No sunglasses required

My eyes have always hurt in bright light.  But for the last several days, I did not have to open my sunglasses case.  The air went deep into my lungs, and the family and I felt as if we had found  some place we could call home.  The scary part is in this economy we will need to find jobs before we can consider a move any further.  But when we do, we have family here that love us and will help us resettle, my aging father along with us.  That is a profoundly graceful thing.

We have several more days in the area, the rest of them spent in the near-by urban center.  But we have little doubt that we would fit in here culturally, and we could raise our children here in the way we want to.  Where we are now, we have felt like we have done nothing but slowly dying- trying our best to fit in, make friends- and getting nothing back but persistent head bruises from all the walls we have run up against.  It’s been 11 years.  I think we know it’s never going to happen where we are.  So the process of resettling begins.  We know where, now we work on how.  Wish us luck.  Life is an adventure!

Privilege

There is that fizzy sensation when one opens a can of soda, it gently pops around the nostrils as a drink is taken.  The CO2 slides down the throat with sugar and gives opportunity for spectacular burps.  I don’t usually drink soda.  At restaurants it is usually very flat, and I don’t particularly like the taste.  But the re-release of “throw-back” products (Pepsi, Dr. Pepper come to mind) made with real sugar (not corn syrup) got me to try soda again, if just for a moment.

The pop of the can and the fizz took me back, and gave me a very strong sense memory of Pepsi in odd green plastic glasses at my great-grandfathers house.  I smiled.   I recalled when soda was a treat on a hot day, a cold fizzy thrill to a small child. 

It’s strange the things we take for granted.  This fizz, this tickle of the nose is a privilege in a country that takes so much for granted.  To have the cash to buy a box of throw back soda cans, stick them into a refrigerator that will reliably keep everything cold, and then grab ice from the freezer icemaker to pour it over is truly a privilege I take for granted most days. 

We do not own a large house, and the mess that accumulates so fast from toys, dirty laundry, clean laundry, papers, and dishes overwhelms me.  But I forget that the lights turn on when I need them, the washing and drying machines have worked for a long time, the water out of the tap goes through a filter and is as clean as we can ask for.  The toilet flushes; the shower provides enough hot water for us all to shower (if we don’t stall!).  We have a large yard, several garden areas, fully grown shade trees, a play-tower and privacy fence around it all.  We truly live here and we take for granted the infrastructure that makes all of this possible.

I have gotten annoyed lately at all the vague grousing about government.  The lack of civics courses in schools seems to have lead to a general stupidity about what government does and what we take for granted.  I watched our local city council meeting last night on the local government access channel.  It was both boring and fascinating.  The minutia, the need to consider several different points of view, just to get a visionary plan for roads on paper is amazing.  There are people who go to work everyday to make sure our garbage is picked up, our roads fixed, policed; our children schooled, firefighters, water plant persons, electric commission folks, the list goes on and on.  Is there corruption?  Sure.  From my time spent in Chicago I learned that the machine that makes a complex city possible is also a self-aware machine; there is an unspoken cap on what greed can take place.  Step out of line and the machine will slap you down.  In well functioning bureaucracies, there is a larger measure of working for the greater good than greed, and the baseline for what is acceptable is low and functional.  I understand the massive anger at the out of control greed easily observable to the citizenry, but in our anger let us not forget that most of our civil service workers are just people who do a job the best they can, and make our infrastructure possible. 

I lobbied in state government for several years and saw many things.  Most of what I observed I was surprised and depressed about.  The I grew up a bit and merged that experience with living in urban areas; I took a longer view of what is possible, necessary, and what is a privilege as a citizen.  I keep at arms length from politics now, but still vote.  I give credit to those who are willing to be representatives at the local level, the least glamorous of political levels.

Do I expect better? Sure.  Am I aware of how lucky we are, in the smallest of ways?  Yep.  I didn’t say there were no incompatible ideas in my head, or anyone’s for that matter.  To be an adult is to live with paradox, and make peace with it as best we can.  When I was out in L.A. recently everyone I talked to was annoyed at the cell phone service breaks that are constant in the area.  One can not reliably make a call and expect it to go through, or stay connected when it does.  It is incredibly annoying, disruptive, and dangerous.  It is an infrastructure issue.  We are at a point where we must, I believe, take measure of what we need- what infrastructure means- and apply our governmental power to that with vision and speed.  No more bridges falling down (think Wisconsin), no more abuse of our water sources.  As a citizenry, we must collectively recognize what the baseline for a civil, functioning society means and pursue it with our taxes and voices.

The fizz is slowly dying in my glass.  What a treat today, to have a soda.  No food to complicate the experience, no noise or competing activity.  Sun, a break for a soda, and some tunes on the stereo.  It is a privilege.  Cheers.

I am invisible

We are a collection of wonderful paradoxes, Walt Whitman might say.  I am both a very shy person, and yet can be charismatic and outgoing.  Choosing to be invisible is easy.  Worn teeshirt, jeans, frumpy hair, no makeup, what I think of as my Coco Chanel glasses (large, plastic frames and glass bi-focal lenses), small silver earrings.  Keen sandals.  Wedding band.  All this and I disappear.  Literally.  Counter clerks have to look twice, as if I appeared out of thin air from the first time they glanced.  When I am done with my business and walk away, I doubt they could recall anything about me at all.  Crossing the street, cars forget to stop. 

When I make myself “presentable”, people seem shocked.  The mothers of the children at the preschool my son attends recently had lunch together.  Many are academics, most over the age of 30.  When I walked in, the organizer of the event looked stunned.  She commented on how I appeared, positively.  So did others.  When I picked up my son from school his teacher could not stop asking about the large funky ring I wore (Did Husband make it? No.), the sweater, the black jeans, the BCBG black shoes, the silver bangles.  I had makeup and less crazy glasses on as well.  When she could not seem to stop, I interjected “Yes.  I clean up.”  She seemed embarrassed at that point.  I usually drop him off and pick him up while cleaning or gardening, or any number of banal and mundane activities that require “work clothes”.  Also, I know I am invisible when I dress down and no one bothers me.  They avoid me actually, so I suppose my appearance is a few steps above bag lady.

 I have a fantasy about my own super heroine.  She is a late 50’s retired chemist, widowed.  She lives in a neat and orderly craftsman style house in an older neighborhood, in a university town.  Her neighbor is a Native American man who looks after her garden when she travels.  Her old grad assistant looks after her dog.  She has become a finely attuned killer.  She has educated herself about all manner of methods (very funny scenes in the beginning of the development of her alter ego when she is learning methods of how to kill).  She scans various newspapers for people she believes deserve to be taken out of the gene pool as she says; child abusers who have gotten off on technicalities for example.   She expertly hunts them down and erases them.  She does so with relative ease because she is smart, but also because she is invisible.  She is the kindly, graying older woman no one takes seriously.  She slips through crowds without being seen, but without needing camouflage.  Hey, men have their Spider-mans and Dark Knights.  I have my Invisible Woman. 

 One sided dialogue from imagined film pitch:

“No.  Not like Ms. Marple.”

“No.  Not like Dexter.”

“No.  She does not have super powers.”

“No.  She does not dress like a tart.  I don’t think you get the idea.”

“No.  Not like Stephanie Plum.”

“No.  No no no.  The core demographic is not male 12-35.”

“Do you know what irony is?”

“We are done here.”

  That’s pretty much how life goes anyway.

I may not have the brains or nerve to BE my super heroine, but on a smaller scale I know how to manipulate my appearance and energy to achieve certain perceptions.  You have to “work with what you have” my mother used to say.  I was never beautiful, and youth is a great help in attractiveness.  Middle age is another situation entirely.   It was near the end of my graduate school experiences, at a conference, when a woman told me “you look like somebodys mother”.  I had not dressed that way, and wondered why she got off on insulting me.  She was older than I was and trying way too hard to be hip in her appearance.  It was just another straw on the proverbial camels back for me regarding academia, and not really a surprise.  People are just as messed up, petty, competitive, dim and prone to superficiality as in any other arena, they just have the skills to mask it better.  Being invisible does not mean it is a good quality, and there are a lot of women whom it really chafes.

Most of us know as we slip into invisibility.  Men cease to take the automatic sneak peek at our breasts, and we move beyond sexual opportunity into “safe” ; not yet grandmotherly, but not a sexual bulls eye to hit either.  We gain a little social authority, but only when we are persistent in a goal.  Otherwise we risk being called crazy, or threatening and are thus dismissed.  As Husband says, that is a grave mistake- because a middle aged woman comfortable in her body and experienced is “a thing of wonder and pleasure”.

Try to remember: you never know about all those ladies you pass on the street.  Don’t underestimate us, because you really have no idea about all the things we are and who we can be.  You have been given fair warning.  Besides, isn’t it better to imagine a bunch of terrific Invisible Women out there fighting for the greater good in the world?

Vim, vigor, and vitality

I have been discussing the merits of and seemingly endless fascination I have with Alexander Calder this week with my husband.  Husband has been doing some seriously deep thinking about masculinity, fatherhood, and related topics as he sketches new creations.

I find that issues of quality, craftsmanship, virility, masculinity and humor overlap in many of the artists I admire.  These are qualities often disregarded, or as one critic has written, there was no category for the work of Calder for a very long time (think of his wire “portraits”) and he was dumped into the category of the decorative (which is the way art historians and dealers/gallery owners dismiss much of the art world they do not understand).  I think art and the makers often go misunderstood in admirers need to admire, and that is a waste.  Humor in visual art has gone disregarded for so long (there seems to be a stupid, unreflective assumption that humor in art somehow makes it less serious or meaningful, when the exact opposite can be true), it has been reduced to superficial snark in a work, or simply the nervous titter of viewers too insecure to let loose with a belly laugh.

Too much of what passes for art, particularly in the 20th century (and feeding the 21st), is a habit of consumption and the need for social celebrity.  Big Art is the commodity, the oohing and ahhing at price quotes for the work of mostly dead people, and the speculation of what it might be worth later.  It is the drawing room sensibility of the wealthy, most of whom care little for art history, craft, or aesthetics and more for the symbol of wealth art can represent.  Real collectors are often a little crazy, and like to get to know artists.   They collect what they love, what strikes them, and engage in works of art in ways that make them feel very alive.

 I admit to admiring a certain “muscularity” in works of art.  I enjoy a raw masculinity, an edge, in the art I choose to spend time with.  Muscularity, wit, and humor can be very persuasive and I admit, arousing.  What porn can not do for me, muscular and multi-layered art can.  Is this the solipsism of the educated?  Do we channel our baser impulses, have we learned so deftly how to distance base needs into high minded forms? Is it safer than more common forms of activity?  Or is it less safe?  Conventional sexuality is explored in a few simple moves of imagination and action.  It is when we let our imaginations run, have an active fantasy life, and have a partner with whom we can explore, isn’t it then when we risk?  When we allow ourselves to be truly aroused, all senses alert, without threat or fear, stimulated beyond the box of sexuality, isn’t that when we challenge ourselves as human beings?  Art is an ideal I can never live up to, a series of fascinations that never cease to surprise me, but is more often the search for gems in an arena that can often bore with the monotony of poorly executed, unthought out (or one-liners as Husband says), witless, and decidedly “emperors new clothes” riddled events.

 But.  But when a work, or a series of works, and at best the oeuvre of a particular artist engages me I can find myself supremely aroused.  I would seem a pedant to quote various aesthetic theories at this point.  So I won’t.  Suffice it to say I like using my mind and I like it when there is a responsive harmony between using my mind and body, a heightened collective of senses, an experience (as Dewey would say) that lingers in memory.  Thank you Calder, thank you Pollock, thank you Husband, thank you innumerable masters of the muscular art.  Thank you too, those women who have made me become engaged, if aroused in different ways, alerted my senses and sensibilities to a new idea or facet of critique.  Thank you to the apprentices and support staff, who in an age of misguided singular attribution of works go unmentioned, and therefore the art significantly less understood.  My life would be so much less than it is without you, and your work.  Thank you.