Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
A friend of my parents sent me this lovely poem for Christmas:
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
- Wendell Berry
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Monday, December 7, 2009
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Monday, November 30, 2009
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Monday, November 23, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Monday, November 16, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Friday, October 30, 2009
I know that I have a kind of worry ceiling. That is, although I worry about many, many things, there is a limit to how much I can worry about any given one. So, cancer, terrifying as it is, takes me only a few steps further into anxiety than, say, my daughter's occasional smoking. Nonetheless, I am capable of distinguishing—and adjusting my anxiety levels to some degree—between serious troubles and life's mere imperfections.
In the wee hours of last night I began to worry about the pears in the fruit bowl: They're getting a little overripe. Will anyone remember to eat them before they spoil? Aha! Even I could tell that this was a trivial concern. Rather than move on to a worthier anxiety, I decided to luxuriate in this petty one. Fruit flies! Brown spots! Liquification! Waste! I embraced them all—and slept eight hours.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The weird thing is, Sammy and the turtle thrived—or at least survived—under C's neglect. When she left in September, Other took over Sammy's care, and I undertook the turtle's. Sammy's cage was kept spotless, his water and kibble and treats refreshed regularly, he was cuddled and adored—and he developed tumors all over his body. For a month we watched him deteriorate. When Other tried to clean his cage not long ago, Sammy, presumably blind by then, screamed in fear. Have you ever heard a hamster scream? It stops your heart. I called the vet to find out about euthanasia and was told that it would be $90 for an exam and $60 for the hemlock. The price was a shock, but it was the requirement that this poor old creature be subjected to the unnecessary handling of an "exam" that decided Other and me to let Sammy die a "natural" death. I think we did the right thing, but it was pretty awful watching, and took surprisingly long: perhaps a month from the onset of his lesions to his final breath.
Other let C know in a note: "Dear Piglet, Sammy died last night, and this morning I pushed his body out to sea on his favorite ice floe (actually, my favorite--a clean white bag on the corner of Lafayette and East 4th). He had slowed down markedly over the past few days, and by Saturday he had curled into a ball in the corner of his cage, breathing so slowly that it was almost imperceptible. Recently I have tried to create a kind of hospice environment--overflowing food bowl, fresh water, all the carrots and apple he could eat--but it was clear that the quality of his life wasn't great and that he's lucky to be off the old 'wheel.' He was a great hamster. Lots of love, Dad"
Monday, October 12, 2009
A few weeks ago, the New Yorker ran an article on e-reading, and I was galvanized to convert my iPod Touch into an e-reader. Incredibly, I was able to complete the project, which consisted mainly of following instructions—never my strong suit (hence my otherwise inexplicable inability to cook the simplest meal)—largely on my own. Even more incredibly, hundreds of classics turn out to be available free for the downloading on Project Gutenberg. On the advice of a friend who is addicted to George Eliot on audiotape, I chose Middlemarch as my debut e-novel.
And I am loving it. I love not having to hold the book open, which—I know this sounds pathetic—gets tiring, though you don't notice it till you stop. I love reading against an illuminated background, which confers a movie-like excitement. I love the magical potential of having a library's worth of books on a device smaller than a matchbox. I love the security of knowing I'll never be forced to read out-of-date women's magazines on a couch in a doctor's office ever again. And in particular, I love George Eliot. A few samples:
"Here and there a cygnet is reared uneasily among the ducklings in the brown pond, and never finds the living stream of fellowship with its own oary-footed kind." Yes! A description of my feet that captures the whole clumsy mess. I am indeed an "oary-footed kind"!
And then there's a vague waffler who is one of those people with "glutinously indefinite minds": Is this chemo brain?
And finally, the dilemma of my life, put compactly: "She could not reconcile the anxieties of a spiritual life involving eternal consequences, with a keen interest in the gimp and artificial protrusions of drapery." I have done away with "artificial protrusions of drapery," what with my mastectomy and all. But that "keen interest in the gimp" and other worldly distractions plagues me and keeps me from being a serious person.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Friday, September 4, 2009
Friday, August 28, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Saturday, August 8, 2009
Monday, August 3, 2009
One of the few raunch-free references in Michael Tolliver Lives, by Armistead Maupin, which I read during my longer-than-anticipated journey to Maine, was to Ishi, the last of the Yahi, a native people of California who were massacred during the Gold Rush. Ishi, who was discovered in a state of starvation in Oroville in 1911 and taken to UC San Francisco to be studied by anthropologists and placed on display as a living museum piece, became an object of enormous public curiosity. He was dubbed "the last wild Indian," and anecdotes about his habits and skills and demeanor were regularly reported in the press—until he died four years later of tuberculosis—and became fodder for numerous books and movies and even a stage play.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
To Whom It May Concern:
I would like to register a complaint re my flight (or nonflight) on July 27 (confirmation no. N17QS1). Flight 668 from JFK to PWM, which was supposed to depart at 10:55 a.m., was first said to be delayed and then finally canceled at about 12:30 pm, purportedly because of mechanical failure. Passengers were assured that they would have no trouble flying standby on the subsequent flight, 604, which was to depart at 1:43 pm. In fact, there was no seat for a single standby on that flight. We were then booked for Flight 606, departing at 5:29 pm. We were assured that our luggage had gone ahead, on Flight 604, and would be awaiting us in Portland. In fact, when we finally got to Portland more than seven hours after we were originally scheduled to arrive, our luggage was nowhere to be found. It arrived the next day. Because I had missed the last scheduled ferry to the island where I had rented a house for the week, I had to pay $100 for a special boat to deliver me to the house. My husband, who had arrived in Portland two days earlier, was forced to spend his entire day rushing between the airport and the dock in South Freeport trying to arrange that special boat. I missed a day of my vacation. So did he. In addition, I wasted at least $25 on airport food. And although I tried to be pleasant, reasonable and accommodating throughout the ordeal, I was treated with startling rudeness and misinformation, as were the other passengers.
What I would like to know is, how are you going to compensate me for a seven-hour flight delay, $125 in extra food and transportation expenses, a lost day of vacation for both me and my husband, and the delay in luggage delivery?
Monday, July 27, 2009
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Monday, July 6, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
So there I was at the rents' house. Some friends of the rents stopped by, and they asked me how my visit was going. "Oh, great!" I said, "I found a driver for my dad and a new doctor for my mom, and I arranged for a notary to come to the house and witness the signing of the durable power of attorney, and I found a barber for my dad and took him to get a haircut, and I got the OT to meet with us and tell us where to put grab bars, and I found a skidproof bathmat, and I think I've found someone to buy their car!"
Suddenly I realized that the guests were glazing over.
And that's the weird thing about eldercare. It's not very interesting. I'm sure there are people who would accuse me not just of being a bore but also of valuing my accomplishments over the pleasure of the rents' company. But getting shit done becomes an obsession. The whole rental enterprise seems precarious to the point of capsizing. Going to visit them is like participating in a supermarket sweepstakes, racing against the clock to secure the situation. Stressful and exhausting for the caregiver, but no one wants to hear about it.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Friday, June 5, 2009
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Years ago, Elsie and I and a couple of male colleagues used to have lunch once a month at a Japanese place across the street from work and pool our money to buy lottery tickets. It was Elsie's idea and an example of her foremost characteristic—optimism. And sometimes—rarely—we won, usually about $10 a person. The financial stakes and winnings were negligible. The fact that Elsie had selected us to share her luck was the real piece of good fortune for me.
A white woman with a child and a couple of married white men, all of us from expensive private colleges—we might seem to have had little in common with a single black woman from the Bronx. And we didn't. Elsie was by far the most accomplished of us. She was a gifted writer who wrote a couple of nonfiction books, one on sickle-cell anemia, another on relationships between black men and black women. Perhaps most famously, she held the distinction of writing the first black bodice ripper—Entwined Destinies—under the pseudonym Rosalind Welles. She's probably the only one of us who will merit an obit in the Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/arts/17washington.html).
Growing up in white secular suburban California, I hadn't had a lot of friends like Elsie before. I was quietly (I hope) fascinated by her blackness and her urban, Baptist upbringing.
When I look back, though, it wasn't her accomplishments or her race that made me treasure my friendship with Elsie. It was the example she set of not getting bogged down. I know she faced difficulties in her life, but she just didn't dwell on them. Grueling work assignments, crappy cubicle with migraine-inducing fluorescent lighting, cranky editors, the daily humiliations of being a grunt in a status-conscious company—she seemed to know where these annoyances belonged in the hierarchy of importance: beneath her notice. She had perspective. I think of her as having her eyes on the horizon, not in the sense of ambition but in the sense of taking the long view.
Alas, the long view, in Elsie's case, wasn't long enough. Sixty-six years old.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
In our house the litter box is right next to the toilet. As my cats and I companionably hunker down together, I am aware that people sometimes train their cats to use the toilet. It makes me wonder whether I could use the litter box. Jonny Cat Maximum is pretty good stuff, though the whole pellets-between-the-toes thing might get old fast. I'm a good squatter. Yogis say squatting is much more effective for elimination ...
Where does a penis go when a man crosses his legs? Does it go under or between his legs? And if so, doesn't it hurt? I've had penis pity since I was a child. It seems dangerous to have this soft protrusion that could get slammed in doors. If I were a man I'd wear a jockstrap full time.
Very young women apparently are capable of falling in love with very old men. (I'm trying not to be cynical here.) Is it possible for a very young man to fall genuinely in love with a very old woman? Or, say, a youngish man with an oldish woman? I've seen Harold and Maude, but does it ever happen in real life? I personally don't have anyone in mind—really.
Is there some particular feature that causes women but not men to be perceived as unattractive as they age? I've heard it said that women become more like men as they get older, so maybe it's the disjunction between our gender and our appearance that is off-putting. Maybe older women should start cross-dressing to preserve their appeal?
There, I feel better now. But you probably feel worse!
Friday, May 29, 2009
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The thing is, we don't own any rose bushes.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Now normally I wouldn't try to remember a dream. After all, I have many every night. But this was a particularly vivid one. And I've been watching Season 1 of In Treatment. And then, there are these odd little bite marks on my shins this morning ...
Thursday, May 21, 2009
I wish I knew how to comfort these dear friends, all of whom took care of me during my cancer ordeal. I know I'm supposed to listen, to bear witness. I don't really know how to do that. I mean, I do listen, and I do observe, but how to I make that into a comforting experience for my friends? And isn't there something else I can do?
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
The old woman—O.K., my mother—cheerfully reminds me that she's been insouciant all her life about physical ailments, and just as cavalier about her kids' health as with her own. "Remember when you got those terrible chicken pox?" she says. "And they turned into big black spots that never went away?" Yep, I remember. Hurt like hell when she finally took me to the doctor and he burnt them off.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
It's much tamer these days, maybe because cubicles predominate and all actual offices have glass walls. There may be some drinking, but no one passes out at his desk anymore, and if someone wants a cigarette he has to leave the building to smoke. Frankly, it pisses me off. The smokers get to take time off from work several times a day and breathe some fresh air (well, it's all relative, since we're in New York after all) along with their nicotine, while I'm chained to my desk all day—but I digress. And there's a lot less tittering because there's apparently less to titter about.
But a few years ago, the tittering arose anew. Two people who shall be nameless were rumored to be having an affair. Both were married to other people and had children. The evidence, which was widely circulated and heehawed over: they were frequently seen leaving or entering the building together at odd hours, sometimes looking flushed and rumpled. They were together way more than their work duties required, and sometimes they seemed to be positively drooling over each other in public. Eventually both left the company for reasons unrelated to their alleged affair.
Now rumors have arisen about another "work couple." But the evidence in this case, again widely broadcast among the staff, consists mainly of the observation that they are never, ever seen together, proving they have something to hide and are as guilty as sin. This evidence is considered solid proof by those who offer it and many who receive it.
So I'm just wondering, if you wanted to keep your affair private, should you be discreet or hang it out for all to see?
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
*I have always thought of my writing talents as second-rate and viewed my student papers and early fiction and journalistic efforts with painful embarrassment, and that embarrassment formed my self-image and limited my horizons. However, it turns out that my papers and articles were largely excellent, and my instructors' and editors' comments were strongly encouraging (the fiction is still, well, embarrassing). Examining this evidence, I am struck that it was not for lack of talent or support that I failed to thrive. It was something else that held me back. It was fear of taking a chance and of risking looking foolish.
*Back in December 1975, as Other and I packed for our move to New York, he said to me, "Let's be sure to remember to get out of the city before we're too old to move. New York is a terrible place to be old in." I'm not sure he was right, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't feel that way now, but if it's true that New York is a terrible place to be old in, we'd better start making an exit plan, and it will have to be a very good one to entice me away from my friends and my beautiful deck and the convenience of being able to get anywhere by foot or by train and the availability of a dozen cuisines within a block or two and a health club across the street and ...
*In 1980 I went to Egypt and formed a close bond with a fellahin named Ali, who was one of the workmen I oversaw in a project to clear the tomb of Rameses XI in the Valley of the Kings. His patience, willingness to submit to hard work and acceptance of his austere life seemed magical to me. It occurs to me now that he was my guru.
*The head of the expedition, an Englishman named JR, explained to me, “There’s a pattern in Egypt whereby the young men with talent or special intelligence become restless in their early 20s. They don’t want to leave their villages, but they have no vent for their frustrated energy and ambition. They turn wild. They begin to carry knives and drink and get into fights. Then the older men talk them into getting married. Soon their wives get pregnant, and the young men have family responsibilities and forget their frustrating ambitions. They bend their backs to the care of the next generation.” At the time, I was fascinated by this piece of anthropological analysis. It seemed exotic, specific to Egypt. Now I look back and realize that this is the story of my own life. I was restless and resentful in my 20s, unable to act on my ambitions. I picked fights with Other and blamed him for my unhappiness. Then I got pregnant with my son J, and for the next 28 years all that blocked energy was channeled into him and later my daughter C and the necessity of earning a living to support them. I have led the life of an Egyptian here in America!
*And finally, no need to go into detail or give examples here, but the wince-worthy evidence in the box suggests that I would do best to refrain from writing about sex or bathroom functions. Nuff said.