Friday, May 5, 2017

Writing Practice During Story-A-Day May: Five Days In, She Finally Begins.

 For a couple of weeks now, I've been staying up past my bed-time. Not to do particularly useful things, either. I just stay up doing this and that till I'm exhausted, then fall into bed and find myself wide awake for up to an hour. The alarm goes off @5am, and I stumble through the early morning routine of helping my hubby get out the door to his early shift at work, then feed the cat, and get my ass back to bed. Where it takes me another hour to fall asleep.

 Not sure how I got on this jag, but I suspect it has roots in my recently intensified internet habits-- the Ted talks I've been watching to fill my mind with new ideas, the vloggers I watch and interact with, the survey sites I've been working for giftcards. I watch podcasts and listen to music I miss from my dance-hall days. I follow makeup artists, vegans, skeptical thinkers, feminist warriors, and inhale their theories. Learning and unlearning.

Maybe it's more that I'm stuck inside by weather, lack of a car to drive, places to go. That makes you sluggish, after a while. I walk around the house for 20 minutes, using a microwave timer, to get my exercise. It's less boring if you do it in seven 3-minute spurts than all at once, but I mix it up, and also walk outside in decent weather. Still not a lively life by most standards. Most how-you-should-live standards have never applied to my life. My mind is active, a hive, but not as productive as most hives- well, I have ideas shooting through there constantly, just shooting through, not landing for long.... not being given space to land.

 There are a few regular activities that get me out of the house, out of my over-flowing mind: I sing in a choir, I run a writing group. On Saturdays my band has our rehearsal, then on Sunday nights I play RPGs with a long-running gaming group of friends; but that's over Skype, without video, so I don't even have to wear a bra to engage.

 This is not a bad or horrible life. I do what I want, more or less. I get to watch late night thunderstorms, like the one just beginning now. I have enough food and fairly decent shelter. My family loves me, I have great friends through the 'net and a few IRL, whatever that means for me.

 Truth is, I was born a nightowl, and I miss the night-work life I had when I was young enough to work in bars, getting great tips for wearing pounds of eye makeup. I miss the sense of adventure I felt getting ready to go out at night; I don't miss the letdown that so often followed. And I miss walking the Monon Trail with my best friend in Indianapolis, and getting caught in the rain when we walked, and going to Paco's for a big, cheap quesadilla afterwards.

 At night I think too much, in daylight I think too little. It needs to get turned around, because things start to slip if you get your best thoughts at a time when you can't make them stick. I can write at night, do some small sketching. When someone is asleep in the other room, your creative streak has to keep quiet. Keeping quiet takes me out of the zone.

 I need to get to bed and sleep, so I can remember the books I want to write and the cakes I want to bake. My house is falling apart a little bit, and I'm the handyman here-- there's a sink to fix and pipes to consider, plus my laptop needs a new fan, and no one on earth wants to fix it for me for less than the worth of the damn computer. I have to accept that it's up to me. My brain should be sharp for that experiment.

 Some of the streetlights in my neighborhood have gone out from the storm. The crazed maple in the back yard is just a few spookily moving shadows through the back door glass; I like it when it looks creepy. That doesn't happen during the day, but I should get to bed, to sleep. My mind is still buzzing, my hands are cold, my throat's a little sore. It's a dark and perfect night.


--Aging Ophelia

Monday, January 16, 2017

Honey is a Rebel


Continuing my new “thing” of Writing Practice, ala Natalie Goldberg’s writing lessons, most posts here for a while will be just that:  a practice, and for the time being, a practice of random thoughts on random subjects. Here’s what hit at 7am, while I was making a cup of coffee.

Honey is a Rebel

 When I used to use sugar in my coffee, and also drink weaker coffee, it wasn’t nearly as good as my daily cup is now. Hell, I would drink two to three cups per morning. That stopped sometime after I made the switch to honey for sweetening my morning cup of mind.

 I got started on that practice accidentally, when I performed with an acapella trio called The Java Girls.* We rotated hosting rehearsals but most often practiced at J’s house. She didn’t use white sugar then (still doesn’t far as I know), but served us coffee or tea depending on mood, and always put out the glazed earthenware honey pot for us to use, along with some half-n-half.

 The stronger but more subtle enhancement of honey was odd, at first. You get that honey taste and it seems like an extra, but after a few times of using it, I was hooked. Elements of the coffee’s flavor that sugar had apparently covered up, like fruitiness or spiciness in a given blend-- those were basically being introduced with fanfare to my happy tongue, by the honey.  So I bought some for myself, clover honey, and began learning the way of the honey jar—and there was plenty to learn.

 Sugar is your whore. You buy it, you own it, you pour it in and it goes exactly where you expect; then you close the lid or tip back the dispenser and you’re done.  Your drink is sweeter & you go about your business.

 That doesn’t work with honey. Like the cat you feed every day, honey is a still a wild thing inside, beneath the smile of that cute plastic squeezy bear, and it will surprise you if you try to force it to your will.

 It’s a natural product, even after some processing: as long as it’s still honey it will behave the same way, which is not to behave according to anyone’s will.

 Raw or no, honey flows and settles in its own time.  It follows its own pathways, moves to its own rhythms. And if you interrupt that, if you try to stop or rush it, you get a mess. Honey will not give in to your demand for speed or accuracy; it will not fall where it is being forced to go.

 But if you wait, if you simply allow yourself the few extra seconds it takes to let that gold slowly work its way down, you’ll be rewarded with incredibly complex sweetening that doesn’t make your bloodstream shiver and your hands get jittery. Without a mess.

 I learned all of this through watching, and asking, and cleaning up sticky spots on the counter.  As soon as I moved a jar of honey onto my kitchen table in place of the sugar bowl, someone gifted me with a honey dipper, one of those odd looking wands with a carved or ribbed bulbous knob at the end. You know what I mean, you’ve probably seen them in some gourmet shop & wondered what the hell they were.
 
 

 I didn’t know how to use the dipper, despite having watched J use one to expertly convey honey from pot to coffee mug without spilling a drop at least 30 times. When I tried, it worked to get the honey out, sure, but what was the benefit over a spoon if you still had to stir with it? I experimented, and I cleaned up more sticky spots until the next time we had rehearsal at J’s.  She demonstrated proper usage, I paid attention, and I found out that those weird wands are a genius product.

They work with honey’s natural tendencies. You dip in, twirl around, and slowly lift, still twirling so that honey winds itself around—it wants to stay in the grooves, basically, and will for a moment or so, giving you ample time to hang the dipper over your cup or mug. Then-- and this is the crucial part-- you wait. Let it happen. Don’t move the dipper around, don’t stir with it, don’t bother to bitch how much time it’s taking. Just wait. And every blessed gleaming drop will stream into your hot tea or coffee, there to dissolve with minimal effort on your part.

 Truthfully, because I was “busy” then, with my choir and my band and my lover and my jobs, I wasn’t so very Zen about it. I still got frustrated a few times, grumbling and trying to rush things along. Maybe I was even annoyed with honey, stupid as that sounds, because I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. It took a while for me to fully understand and appreciate (and if you’re sitting somewhere reading these 1700 words or so about what my friend John happily calls Bee Poop, surely you have enough patience to begin your own journey of appreciation) the gift of honey to my daily life, a gift for which I will always be grateful to J, remembering her generosity, her delicious coffee, and her example of patience that, eventually, I put into practice myself.  

That said, I’m still learning. My conversion to honey in my coffee is coming close to thirty years ago now, but just a few months back I had to re-learn a small truth. Being poorer than I was, I have to buy the stuff in plastic as often as in glass jars, and those tiny holes in the lid are a pain if you try to close it right away.  You push the lid back down after you pour out, put it away in the cupboard, and the next time you pull out the container there will be a dribbled stream of honey stuck to the sides, calling all ants. I spent some time blaming my hubby-man for making the mess before I figured it out.

Watch it yourself—take a honey bear or other plastic container and pour out even a drop of honey, then set it on the counter. You’ll think it is going down and is okay to close, but then instead, a tiny balloon of honey will form and billow out above the miniscule opening. Again here, if you use force by shaking or tamping down, you’ll get a mess. It will gasp over the edge and over the side, wasted. If you are patient, you’ll see this gorgeous golden balloon thin out and rise and then pop, collapsing in on itself like a thick silken wave, and sliding back towards the bottom of the inside as gracefully as a ballet dancer doing her plies.

 That is what I watched happen this morning, humbled again by the gift that is honey. While I’m not knocking the usefulness of sugar (I’m a baker!) Gale Gand has written on that with more clarity and elegance than I could ever muster in her book  butter,sugar, flour, eggs, and I took to Word Starter today to pay homage to honey alone. Like many of the most radical radicals, it doesn’t mean to be so rebellious; it doesn’t set out to get your table sticky. That happens only when you try to work against its normal flow. It may be quiet and slow, not fast & flashy, but you still cannot force it without facing consequences (like any revolutionary you care to name). Our society and our rules make rebels out of anyone or anything that is true to their own nature or who follows their own path.  Just being themselves, they get branded as troublemakers, misfits or witches.

 And good honey, even not so good honey, does have some real magical qualities. You can’t go just by glycemic index, although honey is somewhat lower than table sugar** and depending on variety may be significantly lower. Used in moderation you’ll likely notice as  I did that it doesn’t work the same way in the body as plain old sugar—there’s a calmness to it, instead of that sharp spike and drop, and it’s more sweet, too, so you can use less.  There’s heft and a lively energy present in each drop. Honey is more like sustenance, not just sweetness.  Ask any bee or bear.

 Better varieties have more micronutrients, antioxidants & trace minerals. It’s healing & good on burns and other wounds, both as a barrier and for its antibacterial/antimicrobial properties***, and also makes a soothing, moisturizing face wash or mask.  Alone or mixed with a few other things you have around your kitchen,  a honey mask draws out impurities without stripping your skin, with no chemical after burn, and no need for a toner either—just rinse off with warm water, then splash with cool.

 For a sore throat, nothing soothes and coats better than the liquid formed when lemon slices steep in honey awhile. You can drink the juice as is, eat the coated lemon slices, or put a heaping tablespoon of the mix into tea or warm water.  Singers often use light tea with honey to relax & prepare their throat before a performance. The tea brings clarity, hydration and calm, and the honey provides a healing buffer for the tea tannins that would otherwise tighten the throat and make for less flexibility. Personally I prefer a few sips of a simple, refreshing beer before singing, but I understand the reasoning.

 So we’re brought back to singing, which is what brought me to honey in coffee close to three decades back. I’ve come pretty far in the craft of a singer/songwriter since then, just as my super strong, freshly ground Starbucks Espresso Roast made by pour-over method and smoothed out with the minimal addition of honey & half-n-half is far from my childhood cup of percolated Maxwell House with lots of white sugar and Rich’s non-dairy creamer. Instead of two or more oversweet, very white cups of weak-ish caff, I am fully satisfied by one full rich mug, and I’m more than patient enough to wait an hour to close up the honey, mess free, and put it away till tomorrow.  

 Good morning, and good afternoon--
                                                                   Aging Ophelia
                                                                        
  *The group practice of drinking coffee while rehearsing/songwriting actually preceded the band’s moniker. We’d already rehearsed plenty & had performed in public when we thought up the name, inspired by our love of J’s excellent coffee.

** http://www.livestrong.com/article/422895-glycemic-index-for-grains/


**http://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/food-safety/is-honey-healthy/

***https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23782759

Monday, October 24, 2016

On Becoming My Grandmother

10/24:

 This morning when I woke up and caught sight of myself in the bathroom mirror, for a second I looked just like my grandmother. Not Gram when she was 20, in that pretty photo everyone always says I looked just like, but Gram from when I was a kid, when she was old.

 This isn't terribly terrible. She never had a ton of wrinkles that showed, even when she was in her high 80s. And her skin then was so soft, still fine-textured and beautiful. I don't know if she ever used moisturizer, as I have since the age of 12, but her skin was lovely, pinkish pale & fairly clear of spots, unlike her next door friend Mrs. Walters (Betty), who had age spots all over her arms and face in her early sixties.

 Gram's shape was barrel-like from having children well after her 40th birthday, but she was otherwise slim and what you could see of her legs below the hemline of her perpetual housedress was good, with well-turned ankles. And I don't have the barrel-- instead there's a small mail pouch of a lower abdomen, from having a hysterectomy at 49 when my organs and muscles were already loose/ damaged from my Dermatomyositis. I don't look exactly like her from the neck down. And on closer inspection, my face isn't really there yet, I just look tired.

 No, what shocked me when I saw this sudden preview of 15-years-forward, I suppose, was the resemblance of expression as much as the physical manifestation of age. While I don't go around thinking of myself as 20, imagining I have the social power and pull I had as a 20-something girl, I discovered as perhaps most 50 year olds do that that is still the age of the self inside of me, the self that dreams & plans and wants. When we're younger we expect that to change, and the trick on us is that it doesn't; we're left with young longings in a body and a society that prevent us from reasonably acting on our most youthful desires. I can handle that part since I've never felt the right age anyway, and have only just begun to have some friends that aren't either 10 years older or equally younger.

 But my memory says that Gram spent the last twenty some odd years of her life just waiting to die, and I don't want to show that, I don't care to feel that. I'd rather take after my mother, who is active, who has a ministry at each of her churches, who still picks up new hobbies and learns new skills. She still reads, she plays online Scrabble with me over her own netbook everyday, she knows how to post a picture on FB and she has been known to Skype with family in other states. She still experiments with makeup colors at 85 and has recently begun using Josie Maran Argan Oil moisturizer. That is an elder life I can understand. I've never seen myself as the old lady that spends all of her time sitting around worrying over nothing, or just sitting in a chair in the bedroom, as Gram did all too often.

 To be fair, when I was very little, and my uncle dumped my poor Gram on us because his wife was a stone cold bitch (She was; sorry Uncle Dex! Sorry, cousins!), Gram was more active. She went to church with us on Sundays and sang in the choir, which was a feat in itself, as the choir loft there was only accessible by a long, steep and winding stair such as you generally only see in a gothic horror movie, with the first victim lying at the bottom with a broken neck and a head turned all the way around, staring up in an expression of permanent terror.

 She also had friends, and cousins, that she'd visit from time to time, along with her hair salon. But gradually, as these folks died off, the invitations stopped and her world became smaller. Her cataracts got worse, and she stopped reading, then sewing, then doing her embroidery. She left our flat less and less. Her twice a year perms became once a year, and she needed more help getting up and down the front steps.

 To get her perm & haircut, I remember how she would always powder her nose and wear lipstick, dolling up to for the hairdresser and wearing her nicest dress. When she came back, we all told her how pretty it looked, but secretly I always felt she looked harsh and less like herself when she first came home from getting beautified. Only after she'd set her own hair again a few times did she become my familiar Gram, washer of dishes and maker of cookies. At the end of her life, that yearly salon visit was her one & only non-family-oriented social occasion. Most of the daytime, she just hung out with our cats.

 I don't remember when she stopped coming to midnight mass with us on Christmas Eve, but I know it happened. I know she was stuck with us, a growling large family of frustrated creatives still recovering from the influence and effect of an alcoholic father, and living on welfare for some of those years. She was put there by the son that had been the light of her life, too. Then she lost her ability to enjoy her hobbies through the simple accretion of bodily time.

 What I wonder is, was that why her approach to life, at the end, was just to wait-- was it because she was beaten down? Or was there a fundamental difference between her outlook and my mother's, whose attitude I hope to emulate; my mother who has had as hard a life as anyone and still works to savor her days by whatever means.

 I thought that I was naturally headed down the Mom path of continuing change and growth, but what if my nostalgia, and my own sadness and beaten down-ness, (for which this has been a banner year), has turned my feet onto the other trail, the one that ends with me sitting in a chair not thinking or doing, not learning new things, trying new recipes or enjoying any creative outlets anymore?

It's a chilly morning in more ways than one. Keep warm--

                                                                              Aging Ophelia




 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The LipGloss Made me Do It.

10/23:


 Did you ever find yourself searching out blatantly nostalgic items from your childhood, for no apparent reason? Of course there's a reason, but it's not obvious at first. Or not obvious enough.

 An hour ago, I finished binge-watching The Dick Van Dyke show on Netflix. I've always liked it, and I maintain that it's still one of the funniest shows ever written. Not why I watched it, though, or not totally. I sense that it is part of a bigger nostalgia trip, one that has been coming on for a while.

 A few months back, I began looking up old Avon products I used to own, on Etsy & eBay--- I think that started with an old lipgloss compact showing up in my Pinterest feed; it was a plastic compact shaped like a fried egg, with two pale frosty glosses such as I wore in my teen years, nestled inside the yolk. Cheap cute junk for kids/teens, early 80's style.

 There's backstory here: that compact, along with another one, some other makeup items and whatever else I had with me, were stolen one night when I was 17. I'd put my favorite little clutch, a pale leather one that had flowers painted on it, onto the bar at Shadrack's* on Broadway, when I went to dance. There were at least a dozen other purses piled there, but mine was the one that got stolen. I thought then that maybe some guy took it, thinking there was money in it, but now I realize it was probably some girl that saw how much makeup I had with me, when I was touching up in the horrid bathroom, and decided to help herself when she got the chance. That would be why it wasn't thrown away outside the bar after the wallet was found empty.

 I loved that purse, and I had lots of my favorite makeup with me that night, so I was pissed. Also, I'd borrowed some of my Mom's cards, store credit and such, to use in case I got asked for ID-- you could do that then, in bars here. Sometimes I got in easy, sometimes I got in with an ID my boyfriend had borrowed from a female coworker (yeah, I realized later that there were details about that situation I'd never questioned enough), but I usually got into the bar one way or another. This time they hadn't even asked. I still got in trouble for losing Mom's cards and her having to put a stop on all charges and all of the other inconveniences. And I didn't have my keys and it was 2:30am by the time it was clear I wasn't getting my purse back, so my boyfriend took me to his family's house all the way on Grand Island for the night. More trouble, since I couldn't reasonably call home to let them know why I wasn't there until morning.

See, this whole episode came to my mind, clear and full, when the Pin of that fried egg lip compact flashed onto my computer screen. I saw that someone was selling one on eBay for some large amount, and I almost bought it, just to have it back.

 Next up, I began looking for the colognes I wore back then, like Love's Fresh Lemon. I watched commercials for it on youtube, and found some for sale that was just too expensive for me to bother with. I did get an old decanter shaped like a dogwood blossom, filled with the authentic apple blossom cologne I had worn for years, off an eBay auction. Then I looked for paper dolls and kid's books I remembered vaguely-- no luck. I searched out more commercials, and children's shows, and albums, from my teen & young adult years. I successfully tracked down a heart pendant necklace I'd once owned, but remembered that back then they used lots of nickel in cheap jewelry, which I cannot put near my skin without getting a rash.

There are so many ways to wallow in memory today, thanks to the 'net; so many magic pools as in The Wood between the Worlds, tempting you like Digory and Polly to jump in and drown in the trends of the past; but for me it all started with that plastic fried egg, with the pale pink and paler peach lipgloss inside.

 I don't wear colors like that anymore. There are items from the present that I need, for real, like a pair of boots that aren't falling apart-- yet the wave of pure desire that filled me when I saw the thing for sale-- whole and untouched, in the box-- almost overrode all good sense. I can still feel the edge of that want, and it seems obvious now that it's my own young self I really want back; the person that still has so many options, only now, I'd know what to do with them.

 Or maybe not, because every second you spend in longing for some past opportunity you missed, is a second you don't spend doing something better in the now, like setting up the website for your band so you can sell the music you've been recording, or drawing patterns you can color in, for fun. Or playing with your cat, who is bored and needs you to be attentive.

 There are things I haven't attended to, during my several months' long nostalgia bath, but a part of me wants to know if there's more substance or enlightenment here-- where is this leading me? Can I get something out of it besides regret and $6 worth of 35 year old cologne?

At least I enjoyed Dick Van Dyke, one of the best physical comedians ever to walk the earth. Give me him, Flip Wilson & I'm set.


 Have a good night, dreaming dreams of your own misspent youth--

                                                                                                Aging Ophelia



*Shadrack's was a working class Buffalo bar for locals, 20-somethings and barely legals, with well drink specials & a decent DJ on Wednesday nights, where my 22-year-old boyfriend liked to take me for a cheap date where he didn't have to be all that attentive. It was kind of a hole, and the lav was always awful, always short of paper too-- I would stuff my purse full of tissues before we went there, to make sure I was covered. I wouldn't go there now if you paid me, but back then, on Wednesday nights, I was the damned Dancing Queen, and I loved the place.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Well into Oktober... A Belated Month of Writing Begins

I have decided I will do NaNoWriMo after all this year, so this prep month of writing is necessary. I shall simply take my notebook writing practice, ala Natalie Goldberg's system from Wild Mind, and begin it fresh here. You've been warned!


10/21:

Dough and Do Nots.

 The babka dough is rising. It's a chocolate babka, unlike the dried fruit version I grew up eating on special Sunday or holiday mornings. This is from the pages of Food&Wine magazine, more or less. I've tweaked the filling by adding orange peel & ginger, and using clabbered plant milk for whole cow's milk; and I've decided to shape the loaves differently.

 Tweaking recipes is my usual thing, but I didn't start out cooking that way on purpose. It's just that when I first moved out of mother's home into an apt., I didn't have the greatest set of cookware or a budget for exotic ingredients (and back then, fresh ginger was exotic, fresh cilantro was unheard of). So I learned to substitute flavorings or skip steps, as when I first made a flourless chocolate cake by Alice Medrich of Cocolat fame, and decided not to waste cash on blanched almonds that were just going to be ground into almond flour anyway. The cake was delicious, perfect, gorgeous and dramatic, with it's subtle topping of sifted dark cocoa, ringed with caramelized dried apricots.

 Years later, she now makes the same cake with whole raw almonds, as I did way back when. Validation!!! Of course, I've also read that during that time, she had so many mags and such asking her for recipes (while she was running a full-time food biz), that she didn't actually test all of the spinoff versions (like the one I made) of certain of her most famous recipes; like me now, she could come up with changes that she KNEW would work, and send them off. I do that all of the time in the kitchen-- if you have a good grounding in the type of recipe you're making, you don't have to measure or test to tweak successfully. You just have to understand how flavors work together, how the physics & chemistry of baking works.

 Hell, I never even follow a recipe or use measurements for some things, like shortbread crusts. I know the components, I know what it should look, feel and taste like, and I know when I want it sweeter or more buttery or more floury. Only if I was making a grand production type of dessert from some specific Patisserie recipe, say a special torte from Kaffeehaus, would I follow the measurements for that kind of crust or bottom layer, because then it's a matter of having the right balance for the whole.

 And then sometimes, you make a bread or pastry exactly as the recipe says, and the balance doesn't suit your own taste. In these cases, I'll tweak like a mother**er  the next time I make it, if it is worth making again otherwise.

 Once I tweaked a crumb topping beforehand, just from misreading the amount of butter, and when I realized my mistake later, I had to wonder what the hell the woman that gave out the recipe originally was thinking-- because my topping was perfect (and that topping, I DO use again and again, for various baked goods). Hers would have been way too gooey to be properly called "crumb."

 The whole recipe was for a crumb-topped apple pie, one made with chunked rather than sliced apples-- it's become my go-to apple pie recipe, and several other people have said it's their favorite ever. What's great about it is that dicing six cups of peeled apples is much quicker and easier than slicing them, and you don't have to worry so much about the arrangement either, just pile them up and pat them in. I think I might have to make one next week, to celebrate October.

And right now, I have to go check that babka dough; it's probably ready for shaping now.

                                                                                                                     --Aging Ophelia
 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

July Comes Early... Grumpy Thoughts on Summer.

Something about summer always seems to take me by surprise. I'm not one of those sun-loving people that looks forward to the season. I don't dream about planting my garden all year, I don't enjoy weddings, baby showers, bug-infested night-time concerts or park-shelter picnics, and I don't ever have enough money to go to the ocean. I love the ocean, being in it, being near it; if you get me into the ocean I'll stay there till I'm sunburnt & dehydrated and you have to pull me out. The last time I was there, the aftermath included three days of virtually bathing in Aloe with Lidocaine with a headache as big as the sea, and I would have gone back and done it all again the next week if possible. But as I said, I may never get near an ocean again, and definitely not in 2016.

Our long cool spring probably had a hand in helping summer sneak up on me this year. Then busyness took me over: writing and worrying about my mother's health and trying to find a part-time nanny job and trying to figure out how to pay the mortgage. And now, halfway through July, I look up from my computer to find it's either too hot to bake fruit pies or too rainy to sit in the yard; that I haven't weeded the flowerbeds yet, the roses are besieged by crawling vines, and the annoying weed of a tree that I cut down to a nub last year has grown out from its hiding place under the toolshed for the third year in a row, so big it's blocking the door to the tools I need to cut it back (clever b*tch!). Real, sunny-hot summer just got here and I'm already behind on seasonal chores & activities. Not that there are many activities I go in for; getting fresh cherries to eat & bake with is nice, and making watermelon salads, or drinking wine at the table in the backyard.

I can't remember when I stopped looking forward to summer. Like every other school kid, from age 6 & onward I loved seeing June arrive, knowing my daytime freedom was coming. My family didn't take vacations anywhere and we got to the beach maybe once per year, but it didn't matter; my little sister and I loved being outside from morning till night, playing & riding bikes or whining that we were bored till Mom told us to go back out and give her some peace; or eating drippy popsicles and watching ants on the sidewalk. We loved our summer clothes and our cool back bedroom, an add-on room in our rented flat-- it didn't have heat and was well shaded by a huge maple tree, so it was super-cooled year round. In summer we'd play Barbies in there when it was too hot to go out. And although most nights we moaned and groaned about having to come inside to get ready for bed, I always enjoyed slipping into the nice cool sheets and closing my eyes. Then the morning would come, and let's face it, what's better for a kid than waking up to summer sunshine through the window & knowing you get to go outside & play in about a half hour-- if you want to?

Somewhere between then & now, that joyful, hopeful, excited savoring of summer left me. Maybe the summer I was twelve, and we lived in a new neighborhood with no kids my age and nowhere to walk to but a few residential blocks that looked just like mine, chipped away a bit of the enjoyment. It was the most deadly dull neighborhood I've ever lived in.

The couple of years I spent summer babysitting my oldest sister's kids while my little sister became popular & hung out with her friends all the time rollerskating, might have changed me. The year that I knew I'd have to go back to a middle school where I was a complete and utterly despised pariah, wasn't a great summer either. But was it those experiences that altered my perception? Was it later, when I lived in Indianapolis and it was 90 degrees or worse almost constantly from May to September?

 I haven't wondered about it before, not really. I thought it was more of an immediate thing-- since I moved back to Buffalo in 2007 and had a relapse*, and especially the last few years, I haven't been able to do much of what I'd like to do to prepare for any season, so as to fully enjoy. I'm often unable to be outside, and I used to loved being outside in all but the harshest weather-- and sometimes even then.

 I'll never forget this one long, long walk I took with my best friend in Indy, on a summer day that went from nice to superhot to grey & drizzly to a damn 40 minute long downpour, with thunder & lightning. We were both soaked. My Jackaroo hat had waterfalls pouring from all around the brim, my mineral face makeup washed away, my skirt was absorbing so much water I had to keep wringing it out so the weight of it didn't stop me from moving forward along the Monon Trail, and Mike's long curly hair kind of tripled in size from all the moisture; and still we walked, on and on. We walked so long, we finally got dry again, except for our squishy wet booted feet. Then it rained for another hour. I think we ended up walking back to a Taqueria we liked, for cheap quesadillas, dripping all the way.

 So, I can't do that anymore. The auto-immune disease that made me disabled and damaged my muscles took my physical confidence & stamina to a lower level, as well as taking away, maybe permanently, some muscle memory; which until you've lost it, you don't realize how you've relied upon it constantly for things like walking downstairs without having to see the steps as you descend; or putting on socks and a half dozen or more other daily actions we all do without forethought. Well, I used to.

 Is this why I don't love summer anymore? Hot weather, illness and the financial struggles that came with it? Was it that easy to lose? Or did it come away piece by piece, starting from those first few bad summers in teenagehood, and keep slipping as more unpleasant changes or forced seasonal activities gradually built up to a "block" against summer? Did the weddings & baby showers & that one horrible camping trip in sixth grade, all those activities that are hell to an introvert because of the vapid chitchat and the draining over-stimulation from hours of forced sociability while wearing uncomfortable clothes, did they play a part?

 I don't know. There's more I could look at, to begin to understand the process. I do have good summer memories: riding my bike down quiet cemetery paths pretending I was in Mirkwood; making love under swaying maple branches at midnight; grilling pizzas for friends using homegrown tomatoes & herbs; helping to make a movie with almost no budget but lots of imagination, commitment and resourcefulness; singing at a gig in Terre Haute where the music came through me so perfectly I was illuminated, transcendent; backyard theater nights & playing bocce ball with my family & having a sweet baby boy fall asleep on my shoulder; for every bad idea about summer, there's a good memory to counter. And I'm a make-the-most-of-it kind of person, so I've kept trying, at least most years I can remember.

Yet here I am, on a lovely July afternoon with no schedule to keep, no one to please but myself, on a warm but not hot day with beautiful breezes coming through the back screen door. There's beer in the fridge and ice cream bars in the freezer, a cat to play with, and books to read, and I'm sitting here thinking how I don't like summer anymore...

Or maybe now I have more time to learn and practice whatever I want than I've had since I was a kid, maybe I'm learning to like summer again, and this whole exploration is how I'm facing that weird reality. For years I've thought of myself as a summer hater, and now I feel it changing... I hope.


*I have Dermatomyositis, a debilitating, incurable auto-immune disease. Feel free to look it up, or not. I can vouch for this-- it kinda sucks.
 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dolled Up & Ready to Go... Where?

May 3. True story.



 As a kid I wanted dolls to play with; Barbies, babies, etc., & my little sister felt the same. So that's what our Christmas presents usually were. Being poor, we felt lucky to get any gifts.

We didn't know we were making a choice that was supposed to represent our major life interests. We didn't know to ask for telescopes, spaceships, microscopes, easels, guitars. Those were things I could have wanted, given a chance-- I don't know about my sister. I wanted drums, I wanted a mummy, I wanted to be Mr. Spock, but didn't know how to ask for those. Maybe being trained in girl-ness for six years was enough to show me I shouldn't ask. After all, the train set I had asked for never appeared. The Hot Wheels track in the basement belonged to my older brother, and despite my enthusiasm for playing with the cars, on the rare occasions he allowed that, nobody ever considered that I might want race cars & a track as well. No one asked if I wanted them instead of dolls.

Why would they? I was a little girl during the early 70s, and that meant I could play house (they should call it HouseKeeping 101), put on pretend fashion shows, play with baby dolls, Barbie dolls, color pretty pictures, use my BFF's Easy Bake Oven. Oh, and read, which I did, daily. Any interests I had outside of the conventional set were not going to be overly encouraged, at home or in school. No one was going to notice how, before actual 'play' I spent two hours setting up every detail of Barbie's house, made of discarded shoeboxes and whatnot, and think that I had a talent or desire to design & organize. The teachers at school didn't see that while the other girls were swinging & braiding each other's hair at recess, I was playing Star trek with a (boy) friend, roaming invented galaxies and negotiating with aliens.

To be fair, I was encouraged in some ways-- my Mom made sure I got books on whales & archaeology, two of my interests, and got me art supplies & books on how to use them. But I was miserly with my paints, knowing there wouldn't be more anytime soon, and was afraid to really experiment and thus use them up. A side effect of being poor. I guess another issue was that I learned better by being shown how to do something, than by reading instructions (still do). So the How-To books didn't work for me, and my lack of production of a masterpiece was taken for lack of strong motivation, although I drew constantly, on any paper I could scrounge.

This kind of unconscious choice we make, as kids & adults, is almost heartbreaking to me, now. I carry some guilt to this day, for not somehow intuiting the methods & techniques to become A Great Artist; and that I didn't figure out how to ask, despite the behavorial programming, for the guidance & gifts to become some kind of scientist. And I bristle when I see children being locked into similar choices, choices that they too are unaware they are making.

I wanted it all-- to be an artist, to understand whales and dig up ancient civilisations to study, to figure out the mysteries of space, to learn to play drums and to create my own fairy tales. My heart was full of all these desires. And still, I asked for dolls, mostly, and that's what I received.

C 5/2016
by Mari Kozlowski