2014 and Change Happens

Well it’s 2014.  I know I drank deeply of alcohol infused liquids and shoved 2013 out the door this past week.  It was an extremely difficult year, but we all survived and by that I mean at least one of us would have been dead this past Christmas but for a rather random catching of a life threatening condition.  Getting what turned out to be very serious surgery and treatment, then starting recovery took up most of the year from late July to the present, and monitoring must continue for life.  But suffice to say I still have Husband, and am very grateful I do.

There were other horrible, shocking, and unbelievably trying events that occurred. This past year was one of the most depressing I have ever experienced, and it is no exaggeration to say toward the end I was not sure I had anything left in me to cope.  Maybe I’m still not sure, but I accept the false rituals of a new year to give me something to celebrate.

I got a new paper calendar (yes it may seem luddite-like, but it is tangible and won’t evaporate if batteries die) and filled in all the set dates of the new year.  I also started a to- do list, and already feel overwhelmed.  There are times having a family is a positive distraction, it makes me focus on the present (even if annoyingly so) and get on with things.  Money is tight, time is valuable, and the circle of people I know genuinely love me, love us, is considerably smaller.  I can’t say what the new year will bring.  I hope- my raggedy, worn thin, unreliable state of hope- that I find a job.  I hope Husband continues to recover well.  I hope our evil neighbors find something other to do than torment us.  I hope my children stay healthy and dodge the backward blockages of culture and curriculum at school.  I hope my extended family stays healthy and maintains a state of happiness.  I hope the citizens of this country start to pull their heads out and become civil.  I hope those with extreme wealth and privilege realize they don’t live in a bubble and must start taking responsibility for their lives and wealth.  I hope the people who let their cats run wild in my neighborhood keep them in, get them spayed or neutered, or get rid of them.  I hope the song birds come back to my neighborhood.  I hope the frogs, snakes, and newts do too.  I hope my garden is healthy this year.  I hope I can keep going, and have the energy to be a good mom, wife, daughter, relative, friend, and community member.  I hope we find a way, a path, a start to leaving this place.

I hope we are safe.  I hope we are healthy.  I hope we find moments of happiness and laughter.  I will do what I can so my hope is not in a vacuum, not static and passive.  I will live for as long as I am able.  I will try.  Welcome, 2014.  Another cycle around the sun, another 365 days.  The kids feet will continue to grow, gray hair will replace color, and what ever losses occur I hope they are small ones.  Happy New Year.

Thoughts for the kids II

Don’t be afraid to be eclectic in your tastes. Sample widely, consider the structure of the things, of the gestalt as well as the parts. Then decide if you like it- in food, music, art, and opinions of all sorts. Know how to listen, then how to express yourself with grace, authenticity, and directness.
Try not to put things into your head that will only make that space darker. Feasting on violence, horror, (in films, books, etc. even if “just” fiction) or the often overwhelmingly bad world news, is an indulgence that decays your heart and mind. Know what to not watch or read- what will only add to a sense of powerlessness, distress, or imaginary possibilities of destruction. Think about what will truly make you bigger in spirit as a human being, and more capable of empathy and what is just destructive mental trash. It’s not always obvious either.
Know the difference between being bold, taking a calculated risk, and being risky or reckless.
Dance with abandon regularly, and sing open throated.
Don’t ignore personal hygiene. Brush those teeth well, floss, and gently scrub all your nooks and crannies every day with a mild soap and water. Keep your hair and beards trimmed, even if to appear shaggy- make it a plan, not an accident. Know your body so if you get a truly odd mole, or something hurts, you know where, for how long, and can describe it to a good doctor. Never settle for a mediocre general physician, and make sure they have all your information.
Clean your messes.  Know how to use tools, often and correctly.  Drills as well as spell check.  Know the difference between tools and toys.
Be careful what you consume. While you may have access to many different ingestibles, many of them are not worth consuming. Read labels. Drink lots of water. Stay physically active in body and mind.
Moderation is usually a good idea in all things. An old adage that is still useful.
Learn to do a couple of things that make you feel flow. That focused intensity of purpose, and the subsequent satisfaction it can bring.
Always appreciate the people who are crafts persons about what they do- the cooks, the wait staff, the post people, the plumbers, electricians, teachers, mentors, accountants, etc. Your life will suffer from the bad ones, and be considerably better for the really good ones. Even if you don’t always notice. Learn how to tell the difference, and appreciate explicitly.
Don’t be afraid to give people compliments. But know when personal boundaries are appropriate.
Make a few good friends, and know when a friendship is no longer tenable. Be direct about it too. Know how to trust and love, and have fair self protective strategies as well.
It is never out of style to be generous of spirit, or to look out for those weaker or more in need than you. You choose your character every day from the small to the large in thought and actions. Save civil disobedience for really important moments. You should not be breaking the law but for an accident, or intent. Intentional reasons should be really, really good and be prepared for what consequences may exist. Authority should be earned (not conferred, or handed over by privilege) and not all rules are good. Question, and calculate your actions.
Cut yourself some slack- everyone makes mistakes. Perfection is impossible and sometimes the best surprises come from our mistakes. As Bill Watterson said, “Art is knowing what mistakes to keep and what to throw away.” Don’t let mistakes not worth keeping in your head rot there.
You will get hurt. It will make me miserable to not know how to help you sometimes. Learning how to bounce back, how to think about what happened without ignoring it, is a big part of living. Be good to yourself, and don’t forget that you matter.

The Long Transition from a Gypsy to a Rose

Roses Turn (the re-invention anthem, out of order on purpose):

 Mama’s talkin’ loud.
 Mama’s doin’ fine.
 Mama’s gettin’ hot. 
Mama’s goin’ stong.
 Mama’s movin’ on.
 Mama’s all alone.
 Mama doesn’t care.
 Mama’s lettin’ loose.
Mama’s got the stuff.
 Mama’s lettin’ go.
 Mama?
 Mama’s got the stuff.
 Mama’s gotta move.
 Mama’s gotta go.
 Mama? Mama?
 Mama’s gotta let go.

 Why did I do it?
What did it get me?
 Scrapbooks full of me in the background.
 Give ’em love and what does it get ya?
 What does it get ya?
 One quick look as each of ’em leaves you.
 All your life and what does it get ya?
 Thanks a lot and out with the garbage,
 they take bows and you’re battin’ zero.


Ya either got it, or ya ain’t.
 And, boys, I got it!
 Ya like it?
 Well, I got it!

 Some people got it and make it pay.
 Some people can’t even give it away.
 This people’s got it
 and this people’s spreadin’ it around!
 You either have it
 or you’ve had it!

Well, someone tell me, when is it my turn? 
Don’t I get a dream for myself?
 Starting now it’s gonna be my turn. 
Gangway, world, get off of my runway!
 Starting now I bat a thousand!
 This time, boys, I’m taking the bows and

everything’s coming up Rose!
 Everything’s coming up Roses! 
Everything’s coming up Roses
 this time for me!
 For me! For me! For me! For me! For me! 
For me! Yeah!

 The general patriarchic summary of the stage play “Gypsy” often describes the mother, Rose, as a self centered harpy- but as I watched once again with an older, and more nuanced eye I saw the subtlety and wit that would make Nora Ephron (RIP) proud.  There is a reason the character of Rose can be on stage for almost the entire show and still be engaging.  If she truly were a one-note character largely made up of a self-centered harpy the show would not work.  The greater themes about parenting, aging, and the necessity of adapting are what keep us engaged as they play out in a larger than life woman and her relationships with those she loves.  That Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurent got it right is really impressive (and that some of their other work is such schlock makes me think they both might just BE versions of the Rose character).  Clive Barnes understood the psychological and entertainment brilliance of Rose when he said she was one of the few truly complex characters in the American Musical (Thank you Wikipedia for reminding me of this review: Barnes, Clive. ” ‘Gypsy’ Bounces Back With Zest and Lilt”. The New York Times. September 24, 1974).

While Rose is deeply and uniquely gendered, I think the character and the struggles she experiences (warts and all) as well as the impulse for reinvention goes beyond gender and is a truly humanist construction.  For decades swaths of people in LBGT communities have been drawn to the story of theater, parental conflict and the character of Rose.  So much so, fandom of Rose has become a sort of “hair pin”, and I would like to think I can make a claim to affinity for Rose without the hair pin, and reappropriate her for middle aged women.

I am struck by how well the tension between Gypsy and Rose captures the continuum all women face.  We start out as young women, exploring our lives as sexual beings, “pretty girls” (if you recall the mirror scene), resisting the objectification that comes with that time of life, and fashioning our presence as our own.  Slowly, over time, we grow and change and there is an epiphany many, many of us go through when we sing the “Rose’s Turn” song in our own way as we become a Rose, and leave Gypsy behind.  Oh, and all that “Mama’s getting’ hot”?  Layered meanings, folks- and the multiyear wind up to menopause is in it.

The necessity in middle age of taking stock and reinventing ourselves is not special to women, but can play out in very different and gendered ways that “Roses Turn” deftly captures.  What superficially may seem grasping, even delusional, is not.  The song is fully self-aware and instead of devolving into self-pity, asserts the character as adaptive and open to a new time in life with fierceness, intelligence, charm, and gusto (but does not avoid the attendant sadness and regret either).  We should all be so lucky to have the bravado of Rose!

I am still on the continuum, shifting.  I think of all the Red Hat ladies who designated women my age as “Pink Ladies”, not yet old enough, not yet ready to wear the brash, assertive red.  Aging and parenting can have dark, cruel, cruel sides for women.  Marketers count on that.  But it is the infinitely creative, funny, and strong presence of all the Roses I have known that provide my texts as I advance, and a bulwark against the all too common reductive, diminishing, and dismissive forces of culture towards middle aged women (in arenas of employment, entertainment, health care, and journalism especially).

I took great pleasure in watching Rosalind Russell belt out “Roses Turn” today.  Pleasure of a complexity I never had before.  I can’t help but think so many of the women who stump and squawk about issues that force women into untenable corners (healthcare and abortion rights as one example) and are on the side of regressive, suppressive policies might gain something from watching Rose, and start to recognize the Rose’s in their lives, and in themselves.

There have been many extremely stressful, unasked for corners in the past few years and I am deeply grateful for the love and support of my husband, friends, and family.  Huge holes in this blog are one example of the collateral effects.  But today, this morning, if just for a little while, I am humming and singing to myself,  Mama’s talkin’ loud.
Mama’s doin’ fine.
Mama’s gettin’ hot.
Mama’s goin’ stong.
Mama’s movin’ on. . .

Thank you Rose. 

All you Roses, thank you.

To my peers, lets start to shimmy a little and get loud. . . 

Of the difficult and stupid

Opening nuts can be a challenge.  The nut cracker either bursts the tough ones into tiny inedible pieces, or not at all.  We try our teeth, but chipped teeth are not a best case option.  Inordinate amounts of time are spent trying to crack just one nut.  But when we eat shell fish the tough unopened clam or muscle causes an uproar of “No no!  Don’t open it!”.  Some things are not meant to be opened, especially bad shellfish. At this point, I wish I were Paul Harvey (if you do not know who he was, look it up) and could make some strange, spurious, homespun connection to a deeper level of meaning.  Global warming is causing more bad shell fish?  The EPA is not using enough oversight to check our food for contaminants?  People are too stupid to eat easier or less risky things?  Nah.

Contemporary humans also rock climb with their bare hands and no ropes; hike altitudes that cause them bodily harm to the vascular system, try to make friends with large and dangerous wild animals, sit in the sun until their skin withers and changes color, use all manner of pesticides and poisons to make their food and hair look “good”,   dance wildly to all sorts of sounds, try to control and punish other humans for everything from recreational weed smoking to looking at other naked humans in magazines and liking anything as banal as art they do not agree with, pluck/shave/and depilitate random body hair, and wear the strangest fibers in various shapes and colors on their bodies.  Truly, an alien would observe us and think us unendingly funny and tragic I think, for all the expressions of our daily lives.

There is so little profundity associated with all our activities, to the point of willful ignorance.  The consequences of our stupid random choices seem to be beyond us most of the time, and like the hamster on the wheel, we just keep jumping on without thought.  No matter how many anthropologists and sociologists you can get to stand on the head of a pin and argue about the orderly meaningfulness of any human actions, it is all rather strange and meaningless I think.  Just a way to stay part of the pack.  Some call what we do “desire”  (Oh those French theorists!), and claim it drives everything from core human instincts to complex capitalist machinations.  It is THE reductive force against which everything else can be measured.  That seems rather pat, and leaves out the just plain bored and stupid elements of life.  Watch any group of college students on a Friday night and you’ll have a good sampling.

But as I have said before it is the curiosity of the human that has made us a very populous and mobile species.  Desire may have had nothing to do with it, even environmental pressures can’t explain all of human migration and experimentation.  Watch small children on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  Curiosity drives a lot of action, and the challenge of opening a tough nut, digging a hole to China in your back yard you know will never reach there but you like to imagine it can,  curiosity and imagination can alleviate a lot of boredom, even with the ensuing stupidity that can often occur.

Funny and tragic, 2017 looms very near.  The uber wealthy have no interest in any aspect of continuing the species.  They are hell bent on partying until they can’t ingest or compete or exert their power any more.  To hell with the rest of us, we are an over populated planet anyway and all the island sized ships being built now for them (with the understanding that theoretically they can stay on an ocean for ever- with their own power sources, gardens, and water desalinization machines, etc.) will allow them to just hop off and get away from the impending strife that will occur.  Or go to space.  See, the rich can be curious and stupid too.  2017 is a year that most scientists agree is the tipping point for all sorts of climate abuse.  At this point, no one seems too terribly concerned.  Heads in sand, fingers in ears singing “lalala”, big-eyed porcelain figures with heads upturned to heaven expecting the giant sky pixies to live up to religious fantasies of apocalypse,  what ever image you want to call up, that all seems to be so much more engaging that actually trying to avert the destruction of the earth for most mammals.  The few who try may be using cups to bail a ship mostly underwater.  What the heck.  Maybe it is more diverting that watching reality television for them.   Someone had to be the first person to try the bad shellfish that taught the rest of us not to eat it. Right?