Paying Off The House

I thought there should have been fireworks.

Six weeks ago, my wife and I walked into our credit union late in the afternoon, waited patiently for a teller, and then told her we wanted to pay off the balance of our mortgage loan.

It was not a spontaneous decision.  I had begun planning, over a year ago, to begin making double payments and make a push to get the final payment made in November, thirty-seven years (almost to the day) after taking out our original loan.

I guess the confetti canons and bubble machines were in storage because rather than celebration what we got mostly was confusion.  The young teller had to call over a supervisor.

“He wants to pay off his mortgage.  How do we even do that?”  She was staring diligently at her computer looking for the “paying off the mortgage” icon.  It wasn’t there.

The supervisor only knew that they needed to call the loan servicing department to ask them what to do.  Apparently, this happens so seldom, they just aren’t very familiar with the process.  We finally jumped through all of the hoops and settled up with them.  They were very happy for us and offered their congratulations.  I just had one question.

“Don’t I get something that says that I now own the house–sort of like the pink slip on a car?”

There was a hesitation.  The supervisor jumped in with, “Yes. The loan department will send you something official in a few weeks.  I’m pretty sure.”

I chose not to worry about the details. I had an expensive bottle of champagne chilling at home and was anxious to get back and sip it slowly with my wife and savor the moment.  There was a feeling of satisfaction, something akin to the feeling I had in seeing each of our kids graduate from college knowing that my wife and I had found a way to make that possible without sinking them or ourselves into debt.

Our home is a modest 3-bedroom house in a suburb of San Diego.  We bought it in 1980, a spec home that was immaculate on the inside and barren of any kind of landscaping on the outside.  Getting the yard fully landscaped has been a 37-year pain in my ass that still goes on today as I tackle previously untouched areas and try to revitalize parts that need re-landscaping.

However, every day I can enjoy my three towering pine trees planted early on from one-gallon containers, mere twigs that I stuck in the soil some 35 years ago.

And there are 20 relatively new iceberg rose bushes that now rim our lawn, the same lawn that provided room for softball and soccer practice for so many years.  I visit my vegetable garden every morning, which produces year-round now that I’m retired, and marvel at the beauty of home-grown food.

The inside of the house seemed firm enough when we bought the place but turned out to have a certain elasticity to it that I could not have imagined back in 1980 when Mary and I moved in.  It seemed huge at the time–3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a living, dining and family room with a two-car garage just for the two of us?  Are you kidding me?!

Then in ’82 when Nico was born, it got a little smaller, shrunk a little, now having this tiny person sleeping across the hall from us.  When Emily came along in ’87 our study evaporated and the house continued to contract as the kids grew bigger and simply sucked more air and space out of the house.  We nearly reached critical mass and thought long and hard about moving to a bigger place, but decided to sit tight and wait for the kid’s planned exits to college to give us more space again.

And the magic happened.  Nico headed off to UCSB in 2000 and Emily departed for UCLA in 2005, and late in the night I could actually hear the house give off a sigh as it stretched and once again grew to the size it had been when we first moved in.

So yesterday, when I sat down to do the bills, for the first time since I moved out of my parents’ house in July of 1973, I had no one to whom I needed to give money so that I could continue to live in my place.  It truly was my place for the very first time.

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“Retired, Not Dead” Turns 100!  My Ten Favorite Posts: A Retrospective

It never occurred to me that if I just kept writing, I would end up publishing 100 articles in this blog, but this entry will be #100.  For this landmark, I decided to go back and select 10 articles for which I had a particular fondness.  If you are a regular reader or have just accidentally stumbled across the blog for the first time, I hope you will take time to browse a few of my favorites.  Please drop me a comment if you are inspired to do so.  I love to hear from my readers.

My first post was on March 5, 2014.  These are listed from oldest to most recent:

“Thank You, Paul McCartney” recounts my introduction to French kissing and I am forever grateful to the young woman who introduced me to it so kindly.  The moment coincided with Paul McCartney’s song “Maybe I’m Amazed” which is why it is dedicated to him.

“Just The Facts, Ma’am–The Top 5 TV Detectives”  I loved this project.  Once I decided on my list I spent a full day on each one–reading up on them to collect background, watching clips for memorable moments, and at times watching whole episodes each morning.  After all, I was doing research.  Right after lunch, I’d start on the detective’s profile and get it posted by the late afternoon, building the article in serial fashion, posting detective #5 on Monday and #1 on Friday.

“Dish Bitch”  wherein I complain bitterly about being the only member of the family willing to empty the dishwasher and then slowly come to terms with my fate.

“So, Hypochondriacally Speaking…”  This one explores my own paranoia about my health and how I seem to overreact to every odd fleeting symptom that comes along.  I might have picked this one just because I liked the play on words in the title.

“Dude, I Said I Was Sorry”  This one tells the story of my encounter with an angry bike rider who claimed I had almost run him over when I actually had never even seen him.  In this one I played with a technique used by Joseph Heller (Catch 22) where the character’s thoughts sometimes become part of the on-going dialogue.

“Watching Icebergs Go By”  This is a story from my teaching career where I was once again reminded of how little I actually know about the lives of my students.  One particular student makes a heart-breaking revelation in the very last class on the very last day of the school year.

“Competitive Backpacking”  Yes, one would think that backpacking is the ultimate team activity, but when my friends and I were active in the 1980’s there were always contests to one-up each other, sometimes with very funny consequences.

“Men: Why It’s Important To Keep Your Mouth Shut”  The complexities of communication between men and women is a source of constant fascination for me.  Over time, I think I’ve learned when it is most important to shut up and listen.

“A Day In The Life”  I think some people might skip over my blog, assuming from the title that it is a record of the glories of retired life.  However, those kind of entries make up a small fraction.  This one, however, tries to answer the question I get from working people who cannot fathom a life without work:  “Just what do you do to stay busy?”

“Honestly, I Lie All The Time”  Honesty should be simple, but in this one I discover times where I had to evaluate just how often I tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

“Grumpy Old Man”  I’m better now, but I went through a few months where everything seemed to annoy me.  In this one, I describe both my symptoms and a possible cure.

OK, so I picked 11 and couldn’t decide which one to cut.  So, shoot me.  I find that I was much more anxious to reprise articles that made me laugh than the ones that were more serious.  The serious ones are in the archives if you feel like exploring them.

Thank you to everyone who has been so encouraging and who regularly leaves “likes” and comments and to those who pushed me to start off on this journey 3 plus years ago.  I’m looking forward to more writing ahead.

Self Improvement? Do I Have To? Can It Wait Until Tomorrow?

I hate the idea of dieting almost as much as I hate the suggestion that I read a self-improvement book.  It’s not that I don’t need to lose a few pounds, or that I couldn’t learn somethings about my better self through the words of others.  It’s just that remaining in a state of denial and self-loathing are so much easier that the work that one needs to put in to actually make substantive life changes.

Regardless, last week, for only the second time in my life, I began a structured diet plan because I had grown tired of watching the tire grow about my waist and because I had read an article about heart health that made me think that dropping these really unattractive pounds would be good for me.

Since I’m too lazy to do any research on my own and rely heavily on recommendations of people I like and respect, I leaned on the advice of my acupuncturist to guide me into a program that she enthusiastically endorsed. I had her order the shakes, supplements, and other goodies that would see me through an initial two-week cleanse/detox/weight-loss experience.  Last Monday I jumped in.

I discovered that the claims that sold me on the program proved to be true (mostly):

The shakes taste great!

I don’t really ever get hungry!

I have more, not less, energy than ever before!

I have stopped craving the things that are bad for me!

All of the above were true for about 48 hours.  The two daily shakes, which now make up my breakfast and lunch, do not taste bad at all, but are the consistency of wall-patching compound.  I frequently feel like I’m eating the shake, not drinking it.  By the third day, I was really hungry and found the shakes weren’t holding me until I learned a bit more about how to snack effectively.

It is absolutely true that I have more energy that before I started the diet.  The big negative to this development is that it has begun to cut into my afternoon nap time. I’m having to plan more work for myself to keep busy because I’m sleeping more soundly, waking up earlier, and having trouble drifting off in the afternoon.  If this keeps up I might actually finish projects around the house that I’ve been avoiding for almost 30 years, and I find that a bit distressing. It’s always been comforting to know that I’m behind on something

My craving for beer absolutely died for exactly two days.  My enthusiastic resolve to take advantage of the diet plan killed my desire for a brew for 48 hours, and then it came back with a vengeance.  I’m cheating moderately, but it’s OK–I feel plenty guilty about it.  Please don’t tell anyone.

So, of course, given this (mostly) concerted effort, I expect the pounds to fall away precipitously, but then I remember that it took several years to attain this unsightly fat and it might just take more than a couple of weeks to burn it all off.

My highly Puritanical digital scale does not help, especially when I start checking my weight twice daily, expecting quick results.  It is either just highly sensitive or wildly inaccurate.  I swear that if I have a passing thought about eating a donut, the scale jumps a pound or two just as a warning.  However, my clothes are fitting better, I have regained a notch on my belt, and I’ve stopped weighing myself for the time being so I can just focus on how I feel more than the half-pound I might have gained or lost.

Time is another issue.  I have too much of it now.  Having a shake as a meal twice a day really cuts into the amount of time needed for grocery shopping, food preparation, and meals.  I try to take my time while chewing on my shake to really savor all 8 ounces of it, but from start to finish, it’s about a 15-minute process.  And then I stare longingly at last night’s leftovers, the delicious lunch-sized portions of healthy looking soups, stews, and other dishes that my wife so lovingly prepares for our dinners.  I check my watch to see how many hours are left until dinnertime and a real meal.

Today, I am enjoying a “cleanse” day where instead of the shakes, my food intake will be limited to four 8-ounce glasses of nutritious bliss spread out across the day, along with other supplements and a couple of snacks.  It’s easier than it sounds actually.  And, heck, it’s given me time to write this piece.  Who knows, I might even pick up one of those self-help books that people keep giving me and give it a try.

 

Doing Stuff That Women Do

I’ve written recently about my sudden lack of fear to try new and death-defying activities like indoor skydiving, zip lining, and white-water rafting, but until recently I had been far too afraid to try something as scary as a spa treatment.

Then my wife gave me a gift certificate to get a “men’s facial.”  My idea of facial skin care involves shaving every day and occasionally putting on sunscreen.  The thought of filling my drawer with creams and astringents and actually learning what is good for my skin seemed like a massive waste of time and money.

However, I had started to notice that my “laugh lines” were starting to look like fault lines, small crevasses etched around my eyes and across my forehead.  The parenthesis around my lips was starting to look like misplaced dimples growing deeper every day and being joined with other weird creases that I had never noticed before.

I figured that if I could crash through a Class V rapid, I could survive a facial with my dignity intact. So, I made the appointment.

Walking into the spa, I can immediately feel zen-like atmosphere they are trying to project.  The receptionist greets me as if I’m a long-lost friend even though we are complete strangers.  All of the people working the desk speak in smooth, hushed tones.  I appreciate the hours it must take to train oneself to talk like that.  I’m far more used to having someone greet me by flipping me a coaster and growling, “Waddaya drinkin’?’”

I’m ushered into a lounge where I can sip on tea or flavored water, and I am told that Krissy will be with me shortly.  I feel mildly aroused at the thought, but I’m pretty sure it’s just the rush that I’m getting from the flavored water.

Minutes later, I’m greeted by a pleasant young woman who takes me back to a dimly lit room featuring something like a massage table. She instructs me to take off my t-shirt and shoes and make myself comfortable on the bed.

She comes back moments later, makes sure I’m comfortable, and then extends the arm of a small machine that is hissing steam out of a small robot-head and aims it closely at my face.  “This is a steamer,” she explains, “to help open up your pores.”

Maybe it’s just me, or maybe its volume of the steamer but I find breathing the steamy air through my nose to be distinctly uncomfortable.  I feel a little like I’m being waterboarded except that I’m paying for it, and I feel like I can’t complain because I have absolutely no idea how it’s supposed to feel.

As I grow used to the hissing robot arm, Krissy goes to work.  I discover quickly that there is no chatting during a facial.  As she starts spreading the first layer of oil or cream across my forehead, down my cheeks and everywhere that is not my eyes and mouth, I realize that I need to keep my mouth shut or risk swallowing whatever product she is using.

Relieved of the need of any conversation, I begin to relax as she slathers layer after layer of creamy, oily goo over my face.  She removes each one gently with warm towels before she applies the next layer, but they all seem exactly the same to me except for some are more slightly aromatic.  I’m starting to think that they are all the same (after all, my eyes are closed) when she slips in a lotion that is tinged with Ajax or some other abrasive.  I think that maybe I’m being exfoliated although I don’t exactly know what that means.  I think of it as the light sanding that I do before I put on the finishing coats of paint on a wood project at home.  Sure enough, one or two layers later, I’m done.

She lets the warm towel rest on my face for a bit before giving me a final wipe-down and informing me that “our time is up” and that she’ll meet me in the hallway when I’m ready.  She is impersonally friendly as she asks if I enjoyed the experience, and I’m reservedly enthusiastic while I thank her and retire to the rest room to actually stare at my face and see if all that attention has made any difference.

To my surprise, it has.  It is as if she has Spackled over the worst of the cracks and crevices, and even once I remove the residual oiliness, I can feel how much smoother my skin is to the touch.  I do not look any more youthful–I’m pretty sure no amount of lotion is going to achieve that–but it is as if I have gotten a very inexpensive face lift or a Botox treatment without the nasty needles.

I start to think that this was actually a darn good investment as I walk back through the coma-inducing lounge and into the reception area.  I’m greeted once again by my new best friends who assure me that, of course they can book me with Krissy for another facial some time soon.

After all, let’s face it.  The women that I know look better, smell better, and are smarter than I am.  I’m all in on the facials.  Bring on the mani-pedis.  I’m ready.

First Kiss

It was inevitable, I suppose, that a woman would create my first moral quandary.

It was near the end of my eighth grade year when plans for a class trip to Disneyland began.  I was caught off guard when, Carmela, the girl I liked best in the class, suddenly asked me if I was going to take a “date” to the Magic Kingdom.  I had missed the memo that “dating” was now a thing, that having a girlfriend had changed from being repulsive (or at least something you kept a secret) to being desirable.  So, I answered “No,” disdainfully and with conviction.

Carmela didn’t take it personally, although in the moment she seemed disappointed in my answer, and she quickly set her sights on my soon-to-be-ex-best-friend, Mike.  Suddenly, it was clear that the boys and girls were pairing up and I was behind the curve.  Carmela was looking out for me though and let me know that Suzanne, a perfectly suitable replacement, was hoping I would ask her.  I did so, and secured my very first date.

I mean, what was not to like about Suzanne–long dark hair, turned-up nose, and somehow she managed to show off a lot of leg when sitting in class despite the lengthy, Catholic-school uniform skirt.  I didn’t know what lust was yet, but I was interested in finding out.

Some time before the trip, the girls formed a conspiracy.  They each tied a piece of string around their wrists, a string with three knots in it.  The boys were told, if you were to break your girl’s string, you would owe her a kiss.

I broke Suzanne’s string some time before Disneyland and there seemed to be an understanding that the big moment would come some time shortly after.  I agonized about it for days.  It wasn’t that I was against kissing.  I also wasn’t particularly interested in it yet, but I had no moral objections.  The problem was that I knew that Suzanne’s mom did not want her kissing anyone.  I could not have known this if Suzanne hadn’t told me.  Why she chose to torture me with this information, I have never understood.  It was clear that she had every intention of getting herself kissed, but I was an altar boy and a rule-follower.  Wouldn’t kissing her, in light of her mother’s objection be a conscious transgression?

I was sure I was in a potential sin situation and decided to consult an expert.  The easiest way to talk with a priest was to go to confession, so the following Wednesday I rode my bike down to the church.  I entered the dark confessional and went through whatever sins I could think of and then interrupted the ritual to ask if I could meet with up with him after his sin-hearing session was over.  The deep, disembodied voice told me where to wait.

I can’t remember his name and I wish that I could.  He was tall and powerfully built and his head was shaven.  I remember that he drove an expensive car and that parishioners sometimes whispered about a priest driving a nicer car than most in the parish.

I was nervous as he walked toward me near an entrance to the church, and we began a stroll around the church grounds.  To a boy of my age the aura of a priest was still magical.  They spoke with God.  They touched God.  Their word was the word of God.  I felt awed by his personal attention.

Luckily, he was kind and patient, and I told him of the conspiracy of the strings.  With a serious look on his face he asked, “And just how many of these strings have you broken?”

Mortified, I quickly assured him that I had broken only one.  Even at that age I knew better than to over-extend myself.  We walked and talked in the cool of the early evening, the priest with his hands clasped behind him and me with my hands jammed into my pockets. I can’t remember anything specific that he gave me in the way of guidance, but somehow he managed to reassure me that my intentions were pure and that a kiss wasn’t going to derail me into hell.

The Disneyland trip finally came and Suzanne and I spent the day holding hands as we went from ride to ride feeling very adult.  We ate lunch, bought gifts for our parents, and thoroughly enjoyed our day away from school.  However, the thought of kissing her later that night lurked in the back of my mind constantly.  After all, I had never done it before.  So many things could go wrong, I thought.

The bus dropped us off at the school at the end of the day and we walked from there to her house.  We turned into her tree-lined street just as it was getting dark.  I glanced toward the front of the house to make sure that her mom wasn’t peeking through the drapes or lurking on the front porch.  I tried to remain nonchalant and managed to escort her to the porch without tripping.  In those few seconds as we exchanged goodbyes important questions raced through my mind:  Would our noses get in the way?  Was it important to close my eyes?   Should I worry about mono?

Suddenly we weren’t talking anymore and I realized it was time.  In that moment I had my first experience with what Hemingway called “grace under pressure.” I leaned forward and kissed her quickly but fervently on the lips.

She seemed pleased, and I was greatly relieved.  We repeated polite goodbyes, and I began walking down the quiet sidewalk alone.

I was about three houses away when I heard my name being called, and I turned to see Suzanne walking quickly toward me. I stood in surprise as she approached me, and clearly overcome by passion, she pulled me toward her and gave me a second, lingering kiss on the cheek.  Without a word, she turned and retreated to her house.

I stood there for a long minute mystified. I’ve gotten used to associating that feeling with the behavior of women, but at the time it was new to me.  Everything was new to me.

But what filled my eighth-grade heart that night, the sensation that began on that night and which I still both crave and am surprised at every time I experience it, was feeling of being drenched by the emotion of having been chosen.  Her simple, spontaneous, and unexpected act of affection overwhelmed me.  It said, “I choose you” or “you are special to me” or “I like you better than some of the others” or something like that.

At least, standing under that street light that night, that’s what I thought it said.  And I had never felt that before.  And to this day, I think it is maybe just the best feeling ever.

 

If you enjoy stories of me being a fool for love, you might also enjoy Visiting Love: One Letter at a Time and Thank You, Paul McCartney.

Shakespeare Sunday: Goodbye For Now!

When I started “Shakespeare Sundays” I had this absurd notion that I had time to maybe read a play a week and have a constant stream of great quotes to work from.  After all, I’m an accomplished reader and have plenty of time for reading right now.  I had forgotten a few things though.

Reading an unfamiliar Shakespeare play is hard.  It is beyond time consuming because I actually want to understand the references and the arcane language, so I have to read all of the glossing and the footnotes and the commentary that might go along with a single page.

Add to that, my body, even when well-rested and upright, recognizes reading as a prelude to napping.  Even fast-paced thrillers might last for only a short chapter on a warm afternoon before I’m long gone.  Scholarly close reading?  Fuggiddaboutdit.

Add to that, I’m usually in the process of reading three books at a time.  The good news is that I’m often finding little, non-Shakespearean gems that are very worthy of commentary.  That’s why I’m opening the Sunday feature up to whatever I may stumble across over the course of my reading for the week, including my daily immersion in news reporting and opinion writing.  I still have to figure out a title for this revised feature (suggestions are welcome!).

I just finished reading the densely researched book by John Bohrer, The Revolution of Robert Kennedy.  It describes the personal transformation of Bobby Kennedy from being an often ruthless aide to the hated Joseph McCarthy to becoming a keeper of his brother’s legacy and an even more capable champion of oppressed people, not just in the U.S., but world-wide.  Even after 400 pages, I was disappointed that the work just covers the years 1963-1966.  I wanted to see how the “revolution” continued and formed his campaign for president in 1968.

Two passages stood out because they were familiar.  Many people from my generation will remember Teddy Kennedy’s simple, but eloquent summary of his brother’s life, delivered with a distinct quaver in his voice as he said, “My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life.  To be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it…saw suffering and tried to heal it…saw war, and tried to stop it.”

Not much to say about that.  Whenever I see it, or hear a recording of that mournful moment, I’m taken back to the chaos and sadness of that time, that feeling that hope itself had died along with him.

But the words he spoke on June 6, 1966 at the University of Cape Town in South Africa still recharge my faith even in this dark time:

“Each time a man stand up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lots of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Here’s wishing you a peaceful and hopeful Sunday.

Shakespeare Sunday: Methinks, the Play Goes On A Bit Too Long

Endings are important and who am I to be an editor to Shakespeare.  However, every time I taught the play Hamlet, I found I kept wishing he had ended it about one page earlier.  I mean, the swordplay, multiple poisonings, and Hamlet’s long-awaited vengeance on Claudius are all very satisfying.  But then he ends the play with Fortinbras surveying the scene and morosely reciting the ever-so-forgettable lines:

Take up the bodies: such a sight as this

Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.

Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

C’mon, man!  “Go bid the soldiers shoot”?  That’s really the best you’ve got for maybe your very best tragedy.  I’m always disappointed. Of course at the time, he probably didn’t suspect the enduring nature of Hamlet.  Maybe he was having a bad day.  Maybe he just decided, “Ye gods, fuck it.  I’ve got to just end this sucker.”

He certainly nails it in other plays.  The Prince, in Romeo and Juliet, surveys the tragic scene and succinctly and beautifully captures the mood of the moment:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

I once had the chance to play Romeo’s father in our high school’s production of Romeo and Juliet, which was perhaps the most epically awful production ever, and yet that scene and those six lines had the audience sobbing nightly.

In Hamlet, a mere 50 lines before, he’s got the death of Hamlet and Horatio’s magnificent tribute:

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince:

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!

Boom.  Done.

Except for maybe one loose end.  The critical character known as “First Ambassador” needs to come on stage to inform us that “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.”  Without that line, Tom Stoppard might not have ever had the chance to write his wonderful, absurdist play of the same name some 464 years (more or less) later.  That would have been a loss.

Happy Sunday everyone!  Don’t hesitate to leave a comment if you are so moved!

 

Checking in on “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse”

On December 4, 2016  I came out of my self-induced coma long enough to react to the election of Donald Trump with a list of 6 personal survival strategies that I thought I would need practice in order to help me get through the next four (I refuse to even think about 8) years.  I called that piece, “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse.”

The predictions I made about this wrecking ball of an administration were pretty right on, but far too generous.  It has been so much worse, in so many ways than I could have predicted.  I’m not going to catalogue all of that; it’s just too depressing.  The only saving grace so far has been that the Republican-held Congress is so fractious and inept that they just can’t get anything done especially when the boss changes course, undercuts his own people, and makes policy changes depending on what he has watched on Fox News that morning.

That is not to say that they aren’t doing great damage.  They have squandered the chance to take advantage of the robust economy they were left with and pass legislation that might further wage growth and help to rebuild critical infrastructure.  Instead, they have wasted 6 full months trying to undo the good work of the ACA, revealing the embarrassing truth that they actually have no plan to help all Americans gain the security of health care.  This, after 6 years of decrying and defaming the ACA and passing countless “repeal” bills.

OK.  I have to stop the ranting.

The six suggestions that I made for my own survival all still make sense to me now, although some have become more important to me than others.  But to review, here is what I was thinking back in December:

ISOLATE yourself from the news to protect your spirit and avoid immersing yourself in news that is going to make you feel depressed.

EXERCISE to help to lift your spirits and to join with others in communal activities like hiking and yoga.

CREATE–spend time in whatever creative endeavor lifts your spirits, engages you with others and makes you feel that you are bringing something good into the world.

PLANT SOMETHING–It feels good to watch things grow around you and especially if you have done the work to nurture new life.  I never envisioned the outright assault that the Donald was going to inflict on the environment, but now know that everyone must contribute something.

VOLUNTEER  for any organization that you know can use your help and for which you have a passion. Social services, immigration agencies, schools, and other things we have taken for granted could be devastated by potential budget cuts.  These organizations will need us.

CELEBRATE your successes, whether they are personal or collective.  We have to take joy in any sense of good we bring into the world.  We have to celebrate the light we bring into the darkness.

I have utterly failed at #1.  For the first couple of weeks when I was in deepest mourning, it was easy, but as this shitshow has developed, I simply cannot stay away from the news.  As one commentator said last night, Trump has assembled, “the most incompetent Cabinet ever” and they are creating jaw-dropping headlines daily.  Add that to the spectacular failures of Congress, the daily Trump tweet-storm, and the looming certainty that the Russian scandal may dwarf Watergate, and it has made it impossible for me to stay away from multiple news outlets.  If anything, it has increased my appetite for news because every day, sometimes every hour, brings about a new WTF moment.

I have certainly stayed true to #2 (EXERCISE) frequently spending up to three hours a day on fitness, mostly with long walks, hikes, and yoga.  I’m going bike shopping once the weather cools down.  It has been excellent tonic for my mind, body, and spirit.

Numbers 3 and 4 have combined somewhat for me.  Much of my creative endeavors over the past six months have centered on landscape design around the house.  I have planted over 30 new plants in the yard, and increased my composting capacity.  My Father’s Day gift was a kitchen scale and I began to use it to figure out just how much kitchen waste we were successfully diverting from the landfill and into our own compost.   I discovered that we have been composting close to 25 pounds of kitchen waste per month, a number that startled me since it is just the two of us.  It doesn’t make up for pulling out of the Paris accords, but every new plant, every small effort feels like the right thing to do. Also on the CREATE side, I’ve been writing more (sorry), and am considering enrolling in a drawing and/or guitar class in the fall.

Number 5 (VOLUNTEER) has not changed much for me.  I continue to deliver food for Mama’s Kitchen twice a week, and have upped the hours that I volunteer for the Solana Center, a local non-profit dedicated to teaching folks about sustainable practices (like composting).  I’d like to do more.

CELEBRATING successes has been a more quiet thing. People are afraid to talk about politics either to avoid conflict or too avoid surging down the rabbit hole of depression.  One friend has started a “First Sunday Sunrise” hiking group and sets out a monthly challenge.  She celebrates each hike on Facebook with pictures and videos and her group seems to continue to grow.  This is kind of what I had in mind.  I think about joining her group on every first Saturday night.  It’s just that being-somewhere-at-or-before-sunrise-on-ANY-given-day thing that I struggle with.  I did joyfully celebrate overcoming my fear of fun when I went both zip-lining and white-water rafting within four days on a trip to Colorado Springs.  I became so energized by the adrenaline highs that as soon as I got home, I busted out a gift certificate that had been mouldering for almost 6 months and experienced indoor sky-diving.  Anyone near me is tired of hearing me talk about it, but those three things have changed my ability to trust myself to be more open to challenging new experiences.

Make no mistake.  The nation faces dire times ahead.  This is how I’m coping right now. How about you?  Any ideas for the rest of us?

 

 

 

Shakespeare Sunday: Everyone Dies

Happy Sunday everyone!  Last week when I wrote about Sonnet 18, I mentioned the irony in how the speaker in the poem brags about the immortality that his poem gives to his loved one’s beauty, when Shakespeare spends an awful lot of time reminding us of our fragile grasp on life.  That brought me back to Sonnet 73. Go ahead and read it again if it’s been a while.  I’ll wait:

SONNET 73

That time of year thou mayst in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou seest the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west,

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the death-bed whereon it must expire

Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.

This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Just to bring a little more rigor to Shakespeare Sunday, I actually read some analysis of this poem, but what I was looking for was to see if there was any record of when each poem was written.  I was curious to see how much later 73 was written than 18.  No luck.

However, I did find lots of analysis and deep parsing of this lovely poem which would have completely ruined it for me, but I long ago quit paying much attention to literary criticism.  I enjoy reading some analysis to inform me of just how ignorant I might be when I start writing about literature, but am sometimes appalled at the nit-picking I start to find.  I sure hope that I didn’t kill the enjoyment of the poetry that I read with my students in a similar manner.  I did write about my approach to poetry as a teacher some time ago in a piece I called “I Don’t Hate Poetry.”

One analysis found the three metaphors that Shakespeare uses to be “cliched”–another writer might call them “timeless.”  Regardless, as a teacher it was great fun to play with these metaphors with students because most young people simply do not think in terms of metaphor.  They do not consider that the seasons, or that the cycle of the day, or that the burning of a fire is kind of like the progression of life from youth to death.

I particularly like the first four lines.  I’m not sure you can find a better example of iambic pentameter (just supposing you were looking for one) and they are maybe my favorite four lines of poetry to read aloud.  The image of naked branches as “bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang” seems just perfect; naked branches “where yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang.”

In the following quatrain, the speaker thinks of himself as being in the “twilight” of his life “which by and by black night doth take away.”  I was always intrigued by Shakespeare’s characterization of night as “death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.”  To think of sleep as akin to death seems totally appropriate to me.  It reaffirms my daily response to the overly-cheerful baristas at Starbucks who greet me every morning between 5 and 7 AM with the question “How is your day going?”–just a horrible question to ask me BEFORE I’ve had my twenty ounces of morning Joe.  The only thing I can think of to say is, “Well, I woke up this morning.”

In the third quatrain, the speaker admits he is no longer a bonfire, but just a collection of burning embers, soon to be extinct.

In the final couplet, we come to understand that the speaker seems to be speaking to a younger person and warning or advising him or her that one must “love that well which thou must leave ere long.”  Life is short.  Live long and prosper.

As I was warming up to write this piece (something that goes on all week!), I thought about that scene from “Dead Poet’s Society” when Robin Williams character takes his boys down to view the pictures of long-dead alumni of the fictional Welton Academy and delivers his famous “carpe diem” speech:

“Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You have walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them. They’re not very different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their live even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see, gentlemen, these boys are now fertilising daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, Lean in. Listen… Do you hear it? (whispers) Carpe. (whispers again) Cape. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

Some critics thought this speech sucked also, but I like it.  Any movie that showed a teacher teaching with mindfulness and passion was OK with me.

Hope you’ve had a great week.  I promised my mid-week piece would be a check in on “Surviving the Trump Apocalypse” and I will try, but “Retired, Not Dead” will be on the road to Seattle, WA for a well-deserved vacation,  and I may just be having too much fun to write about politics.

The Continued Relevance of “1984”

When 45 was elected there were lots of postings on Facebook about the uptick in people purchasing and reading or re-reading George Orwell’s 1984.

I did not rush out and get a copy because I was already depressed enough and revisiting what I remembered of that grim world that Orwell first wrote about in 1950 did not appeal.  I stayed away from it until a former student reached out on Facebook, and we decided to create a two-person book club. After reading The Handmaid’s Tale, we decided we would take on 1984.

As I read, I was surprised at how straightforward the narrative was, and while I could see some parallels to the political climate that we have been plunged into since the election of 2016, it wasn’t until half-way through the book that I came across some passages that really resonated.

I’m sure that some writers and thinkers have done much more work on this than I’m willing to so I will stick to a couple of parallels that were particularly striking.

Overall, I do not believe that 2016 looks like the world envisioned in 1984.  After all, we are a vibrant and diverse culture. Personal liberties are mostly still intact.  Their is robust political discussion, conversation, and protest that seems unending. The judiciary and individual states have managed to blunt some of 45’s excesses, and many of us are counting the days until the 2018 elections when some of our diffuse outrage might be turned into significant electoral action.

However, there are a few haunting similarities.  Just as Orwell envisioned the ministries of Truth, Peace, and Love that were all dedicated to their opposites, 45’s cabinet-level nominees seemed to have been hand-picked to destroy or work in opposition to the very principles of their departments.  The department of Justice under Jess Sessions is devoted to rolling back any initiative that was dedicated to advancing civil rights, and is working hard to find ways to increase voter suppression.  The Environmental Protection agency is being gutted by Scott Pruitt, and it appears as though every effort to protect our air and water that has been implemented over the past 10 years is going to be eliminated as a sop to coal and oil interests just at a time when many states are surging forward with innovations in renewable energy.  Just today, 18 states sued Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of the Department of Education, for trying to stop regulations that would protect students and parents from being defrauded by private, for-profit colleges.

The odd part for me about all of this is that the partisan divide is so deep that even though these policies hurt everyone, the polling seems to show little change since the election. 45’s base voters are as rabidly enthusiastic as ever although there has been movement among independent voters.  There continues to be a solid majority that are unalterably apposed to the man.  Of course, that was true on election day also.

The second parallel that was most striking to me was how the government of 1984 saw the power of re-writing the past and continually revising history in order to manipulate and control the masses.  Winston, of course, knows this because he works in the Ministry of Truth where he is continually making changes to history books and historical documents to make them align with the Party’s changing positions.  He tries to impress the enormity of this mass manipulation to his lover, Julia with an impassioned explanation: “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered.  And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute.  History has stopped.  Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

He is disappointed when his young lover shows little interest.  She is so jaded that Winston’s news does not surprise her, just confuses and bores her a little.  Of course the government lies. Yes, people are “disappeared.” Orwell describes her condition by saying that, [o]ften she was ready to accept the official mythology, simply because the difference between truth and falsehood did not seem important to her.”

Trump and his minions unapologetically spew out lies and contradictions at such a dizzying pace that I fear the populace has become anesthetized.  The New York Times has compiled an impressive list of lies (“President Trump’s Lies, the Definitive List”) that Trump has foisted on America since his inauguration and despite the enormity of it, or maybe because of it, the populace seems to have grown numb.  Thirty-five percent of Americans believe him or believe it doesn’t matter that he lies, and sixty-five precent have come to not believe anything that he says.  All investigative reporting is quickly branded as “fake news” and the White House is always able to present “alternative facts” if asked.  The deliberate confusing of all of the narratives surrounding the enormity of the scandals that are emanating from this administration has left many people unsure of who to believe.

Winston still has the capacity for outrage and the desire to join what he perceives as the resistance while Julia has accepted the duplicitous nature of the world she lives in and rebels through hedonism and other small defiances.

Seems like such a short time ago, we had a devout interest in protecting the environment, furthering the cause of civil rights, and working to provide for the good of all Americans.  We had a president who most Americans trusted and who seemed to be trying hard to maintain a the kind of sense of dignity and decorum that we used to expect of our presidents.

We aren’t in the world of 1984 yet, but we certainly have moved closer to it.