Tuesday, December 3, 2019

SOLTuesday: Fifty Years Ago...


This slice is from 50 years ago yesterday and the day before. December 1 was the birthday of my boss at Bobbs-Merrill, Bob Ockene. The next day he died, from acute leukemia, usually the childhood version of leukemia. 
       I knew Bob only four months. When I interviewed with him for the job as his secretary, I noticed that one of his books had been written by Milton Kotler, who was married to my college friend Janet. He was friends with Robin Morgan, who came by the office shortly before she went off to the women’s liberation demonstration against the Miss America contest in early September. I don’t know whether he’d already been diagnosed with leukemia when I started working for him or that only happened in those four months. He was working almost until the day he died. Only later did I learn that he was one of the founder of the Yippies.       
      After Bob died, I was promoted to associate editor and took over the books he had been handling, including one of the first women's liberation anthologies, "The New Women: A Motive anthology on women's liberation," edited by Joanne Cooke and Charlotte Bunch.. For quite a while, I could only write a work letter if I pretended I was my own secretary—and I never got my own secretary.
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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

SOLTuesday: Attempted Recycling


            In my recent cleanup, I found five used printer ink cartridges. I took them to my local stationery story to leave them for recycling, but learned that their distributor no longer recycles those cartridges. The clerk told me that the student center at nearby Columbia University collected them for recycling.
            When I went there, there were the usual plastic and paper bins, but also bins for cell phones, electronic equipment, batteries, and CFC lightbulbs—but no printer cartridges. I asked the man at the information desk if he knew of any place on campus that recycled those cartridges, and he said he thought an office in another building did. But when I went there, there were the usual paper and plastic bins, as well as one for batteries—but no ink cartridges. When I asked some workers, it seemed that maybe they had once, but did no longer.
            Rather than bring home the cartridges and research possible other recycling centers, I reluctantly dumped them in the trash. I’m sorry, Earth. 
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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

SOLTuesday: Phone Contact


         My only encounters with other humans today was via commercial phone.       
        First, I’d gotten a letter yesterday from one of the companies where I have a couple of IRAs. The company is moving all of its accounts to one web page, which is its brokerage account page. The letter said all I had to do was go to the webpage and follow three simple steps. Well, not so simple. There was no link to something called “transition here.” So I looked for a phone number. No phone number on the letter, and no phone number easily found on various webpages of the company. Finally, I found a number, dialed, got a recording, waited on hold for maybe 10 minutes, then the call dropped. Called back, and this time the recording said I could leave my number and someone would call me back in 15-22 minutes. Okay, done. And the callback was only about 10 minutes.
            The first person I talked to said this change was optional, but after some discussion, it seemed maybe it was worth doing. And this person confessed that the webpage where I was supposed to make the transition had a lot of problems, so I should go through the process with someone else on the phone. Great (heavy sarcasm).
            I didn’t have to wait too long for this second person, who told me that, yes, this is optional, but it’s optional now, and will eventually become mandatory. In the middle of the transition process, I hit a page that gave me a “502 error: Bad Gateway.” When I reported it, this second person put me on hold, again. While I was on hold, I tried again, and this time, the click that had given me the error worked. Which I reported to my guide when he got back online.
            We finished the process, except that one of my IRAs sends me RMDs, and I need to reapply for the RMD, which I can’t do until 24 hours after this transition. Great (more heavy sarcasm).
            All of this took almost an hour.
            Second, in the evening, I got a text from one of my credit cards that some charges, for a total of almost $1,000, had been made at a Walmart, and I needed to let the bank know if these were legit. Well, they were not! I texted “no” immediately and called the phone number in the text, the fraud unit of my credit card’s bank. This process took less than 10 minutes, and the result is that this particular credit card is dead until I get a replacement card, with a new number, which means I will have to notify all of my automatic payments with the new number. I asked if there was any way they could trace who had used my card number, and they said no.
            Just another day of modern life. 

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

SOLTuesday: Lost and Found Tale


            Yesterday I turned on the desktop computer, which I’d turned off at the beginning of the summer, to prevent it from overheating since my apartment isn’t air-conditioned. The desktop is the computer my husband used; it’s the computer that has seven years of his e-mail, which I’ve been going through just to hear his voice in his words.
            When I turned on the computer, without thinking I logged into my account. After a few minutes it sank in that the desktop did not look right. It didn’t have the photo of Jack that I had installed after he died. It didn’t have the files of e-mail that I had created to save the messages I wanted to keep. What had happened?
            I have a Mac, which has a built-in backup drive called Time Machine. I opened up Time Machine, but no matter how far back I went, I couldn’t find the files or the desktop I expected. What had happened? How had I lost everything?
            A sinking feeling fell over me, and I began to feel I would fall apart. It was as though Jack had died all over again, only now it felt like he was really gone, I had no more access to his mind, his sense of humor, his thoughts. I wanted to wail, to fall on the floor—both terror and great emptiness.
            At the same time, I tried to be realistic, to be the kind of person who didn’t keep memories of her dead husband in physical objects or words on a page or screen. Who now slept in the middle of the bed, removed his placemat from the table. I had to be a person who went on with her life—I’m still here, I have to handle all the losses, whatever they are.
            Among the scraps of paper I found the other day in my latest fit of decluttering was this quote from Gilda Radner: “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without know what’s going to happen next.” It was so appropriate to where I was at that moment.
            As I was about to write this experience into my journal, it hit me. What I was missing wasn’t on my login, it was on Jack’s. Sure enough, I logged out, logged in as him, and there it all was. The photo on the desktop, the e-mail files. Everything I thought I’d lost was found.
            I still felt a bit shaken, not sure what I can rely on. Jack is still dead, but only once, not twice. And last night, I dreamt of him, which I rarely do. I dreamt he returned, and we were in bed together, one of our favorite places. 
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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

SOLTuesday: #FiftyYearsAgoToday


            I’ve kept all of my date books since I started using one in 1963. So while I remember this meeting and the change it made in me, I wouldn’t have remembered the exact date or what else I was doing around the same time without this one.
            Fifty years ago tonight, I went to my first women’s liberation meeting. It was at the apartment of a reporter for the New York Post, where my husband worked, and if I hadn’t been there recently for a party I think I wouldn’t have had the courage to go to this meeting where I knew practically no one.
            The meeting was of the “women’s caucus” of the New York Media Project, a group of media professionals who were against the war in Vietnam. In 1969 “women’s caucuses” were cropping up in many groups like this. I had been working for a book publisher, as a secretary, for just a month, and had heard of the Media Project, but wasn’t yet part of it. But in my work at the publisher, I had just finished reading a “manuscript” (a box of ephemera: leaflets, flyers, papers) of Women’s Liberation Movement documents, and felt what journalist Jane O’Reilly later called, in the first issue of Ms. magazine, “the click experience,” when myriad inchoate feelings and thoughts about my life as a female all clicked into place.
            I asked my husband (yes, my husband!) if he knew anyone at the Post who was involved in this WLM, and he told me about Lindsy Van Gelder and Bryna Taubman. And he added that they were having a meeting on September 24.
            Reader, I went. And in a roomful of mostly strangers, I spoke up during the discussion. I had never done that. But these were all women, and women who were encouraging each other.
            Up to this moment I had always felt that men were absolutely sure of what they thought, and because I was rarely absolutely sure of what I thought, I didn’t dare open my mouth for fear of being shot down. But these women were saying some things I agreed with, and some I didn’t. It felt possible to speak up in support of one side or another without having to prove I was 100% right.
            That was the beginning of my leap into women’s liberation and feminism, and I have never looked back. It has saved my sanity.
            (And the one bittersweet thought now is that my husband isn’t here to have several long discussions about those early days, and how we rockily yet successfully navigated our life together as many other relationships failed to do.)
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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

SOLTuesday: A Short Story

(This is a lightly fictionalized account of something that's actually happened. I'm wondering how it reads to people who don't know me.)


She hates me. The woman in 4B. I live in 2B. She wants my apartment. I’ve lived here for 50 years. My husband died here, and so will I.
            She hates me, the woman in 4B. She has three children under 10. Sometimes I see them on the street. I take the stairs instead of the elevator. I’m 78. As long as I can walk up the stairs I will walk up the stairs. 
            Our apartments are the same, but not quite. They each have two bedrooms. But mine has long hallways, hers doesn't. My halls are lined with bookcases; I don't know where she keeps her books. Her kitchen is smaller, her living room is bigger. But the two bedrooms are why she hates me.
            The person who owns the apartment next to mine died. His wife doesn’t want to die in the same apartment, she wants to sell. The woman in 4B thinks if she had my apartment, she and her husband could buy the apartment next door and have lots of bedrooms, lots of room for the three children. The boy is the oldest. The girl is maybe seven, and there’s a new baby.
            Her husband sent an emissary, the real estate agent who lives in 2D.  She said I had many opportunities: I could buy the next-door apartment, put a door between them, rent to a roommate whose rent would pay the extra maintenance, and I’d have another person who’d notice if something went wrong with me. I’m old, after all.
            Or I could trade apartments with the family in 4B. The apartments are the same. The fourth floor would have more light. The apartments are the same. I’d be doing a good deed for that family. I don’t even know them, even though they moved in two or three years ago. I take the stairs, not the elevator.
            But. But. But. I don't want to move. 
            She hates me. I imagine her conversations with her husband. "What's wrong with the old bitch? The apartments are identical. There's an elevator. She'd have more light." And I wonder, why did they have a third kid when they knew they only had two bedrooms?
            But the apartments are different. I love my long hallway. I love my kitchen, which I renovated 10 years ago. Those two extra flights of stairs might be good for exercise, but what about those times when my bladder needs release as soon as I walk down the street to my building? I hate potty talk, but at a certain age bodily functions become insistent. And most important, my husband never lived in that other apartment layout. His memory would get lost without the long hallway and bookcases.
            I tell her husband, no.  I invoke my husband's spirit. He's fine about it. But I know she hates me. 
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Tuesday, September 3, 2019

SOLTuesday: Facebook as Therapy


            It’s been more than three and a half years since my husband died, yet I still often find it hard to get out of bed in the morning and get started on my day. A few days ago, I posted this on my Facebook page:
What is my purpose in life? This is not a question I ever think about, it seems to have religious overtones. Yet I think it may have some psychological relevance because I sometimes still have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Jack is a handy hook to hang my purpose on. When he was alive, perhaps I felt my “purpose” was to live with him, do things we enjoyed together, and do other things separately and report back to each other. Like, my “purpose” was to have another person always available to talk to, to talk at, to bounce off of, even to argue and fight with, and, as time passed, to have a history with. That purpose is gone, and I am still somewhat flailing about, trying to get at “why” I want to do the things I “want” to do. There’s a lot here to unpack.”
            Several friends helpfully gave me the usual suggestions: volunteer, help others, find the projects I couldn’t do when married. Reading them, however, I realized the real underlying problem, something I've been aware of for many years. It's not purpose, it's self-motivation. It's setting my own goals, and then actually, really following through on them. I'm fine at meeting other people's deadlines or needs, but have been lousy at bridging the distance between idea/thought/desire and action. My husband was, in a way, an external goal, which I either met or struggled, often successfully, against. Now, it’s just me. It’s my own motivation. I have to learn how to pay attention to it and to use it. 
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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

SOLTuesday: History in Philadelphia


            I just spent two days in Philadelphia with a couple of friends. We intended to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the Gee Bend’s quilt exhibit, but neglected to check whether the museum was open on Mondays until we arrived at our B&B—and it isn’t.
            But all was not lost. We had reservations for a walking tour of the Old City with a tour guide who’d been a student of one of my friends several years ago. The tour was wonderful. Tim gave lots of information that I hadn’t known, like that Betsy Ross had three husbands, and outlived them all. We walked down Elspeth’s Alley, the oldest continuously used street in the country and a National Historic Landmark District. The street was first created in 1702, and there are now 32 privately owned and lived-in houses, which were built between 1738 and 1836. Several houses still had the fire company plaques that entitled the owners to priority fire-fighting because they’d paid for that service. There were many more fascinating stops, including the very first post office next to Benjamin Franklin’s home, because Franklin was the country’s first postmaster general. It’s still a functioning post office, but also looks like a museum.
           After the tour, we stopped at Shane’s Confectionary, opened in 1863 and continuously operated since then. I bought some intriguing chocolates: chocolate with cayenne, chocolate bar with ginger, and traditional fudge with nuts and a peanut butter fudge. The store also stocks Wilbur’s Buds, which look very much like Hersey Kisses because the person who created Hersey Kisses was an apprentice to the creator of Wilbur’s Buds and went off to give the idea to another candy maker near Hersey, Pennsylvania.
            If you’re in Philly, or happen to be visiting, I strongly recommend taking the Old City Walking Tour. 
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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

SOLTuesday: Bookcase Finds


            No, this is not about books, although I’ve been doing a lot with my books lately.
            Recently, three shelves collapsed on one of my many bookcases—I’d had books two rows deep, and those shelves just weren’t built for that. I had to cull, and quickly, to get those books off of the floor.
            Having done that job on one bookcase, I thought I’d tackle the others before I was forced to by more collapse. But as I got started, my daughter reminded me that my husband used to stash emergency money, maybe $100, in “a book,” and since Jack’s no longer among the living, I can’t ask him which book it was. So Christie and her husband came over to help, riffling through books on four shelves of the “fiction” bookcase.
            In the process, they found, stuck behind books, a month’s worth of New York Times Book Reviews from 2005—and a brown paper bag. I know exactly what that bag is for.
            Jack used to buy a small container of yogurt at a neighborhood
deli as his movie snack, and often he didn’t get a bag to put it in. So he made a point of saving small paper bags like this one for his movie yogurt. Usually, he put the bags on a top shelf in a kitchen cabinet, but I guess this one never got there. It just ended up in the secret world “behind things,” out of sight, out of mind.
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Tuesday, June 18, 2019

SOL Tuesday: Bird’s Eye Views of the Grand Canyon


This was the perfect SOL for last Tuesday, when my daughter and I were on a Road Scholar tour of the Grand Canyon. The day started with a flyover of the canyon in a tiny DC6, and proceeded to long walks and a visit to the Geology Museum in Grand Canyon Village, and by the end of the day I was too exhausted to write. So here it is today. Maybe I’ll do another one for today if an opportunity presents.
            Our little plane had maybe 12 people (and there was another plane with the rest of our group) and everyone had a window seat. Here is a shadow of our plane as we took off from Grand Canyon Airport (“since 1927” and they offer helicopter flights as well). 
            But it's taking a really long time to upload the videos to this blog, so I'll just add a couple more amazing, awesome, unbelievable—adjectives just don't do it justice—photos of what we saw. And I can't figure out how to move the photos so they are next to each other, so that's why layout looks so silly. (Any other Blogger users out there who know the trick?)
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Friday, June 7, 2019

52Essays New Wave #7: Ironing


            My aunt gave me this housekeeping tip many years ago: if you don’t have time to iron immediately after doing the laundry, you can wrap up the damp clothes, put them in a plastic bag, and keep in the freezer until you do have time. Of course, she was thinking the next day, perhaps, or by the end of the week. She definitely did not mean months and months and months.
            I hate to iron. When I was a teen, my mother enlisted me to help her with the ironing, which included sheets and pillow cases, and my father’s dress shirts and boxer shorts. Everything was white, boringly white. Boxer shorts had hard-to-figure-out geometry, but at least they were small.
            The dress shirts, on the other hand, were interminable. But I never forgot the approach: first iron the collar, both sides; next, the sleeves, wrists first, then the whole sleeve, both sides; third, the yoke, which you had to fold along the seam line so it would lie flat; lastly, the large right front with buttons, back, left front with buttonholes. Even in the summertime, he wore long-sleeved shirts to work, and it seemed to take forever to iron just one. Even though my mother’s ironing board was adjustable and I could sit, it was so much work. I vowed I would do as little of this chore as possible when I grew up.
            Fortunately, jersey fabrics and polyester in the 1960s and ’70s made this vow easy to keep. When I bought silk blouses, they’d go to the dry cleaners. And when Jack and I married, I made it clear I would never iron his shirts. He didn’t care; he took them to the laundry, and eventually he found a place to work where he could wear T-shirts. (My father didn’t like starch in his shirts, which is why his didn’t go to a laundry.)
            Then my aunt’s tip. By this time I had accumulated a few rayon blouses and washable silk. Ironing sometimes was required. So into the freezer they went, and a few months later, maybe when something was on TV (I was ironing when the U.S. invaded Iraq), out would coming the adjustable ironing board and iron.
            But some time ago, I washed a summer dress I had made and a blouse I bought in Montreal in 1985, packed them into the freezer, and there they stayed. For years. It’s possible they’ve been there for 10 years.
            Today, I’m packing for a trip and needed to touch up a shirt I want to wear. Why not iron those clothes in the freezer? That turned out to be harder than I thought.
            The blouse seemed frozen solid. It took at least half an hour to thaw, with the iron, and unroll it, bit by bit. The fabric doesn’t seem to have been damaged, even when I had to pull it apart—I wonder if there is liquid built into the rayon cloth.
            I should have taken a photo of it all rolled up, but you can see (1) part of it partially undone, (2) ice crystals; and (3) ironed product. I do love this shirt. Why did I leave it in the cold for so long?
(1)
(2)


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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

SOLTuesday: Widows Galore


            Widows’ Words: Women Write on the Experience of Grief, the First Year, the Long Haul, and Everything in Between, an anthology from Rutgers University Press (which I have a piece in) had its pub date last Friday. On the weekend, the editor, Nan Bauer-Maglin, gathered together more than half of us for a book party.
            We were in the lovely Upper West Side apartment of another contributor, and most of us were meeting for the first time. In one case, five women had collaborated, sharing their experiences in writing with each other, while one who was a writer brought their experiences together—yet none of them had met face-to-face until last weekend. One woman had come from Michigan, another from Virginia, another from the U.K. Some brought new partners or husbands, others (like me) brought a friend—and in true small world fashion, my friend found
work colleagues there who were related to the contributor from the U.K.
            I knew the anthologist and one other contributor, and had met yet another contributor at another book party the day before, so reading their essays filled in details about them some of which I knew already, others I was learning for the first time. But it was helpful to see the faces of those whose contributions I was just reading; they can stick in my memory much better now that I can see the face of the writer.
            We will see more of each other as we hold more book events—one contributor is also an artist, and at the gallery where her paintings are now on exhibit, there will be a book reading in on Thursday, May 9. I’m not reading at this one, but probably will at a bookstore event in the fall.
            It was, as many experiences widows share, fun and bittersweet.
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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

SOL Tuesday: A Jolly Memorial


Memorials are generally somber affairs, especially when the “departed” are close family or friends. But the one I went to yesterday was almost a party.
            It helped that I did not know Jennifer, the young (48 years old) woman who had died. I was there with my cousin, who had driven up from Virginia, and she was a close friend of the woman’s mother, having met the daughter only once. But I know from my experience that it feels good to have a lot of people around as you commemorate or celebrate a life.
            The memorial took place in the Palm House at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, a light-filled space that felt very appropriate for the woman I heard described by her wife, sisters, college friends, and more recent friends. Under each of our chairs was a piece of colored paper and a Sharpie. At one point people were asked to write the word or phrase that best described their memory of Jennifer—and then to crumple up the paper and toss it to the person who was at the microphone, who then read each one. Not what you expect to do at a memorial.
            When the reminiscences were over, we had delicious catered food—Mexican at one stand, Moroccan at the other—outside, serenaded by a small band. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating well; it was chilly, and while some people sat at the outdoor tables, others retreated back to the Palm House.
           Later, children brought out boxes of party hats and glasses, like this pink one. And everything ended with the band leading a parade around the lotus ponds in front of the Palm House, and playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
            A friend of mine who died a few years ago from kidney cancer had a party while she was still able to appreciate it and so she could be present when her friends celebrated her. Jennifer, who apparently loved parties, turned down that suggestion. But she wanted her family and friends to have that party, even if she wasn’t there. And it felt good to continue life for the rest of us.
            And just to illustrate life and death going on all around us all the time, as my cousin and I were leaving the botanical garden, a heron swooped in, grabbed a goldfish from the lotus pond, and flew off with its dinner. 
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