Thursday, December 29, 2016

When Cultural Icons Leave Us Behind

It's been a tough year for those folks who crisscrossed our childhood and teen years. Those who inspired us, made us laugh and cry, set us singing or dancing, Those whose posters plastered our bedroom walls. Those whose album covers (yes, LP record album covers) were strewn around our dorm rooms. Those whose movies and TV shows we've watched a million times. Those whose books we've read. Those no-longer-earth-bound spirits we've loved and admired from a safe distance for a myriad of personal reasons.

Certainly, any given year robs us of a few culturally important people due to old age, illness, suicide, or just plain crazy living, but this year has been particularly hard on Boomer and GenX touchstones.

Now, lots of folks like to be old poo-heads and throw out that we shouldn't mourn and carry on for people we don't really know. Except we do know these people - at least, we know their individual impact on our lives. Depending on when and how they crossed our paths, we often feel a closer connection to them than we do with colleagues, acquaintances, or even family. (I'm not talking stalkers, here, just regular fan-type stuff.)

When we lose John Glenn, we lose the physical representation of the excitement and nervousness and fear we felt as we sat in our classrooms watching Friendship 7 orbit the earth in 1962. When we lose Leonard Cohen, we lose the person who gave us Hallelujah and Suzanne at the very times in our lives when we needed Hallelujah and Suzanne. When we lose Harper Lee, we lose the actual person who dreamed up Scout and Atticus and Boo and changed our minds about a lot of things at the very point in time we needed our minds changed. So it doesn't matter that we didn't know them personally. It's what they brought to our lives over the arc of years.

David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Patty Duke, Gene Wilder, Prince, Ali, Merle Haggard, Arnold Palmer, the Garrys Shandling and Marshall, Pat Summitt, Elie Weisel, Pete Fountain, Gwen Ifill, Florence Henderson. And now Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. And so many more. In one year. We must be content with whatever words of wisdom, acts of courage, and fabulous performances they've already given us.

Cherish your cultural touchstones while ye may. It'll probably get tougher for the next few years since many of the fabulous people who taught us to laugh and sing and dance and appreciate art, literature, and sports are aging out of our world. And as they go we're reminded of our own position in the line-up. Indeed, we all are shuffling our way toward the end of our mortal coils.

Go ahead and feel sad and nostalgic. Watch the old movies. Play the old songs. Re-read the books. Replay the news and sporting events. We've lost people who made us feel, who brought us joy. Thank you, brave talented souls, for adding to the brilliant colors of our lives. We salute you.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Unaltered States

OK. I tried it. I spent 90 minutes in a dark room floating in gallons of epsom salted-water in an effort to flush my brain. A friend suggested I try it after her experience in the tank had helped her after a recent accident. I've found myself increasingly stressed and angry of late and am looking for any kind of relief that doesn't involve hours in talk-therapy, something I've never had any success with (it would require another blog-post to explain). Sensory deprivation sounded like it might be useful to someone like me, who is in constant sensory overload. I could use a really cathartic sob session or a chance to listen to my brain create its own sounds.

I went into my floating experience with high hopes, positive and excited. Just let go, see what left, what remained, what was born anew inside my head. Perhaps adding float-therapy to my monthly massage sessions might be just the ticket for getting me back in balance. It was not to be.

On the positive side my pool cave was roomy, not the least bit claustrophobic. The water was fine. And, yeah, I floated. There was a line of little blue lights that I could leave on, or turn off. It's suggested you turn them off to, you know, deprive yourself of light, and that's what I did once I felt comfortable being suspended in water in total darkness. And I was given earplugs - the gummy kind that work fabulously well - to keep water out of my ears and provide more sound-proofing. OK. All fine.

Here's where it didn't work for me. First, I have an overly developed sense of smell, and the little room smelled like dirty feet - like a steam room at a gym (not the spa kind). My nose was not sensory deprived. Second, I'm hot-natured, and the space was uncomfortably warm and close. My internal thermometer was not sensory deprived. And third, well, my brain just never shuts down. Take away people, work, books, a slew of electronic devices, food, and light, and my brain just fills in the spaces. Seems my head cannot be sensory deprived.

How did I spend my 90 minutes? Something like this: listening to my breathing, prayer, worrying about work, wondering how long I'd been in the pool, listening to my breathing, wishing it were cooler, worrying about money, going to my happy place - a cabin porch on a rainy day with a good book and tea, wishing it smelled better, listening to my breathing, doing a little (shallow) water aerobics, wondering how long I had been in the pool, a lttle more prayer, going to my other happy place - a snowed in cabin with a roaring fire in the fireplace with a good book and tea, listening to my breathing, wishing it were cooler, worrying about everything else in the world, and wondering how long I'd been in the pool. In short, sensory overload. For 90 minutes. In a dark, quiet pool. Sigh.

I know you're all thinking - wow, this girl is in deep need of a psychiatrist. But I guess for now I'll stick to my massages. And books, old movies, grandkids, autumn (if it ever comes), and food. If I'm going to be in sensory overload, it may as well be with the sensory experiences I love. But at least I gave it a go. And I did learn something about myself: there's no such thing as sensory deprivation where my head is concerned.

Of course, there's always hypnosis . . .

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Terror in the Sink

I hate having to be brave first thing in the morning. Or any time, really, because I'm your basic Monty Python-run-away! kind of gal. And this was procrastination-brave, since the battle started last night.

Well, it's the South. It's summertime. You're going to come across the occasional giant flying roach in the kitchen or bathroom ready to make a sudden move and scare the shit out of you, no matter how Clorox-ed and Pine Sol-ed your home may be. OK. I'm a Southern girl. I get that. But somehow that doesn't prepare you for the sudden appearance of a sci-fi creature when you nonchalantly walk into the kitchen for an evening snack.

There it was. Huge. In the sink on the right with a slotted drain, not the disposal sink. Shit! (Sorry, but, yeah, shit!) I deftly reach under the sink for the Raid. To hell with environmental concerns, there's a giant roach in my sink. I spray it like crazy, and the Godzilla-like roach heads for the drain.

Now, roaches seem to be able to squeeze even their most ginormous shiny brown selves though cracks in baseboards, sealed doorways, or tightly packed books. But this guy just couldn't manage to make it through one of the drain-slots. Wiggling, flipping. Flipping, wiggling. Nope. Just a big ol' nasty glob blocking the drain. Why, oh why, couldn't it have landed in the disposal sink? But no.

If you have any experience at all with roaches, you know it takes forever for them to die. Honestly, You can come up on one that's been lying in the sun with curled up legs for three days, give it a nudge, and it flips over and skitters away. Knowing this, I was definitely not going the valorous route last night. These bugs have a way of crawling off and giving up the ghost elsewhere. So. Forget the snack. Try not to inhale too much Raid-fume. Turn out the light. Check on it tomorrow.

On this fine, sunny summer Saturday, I awoke with a sense of dread. If that critter hadn't managed to slink off somewhere else to die, I was going to have to dig it out of sink before I could get anything done today. Yes, I was going to have to be brave first thing in the morning. Shit.

Hoping against hope, I walked into the kitchen and, with one eye squeezed shut, glanced toward the sink drain. Still there. Big old brown blob. So I do what any brave soul would do in this situation and pulled off 14 paper towels, wadded them up and dug into the sink - trying to stay well-protected but agile enough to grab it. No luck. Still there. This really was calling on more strength than a Saturday morning afforded me.

What to do? What to do?

Necessity. Mother. Invention. Or. Whatever works. Chopsticks. The original plan was to sushi-it and drop it outside. Alas, my chopstick skills were not coming to the fore for this particular delicacy, so I just started poking. Poking, poking, poking into one of the drain slots. What on earth are roaches made of? I stood poking - hard, hard, hard - for what seemed like forever. Finally, it started to break up and with the help of lots of water, disappeared to the netherworld of wherever sink drains lead. More soap and Clorox and paper towels to get the roach-aura out of the sinks and off the counters.

Welp, I feel as though I've slain ten dragons. On a sunny summer Saturday morning in the South, knowing that while the battle may have been won, the war is far from over. But I live to fight the roach-king another day.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Death is a strange thing

I love memorable passages from books I read and keep a journal of them so that I can be re-delighted with them in one handy place. This one came near the end of a wonderful book called A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. (Thanks for the recommendation, Liz Hinds!)

It's about an unlikeable old coot who keeps trying to kill himself to be with his dear, recently deceased wife. Alas, people and circumstances keep interfering. The book is as funny and endearing as Ove is cranky. That's all I'm going to say about it, except grab a copy and read it.

OK. So my favorite passage comes near the end. Full of truth. Ponder, if you will:

I won't give away the ending, but be prepared to line up behind either Saab or Volvo for car preference, then accept the consequences. And I believe the quote is on target: the fear of being passed over and left alone is the greatest.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Look up, America!

Such a gloomy time to be an American. The year was 1975. Watergate indictments. The fall of Saigon. Janis Ian's "At Seventeen." You think 2016 is bad? Ha!

Forty-one years ago we were weary of political hackery and a war that had gone on too long and taken too many young people. Caught between The Captain and Tennille and an impending disco revolution, music and fashion seemed to be letting us down. And yet, we were trying our darndest to generate some kind of enthusiasm for 1976's Bicentennial celebrations. Our hearts weren't in it.

Coca-Cola to the rescue! "Look up, America! See what we've got!" Stop yer whinin' and pull yerselves together! Things ain't so bad, eh? I mean, we have Times Square, Fred and Ginger, and baseball. And Coke. Simple. Naive. Rah-rah. But catchy. And moving. And you felt a teensy bit bettter about the old homeland. After all, how bad could it be if you have W.C. Fields and square dancing?

I love this commercial (remembering that it was a product of its time) and think that on this Independence Day 2016 we need reminding of what we have going for us. No, not the nativist, anti-immigrant, bigotry sort of patriotism; rather, the we're all in this together, we can work it out, we all have gifts energy that we're famous for. E pluribus unun: out of many, one.

So those of us on our real high conservative horses and those of us on our real high liberal horses and those of us on our real high libertarian horses and those of us on our real high I-just-don't-care horses need to climb on down for this one day. Wave that flag. Read the Declaration of Independence. Raise a glass to James, Thomas, Benjamin, John, and the others who led in the formation of this most imperfect union.

Look up, America! E pluribus unum! Have a Coke! Happy 4th of July!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

2016 Election Survival Guide

As a student of American government and politics, being pretty darn good at sorting through mountains of information and making up my own mind, and having determined who I'm voting for in the upcoming election, I hereby announce that I'm pulling out of the swirl of stress-inducing crapola being flung around 24/7. To save my mental and physical health, here's my plan for surviving the current political season:
  1. Stop listening to and reading political commentary from family and friends. I love you all, so don't take my hiding of your social media posts, unfollowing you, or running away in sheer terror as anything other than protecting that love and my sanity. You are entitled to your opinions and the airings thereof, but I'm free to ignore - yea, even shun -  them completely. See you after the election.
  2. Avoid all Op/Ed pages, letters to the editor, and social media comments. Yeah, yeah. I understand all sides. I also understand that people are mean and bat-shit crazy. Enough is enough. Movin' on.
  3. Get lots of hugs and kisses and giggles from my grandbabies. Be as completely silly as humanly possible.
  4. Pretend it's Christmas, and watch all the Scrooge movies and It's A Wonderful Life.
  5. Read cozy mysteries, bathroom joke books, and comics. Keep it light.
  6. Take long, fast walks while listening to old rock and roll or show tunes.
  7. Clean out closets. Donate lots of good but no longer useful stuff to worthy charities.
  8. Keep fresh flowers in the house. Because, you know, nature and stuff. 
  9. Buy a new box of crayons and an adult coloring book. Nothing calms the nerves like the smell of Crayolas.
  10. Pray. I suspect the future needs a powerful, omniscient deity to sort out everything. What's going on right now seems bigger than any human can fix. 
  11. Stock up on gin and red wine. Drink a Co-Cola now and then. Eat some fried chicken and plenty of chocolate. You know, in preparation for the coming Apocalypse. 
  12. Go to the symphony, theatre, or a Braves game. Applaud and/or cheer wholeheartedly.
  13. Find the nearest roller coaster. Ride it, screaming wildly, as many times necessary to purge any fear or anger.
  14. Volunteer for something non-political, though I guess it can be argued that everything is political. Perhaps something outdoorsy, like a road-side clean-up. 
  15. Sleep. Gets lots and lots of sleep. Sleep until November 9th, if possible. 
So I'm waving a fond farewell to hate, bigotry, and uncivil behavior rampant at the present time and hoping our better angels show up at the ballot box. In the meantime, I'll cling to my 2016 Election Survival Guide as tightly as possible. Pass me a Co-Cola, will ya'? It's almost time for A Muppets Christmas Carol. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Slow-tal Recall

I played guinea pig today. For three-and-a-half hours, I clicked on pictures and arrows while my head was in an MRI cage, took paper tests, regurgitated lists of words and numbers, and tried to duplicate drawings and images - all this in aid of memory and aging for a study at Georgia Tech.

My mother and her mother had dementia, and I'm more scared of that than of any cancer or physical thing that can be thrown at me. Except being buried alive, which y'all know is my biggest fear - but isn't dementia/Alzheimer's like being buried alive? (So, yeah. I should've never watched Still Alice.) Anyway, when the opportunity to take part in a study for memory and aging came along, I figured I'd jump right in.

First, they taped a vitamin E gel-cap to my head and strapped me into an MRI contraption. I was shown hundreds of pictures and had little clickers to rate each photo on an emotional scale of 1-4 from least intense to most intense. Interspersed with the photos were arrows pointing left or right, and I had to click on which way they were pointing. All of this came at me very quickly, and I spent 90 minutes or so just focusing on the monitor in front of me and clicking as quickly as I could - all while my head was encased in a cage with the usual MRI banging and clanging going on.

Once I finished with the MRI, the vitamin capsule was removed, and I was taken to a computer monitor where I was shown hundreds more pictures and asked to decide whether I had seen them before or not during the MRI. They went by very quickly, so I had to make snap decisions. Oy. Afterwards, I was given a series of written puzzles, visual images to memorize, and lists of words and numbers, some of which I had to recount backwards. We'd often circle back to images, words, or numbers seen or heard earlier, I suppose to test my retention levels.

I wasn't told my results - whether I have severe memory issues or whether I'm a wiz at remembering images, shapes, words, and numbers. They did pay me for my time and give me a disk with an image of my brain. Not sure of what I'm suppose to do with it. Perhaps this year's Christmas card photo? What it did tell me was that I can endure several hours of intense testing without going bat-shit crazy or falling asleep. I'm better at remembering photos than geometric shapes, and better with words than numbers. Not much of a surprise, but good to know.

I can't figure out what the vitamin E capsule was supposed to do, but I'm considering taping one to my head for memory's sake. I did, however, remember to reward myself with a hot fudge sundae afterwards, so my memory can't be completely shot, eh?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

From the Heart

I haven't been a fan of Valentine's Day since I was 11 years old, the last year of elementary school Valentine's Day parties. The world turned red and white and pink for a few days, as I decorated my shoebox with hearts and curlicues in preparation for the flood of little valentines that would find their way inside at the party. And maybe, just maybe, Mother had bought or made me a special red and white dress for the occasion - perhaps velvet or taffeta, with little flocked hearts. Maybe.

When it came time for the party, we set all the decorated shoeboxes around the room, and with our little sweaty fists full of punch-out valentine cards, make the rounds, stuffing a card in each box. The room mothers set out pink and red cupcakes, cookies, or little cups of candy hearts. And then, time for the opening of the festooned boxes, followed by lots of giggling over silly cards, who gave who what, trying to decipher any secret meanings. Ah, Valentine's Day.

That was when I was 11. Since then, meh. Some good, some bad, most not worth remembering. Like New Year's Eve, a lot is expected, and it never quite lives up to whatever has been built up in your head. But I'm all for love. If this is the one day of the year to express it - it's not, by the way - then I'm happy to jump right in.

The first box I stuff my silly valentine into is the one marked FAMILY, decorated over the years with hearts and hurts, wild crazy celebrations and somber sad remembrances, hugs, recipes, stories, and old photographs. I love my family. With all my heart. I'm blessed with a large one that includes branches shooting off in all directions - cousins, second- third- fourth-removed ones, in-laws, ex-in-laws, ex-in-laws families, a mess of old folks, young families, teenagers, and little ones. I love 'em all. Even the bat-shit-crazy ones. Even the rascally ones. Even the ones I don't see very often,  Happy Valentine's Day, Family!

Here's a big old crazy one for the box marked FRIENDS - old friends who've known me since the days of those school parties, new ones who have no idea what they've gotten themselves into, and all those true friends in between. You know who you are. You've put up with a lot over the years. Believe me, it's only going to get harder from here on out. I hope you appreciate the jokes, puns, and innuendos on this friend-valentine. Valentine hugs and kisses to you, Dear Friends.

My biggest valentine is for the battered box labeled HURTING ONES. Those who are grieving, invisible, too visible, on the move, stuck, angry, sick, scared, scarred, hopeless, helpless. A fancy card and loving thoughts aren't enough, I know. You need action. You need answers. You need just a little light at the end of the tunnel. And I don't even know where to start because that starting line keeps shifting.

For hurting family and friends, here I am. Let me know what you need me to do or not do. But for the hurting ones I don't know, you who are all over the face of the planet, living - or barely living - a life so different from my own that I can't pretend to walk a mile, an inch, in your shoes, my valentine for you is pretty weak.

My valentine to the hurting ones contains promises to think, remember, pray, and act. To refrain from and stand up to thoughtless comments laced with unfounded bias, bigotry, fear of the other, and hatred. To open my ears, heart, and mind to what you have to say, to really listen to how you need me to build relationship bridges, how to help, or at least do no harm. My valentine is an extended hand. Teach me.

To family, friends, and hurting ones, I fling out my valentines in the hope that you feel the love attached. I just wish I had enough pink-and-red frosted cupcakes for everyone of you.

Happy Valentine's Day. From the heart.