Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I've Been Busy

Between talking to FlapJilly
and hugging FlapJilly 
I haven't had time to think of anything deeper than the profundity of the love one can conjure up when faced with the eyes of the child of your child.

I know you'll understand.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Sniippet of Lexicography

We're visiting FlapJilly, and we're singing silly songs.
Little Bunny Foo Foo, 
hopping through the forest, 
picking up the field mice, 
and bopping them over their heads.
Nobody could remember the rest of the tune.  It was searched on the interwebs, and we learned of the Fairy Godmother who gave the bunny three chances to reform before she turned him into a goon.

The moral of the story?  Hare today, goon tomorrow.

That, denizens, is a feghoot - a short poem or story which ends in an awful play on words.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman's adventures on Rocky and Bullwinkle were feghoots.

TBG wanted me to share his favorite : The fairy godmother promises everything to Benny as long as he doesn't shave.  He shaves, she turns him to ash, and puts him in a vase.

The moral?  A Benny shaved is a Benny urned.

Feel free to groan, and then to thank me for your new word.

Friday, March 27, 2015


A friend came home from a Caribbean cruise to 5" of snow.  It's all gone now, he went on to say, but...(it's) cold....30 degrees cold.

I'm so sorry that there are those of you experiencing gloomy skies and frigid temperatures.  I type that wearing shorts and a tee shirt.  I walked to get a manicure this morning; one mile in the bright sunshine without a jacket or gloves or a scarf or anything.  Again, I'm really really sorry you can't share the joy of living here right now.

Feeling magnanimous, I am ready to share the joy.  This is what's happening outside my house right now:
The animals are awake.
Those mounds are the doorway to the burrows of the little ground squirrels which munch on my cactus flowers.  They are adorable, as long as they aren't eating my petunias.  They are also very hard to photograph; they are quick.  
The wildflowers are blooming, as my allergies attest.

The brittle bush
and the desert marigolds 
are popping up everywhere, without irrigation or any attention paid to them at all.
The birds eat the seeds and poop them out and a few take root and make loveliness
as I look over the wall to Safford Peak.
Yes, there is a wall.  I need something to remind the critters that we are sharing space out here.
Princess Z saw a snake in my driveway last weekend.  That's quite close enough.

The cacti are just beginning to flower.
This one seems to be concentrating on creating new paddles rather than pretty flowers. 
These open and close as the day goes by.
It was nice of them to stay open for my camera.
The aloe is a poster child for the right plant in the right spot.
The front flower is on a three foot long stalk, supporting itself as it phototropic's its way to the sun.
I have had some input in the surroundings, too.
These are the second round of blossoms on my newest rose bush.
It lives outside our bedroom window and makes us happy every morning when we open the blinds. 
This little rose bush has acclimated to the ground, and is, earlier than last year, putting out flowers.
And the rose bush which did nothing for two summers is suddenly awash in buds.
I must have planted marigolds last year, because here they are, coming back for a visit.
I guess one way to seed the stones around your containers is to drop the dead flowers behind them.
This little fellow is on the wrong side of things, but he doesn't seem to care, does he? 

I hope that helps, denizens.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Advice to a Young Friend

Dear Elizibeth,

So, you've said YES to the offer to be on tv. It's a true crime series, and you are certainly connected to a true crime. You know the details, you know how you feel, but that's not enough. I'm here to protect you and prepare you. I've had some experience in these matters, after all.

I was na├»ve going into it. I called my girlfriend – she used to dress Oprah – for the most important advice. What should I wear? She cautioned against a white blouse and a dark skirt, which surprised me. She was the one who told me that was the outfit which could go anywhere, be any level of fancy it needed to be. Apparently, white is not a great color on tv. Blue is best, she said. Be careful not to wear something with a busy pattern, and avoid stripes if at all possible.

Let nothing distract from that beautiful face. That seemed to be the theme of her instructions.

From my own experience, I'd encourage you to stay away from dangling earrings. They swing and sway and were all I could see, even though my words were profound and the rest of my outfit was bland. Others noticed them too; Big Cuter thought they were lovely. I didn't intend that he notice them at all.

Don't wear anything that will encourage you to fuss. No scarves, no long necklaces, no bracelets … especially ones that clank. Be sure your lower half is clad in easy to maneuver clothing. It's likely that they will film you for B Roll.... the walking along the street scenes over which the announcer will describe your situation. You don't want uncomfortable shoes or tight pants getting in your way.

Again, it's your face and your words which should take center stage.

Before you meet the interviewers (and there will probably be more than one of them), be prepared.Think of three or four or five sentences which make the points you want to share. They should be your message to the world, what you want people to remember about you and your mom. Think it through. Take notes on your random ideas. Share them with Amster on the plane to NYC, and ask her if they are clear, concise and powerful. Then, memorize them.

Yes, memorize them. Write them down and read them over and over and over again so that they are the first things that come to mind. You will be flustered – I promise you that. Having these lines immediately available will bail you out of almost any scenario.

You will be asked things you don't want to answer. You will be cornered. The questions will come from a perspective unlike any you've encountered before. Unlike the law enforcement officials and the court connected legal eagles, television reporters are less concerned with the facts themselves and more concerned with how they are shared. They are looking for drama, for highly charged content, for the WOW moment.

You can choose whether or not to provide it.

That's probably the most important piece of advice I can give you. You can choose. As TBG told me when I started down that path, “Just because the camera is rolling does not mean that you have to speak.”

Read that sentence again and commit it to memory. You are in charge. You do not have to answer the question that is asked. You don't have to say anything at all.

You've given them an outline of what can and cannot be covered, but don't assume that they will abide by the rules. It's not to their advantage. They are looking for ratings, and ratings are driven by drama. You can decide to play along, and you can also decide to protect yourself. You're a kid, after all.

They will seek your most vulnerable spots, and will continue to poke and prod and needle you until they get what they're looking for. That's where those memorized sentences come in handy. If the silence is too uncomfortable for you to handle, just pull out one of your lines and recite it. They will film for a long time, and use very little of it. I promise that they will not be using your long, silent responses to questions you choose to ignore.

They may not ask the questions to which your prepared remarks are relevant. That doesn't matter either. Remember that they don't care what you say or if you really answer what they ask. They only want you to say something.

If you don't like a question, if you don't understand a question, if a question feels intrusive and makes your skin crawl, try to control your facial muscles. Don't show them that they've pulled too hard on a particular scab. Don't roll your eyes or be sarcastic. Look straight at the questioner, pause before you open your mouth, and remember your Five Things I Want To Say.

The piece will be edited. They will throw out what they don't want and organize the rest into something that may not be recognizable. Go into it knowing that might happen. Don't let your ego get too involved with the result. It's not your finished work product, after all. It's theirs.

You are the material they are trying to shape. Remember to smile, to be polite, and to be in control of everything within your power. They asked you. You didn't seek them out. They need you to make the show work. You are important to them. That gives you certain advantages. You can ask for a break. You can say I won't talk about x, y, and z, and you can do just that if those issues arise.

Just sit there and smile. It's a beautiful smile, and when it's on your face you can't say things you might not want to reveal. Take your time. Say less rather than more. If you don't like an answer ask if you can give a better one. Remember that editor – she'll make you look good because that's her job. All you have to do is be yourself.... and remember that it's a pretty wonderful self.

Check out the technology and the efforts that go into creating the show. Collect business cards. Make connections. Ask if you can come back sometime for a closer look at the action. Don't be shy; if you're curious about something, be sure to ask.

When it's all over, remember to write a thank you note. If journalism is truly your long term passion, these are pretty fancy connections to have.

Above all, have fun! It's not every 17 year old who gets to tell her story on national tv, after all.

With much love,


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How Am I?

No one asks me how I'm doing any more.  It's been 50 some months since I was perforated, and the constant interest in my well-being has waned. I am no longer approached on the sidewalk.  I can buy a melon without being hugged by a stranger.  No one has offered to pray for me in a very long time.

Instead, I go to the gym and I go to Pilates and I walk to golf tournaments.  I park where there is room to maneuver, instead of trying to find the spot closest to the door.  Every once in a while, I walk through the market without leaning on a cart, which is a long way from needing the motorized wagon to buy a gallon of milk.

My endurance is a work in progress.  It's never been my long suit, and that has been a convenient excuse behind which to hide. I know it was part of me before January, 2011, and I expect that it will be for the rest of my life.  I've always been a sprinter, not a miler. On the other hand, I'm never going to be able to take a long hike again unless I push myself.  I'm going against physical limitations and emotional stubbornness and it's daunting.

One thing has always remained constant - when I say I'm done, I'm done.  My trainers respect my work ethic and we all believe in one basic principle - the only person affected by my efforts and my attitude is me.  If I don't do the work, I won't get the results.  I've always been willing to do the work

So, I'm doing it.  Amster and the kids and I walked down the hill instead of taking a car.  That added half a mile at each end, and I made myself do it.  I write it down so that I will remember to congratulate myself.  It's a real achievement, and they are fewer and farther between of late.

I stay motivated because that's the only alternative I see.

But then, there are interruptions.  The baby brought her parents to visit for a week, then there was the Festival of Books, then I was sick.  That was two full weeks with no exercise to speak of.  I walked, but that's all.

There was no concentration on a particular group of muscles, no conscious coordination of body parts, not much thought given to the breath.  I was going through the motions, glad to be able to carry FlapJilly, delighting in traversing the UofA Mall, but not thinking about the mechanics of it all. Then, I lay in bed, trying to breathe, barely able to keep my eyes open, as a sinus infection robbed me of the chance to actively participate in life.  Through none of it did I consider exercising.

By Sunday, I was well enough to chat with a friend.  On Monday, I went back to Pilates.  I went again this morning.  Those facts have not been lost on my physical self.

My hamstrings are twanging like banjo strings.  I'm sitting upright over my pelvis, my back muscles complimenting my abdominals to hold me there.  My neck is long.  I'm feeling the air fill the back and the sides of my lungs, and I'm exhaling from my lower diaphragm, expelling all that I took in.

And I'm exhausted.  I slept for two hours on Monday afternoon and would have done the same today had I not been so very hungry.  My cells are humming, my brain is alert, and my body, that which carries me from place to place, holding those cells and that brain together, is screaming for relief.

There will be none.  I'll do some floor work here at home this evening and I'll lift weights in the morning.  I will ignore the very large piece of me which says Give yourself a break... even though she is very seductive.

I remember all too well the days when I couldn't do any of what exhausts me today.  I couldn't kneel, or sit back on my heels, or make perfect circles in the air with my legs extended.  The fact that those things now make me tired is something to treasure.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Week of Old Friends

One emailed, asking for a lawyer in Tucson to whom she could refer a friend.

Two are going to pass us like ships in the night this week.  We're hoping to avoid a mid-sea collision, but we'd really like to have dinner together.

And then my roommate from sophomore year in college said she was coming to town.

It was a trifecta of loveliness.

The lawyer's name would be passed on with confidence.  We'll try to be organized enough to find our friends for a meal.  And I spent yesterday afternoon in my backyard, chatting up a storm with a woman I haven't seen for 25 years or so.

As I said, a trifecta of loveliness settle into my soul this weekend.

We sent her family off to the golf tournament, and we plunked ourselves in the lawn furniture, with snacks and drinks and each other.  The family was gone for two hours; it felt like fifteen minutes.

She'd been married to a guy from college, who'd been a friend of mine, as well.  She's divorced and remarried and while that was of peripheral interest, most of what we talked about revolved around how she reacted to the events of her life.  I shared my stories in the same vein.  The facts were less important than the emotions behind them.

We were finishing one another's sentences, coming up with the same snarky comments, laughing at ourselves and each other.  There was no down time.  We were never at a loss for words.  By the time her family returned from the golf, we were only up to 1994.  It was obvious that she was going to have to come back, again.... and soon.

So, this afternoon, checking my phone after Pilates, I was not surprised to see her offer to meet for lunch.  We dined, we go through the 1990's, and then we parted ways.  This time, it's not going to take two decades to finish the stories.

It helps that one of her granddaughters - the delightful Princess Z, five years of energy and pink rolled into a sweet bundle - now lives in town.  It's obvious that I understand that kind of attraction, despite the ten hour car ride required to access the hugs.

But I also know, because we could see it in our eyes, that a connection has been reestablished.  We remember one another as teenagers, as 20 somethings figuring out the world, Those pieces are still around, although not accessed as often as we might like.

The return to the past is lovely.  I don't want to go back, but it's nice to remember it with someone who was there.

I'm feeling quite young right now.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Boys Were Back

Amster scored tickets to the Tucson Conquistadores Classsic.
It's a stop on the Champions Tour.
The 13th tee is at the end of my street, 
Amster left her car in my driveway and we walked the half mile downhill to the golf course. 
There was no one taking tickets; it's a quiet cul de sac whose proximity to the festivities is a well kept secret. Not wanting to be scofflaws, we affixed our tickets to our wrists and stepped onto the paved pathway.

We walked toward the tents, found snacks  
and shade,
and made ourselves comfortable.
We were there at 10am, well before the crowds.
The kids were able to stand at the rope and see the rings on the golfers' fingers.
We watched a few putts, saw a few drives sailing up up up and landing with a satisfying thunk, 
and then they had had enough.

I had, too, and Amster had found a friend
so I thought of you and the post I'd write.

I tried to take a picture of the poster with the golfers' names, but a course official warned me off.
"No pictures today," is the reason I can't tell you the names of the men in these photos.

But, if you're looking at snow outside your window, 
feel free to imagine the sun and a  balmy breeze 
and being up close and personal with strangers. 
We were on the other side of that berm, above the sand trap  
with all these other older, white, well dressed people. 
It was a lovely excuse to be outside, and Amster cuts me very little slack when it comes to ambulation.  With Brenda Starr unavailable for our weekend constitutional tomorrow, I was glad for the chance to be pushed to move further and faster than I'd do on my own.  And I can't imagine a prettier setting.... within walking distance.... and free.

I was home by noon.
It was a lovely morning, but I'm still convinced that Mark Twain was right.
It was a good walk, spoiled.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Good Grammar Takes Just As Much Time

"Does spelling count?"

Mr. McCarthy's response has stayed with me for half a century.  "If I say no, will you misspell on purpose? Spelling always counts."   

Spelling has always come easily to me, a fact I attributed to the all the reading I did.  I was disabused of that notion when Big Cuter and Princess Myrtle came along.  They're both voracious readers, and neither of them can spell.  That doesn't mean that they don't try.  They understand that it is important.
Automated writing systems are exacerbating the problem. Autocorrect may change the entire word, but spell check keeps most people honest these days.  With the demise of cursive writing - Mr 9 is in the last class to learn it in his school district - I mourn the impending loss of the hand written note ... and with its disappearance the need to learn to spell.

After all, no one will notice if your grocery list is misspelled.

I've grown used to poor editing in ebooks I read on my Kindle.  The pagination, the spacing, the bizarre location of quotation marks and commas are a small price to pay for the free books I download from the library or BookBub.  When I pay $9.95, though, I expect that a modicum of care will be taken with the product I've purchased.  I don't want to be startled by misspellings or misplaced punctuation.

And yes, it does startle me.

I'm still screaming at the television when the talking heads make grammatical errors. "You are paid to speak!  Do it correctly! It matters!"  You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but I am not.  Nor do I want to be complacent about it.  Up until the very end, G'ma would grimace and correct the grammar of caregivers and television announcers alike.  I like to feel her on my shoulder when I begin to rant and moan like this.

The prompt for this screed came from The Little Cheese.  She forwarded a link to a long form article on SB Nation.  I was skimming along, enjoying the story of small town life in Valparaiso, Indiana, when I was stopped by
It wasn't hard for my brother and I to see... 
and then
My father trudged my brother and I through....
 which had the added benefit of misusing trudged.  I gave up at this one
Dad started taking Nate and I to games.
Unless his family included a child named I, every one of those sentences should have rankled in the writer's inner ear.

Is it a small thing?  Perhaps.  But it's the combination of these small things which drive me batty.

And I know I'm not alone.  TBG is quite proud of the purple G for Grammarian Ms Kurtz gave him in the 8th grade.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The 21st Century Medical Experience

We had the same family physician for 15 years.  He was a cardiologist by training, and every check up included an EKG taken by his wife, his nurse/office manager.  She wore white patterned hose and a white nurse's dress and never failed to make you feel welcomed and protected.

Then, Dr. Smith got sick and died.  We moved to California and found a pediatrician and a family care practice and a gynecologist.  I took the Cuters to the first and myself to the last and never, in the 17 years we lived there did I ever need to see the GP.  I come from hearty peasant stock, as I liked to remind TBG.  If I were sick, it never lasted longer than 24 hours.  Over the counter medications took care of all my needs.

Moving to Arizona left us, once again, in need of a doctor.  TBG developed symptoms requiring care, and I called physicians based on geography and availability.  Dr. Cantor could see him at 4pm that day; he became our family physician by default.  He was always available for an emergency, was willing to listen to what had worked for us in the past, and would prescribe after a description of our symptoms over the phone.

He treated my high cholesterol and ignored me when I was shot.  It was an odd relationship, but it worked for us.... until his partner retired and the practice ws sold to a local, for-profit, hospital network.  Suddenly, appointments were hard to come by, paperwork mounted, and the magic was gone.  Soon thereafter, so was Dr. Cantor.  He vanished without a trace, having signed a non-compete clause which precluded him from taking his patients with him when he left.

No one asked the patients if that was what we wanted.  It wasn't.  We liked him.  No one cared.

Once again, we were bereft.  My gynecologist suggested a young woman in her practice.  "I'm sending my daughter to her when she graduates from the pediatrician," she told me, and that was recommendation enough.  I scheduled an initial appointment, waited 4 months for it to arrive, met her and gave her my history, and was happy with the arrangement until the letter arrived informing me that she was pregnant and retiring to spend more time with her family.

As the mother of a young mother myself, I understood.  As the newly abandoned patient, I was peeved.  TBG found another doctor in the same practice and has been happy with him.  I am still searching for a female practitioner who is too old for making babies and too young to retire.  It's an unanchored feeling, but one that didn't bother me all that much.  There were other things in my life worth pursuing.

Then, I got sick.

This was unlike my usual encounters with illnesses.  Typically, I am sick for 24 hours and then I'm fine.  That wsn't happening this time.  My head hurt. My throat ached.  My nose and eyes were dripping.  I had a lovely cough and a headache that Advil couldn't tame.  Day after day, things just got worse.  I left the TFOB early on Sunday because I couldn't be upright for a moment longer.  I crawled into bed and, except for 3 hours with the Mah Jongg ladies on Monday, that's where I've been since.

I can vary it a bit by moving to the couch, but there's not much more energy available for cooking or shopping or typing. This morning, Little Cuter took charge.  "Go to the doctor!" she commanded, and I obeyed.

In the past, I wondered how G'ma felt about my making decisions for her and telling her what she should do.  After this morning, I have my answer. It feels comforting and supportive and helpful when you don't have the strength to fight the battle alone.

I drove to Urgent Care, donned a mask because, except for a rash, I had all the symptoms which required one.  According to the Please Wait Here sign, if you had a fever, a cough, the sneezes you should put on a mask immediately.  I was alone in the waiting room, but I wore it anyway.

The nurse took my vitals - did you know that congestion can make your blood pressure rise? - and my medical history - yes, it's absurd that she can't ask me if I have unsecured guns in my home - and escorted me down the hall to the exam room.  I opened my book and in walked the Physician's Assistant, a veteran of Desert Storm - the 100 hours war, nothing like what those guys are facing over there now - who talked with me about the eerie silence when the shooting stops - as he looked in my orifices and told me I probably had allergies but it might be bacterial.

I left with prescriptions, instructions, and a $70 copay.

It felt every bit as personal as the one meeting I had with the private physician.  It was efficient and fast and friendly.  The printed handouts included the doctor's notes, descriptions of my condition and the medications and lots of what to do's.  I was home an hour after I'd left.

It wasn't Dr. Kildare making a house call, or Doc Hollywood accepting a pig in payment, but it got the job done.  I don't feel much better this afternoon, but I'm not getting worse.  In my current universe, that's a triumph.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

I'm Sick

with a terrible cold and it's all I can do to move my fingers over the keyboard.

But, I never want to disappoint you so, today I'm sending you to a beautiful pieces of writing, found for me by Little Cuter.

This link takes you to Stanford Medical's Spring 2015 issue.

Here's a taste, from the very end:
When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

More from the Tucson Festival of Books

Quotes and ideas from TFOB authors:

T. Jefferson Parker - On finishing a wonderful book: 
That feeling you get when you can't read anything else for a while after it's done.  It changes your life for a while
Adam Mansbach - On reading
You can reach a level of intimacy unparalleled in anything else.
Adam Mansbach - On profanity
It's said that profanity is used because the author cannot think of another word. I can always think of another word.  Sometimes, fuck is the right word.  No parent has ever stood over a screaming child at 3 in the morning and said "Go the heck to sleep!"
Merle Reagle -  On the misuse of the language
You're just exasperating the situation ..... it gets to the point, but it's wrong!
Merle Reagle -  On clues he couldn't use in a puzzle, but had to share with us
Tyne Daley's take on 50 Shades of Grey -  Gag Me and Lace Me
Aaron Paul was a meth head actor in Breaking Bad (meth head.... method.... ugh! puns!)
In rap music, the C is silent.
Leonard Pitts - On America, American history, and Americans
Black people are missing from history books after the Civil War up to Rosa Parks.  But we were here.
The best love poem ever written was created with the feet of slaves walking thousands of miles to find - perhaps - their loved ones. (This is the theme of his novel, Freeman.)
America's Spiritual Secession - If we disagree, we cannot talk.  We have problems but we are not talking about them.
America has decided to incarcerate black folks, and the consequences are staggering.  
We have begun the repeal of the 20th century.
Jean Kwok - On writing fiction
It is the one medium where you can really feel like you are inhabiting the character.
Carol Cassella - On reading and writing
Did you ever find yourself rereading a sentence, over and over again, because the language was so beautiful?
And then there were the books the speakers recommended.  I'll list them here, in no particular order.
 Grace Paley - Just as I Thought
Adam Mansbach - The End of the Jews
Leon Litwak - Been in the Storm So Long
The New Jim Crow - Michelle Alexander
Becoming Dad - Leonard Pitts 
Ben Fountain - Brief Encounters with Che Guevara
Slavery by Another Name - A documentary film shown at Sundance and on PBS  
Next year's festival will be held here in Tucson March 12-13, 2016.  Be there or be square.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tucson Festival of Books

It's my favorite weekend of the year... and Tucson has a lot of really good weekends.
It started on Friday night with The Rock Bottom Remainders
Dave Barry, Amy Tan, Scott Turow were just a few of the authors who should keep their day jobs.
What they lacked in skill they made up for with enthusiasm.
Amy Tan has some dance moves, and Dave Barry has a love affair going on with the harmonica, and I'm still hoarse from singing along.
The concert was over by 9:30; we were told that clapping for an encore would be to no avail.
They had played all the songs they knew.

The next morning dawned sunny and warm.
I parked where I wanted to end my day, and strolled past the circus performers 
and down the UofA Mall.
It was lined with those ubiquitous white tents... tents which captured the heat as Valerie Plame and Michael McGarrity interviewed one another. 
The moderator had nothing to do but enjoy the repartee.... which, except for a grammatical faux pas or two from Mr. McGarrity, was filled with insight and rage.
Hearing Valerie Plame speak about Dick Cheney is something everyone should witness in this lifetime. 

Merle Reagle started Sunday morning off with an hour of word puzzles.
Correct answers were rewarded with chocolates in the shape of books.
The big winners received gift certificates to book stores and movies and restaurants.
I'm happy to report that I took home a $25 gift certificate to a local book store.

Brenda Starr has a journalist's crush on Leonard Pitts,
and after hearing him speak, I know why.
He read aloud from his 2012 novel, Freeman, and the characters came alive.
His take on America was depressing.... and real.

There were interactive crossword puzzles along the Mall, 
and tours of the Mirror Lab 
but the best part of the festival is how personal it can be.
Jean Kwok (Girl in Translation, Mambo in Chinatown) has a very friendly Facebook page, on which she invited me to say hello when she came to my town.  I did just that on Sunday afternoon.  I took her up on the offer of a photograph, and here we are:
There will be more on #TFOB tomorrow.
For now, I'm going to drink green tea and soothe my throat and let the words in my head wander through my soul.  Sharing the sunshine with 100,000+ book lovers is a lovely way to spend a weekend. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

No One Knows Why We're So Smart

That's the conclusion I have drawn after today's Humanities Seminar.  The topic is The Evolution of Cognition, and my approach to the subject has evolved as the class has gone on.

I enjoyed the first few lectures, although they seemed rather basic in many respects.  What is science?  What about the scientific method?  Do we start with a hypothesis or is general curiosity preferred?  I had been taught the answers, and thought that everyone in the room had been taught them, too.  We were all fairly well educated older adults, after all.

But today, as we moved from the provable to the hypothetical, a certain sentence caught my attention.
"And, you remember, science teaches us that  ...."
All the what if's and possibly's were caught up right there - there were certain pieces of the puzzle which are provable.  There's a touchstone of what is that science can explain.  The leaps between those facts are what makes it the humanities, I guess.

In the blink of an eyelash, or 1.1 seconds on this clock, Homo sapiens went from nothing to something.

What that something is depends on how you approach the question.

We know that animals can make plans, can act from memory, can communicate in a variety of ways. That's all thinking... or is it.  What makes human intelligence different?  Other species show affection and commitment.  Other species solve problems, both practical and social.  Is it the arts which set us apart? Or, do the arts represent something larger, the notion of playing to an audience, a conception of the passage of time, an ability to find delight in the abstract?

These are the kinds of things I think about as I sit in traffic, going west across Speedway and onto the highway where, at 75 miles an hour in the middle lane, I can ponder.

And then, there's the question of why. Suddenly (in a deep time kind of way), Homo sapiens developed a bigger brain.  Was it to create tools, now that we were walking upright and could use our hands?  Was it because we were living in larger groups, and we needed bigger brains to manage the politics?  Or were we emulating the peacock, using our bigger (more beautiful?) brains to attract the more desirable mates?

They are all enticing suggestions, and there's no science which teaches us that any one of them is the answer. 

I hate it when that happens.

Was it inevitable that we developed this way, or was it random?  If inevitable, then probability would make it seem likely that similar intelligence exists in the multiplicity of planets in the universe.  If random, then it's likely that we are alone, a one off in a sea of possibilities.

Next week we're going to learn about nervous systems.  I can hardly wait.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Rest In Peace, Colonel Bill

He was my hero.

Nurse Nancy said it to me on the phone this afternoon.
I was about to say the same thing to her.

When bullets began to fly, he ran toward them.
He was bleeding.  His head had intersected with a 9mm shell.  
He was 75 years old.
He tackled the shooter.

One year later, at the same grocery store, at the same time of day, we survivors and citizen heroes and families and friends gathered to celebrate the creation of Americans for Responsible Solutions, Gabby Giffords' and Mark Kelly's attempt to right the world.  There was a big crowd, and there was visible security.  Before the ceremony began, as the media readied itself,  my achy hip took refuge on a chair next to Col. Bill's wife.  

"Where's TBG?" she wondered.
"Where's Col. Bill?" I replied.

We scanned the crowd, and then felt gentle taps on our shoulders.
TBG had gone around the crowd clockwise.  Col Bill had gone the other direction.  They hadn't planned on bumping into one another but that's exactly what happened at the half-way point.  Neither one was looking where he was going.  Each one was making sure that there were no threats in the vicinity.  Sure, there were security guards, but they weren't our husbands.  They were bound and determined to be aware and observant and to keep us safe.

It was like that every time I was with him.  
He could never hear Christina-Taylor's name without tearing up.
He wept for the loss and for the powerlessness and for the senselessness.
He wept for her parents and for me and for all of us.

Until the very end, though, for the most part his eyes were sparkling.
He was proud of his son and his wife and modestly beamed at the beautiful award with the powerful words from the U.S Army.... which thinks he was a hero, too.

He was a man who took his anger to the public domain.
He was tireless in his efforts to educate legislators about responsible gun controls.
He was a powerful spokesman, this gentle soldier who felt a personal responsibility for all of us who were there that day. 

Our gatherings will be just a little bit empty, now that he's gone.
He was part of the glue which binds us.
I'm going to enjoy imagining him ... his hugs.... his smiling eyes....stuck to my shoulder.

Rest in Peace, Colonel Bill.
You will be missed.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I found a new word today.  My hard copy dictionary was useless, so to Google I went.  Apparently, this has been a thing since 2014.  Where have I been?  How have I missed this trend?  An entire fashion cycle has come (and some would say gone) before I had a chance to reject it myself.

I'm not the only one, it seems.  According to dazeddigital.com,  Normcore dominated the search engine requests this year. Presumably everybody was Googling it because they had no idea what it was.

Right away, I started to feel better.

According to The Guardian, the phrase grew out of five young marketing execs with arts backgrounds sitting in an apartment, wondering why Power Points were so boring.  They formed K-Hole, and began to publish papers.  With names like Prolasticity A Report on Patience and Fragmoretation A Report on Visibility, it's obvious that they've taken their cue from the Burrow's inventiveness with the language.

Seriously... fragmoretation?!?!

I read the download and I think I have a fingertip hold on the concept.This trend is a way of differentiating oneself form the sameness (the same 50 stores in every mall across America).  In K-Hole's words, fragmoretation is saying this is what we are not. FragMOREtation is an attempt to catch the eye — not by being big or flashy, but by being broken-off, hidden, and/or decontextualized.

It seems to involved splitting up a brand so that the customer can put it back together again and feel like an individual, rather than a member of a pack.

I went on to Youth Mode, K-Hole's assertion that
Youth isn’t freedom in any political sense. It’s an emancipation from boredom, from prescription, from tradition. It’s the fullness of potential, the ability to be the person you want to be. It’s about the freedom to choose how you relate; the freedom to choose how you understand; the freedom to try new things; the freedom to make mistakes. Youth understands freedom with limits — that being adaptable is the only thing that will set you free.
Somehow, that seems like retirement to me.

The report goes on, with broad statements like this
There’s a limited amount of difference in the world, and the mainstreaming of its pursuit has only made difference all the scarcer. 
Really?  A limited amount of difference?  These are people who live in New York City... do they not look out their windows at the mishmash of humanity walking by?

Or, perhaps, they live in a hipster world, where no one outside their circle is deemed to have any importance.  Of course, that has its downside, too, as the report goes on to tell us.
When the fringes get more and more crowded, Mass Indie turns toward the middle. Having mastered difference, the truly cool attempt to master sameness.
So, am I cool because I am different or because I am the same?  What about that screed on youth seven paragraphs ago?  What happened to freedom?

And then we come to normcore, which K-Hole's graphic describes thusly
Situational • Non-deterministic • Adaptable • Unconcerned with authenticity • Empathy over Tolerance • Post-aspirational 
Again, it sounds to me like the wisdom which comes with age.
Normcore knows your consumer choices aren’t irrelevant, they’re just temporary. People compromise, people are inconsistent. Making one choice today and a conflicting choice tomorrow doesn’t make you a hypocrite. It just makes you complex.
And suddenly,it all became clear to me.  These are people who are looking at the externals, and assuming they reflect what's going on inside, too. Their report might try to refute that, but I don't see it.

They hold out hope for us, though.
Normcore seeks the freedom that comes with non-exclusivity. It finds liberation in being nothing special, and realizes that adaptability leads to belonging. Normcore is a path to a more peaceful life.
Okay... that's G'ma telling me to stop worrying about what everyone else is doing/saying/wearing and to come inside and have dinner.  Removing the comparisons, rejecting the judgments, being flexible and open to newness.... that's part of growing up.

Normcore..... it's a mash up of Normal and Hardcore... it was the most Googled fashion term of 2014..and now you know just as much about it as I do.

Aren't you glad you read The Burrow this morning?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Like Minded Individuals

"Were you a teacher in Chicago like the rest of these girls?" was the first interrogatory from my right.  We had been strangers until we played mah jongg together last Monday.  Now, we're old friends.

And yes, we are girls, because, as we agreed over the clacking tiles this morning, somehow it's the right word to use when playing mah jongg.  Rosemarie, to my left, was reminiscing about the sounds the women who played when she was a girl, and we laughed about the perfectly polished nails and the extra long Virginia Slims which were part and parcel of what mah jongg was to us, as young onlookers.

Now, as a much older but not much wiser player, I'm enjoying the fact that I can make a mistake and Scarlett, a veteran of NYC and Floridian games, tells me "not to worry... girls who've been playing forever mistake flowers for one bams."

I promise, in the context of the game that makes sense.  It would be a lot simpler if the tiles were congruent between sets, and if the flowers looked like flowers, and and and.....  It's only my second time ever; I'm trying to be patient with myself.

Some of us went to lunch after the lesson.  We are all readers, often of the same books.  I can't remember another time when three of my companions were able to discuss Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose, or A Gift From the Sea.  They belong to book clubs, which I eschew, but that small difference didn't seem to matter much.

We like board games, and bemoan the fact that there are so few venues in which to enjoy them.

We have gone to the Festival of Books in the past and we're going again this weekend and most of us are volunteers for the Festival, as well.

We laughed at the use of the four-fingers-together-thumb-outstretched hand to describe where one of us had moved around in Michigan, and shared memories of New Buffalo and St. Joseph and Chicago.

Someone's sister lives where someone else once worked.  Someone's moving into an Independent Living situation where another's good friend resides.  Road trips were described and ideas were shared and there was a lot of We should do that happening.

There are times when the Happy Ladies Club is just the very best place on earth to be.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Living in Arizona

Brenda Starr and I walked some more of the Rillito Park Path this morning.  We wore tee shirts.

The wildflowers are blooming, and my yard is ablaze with random, disorganized color.
I spent the afternoon re-potting and installing and pruning and straightening and cleaning the containers.
It wasn't too cold to be in the shade in the courtyard nor was it too hot to be potting roses in the sunshine out back.

I have a stack of large print mysteries on the bookshelf, books that my library always seems to have on hand.  I can drive twenty-some minutes and be on campus for a class or a lecture or an exhibit or a recital or downtown for a concert or a great meal..... and there's always parking and it's usually free.

Did I mention that I was outside all day today?  Did I tell you the part about the tee shirt?

I have to keep focusing on these things, denizens, because this state is in the hands of people who are turning it into something unrecognizable, something which may call itself government by the people but which, most certainly, it is not.

My State Representative was on Facebook all night, updating her constituents.  She was exhausted. She was being asked for a vote on a budget neither she nor anyone outside a select few had reviewed. Meanwhile, the Governor and his cronies ate cheese pizza and watched it all unfold.

School superintendents and students and Chambers of Commerce and local governing bodies and University presidents were up in arms up in Phoenix this week.

It made for lovely political theater .... and not much else.

Governor Ice Cream's notion of transparency in government reminds me of Daddooooo when someone was blocking his view.  "Your father made better doors than windows," he'd say, and his line of sight would be restored as the offending human moved out of the way.

Governor Ice Cream's father was an excellent door maker.  Unfortunately, he had no intention of stepping out of the way.

There are perks in the budget designed to benefit those legislators who were inclined to vote Nay.  If it's good for your district but bad for the state as a whole, what do you do? On this issue, it's very clear where certain legislators landed.

Without listening, without consulting, with nothing but the arrogance of power, our state's Chief Executive has, once again, made me embarrassed to be a resident of Arizona.

The tee shirts help.... but just a little.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Snippet on History

Sitting at the Author's Table at today's Literary and Prologue Society of the Southwest's luncheon, I found the answer to a question and some food for thought.

Over my strawberry shortcake dessert, I listened to Laila Lalami, author of The Moor's Account, tell us that we are all Moors.  I've always wondered if Othello was an Arab Negro, as is her main character, or if he was of a more Semitic cast.  If Ms Lalami is correct, he's both of them and all of them and each of them.

I'm comfortable with that conclusion.  It's nice that someone else is thinking about it, too.

Her historical novel tells the tale of the first non-European explorer/invader/conqueror of the New World. How is it that I am 63 years old and this is the first I am hearing about him?  His story, though short on details, certainly deserves mention.

I flashed to Big Cuter's 9th grade social studies text, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, and my son's antipathy toward the book.

"It's history written by the losers, Mom.  I'm more interested in the winners."

The unheard voices have lessons to teach us, too.  I've been thinking about it all afternoon.

 I love it when fiction takes me to deep thought.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Experience

Mark Cuban was talking to Wilbon and Kornheiser on Pardon the Interruption.  The owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks is always good for a quote, a controversy, a puzzlement.  Things were going along smoothly until he was asked about resting players instead of showcasing their talent.

He thought it was just fine.  He thought that the end goal of every team was to earn a spot and then succeed in the playoffs.  It's a long, brutal season which takes a toll on the human body.

Sure, said Wilbon, but what about the fans?  Families gear up for their one shot at an NBA game and LeBron's on the bench?  That's a pretty expensive disappointment.

Here's where Cuban lost me.  It's about more than one player.  It's about the experience of being next to your wife, your son, your friend, and being there.  The drivel went on and on, while the split screen showed an obese man gyrating in a too-much-belly-exposing tee shirt, explosions, mascots... all on the basketball court.

When the Arizona/Utah game went to a time out/commercial break 4 seconds after play had resumed, TBG and I were puzzled.  Was there a foul we hadn't noticed? Were the referees back looking at the replay monitor?  Nope... there was a tv time out scheduled  and let the flow of the game be damned.

Cuban's operating on that same model it seems.  And that model is ultimately disrespectful to the fans.

We're giving them a total experience.  The Chicago Bulls tried the same stunt 35 years ago when TBG and I had 3 rows up just beyond half court season tickets.  Before they drafted Michael Jordan, the Bulls drew several thousand fans, at most.  It was a big, cavernous, empty space, which was sometimes fuller than others because there was a rock concert immediately following the game.

We passed those people on our way out.  They moved down to our seats and we drove home, smugly superior to those who were interested in the sounds, in the after party, in the experience. 

We were interested in the game.

Now, the noise is incorporated into the experience.  There are flying tee shirts and clowns and contests and there is the noise.  Always the noise.  There's no explaining why the coach was substituting or what the foul was; there's no real conversation at all.  It's just too loud.

Don't get me wrong - I love my ears ringing for a day or so after a particularly stunning evening with Phil Lesh and Friends.  Louder is better, even if it does embarrass my children to have me pull up to the after school pick up line with I am the captain of the Pinafore, and a right good captain, too! blaring from my windows.  They cringed, but they smiled, too... and sang along as I turned it down to ask about their day.

But that's in the car, or at a concert, not a basketball game.

Perhaps I'm too old for public spectacles.  Perhaps time has passed me by.  Perhaps this generation of connected-at-all-times humans needs all their senses filled all the time.  Perhaps the experience is what matters to today's families.

I know it's not what matters to me.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Butterflies at the Tucson Botanical Garden

We were sweating like nobody's business, to quote Daddooooo.  It was cool for Tucson, and Scarlett and I were wearing sweaters.  They proved to be a big mistake.  Butterflies like it hot and humid. 
We humans... not so much. 
Those huge glossy green leaves are not indigenous to our arid climate.  They were very happy in the Butterfly Magic exhibit, though.
There were weird vines 
and strange leaves 
and fluttering among the greenery and the sunshine were butterflies. 
There were these teeny ones which barely alit long enough to be photographed,
but which fluttered all around us, tempting me to try to capture them in pixels. 
There were yellow ones, getting up close and personal with one another.
There was lots of eating going on.
A slow approach
with wings opening as they got closer to the food source. 
This smaller orange fella was fluttering madly, taking a more pro-active approach, 
before settling in for a drink. 
Others were content to rest on an outstretched arm.
Some were nearly camouflaged in the food dishes, preferring not to work that hard for their supper.
Camouflage like this works in the desert; I'm not sure how effective it was this morning on this leaf
And then there were some flaunting their gorgeous wings, not seeking to hide at all..

I decided that they knew they were gorgeous.
They posed as well as FlapJilly.
(I had to throw this in.... I'm in withdrawal...)

There was also a colorful array of fauna.
Yes, these are real frogs.
You can see that this one moved while I was photographing him.

The yellow one was almost as shy as the neon green one which refused to do more than poke his head out from between two stones. 
Just in case you don't believe me, here is another blue Dart Frog moving from rock 
to gravel. 
They looked like enamel figurines, but they are the source of venom for aboriginal tribes' poison darts.

Somehow, after the butterflies and the frogs, the fish seemed anticlimactic.

The exhibit is open through May, if you're in the area.