Tuesday, April 25, 2017

SOL Tuesday: Busy, Busy, Busy...

Every spring I work on a freelance project for the magazine I used to work for full-time. That work started up a couple of weeks ago, and today it’s really heating up. Now it’s getting a bit hard to fit in the work in between the rest of my life. So today...
            First, going to the gym.
            Second, home for lunch.
            Third, spending an hour helping one of the editors on this project get up to speed on the technology we will be using. But there’s a hitch, and I had to e-mail people at the magazine for help.
            Fourth, another hour using that technology myself.
            Fifth, I take a few hours off to see a Bulgarian movie, Glory, which was worth seeing, but very depressing.
            Sixth, dinner out at a local restaurant, an excellent roast cod with stewed vegetables, and a glass of wine.
            Seventh, home to continue work on that project, in between doing my laundry.
            Eighth, writing this slice.
            Ninth, time for bed.

Monday, April 24, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: I Is for Ignorant

The dictionary defines ignorant as “destitute of knowledge or education,” “lacking knowledge or comprehension of the thing specified,” or “unaware, uninformed.”
            I like to think of myself as being aware, informed, knowledgeable, educated. Of course, there are aspects I am ignorant of, as is everyone else: I’m ignorant of when I will die, what I will die from. I am ignorant of what will happen in the future, though I can make educated guesses based on the past — with the caveat that comes with financial advice: “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
            Being aware, informed, knowledgeable, educated: this is important to me. But why? Didn’t an 18th century English poet write “ignorance is bliss”? He was thinking of the perils of life, which only ends with death, and if we knew when that would occur, wouldn’t that overshadow any present happiness?
            One night when I was 15, I lay in bed yearning to know everything there is to know in the universe. I no longer remember what prompted that desire, but it remains embedded deep in me.
            For many years, I thought the way to learn about any subject was to start at the beginning, like a novel, and read through until I got to “the end,” which would be “the present.” The Hungarian Uprising in 1956 sent me to the World Book encyclopedia; I had to find out why Hungarians were rising up against communism, which my parents thought was quite a good system. Outlining the history of Hungary would answer my questions, except that it didn’t. The Six-Day War, in 1967 sent me to books about the Israeli-Arab conflict, except that some assumed Israel was right, and others assumed the Arab view was right, and I didn’t yet know how to dance through the evidence from both these viewpoints to determine my own opinion. I still thought it was like math, there was a right answer and a wrong answer.
            As I moved through adulthood, I realized that I was never going to know everything there is to know in the universe. I decided there were some things I could remain ignorant of. India was one: until I read the Jewel in the Crown series, and decades later visited the country. I don’t know Spanish, so I decided to remain ignorant of Latin America: news stories occasionally pierce the darkness, but without much context. Even some parts of American history are shadowy: the Civil War, the antebellum period, the early Republic.
            I started thinking about ignorance after reading a review article in the New Yorker about books on democracy. Universal suffrage allows many people to vote who are ignorant of policy, how the government works, who the candidates are and what they stand for, and even how to think rationally instead of emotionally. So should these ignorant voters have the same rights as more knowledgeable voters? Saying no leads to very undemocratic results. Saying yes can lead to our current president. Per Churchill in 1947, “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time....”
I'm using this for one of my essays a week, which I have fallen seriously behind on. #52essays2017

Saturday, April 22, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: H Is for Help

I know that anyone reading this who has lived on his or her own for a good part or all of their adult life will find this post pretty much a whine. But bear with me, please.
            I'm 75, and I've lived on my own for perhaps three weeks of my adult life. This doesn't count three weeks here or four weeks there when I house-sat for my aunt in Vermont, or my husband took a trip to England or California. Those don't count because my husband was still part of my life, and I knew I would be coming home to him or he would be coming home to me. They were interludes, vacations from my "real" life.
            Now that he's dead, I am having to learn to be a single person, and it isn't easy. The first few months, coming home to a dark and empty apartment was like entering an alternate universe. It felt wrong.There would be a half-second before I opened the door when I would think, maybe he'll be there. Maybe somebody will be there. What if the light is on? What will that mean? Are there ghosts? (Neither of us believes/believed in ghosts or anything spiritual. He would not have expected to come back to haunt me or reassure me — and he hasn't. But I still understand the impulse, the desire, to believe.)
            After about six months, something clicked. I was riding home on the bus and didn't dread that moment of opening the door to a dark apartment. It would be okay. I went out of town for a week, and when I returned, I greeted myself at the door as he would have: "Welcome home, baby." Before taking another trip, I bought a timer and set it to go on and off at set times, so it wouldn't be obvious no one was home. And after I came home, I kept the timer so there would be a light for me when I came home.
            But I still miss the help. As in, I'm now responsible for everything. Jack and I didn't have a traditional marriage, with me doing all the housework and he doing all the earning a living. Whoever cooked, the other washed the dishes, or whoever cooked also washed the dishes, but neither one of us was the only one who cooked every day. We took turns doing the laundry. And we alternated going to the accountant for our taxes.
            Now I have to do everything. After I bought a new kitchen faucet, I had to e-mail the super to set up an appointment for getting it installed, and I had to be home for the installation. I had to do the taxes last year and this year... And the year after that and after that and after that... I have to call the super to change the lightbulbs in the kitchen and in the bathroom; no longer can I stand on a stool while Jack holds me steady, or vice versa. I have to do all the shopping and all the cooking and all the washing up, although if I decide not to wash the dishes one evening, no one will complain.
            I dread the time when I will be in the hospital and need someone to advocate for me, as I advocated for him in his various hospitalizations and his last month. Or when I will need help after coming home from some hospital procedure and can't take care of myself. My daughter can help in minor situation, like picking me up after my cataract surgery six months ago. But if I can't get to the bathroom by myself and need 24-hour assistance? That can get expensive — and it's not the same as having a partner.
            Yes, I know, many, many people live like this all the time, and in far worse circumstances. But I feel like I need lessons in being a grownup, and it feels a little embarrassing to admit that as an old person.

#AtoZChallenge: G Is for Grief

Locked in

Friday, April 14, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: F Is for Food

(I haven’t had any Internet connection for the past few days, so I’m filing F, G, H, I, J, and whatever we’re up to, as fast as I can. Gotta keep up.)
            I love food. Jack, my late husband, loved food. I love to eat. Jack loved to eat. I love to cook. Jack liked to cook—I don’t know if he loved to cook. I love to try new dishes; last week I made a vegetarian chili verde for my writers’ group and had no idea how it would turn out until it was almost done and I tasted it. Jack had his specialties—broiled chicken, black bean soup, tuna casserole, spaghetti sauce, brownies—which were always very good. I often thought of writing down his marinade for the broiled chicken, but never did—and now it’s too late. But it wasn’t really a recipe anyway: juice, olive oil, wine, dried herbs or spices, whatever was handy or he felt like.
            I’m a recipe person myself, wrote about this years ago for a tiny magazine, And/Then. Called “Recipes for Life,” it contrasted two ways of approaching cooking: following a recipe, or sensing what went well together and winging it. At that time in my life I followed recipes. I needed to know quantities: how much juice, how much wine, how much oregano and what if I’d run out of oregano? Then, I was hoping to be more adventurous in cooking, and in life as well. Now I use recipes as guidelines, looking at 1, 2, 3, what ingredients do I know I like, what combos taste interesting in my mind.
          That vegetarian chili verde? I had a chili verde a friend had made, but it was full of pork. One of the writers in my group is vegetarian, so I had to improvise. (I used the basic pork version but substituted beans for meat and added bell peppers and about half as much green chilis.)
            I love to cook, but not every day. Even the few years I was a full-time parent, I didn’t cook every day. We ate out a fair amount, and our school-age daughter had her favorite restaurants: Symposium (Greek), 107 West (new American), Japonica (she liked sushi at age 8). When Jack was the full-time parent, he’d go to the farmers market late in the day and buy a quantity of tomatoes and sale price. Then he’d make a quantity of tomato sauce and freeze most of it. We even had a free-standing freezer, which felt very suburban in our New York apartment.
            My mother didn’t teach me to cook, though she was a pretty good cook. She didn’t have enough patience, she said. She’d been a home-ec major in college (a compromise with her immigrant parents; she wanted to major in biology) and relished modern technology: frozen vegetables, TV dinners. We did have a garden for a few years when I was a child, and I learned the luscious taste of sun-warmed tomatoes and crisp peas right out of the pod. I also read my mother’s cookbooks from college and started clipping my own recipes as a teenager. Perhaps the first one was a tuna melt from Seventeen.
            And I wanted my daughter to learn the fun of mixing ingredients into some new concoction that tasted good. So when she was 4, 5, 6 and had to stand on a stool to reach the counter, I’d have her take a turn mixing the cake batter and frosting, rolling out the pizza dough, filling the dumplings. When she was a teenager, she wanted to make her own meals and start experimenting. I suggested she master some recipes first and improvise once she’d learned the basics. Now in her 40s, she still cooks, makes leftovers to take for lunch, and has found a partner who likes to cook as much as she does.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: E Is for Everything

            I don’t believe in astrology, but my birthday is in Gemini, and I do find that everything in my life has its upside and downside, simultaneously. I also have a hard time choosing among the many things I want to do, on any day.
            I would never have been able to be a real academic, because I would not have been able to keep my attention on my sliver of a topic for as long as would have been necessary to write a dissertation, let alone turn that dissertation into a publishable book, as well as all the papers and talks required to get tenure.
            Everything in my field of interests includes reading, writing, watching movies, going for long walks, seeing plays, going to museums, listening to music of all kinds (except polkas and operas), cooking, eating, writing about my reading, knitting, crocheting, having lunch or dinner with friends, e-mailing my friends, reading Facebook, commenting on my friends’ FB posts,
reading the stories my friends post to FB, tweeting my rants about language misuse and grammatical mistakes, traveling to other countries, traveling to other states, playing the piano, organizing my books, organizing my files, oh, I’m getting tired just trying to think of everything I want to do.
            I wasn’t sure what my E was going to be. Here were some of the possibilities: empty, erasure, enabled, elevated, elegant, effluvial, effort, early, eucalyptus, effect, elephant, easy, ephemeral, ergot, evil, ever, eternal, enter, entire, epic, ears. Maybe I’ll write about each of them at some other time.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: D Is for Death

            Yes, that death. That thing that comes at the end of life. That thing that causes a person to stop breathing, to stop being alive, to end up buried in the ground or turned into ashes. That thing that modern Americans, at least, barely talk about, let alone think about.
            If you’re religious, maybe doesn’t feel quite so final. If you believe your dead loved one is in heaven, still thinking about you and caring for you, in some ethereal way, and that you will see each other again once you die yourself, perhaps death doesn’t feel so final. So like a thick wall banging down between you and the person you loved and lived with for 50+ years.
            My husband, Jack, died last year, on January 5. He had recently been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. He’d been in the hospital for a month, disabled for the previous two years after a fall, in moderately ill health for the 16 years before that from a clotting disorder and multiple complications. For years, he continued to say, “I can live with this.” On the last day of 2015, he said, “I can’t live with this.” Hospice, then death.
            Those are the facts. But what do they mean? How do they feel? How do I accept the finality of Jack’s being gone, forever? I have no religion, I don’t believe there’s some nonmaterial existence where he might still be. I can only hold onto the Jewish belief that dead people live on in the memories of those still alive. But my memory is weak where my memories of Jack are.
            I feel like I wasn’t paying enough attention. It feels like I need his physical presence to remember. I miss his body, his differentness, his unique thoughts and feelings. I don’t miss the fights we had over my saving things – or maybe I do miss them. In one of my few dreams about him, I was showing off the bookcases I’d emptied, and he laughed because I’d waited until after he died to do that.
            Why haven’t I dreamed of him more? Why is he dying out of my dreams as well as my life? As he lay dying, I told him, “From now on, your story will be my story. Is that okay?” And he nodded. But it’s not okay.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: C Is for Chaos, Confusion, Climate Change...

            I had a hard time coming up with what I wanted my “C” to be. I had written “coffee,” “Cuba” (my daughter, Christie [another C], and I had gone to Cuba last December), but as I lay in bed last night, what floated into my mind was chaos and confusion.
            Perhaps that is my state of mind these days. It’s partly because of the current political state of this country, with a president who seems to think his job is to sign executive orders and show his signature to the camera, whose nominations show an inclination to destroy all parts of government except the police and military, who is at heart a con man and entertainer. I fear only chaos will be the result, chaos not only in this country but around the world. And climate change, which that president ignores, may make all of our futures obsolete.
            But my psyche also feels chaotic and confused. My husband of 51 years died a year ago. I was going to save this fact for tomorrow, when D will be about Death, but this fact is at the root of my personal chaos and confusion.
            We had a good marriage; in many ways, we meshed very well. But we were also quite different. All the ways we were different that caused conflict are now gone, and while I often feel relieved (oh, I can cook whatever I want; I can pile up books and magazines on chair arms), I also feel, yes, confused. What do I do now? I’m 74, soon to be 75, and my life is not as open-ended as it would be if I were 35 or 40, or even 50.
            I’m not looking for another partner. Relationships are hard work, and I’ve already seen one partner through ill health, hospitalizations, rehab, and I don’t want to do that again. When I think of that, I think, it’ll be my turn next. And yes, it would be helpful to have a partner to take care of me, someone I’ve known only a short time wouldn’t be any more comfortable than someone I would hire.
            Do you think I’m being too utilitarian here? What about love? Even sex? I’m confused about those, too. What is love when you’re not young and full of lust? I’m not a romantic (my husband was). I feel more like the uncertain young person I was when my husband and I first met.
            I’m having to learn to be a grownup all on my own, and that is confusing and chaotic. Wish me luck.

Monday, April 3, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: B Is for Baseball, Beisbol, Base-Ball, Puro Yakyu, Yagu, Bangqiu...

            (I don’t know what other languages have a word for baseball, but if you know, please post a comment.)
            Yes, Sunday was opening day for a few teams, but as far as I’m concerned, today is the official Opening Day, and the first game for the New York Mets. The Mets have been my team for the past 30 years. Yes, I became a fan in 1986, the second time they won the World Series.
           The only reason I hadn’t been a Mets fan before is that I thought they were too far away from where I live. We’d been going to Yankee games for about eight years, and though we had to go downtown to get to the Bronx, which is uptown, Queens seemed so far away. Until my daughter started high school in 1986, and her school had a block of seats at Shea Stadium in mid-September. Of course we went, that is, my husband and I went. Our daughter wasn’t all that interested. And it didn’t take much longer to get to Shea than it did to get to Yankee Stadium. And no only were the Mets contending, but they were playing real baseball – that is, baseball without the designated hitter.
            I’ve been an off-and-on baseball fan since childhood. Well, sort of. In 1949, I lived in Brooklyn and was in the second grade. A classmate asked me whether I was for the Dodgers or the Yankees. I had never heard of the Dodgers (surprising, because my lefty parents surely knew about Jackie Robinson), but our downstairs babysitter had mentioned the Yankees, so I said I was for the Yankees. “You live in Brooklyn, so you gotta be for da Dodgers,” my classmate said, in strong Brooklynese. You can’t tell me who to be for, I thought, and instantly conceived a (somewhat) lifelong hatred of the Dodgers: it waned somewhat when they moved to L.A., then returned when they beat the Mets in playoffs in 1988.
            As a teen, I lived in Philadelphia suburbs, so became a fan of the Phillies, the lowly Phillies, last in the National League when there only 16 teams in the two leagues combined, so the Phillies were last of eight. Sometimes they’d end in seventh place. I kept a residual allegiance to the Yankees, since they could be sure to win and balance out my fandom for the underdog.
            I think this is enough about baseball for today. Except to add that the Mets won today, their 36 opening day win against only 12 losses since 1970 (they lost their first eight opening day games). And it was a pretty interesting game, a pitcher’s duel through six, then the Braves’ bullpen fell apart.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

#AtoZChallenge: Address Books

            Have you ever found an old address book and looked through it, trying to remember who all those people are who you bothered to keep their addresses and phone numbers? I found one today, back at least 40 years. The A pages are missing, and only two names on the B page, which since it has no B tab means there’s a B page missing too. But I know who those two people are.
            Dr. L. (Lucille?) R. Burns was an ophthalmologist who worked with the eye doctor I normally saw. I think I saw her for some eye problem related to my contact lenses, but no longer remember what it was. She was extremely conservative, and when I found a new eye doctor and asked her for my medical records, she said they were her property and she wouldn’t give them to me. This seemed weird, but I didn’t know what the law was so didn’t fight it. I think it was sometime in the mid-’70s.
            The other B name is Connie Bacher, Connie Callanan Bacher to be exact. She was in my freshman hall at Antioch College, and then roommate in the summer of 1961. At the time of the address book, she was married to a tax lawyer named Don Bacher, and they were living in Guildhall, Vermont; later they moved across the river to Littleton, New Hampshire, where Don became a liberal gadfly, suing the town for putting up an enormous cross on a hillside overlooking his and Connie’s house. We are still in touch; she divorced Don and moved to India to live in a community with a swami. My daughter and her younger daughter went to the same camp one summer, and now both are librarians.
            In the Cs is Ann Constable, who I knew from women’s liberation, most likely New York Media Women, since she worked at Time. But then there’s Norma Clark Budetti, in Wichita, Kansas. This must be someone from Jack’s life, but as he’s no longer here to answer my question, she remains forever unknown. Also a “Cat-lady” ("Marilyn’s friend"; but who’s Marilyn?).
            In the ’70s there was Dial-a-Demonstration (disconnected in 1970, or 1976? can’t read my handwriting), Dial-a-Radical, and Dial-a-Recipe (in 1972). Did I ever call one of those numbers? Dr. Leo Dienstag was our primary doctor until 1992, when he retired. Norm Danzig was a young man in my therapy group in the early 1970s. Catherine De Angelis was one of Christie’s pediatricians; we went through a series of them. One was too far away in the Village, another thought fruit was like lollipops for toddlers, and shouldn’t be fed to them. Dr. Marvin Eiger was one of them, and he also had what seemed like peculiar ideas: fresh squeezed orange juice, not orange juice from the grocery store, and don’t take your baby on the subway.
            I’m not going to go all the way through the alphabet of the address book here, but I am going to see how many others from that period of my life I still remember.

            I just learned about this writing challenge, to write on my blog every day in April on a topic derived from letters of the alphabet, in order. Here's my first one.