Sunday, January 31, 2010

Generation gap

An eerie feeling came over me yesterday as I was walking through the Lower East Side. Suddenly I was acutely aware that although my daughter C and I have been occupying the same physical space for much of the past 19 years, we actually live in totally different realms within that physical space. My New York is my workaday office and the grocery store and the drug store and the dungeonlike gym I frequent. My life takes place mostly by day. It is a pleasant, familiar, slightly boring existence, brightened by an occasional phone call or visit with friends. My daughter, by contrast, inhabits an entirely different layer of New York. She has a vast web of friends networked by Facebook and iChat and BBMs that is humming in the background all the time. While Whole Foods is my idea of an indulgence and Filene's a splurge, her eye is riveted to the boutiques and designer showrooms that dot the East Village now. That's when she's awake during daylight. Most of her "real" life takes place at night—in bars and clubs and diners. We're like the Eloi and the Morlocks in H.G. Wells' Time Machine. If she weren't my daughter, I would never know her.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

You know you're getting old when ...

... designers don't want to make money off of you by creating styles that could conceivably be worn by anyone remotely near your age. I'm not talking just about clothes that don't require cleavage—although sometimes it seems as if young women I pass on the streets are presenting their breasts on a platter like St. Lucy's eyes—but about clothes that aren't so tight you could count the whorls on the wearer's belly button. Let's not even get into lingerie and the dread thongs, formerly known as G strings, which are now ubiquitous. I'm not ready to dress myself out of the Vermont Country Store, but I wish there were a reasonably priced alternative to what I see in the stores in my neighborhood.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Jumping the tracks

I rarely drive, so almost every trip I take behind the wheel of a rental car has the feeling of adventure for both me and any passengers who have the misfortune of traveling with me. But dropping my daughter off at college and driving home this weekend was different. I felt like a marble on one of those wooden marble runs with ramps—no matter how much I careered around and sped along, my course was predetermined and my destination a sure thing. And it felt claustrophobic.

On the way up to school, a friend of C's who was in the car with us asked me why Other and I hadn't ever gotten married and why we gave C my last name instead of Other's. And my answer was that I was sick of following the rules and wanted to do things my way.

And yesterday driving home, I had an almost overwhelming impulse to disobey the rules again, take the "wrong" exit ramp, head in a different direction for a different destination. It isn't that I don't love my current life with its comforts and stability. It's just that I miss the sense of spontaneity, of choosing the road not taken just because I felt like it. In the end I was happy enough to turn in the rental car and step through my front door to the twilight glow of home and Other's wonderful organic split-pea soup. But one of these days I'm going to take Exit 13N instead of 13S—just for the hell of it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Motormouths and deaf ears

So I was talking to a friend at work about how sad it is that although humans are blessed with opposable thumbs, they lack posable ears, and he pointed out that humans are the only animals that talk—and most humans would far rather talk than listen. Hence our highly developed, mobile mouths and relatively undeveloped, immobile ears.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bottoms up!

So here's my magic recipe for turning 60—and savoring the moment: Think small. Other had wanted to throw a big party with all my friends, but that seemed infantilizing to me, and I'm trying to be a grownup. So instead, over the week or so surrounding my birthday, I was a lady who lunched and dined—with work friends (three groups, separately), neighborhood friends, women's-group friends, my soulmate H, my family. Not only did I feel the love but I also got to actually talk with people instead of just replenishing their food and fluids.

Other did make one major dinner for my neighborhood friends, and it was spectactular. Main dish: chicken (with tofu for me) marinated in vinegar, sugar, green olives, prunes and dried apricots. Dessert: a tooth-tickling bittersweet cake made of orange juice, orange rind, buttermilk, walnuts and raisins.

Still ahead, my main birthday gift: a week at the Sivananda yoga ashram on Paradise Island in February.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flip a coin—ears or tails?

Sci-fi is generally not my genre, and James Cameron is not a director I admire. But he said something interesting about why he gave tails to the creatures in Avatar: "Well, tails are cool. Tails are very expressive. I mean, anybody that owns a dog or a cat knows that you can tell the cat's emotional state by what its tail's doing." So I went to see the movie because I was entranced by the idea of humans with expressive tails. The idea made my behind wiggle in anticipation.

But in the end, the tail thing was kind of meh. And it was the length of the movie, not the tails, that kept my behind wiggling. But the ears! They moved! And it made me wish for ears that tracked sound—and made me wonder why I don't have them. Every other mammal I can think of has ears that rotate, cock, flop and twitch. Why not me? I just know my hearing problem would go away if I had my rightful mammal ears.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's Complicated

It's not that complicated, actually. In the guise of glorifying an "older" woman, this movie perpetuates poisonous assumptions about women—young and old—and what's acceptable in their dealings with one another. And I don't know who told Meryl Streep she had a great laugh, but that person should be shot. She just won't stop!

And to prove my point, I tried laughing at approximately the same intervals and looniness in my own living room, and it totally freaked my daughter out. It actually frightened her. She begged me not to do it anymore.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Kids, they break your heart

She had a deadline of 9:00 this morning, and despite multiple warnings, she had ignored it because she had a cold and didn't feel well. Maybe there was a little bit of defiance in there too. I went to bed at 11, sure that the deadline would be missed. But no, when I woke up to use the bathroom (too much information?) at 3, there she was toiling away. When I got up again at 6 (really have to stop drinking tea in the evenings), there she was, putting on the finishing touches. Cheerfully pulling an all-nighter on her school break to complete a huge job requiring sustained and intense focus—my daughter at 19 amazes me with her stick-to-itiveness and touches me with her desire to meet our demands. I'm embarrassed how delighted and optimistic she makes me feel right now. Like sunshine on a cloudy day. Sure, it was just a jigsaw puzzle (1,500 pieces, though!) that had to be returned to its box before my house cleaner arrived—but it says something about her ability and willingness to soldier on, no?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Bad, bad negative thinking

A week from today, I turn 60, an age that four years ago I was unsure I would reach. Although I am grateful for each year that I have gotten to live since my cancer diagnosis, I have the ordinary feelings of sadness too. Although it is a gift to be alive, I am nonetheless getting older, not younger. And I look and feel older than most of my contemporaries. With my sparse gray hair, flat chest, wretched back issues, I am not the kind of 60-year-old who can pass for 40. I've been offered the senior discount for years now (and when it's offered, I take it out of revenge). I figure most strangers assume I'm 10 years older than I am. And though I know my physical self is just housing for the rest of me, it bothers me that my house has fallen into such disrepair. If only the bank would repossess me and fix me up! Or if only I lived in a world where an antique house was treasured rather than viewed as an eyesore likely to bring down the neighborhood.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Community newspapers that will live forever

I got so much enjoyment from the Point Reyes Light a few weeks ago that my brother sent me an issue of another rural rag, the Mendocino New Settler Interview, devoted to scientific research into a local agricultural product. I offer some, er, "highlights."

From "Editor's Beforeword": "This is how women practice science: With a babe at their breast, reaching for the research, talking at another gal. Science as another form of collaborative gossip; evoking tactile, gorgeous reality."

This is apparently in reference to a long, long interview with a young woman who claims to suffer from "Cannabinoid Deficiency Syndrome." The cure for the resulting systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, interstitial cystitis, bladder failure, endometriosis, hypoglycemia, asthma, chronic sinusitis, allergic dermatitis, sterility and chronic bacterial infections that she suffers: juicing the "fresh leaf" of marijuana. Her auto-research makes her feel just like "Marie Curie," she says.

Juicing is a bit different, of course, from what's called "grazing," the scientific term for chewing marijuana leaves, which is what a local "gardener" named Bob does. His main source of nitrogen fertilizer: his own urine—40 to 60 gallons a year. He's a medical researcher of sorts too. "It seems to be bringing things back into balance in my body. And that's why I appreciate the plant ... I've noticed improvement in my elimination: my stools are much better formed and more regular since I started eating leaf; very much so. It has led to a major change in my stool formation."

And then there's an interview with a local medical doctor who declares, "I consider [marijuana] the single most important dietary element that humans should have on a daily basis, and on a frequent daily basis."

This is news that you won't read in your boring old New York Times. No wonder Big Journalism is dying.

Friday, January 1, 2010


Instead of going for forward spin, as news editors demand, and writing resolutions for the new year, I've decided to go retro and record the accomplishments and failures of the past year:

1. Probably my finest hour was rescuing my parents when my mother had a stroke and my father was hit by a bus ON THE SAME DAY. It's important that I mention it since the other principals are oblivious to my heroism. My mother doesn't remember the stroke or the aftermath, and my father was delirious.

2. Probably my most ignominious moments were those I spent blubbering on the streets of San Francisco during that same rescue mission. A typical example: I was trudging back from Whole Foods in the rain with two enormous paper bags filled with groceries, and my cell phone rang. I put down my bags to answer my phone, and when I picked them up again, the bottoms of the bags fell out. It was the last straw (but not the LAST last straw).

3. I'm proud to say that I have begun volunteering on a hotline providing telephone support for women with breast cancer. Finally I can use my experience to help others.

4. I'm embarrassed to say that I'm not particularly good at it. One day a woman called and said that the word cancer petrified her. I tried to comfort her by saying that it was just a word and that many people lived with life-threatening diseases that simply had less frightening names: diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus. Turns out she had those too. What was I thinking?

5. I survived the reduction-in-force that halved my department.

6. I was too scared to volunteer for the severance package that was offered during the RIF, because I didn't have a plan. Now I am 30 years older than anyone else in my department, and I suspect that everyone wishes I had just gone away like the other senior members. No one wants to hang with the gray-haired lady.

7. I've given good counsel to my daughter when she has faced traumatic events. I've resisted the urge to say cruel things ...

8. ... Except when I have succumbed to the urge.

9. In an overabundance of ambition, I committed indiscretions in yoga and hurt my back. Now I am scared to resume my practice, and it feels as if the bottom has fallen out of my life.

10. I have begun figuring out how to resume my practice safely, according to the underlying principles of yoga (to focus on the path and ignore the destination), and use my injuries to learn a new way of doing yoga—which might possibly translate into teaching others with similar limitations, perhaps in time for the next RIF.