Thursday, June 19, 2008


I am giddy. Thinking this a funny word, I looked up the definition and found its history to be quite apropos to the way I'm feeling today:

adj. gid·di·er, gid·di·est
a. Having a reeling, lightheaded sensation; dizzy.
b. Causing or capable of causing dizziness: a giddy climb to the topmast.
2. Frivolous and lighthearted; flighty.
intr. & tr.v. gid·died, gid·dy·ing, gid·dies
To become or make giddy.
[Middle English gidi, crazy, from Old English gidig; see gheu()- in Indo-European roots.]
giddi·ly adv.
giddi·ness n.
Synonyms: giddy, dizzy, vertiginous
These adjectives mean producing a sensation of whirling and a tendency to fall: a giddy precipice; a dizzy pinnacle; a vertiginous height.
Word History: The word giddy refers to fairly lightweight experiences or situations, but at one time it had to do with profundities. Giddy can be traced back to the same Germanic root *gud- that has given us the word God. The Germanic word *gudigaz formed on this root meant "possessed by a god." Such possession can be a rather unbalancing experience, and so it is not surprising that the Old English descendant of *gudigaz, gidig, meant "mad, possessed by an evil spirit," or that the Middle English development of gidig, gidi, meant the same thing, as well as "foolish; mad (used of an animal); dizzy; uncertain, unstable." Our sense "lighthearted, frivolous" represents the ultimate secularization of giddy.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

By all standards of our society, I should be miserable. I filed for bankruptcy last week. I am unemployed. I don't have the money to pay my property taxes or gas for my car. I imagine that this coming winter Dick and I may be huddling around the oven, living on ramen and wearing three pairs of gloves indoors. We wore hats this past year, so how much lower can you go?

Now, most people would keep bankruptcy a deep dark secret, for we don't talk about money or sex, especially if there's a problem. I figure I'm just on the cutting edge of a big trend, the way things are going in this economy, so I might as well speak the truth. I'm broke.

But look, I'm not living in Burma or Darfur. I have a roof over my head. I have food to eat and occasionally it'll be steak. I have access to books and music and the internet (for I'd rather give up my phone service than that).

I have proven the aphorism that "money doesn't buy happiness". Or maybe it's the other way around - poverty doesn't breed misery (which isn't something I do hear).

What's the cause of my outrageously good mood? Well, the winter's over, for one. But that can't explain it entirely. There have been many Springs, Summers and Falls in which I was miserable. A nice day? Oh no - I couldn't hack it, for it made a mockery of my depression. The warm sun would only make me feel obligated to enjoy something and I could not. I wished for rain and clouds, so I could stay inside, to sleep or just provide cover from that dreaded happy sun.

This winter, I had a grueling depression. I considered suicide in a cold, intellectual manner that, frankly, scared the crap out of me. I thought it was time to go, that I'd had enough, that I was old enough to justify it and it made good sense.

But I'm a survivor and, besides, I truly feel suicide is immoral and a very cruel thing to do to ones' loved ones. I got some help, which didn't put much of a dent in my depression.

Then, one day it ended. Poof! What ended it? I started to draw silly drawings. It's all here: click on "EIIIProducts" in the tags section to the right and you'll find them. Did my depression return when I stopped drawing? No.

I was going to say that I have no idea why this little thing made me snap out of it. But I suspect is was only this: I re-found my sense of humor. Without it, I'd be dead. No joke.

Adding to my outrageously good mood is a new development. I have found a wonderful Sangha (a community of Zen Buddhist practitioners). They are warm, welcoming and very serious. And so, my meditation practice has been reinvigorated. Meditation has been another life saver for me.

Tonight, a dog joined us during zazen. The teacher asked me a question, to which I gave a rather bumbling answer (I am not used to talking about Zen much, if at all). After I spoke, the dog came up to me and licked my nose. I thought "Who could ever ask if a dog has Buddha nature or not?!" I said nothing, but I smiled, a smile of such pure and unadulterated joy.

On my way home, winding through the back roads, the full moon seemed bigger than round. It called to me to wake up to life, even more than I have been doing. I followed the moon and it followed me.

The moon sung to me, the evening gatha:

Let me respectfully remind you,
life and death are of supreme importance.
Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost.
Each of us should strive to awaken... awaken...
Take heed.
Do not squander your life.

Image Note: Yoshitoshi Taiso (1839-1892) "Itsukushima Moon" from the series "One Hundred Aspects of the Moon"

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Poetry, memory and self-loathing

Years ago, I helped a friend memorize a number of T.S. Eliot's poems. While doing this, I discovered that I enjoyed poetry. I must confess to never having appreciated it before. Reading poetry, with the exception of Haiku, which is quite short (to say the least), I found myself always drifting away whilst reading. I find myself doing the same with Proust, who I've tried to read at least a half dozen times in my life, but I never get anywhere. I would discover that I'd forgotten the beginning of a sentence before I reached the finish of it, and had many urges to throw his books against walls and out of windows.

I wonder if I read Proust out loud if it would be different. I suspect so. This is how I discovered my love of poetry. Even though I can hear my voice reading inside my head, somehow uttering the words out loud make them come to life.

Funny, I alway snobbishly disdained those who "read out loud" (to themselves). What was there to disdain about these people? I was taught they were "bad readers", but c'mon, at least they were reading! And why should one disdain anyone for their quirks or "deficits", especially ones that don't effect oneself in any way at all? It's snobbery. Pure and simple.

I've always thought I had a bad memory (and I do). I can't recall song lyrics of music I've heard hundreds on times. One of my brothers has a natural ability to memorize poetry and lyrics. He knows the lyrics to almost every Dylan song by heart and he knows many an Emily Dickinson poem. For him, it is nothing. He reads. He remembers. For me, it is a struggle.

It's not only poetry, but books and movies, that I forget. Take the movie "Taxi Driver", for example. I've seen it at least eight times. I saw it four times when it first came out. I felt it was almost a part of me. Years later, upon learning a friend had never seen it (and I consider it an important film) I agreed to watch it with her. I was astounded to discover that I didn't remember much of it. I remembered a few scenes, like the "You talking to me?" scene, and the one in which Bickle kicks over his TV set (or does he?) Ah, it's astonishing how much I can't recall.

So, when my friend suggested I memorize a poem, just for fun, I said "I can't do it". But I wanted to accept the challenge. I chose Carlos Drummond de Andrade's "The Dirty Hand" (which you can find in "Traveling in the Family" in the Amazon list at the bottom right).

This poem spoke to me. I felt that if I had been a poet I would have been compelled to write the same exact poem. Now, that is a rarity, finding a work of art that feels so essential that it could be a part of oneself. If you do find such a thing, cherish it.

Memorizing this poem was a chore that I enjoyed. Like using mantras or sitting with Zen koans, I lived with that poem for weeks, speaking it out loud in my car on my daily commute (two and and a half hours a day), murmuring it to myself whenever I was alone, and continually re-reading it to make sure I was not getting it wrong. To this day, I remember "The Dirty Hand".

It is a poem about self loathing, and personal (not sexual) impotence. At least that's my take on it. Though meant as a metaphor (I presume) the "dirty hand", for me, was not. Here is where we get into a serious kind of craziness, which I am game to start talking about. I have been plagued by the desire to cut my arms since who-knows-when. I have done so, not seriously, but haven't for over a decade. Some of it was classic self-harming urges, but another part of it was different. It was an urge to be rid of the hands that could make art, but didn't, or could make art and couldn't. I needed to punish them.

And there was also this, a dream I had when I was very young, which has haunted me my entire life. It is a dream of a person who has no power, who is invisible and who will die as a result of this. In my dream, I am in high school, sitting at the back of the class. Suddenly, the artery in one of my arms bursts open. Blood is spurting everywhere, on the desk, the floor, and even on the walls. I try to staunch the flow, but it's an artery, it's not possible, and I need help. I can not believe the teacher doesn't see the blood that is copiously spurting around me, so intensely that, even though it's a dream, I can feel it pooling in my sneakers. Finally, I raise my hand to get her attention, while trying to hold the wound in my arm. "I need to go to the hospital!", I cry out. She looks at me with a level gaze and says in a calm voice "You'll have to wait until the end of the period."
I will die. Then I wake up.

This is the arm, the hand, the part of me that is ruined for life, that I must rid myself of. It will be the death of me.

It is illegal for me to post the entire poem (I believe) but here is a bit of it. If you're curious, get the book. In it, too, is a poem entitled "Don't Kill Yourself".

So, from the "Dirty Hand" by Carlos Drummond de Andrade's:

My hand is dirty.
I must cut it off.
To wash it is pointless.
The water is putrid.
The soap is bad.
It won't lather.
The hand is dirty.
It's been dirty for years.

I used to keep it
out of sight
in my pants pocket.
No one suspected a thing.
People came up to me,
wanting to shake hands.
I would refuse,
and the hidden hand
would leave its imprint
on my thigh.
And I saw
it was the same
if I used it or not.
Disgust was the same. . .

Photo note: Joel-Peter Witkin "The Poet" (2005)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Meet Chergui, my new lover

I feel great. I also smell great. Really. But it's not me who smells terrific, it's Serge Lutens' Chergui, and it smells so good that it's making me feel happy.

I haven't the nose to discern what it smells of. It's warm and very rich, with a syrupy sweetness, but not in the least bit cloying. I smell honey and pipe tobacco. But it's more than that, so I cheated and looked it up in "Perfumes". They say "hay, tobacco, iris" and perhaps more that I can't remember, but I'm not getting off this sofa to get the book. Tough luck.

What makes this scent even more enjoyable is that it was a complete surprise, As mentioned in other posts, I trade perfume samples with others. Sometimes people send little surprises and this was one of them. I was expecting L'artisan's Dzongkha, which I posted about twice, can't afford, and so I had made a trade for a good amount of it. In the box with the Dzongkha was a fairly large sample of Chergui. Now, I don't want to go near the L'artisan fragrance. Chergui has seduced me. I am enchanted, intoxicated, in love with my skin and the scent of myself.

I want to bury my nose in it like the neck of a lover. I'm imagining it as a living thing, this Chergui. It's beckoning me, whispering in my ear, looking at me with dilated pupils, stretching out its forefinger to lure me in towards. . .what? I don't know. I have no idea what I'm talking about. This is intoxication, indeed. Chergui, my new lover, has rendered me a babbling idiot.

Is it possible that my absurdly good mood is actually caused by this scent? That would be an interesting discovery, to say the least. Even for a pricey fragrance, it's far less expensive than the average anti-depressant (though insurance won't pay for it, sadly).

Addendum: I looked at the Basenotes directory and someone said of Chergui, "I'm drunk with it."

The word chergui means " An eastern or southeastern desert wind in Morocco (North Africa), especially in the north; it is persistent, very dry and dusty, hot in summer, cold in winter."

If this scent is meant to provoke feelings of the above, it fails, but then again, I've never been to Morocco.

Painting note: Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) "La Dormeuse" I used the search terms "languishing woman" and "ravished women" to find an image that suited my experience of Chergui. I'm glad I found a Lempicka. I love her work (oh, what an informed analysis!)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cat pee

For the last few weeks, I've been hounded by the smell of cat pee. I've used up nearly an entire can of Febreeze in the bathroom with the cat box in it. I've cleaned the cat box far more often than I ever have.

But it's not just in that bathroom. On occasion, I've smelled it on myself. I don't like the smell of cat pee. Perhaps there's some sick twisted person somewhere who does, but I haven't met one yet.

I figure the smell is in the air because it's been damp. But that doesn't seem like a totally plausible reason, for it's been damp and cold or hot and humid many times in the past and the smell of cat piss didn't hang about day after day after day. What's going on here? Maybe my nose has become too sensitive.

I smelled it upon a few shirts and threw them in the wash. And why is it on my shirts? I have not caught my cat peeing anywhere besides her box.

About ten minutes ago, I figured it out. It is not my cat, the specter of her peeing on thing in secret, or her box.

It is Caldrea's Italian Cypress Pear hand soap. The first time I got a whiff of this product, I thought "yuck" (or something to that effect). But there was something strangely alluring about the scent, and so, when a friend offered to give me some that she didn't want, I said "Sure".

And I've been enjoying it. It's quite strong and is great for scrubbing off unwanted headache-inducing perfumes. I can't smell any pear, but it does have a woodsy feel, and it smells quite natural, unlike the hundreds of candy-fruity liquid soaps on the market.

It does smell like cat pee. Oh, not always, for if it did i'd have tossed it a while ago. It does seem that it smells like cat pee on a damp or humid day, just like cat pee does. Didn't anyone notice this when they formulated this product? It's a mystery to me.

But it's another mystery solved. And now I don't have to clean my cat box as much. Thanks, Caldrea!

Image note: The CatGenie self washing, self drying cat box. At $350, i'll be continuing to clean my cat box myself.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy father's day

David Deida admonishes men to "live as if your father is dead". This may be good advice for some women, as well. It is for me.

This doesn't mean "treat your father as if he was dead" but that one should free oneself of the competition with and criticism from ones' father. So, this being Father's Day, I sent my father an e-card and called him on the phone.

My father talks more than I do, though I probably talk just as much (or more) than he does with others. When we speak, he sounds like he's been starved for someone to bounce ideas off of (which brings to mind my psychiatrist and perhaps that's why I'm comfortable with him). However, my psychiatrist may have more interest in what I say (or maybe he's a better liar). When I say my father wants to bounce ideas off me, the picture you should imagine is of a person playing handball alone. I, as the wall, should only utter the occasional murmurs of agreement.

Today's phone call was a bit startling. I had not brought up any of the subjects that my father went on about. What was particularly unnerving was his rant about lousy writers, starting with Kerouac. That's strange enough, for I mentioned Kerouac a few posts back. My father mentioned that Truman Capote (a good writer in his opinion, and I agree) said of Kerouac that he was "just a typist".

He complained about the increasingly sub-standard writing of most authors, which started with the Beats, in his opinion. "Spontaneity is highly overrated", he said, adding "Good writing has a beginning, middle and end. It is thought through." I don't agree that it is as black and white as this, but I must agree to some extent, for I wrote in another recent post that I'm not a writer.

In fact, I did say I was a fast typist who let the words in my mind "just fall out". I've never thought of this as "spontaneity", but I suppose that it is, by definition. I suppose it is akin to jazz improvisation, where I start with a germ of an idea, start typing and see what happens. I had said I don't craft my words, so to extend the musical analogy, I am not a composer.

But I do not aim to be, just as someone who is riffing on some simple melody is not composing. Now, here's where I differ from my father, and it's too bad we can't actually talk about it (for it would be interesting). I do think there is merit in improvisation or spontaneity, whatever one calls it. Some people, like my father, think one should keep their half-baked ideas to themselves. If one hasn't honed what one is going to say, write or play musically to a place of perfection (whatever that may be), it's garbage.

I will not debate my father. He breaks every rule of debating there is, resorting to name calling, disparagement of character and the like. He must be right. Though he will occasionally say that some idea he had in the past was "idiotic". Really, his opinion of people is pretty plain: we're all a pack of idiots, who, upon occasion, will come up with a good idea. There are a few who are exceptions to his rule, such as Emily DIckinson, but he must always remind who he's talking to that she was probably "as crazy as a bedbug".

Personally, I love seeing mistakes and I even love making mistakes. My past perfectionism (and guess where I got that from?) was a great impediment to my doing anything, or at least showing it to anyone. No, the worst part wasn't a fear of what others would think or say, but the sheer impossibility of living up to such high standards. My fuzzy thinking was not tolerated, though interestingly (to myself, of course) my father's fuzzy thinking was considered, by him, to be perfectly fine, for it was (and is) informed by intense study.

I find it sad that my father and I have such a lop-sided relationship. Though he occasionally says something nice to me, my father's opinion of me isn't all that high. I wouldn't go so far as to say he thinks I'm stupid, for if anyone asked him if he thought this, he'd say with surety that I wasn't. He does treat me like I am. If I've read a book he's read, he'll say I don't understand it. If I have an interest he doesn't understand, he says that it is of no worth. I am not allowed to disagree with him. Nor is anyone else, so I really don't take it personally. But it still hurts at times. And it is a shame, for we could, in an imaginary world, have fantastic conversation. The saddest part is that my father is dying for someone to converse with and I love conversation. But it's true, when I'm with him or on the phone with him, my end of the conversation is pretty dull. I will not set myself up for attack. He will never refrain from attacking me and it's not worth it.

I know that he will die without ever really knowing me. It's not that I care all that much about being known by him, though, of course, it would be nice to affirmed by my father. I do affirm him, though no one I know can really understand why I bother. It's because he's my father, for one thing. He is not mean spirited, even though he can be terribly cruel. The other reason I put up with him is because he is very interesting and, in fact, I am quite grateful to him for what he's taught me. Without him, I would probably never have read all the great books that have graced my life, or learned to appreciate art. Sadly, I can't share the joys of either with him.

At this point in my life, all I can say is it's his loss.

This was, I'm sorry, a rather humorless post. I can tell hundreds of funny stories about my dad, but today, being Father's Day, I suppose I am not feeling all that light hearted. Though I found my conversation with him earlier today to be interesting and he was in a good mood, I knew that at any moment, I could have said the "wrong thing" that would have set him off. If I had been as honest and open as I am with everyone else in my life, I probably would have said at least one thing that might have even made him consider never speaking to me again. So, I've learned to be fairly quiet, acquiescent, and shallow. Huh, it just occurs to me that my being female may be part of the equation. . .and, um, well, my fuzzy thinking and allowance of bringing up half-baked ideas that bubble up out of (seemingly) nowhere is now going to force me to end this post like the last one: suddenly, leaving you, the reader, hanging.

Isn't there a wee bit of a possibility that that's okay? I think so. Why should I come to conclusions when you can draw your own? And why should I even come to a conclusion, anyway?

Photo note: I tried to find a painting of my father playing chess on the web. There is one out there, by a fairly well known artist. Unfortunately, I can't recall the artist's name and my web search proved fruitless. Instead, here is a photo of Bobby Fischer, once the greatest chess player in the world, and a person whom my father has cited many a time as a proof that even the greatest genius can be a complete idiot. I must admit, I agree.

If fat isn't a feminist issue, there are many other contenders

One should probably be of lucid mind and had plenty of rest before one sits down and writes about some serious issues. Well, to hell with that.

I admitted to a friend this evening that I will do everything to avoid seeing my body naked now that I've gained so much weight. If I need to take a shower I will, as quickly as possible, put on a bathrobe. There's no way in hell that I'm going to walk the distance from the bedroom to the bathroom naked.

I wait until the water is hot enough to get into the shower before I take off my bathrobe. I hang it in grabbing distance of the shower stall. While in the shower, I do not look at my body. This sounds like it might be a hard thing to do, but it is surprisingly easy. I either keep my eyes closed or I look at my feet, but, if I look at my feet I run the risk of thinking that I used to be able to see them more clearly before I developed a belly.

The minute I am done showering, I grab the towel, dry myself off and then hurriedly get that bathrobe on before I have any opportunity to catch myself in the mirror.

This past Christmas I had the horrible experience of taking a shower at a relative's house who had installed a clear glass shower with a gigantic mirror facing it. They had also put in new, outrageously bright lights in there. It was like being in hell, a beautiful hell, but hell nonetheless. Next time I visit, I will just wash my face and spray some perfume on.

Or, better yet, perhaps, just perhaps, I will develop a new attitude.

Do I need a gastric bypass? No. Am I morbidly obese? No. Am I overweight? Yes. Should this make me feel like I"m a disgusting creature upon whom no eyes should fall, lest they keel over in horror? Of course! At least that's what the plastic surgeons and magazines are telling me, aren't they?

I should have or had the followiing: A chin job. A neck resurfacing. Liposuction. A tummy tuck. A butt lift (they do those, don't they?) If I was still a child, I should have had my legs broken and had pins inserted in order to make me at least three inches taller, 5'4", instead of the "abnormal" barely over five feet. Oh, there's more. I need a breast lift. Perhaps move the fat from my stomach into my cheekbones. Tooth veneers. Plumped lips. Dye my hair more regularly so no gray ever shows. Remove every bit of body hair. Do my nails. Get my eyelashes extended or thickened. Botox my forehead and the smile lines around my mouth.

Have I left anything out? Probably.

Oh, and I must not be a real woman. I have never had a pedicure or even painted my toenails myself.

So, my dear friend Lisa, whom I want to thank for, well, everything, said to me tonight that perhaps we've forgotten about our being feminists. I said, "What do mean? Like, fat is a feminist issue?"


Okay, I'm cutting myself off right here and now. I'm too tired. And I feel gross and fat and am thinking I'm going to go sleep in my clothes.

Painting note: Peter Paul Rubens "Young Woman in a Fur Wrap" (after Titian) c.1629–30
Every time I bring up all the negativity surrounding issues of being fat, or just feeling fat (well, almost every time) I will counter it with an image of "Art" (with a capital A). Fashion photographers, fashion designers, and rich white men may like skinny women with big fake boobs, but the great painters did not (okay, they didn't have silicon implants in the 17th century, but they weren't applying leeches to cellulite, either).

Check out the Life in Italy website for this short article "Big is Beautiful".

Friday, June 13, 2008

Overblown love

I've been watching old episodes of "Lost" in the last few days. If you strip away the pseudo-scientific mysteries, the conspiracy theories and the paranormal events, it's just a soap opera of epic proportions.

The story is, at heart, a story about love, from the point of view of many a flawed individual and couple. But how they love! Every one would kill for their real or imagined loves. They'd walk a thousand miles, go through torture, risk death, fight any one or any thing for love. The music swells as we see lovers swear their undying love for each other. These folks are always crying, whether it's for joy or for sorrow. Lovers separated for a day run into each others arms as if they've been starving of love malnutrition in some Turkish prison for decades.

This type of behavior and portrayal of love, whether familial, platonic or sexual, is all over television and film. It shows up on television in an insidious way. On "Survivor", family members may make a surprise visit after thirty days or so. Mothers weep at the sight of their daughters. A letter from home sends a husband into a funk so deep he questions whether a million dollars is worth the sorrow of missing his wife.

Is any of this for real or have I been missing something my entire life? I suspect the answer is a little bit of both. Unfortunately for all of us, I think most of it is a fiction. How epic are our love lives, really? And would our parents really die for us? C'mon! It's a fiction.

This fiction has made us all miserable to some extent, I'd guess. Having a cool attitude killed Michael Dukakis' bid for the presidency. When asked, during a debate, how he would respond, if his wife was raped and murdered (a question that should not have been asked) he answered that of course he'd be devastated but he was against the death penalty. When it comes to your wife and children, it seems, one has to put aside ones' morality in the face of their mortality or you are seen as some kind of monster.

I'm at risk from straying of my original topic, as usual, by thoughts about the death penalty and revenge, but I will rein myself in.

This is a hard subject to write about, the subject of love. I've tried before (oh, don't make me try to find that post - if you want to read it, find it yourself). I get angry or bored when I watch "chick flicks" or realize the subplot in a good mystery or science fiction story is just another romance. I'm kind of like a typical guy in this respect.

But then again, I adored "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". It was perhaps the most epic love story I have ever seen. I loved this film so much, I went to the theater four nights in a row, until I no longer needed subtitles. Then after one day of rest, I watched it a fifth time, and I've seen it since. What a tale! Strong women, strong men, fantastic fight scenes and such intense romance; romance so captivating that every cell in my body was yearning. Oh, how I wished someone would ever love me like that! Would a man fight armies to win my love? Of course not! But a girl can hope, can't she?

I used to get really pissed off, when I was young, when some guy would be bothering me in a bar and my male companion would not stick up for me. "Why didn't you say something?" I would hiss. The answer would inevitably be "oh, you can take care of yourself fine" and that was true. I could. I am a feminist and I want to take care of myself just fine, thank you. But a part of me wants a man to be willing, at least, to do the job.

I had always thought these feelings, like the one above, were just plain wrong, and signs that I had unreal expectations and was somehow not enough of a feminist. Now, I think otherwise, some of the time. The rest of the time I tell my inner thoughts to shut up and leave me alone.

But after reading David Deida, I do wonder. He posits that there is nothing wrong with some of traditional attitudes, as long as a couple treats each other as equals in practical matters, and in fact, he goes further to say that couples lose that initial spark because of the equalization of the inherent tension between traditionally male and female traits. Upon reading his book, "The Way of the Superior Man" (a book that even the author admits to having named terribly), I first had a desire to throw it across a room. Such sexism! But wait - I kept going back to it, again and again, and feeling "Oh no - this is so true!" Its truth hurt, for it brought up that yearning, the same one I felt when watching the lovers in the cave in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In that scene, there is what seems like an anti-feminist moment of truth. The strong warrior woman is taken by the man, seemingly against her will, and she is in heaven. Her initial behavior is a ruse - she wanted him from the get go, but the struggle created the eroticism.

This, Deida talks about again and again. It confuses men, yes. Women say no when they mean yes, so why can't they say yes in the first place? Not all of us, I won't speak for all woman, of course not, well, we want to be wanted, wooed, coaxed, desired. When the lover stops yearning, it's all over. Who wants wan desire? Not many of us, if we were being honest.

Huh. This started as a tirade against the ridiculousness of the love lost, love found, love reunited and love, love and more love of a television show that's not even supposed to be about the topic (Lost) and ended up as a small eulogy for lost romanticism.

I am obviously a confused woman. More to come.

Photo note: From the above mentioned movie, of course. Not only did I fall in love with the both of them, but the location as well. How could one not?


A few minutes ago, I got some ice cubes out of the freezer. I don't have an ice maker. I have those old fashioned things called ice cube trays (oh, what a hardship!) I emptied one and left the freezer door open while I filled the tray with water. It took about a minute.

A few years back, someone (whose name will go unmentioned) got angry at me for leaving a freezer door open in her house. She had a big freezer that was stocked to the brim, and I was trying to find something. I doubt that leaving the door open for a few minutes, at most, cost a lot of money in energy (anyone know the exact figures for this?) Yet, she was angered enough to raise her voice some and say, "Shut the door. You're wasting energy!"

Besides the fact that I find any adult who gets ticked off enough to raise their voice at someone in need of self assessment (seriously), I was, frankly, horrified. This happened years ago and it still bristles. That fact alone forces me to make an assessment of my own.

I realized that those same words, about the same thing, leaving the refrigerator or freezer door open, were words I'd heard throughout my childhood. Seems a very small thing, I'm sure, but it bothered me tremendously, for, just like the last time, these words were always uttered by people who had plenty of money and I'm talking rich people, not just your average upper middle class folks.

To me, the admonishments were only a sign of stinginess. There was no other reason. These people were not concerned with wasting electricity on a greater scale, such as leaving a smaller carbon footprint. It was all about being cheap, and making sure that others, especially those using your electricity, don't make you spend another red cent.

I wish I could remember the movie, but back in the eighties, the fellow who produced "Risky Business" produced another film, perhaps with the word "maid" in the title. In it, he portrayed a stingy rich family, epitomized by the mother yelling at a housecleaner for throwing tin foil in the garbage. The correct place for tin foil was in a huge ball, kept in a cabinet, and sold to someone for a bit of money went it reached a certain size. Anyone watching this film probably thought this was a funny (or not) bit of fiction. It wasn't.

I knew this family. This is exactly the type of thing they did. Whether they indeed saved tin foil, I can't be entirely sure of, but if it was possible to do so, and to get a few bucks or even a few cents for it, they would have done it.

I have some great stories about visiting this family's house, which I'll write about some time (I'm too head-achey today), but I'll say this now: if anything or anyone contributed to my absolute hatred of the rich, these folks may have been the ultimate culprits. A friend of mine and I have been discussing our attitudes about wealth recently and I've made no bones about my sheer childish feelings of jealousy and anger at those with money. Thankfully, those feelings of hatred, which do nothing but hurt me, have abated quite a bit. But I've not many people to attach these negative emotions to around these parts, so I'm not challenged. Put me in the Barney's perfume department in New York City and I would bet you a million bucks those feelings wold come rushing in, fast and furious.

It's much too beautiful a day to be thinking about this subject.

Painting note: Goya's "Portrait of the Marquis de Saint Adrian" 1800-1808 (exact date unknown). The Prado Museum calls this period of Goya's career "Portraits of the Aristocracy" (linked at Goya's name, previously)

Knitted lace, lace knitting

Warning: If you are not a knitter, I would suggest skipping this post. It's full of knitting terms that would render it meaningless to you. Ah, the problems of having a generalist's blog!

Last night I stayed up till after two in the morning. I had finished an eight foot long stole in the morning, washed it, blocked it and spent a bit of time admiring it. It's quite beautiful, but it was a piece of cake. I used a pattern from Folk Shawls, even though I usually don't use patterns. I loved this one, and figured it would be a good idea, for once, to use a pattern, for I've only once before knit fine lace (and that was almost twenty years ago!) It was a good idea, and I re-learned to structure of lace well. If you are thinking of knitting lace, I suggest you start the same way, with a project designated as "easy", or you most certainly risk the danger of complete frustration which will put you off lace for many years to come.

I also suggest that you do not start with cobweb weight or lace weight yarn, but a light sport weight. The thinnest yarns have very little give, fall off the needles and break easily, adding to the potential of frustration.

What words of warning! I enjoyed knitting the stole immensely. But last night's beginnings are a different story altogether. I just unraveled five hours of work!

There's a difference between knitted lace and lace knitting, though whether the definitions of both are "true" is disputed. Lace knitting is patterned on every other row, and knitted lace is patterned on every row. I will say, even if folks dismiss the terminology, that knitted lace is much more difficult. It is easy to get lost when patterning on every row. If one makes a mistake, one can't rip out to the unpatterned row, which is easy to identify. No, if one gets lost, or makes a mistake with knitted lace (which some call "true lace"), you must (and I can't stress this enough) understand the structure and principles of lace knitting in order to fix it. Otherwise, you are doomed. Seriously.

I understand the structure and principles of lace knitting fairly well, and I can attest to that, even then, it's pretty easy to become lost, especially at two in the morning.

Last night I spent at least a half an hour on one row of knitting, for I kept forgetting where I was in all the yarn overs, knit two and knit three togethers. I pulled out row upon row until I felt fairly sure everything was correct. But in the cold light of morning, I looked at my knitting and felt sure it contained one too many mistakes. I've made a bit of a vow to allow for mistakes when knitting (unlike when I was young, where any small mistake would scream at me to fix it). This, in theory, is a great way to knit, but with knitted lace, if you do make a mistake, it starts to multiply on itself, leading to more and more and finally rendering the pattern meaningless.

The pattern is fairly meaningless, too, as one is knitting. It doesn't look good and it's not supposed to. The knitting needs blocking (or dressing, as they call it in Great Britain). Before that, it's a mess, looking entirely like a somewhat controlled series of mistakes. For this reason, I find it inherently frustrating but also absolutely fascinating.

So, I ripped out my knitting (oh, and it was the second time, I must admit). It was too wide, anyway, and goodness knows, I don't need to do that many repeats in one row!

I will keep you posted. And I've got to take a picture of the finished stole. I am proud of it, even if it wasn't as hard as it looks.

Image note: page of instructions from the bible of Shetland lace knitting, or knitted lace. Whatever you call it, it's truly gorgeous.

Addendum: I am up to row fifteen of a complex pattern, on size 2 needles and cobweb weight yarn. I should have cast on more. The width is a bit too narrow and I don't want it to look like a scarf. I can either make it insanely long, so that I can drape it over my shoulders twice (which sounds good) or add a wide edging. I don't have to make that decision for many months, I'd venture to guess, even though it's knitting up fast. Today, I encountered no glitches and no confusion. Was it all because I was tired last night? Yes and no.

I learned a lot making all the mistakes I did yesterday. And today, I noticed that while I was knitting, I was not only counting stitches, but doing so in a sing-song manner, so my knitting puttered on with a soundtrack that was keeping me in line (and on the beat). This seems a good way to knit something complicated. It is a pattern that has a rhythm to it, after all

I highly recommend to anyone who wants to knit lace that is patterned on every row to make a fairly big swatch beforehand. It's usually unnecessary to swatch for gauge in lace knitting so forgoing it may be tempting. But, swatching to become intimately familiar with the pattern is a good idea.

Addendum: Approximately 1000 stitches later, I have this piece of advice for those of you who want to knit lace with true lace weight or cobweb weight yarn. Use small needles, size 0 or so. I'd also advise using Inox straight needles, for they are not in the least bit slippery. I generally do not like straight needles, but Inox doesn't make anything smaller than 2's in circulars. Crystal Palace makes 0 bamboo circulars, but if you use them you'll have to be careful about not snagging the yarn, especially with cobweb weight, on the connection points between the needle and the circular part (what's that called, anyway?) The reason I'm recommending small needles is because the lace has more integrity when knit tighter. One can see the design more plainly, and if you are new to this, this is very important. I ripped out those nearly 1000 stitches after hopelessly trying to chase down a dropped stitch and fix a break in the yarn. Just switching from 2's to 0's has made the whole endeavor a pleasure. Now, it's a crazy endeavor, no doubt, but I can't help myself. I must persevere!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tea for two

A few days without blogging? Is is possible. I have quite a bit of material I'm mulling over, so stay tuned for some long and rambling entries. Topics will surely include haute couture, celebrity, health care in America, and money.

For today, I have only this: I just received a package of seven perfume samples. I've got L'artisan's Tea for Two on my wrists at the moment, and fear that it will be gone in about an hour. I've heard, "Well, if it's weak, put it on your clothes." Not being one to wash my clothes after one wearing (unless I'm a sweaty mess), I don't want to do this.

Many of the scents I am loving right now, as the weather turns warmer, are so pale and short lived. I really can't see why the companies can't make them stronger, or at least offer "extreme" versions. There's something rather sad about scents being so pallid. Tea for Two is very nice. It's got an initial blast of smokey Lapsang Souchong that's captivating. Sadly, the smokiness disappears very quickly, leaving a scent that I can't put my finger on. It's neither here nor there (is that like saying it's six of one and half dozen of the other?)

A few of the other samples will challenge me to try them. I got a strong sense of nail polish remover from three of them. I can't remember which ones at the moment. It seems too coincidental that I thought that about three out of seven scents, so perhaps my nose is off today. I did wake up with a headache.

Painting note: Mary Cassatt "Five O'Clock Tea" 1880 I'm not a fan of Cassatt's work, as I find much of it too sweet and the subject matter uninteresting. I generally do not like paintings of children, or mothers with babies, unless they are very old (and these, for the most part, are of Mary with the baby Jesus). Nevertheless, I'm putting up this image.

One reason I believe I've always enjoyed paintings of people, whether they are of people going about their business or portraits, is the glimpse into the past. Current portraits interest me not at all. When I look at this painting, for instance, I wonder about the mindset of those women in their fancy dress and what they may have discussing while taking tea. How different was their conversation than those of two women today? I presume it was quite different, but for all we know they were gossiping and swearing like sailors. But somehow, I doubt it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The preface to nothing

Preface: Earlier this evening I said to Dick "I'm not a writer". He said, "You are." I disagreed and I still hold by it. I'm not trying to shoot myself in the foot here, but stating my opinion. I write what's on my mind, exactly how it's in my mind. I don't craft the words, or try to find new and more exacting ones. I type fast - the words fall out. I have no internal editor and no external editor. I do correct spelling mistakes (or let others catch them for me).

My main objective is to be in dialogue with others. I use writing (or talking) about myself as the primary vehicle. This is rather a "feminine" thing to do, as Deborah Tannen points out in her books about ways in which men and women express themselves. I do not talk about myself for self aggrandizement, though it may seem that way at times. I hope that those who read my words, see something of themselves in what I write. I also hope, though I'm not there yet, that by being honest, I occasionally shed some light on areas in our lives that are usually pretty dark. My greatest desire is that by being occasionally cheerful and irreverent, in spite of "suffering" from depression, I can give a bit of hope to others who are struggling. This sounds awfully big and self-important, but it's really such a small thing. If just one of you, whoever you are, happens to try some Bulgari Black, plant some catmint, rethink why you hate your body, or decide that life's too short not to say exactly what's on your mind or do what you'd really like to do, just once, because of something you've read here, I will be immensely gratified. I guess it's not just "all about me", as I often say it is.

So, no, maybe I'm not a writer. But I'll keep on writing.

Hah! I forgot what I was prefacing. Y'know what they say, "If I forgot, it must not have been that important." I don't really believe that, but it's as good a way to end this post as any other.

Painting note: Edouard Vuillard "The Conversation" 1891

The tyranny of beauty

About ten years ago, I was at a tattoo convention and a photographer from Britain wanted to take my picture. I had a flaming migraine headache and was horribly cranky, so I said "No." He persisted until I gave in.

He took me to a room where he had all his equipment and a big Jackson Pollack looking backdrop. That room was cold. I presume he hadn't put the heat on for some reason or other, which was absurd, given that it was February in Maine. Perhaps he wanted his subjects to be uncomfortable, perhaps he liked it that way or perhaps the equipment needed to be cold, like big computers, but nonetheless, it was too cold for my comfort and didn't do much to brighten my already miserable spirits.

I tried to bail. It was just a photograph. What was the big deal? We could do it the next day, right? Oh no! He loved that I was miserable. "Give me some attitude, love!" he yelled out in his British accent. I kept protesting, and wonder right this minute why I didn't just walk out the door, for he didn't lock me in. He just kept yelling "Give me some attitude!"

He took some pictures. I left, and went to my room, where I suffered some more abuse from the fellow whom I was sharing it with. He was fed up with this older woman's migraine and pathetic demeanor. "You're always feeling sick", he said to me. It was true. I had a headache a good amount of the time. I should have shared a room with a less robust person, but I hadn't thought it through.

Some months later, I got a call from my father in New York City, saying he had a tattoo magazine in his hand, and it had my photograph in it. My first reaction was "Oh god. He's seen me wearing latex." But that was not the problem. It was this: "You never could smile for the camera!" I explained that I was cold and miserable that day, and that I believed the photographer wanted to goad me into looking mean (which I do believe was true) and that, come to think of it, does anyone smile in tattoo magazines? Well, yes, they do, but it's usually the salacious smile of a scantily clad woman.

Dad, the reason I never smiled for your camera is this: You told me that I was overweight and unattractive. Why would I even want my picture taken under those circumstances? You didn't take family photos, like other fathers. There wasn't a book we'd put the photos in, to look back on and remember the good times. You were an art photographer and I was the unhappy not-good-enough subject. So, no, I was not smiling, and besides, I looked less attractive when I smiled. How did I know this? You told me.

I don't have photographs of my life. For years I thought I didn't "need" them, whatever that meant, because I didn't have children. I'd say "the memories in my head are good enough for me." I really believed this, even though it really was a lie I was trying to believe.

What I did believe is that I truly was too ugly to be in a photograph and if someone did take one of me, it was hard to see anything except what I thought was my ugliness. Yes, I've been overweight or I've been caught making a ridiculous face (and it is true that when I smile broadly my entire face distorts, but really, it's fantastic to be able to smile with such freedom, isn't it?)

The botoxed women we see more and more of each day can't show their feelings with their faces. Botox not only deadens your nerves but it deadens your freedom of expression. I am enraged when I see their ads that proclaim "I'm doing it for me!" Really? You've got to be kidding me! Who in their right mind would inject botulism into their face to diminish the signs of age and keep yourself from being able to show your feelings authentically?

Well, a lot of people would. The plastic surgeons are having a field day.

Someone once pointed out to me that my objections to plastic surgery were hypocritical because I had tattoos. I gave this some thought and decided there was some truth to this. I was changing the way my body looked and doing so permanently. How is that different than getting plastic surgery?

Well, I guess I just got shamed into thinking I was wrong, for I now disown giving in to this way of thinking. I don't blame anyone, say, for getting plastic surgery to correct something truly troubling. But for anything else, it is giving in to the tyranny of the beauty standard. We are not supposed to age, to sag, to look different. We are supposed to be symmetrical. We are supposed to not look too "ethnic".

There was an episode of "Extreme Makeover" in which they took a young girl, who really did have a bad tooth problem and did what they said, gave her an extreme makeover. She did need to have her teeth fixed. When they were done with that, they should have let her go, but they did not. She had her breasts augmented, her nose shortened and a few other things I can not remember. Before this, she looked like Meryl Streep's sister. Isn't that good enough?

No, she had to look like "every woman". What individuality she had was gone. And the worst thing about it was this: her family was delighted! They cried and hugged and celebrated. Finally, their daughter looked normal, like anyone, like a Christie Brinkley!

What is wrong with these people? Why didn't they just fix their daughter's teeth in the first place? They were not poor. Judging from their reactions to her extreme makeover, they were obviously ashamed of their "ugly" daughter. She had been brainwashed, or if I was going to put a finer point on it, emotionally abused. She believed that she could not work with the public in any way, and would never realize any of her aspirations, simply because she was ugly.

The people who needed a make over were her parents. They needed a make over of their values.

My father needed this, too.

Let me tell you one more story: I sat down one afternoon with a manager at my bank. She was a very large woman. On her desk was a picture of herself in a fancy dress, with a huge smile upon her face. There was no one else in the photograph. I presume it was a picture from an event that brought her good memories, but the single thing that affected me was this: She didn't mind looking at a photograph of herself, even though she was at least one hundred pounds overweight. No, it's not healthy to be obese, but it's not a reason to hate yourself or deny yourself or others the pleasure of memorializing good memories with photographs.

The tyranny of the beauty standard is getting worse every year, or maybe I'm noticing it more. After all, I am now middle aged, and I do think about plastic surgery (though I can't afford it). It bothers me that I do. I should be proud of the lines that grace my face. They are emblems of my life experience. But no, I should and you should look perpetually young, lineless, expressionless and as unreal as a mannequin.

It is time for another reassessment of what we've come to. On January 24, 1964, The Twilight Zone aired an episode entitled "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You". Here's the opening narration: "Given the chance, what young girl wouldn't happily exchange a plain face for a lovely one? What girl could refuse the opportunity to be beautiful? For want of a better estimate, let's call it the year 2000. At any rate, imagine a time in the future when science has developed a means of giving everyone the face and body he dreams of. It may not happen tomorrow—but it happens now in the Twilight Zone."

And it is happening now, in 2008.

Photo note: A still from "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You".

A little bit of fame

I have been having a running conversation with myself and a few others for many years now about validation, both from ones' self and from others. I have held that the most important task in a persons' life is to be able to self validate. Without doing so, we are susceptible to the whims and opinions of others, much to our detriment.

Other people can not give us what we do not have. They also do not see us clearly. We are the only ones who can truly know ourselves. Of course, I'm not sure that anyone can see themselves all that clearly, either, for we all suffer from some self delusion. But no matter, we must try.

When I was young and on tour with a band, I saw behaviors that scared me. I'm not talking about all the drugs, the trashing of hotel rooms, or the mistreatment of groupies. What I am talking about is the lifeless quality of many people who are obsessed with being famous. Some of these people seemed not to be alive unless they had an audience. They were bored to death if there was no one applauding them or kissing their asses. They found no joy in the small things of life or they found these things to be valueless. People treated each other like objects with price tags. Worth was based on who you knew, or what you had to offer. Being nice, for example, was not valued all that highly, if it was valued at all. Only suckers are nice.

The reason these things scared me is I knew I was susceptible to them. I also found the whole fame thing totally maddening, as I saw people with no talent get no where and those with lots of ambition (and little talent) make it big. We all know this is true. In this society, we have to "sell" ourselves like products. The other maddening thing was having people who would otherwise not care a whit about you suddenly become your best friend or perceive what you did or who you were in a suddenly favorable light where once you were just another nobody. Add to this the currying and fawning behaviors of "fans", and you've got a stew of a mental health disaster. No wonder so many celebrities turn to drugs.

One particular incident when I was on tour sticks in my mind. I think I was in Lawrence, Kansas, but don't hold me to it. The important part of the story is not the location in particular, but that the location was one where there was no stores open at two in the morning. I was sitting around after a gig and happened to ask if someone had a stick of gum. The answer was no. "I'll get you some gum", said a total stranger. "How far do you have to go to get it?" I asked him. The reply - oh, about a half hour's drive away. I told him no, and he persisted, but I finally convinced him. I know I asked him if he'd drive an hour for a pack of gum for anyone he knew. "Um, well, no. I wouldn't", he replied. So why would he do this for a stranger? It was absurd. I didn't mean to shame the kid, but I wanted him to understand that doing something for me wasn't going to mean anything.

It's all well and good to be nice to people, but that's not what this was about. It's a remnant of fawning over royalty, or something to that effect. Famous people and monarchs are just regular people who wipe their bums like anyone else (though I'm sure that there are some who get others to that for them, as they once did in France).

Other things that troubled me a great deal when I was on tour were the following: having gorgeous women throw themselves at me, having the tormentors of my childhood suddenly trying to be my best friend, having to stay "in character" in public, and having people tell me that they used to think I was shit, but now they thought I was fantastic. Couldn't they see that I was the exact same human being? This boiled my blood (and misusing that expression makes me sound like English is my second language - I kind of like it).

What I took away from all this is the following: most people who want to be stars are either very insecure or are egomaniacs (or both, of course). I figured one thing: I better get out. I didn't have enough inherent self esteem to get through this world without some very real damage and until I understood fully who I was and honored it, I should lead a very private life.

What I really craved was to prove to myself that I could be "normal", though what that was was rather vague. Getting married and having kids? Enjoying a regular job? Not needing so much excitement in my life? It was all of these things, plus a lot more. I wanted to be loved for who I was, not the projection that others laid upon me. But that's an interesting quandary for someone who didn't actually know who she was. I knew I had to grow, and I had to find some real meaning in my life, not the meaning provided by outside affirmation with some adulation thrown in.

Lordy, I have no idea how really famous people handle it. Again, it's totally reasonable that so many of them turn to some pretty self-destructive behaviors.

But here's the rub. Even though it's totally possible to live a creative life without any recognition at all, what is it for without sharing it with others? I think one has to start from a place where the most important thing is to find ones' authentic voice, and for that, we need to toil in anonymity and learn to appreciate ourselves without a word from any one else. It shouldn't matter at all what others think. If we feel it absolutely imperative to create, no matter what the outcome, we have succeeded.

I think, it is only then that one should venture out into the world. When you feel certain of yourself, your voice, your statement or what have you, then you should put yourself out there. Not for accolades and not to make up for any insecurity, but because it's time.

I know this seems like a very high standard and perhaps it is. But honestly, I think without having examined our own minds as thoroughly as we can, folks who put themselves in the spotlight are generally setting themselves up for a lot of unhappiness. We see it every day, blown into huge headlines in the tabloids. Addiction. Divorce. Anorexia. Suicide. I wish I had some statistics to throw at you. I don't.

To be continued.

Painting note: I never thought in a million years I would post anything of Norman Rockwell's, but here it is: "Girl in the Mirror". See how we start wondering "Am I pretty enough?" at such a young age. Pretty enough for what? To be a brain surgeon or to be a movie actress?

Intrinsic self worth

A few months ago, I received an e-mail from a person whom I admire greatly and is, also, a widely known and respected individual. When I first saw his name in my inbox, I thought it was a mistake of some kind. But no, it was a short, friendly message. I wrote back, rather gushingly, including some self-effacing statement of how much it meant to me since I am a "nobody" and live a "small life".

He wrote me again, with this admonition: "There is no such thing as a nobody or a small life." That sentence hit me in the gut. It was a wake-up call.


On the one hand, I agree with the statement. Everything in me, everything I've learned from years of reading Buddhist sutras, interpretations, spending time in a Buddhist monastery, meditating, practicing yoga, both alone and at the Krapalu center, reading and rejecting most Western philosophy, immersing myself in Quakerism, trying to understand the teachings of Jesus, the teacher (not the son of god), and sitting with an incredible cross section of people while tattooing has shown me that every single one of us has a life that is precious.


I've said over and over again that if a life touches only one other person, makes a difference to only one other person, it is a life that is worth something. I do not know who posited this, but it is said that if a child is acknowledged by only one adult in their life, it can make a world of difference. Having been a pathologically shy, essentially invisible child, and remembering how much I craved someone to see me, to give me a pat on the back, to encourage me or to ask me what my dreams might be (or let me know I could have a dream at all), I agree completely with this generally held idea.

I think all of us, children and adults alike, need others to recognize our specialness. Every one of us is special. Whether our lives are mundane or lived large and in the public eye, we each are unique and have something unique to offer. It may not be apparent, for most of us, what that special something we contribute may be, but it is there.

Even though I say these things, a part of me bristles. I feel like I've spend most of my life underachieving, and this is indeed true. It's not about money, which is a perpetual disaster, for I've lived at the poverty level for many years, feeling as if I'm fairly well off. The price of home heating oil and gas may change everything this coming winter, but I will leave thoughts of that aside for the moment.

What makes me an underachiever is not living up to my potential. Why is that? Has it been because I was afraid? Some times, yes. Other times, it was just bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the 80's, I foresaw the trend for making hand-make things quite clearly. I worked, part-time, at a historical society, where I taught both children and adults how to do various crafts. Both the children and the adults just lapped it all up with giddiness. For the adults, it was such a respite from their busy, striving lives. To stop for a few hours and just sit with a piece of cloth in their hands, slowly stitching something they could have purchased in a flash, seemed to be a transforming experience. For my embroidery classes, I would bring in boxes of thread and have everyone pick out the colors they would use in their projects. Almost every person would say, "Oh, but I'm not an artist!" and have a small panic attack when confronted with making an aesthetic decision. I looked at these women (yes, they were all women) and saw their expensive, well-picked out clothes and thought they didn't realize just how many aesthetic decisions they actually made in the course of an average day. "You pick out your clothes by yourself in the morning, dont you?", I would ask them. This, they could understand, and suddenly every single one of them would be transformed into their own experts. Sure, many of them would ask me what I thought of their choices, but I'd always say it was not for me to decide.

I sensed such a deep craving in my students to make things with their hands, even if they spent their days making large decisions at corporations or eating every meal out in a fancy restaurant. Perhaps it was because of this, I thought, that they craved the hand made. I sat down and wrote a proposal for this small struggling historical society on Long Island to expand their adult education department and to create a gallery in which local people could display their work, along with the history behind it. It would have been a great boon to this organization, but they thought I was out of my mind. It was the age of women in power suits. How could I possibly think that more than a handful of these women would want to take time out of their busy lives to sit and knit or make quilts?

Then Martha Stewart came along and proved me right. Damn her!

This is only one of the incidents like these that have peppered my life. For the sake of honesty, I will say I've had some lucky breaks, but though I'm talking about myself, this isn't all about me - "I" am only using my self as an example. I suppose at some point I stopped trying too hard and decided to be satisfied with my lot, which is always a pretty good idea. On the other hand, resignedly stopping to think big is not a good strategy. It is rather like having been hurt in love, and vowing to never love again. It's a sign of a spirit that is broken.

I'm going to argue a bit with myself in this post. On the other hand, our worth does not lie in what we do. We are intrinsically perfect and unique. I recall John Bradshaw, who was once a popular writer and speaker, said over and over, "We are human beings, not human doings." Albert Ellis, though a total crackpot (in my humble opinion) speaks disparagingly about what he calls the "myth of self-esteem". He posits it is all based on what we do and what our good qualities are. He is right. If you've ever been to a therapist or participated in some therapy group, you've probably encountered the assignment of being forced to write two lists about yourself, one being your accomplishments and good qualities and the other, being your deficits. The reason? To force yourself to reasonably and clearly see how decent and valuable you really are. What if you choose to live your life as a drunk, caring not at all to work, and live in squalor or on the street? Does this make you worthless? Some people might say yes, but I do not. Every one has intrinsic self worth. It doesn't matter what you do.

Now, I'm sure some of you are ready to jump on me for what I've written above, for I am saying something along these lines: Mother Theresa and a junkie are both worth the same amount.

Do you remember when insurance companies tried to figure out the price of a life for the people killed in 9/11? It was based on their money making ability. It was an outrage. A busboy at Windows of the World's life was worth very little, while a man who pushed paper around his desk at Dean Witter was worth far more. I'm sure their families didn't think so. A parent, a lover, a partner or a friend is worth the same amount no matter what they do.

But no, if one looks to folks in Hollywood or the upper echelons of business or politics (or any other competitive field) this is simply not true, and it, quite frankly, disgusts me. Having a friend who has an influential job is worth much more than a friend who lives an anonymous life. After all, what is the low person on the totem pole able to do for you? Oh, sure, they can provide emotional support and great conversation, but will they be able to get you that meeting with some other big shot you haven't met and are dying to take lunch with so you can make your pitch?

How about the women on the arms of the power brokers? Would Donald Trump show up at a party with a clearly overweight woman whom nobody has ever heard of and is not wearing a designer dress? I think not.

You might say, what do these people have to do with our everyday lives? A lot, in my estimation. They tell us many things: 1. You are not good enough. 2. You should be more ambitious. 3. You should be better looking. 4. You should try harder. Or, to sum it up: "You are a loser".

And no matter how much I feel at one with the world whilst sitting in meditation, that feeling, "I am a loser", just doesn't go away. I may tell others, with great conviction, that they are not, and I believe it, but I still do not believe it about myself.

I will end here. This is certainly not my final word on this subject, I can assure you. It is but the opening volley and, I hope, the beginning of a conversation with you, whoever you may be.

Photo note: You may be wondering, why does this post have to do with pictures of Cher, pre and post plastic surgery? Well, one reason is because you can find thousands of photographs of Cher, pre and post plastic surgery, along with catty comments, all over the web (and in many, many magazines). This could be any female celebrity. From reading just the minimum about women in Hollywood, Diane Keaton may be the only one who has not succumbed to surgery. It is not only aging stars who do this today, but people of all ages. Did you know that one in a hundred women in this country have had boob jobs?

The thing is, what's worse (well, only minimally) is all the catty websites about the celebrities. "See how Meg Ryan has ruined her face!" "Heather Locklear: what happened to her cheekbones?!" You know the headlines. Why do "we" do this?

I believe it is because of what I have been writing about in this post. Those of us with ordinary lives feel less than, no matter how much we protest. And so, when we see celebrities imploding, whether it's emotionally, with bad plastic surgery, compulsive child rearing and adoption or any number of indicators that they are not really happy with themselves or their lives, we not so secretly rejoice. Yay! One doesn't have to be rich or beautiful to be miserable. C'mon, what was she thinking wearing that dress (which cost the price of my yearly paycheck)?

And I'm willing to place a large bet that most of us would choose to get some plastic surgery, if we had the disposable income. I know I would, though I have been almost morally opposed to it my whole life. How about you?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A swell top ten list for the new lazy gardener

Upon finishing up the second addendum to the last post, I went outside and sat in front of the garden, thinking about how uncomfortable I felt. "What is it I'm feeling?", I wondered. It took but a moment for the answer to come, in the form of an admonition: "Don't get a swelled head."

This is what I was always told when I took credit for anything, gave myself a compliment or received one from somebody else. My mother said it, my grandmother said it and my father said it, too. Three adults who played a major role in my life were telling me the same thing. You better not think too highly of yourself or you will become an asshole, or at least that how this young girl heard those words. What else was I to think? I knew my head wasn't going to literally swell up like a balloon, of course. They weren't going to tell me, directly, that I shouldn't have good thoughts about myself, but this old saw about the swelled head was an easy phrase to let fall off ones tongue. In my grandmother's time there were folks called "swells" who were rich and full of themselves, and I suppose that's where the expression came from. Tonight, I do not feel like googling it and finding out the exact etymology of this expression. I just feel like whining a little bit about being force fed with messages extolling the dangers of having any self esteem when I was a kid. I didn't have any. Thanks a lot, folks.

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of my system. Here is Julie's list of rules for a budding lazy gardener. It took me years to come to these conclusions, not a lot of gardening, but some, and a lot of reading, so listen up:

1. Don't mess about with plants that are not fit to grow in your zone. Know what your zone is. Be aware that there are also "micro-climates", such as the town that I live in, where it is generally ten degrees colder than every town around it. I won't even bother to grow lavender here, as much as I adore it, for it's too much of a risk, whereas it isn't at all just three miles down the road.

2. If there is a garden in the town you live in that you like, find out what grows in it. If they use a gardening service, skip it. If the garden is an old one, seriously try to find out what's in it. Old plants are successful plants.

3. Don't grow persnickety plants. If a plant has very specific needs, that means you will have to attend to it frequently. It also means that other plants may get overlooked.

4. Don't believe everything you read or hear. I did a semi-controlled experiment with two clematis plants (which are terribly needy and I gave up on). I planted one exactly as specified by the gardening center (which is a big red flag that this is a plant that needs coddling). I planted the other in a haphazard way. The second one did better. Neither of them did very well.

5. On the other hand, make it a point to buy a few plants from the oldest and best garden center in your area. Ask the oldest person there what plants do well and let them talk as much as they want. You'll learn a lot. And it's worth every single extra penny you spend over buying the same plants at the Walmart garden center.

6. If it needs full sun, it needs full sun. It it needs shade, it needs shade. Believe it. Don't wish it were otherwise.

7. Plant flowers that have the same soil requirements in the same bed. Or better yet, just plant flowers that don't have very specific soil requirements, like catmint, which will grow in just about everything and is beautiful.

8. Choose plants that have beautiful foliage. This is what you'll see most of the time. Plant a few plants for their flowers alone.
Unfortunately, most books and catalogs only show pictures of the flowers. Visit garden centers to see the plants in person before you make any decisions.

9. Don't take it too seriously. It's not food.

10. If at first it doesn't succeed, forget about it.

Art note: What image to use for this post? I was at a loss. Then, the idea of laziness, and the Absinthe Drinkers, by Degas, came to mind. What would be nicer than admiring your garden while sitting down with a nice cold glass of absinthe? Actually, I wouldn't know, for I've never had absinthe, but it sounds nice.

Instead, I found a painting, by Picassso, above, by the same name (without the s, for it is singular). I have never been a fan of Picasso. For some reason, knowing he was a complete jerk colored my opinion of him from an early age and I bet he had a terribly swelled head. But seriously, I find a good deal of his work to be murky, muddy and not terribly interesting. This one surprised me. Too bad he's one of the few artists that non-artists know of. This is not to say he wasn't masterful. He was, in many different styles.

Evolution of a gardener, part three

This afternoon, Dick and I perused the garden, which essentially means walking in a straight line from point A to point B. Unlike the garden I created at my last house, this one does not wander anywhere. However, I have decided that this garden is an unabashed success and one reason I do so is because of the minor tiff Dick and I had over it after we sat down.

It is almost everything I've ever wanted in a flower garden. It has a good variety (though, of course, I want more), a good mix of bloom times and, most importantly, it is neither too formal nor too messy. It errs on the messy side, I must admit, but this is where it succeeds, I believe. It does not look planned nor does it look like any one put any work into it. I haven't put much work into it. It is my lazy garden and it works for me.

What our minor tiff was over is just how much work I did put into the garden. Dick thought it was minimal, at best. There was a lovely garden in this spot before, and it did have a stone wall in the front of it, but when the house was sold to me, the garden was destroyed by a bulldozer that was brought in to install a new septic system. It was supposed to be put back properly, but it was not. It was a rush job, finished not more than an hour or so before I sat down with lawyers and signed some papers. The stone wall was a mess, the flowers were all upturned and thrown back in piles and I knew it was unlikely we would see much bloom come Spring. It was October.

Some flowers did survive this upheaval and Dick did some rearranging of the stone wall. A truly magnificent hosta bloomed the first spring (last year) along with three perfectly healthy Lady's Mantle, both plants I had never fully appreciated before. Two other cultivars of hosta emerged, but only barely and the garden was overrun by violets and dead nettle. It still is, but I enjoy both tremendously. The dead nettle is easy to pull out, as it is shallow rooted, but the violets are really a bane to the existence of every thing else and I should do something about them.

But every thing else, I planted. It doesn't look it. It looks like an old garden, which is both fortuitous and a ruse. It is precisely because I am a lazy gardener that it looks this way. By leaving the violets and the dead nettle and a myriad of weeds I don't know the names of, but are actually pretty (I mean, who decided they were weeds, anyway?) I have created a garden that looks like it happened by accident. It most certainly did not.

I planted a very old fashioned bleeding heart which, of course, looks like it could have been here since the house was first built in 1850 (but surely it would have died off by now). I put in many cultivars of astilbe, and planted them rather haphazardly, so they look like they just happened to spring up here and there, as they please. This happened accidentally with some bargain bulbs I purchased at Marden's (Maine's crazy bargain store). The bulbs were rotten and, so, I got about three dozen or so for three bucks, as I recall. The bags read "Stargazer Lilies" and some of them did bloom last year, rather a surprise to me, and this year we've got dozen upon dozens of them plus some completely unknown lily to boot. I can't wait to see what it is. I planted hardy geraniums of many different varieties, one of which has grown like wild fire. It looks like it grows between the violets, which it does not, but the effect is lush and thick and truly wonderful. I bought some other bargain plants at Reny's (Maine's other not too crazy close-out store) which did not bloom at all last year, but have this year, and I have no idea what these plants are. I found the remnants of an old garden in the far back of my yard, which was leggy and sad on account of deep shade and brought those plants down just this Spring. They are doing fabulously: sedum (two different kinds, I think), a bit of columbine (which I keep pulling out, thinking it's a bad weed, and I should know this by now) and black cohosh.

There's more in this garden than I'm letting on, for as I said, I don't even know what it is. I did buy both catmint and bee balm at a garden center and they both are doing very well, as they are easy to grow plants (unless your bee balm gets powdery mildew, like mine did in my first garden, and I never conquered it). Now I think I know better; I've planted it not in the middle of the garden, but at the outer edge, where it can get plenty of air circulation. The plants that do get mildewed no matter where you put them (pulmonaria, for example), I've pulled out. Some of them are coming back in little patches and they are pretty plants, but here's the thing: I don't care what they look like. If they are a problem, I let them die. This is the secret I have learned. I have no desire to coddle my flowers. I do not enjoy weeding, spraying, picking off bugs or figuring out any garden problems. I want to do what I did this afternoon; simply watch the flowers grow. If I can throw 'em in and they survive, all is well. I'll pull out the occasional dandelion (which is a bad weed) and I'll pull out grass. I'll pull out obvious problems, like the small maple trees that are starting to grow, but otherwise, it's survival of the fittest in my garden, and that is the lesson I have learned. I love it. It's beautiful. It looks like it just created itself and for that I may have an occasional fight with someone when I take any credit, but some credit is due. But really, not too much. The flowers are doing all the work for me. I only made way for them.

Photo note: Pulmonaria. The perfect color to hide powdery mildew. If you like silvery mounds of foliage, spend the money on a good hosta or a mounding artemesia.

Addendum: I can not take credit for the absolutely heavenly peony that grows in the back of the yard under a tree planted by the last owner's son when he was a young boy, making it about 30 years old or so. I suspect that the peony is the same age. It is spectacular, and I promise to take a photo and post it when it blooms. I feel I should name this plant after the young boy whose tree it graces, Colin, but since I couldn't even bring myself to name my sheep when I had them, I will not start naming plants. They are not mine. They belong to nature.

Second addendum: For honesty's sake, I will name some plants that did grow last year that I had forgotten: Thread leaf coreopsis, a beautiful airy plant that looks like a miniature forest before bloomiing, which I planted more of for balance. Batchelor's buttons, which look lovely when blooming, which means a few days, and horrible the rest of the time. I waver every year as to whether to pull them out or not. Last year I did, This year I did not. One hardy geranium, probably "Johnson's blue". Hardy geraniums rule! Two stands of Japanese irises, which have not bloomed either year. Instead of dividing, I planted one new corm and this year it has yielded at least a dozen new delicate blooms. And lastly, over one hundred daffodils that are packed so tightly that only twenty or so of them have bloomed. I need to divide and conquer these, an exception to my lazy rule.

Friday, June 6, 2008


I was going to entitle this short post "Swingtown - a quickie" and then realized it was a double entendre. So I nixed that. Why I feel the need to tell you is something for a psychological profiler to explain. I dunno.

For those of you who don't watch TV or haven't read any of the reviews (the latest being in the New Yorker, surprisingly), Swingtown is a new show on CBS that premiered last night. I watched it and was utterly bored. I see no future for this show. I would be surprised if it made it through the summer (like last year's Pirate Master, which now looks better than this new fare, shockingly).

On the face of it, a show about about drugs and group sex would seem to be immune to being boring. Both subjects are inherently interesting for titillation's sake alone (if one likes that sort of thing). How anyone could render either of them as banal as the writing on Swingtown does is a mystery. This is one of those cases where I truly wonder about the stupidity of my fellow human beings (and feel like a jerk for doing so, mostly because I hear my father inside of me).

But never mind that. This show, besides being boring, has got quite a bit wrong. First off, the neighborhood of large homes that these young couples live in, well, would not have been populated with such young couples. Or at least, they would have been a minority. Second, their clothes seem more sixties than seventies, even though I assume that this was well researched, and in reality, people were not so conformist to current fashion standards, just as they are (or not) now.

I must remind myself that this is television, after all, and bad television at that. Nor is it a documentary. But still. Another thing - those mustaches, the kind that Burt Reynolds wore and so did all the gay clones of Castro and Christopher streets, well, they weren't as common as all that, especially on the folks who lived in the big houses.

I recall plainly being in the public library one day and having a man hit on me who did, indeed, have this sort of awful mustache. He thought I"d be interested, not only in him, but the "shag carpeting at his pad". No, I wasn't, and found both the invitation, the idea of a shag carpeting and his mustache all completely distasteful. This was before 1976, and even by then, all these icons of bad seventies styles were already recherche.

Men with big mustaches, eight-tracks and the like were decidedly low-class. There: I've said it. They were the men portrayed in porn and in jokes about a time period that was embarrassed about itself seemingly as soon as it started.

Yes, there were swingers, swing clubs, middle class folks doing recreational drugs and people casting off mores. But I believe that, at least, this was accompanied by at least a bit of angst, which this tv show does not even hint at (unless a woman furiously scrubbing her oven in lieu of having group sex is what's supposed to tip us off to this).

I'm not sure why I'm even analyzing this bit of fluff. Perhaps it's because I've been prone to rumination lately and many of the memories I've been mining take place in the seventies. But these are not the seventies I remember, though of course, I was not an adult then. But I saw enough, heard enough and was exposed to enough to be able to detect bullshit when I see it. Spike Lee (surprisingly) got the time period all wrong in "Summer of Sam" when he portrayed CBBG's as a bastion of conformity where everyone had spiked hair, "punk clothes" and lots of piercings, especially of the tongue. I do not recall a single tongue piercing at the time, and know with surety, that if one was to encounter one, it was more likely amongst a very small underground of leather enthusiasts in Los Angeles.

The majority of folks during the seventies looked quite average. Men who worked in offices wore suits, though their ties and lapels were wide and their hair may have been a tad longer than in 1955. Young people, for the most part, still looked like hippies, in tattered clothes or clothes that were nondescript and could be placed in any time period since 1964. Grown women ran the gamut, though I'd venture to guess that the majority of them, too, were fairly plain. "That Seventies Show" has the look down pretty well, I think. I don't care to watch it, but it visually rings true.

I'd say that like other things that are meant to be evocative, if they don't trigger some memories, they have failed. I don't believe that this show was meant to do that. I think it was mean to titillate, especially given the endless commercials we've been subjected to in the last few months, hinting at the wild behavior that we would be shocked to see on national television. So, on all counts, this show is a worthless hour (or less, if you have Tivo) of fare. There: I've written a review. If you want to know this time period better, rent "The Ice Storm.

Photo note: The Loud family, in 1971, when the first reality tv show, an American Family, was made (for public television!) There is no better way to get a glimpse into what was happening in middle class America during this time than watching this show (and the movie mentioned above). I could be totally wrong, since I haven't seen the show since it was aired, and I was terribly young. Maybe I ought to watch it myself. Sounds like it might be quite painful, however. These were not lovely times, as much as anyone would like to paint them as such.

Addendum: I came to fix a typo and thought to myself, upon revisiting the photograph of the Louds, that indeed if it was not in black and white, and not identified as being from 1971, it could be now. There is no one who smacks of a particular time, except perhaps for poor Lance (the one in the t-shirt with I-can't-read-it-can-you? on it. Even though it's not polite to tease the dead, if one supposed it was 2008 (is it really almost 2010 already?), one could assume he was just a teenager with very bad taste.

As to Lance Loud, let me tell you something about him. I had remembered, incorrectly (as have most people who saw the show, which aired in 1973, but was filmed in 1971) that he came out of the closet on the show. He did not. His mother, however, asked her husband for a divorce on air. I only just re-learned any of this, from reading the Wikipedia entry.

One of my closest friends at school considered Lance Loud to be his hero. This is my friend who kept Horticulture magazine in his fabulous dive of an apartment, mentioned in the last post, who I last saw at a party one week before I escaped from the world by moving here to Maine. His apartment was lit with hundreds of candles and the poor cat's tail caught on fire.

I never thought much of Lance Loud's band, the Mumps, but I didn't think much of most any one back in my youth, I suppose. I just deleted a small list of bands I did like. I liked more than I seem to remember. I suppose I didn't like anything that smacked of camp and I still have little appreciation for it. Though I loved to hang out in gay bars, especially when I could pass myself off as a boy, I had no use for imitations of femininity. Because I was, indeed, a woman? I don't know. I love Andy Warhol, so I must have some appreciation for camp. But was Andy Warhol actually camp? I think not, now that I give it some thought. There was nothing ironic about the movie Trash or Chelsea GIrls. They were just sleazy.

And while we're marginally on the topic of 1976, it was the year Andy Warhol's film, Bad, came out. A very thoughtful friend went down to Warhol's headquarters (which I'm not sure was still called the Factory at that point) and bought me a t-shirt that said "Andy Warhol's BAD". I went out to dinner with my mother and brother wearing the t-shirt and when the waitresses came out to sing the obligatory song, they didn't know my name, so they sang "Happy Birthday Andy Warhol". This being New York, all heads turned to see Warhol, but all they got was me and mine. What were they thinking? I doubt Warhol would have deigned to eat in some fern bar on the upper west side, but who knows? I saw him walking the streets of Manhattan almost every day, it seemed (like a regular person and not the superstar he was). By the way, Warhol coined the term superstar, if I am not mistaken (and if I am, someone will surely correct me). Remarkably, I still own the t-shirt, though I never tried to hold on to it. It is worn as thin as a piece of fabric can get and still hold its integrity. Sounds rather metaphoric, doesn't it?