Monday, April 29, 2013

Insomnia everlasting

I’m an insomniac and always have been. Even as a child, I would lie awake and worry. What does a child have to worry about? Infinity. I still get anxious at the notion, but when I was, say, 10, the idea of time everlasting was terrifying. I would lie in bed and throw my mind further and further into the future, not imagining what it would be like so much as trying to find the end and failing. Or I’d pitch myself into a bottomless well and fall slowly into the vast nowhere. Boundless outer space—cosmic torture. 

Infinity still bothers me, but now I know to stop at the precipice and will myself to worry about other, slightly less disturbing things—like the fact that I cannot remember the name of a movie I saw a fragment of the night before, or the words I said in good humor that could easily be misconstrued. Such things still keep me awake, or maybe I worry about them because what else are you going to do while you’re lying awake. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Turning down the heat

Although I have certainly felt from time to time that I was burning in the fires of my own private hell, it turns out that as the term “sandwich generation” suggests, I am not the only piece of lunchmeat on the grill of caregiving. 

And it turns out that none of us are completely satisfied with how we’re doing the eldercare slice. Those who have lost a parent (or two) are burdened with regrets that can never be resolved—a father’s pain that went unaddressed, say, or a mother’s loneliness a daughter was too busy to assuage.

Both my parents are still alive, so I have an opportunity to avoid such regrets. My trouble is that I still struggle with adolescent anger. I continue to repeat to myself and others the story of the abusive behavior of one parent and the enabling of the other. But those horrors are now more than half a century old. The people who inflicted them on me were younger than I am now, and every cell of their bodies has been replaced since then many times over. They are no longer the people who did me wrong. (Though they sure do look like them.)

So lately I’ve been trying not so much to forgive the people that they were but to love the people that they’ve become. Ironically, love in this case means maintaining emotional distance. I can appreciate my mother’s rampant stubbornness and my father’s tax-time OCD only when I don’t feel trapped by them. So I professionalize my relationship with them—when I have the wherewithal—by refusing to rise to provocation or, really, engage on any level. Oddly, this has allowed me to say—for the first time in decades—“I love you.” And mostly, I mean it.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Dachsund Day in Washington Square Park


Essentially, the hour-and-a-half level 1 class consisted of three poses, with variations: parsvottanasana, supta padangusthasana, and pashimottanasana. Static poses but with so many nuances that it was both intense and fascinating. I think I’ve found my second home!

Unbearable adjectives

Add a couple of hyphenates to the list of loatheworthy language

1. go-to
2. must-have

Sandman in Washington Square

Friday, April 26, 2013

Yoga in the naked city

I’m a yoga whore. I have no loyalty, and I’ll try anything. There seem to be 8 million yoga classes in the naked city, and in my month of semi-retirement, I’ve made headway into trying them all.

I’ve been a yoga whore for a long time, so I was already familiar with a number of studios: Ellen Saltonstall (my home base), Shala, Maha Padma, Integral, Ishta, Vira, Jivamukti, the Om Factory.

But with time on my hands and frugality in mind, I wanted to try others. First I went for bargains:
*$10 for a week of all-you-can-eat yoga at Yoga Vida—O.K. if you don’t mind meaning-of-life sermons from 20-year-olds and classes with 50 or more Lululemon-clad students
*$25 for a week of unlimited classes at Atmananda—O.K. if you get Jhon and don’t mind some military-style barking in classes so small you feel like a heel for being a cheapskate in a studio with a concrete floor painted black and ceiling lanterns that look like the pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers
*Pay what you want (I paid $5) at Yoga to the People—Smells like teen spirit when the guys take their shirts off
*$12 for Sivananda—Classical but rigid

Except for the fact that I’m 63 (and most of the students in these bargain-basement classes look 18), I feel like Goldilocks. Next up: the Papa Bear of yoga, Iyengar.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Who comes up with these?

Language I love to loathe

1. Shirty: For people who like to sound clever and don’t mind being annoying, a Britishism that has come into American usage, meaning ill-tempered.
2. Change it up: For people who like to hear the sound of their own voice for at least one more syllable. There’s no other reason for “up”? 


I have only myself to blame for the cats, rescued from shelters 14 years ago and eight years ago. Other told me they were a bad idea. I thought I knew better. What was I thinking? Unlike the guinea pig and the hamsters and the gerbil and the turtles, which we dispatched in unintentional and sometimes gruesome ways, the cats persist.

And they entrap us and enslave us. Other and I, finally retired, are chained to the rhythms of cans and kibble and litter boxes. So temperamental have the cats become in their eating and elimination that we despair of inveigling another soul to take our place for even a week. We scheme of seducing an innocent with the promise of free lodging in exchange for cat care—making it sound simple and letting our victim discover on her own that she has become an American equivalent of India’s lowest caste, the Dalit, or night-soil collector.

It’s a 24-hour cycle. Let’s start at, say, 11 pm, when we latch the sliding doors with a bungee cord, since Boy Cat has figured out how to open our bedroom door, which lies beyond the sliders. 

If I get up to use the bathroom, I must unhook the bungee, scurry through the sliders and close them quickly so Boy Cat doesn’t dash in and wake Other. While I’m nodding on the toilet, Girl Cat licks my legs with her shockingly smelly, bristly tongue, nipping me between rasps as if to remove a burr. Cat love is surprisingly painful. 

A dash back through the sliding doors may be delayed by a step into a puddle of poo or barf. If the puddle is particularly disgusting or requires special effort to clean up—the cats are drawn for such purposes to a particularly valuable white carpet—it can take a while to fall back to sleep. 

At 5, it’s wake-up time because Boy Cat hurls his body against the sliding doors like a hammer on a gong. Then Girl Cat’s rasping of my legs resumes while I open cans. 

Now here’s the tricky part: Boy Cat must have a special food that Girl Cat despises. So Girl Cat gets a special food all her own. Girl Cat’s food would make Boy Cat sick, but he’s a glutton and wants his food and hers. So Boy Cat gets locked in the bathroom with his special food. Girl Cat must wait till Boy Cat is finished, because she doesn’t think it’s nice to eat anywhere but bathrooms. She whines while Boy Cat eats. When Boy Cat is done, I dash in to switch dishes, get Boy Cat out of the bathroom and Girl Cat into it. Then Boy Cat hurls himself against the bathroom door to let me know he’s got to go. I open the door and snatch Girl Cat’s food away, so Boy Cat can get to the litter box and won’t scarf Girl Cat’s chow en route. Once I’ve scraped the box and cleaned up whatever he’s deposited on the floor since he’s a guy and thinks I was born to clean up his shit, I replace Girl Cat’s food in the bathroom and slam the door so Boy Cat can’t get back in. This sequence gets repeated like an aerobic zumba riff.

Then there’s a respite while Girl Cat and Boy Cat sleep it off. Then Girl Cat might wheeze up a watery barf after much noisy effort, Boy Cat might heave up a dark hairball with nasty things like roach legs sticking out of the central dreadlock. There may be many visits to the litter box, with much kicking out of gravel and other debris. There may be the use of antique Persian carpets as toilet paper. Girl Cat may decide to rip half her hair out and re-upholster the couch with it. Boy Cat may decide he doesn’t like the rule forbidding him to rip the couch with his meat-hook claws, or he may decide to catch a pigeon on the deck and dismantle it alive inside the house. 

At 5, the game of musical cat dishes begins again. 

Between the hours of, say, 7 and 11, there’s a quiet time, when both cats snore sweetly in the glow of lamplight, and even though Girl Cat smells bad and Boy Cat is a biter so we don’t feel inclined to cuddle with them, Other and I think they’re really not that bad.

The thing is, they really are that bad. And we are at their mercy. No one wants a middle-aged cat, and certainly not a pair of them, so I can’t put them up for re-adoption. I’d put them down if I thought I could survive the guilt, but I’m a wimp that way. Other and I have agreed on DNRs for both of them—and no well-cat vet visits either to keep them healthy. But still they live on. It will be years before they die of old age. We’ll be too old ourselves to enjoy our freedom by then—and someone will be shoveling our shit. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mixed blessings

The question of beauty and other worldly assets arose again this weekend during a discussion of a Dove video in which an artist produces pairs of drawings of unseen women. The first of each pair is based on a woman’s self-description; the second is based on a description of her by someone she has just met. In each case, the second sketch is deemed more flattering than the first. Let’s not even talk about what’s wrong with this picture, er, video.

First we started talking about how beauty can cripple. My friend said her sisters’ beauty had led to eating disorders and extreme and ultimately disfiguring cosmetic procedures. Then I said that as a parent, I’ve observed that early beauty—and the attention it draws—can give young people a distorted view of what is valuable about them and can discourage them from putting effort into endeavors that do not bring the easy approval that beauty does. Conversely, sometimes their peers dislike them on sight (“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”). 

My friend likened the barbs of beauty to those of wealth. She inherited money when she was in her 20s and feels her wealth robbed her of the satisfaction and self-esteem of earning a living. Which reminded me of how I feel about my demi-retirement: no practical worries but endless ontological ones.


Every picture (frame) tells a story

Outside a construction site at Great Jones and Lafayette

Friday, April 19, 2013

My way or the highway

This morning Other asked me whether I thought I was beautiful. I’ve actually thought about the question of physical beauty since 18 months of cancer treatments catapulted me from looking fairly youthful for my age to looking outright elderly. 

I do miss my lost looks. The old me—with the even complexion, thick brown hair, enviable figure and actual homegrown boobs—was nice-looking. I don’t remember feeling beautiful, but when I look at pre-cancer photographs, I can see that I might have been.

Now I feel certain I no longer conform to anyone’s ideal of conventional beauty. My skin is marred by brown spots. My hair is thin and gray. I’m bony and boobless. Men don’t do double-takes. There are no flirtatious glances. 

And it hurts a bit. 

But here’s the thing: I don’t feel like doing anything about it. If I put some work into the project, I know I could refashion some of my lost looks. I could get skin peels and rejuvenating facials. I could dye my hair and figure out a way of augmenting it. I could have surgery to implant silicon pillows into my chest and get nipple tattoos. Many women do all that.

I’m built differently. If people are going to dismiss me because of my ruined appearance, I say, Fuck ’em. I don’t want to live in their world. 

I want to be valued for my ugly, old, contrary self. I want unconditional love. It won’t happen. But I can’t seem to make myself invest the effort it would take to craft a more lovable self, even though it might make me happier. So I’m destined to pass my remaining years feeling a little out of sorts with the world.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Masks of age

Other had a lovely description of what it’s like to get older: When you look in the mirror, the eyes are yours, but as time passes, masks descend over your face—with lines, wrinkles, freckles, brown spots.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Time off but not away

Retirement is like vacation without the vacating.
So here’s what I’ve accomplished in the first two weeks:
*Took 11 yoga classes 
*Read three books
*Read an entire issue of the New Yorker, front to back, including Goings On
*Read the New York Review of Books (sort of)
*Solved 12 crossword puzzles
*Napped morning, noon and night
*Took a zumba class
*Attended one party, met three friends for lunch, four for dinner
*Got my e-mail hacked
*Visited the Genius Bar
*Changed every logon and password
*Actually read and annotated my financial planner’s financial plan
*Lay on the couch for hours on end not really doing anything

Is it over yet?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

I hate retirement

I am cranky. 

I am sick of cat hair. I don’t know what I was thinking when I got a white cat.

I hate it when my yoga teacher rubs my scalp with fingers drenched in lavender oil leaving my hair looking like a wet dog and smelling like a sock drawer.

My gorge rises when I hear the animal noises—grunts, vocalized yawns, burps, borborygmi, snores—of others.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Natural-born heroes

This is one of my favorite photographs. I think I look pretty lively for someone who had finished a year-and-a-half-long course of cancer treatment just a few months earlier. And I’ll always be fascinated by the guy I’m with—Wes Autrey—a.k.a the Subway Hero. 

In 2007, Autrey was waiting for a train with his two daughters when he saw a young man fall into a seizure and stumble off the platform onto the tracks. In an instant, Autrey made a multitude of dazzling mental and moral calculations: that the train was coming too fast to stop short of the spasming body, that Autrey didn’t have time to jump down and pull the man to safety, that the space between the trackbed and the undercarriage of the train would accommodate two men lying one on top of the other, that he wanted his two little girls to see him doing the right thing. And he jumped, flattened the guy and held him down as the train passed over them—while his girls watched.

I try hard to be a good person and do the right thing, and I generally make defensible ethical choices, but it would have taken me days—and a measuring tape and a calculator and a lot of Googling of math texts, plus perhaps more courage than I could muster—to make the decision Autrey made in a split second. 

Every time I think of Autrey and try to figure out the wizardry of his act, I end up gibbering. Despite all my years of yoga, I cannot grok how he had the sheer presence of mind to act so fast and flawlessly.