. I find it ironic that they have something like 4000+ square feet--and their favorite part of the house is maybe an 1/8th or less of that space. They are just rattling around in the rest of the house--even the kids bedrooms are huge, like living in a warehouse--but the kitchen/dining area is full of windows and light and efficient, cozy arrangements, and that's where they spend most of their time.

In our current house, we fell in love with it just walking through it. Many people come in the front door and exclaim over how homey or how *good* it feels. It does have about the right amount of coziness. Even though it's a smaller, older house, the space just feels right. Some of that is from changes made by the previous owners. They widened a doorway between living room and dining room to line up with the fireplace. They put a full-length mirror on the door to the basement. Little things that really worked.

At the time, I had been reading about Feng Shui, and I was struck by how nicely the house fits many of the principles, how elements flowed or lined up. Later, we had a chance to talk to the owner, and it came out that they were aware of Feng Shui principles, and had even actively incorporated many of their renovations to help balance the Feng Shui in the house. I was impressed! And pleased. Because Feng Shui seems to formally create many of the same things that make a place feel good to us.

I think there must be a Feng Shui of nature too. Some places feel distasteful. Others speak to us and "make the heart sing." In our living spaces, it seems we try to recreate our ideal space. That is, if we are aware, if we have a little spatial sensitivity, if we have time and inclination, and enough animus to make it our own.

Tomorrow, maybe: arranging space to personal inclination.

Labels: ,

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Disappearing Toast Paradox

Eating dinner this evening with M, who is fighting off something. We had two kinds of soup mixed together (living dangerously, mixing two different brands of organic mushroom/vegetable barley) and toast.

He's done, but my toast is still sitting there. I take a bite and go back to my soup. He picks up my toast and takes a bite. Ordinarily I'd scream about this and he'd grin, but we nonchalantly continue trading bites until the toast is progressively shrinking. I take a bite of half of the remaining toast, put it down and wait. Will he get it? He takes a bite of half of the remainder. hehe He gets it. And still we are taking bites, half the piece disappearing with each bite. The remaining toast is ridiculously small, down to scant millimeters, but we are smiling at each other. When it's down to barely a fluff of wheat and a poppy seed, I attempt to bite half of that, and he bursts out laughing. Why? Conceptual joke! *see Zeno's.

* * * *
*Zeno's Paradox. Story as told by M and transcribed as fast as I can keep up.

As the story goes, he (Zeno) was eating a piece of bread at the beach one day, and noticed that he was able to take large bites, and he was able to eat half the loaf in a single bite. And then after he was done chewing that, he pondered for a while-- you could say that he chewed the dilemma over in his mind a little bit-- and he said in order to complete the second half of the loaf, I would have to eat half of it. So he took a bite and ate half of the remainder. And then after he finished pondering and chewing that, he said, huh, in order to finish this loaf, I would have to eat half of the remainder. ...okay?

Okay, then he did that and started to to realize he could never completely finish the loaf because he would always have to eat half of the remainder and have half left, and so he'd have to take an infinite number of bites to finish the loaf.

Now, in reality, Zeno didn't know the concept of infinity, so it was really about Achilles and the tortoise, rather than a loaf of bread, but you get the picture. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

* * * *
Which leads us to the corollary:
The Disappearing Toast Paradox. If each person bites off half the piece of toast, an infinite number of bites can be taken before one person admits it's just a crumb...

I love it when we get each other's jokes.

* * * *

Labels: , ,

Friday, November 02, 2007

I could say Bella! Bella!

I've been distracted by projects, performances, and a dream I had recently. The sound track to the dream came from an old friend (who we tragically lost a few years ago) playing a recording of this old tune. So it's been living in my head the last few days, reminding me of him and other, wordless, bittersweet things, evoking sun-drenched spaces and some kind of sad yearnings.

Bei mir bist du schoen,
please let me explain
Bei mir bist du schoen
means that you're grand

Bei mir bist du schoen,
Once more I'll explain
It means that my heart's
at your command

I could say bella, bella,
even say wunderbar
Each language only helps me tell you
just how grand you are

I've tried to explain
bei mir bist du schoen
So kiss me, and
say you understand

* * * *
My favorite version is recorded as a vigorous swing tune, jazzier than the original. I've been playing it for days.

Then I had to go searching for clips. A few on YouTube, here in reverse order of age.

A slightly jazzier, modern version that I really like. They are so good!
Ariela Morgenstern, Darla Wigginton and Lara Bruckmann with Inara Morgenstern on piano.

Classic, but without the intensity I prefer.
The Andrew Sisters - Bei Mir Bist Di Schoen

In the original Yiddish, apparently by a famous Polish singer. Really lovely.
Leo Marjane - Bei mir bist du schön (Secunda), 1938

* * * *

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 01, 2007

life experiences

NaBloPoMo Nov 1st, 2007 Off t o a good start

Well, now that I'm properly warmed up (from my several days of daily posting), I think I can get into the spirit of NaBloPoMo properly. Go, November!

* * * * *

Well, one thing I have been thinking about....

I think on prejudice and how that impacts lives and distorts views. I feel a little disgruntled that my own experience tends to be discounted. Yes, I am a straight, middle-class white girl. It doesn't mean I haven't experienced pervasive hostility and prejudice. I think I do have some insight into minority experience from my own experience.

Some ways that I am or have been a minority:

I belong to a minority religion. And I'm talking something like 2% of US population, here. Nothing freaky. It has a long and respectable lineage, but living in the Bible belt, well, it's sometimes not pretty. Even among my own family, we've gotten crap. Some family weirdnesses in my extended (non-southern) family when I was a child can be attributed to the fact that my family was different, that my parents insisted on going their own way. So both my mom and dad have gotten grief from their own families; I and my sisters got the inevitable trickle down. Hell, even my husband got some grief from his family when he first started dating me (of course, they think that yoga is the devil's work, so you can see what we're working with).

Even some friends have had some weird ideas about what it means to be a UU. Sometimes I have to educate people; sometimes I brush them off. Sometimes I give them the evil eye back. Sometimes I run into some ugly assumptions, even among friends. It hurts my feelings, dammit. Some friends have made flippant remarks, and I feel like I have to set them straight. You can't throw everybody into one pot. Once I even had an uncomfortable run-in with a new member. She asked me if one of my opinions was "because I was a UU." I was irritated and snapped back that being a UU had nothing to do with my opinion. You might as well ask me if my opinion was because I was a white person. One of THOSE people. Give me a break.

Okay, enough about that. I should save some for another post, huh?

What else? Some things that impacted me strongly in my youth:

I have a strong intellectual curiosity.
I had the double whammy of being considered both very intelligent yet an under-achiever.
I have unusual coloring.
I am highly sensitive (see Raising the Sensitive Child).
My family reads. Books! *gasp*
I tend to look at things differently than other people. Well, that's a biggie. *snark*

Okay, so these don't seem so bad. But each of these added to the pile of characteristics of 'unwelcome and strange' and made my life hell as a child.

I was shunned and harassed all through school with a few respites. (It must have peaked in 4th and 8th grades because I've blocked most of it out.) Some of that was no doubt the "teasing" that "everybody" experiences. (insert sarcasm here) Huh, that's funny, because it left me with deep emotional scars that shaped and stunted three-quarters of my life, vestiges of which still haunt me today. Yes, I have talked to a therapist. More than one. Why do you think I am in such great shape these days? :) That and because of the love and support of my husband. :) We have been great for mutual healing as well as all the usual glue of a strong relationship.

One little story to illustrate the impact on my old life: When I was in high school, I had such poor self-esteem that when one of my class-mates once asked me a casual everyday question about a school project, I was knocked back on my heels in amazement. He asked *me*! Like he was asking a *normal* person! I could not believe it. It felt good, but I was in shock. Because for me, the norm was being treated like an outcast. Obviously, it made enough of an impact that I remember it to this day.

A therapist once asked me, "but why did they tease you?" (a question that infuriates me now) Who knows why, exactly? And really, lady, I don't think I need to answer for other peoples' bad behavior. Who knows WHY people act like asses? Like racists? Like homophobes? Like shits of human beings? Does it matter WHY? Do we even need to worry about motive? Maybe sometimes, but I digress...

Reflecting on many of these experiences and their impact on me gives me some sympathy for the impacts of, say, racism. People can makes you feel like shit, like you are worthless and can't do anything. No matter where you go or what you do, if people treat you like less than who you are or capable of, it's incredibly hard to stand up and feel you are lovable and capable, as one teen-pop-project called it. It takes so much more energy to accomplish anything, fighting uphill against the negative aspects of your surroundings. If my own experience left me with scars, what happens to people who are still living such pervasive circumstances every day? You get stronger or you wither... You need support from people who do not discount your experience.

And then I've noticed things that shifts my perspective again.

Such as when somebody burned a cross in a nearby community.... I was part of the white contingent in the community that helped to organize vigils and a push-back response saying no, we will not accept this racist act in our community. A pretty good cross-section of the city came, but a much smaller percentage of blacks and latinos than who live here. But we felt pretty united, those of us who were there.

There I met and talked with a local woman who I admire from online, who blogs on black, LBGT and political issues. I remember I said several times-- Things like this don't happen here. Not in *my* community (I was thinking of my region). This (this being the big ugly racist act) is NOT MY town. And she was quiet. She didn't correct me. Me, the well-meaning white liberal.

It wasn't until later from reading and thinking that I realized how shuttered that view was. Just because it hadn't happened to ME or you, recently or ever, didn't mean that other people did not experience a pervasive racism. I was chagrined to realize that yes, people in my community experience racism and prejudice, yes, All the Fucking Time. It's not just the young men in gangsta-chic; it's the young Latino mother, it's the black professional, it's the international child, it's the average person, it's us. In MY town (my experience), I don't often experience overt racism. But in my town, I need to acknowledge it. It was time for me to get my while liberal head out of my butt, sort to speak. *heavy sigh*

So there's the individual experience and there's the societal experience.

I think what saved me, what saves a lot of people, both from ones own traumatic and deadening experiences and ones understanding of others experiences, is being around others who understand, others who "get it," others who know the pain and frustration... and who have ALSO learned ways of making their way with strength and grace and patience, and even with anger and humor.

Again: You need support from people who do not discount your experience.

What I don't care for is the pushing and the shoving... after all, everyone is on their own path of experience and hopeful enlightenment (speaking non-religiously). As Michaelangelo was attributed to have said: Ancora Imparo: I'm still learning.

* * * * * *

Labels: , , ,