Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Going Shoppping

I'm hopeless when it comes to holiday shopping.  I am incapable of exercising restraint.  I see it. I want it. I buy it. I wrap it. I give it. I smile.  I like every single one of those steps.  The thought of holiday shopping starts a special kind of adrenaline coursing through my veins.  I miss it when I have to stop.  Let's parse each section, shall we?

I see it.  The whole shopping experience has been bifurcated into going shopping and doing my shopping.  The first requires leaving home and interacting with live humans in public spaces.  The second requires electricity and connectivity and the ability to retype a credit card number and remember a security code.  I decided to go shopping this morning when the cleaning ladies arrived an hour early thereby cutting into my brownie baking time slot.  Tucson Mall is huge and confusing and noisy.  The parking lot has sneaky areas which are accessible by making a series of left turns in unexpected places; I always park there.  Until recently, it was only close to Macy's.  Since last winter, though, we've added Cheesecake Factory and REI and California Pizza Kitchen and H&M all in that same corner.  I drove, I parked and I went in to see what there was to see.

Trendy clothes can be found down by the University, on the street that passes for a college town near the UofA.  Most of them, as I have reported before, are much too small for even my little self.  But today I wasn't looking for things for myself.  The Cuters and TBG were to be the recipients of my largesse, so I looked at things through their eyes.  I love plaid flannel shirts and corduroy slacks (and men who are wearing them) but Big Cuter disagrees with a vehemence he rarely exhibits towards clothing he doesn't have to purchase himself.  The kid hates to shop, but he knows what he likes.  I sighed and turned away from those racks and filled my arms with things I'm confident he'll like, or which are at least within the realm of possibility.  

I want it.  The Mall is filled with kiosks staffed by Israelis.  These are the pushiest people on the planet.  They seem to rotate between the stalls selling herbal heat packs and decorative plastic cell phone covers and plush rocking horses and personalized Christmas tree ornaments.  I rebuffed the 20-somethings hawking make-up by asking them to look at my unadorned face, telling them that "This is as much make-up as I ever wear."  But Ravid, the nail care guy, inquired if he might ask me a question and now I have one very shiny buffed fingernail and the inside of my left forearm has been exfoliated and cleansed and moisturized to within an inch of its capillaries.  I didn't want any of it, especially not for more than $100.  I don't care how long it will last - I can't spend that much on smoothing out my wrinkles.  I've earned each and every one of them.  I can't say that I got through the hallways unscathed, but I didn't do as much damage as I could have done.

I buy it.  Except when I am in Wal-Mart, I never see anyone using cash to complete a transaction.  I love my Marriott Rewards Visa.  It's grey and unassuming and gets the job done with a minimum of fuss and bother.  I pay it all off every month, and I always have a general idea of what the bill will be.  I read each and every line item.  I know I'll be smiling and remembering this day when the bill comes.  I don't spend it unless I can afford it and it's worth the price (hence, no $100 skin creams) so I rarely have guilt when I leave the shops.  Sometimes I don't buy anything.  On those occasions, it's helpful to have a friend along.  She can shop, I can hold the bags and pretend they are mine, and I've got a vicarious thrill without spending a dime.  Today, though, was not one of those occasions.

I wrap it. G'ma taught me how to use Hallmark's sticks-to-itself-when-wetted ribbon to make huge and colorful bows.  She was precise in her cutting and taping and folding and this acorn didn't fall far from that tree.  I save gift boxes from year to year, clarifying the gift's provenance by adding Not From atop the printed Gap or Macy's logo.  I do the same with gift bags and tags.  To: Little Cuter's Toes/From: Santa's Heart can be used for an annual gifting of socks.  For several years running I purchased much too much wrapping paper on December 26ths, but I never have enough stickers and labels of love to go around.  I'll spend a day with the rolls and the ribbons and the tags in a messy but organized mess in the breakfast nook off the kitchen (the counters and stools are very handy).  By the end of the day, as if by some miracle, everything is shiny and bright and the piles are basically the same height.  

I give it.  Hanukkah presents are mailed and opened when I'm not around.  Christmas presents are placed under the tree after the Cuters have gone to bed.  I never worried that they would creep down the hall and look to see what was there.  The first time Big Cuter taunted me in his 3 or 4 year old voice saying that he was going to stay up and wait for Santa and see his presents early I put a very concerned look on my face and said "Oh, sweetie, don't ever do that.  Don't you know what happens to the presents if kids sneak in to look?  POOF! They vanish in a cloud of smoke."   I met his skepticism head-on.  "You think I'm making that up?  Maybe, but it's a heck of a risk to take, don't you think?"  I asked him about it over Thanksgiving - to this day he has never crept down the hall to see what Santa left. 

TBG will play carols on his song-flute-that-he's-had-since-the-4th-grade as I turn on the tree and then watch them march into the living room.  Remember where I started this post?  I have no restraint when it comes to Christmas shopping.  There are always many too many boxes and bags.

In my defense,  I rarely buy anyone anything during the year; my gifts of love are brownies and funny comic strips with love notes scribbled in the margins.  But something happened to this Jewish girl when she fell in love with TBG's Episcopal family.  Nannie did the holidays with so much love and thoughtfulness and preparation and diligence and have I mentioned love, yet? It became obvious that I was in the presence of a master.  I paid close attention and, I have to say, I think I do Christmas better than any Jewish girl you know.   The secret lies in concentrating on this part.

Watching their eyes as they read the old cards and laugh at the old jokes and admire the new clothes and can't wait to send Nerf missles at one another...... well, it just doesn't get any better than that.  I love getting presents of my own, of course, but I am finally able to say, without any equivocation or sense of irony or the mundane - it is truly better to give than to receive.  

And then, I smile.

Monday, November 29, 2010

How I Spent My Thanksgiving Break

with many thanks to Little Cuter for the photos.

Back and forth to Tucson International Airport, no direction lasting more than 25 minutes.  Another reason to love living here.
*****
We stayed close to home, avoiding the big stores... except for Costco.  Suitcases and vodka and sparkling water, a wreath and 2 huge poinsettias and a strong son to put them into and take them out of the cart and the car.  I knew there was a reason I had children.
*****
Vibram Five Finger Shoes were purchased (Happy Hanukah) for Big Cuter and hiking shoes selected and paid for and given to TBG for a perfect surprise Christmas present for me.  We toured the outdoor mall in the upscale suburb which was supposed to house a Bloomingdales or Nordstrom's or Neiman Marcus but which, predictably, now houses a Wal-Mart, while TBG visited the dentist.  Athletic gear at Dick's and GrandDog toys at Petco and shoes and shoes and more shoes at DSW and then a lovely lunch at Wildflower. Having grown up children is really quite wonderful.
*****
Little Cuter apparently thought that my preparations were worthy of commemoration. 


She laughed about my post-it notes, but really, why would I want to try to remember the decision I'd made about what to use for the mashed potatoes?  I thought about it once, I wrote it down, and I didn't have to think about it again.  I'm an old person, kiddo.  I need my notes and my lists and my directions.


*****
G'ma and the Crayolas and Amster joined us for our feast.  We were too stuffed for dessert.  Perhaps it had something to do with the heavy whipping cream Little Cuter used in the mashed potatoes.  Or, perhaps it was the prosecco and sauvignon blanc and viognier.  It was universally agreed, and I repeat it here with much humility but also with pride, that this was our best Thanksgiving effort ever. We were 80 and 60 and 50 and 40 and 30 and 11 and 9 sitting around the table, and there was no arguing or fidgeting or monopolizing of conversation.  There were, however, stories and jokes and seconds and thirds and lots of contented silences.  

Daddooooo always interrupted those moments by announcing "Ah, silence.  A compliment to the chef."  I heard him in my heart.
*****
Much football was watched and The Crayolas, fervent Cowboy fans, were disappointed, but for the most part there was little emotional investment in the games themselves, up until Boise State lost to Nevada/Reno on Friday night.  Two missed field goals, the first after a 61 yard pass combined with a laying-flat-out-running-at-full-speed catch to bring them to the 20ish yard line and win the game and the second in overtime, from a kicker who splits the uprights nearly 75% of the time.  It's a good thing we are casual fans; we'd have been seriously bummed if we really cared.
*****
Little Cuter's camera needed fixing and a telephoto lens needed purchasing and gifting (Happy Birthday) and we left the boys on the couch, taking off on an adventure of our own.  The saguaros had personalities

and the petroglyphs were, perhaps, just ancient graffiti 


and after a while it all began to look the same


I walked the labyrinth at the Redemptorist Renewal Center


There's not a lot of wildlife in the desert right now.  It's too cold for the snakes and lizards and we weren't high enough for the migrating birds.  The coyotes and bobcats are around in the early morning and rarely on a well-traveled path where humans might be encountered.  It didn't really matter. The telephoto made things look right here and she had a big smile on her face.  Some presents are just meant to be given.
*****
Then Sunday rolled around and the first run to the airport left the garage at 6:15am.  Amster and her kids and I had pancakes and eggs and shakes for Sunday breakfast and, in true Tucson style, we walked right in and sat right down and I had endless refills of soda (I know, I set a bad example for the young'uns, but I use it as a lesson that no one is perfect).  Fired by caffeine and sugar, I packed up Thanksgiving


and hung the wreath.  The outside will start to look like Christmas, and inside I'll be doing Hanukkah first. 

But that's another post.
*****

Friday, November 26, 2010

Overheard Over Thanksgiving

Son to Mother and Sister who are still cooking dinner: "Dad was going to take something to the trash so I followed him because I thought he was going to sit at the table.  So I sat at the table and then he saw me sitting at the table so he joined me at the table.  We're really not rushing you girls at all."

No, you're just munching on the cheese and putting your napkins in your laps and waiting... and waiting... and of course I'm feeling rushed.  But they are smiling and laughing and most of all they are HERE so I don't mind.  I just try to will the carrots to caramelize.
*****
Said after watching Little Cuter and me in the kitchen, cooking up a storm for Wednesday night dinner while he and his father lay on the couch watching ball games:   "Do you girls mind this gender specific role division?"

I know that my personal feminist revolution has been won if my son acknowledges such inequities.  Of course, they kept watching and we kept cooking, but we were all where we wanted to be.
*****
"I just had to have vegetables." Little Cuter as she made caramelized carrots to accompany the tacos her male relatives craved.  What a healthy thing to hear.
*******
"What time are you getting your mom?"

"Oh, SHIT, I forgot about G'ma!"
*****

As I, math challenged that I am, asked G'ma how many ounces were in a cup, TBG wondered why I needed to know.  "I don't want to measure them out, I want to know how many are in the box." Big Cuter explained: "She wants to do the math.  I know that's weird coming from my mother, but.........."

They laugh at my foibles and love me nonetheless.  And my mother, without missing a beat, knew that there were 8 ounces in a cup.  And she was surprised that I didn't remember that fact... and she did.  I know she's in there somewhere.
*****
I was in the kitchen, grabbing a serving spoon for the mashed potatoes when Little Cuter's voice came like music to my ears: "Mmmmmm... Mom, are you hearing the mmmmm's?"

It's nice when your kids want to be sure that you're sharing the love.
*****
And on that note, Meg, over at The Members Lounge, asked for my brownie recipe.  In the spirit of sharing the love, here it is:
  • Melt 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate and 1/3 cup unsalted butter.
  • Beat together 2 large eggs, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and a dash of pure almond extract.
  • Add the melted chocolate and butter.  Mix together.
  • Add 2/3 cup King Arthur Flour and 1 teaspoon each of salt and baking powder.
  • If you like, add chopped walnuts.
  • Bake in an 8x8x2 ungreased pan at 350 for approximately 20 minutes.  My crew likes them slightly undercooked (17 minutes) and gooey, but you may prefer them with a drier texture.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Love Actually redux

The Tucson airport has got to be the quietest place in the USofA this morning, the day before Thanksgiving.  There are about 15 people waiting in the lovely lobby for arriving passengers.  There was not another car on the approach road to the airport, not was there a line to grab a parking ticket.  I found a space in the front row, right next to the hashmarked crosswalk. Walking to the terminal, I encountered the only other moving car in the lot - whose driver decided it would be a good idea to drive right through the walkway even though an elderly couple and I were already in it.  Ah, Tucson when the snowbirds return.  Ah, old people who shouldn't be behind the wheel.  But it's Thanksgiving and I'm in a mellow mood so I laughed instead of pounding on his trunk, and commiserated with my fellow travelers about the poor driving habits of the interlopers.  And we knew he was an interloper - he had Wisconsin license plate.

TIA has a cool arrivals board - it's a digital map of the country with icons showing the planes on their way to the sunny desert.  Big Cuter is somewhere between Phoenix and here, arriving exactly 12 hours after his little sister came down that same escalator.  The escalator is at the end of a long hallway which funnels arriving passengers past gift shops and food emporia and a camera mounted on the ceiling.  Frequent travellers to our airport know to look up and wave at the lens; the camera sends a video feed to a monitor mounted on the ceiling of the waiting area.  Thus far I've been treated to severely overweight airline employees waddling past the glass walls and windows.  The bike police zoomed up the ramp just now, but there are no signs of passengers deplaning. 

Everyone on the couches and chairs is electronically connected.  Smart phones and e-readers and Nellie-the-Netbook... only one woman has printed material in her lap, the newsletter from her retirement community.  Of course, I'm as guilty as the rest, typing to you as I await my arrivee, but it's disconcerting nonetheless.

A few stray passengers have begun to wander down the walkway; they must be locals since they all looked up and smiled at the camera.  Big Cuter's flight departed Oakland at 6am... it's no wonder that the deplaning humans look shell-shocked and exhausted. 

And now it starts - 3 little ones at the bottom of the escalator, saw HER on the tv and raced to be the first to offer hugs and love.  The spa rep is holding her clipboard with the names of the guests she's meeting printed boldly in a silly font.  The waiters are closing down their electronics and there is a dramatic increase in the number of grins on faces.

And here he is... it's time for MY moment.

I'll be spending the next few hours hugging and snuggling and listening and loving.  Here's hoping that you and yours will be doing the same. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It's Starting

The holiday season is officially underway.  We are beginning our trips to the airport to collect our offspring.  The refrigerators are filling up with cranberries and oranges and whipping cream and a 23 pound turkey that had better offer more left-overs than last year's model managed.  The lines in the grocery stores are longer than usual, and the shoppers all have lists.  I'm not adding anything else to my To Do Lists - they are long enough already.  I am just trying to accomplish 3 or 4 "extras" every day - making the labels for the brownies, collecting the #4 Priority Mail boxes in which they will be shipped, filling the pantry with unsweetened chocolate squares and almond extract and King Arthur Flour, finding just the right no-show socks for the Cuters' stockings, rummaging through my Secret Hiding Place to see what kind of house-gifts are still waiting to be given to those who invite me to share libations and sweets over the next few weeks.  There's never enough time to get it all straight, but it doesn't really matter.  I am so filled with love and happiness that I'm able to brush off my failures with a smile.

I love this time of year.

Usually, I am pretty hard on myself.  I set high standards for other people (just ask the Cuters how I behave when a salesclerk is less than competent... it's not a pretty sight) and it seems only right that I adhere to them, myself.  I don't always act to correct my sloppiness or my oversights, but I note them in the little book of errors which seems to creep up and bop me on the head when I least expect it.  Someday, when I am rich rich rich (don't you love the optimism of when instead of if?) I will engage in psychoanalysis 3 times a week (last I checked, it went for $275 an hour..... hence, my need to be rich rich rich) in an effort to figure out why I berate myself and fall most comfortably into the sad-and-sorry pit so often.  For now, I'm choosing to ignore the reasons and concentrate on avoiding the trap by using a technique from Albert Ellis's Rational Emotive Therapy: I say "STOP IT!" out loud.  It's so surprising to hear my own voice yelling at me from the outside that I catch myself and begin to reboot the brain.  Sometimes it even works.

What, you say?  How does she go from It's the most wonderful time of the year to esoteric psychotherapies?  Whose mind can make such leaps?  The answer is quite simple, denizens: these are the ravings of a woman who knows that the next 32 days will be full.  To the brim.  Not quite spilling over onto the garage floor, but coming pretty close.  Where there are usually
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayMy Hollywood5 or 6 library books resting on the bookshelf, waiting to be read, now there is but one, Mona Simpson's My Hollywood.  I reserved it based on a review I read somewhere, but I'm rethinking it for this season.  Michael Chabon (one of my favorites -- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one of my Top Ten Reads) tells me in his advance praise for... that the book carries us down deep, into the darkness.... and Joseph O'Neill (whose work I don't know) calls it darkly beautiful.  I think it's going to be returned unread, at least for now. I revel in the joy of the seasons - Fall to Winter, ghosts and goblins to turkeys to lights and candles and wrapping paper.  My reading material has to operate on that same plane.  Though this may be a definitive novel of modern domesticity, I fear it will depress me and I can't have that. 

There's a tendency toward melancholy which hovers around the edges of this week.  Daddooooo died 7 years ago on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and that year this week was spent sitting shiva in his house on Long Island with my sister and brother and his wife and all their kids and my mom.  A lot was accomplished that week, not the least of which was the labeling in pencil of most of the old photographs, the ones that only the old people knew.  My brother insisted that we stop and look and remember as he recorded names and memories -"She was a vamp!"- and kept us focused on the task.  He knew then that those bits and pieces of information had only a tenuous hold on the here and now.

And now I am the old person, I am the one who can look at an album and remember the names of the forgotten cousins.  I'm old enough at this point to know what I'm missing, have lived long enough to feel the absence of the aunts and uncles I knew as a child but who died before we could connect as adults.  I sit at the head of the table, we eat when I say the meal is ready, the guests are those I invite.  I'm the grown up.

I create Thanksgiving without worry or creativity because I am the one who keeps the traditions.  It's a comfortable role, an easy role, a perfect role for a person who does not like to cook.  Little Cuter is the chef for everything but the turkey, and I am her sous-chef, dutifully washing and peeling and cutting and loading and unloading the dishwasher.  I scrub and dry and put away faster than she can load the sink up again.

The kitchen is a traffic nightmare when more than one person is involved, but when the two people don't mind crashing into one another, turning the bump into a hug or a kiss, the nightmare becomes merely a distraction.  In my youth, that kind of chaos would have led to an explosion of outrageous proportions.  But this is my Thanksgiving and my kitchen and I am looking forward to smashing into my Little Cuter and laughing.

Getting older's not all bad.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I Solved the Deficit!

And it really wasn't that hard at all.  

No, seriously, it wasn't.  I didn't have anyone to argue with me about the finer points of retiring at 68 or 70, no one screaming in my ear that this first generation of black millionaires ought to be able to establish their own dynasties, free of the burden of estate taxes.  I was not lobbied by irate octogenarians railing at me to keep my hands off their medicare/social security/disability checks.  No baleful 20-somethings wandered through my thoughts, wondering when their government would be ready to deal with their needs and their futures.  Amster and her fellow medical malpractice attorneys were no where to be found, apparently busy seeking financial compensation for their clients' disastrous outcomes at the hands of (a very few but I still want to know who they are) inept practitioners.  There were 16 pundits allowed onto the monitor since they were linked to the original puzzle, but that was it. I tried to ask TBG about the capital gains tax issue but his answer was making my head spin so I smiled, said thank you, and came back to my solitary solving.

I began with the easy stuff.  When the big-shots in the Pentagon agree that cuts can be made, I'm willing to go along with their assessment.  The only bi-partisan panel that actually seems to have accomplished anything recently has been the base closing panel.  Hard choices could be made because the military brass signed off on the whole operation.  I've posted on my fervent hope that our trooops will be out of Afghanistan by July 2011, and though the definition of "out" is now rivaling Bill Clinton's definition of "is" I'm willing to bet that the military was consulted by the deficit panel before any cuts were recommended.  After all, as Aaron Sorkin has Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore so aptly remind us,  we all sleep better because somebody is standing watch.

I was willing to reduce noncombat military compensation in exchange for 2 years off between deployments, none of which could last more than 12 months.  That worked in Viet Nam (worked being a relative term) and there's no reason to think that drones and special ops teams about whom we don't want to know too many details may be the answer to modern warfare.  In any event, I'm agreeing to agree with the generals here.

I've kicked a lot of sacred cows here.  I want to raise the retirement age to 70 and want payments to be indexed to the cost of living instead of the rise in wages.  Retirees are just that - retired.  Finished with the work force.  Without mandatory retirement in most industries, one may join in the benefits of the working class as long as one sees fit.  Once one sheds the shackles of employment, however, it seems only reasonable to assume that the benefits acquired by those who are still slaving over a hot computer or cash register should accrue to them and them alone.  Once you're done, you're done.  Not everyone gets to be Brett Favre.

I recognized about half way through the process that the budget is used to make policy.  Cap and Trade (whatever the hell it is) reaps enormous financial benefits for the government and yet Tea Partiers are against it.  It's making policy by financial fiat and I've got to admire the ingenuity of the lawmakers who couldn't get it done any other way.  The fact of the matter is that the earth isn't making fossil fuels at the pace with which we are devouring them and somehow we've got to break the chain.  The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and '65 proved that you can legislate to change behavior; these guys just need a little monetary kick in the butt.

Back to my plan.

I was an equal opportunity slasher.  I included the $30billion of other cuts which include the budgets of the National Parks.  I don't like it, but it has to be done.  If I balance maintaining aid to the states to insure child welfare and education are funded against maintaining Yellowstone or Yosemite, well, the answer's pretty clear.  The National Parks got along by the grace of god for millenia; I think they can hang on until we get our financial ducks in a row.  Access will be limited and that is surely a bad thing.  But there are many little treasures tucked into our own backyards; perhaps now is the time to explore them.

I have no compunctions about cutting the federal bureaucracy and cutting the number of contractors.  Big Cuter worked for a firm which existed on government contracts; he and his colleagues sat outside the doors of some fairly important people, answering their mail and advising on policy issues.  There are thousands of unfilled Civil Service jobs right now.  Seems to me that the whole system needs an airing.

I'm not crazy about punishing the rich over and over and over again.  Most of us worked really hard for the money, sacrificing sleep and social lives and family time and peace of mind to create something worth having.  If we're lucky to have a vestige of that wealth remaining, don't punish our success by taxing our Social Security benefits (for which we worked and paid into the system much more than we will ever recoup) or moving Tax Freedom Day back from April to July. 

I tried to keep the cuts away from the elderly, the disabled, and th0se who need education.
I found myself singing along with The Beatles


as I realized the answer to any and all questions which could be asked about this process:
Somebody Has To Pay
Nobody wants it to be him.  We all want the rich or corporations or government or some other faceless entity to solve this problem for us.  We know that our sacred cows are just that - sacred.  To question them is to blaspheme.  How dare you?!!?

I wonder if we are capable, as a nation, of recognizing that this is a real issue which is NOT going to go away.  I am a firm believer in the policy of ignoring something long enough and hoping that it will disappear..... denial is my favorite coping mechanism.  But this has really gotten out of control, and we all have to suck and and take ownership of the situation.  We all have to get insurance so that some of us aren't paying for the rest of you.  We all have to cut back and expect less and sacrifice some of the goodies to which we have become accustomed.

The whole world is experiencing similar pain.  The French shut down their roads over it.  The Irish were teetering on the brink of disaster, and so were the Greeks before admitting that they needed help.  I know it's hard.  I know it's not fun or glamorous or what anyone wants to do.  But it has to happen.  And it has to happen soon.
******
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/13/weekinreview/deficits-graphic.html?choices=fvx78k0m

That link should take you to my choices thanks to JES over at Running After My Hat.  I love having blog-friends :) Before I appealed to him, this is as far as I could get:

My answer is somewhere on the NYTi
Publish Post
mes website.  I have tried and tried to embed the link, or to email the link to myself, or to share the link or to copy the permalink but all my efforts result in a connection to the puzzle itself but not my solution.  I've asked for help; if I can manage it I'll upload the link and amend this post.

Monday, November 22, 2010

He's Gone

Today's post was supposed to be about solving the country's deficit woes.  I'll get to that tomorrow.  I promise.  But right now I'm having trouble focusing on military spending and foreign aid and taxes because every time I get going I am confronted by a fact that I've been shoveling to the back of my brain's mulch pile.

Elliot died last Thursday night.

He gets to use his real name, because I never got around to telling you about him in a Burrow blogonym.  Two L's, one T..... it's something I could never remember, even though I tried really hard to do so because the fact that no one could remember really annoyed his wife.  Then again, lots of thing really annoy his wife, and, knowing that, I was able to laugh at myself each and every time I had to go to my address book and check on the spelling for a holiday card or an invitation.  I knew she'd appreciate the effort.  I never knew if Elliot cared or not.

There have been lots of those notes and letters over the 27 years he was in my life.  A playgroup dad, he was the recipient of holiday brownies and several years of latkes at our Chicago Chanukah Celebrations.  One year his wife loaned me a cook she knew; the man brought his own knives and sliced and diced and cuisinarted up some of the best potato pancakes we'd ever eaten.  But it wasn't about the taste - she and Elliot wanted to be sure that I could enjoy my own party from someplace other than hovering over a stove covered with frying spuds.  They were like that - solving a problem I didn't even know I had.

Elliot was one of the smart ones, one of the guys who could understand and create a complex financial transaction while retaining the ability to explain it to a social worker who has issues with fractions.  There was a genuine understanding that I was smart in a number of ways, just not in that way.  He was sure I could get it if he tried again to explain it.  We were in the situation together.  He knew I could do it.  And while it was surprising to be on the receiving end of that kind of instruction from someone other than TBG, it was quite wonderful, too.  I don't remember the topic nor do I remember exactly what was on my plate in the back corner of the Italian restaurant on Halsted Street, but I do remember that we were both smiling by dessert.  

They came to visit us when we first moved to Marin.  The Cuters were young and I was car-pooling hither and yon and Elliot took to wandering up and down our cul-de-sac.  He ended each of his perambulations with an expression of peaceful contentment on his face as these words tumbled out of his mouth: "I could live here."  I've been holding onto that memory a lot in these last few days.  

We were young and happy then.  The world was our oyster and we had good friends with whom we could share the joy.  And now the world is feeling more like an abalone shell - iridescent and shiny and beautiful on one side but gnarly and harsh and impenetrable on the other.  I've been taking the time to remember the shiny moments and trying to avoid catching my heart on the bumps.  

In Jewish tradition, visitors to a house of mourning bring sweet treats, as a reminder of the happy times you shared and as a beacon of hope that joy will, once again, inhabit your home.  

Brownies are on their way.....

Rest in peace, my friend.

Friday, November 19, 2010

An Interesting Time Suck

I am going to try to reduce the deficit and fix the budget of the United States of America this weekend. When I'm done, I am going to put my money where my mouth is.  I'm going to publish my ideas where my persona is on display, here in The Burrow, and I'm going to post my solution on the New York Times Magazine's website.  

I love the puzzles in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.  I always finish the crossword (or come real close) and sometimes the other puzzle on the page.  I like the thought of an anonymous competition with really smart people all over the globe.  I do them in ink, and I don't use the dictionary.  Human life-lines are acceptable (TBG feigns aggravation if too many quarters of football go by without my interrupting to wonder about the identity of the 1953 AL Cy Young winner) but for the most part it's me vs the boxes, one clue at a time.  

Thanks to Ronni Bennett over at Time Goes By I came to a different kind of puzzle this week.  It's called The Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget and, with broad strokes and not a lot of flexibility, I'm going to try to reduce the deficit over the next few decades while still maintaining some semblance of government involvement in .... in..... well, that, I think, is going to be the challenge.  

I've been playing with the puzzle as I've been thinking about this post, and I have to admit that it's very satisfying to click on a box and watch the deficit get smaller.  On some level, it's no more than a video game.  Cue Sen. Everett Dirksen's  "A billion here, a billion there, soon you're talking real money" as I realize that there is hardly anything I can do to make a significant difference.  

But, I am willing to try.  I wish the puzzle let me take a more nuanced approach (what if I want to cut Foreign Aid by 60% instead of the 50% they allow?) but it's the NYTimes and they have a point to make and I guess I'm going to have to play along.  I've been reading the Wall Street Journal in lieu of The Gray Lady for the last few years, so I'm expecting to be amused by the 16 Ways to Cut the Deficit their experts propose.  But I'm going to read them, and think about them and talk about them with the smart people in my life and I'm going to solve the budget crisis. 

I am willing to take  personal responsibility for the decisions I make and the actions I take.  I'm going to be able to defend my positions or admit that I haven't a clue so I'm relying on experts.  I'm not going to hide behind a committee or a party or a political machine which is heavily invested in little more than my re-election.  It's going to be the budget and me, up close and personal. 

Do you want to try, too?  Click through this sentence to get to the puzzle. 
I'll be back with my answers on Monday if you want to play show and tell.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Strange Times, Indeed

I'm feeling particularly blessed these days, and it really has nothing at all to do with the fact that Hallmark reminds me to remember that fact every November.  

Friends and family have sick children and spouses and parents without any more money or memory of who they are.  Friends have lost their jobs and been disheartened by second chances and panicked about future employment in a depressed economy as they relocate for love or prepare to finish their education.  A new dad is re-enlisting.  

And then, there's The Catcher, who took Tuesday off from work.  He never takes Tuesday off, but this week he did.  So, when the guy with the gun came in and asked where he was, he wasn't there.  The guy with the gun shot the girl who was there instead.  It was a little bullet so it didn't kill her but still......

I'm telling you, things are getting stranger and stranger out there.  Mr. 7 s having trouble sitting still in class and Mr. 5 can't seem to hike 5 steps without tripping over a rock or a root.  Kids dial a wrong number, think they've made the error of the century, and lie unnecessarily when a simple "oops, I'm sorry, my bad" was all that was needed.  Lessons are learned.

It was cold and rainy in Washington, D.C. on Monday when Donovan McNabb's Redskins lost to Michael Vick's Eagles (yes, that Michael Vick) by a score of 59-28.  That's a scoreboard from a high school basketball game, not a Monday Night Football game.  Commentators were falling all over one another wondering how they could be saying such complimentary things about a man whose past was so ugly?  Might it be that someone has actually been released from prison in a rehabilitated state?   Things are strange.

I can't make the water penetrate further than 12" for my newly planted desert willow.  I run the hose slowly for long periods of time, and instead of seeping downward, toward the center of the earth and, more important for my purposes, staying within the boundaries of the culvert I created (with great difficulty, I might add) around the root ball, no, instead it flows under the mulched barrier and spreads itself in a 2" puddle alongside the roadway.  The hole drained perfectly before I put the tree in it.  This should not be.

Nope, none of it should be.  Kids should be healthy and work should be available and anger management should be taught right after arithmetic but it doesn't seem to work that way lately.  The expert on NPR's piece on the cost of care for the long-term disabled (I can't find the link) said that we don't deny treatment to people because they can't afford it and I screamed "Yes, we do!" to my poor radio - a local patient was prepped and ready for his liver transplant when the public insurance program he was on was not renewed and the surgery was canceled.  It's true.

Pat Caddell, Democratic pollster and opinion-giver, wrote an article in Sunday's Washington Post suggesting that President Obama would best serve his country and his party by being a "one and done" president.  His thesis that the leadership would come together in a bi-partisan manner after this selfless act of patriotism is ..... oh, I don't know.... flaky? 

I'm telling you, these are weird times.




Wednesday, November 17, 2010

She Cheated

 Everything in italics is taken verbatim from Marion Jones's interview on The Daily Show

Even if no one will say it aloud, Marion Jones cheated.  

I go into this post needing to make my position clear.  There is no doubt in anyone's mind, least of all hers, that she took performance enhancing drugs. She plead guilty to lying to Congress about using them and spent 6 months in prison.  

It was awful.  

D'uh.

John Stewart interviewed her on The Daily Show this week and every single thing I've ever thought about her was there, in full view, begging me once again to feel those feelings.  So, here I am, back with another hero with feet of clay.

And that's the saddest part, because her feet were really the wings of Hermes.  She flew over the ground, her feet barely touching the earth before springing forward with grace and elegance and speed.  Oh, yes, she was fast.  And she told John Stewart that she had always had this gift, this talent so I could imagine her as a little bitty girl out-running the boys in the neighborhood and giggling all the way.  Watching her run always made me smile.  I liked to think that she was a sunny as she seemed to be in interviews; it seemed only fair that she enjoy her life as much as I enjoyed watching her live it.

And then there were allegations and the denials and the hearings and lies and mendacity and prison and, ultimately, fighting with her cellmate and landing in solitary confinement for 45 plus days.  She is now playing in the WNBA and is an advocate for penal reform.  She's still smiling and beautiful and delightful to watch, but listening to her has given me cause for pause.

On the Right Track: From Olympic Downfall to Finding Forgiveness and the Strength to Overcome and SucceedInitially, I was just laughing at the longest sub-title I'd ever seen (naturally, like almost all Stewart's guests, she is on a book tour) -- On the Right Track: From Olympic Downfall to Finding Forgiveness and the Strength to Overcome and Succeed 

I guess she ran out of things to do, after finding forgiveness and overcoming and succeeding.  Of course, I thought she had succeeded in the Olympics but that turns out not to be true.  Or is it a fact that is based on a deception and so is it not really a fact at all?  Or was it a fact and did the returning of her medals make it no longer a fact?  I'm getting a little confused myself here, but I think you get the point.  

I really wanted to like her, and I did right after the interview.  She is gorgeous and well-spoken and seemed to be saying all the right things with just enough humor to take the edge off the awfulness.  Relaxing into the role of interviewee, she began a comment on how she ended up fighting with her cellmate like this:  "Well, y'know ...... no, obviously you don't know so I'll tell you, in prison ......"  The laughter was rueful but not lugubrious; the woman's lived through some hard times and she knows it.  There's no doubt about that, either.

What bothers me is that she never said "I cheated.  It was wrong."  Instead, she was given performance enhancing drugs.  Don't elite athletes monitor every single solitary thing that passes their outer surfaces - skin, mouth, etc etc etc?  Apparently, a thing you have to understand about elite athletes is that they have an inner circle of people who they trust and, I guess, it was one of these members of her inner circle who gave her the PED's.  

Now, you may think this is a semantic argument but she never stated that she took the drugs.  She said that she was given the drugs.  Poor, trusting soul.  The ones closest to her were mean and awful and cheaters and she was totally unaware of what she was putting into her body.  She didn't ask questions.  Was she just a foolish and trusting soul or was she complicit and really didn't want to know or was she too stupid to wonder what she was swallowing?  

She said that she became aware of what was in the pills she'd been downing for 3 or 4 years only when she was shown them at the Congressional Hearing.  She then made an instantaneous decision to lie.  This is the hardest part for me.  Were I to be called to testify before my government, I would be sure that I prepared for at least the most obvious questions I might be asked.  Were I Marion Jones, I'd certainly for sure without a doubt you know it baby have done some investigation into the contents and provenance of everything I'd been given.  I surely wouldn't walk into a room full of cameras and be surprised when I saw my pills.  She is not an unintelligent woman.  She was not without resources and access to advisers of all make manner and description.  There were no rules preventing her from seeking counsel outside her evil circle of manipulators and givers of proscribed substances.  Claiming naivete isn't much of a defense.  Did she think this wasn't serious?  Had she been living in a cave?  

She didn't go to prison for the use of banned substances.  She went to prison for lying about what she knew and what she did to Congress.  Does no one ever learn?  The cover-up is what does you in every single time.  Nixon wasn't facing impeachment for authorizing the break-in at the Watergate.  He paid off the burglars to cover-up the crime.  Bill Clinton?  Not for unbelievably inappropriate behavior at work but for lying about it.  Imagine if he had said that this was a private matter between him and his wife and his intern and yes, he should probably have found a less venerable location for his infidelity but it's not like Monica was sleeping with the mob like Judy Exner and JFK.  She was working in the White House, she'd been vetted and cleared to enter the West Wing.  Had he admitted to cheating on his wife I think the whole thing would have just gone away.  But no one ever learns.  They think they are bigger than the system that wouldn't understand them anyway and it's there for the little people and so they lie.  And then they are peeved when they're caught.

A quick perusal of the interweb's reaction to her predicament included a story about her desire to keep her very young children from learning that she was going to be in prison for the 6 months she was away.  Watch her talk about taking responsibility for what you've done and come and tell me right away and prepare for the consequences and see what you think.


Yes, America loves to forgive.  Yes, America is the land of second chances.  Yes, it matters what you do afterward.   But it is also important to own up to your mistakes, to say it out loud, to admit to yourself and others that what you did was wrong and that you understand that it was selfish and foolish and had consequences far beyond your own puny little life.  After all, her relay teammates had to return their medals, too.   The fact that she has apologized is obviously not enough for these women, who have not reached out to me.... and there it is, in all its ugly glory.  The whole thing is about ME - poor me, defenseless me, forgiving me, basketball playing me.  I have moved on.  Why can't the rest of you?


I'm not sure that she's the one who gets to decide that Marion Jones has succeeded, book title or not.  From my vantage point, she's got a lot more work to do.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

All Alone - And Loving It

I have arrived at a conclusion today.  I have altered my perspective and I'm wondering how it will all play out.  It's not that I received any new information, nor did I experience a major life changing event.  I was driving north and south on local streets, making all the lights and thinking deep thoughts as the miles flew by.  I was alone with my parcels and my dry cleaning and the novel I borrowed in Phoenix rattling around on the front seat, where G'ma should have been sitting if she were ever in the mood to keep me company as I did my errands.  NPR was blathering on about itself, and I wasn't in the mood for their self-indulgent crap, so I turned off the radio, rolled down the windows, opened the sun-roof and breathed deep.

I was alone.  All by myself.  Listening to no one.  Unbothered by anyone.  It was heaven.

My thoughts went to the Cuters (of course) and the Big Cuter's telling me last week that he had not left his apartment for an entire day.  His apartment is one room.  Granted, he has a balcony and a fabulous view

Yes, that's the Golden Gate Bridge in the top left corner, peeking over the top of the white building
    


but for crying out loud he was in one room for 24 hours and didn't lose his mind.  

Every once in a while I am reminded that my children are their own selves and not my personal creation.  What works for them may not work for me.  I've come to accept that fact.  What I hadn't accepted was that it was okay.  I just knew my way was the right way and their way was somewhat lacking in perfection.

So, upon hearing that he had not ventured further than his closet, that he had not checked to see whether the brownies I sent to him had been delivered to his mailbox in the lobby 26 floors below, when I realized that he had not set eyes on another human being for an entire day, I was flummoxed.  Unless I am sick, broken, bloody but unbowed, I need to get out and about.  The thought that he could have stayed put and stayed happy was difficult for me to grasp, so I immediately went to my worry place -- was he healthy? happy? bored? lonesome?

No, no, no, no... he was ecstatic.  He considered it a personal milestone.  When I checked with him to be sure I could use his anecdote in this post, he told me that I could upgrade him from one day to an entire weekend.  From Friday afternoon until Monday morning he was home, creating outlines for his 5-finals-in-11-days and being disgusted by the general state of professional football.  I refuse to grant him this bonus because he admitted to leaving his box when he went to the trash room..... even if he didn't see another human he was still outside his personal space..... but you get the general idea.  He thinks it's wonderful and I can't get a grip on it.  

The Little Cuter loves her days curled up with cheese and soft blankets and trashy tivo-ed television.  She can lie on her couch for hours.  Napping occurs with regularity.  She isn't anything but content.  I can read a book for hours, but I also need a change of venue every once in a while.  I might move from Douglas to the old leather arm-chair-and-ottoman and then out to the backyard for some quality time on the lounge chair in the sun.  I couldn't sit all morning and all afternoon and through dinner.  Yet, she can.

TBG likes his alone time, too.  He's happy watching talking heads (current affairs, the markets, sports, MSNBC and Fox and CNBC and CNN and ESPN2HD and lots of other initials all of which combine to make him the independent thinker that he is) and thinking deep thoughts.  He doesn't miss interacting with other humans; he's happy to seek them out when he wants to, but mostly he's happy with his own self.

And that brings me back to G'ma, the only person over whom I might be able to exert some small measure of control.  She gleefully ignores the pleas of the caregivers to join them at the music or the brain games or the little horses visit.  She's happy to lie on her couch, under her throw rug from Horace Mann, watching Law'n or TMC or The Weather Channel.  She'll do her word puzzles and read and re-read her postcards and she's a happy girl.  I've written before of my abortive efforts to get her to engage with the world around her, but those are all in the past.  It took me a while, but I was finally able to get to the place where she was allowed to feel okay about doing nothing.  

Actually, I got to the place where I realized that she was allowed to decided to do nothing and I was the one who was allowed to feel okay about it.  She was never in doubt.  Not once.  "I like myself!" is her standard reply when asked if she's okay being alone.

And so, back to the conclusion I have reached.  Driving alone, enjoying the air and the sun and my own thoughts, I realized that I was going where I wanted when I wanted without regard to anyone or anything else.  I wanted a burrito and I'd already passed the restaurant so I turned around and retraced my steps - 4 miles of them - and ate and read my novel and drove on to do more errands and all the while I was thinking about my kids and my husband and my mother and how a day alone, not moving outside your home, must make them as happy as this day was making me.

How could this be?  I do not know.  But I know it with a certainty that was missing before today at about 3pm.  I have to be okay with it for them - they are 4 peas in a pod and I, perhaps, am the outlier here.  I am giving up the space in my brain reserved for insuring that those most immediately in my life are having a good time.  From now on, it's up to them.  I'm not worrying about that any more.  

This is an unusual place for me.  I kinda sorta like it.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Behind the Scenes at Reid Park Zoo

The Cornell Club of Southern Arizona has a checkered history when it comes to event planning.  When The Big Red was involved in basketball's March Madness last year there were some well attended "watch parties" at a sports bar which drew new members and classmates who were looking for others who might be cheering for a team from the Ivy League.  But typically our events are attended by Board Members and their devoted spouses and reluctant children, with the occasional "maybe I'll see her there" hopeful newbie.  Luncheons, picnics, holiday parties.... we've tried them all.  Those who attend have a fine time, but we already know and love one another and Cornell.  We haven't been doing a very good job of attracting anyone else.

Saturday was a different kettle of fish entirely.  One of our younger alumni has secured a job at the Reid Park Zoo here in Tucson, and she kindly offered to share her back-stage access with us.  The Crayola Kids agreed to keep me company and we joined 40 other children of all ages just before 10am in mid-town.  The Board members were smiling at one another - look at all these people!  The people were smiling back - look at where we were and what we were going to get to do!  As if ordered up by Goldilocks herself, the weather was neither too hot nor too cold, but just right for a November morning.  My jeans and cowboy boots were never more appropriate as our guide unlocked an unpreposessing gate and led us behind the scenes


I knew I loved this crowd; no one was wearing anything that couldn't handle paths like these.  We wandered past the confluence of Halloween and Christmas as one by one we each found something to treasure.  There was a lot of "Look at that" and "That is big" before we entered the kitchen
 and heard how dinner was prepared
 

 It's a small zoo, so each animal can be fed just the food she likes


and they have a chart right across from the prep table to help them keep track of the fact that Pip is getting some cucumber on Tuesday.

Here's Pip


who got her name when her egg fell from the nest and the workers heard her pipping to get out of the shell.  Pipping? you say?  Yes, pipping.  Apparently these vultures have no teeth while they're in the shell but they do have a sharp pick on the top of their beaks which is used to pip their way out of solitary confinement and into the waiting arms of the zoo.

The food is nicely served, too.  It's bright and colorful, we found, because the animals are attracted to reds and yellows. 


If there were ever a place for the nature/nurture argument, for the evolution/divine intervention argument to occur, this seems to be it.  Foods with bright colors are filled with more nutrients than those foods which are beige.  Blueberries, carrots, sweet potatoes.... when the trainers on Biggest Loser remind the contestants that their plates should be colorful they are hearkening back to the animal kingdom and the delightful confluence of events that makes animals which eat bright healthy foods animals which lead disease free lives.  Is it God's plan or survival of the fittest or just dumb blind luck?  I don't know that it matters, just that it's true. 

So, remember to eat your veggies.


We went to the medical facility and were fascinated by the dart gun used to tranquilize the animals.  Those are the shoes of the boys who couldn't get close enough to satisfy their age-appropriate curiosity.  Megan, our guide, told us that the staff uses behavioral training to obviate the need for the tranq guns; it seemed to be a toss up whether the animals or the trainers hate them more.  But with arthritic snakes and diabetic baboons and elephants whose hoofs require pedicures every single day, well, there has to be a means of control.  

There's a height and weight limit regarding the animals which can be treated in the center.  The giraffes are too tall to fit through the doorway. The giraffes are many other things as well.  Adults are never traded from one zoo to another because they are too tall to fit beneath the underpasses on highways.  Giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their necks (7) as we humans have; theirs are just a bit bigger.  Giraffes are very nervous creatures.  They sleep behind a closed door in their "night house" just off their outside grounds.  If the door were left open, Megan told us that the giraffes wouldn't sleep at all.  They just would just pace, back and forth, from the bedding to the doorway and back again, wondering what was out there, which predator was waiting to attack should their vigilance slacken for even a moment.  With the door closed and the passage of time, our Reid Park Zoo giraffes now sleep lying down.  They are content.


Megan says it's very rare for giraffes to feel comfortable enough to lie down.  Then, again, Reid Park Zoo is a very rare place, too.  Enjoy the giraffes..... we certainly did:




Friday, November 12, 2010

A Friend is Dying

When did I become old enough that typing that phrase doesn't raise gasps amongst my readers?  When my 6th grade crush was killed by a speeding car there was no precedent for our emotions.  We didn't know how to feel so we pretended it had never happened.  When Debbie Goodman starved herself to death  in the 9th grade, we all learned about anorexia as we hid behind a facade of it can never happen to me.  When Marian Lubart died in one of those awful too-many-counselors-in-an-out-of-control-car summer camp nightmares she was just 16 and our parents used her as a cautionary tale.  She'd been my friend since we were very little, but her death was a learning experience, not an opportunity to grieve.  When I heard that Roomie's twin brother had met a similar fate some years later I felt, ever so briefly, my own mortality.  Boys had gone to Viet Nam, after all, boys I'd sat next to in class or at the movies.  But they were still felt at a distance, with a sense of separation from the real sorrow.


I had all 4 grandparents until I was a senior in high school.  My cousin and I had stopped at the deli and Dunkin' Donuts and we were returning with our treasures when our mothers broke the news that the cancer had won and Grandpa was dead.  We looked at one another, we looked at our mothers (they were married to Grandpa's sons), and then we looked at those donuts.... those fresh from the oven donuts ...... those still warm donuts.... and, with a nod to our Grandpa we sat at G'ma's kitchen table and chowed down.  I was thinking about Grandpa, and I was choking on my tears, but I enjoyed those donuts.... cinnamon dusted donuts.... which I can't eat to this day without thinking of that afternoon.  I felt his loss, but he was an old man and it was his time.  I still miss him cheating me at cards, but I knew and I know that no one lives forever.  He was a grandfather, and they die.


But this friend, this 64 year old man with whom I've shared child rearing for nearly 3 decades, this is different.  He'd beaten two awful, long, expensive, draining, painful and disgusting medical experiences over the last 20 years, and, for 10 blessed days he was healthy.  Then a glioblastoma decided to take up residence in his skull and now he's dying and I don't know what to do.


I'm thousands of miles away from them, these playgroup buddies from when the Big Cuter was an infant.  Were I in town I know what I'd do but I'm not and I'm stuck.  The Little Cuter will bring home cooked meals (she's better at it than I am, anyway) as they are needed and I'll call and have no agenda of my own and meet theirs, wherever they are, but I want it all to just go away.  I want to be in charge, and I want to make it vanish.  


POOF!


After all, our investments disappeared without our having much to say about it.  Why can't the same thing happen to this tumor, this rancid malignancy that is ruining the joy they ought to be feeling because he'd won.  He'd undergone an ugly, year long course of treatment that had cured him of his disease and then this decided to invade his personal space.  It's not right.  Someone is not paying attention.


I was able to bring something to the table, at least.  My years of medical social work have been put to good use, and for that I am grateful to all those teachers and mentors and supervisors who encouraged me to trust my gut and tell people what I knew they should hear.  I've been doing it on the phone and his wife keeps texting me that I am forcing her to reevaluate her otherwise less than favorable impression of my professional peers.  I wish I were there to run interference for her.


Her son, the official member of playgroup, has been home and wonderful and in her face and dealing with his own piece of the puzzle and that's not an easy part, either.  I remember how I thought of my parents when I was nearly 30.  I knew more than they did.  I dealt with people and systems better than they did.  I was stronger and healthier and street-smarter and most important I was younger than they were and so they should defer to my judgment and let me be in charge.  That's not my girlfriend's style... not even close to her style... in fact it's probably the antithesis of her style... and she's not reluctant to share that opinion with anyone who might be in shouting range.  


And she's right.  Of course she's right.  She's known him forever and they've loved one another through thick and thin and sickness and health and she has good insights and yet she screams so loudly that no one can hear her.  Kind of like the Tea Party and Fox News on a hospital ward... only with brains and love thrown into the mix.  She's losing her partner, her friend, her person..... and yes, he's losing his dad but that doesn't mean they have to be at odds but if they're not then the reality is there, staring them in the face, and it's awful.


There's no way to make the reality any less brutal.


There's no way to alter the outcome to any substantial degree.


There are just 3 people who are used to bending the world to their will and they are failing.  Not from lack of trying nor from faintness of heart nor depth of commitment or love.  There is truly, really, without a doubt or second guessing, absolutely nothing they can do.


Except, perhaps, feel the love that I'm sending, each and every time I think of them.... which is really, now that I reflect on it, quite often these days.


Oh, how I wish I were there.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why Poetry?

This is the follow-up to yesterday's post.  All the poems which were read at the event are listed at the end of this post.

Have you been wondering why the poet is not the bread or the knife?  I've been wrestling with the concept since Sunday afternoon, when I celebrated the 50th Anniversary of The University of Arizona Poetry Center.  Billy Collins was there, and so was Samuel Chlepka.  Classmates from my epic poetry seminar were in the audience, as was the director of the program and the President of the university.  I sat 4 rows from a former US Poet Laureate, and it's only because they begged us not to take pictures that I can't share the physical feeling.

It was a very well-behaved audience; the movie lauding the Poetry Center ended and we all sat quietly, not wanting to disturb the silence.  The 5 presenters entered stage right, passing the podium and finding their places on 5 folding chairs.  These poetry readings don't seem to go in for much in the way of set decoration.  There wasn't even a potted plant on the stage.  Then, again, Robert Frost spoke from the same stage 50 years ago at the dedication ceremony for the Poetry Center, so who am I to complain?

I wonder if Republicans like poetry?  There were references to mourning an election outcome and the plight of illegal entrants which received warm applause.  But that was a very small portion of the afternoon; politics were less important than culture for a brief and wonderful moment.  It wasn't as hard as I had feared it would be, a fact that Billy Collins mentioned in his introductory remarks.  saying that "People say they don't read poetry because it is difficult, but it is difficult because people don't read it."  I suppose it's like anything else, the more you do it the more facile you become.  The Big Cuter explained his making quick work of assignments which took his high school classmates an inordinate amount of time by telling them that reading, like lacrosse, got easier the more you practiced.  I'd always assumed he'd read for the sheer pleasure of the experience; how could I know that he was also practicing for law school?


The poet went on to say that being difficult is a good thing, that the reward is commensurate with the effort invested, and that not everything has to be a James Patterson quickie.  I reveled in the murmurs of agreement from the audience.  These were people who would not settle for mediocrity, people who were willing to work for their preferred outcomes.

David Fitzsimmons, editorial cartoonist and political pundit featured in our local paper, read his three poems first.  He had us laughing about bears chasing campers and the futility of trying to protect oneself, for, after all, people get hurt by safety pins.  Howard Altman, a poet from New York by way of Canada, took us down a darker, sadder pathway, as we cleaned up after the war and imagined the death of a daughter's father as they shared a quiet moment fly-fishing in the river.  Without the laughter, the audience shared the pauses and the sighs.  We were connected in the silence.

Have you read Interred with Their Bones?  It's a Shakespearean mystery and the author, Jennifer Lee Carrell, brought her classicist's sensibility to the stage next.  Gerald Manley Hopkins and Alfred, Lord Tennyson were denser than the others' selections, but the language was so grand that I let it sweep over me and stopped worrying about following the content precisely.  I was traveling with Ulysses and being blown by Hopkins' wind and the fact that I was lost in the moment must have been part of the original intent, don't you think?  Ms. Carrell's mother says that her daughter has five degrees in fairy tales, and that's how I heard her telling the stories as she read her choices.  Of course, Billy Collins says that all poets write about death and that majoring in English is majoring in Death so maybe there is more than one truth to following a literary path through academia.

Ernesto Portillo, Jr, is a popular journalist in both the Anglo and Hispanic local scenes, and, true to form, he introduced politics and immigration and read in Spanish and I was reminded that we were in Tucson, after all, and that multi-culturalism is under attack by so many folks here that I should just relax and open my mind to the newness and strangeness of it all.  And I was rewarded by Alberto Rios's love poem to his grandmother's long long hair, which reminded me of my grandmother's long long braid, and which put me in a very nice place, indeed.

Then Billy Collins read... and read... and read... and it was all his own work and it was wonderful. He wrote from the perspective of a dog who'd been put to sleep, and he riffed on the names of condo complexes and the inanities of conversations between teenage girls in between reflecting on his parents and aging and language.  Fogetfulness made me teary as his words brought G'ma to my heart, and then he was a young camper making a lanyard for his mother and every heart string of every parent was tugged and woven together, just as his lanyard was crafted.  Just as with a lanyard, we didn't know what practical purpose the afternoon would serve, but we loved it anyway.

I wish you could have been there with me.  It was really quite special.
*******************
POEMS READ AT THE 50th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA'S POETRY CENTER ON SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2010:
  • A Poem Written by a Bear (Billy Collins)
  • Social Security (Winch)
  • The Laughing Heart (Charles Bukowski
  • Elegy (N. Treadway)
  • The End and the Beginning (Howard Altman)
  • The Prune Tree (Howard Moss)
  • Ulysses (excerpt, Tennyson)
  • Moon Folly (Fanny Sterns Davis)
  • The Windhover (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
  • The Illegal Alien (a corrido written by a Tucson high school student)
  • A Chance Witnessing (Alberto Rios)
  • In the Strong Hold of Her Thin Arms (Alberto Rios)A
AND BY BILLY COLLINS:
  • Litany
  • Grave
  • What She Said
  • Oh My God
  • The Death of a Hat
  • The Dog on his Master
  • The Revenant
  • The Golden Years
  • Adage
  • Feedback
  • Forgetfulness
  • The Lanyard
  • On Turning 10

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails
 
Five Star Friday