Saturday, March 30, 2013

Night and day


On my last trip home, it took me a while to realize that my parents no longer bother to change their clothes for bed. Yes, they brush their teeth and wash their faces. But they don’t take off their day clothes and put on their night clothes. They just climb into the bed they’ve been lying on top of most of the day and pull the covers up.

My mother says it’s because my father has had dizzy spells and she wants to be prepared. (To do what? I’m tempted to ask.) In my dad’s case, it’s because there’s now a full-time home aide who sleeps in the bedroom next to theirs, and he must shield her from seeing the tighty whiteys he used to sleep in.

Good reasons, I’m sure, but depressing nonetheless. It smacks of depression and Why bother to get dressed?

Worse than bedbugs


Add to my list of phobias: getting my e-mail hacked. Only it’s not a phobia. It’s reality. On Wednesday, my e-mail address began sending out empty mail under a dozen or so subject headings like I’M FREE, I DID IT! and I HAVE BECAME MY OWN BOSS (sic). Thing is, since I recently stopped working full-time, many recipients—perhaps including my old boss and colleagues, plus prospective freelance clients—assumed they were genuine. So several cheerfully responded with congratulations. Which was heartwarming but spooky. 

Why do hackers do this—compromise e-mail accounts? What possible benefit can it give them to ruin my life when they don’t even know me? What is the point? 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Clueless in retirement



When layoffs were announced at my company a few weeks ago, I had no intention to volunteer. But when I learned that 40% of my department was on the block, I ran the numbers in the severance package. I could get paid the same amount for working twice as hard or for not working at all. 

So here I am, newly retired, without a plan. 

On my first day, I saw an audiologist, which sounds depressing but was enlightening: I actually got to try on hearing aids and experience firsthand the difference they made: greater clarity with a touch of tin—and a price tag of $5,500.

The second day, I bought a seven-day introductory all-you-can-eat yoga package for $10 and went to my first class. I’ll cram myself with yoga, bulimia-style, and push down the feelings of panic. 

Today yawns before me like a vast wasteland—with a yoga oasis shimmering somewhere in it like a mirage.

When I think about what I want to do with this unexpected empty time, I have conflicting impulses: Fill it up with worthy projects, undertake a new career entirely, lie around and watch television series everybody talked about and I somehow never watched, get really deeply into personal grooming, clean the crap out of my house, slit my wrists (kidding).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The self-defeating paralysis of anxiety



For the past nine months, I’ve been paralyzed by anxiety. I don’t know what brought it on or why it won’t go away. I’ve got plenty to worry about—foremost, a homesick child abroad and elderly parents on the precipice—but no actual emergencies. Yet I lurch from dead sleep to waking dread. And the fear flares anew throughout the day with sickening frequency. 

The phone rings, and my stomach drops for fear it’s bad news from my parents. An e-mail clangs into my inbox (I must change that chime), and I can’t bring myself to click on it for fear it’s bad news from my daughter. 

Any small thing that happens sends me into a swivet of what-ifs. A typo at work, and I envision a lawsuit. Failure to call a friend, and I imagine she’s suicidal. 

It just doesn’t stop. So two weeks ago, I asked my doctor for some antianxiety meds. She prescribed Zoloft. But now I’m anxious about taking them. I’ve read there may be a connection between SSRIs and breast cancer. I’ve heard Zoloft is hard to kick. Maybe I can cheer up on my own.

Make it stop.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Me and my friend M


My friend M and I are as different as a couple of 63-year-olds could be. She is dark, I am fair. She is short, I am tall. She is low-key, I am high-strung. She’s an optimist, I’m a pessimist. If we charted how our minds work, she’d be a bar graph and I’d be a scatter gram. 

It’s her very stolidity that I find interesting. But that’s not to say she doesn’t have a sense of adventure. Recently M tossed up every detail of her life like a game of 52-card pickup. 

After selling their West Village apartment, she and her husband realized they had conflicting ideas about the ideal domicile. She wanted to live in the country, he wanted to live in the city. Instead of compromising and moving to, say, Westchester, they split the money. He bought an apartment on the Upper West Side. She bought a car, rented a farmhouse in the Berkshires and moved into it with her dog. She and her husband talk on the phone and pay each other visits. She swears she’s not lonely.

It hasn’t all been easy: The first thing she told me when I went to visit her last weekend was “I’m on a tight budget.” Heating oil costs as much as $600 a month—and even then you have to wear long underwear, turtlenecks and fleeces in the house. The car has an engine light that went on for no reason and doesn’t go out. The dog needs to be pilled several times a day and walked in the middle of the night and gets diarrhea if you share your food with her. She hasn’t found a steady job, so she’s substitute-teaching for a pittance and wondering how long it’ll be before she has to dip into her savings.

But M is happy. Every night when she walks the dog, she looks at the starry sky, and every day when she gets up in the morning she sees the cobble that rises behind her house. And she’s thrilled by their beauty. Most of all, I think, she’s thrilled that she did what she wanted to do instead of going along with someone else’s plan or just getting mired in the inertia of the known. And I have to say I’m thrilled too. I don’t want her life—it’s too cold, for one thing—but seeing her carp her diem makes me feel I could too. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

From the annals of graffiti


Creating space in tight places


My teacher N gave a lovely intro to yesterday's yoga class: 

Sometimes you feel as if you’re in a tight spot and there’s no room to turn and every exit seems to lead to another wall. Your problems seem insoluble. 

That’s where yoga can show you the way. Sometimes your body feels tight too, and movement is restricted. But by breathing into the compressed areas and gently working them loose, you can find space where there was none before and gradually unfurl.

And figuring out how to create space in your body shows you how to find the space in other spheres as well.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why young people hate old people

In a crowded elevator at work, I was deep in a one-sided conversation about whether I should take my pension as an annuity or as a lump sum and what were the repercussions of each scenario, and suddenly I became aware of the stony silence around me. I am the most boring person on earth, I realized. This is why young people hate old people.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Translation inflation

How could these four Sanskrit words—Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu—mean 28 English words—"May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all"?