Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bleak Friday: Post Thanksgiving Midlife Musings

Well, that's over.

You know: Thanksgiving and all that.
It's not that I don't like Thanksgiving: I do, I like it a lot. It's just that it's another one of those things that loses a little luster as you grow up and get wise and start to realize that life is short and aging is awful and losing people you love can be unbearable sometimes. It's a holiday we hype beyond recognition, beyond what sensible people can tolerate: where did all this plenty come from; where does it go? And why does it all go so fast?

I always try to start out slow and meditative, putting myself in a humble holiday spirit: What am I thankful for? How can I cherish my family better? What will I do to make the table more beautiful and the food more delicious? And we always have a great time: great friends in to celebrate beforehand, the awesome spouse I chose and the lovely children we've been blessed with, the relatives we are happy to have join us -- it's all good. 

It's just that afterwards, when people are racing out to shop or putting up their Christmas decorations, I get this lull, this wash of melancholy.

The older you get the faster it goes -- somehow it seems that way to me. Everything's on accelerate, all the plans made, all the Saturdays booked before the calendar page is turned over. Thanksgiving dinner's barely digested before it's time to start shopping for Christmas.

I'm not complaining about Black Friday specifically -- although I think it's awful -- I'm concerned about the way time whips by me like a wind and blows things out of my hands, no matter how tightly I hold them. The candles burn and the dinner's done and the next day comes and the next thing. Christmas. New Year's. Valentine's Day. Everything so fast.

I remember when I was a kid it took forever for time to go by: all those boxes on the Advent calendar, all those chilly days before spring. Now things speed up, they whip by, I sit in the quiet after and think, "Well that's over."   

And part of me thinks it's that time  -- the quiet time in between the hype and the hoopla, with dishes drying and the orange ornaments and turkey platters stacked for storage, the downtime, when it's quiet and still -- that might be the very best time of all.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

IRL: Charing Cross, Cyber Space, and Cake at the Golden Age Club

I like to reminisce with people I don't know.
Granted, it takes longer.
-- Steven Wright, I Have a Pony

Well today I had a real Steven Wright moment when I met someone I know relatively well for the first time. 

My editor of two-and-a-half years -- she turns my scribbles into gorgeous, perfectly-worded layouts in Strathmore's Applause magazine -- is someone I communicate with via email, the occasional phone call, and on Facebook, though we've never met IRL -- in real life.

Until today: While wandering around the new Wegman's like a kid in a confusing over-sized candy store, I saw a familiar face. A kind-of familiar face. 

And as soon as I stopped puzzling over stuffing -- Pepperidge Farm vs. Arnold? Cornbread vs. herb? -- I started puzzling over Where do I know that lady from?  And when I realized how I maybe-knew-her, I did what anybody in the same situation would do: I waited for her to pass into the bread section, turned in the other direction, and nonchalantly said her name, so if it wasn't her she'd never notice.

It was her. 

I don't think she thought it was particularly stalkerish or anything (she said she kind-of recognized me, too) and we chatted -- about the kids and Thanksgiving and the new assignment -- and said bye,  laughing a little about how weird it was, and how normal at the same time.

Because while it sounds sort of strange and Brave-New-World, this technology-driven century isn't that different than the one that preceded it. Remember that movie, 84 Charing Cross Road, where Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins write letters about books to each other for, like, 50 years and never actually meet but they know everything there is to know about each other, and each other's families and stuff?

It's a little like that: Facebook serves as the virtual water cooler where my editor and I have traded "mom stories," just as email has become the virtual inbox where I drop copy and she makes corrections and suggestions -- no red pen needed.

So I reminisce a lot with people I've never met: my friends' friends, and their friends; my husband's cousins, even my own cousins-a-few-times removed. People who read this blog that I've never met; people I've met in online courses -- there are a lot of ways to meet people without actually meeting them, and ways to get to know and care about people you might never ever meet "IRL."

Sometimes my kids will meet grownups for the first time, only to be told "I know you from your mom's Facebook" -- which is not that different from the old days, when I'd venture into the Golden Age Club in Brooklyn where my grandma was president and one of the old ladies would say "You're Florence's grand-dawta, right?" before telling me I had put her cake on her plate the wrong way and would I give her another slice "standing up this time."

Some people think technology makes us solitary and distant, hiding behind our smart machines, refusing to make eye contact in the park or at the school pickup. Some people worry about the lost art of conversation. But, really, technology at its best throws us back to a world of more total communication; a world of telegrams and calling cards and postcards sent from vacations and letters sent daily. We just send them in different ways.

So I'll keep reminiscing with people I don't know...IRL. Steven Wright had no idea. 


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Above the FOLD: Reconsidering "Old Friends"

I hate the expression "old friend."

Lucky me, I have many of them -- friends who have been around a long time, through thick and thin -- but calling them "old" -- gah! They look too good to be old. Can't stand it.

This morning I was writing a thank you note to one-such a one, someone who's been a Big Part of My Life since college, someone who's been through more than one wringer with me. Someone whose mom would comment on the amazing picture shown here of us polar bear plunging into the Atlantic off Montauk in late October with a cheery "Have you girls been drinking?" even though it's clearly rather early in the day (and -- for the record -- we had not). Someone who just hanging around with is an automatic giggle fest.

And it came to me: she is a FOLD.

A Friend of Long Duration. Someone who knows what happened on the roof. In the vestibule. During the Tater Tot strike. At the coffee party on State Street. Saw it all firsthand and remembers, well, a great deal of it. Someone who holds your history in her well-manicured hands.

One of my FOLDs dates back to the May Crowning at St. Philip Neri Convent in 1972, when we first became buddies -- and I can still see her smile beaming at me last time I saw her, just a month ago. I have FOLDs who haven't technically been my neighbors since the last century -- but I still think of them as living next door and across the street -- and they'll always, always be FOLDs.

Two FOLDs were part of the pub crawl when we met my husband, 27 years ago -- and one FOLD made "us" happen. FOLDs have been family-vacation-mates, confidantes, "fake aunts" (and uncles) to my children; they held me up at my father's funeral. They know just about everything about everything in my life and can reference it with a shorthand word. BGKOK. H&C. The unidentified. Glitch. Son of Rug.  FOLDs always believe in me, but never too much: they're realistic and idealistic at the same time. They've seen me at my best and at my very worst and they're still here. 

Most of all FOLDs make me laugh. They CRACK. ME. UP. Even after all these years, no matter where we go, FOLDs are just the best hang ever. Always an adventure, always a good time.

So here's to, not the old friends, but the Friends of Long Duration. Here's to the FOLDs. The ones that make friendship easy and never let you down. They're not old, they are awesome.

They are FOLDs.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Zen and the Parable of the Bathroom Renovation

When I was a kid there were seven of us sharing a bathroom.

I'm not saying that in a "poor me" kind of a way -- I had a great childhood in a great neighborhood with books to read and room to run and parents who sacrificed (maybe too much) to give us things like private school educations and groovy sixties Easter outfits and a Jim Dandy at Friendly's every once in a while.

No, I'm saying it because it runs through my mind every morning as we are renovating our master bath, trying to "make do" with one-and-a-half bathrooms for the three of us living at home.

Part of it is the force of habit that propels me down the plastic-construction-wrap path into the post-demo shell that was once our en suite. Makes me wonder how much of what we do in life is just ingrained, done because it was what we did yesterday and the day before that. I sigh at the "inconvenience" of it all and head to the hall bath where  the kid's acne wash and Old Spice Wolfthorn deodorant now fight for space with contact lens solution, icy-hot and magnifying mirrors.
It's a sure sign I'm getting old, I guess, when I start to understand the "when I was growing up" stories my parents drove me nuts with as a kid. My mom had 10 kids in her family, so any hardships I associated with being the youngest of five paled by comparison. And my poor dad was an orphan, so...yep, he would have LOVED the opportunity to grow up in a big sprawling family, poor kid.

And even though at the time their lack of sympathy made me crazy, I absolutely get it now.  Happiness is a choice you make, not birthright you claim -- and it's as easy to be happy in a tin tub in the kitchen as it is to be miserable in a marble Jacuzzi.

(Not that either extreme is or ever has been part of my everyday bathing experience...just one of those gnarly similes I can't resist. Mea culpa.)

Anyway, the gift that any good parent can give isn't the stuff itself, the gift is the ability to enjoy the stuff -- whether it's a lot of stuff or just a little. The gift is to be happy I even have a bathroom, because that guy I saw panhandling on the median after tennis maybe doesn't have one, and the the folks I met at the homeless shelter last Saturday definitely don't have one.  The gift is to say -- and really mean it -- There but for the grace of God go I. (Goes me? Go us? Dangit, John Bradford, you're a holy man but a grammarian's nightmare!)

Also, and most relevant to moi, the gift is to have faith that the new bathroom is going to be beautiful and cool and a pleasure to do business in. Totally worth the wait, and made even more enjoyable by the "hardship" of sharing. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Voo-Doo politics: Jesus, Boehner, Cruz and me

This is what is wrong with America.


This guy, John Boehner, is the speaker of the House of Representatives and he's allowed a small, aggressive and ignorant subset of the Congress to shut down the government over a measure that is the Supreme Court-approved law of the land and THAT AIN'T RIGHT.

You can call it Obamacare, I insist on calling it the Affordable Care Act. And I insist on knowing what it actually is, not what Rush Limbaugh tells me it is. It's a way of making sure everyone in this country has the basic human right of life through access to health care. It's a way of keeping costs down for those who are fortunate enough to afford health care. It's a measure that has the philosophy of Our Lord Jesus Christ written all over it. And it is what a majority of the American people said yes to when they re-elected President Barack Obama.

I mean, I didn't vote for the racist Ted Cruz, the McCarthyist senator from, yeah: from Texas. He thinks there should be "a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the Senate," and he can think that all day and night for all I care. Not my representative. 

But when he leads the charge to shut down the government and put 800,000 federal workers on furlough -- ooh, those Fat Cats, right? Sashaying down to their fancy jobs at the IRS and the NIH and the FAA for their three martini lunches on the taxpayers dime -- it makes me wonder why the hell we are tolerating these ignorant extremists who speak out of both sides of their mouths.

You can't be "Christian" and TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party at the same time, not when Jesus said to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's. Not when He said to give your money to the poor to find treasure in Heaven. Not when He cured the sick for free and saved his most enthusiastic praise for the Good Samaritan, who got a dying man medical attention at his own expense and was an A-rab to boot. 

So all this Christianity talk is BS. Jesus was not about taking food off people's tables in the name of barring the poor from affordable health care. And even if you think don't think you have a dog in this fight, you do. These clowns -- Cruz and DeMint and Bachmann -- are swinging the once-respectable Republican party into irrelevance. It's no longer the party of wealth and small government, it's the party of crazy. Sorry, it is. One whiff of the half-baked fundamentalist/Ayn Rand/survival-in-these-End-of-Days hodgepodge and the entire party gets tainted. And I like a lot of the Republican Party's ideas. I agree with many of their principles. Just spare me the voo-doo politics.

You know who can afford to shut down? Congress. You know who has great health care? Congress. Maybe to them a furlough is a nice long weekend, but to most government workers, and the economies that depend on them, and the people that need their services it is a hardship. We the people. We need to shut this nonsense down.

Find out where YOUR representative stands. It's never been easier.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

And Then They Were Numb

My dog got his eye bloodied the other night in an altercation with a neighbor's spaniel.

Pip on his leash, out for his late evening walk; the other dog running out from a party and attacking; my husband turning tail and getting our pups home -- no harm (sort of), no foul.

I mean, sure, our Pippin had a cut face and wounded pride, but the aggressor dog has attacked before: our dogs, and other dogs in the neighborhood. His owners "know" that he's put pets (including ours) into the vet's surgery: leashed or unleashed he's trouble. They're nice folks and they try to control him, I guess -- but things happen

Sometimes dogs run out, they escape, they make a break for beckoning hills. Mine do, mine have. They'd never hurt anybody, and when they have gotten out I fear for their safety more than for any other creature's, but a loose dog is a loose dog. Accidents happen. I can't cast stones.

So while I was upset and a little angry when Pip got torn up, I was resigned. Dogs will be dogs, it's the nature of the beast. 

And I had just about applied some more neosporin to his cut and put some leftover steak into his kibble yesterday morning when the news about the Navy Yard shooting in downtown DC started its insidious creep into my consciousness.

You know, like it does now: a facebook friend in PR posts a link to a news agency; measured, tentative emails appear in the inbox from the Washington Post, and then tweets start -- everyone from AP to the Huffington Post -- and you turn on the TV and get Fox News (thanks to NFL Sunday) and just keep it there because you need to hear it all, all the sordid details.

There's a routine now. A routine for when a mass shooting is reported, and it doesn't involve breaking down in tears or running to a house of worship or even calling loved ones in shock that such a thing could happen. Nope. A dozen people are shot dead at random 25 miles away from my house and I'm leaving Fox News on and going about my business.

Look, I'm not saying it doesn't make me sad, and horrified and hopeless. But like hillbillies boiling a frog -- slowly, in ever-warmer water so the frog barely notices until it's too late -- the evil around us is creeping and we are becoming immune to its impact. Numb to the things that should make us take action in outrage.

I'm sick and tired of all the gun violence, and of these never-ending wars that leave too many of our military men broken and dangerous. So sick and tired that I...what? Flick Fox over to HGTV or TLC to watch another kind of trainwreck for a few minutes? Look at as many tweets from E! as I do from AP? Cause I sure as hell am not running down to the National Mall to protest cuts in mental health benefits for our veterans or the proliferation of assault rifles.

I want it to stop but I don't want to stop it, because I don't know where to begin. Because it happens too much and too often. Because it's overwhelming, and I'm sick of it. Because I've become numb.   


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Twelve Years After

It is a museum exhibit now, even for those who were alive that day.

I came to the realization when I took my 12-year-old to the Newseum on Rosh Hashanah, trying to take advantage of the very little mommy-and-me time we have left before the terrible teens, and I realized that between the grassy knoll and the Greensboro lunch counter there is yet another artifact. Yet another history lesson.

Is 9-11 is more than that? It feels as if it has to be, but my inner magic 8-ball says outlook not so good. Twelve years after those four planes were hijacked and those 2,996 innocent people were murdered we have a comet's tail of death and destruction: first responder heroes dead and disabled from horrifying illnesses, huge numbers of soldiers giving all in interminable wars that have gotten us nowhere, ever-increasing numbers of innocents being brutalized around the world every day. 

Twelve years after we seem to have forgotten what 9-11 meant: the way it shocked us, humbled us, brought us closer together and closer to God and closer than ever before to the ideals of this nation. To freedom, to heroism, to self-sacrifice, to courage under fire. 

Look at us, sitting gaping at Miley Cyrus with our genetically modified cheap food and our concealed carry permits and our social media, closing our eyes to the world destruction all around us while our politicians are only called out for keeping sex diaries or sending out dickpics. Twelve years after we don't want to know about what's happening in Syria, in India, in Egypt. We want to tut-tut about twerking and watch Real Housewives go to jail and medicate, medicate, medicate.

I do, anyway. I admit it, I'm the worst.

Because I know in my heart that in its aftermath we did very little to truly honor the victims of 9-11. We haven't made the world safer, or more peaceful, or secure. And when I walked through the 9-11 exhibit at the Newseum with the child who had been an infant on September 11, 2001 our shortcomings were made painfully clear.

I remember feeling so helpless 12 years ago, holding that child in my arms, weeping, waiting for his now-grown brother and sister to get home from elementary school, waiting to hear from friends and family in New York City that all was OK. I remember the news of the Lost, and the televised funerals, and the prayers and fundraisers -- and the place I have always just called "the city" hovering on life support for so many scary days. I remember thinking we'd have to do better -- if we survived this -- to make the world safe, to make sure this never happened again.

And now everything is healed, but we have scar tissue and, worse, the selective memory of the traumatically wounded. We have boomed, we have busted. There's no more rubble to sort through. 

We have the communication tower from the World Trade Center here in the Newseum, along with a moving film about journalist heroes who ran toward the smoke and debris. We have the 9-11 Memorial and the Freedom Tower in New York, and for those of us who did not lose loved ones it is becoming easier and easier to forget every year.

Especially when we mistrust one another and allow politics and economics and religion to divide us. Especially when we refuse to believe in peace. 

At the Civil Rights exhibit at the museum I had to define the word "lynching" and explain those funny white robes and pointy hats to my 12-year-old; I could see his perplexed expression trying to understand that Bull Connor was real and serious and that those college kids at the lunch counter couldn't...y'know...sit there. Eat there. Because of the color of their skin

I pray that I will see the same expression on the faces of my grandchildren when they contemplate 9-11. I hope against hope that someday we'll have to help them imagine the insanity, the hatred, the hopelessness that allowed 9-11 to happen, that I'll need to explain what war used to be the way I had to explain the KKK.

It is hard to remember. It is hard to forget. It is sadly easy to be 12 years after with so very little to show, but here we are.