Stranger. 1981. Alexandria, Virginia
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The title of the New York Times article is "Aging: Growing Older Is Found to Hurt Decision Making" By Eric Nagourney.
"As they grow older, even people who seem perfectly on top of things may have trouble making good decisions, a new study suggests."
I suggest that this study is idiotic.
"The researchers based their findings on a series of tests given to two groups of healthy people, one ages 26 to 55, the other 56 to 85. The goal was to see how well the older volunteers used the skills often demanded of them when making decisions in real life about activities like investments, insurance and estate planning.
“Such decisions would be a challenge even for young adults,” the researchers note in the current Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. But when age is taken into account, they said, along with the abundance of shady marketing schemes, the challenge becomes even greater.
Even someone with high intellect and good memory, the study said, may be undergoing changes in the prefrontal part of the brain that affects behavior. “The first manifestation of this cognitive decline may be exercising poor judgment and decision making in many important real-life matters,” the study said.
The researchers, led by Natalie L. Denburg of the University of Iowa, used a gambling-style test in which people draw from four different decks of cards. Two decks, not to mince words, are for suckers. They give short-term rewards but long-term losses. The other two decks do the opposite.
Most people draw a lot from the bad decks first and switch. In the study, many of the older participants stuck with the bad
Wait a minute. What exactly is the connection between deciding to stick with the "sucker deck" and decreased ability with decisions in real life about activities such as investments, insurance and estate planning? Do you mean that a 27-year-old who switches from the "bad deck" to the "good deck" is therefore better at estate planning?
Oh well. I suppose my inability to follow the rationale must be because of my age.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
A couple of weeks ago I visited a blog I like, Simply Left Behind , found out about the movie Maxed Out. Watched it. I think you should too.
Monday, January 28, 2008
Today in The New York Times, Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler by Mark Bittman - This article is dense with information, not just about the horrendous treatment of animals, but about implications more far reaching - oil, climate change, starvation worldwide, individual health (duh). It's a short read, a must read.
Yesterday in The Washington Post, not one, but four articles about aging issues. Three in OUTLOOK Their G-G-Generation A special section on aging boomers:
How long will they work?
Who will care for them? Q&A
Will they die alone?
One in Metro - Guarding Health, And Independence: As Populations Age, Localities Tailor Services to...
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Imagine having so much stuff that you've got to rent someplace to store the excess. Egads.
My friend Kara recently sent me a link to Beth Terry's blog Fake Plastic Fish. Beth is committed to living without excess plastic. Amazing.
In my day tattoos were considered, for lack of a gentler word, disgusting. Welcome to 2008. Julia's goodie-two-shoes, childhood friend Stacey took herself to get a dinner-plate size phoenix tattooed on her back on her 18th birthday. They're all doing it - blonde, pony-tailed soccer girls, jocks, preps, emos, you name it, and, as it turns out, Scientists and 57-year olds.
In August, Kristara and I travelled with Julia to San Francisco to escort her to college. We stayed for a week. It was my birthday and Kristara decided she wanted to give me a tattoo. Our first stop was a tattoo place in the Castro where, it turns out, walk-ins are welcome but there's no time for them. They called their other store on Haight. Sure thing. Rob had time. We drove on over and sat around and waited while Rob ate his burrito and rice in it's Styrofoam take-out container and visited with his girlfriend. He then humored me, this lady old enough to be his grandmother, getting a purple star, no larger than a dime, tattooed on her wrist.
I was flush with pride. Ecstatic. It was only my first. But enough about me.
Ever visit The Loom? It's science writer Carl Zimmer's blog. Among other fascinating things you'll find there is his gallery of Science Tattoos. They're fabulous - organic compounds, mobius, formulas, a microscope, a capsacian molecule, lots more, all with short, interesting explanations. The ruler, pictured above, is that of Mikey Sklar. He says he uses it a lot at Green Acres Hot Springs, described as an environmentally friendly bed and breakfast in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. If you've got a science tattoo yourself, Carl Zimmer welcomes it to his set of 131 and growing.
I'd send pictures of mine but something tells me a dancing Snoopy and befuddled Woodstock just aren't gonna cut it.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
David Budbill. Very cool man.
bones and ash,
the roots of weeds
Drunk on music,
who needs wine?
let's go dancing
still got feet.
WINTER: TONIGHT: SUNSET
Tonight at sunset walking on the snowy road,
my shoes crunching on the frozen gravel, first
through the woods, then out into the open fields
past a couple of trailers and some pickup trucks, I stop
and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.
I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening
a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.
"TOMORROW" and "WINTER: TONIGHT: SUNSET" by David Budbill, from While We've Still Got Feet. © Copper Canyon Press.
Friday, January 25, 2008
Who would have thought.
And I quote:
"It's the birthday of William Somerset Maugham, (books by this author) born to English parents in Paris, France
(1874). His early childhood was comfortable and happy, but his mother died when he was eight and he never got over the loss. He kept three pictures of her next to his bedside for the rest of his life. His father died a few years later, and he had to go live with an unaffectionate uncle. He developed a terrible stutter
and became incredibly shy. He later said, "Had I not stammered I would probably ... have gone to Cambridge ... become a don and every now and then published a dreary book about French literature." Instead, he read voraciously and eventually began to write fiction. Maugham decided to study medicine,
because he knew his uncle would disown him if he admitted that he wanted to be a writer. After medical school, he became an obstetrician, and got a job making
house calls to deliver babies in the worst slums of London. He stayed up for hours every night to work on his first novel, Liza of Lambeth (1897), which was about the extreme poverty he had witnessed as a doctor. The book was successful enough to allow him to quit his job and devote his life to writing. He went on to become one of the most popular authors of his lifetime, writing many plays, essays, short stories, and memoirs. He's best known for his novel Of Human Bondage (1915), based on his own childhood. He once read the book on the radio, and when he came to the passage describing the death of the main character's mother, he broke down weeping and was barely able tocontinue.
Maugham said, "Few misfortunes can befall a boy which bring worse consequences than to have a really affectionate mother."
And, "Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. There is really nothing to be said about it. It is like the perfume of a rose: you can smell it and that is all.""
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Student calls administrator's home to question lack of snow day in spite of snow. Wife thinks kid shouldn't be calling their home and leaving a message, takes offense. Wife calls the student back and leaves him a one-minute screamer. Student posts wife's message on internet. Not surprisingly, it ends up on YouTube is removed sometime after the link is included in washingtonpost.com and the item is included in all matter of tv shows.
Washingtonpost.com publishes article - "Va. Student's Snow-Day Plea Triggers an Online Storm", by Michael Alison Chandler, Wednesday, January 23, 2008. It generates many comments.
I'm just the messenger.
In Orphans’ Twilight, Memories of a Doomed Utopia in the New York Times.
Posted by Judith Shapiro at 11:36 AM
See the article in the NY Times yesterday - In the Fatosphere, Big Is In, or at Least Accepted by Roni Caryn Rabin? I think it's time she identified us. Are we in the Oldosphere? Elderosphere? Oldfartosphere?
My mother, by the way, wanted to be in a rock band called the Grateful Living. I suppose she wasn't the first to come up with it, but at the time it seemed hella clever.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
When I was 19, I wrote my parents a letter explaining that I’d be dropping out of college to go to “the school of life”. I thought I was very clever. My parents apparently got a chuckle out of it, so much so, that after my mother died I found the letter amongst her stash of adorable things that her children had made.
The school of life I attended basically consisted of moving to New York City and living with my boyfriend Don. We were not the most committed couple you’ll ever meet - once we got to New York, our relatively crummy relationship lasted no more than another six months, just enough time for us to spend the summer in an apartment in the Village and then land a "garden" apartment on the Upper West Side.
Looking out our apartment window in the Village, across what seemed like an entire block of undeveloped land, I could see the sign for The Fantasticks. One summer day an artist scattered reams and reams of typewriter paper all over the empty lot. It was art. It was the sixties.
I got a job at a boutique. I don't know what brought me to 116th Street and Broadway, across from Columbia that afternoon, but I was there and a Help Wanted sign hung in the window so I went inside the tiny, hip clothing store and got the job. My boss, "Auntie", was the concentration-camp-surviving Aunt of the owner who lived somewhere in Jersey. She had a faded, blurry, purple tattoo on her arm, a visual reminder, as if she needed one. She sat on her stool behind the cash register. I sat in my chair. We spent our days together.
If I had time, I'd often walk the thirty blocks up Broadway to work. Grab a hot bagel from Zabar's. Same routine going home. Heaven.
Slow forward to 2008, this morning and the e-mail from the Very Short List about The Works by Kate Ascher. Here's what they have to say:
How am I gonna resist Amazon 1-Click on this one? How are you gonna resist it?
"If you end up buying Kate Ascher’s excellent, handsome oversize book The Works and place it amid other, similarly sized coffee-table books in your living room, we’re betting, guests will zero in on it immediately.
The book gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the intricacies of New York City’s infrastructure — how electricity flows to millions of people; how traffic patterns develop and are managed; how gas, electricity, sewage, water, and subway tunnels all coexist peacefully deep underground; . . . . You don’t need to live in New York to appreciate The Works — it will give you an entirely fresh understanding and new found respect for how your city or town operates. "
And one more thing about The Works. That's how my father and I always ordered our hot dogs.
Monday, January 21, 2008
I've been thinking about what Naomi said in response to my January 15 post, Slow Down Week or Slow Down Life... "a good thought, a useful notion. but can i do it in new york city? whizzing all around me...we need a slowdown support group. . . ."
It occurs to me that I don't think there's absolute virtue in slowing down at all. To me, it's about being engaged, fully present, striving for genuine contentment.
I thought about you, Naomi, living in New York and I felt a twinge of envy. There's no place else I'd rather be than in New York. It's where I feel most alive, fully engaged, most like myself, comfortable in my own skin.
Ultimately, for me, the essence of Slow Down is an awareness of self - of what makes me right in my own skin. Awareness of what I am doing, with my time, my activities, my life.
It's not about speed or altering one's personal tempo, but attention, engagement, happiness wherever we are, lazing in a hammock or scurrying about the city.
As usual, a poem comes to mind, this one by Philip Appleman. To me, it's always a little bit like Spring in New York City.
Nobody Dies in the Spring
Nobody dies in the spring
on the Upper West Side:
On the Upper West Side
we're holding hands with strangers
on the Number 5 bus,
and we're singing the sweet
graffiti on the subway,
and kids are skipping patterns through
the bright haze of incinerators,
and beagles and poodles are making a happy
ruin of the sidewalks,
and hot-dog men are racing
their pushcarts down Riverside Drive,
and Con Ed is tearing up Broadway
from Times Square to the Bronx,
and the world is a morning miracle
of sirens and horns and jackhammers
and Baskin-Robbins' 31 kinds of litter
and sausages at Zabar's floating
overhead like blimps--oh,
it is no place for dying, not
on the Upper West Side, in springtime.
There will be a time
for the smell of burning leaves at Barnard,
for milkweed winging silky over Grant's Tomb,
for apples falling to grass in Needle Park;
but not in all this fresh new golden
smog: now there is something
breaking loose in people's chests,
something that makes butchers and bus boys
and our neighborhood narcs and muggers
go whistling in the streets--now
there is something with goat feet out there, not
waiting for the WALK light, piping
life into West End window-boxes,
pollinating weeds around
condemned residential hotels,
and prancing along at the head
of every elbowing crowd on the West Side,
Follow me-- it's spring--
and nobody dies.
"Nobody Dies in the Spring," by Philip Appleman, from New and Selected Poems, 1956-1996. © University of Arkansas Press.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Julia sent me this video. She knows I love math. When she was about five I showed her an elementary algebraic equation and she seemed to follow it. In retrospect, I suspect she didn't get it at all and was merely being polite, waiting until I was finished so she could run off to play. It turns out, she hates math. My excitement when trying to explain anything to do with numbers to her was always inversely proportional to her despondence.
She calls me once in a while to ask me about some mathematical construct or symbol that she's considering including in a poem or essay she's writing. One of my favorites is factorial, indicated by the symbol !. 5! is 5 factorial or 1x2x3x4x5. I like to think of it as a very excited, gleeful 5! Julia recently phoned to inquire about sines and cosines. As I launched into an explanation, I could feel her eyes glazing over, 3,000 miles away.
Julia sent me this video. She knew I'd enjoy it. Truce.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Dua - Yikes. So much work. Sorry I didn't call you back tonight but I had hours of schoolwork to do and knew I shouldn't get on the phone. Dinner was okay - crab cakes, spring mix salad, browned roasted potatoes, string beans with mushrooms and onions that I picked off the top of some brown meat with gravy, little cupcakes (yummy), m&ms (Halloween colors), lightly, oh-so-lightly salted peanuts, a green apple (I would have preferred red) at the hotel front desk, one chocolate chip cookie and one oatmeal cookie at the second hotel front desk. Sheesh. Not a bad night at all. No grapes though, although I wouldn't know what to do with them anyhow. Is your computer running on-line? I love you and miss you. Mom
Posted by Judith Shapiro at 9:27 PM
You can read about it at CNN.
Ever heard of the Beloit College Mindset List? I encountered it for the first time yesterday while blogomeandering. Seems Beloit comes up with an entertaining and illuminating list attempting to identify the worldview of incoming freshmen/women, truisms, realities of the world for someone age 18. (Julia goes to a women's college and all the freshwomen are called freshwomen, something that hadn't occurred to me before, in spite of my bra-burning in the 60s.)
I came upon the Beloit List at TrogVision: The View from the Cave, where I also read, and I quote, "Let's remember, as some professor told me in law school: Money+family=litigation." True dat.
Back to the list - #7 of 70 is "They have grown up with bottled water". You can read an article, Bottled Water Isn't Healthier Than Tap, Report Reveals at National Geographic News. Among other points, in case you don't feel like reading it, is that some bottled water is simply tap water. On second thought, why don't you take a quick look at the article, but before you go, one more thought -
Consider the "mindset" as described by Beloit's list for someone who turned 18 in, let's say, 1940. Computers did not exist, hell, electric typewriters didn't exist, nor did fax machines, SUVs, Teflon or 8-track tapes. MasterCard and Visa had not entered our world and George W. Bush wasn't born yet. What was the norm?
Imagine the enormity of changes in the world that someone 85 years old has encountered, endured, survived. Yet, often, all we see is the old person, frail, unyielding, set in their ways.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Jerzy and Kristara were sick today and wanted comfort food. They gave me a list and off I went to the grocery store and, among other things too disgusting to mention, I got a cantaloupe from Guatemala, black cherries from Chile, organic bananas from Ecuador and frozen organic blueberries from Canada.
I disapprove of my own purchases.
I'm thinking about food. Nothing new for me. I've been thinking about food for most of my life. When I was a kid our household was always filled with food - dinner together, all seven (or eight, if Ruth was there) around the dinner table, each in our assigned seat. I sat in between Ruth and my mother, across from Josh. Josh liked to play "Look!", his mouth filled with partially chewed food, opened wide, Look!. He drove my mother crazy. JeriAnn sat at the other end next to my father. I suspect she was his favorite.
We ate meat and vegetables and rice or potatoes every night - capons roasted to perfection, moist on the inside with crispy skin; roast beef with "natural juices" (blood?); when in doubt, inch-thick sirloin steaks. And only real butter - lima beans swimming in pools of butter; broiled flounder in lemon butter; corn-on-the-cob not complete until our chins shone with butter. My father had meat delivered from the city periodically. He ordered smoked hams from a company in Vermont. They'd never mailed hams before. To this day they have a thriving mail-order business.
In summer, when the fruit market was open, I'd go with my father to buy flats of black cherries, blueberries, peaches and whole watermelons. We'd frequent the fishery, our purchases wrapped up in newspaper (We called the local paper the fish wrapper.) and go to the delicatessen where the owner made me tasty treats of herring and cucumber piled onto a cracker.
We ate food. Lots of it.
In the late 60s my brother Josh introduced me to Macrobiotics. I got the cookbook, bought brown rice, mung beans, aduki beans and tamari, and I was set. I drank carrot juice at the health store on Broadway. I suspect I was macrobiotic for about a week.
My brother Jeff, on the other hand, taught me the wonders of the cheese steak hoagie, a midnight summertime treat followed up by a A&W root beer float - thick, cold glass mug filled to overflowing and delivered by a carhop on a tray to hang on the driver's-side window.
In college I studied Biology, with special interest in Biochemistry and Nutrition. In those days we had Adelle Davis and Euell Gibbons to lead us to nutritional rightness. I kept chickens for eggs; grew vegetables in short Vermont summers; ground wheat berries into flour to make bread; made my own tofu, mayonnaise, humus; cooked on a wood stove. We ate wisely, naturally, deliciously.
Enter the 21st century. My kids counted the days until Taco Bell opened down the street. They eat there several days a week. They "eat fresh" at Subway routinely; Popeye's for fries and "chicken strips"; Chipotle; Domino's, Pizza Hut, Papa John's pizza; all matter of "soft" drinks (They call them beverages.) and chips; and boxed, bagged and frozen meals cooked in the microwave.
Forget the fact that their pizzas were homemade when they were little - organic whole wheat crust, organic tomato sauce; that I made their pancakes from scratch with 20-grain (that's right, 20-grain) flour I mail-ordered from Walnut Acres; their french toast with 9-grain bread.
Jerzy loves to make pancakes from a mix she buys packaged in a plastic container - all she does is add something, shakes and pours. When she and Julia are sick, they both crave frozen Pizza Rolls for comfort.
And now I'm primed and ready to rant about cloned animals that the FDA, in its infinite wisdom, says are safe for consumption (NY Times article here). And about the billions of dollars that drug companies spend for cholesterol lowering drugs, even though it's not clear that cholesterol is the ultimate culprit, in the midst of a culture that promotes heart disease and diabetes through over-consumption and under-activity (NY Times article here).
I'd like to go on and on about the Ingredients labels on packaged foods, that they've lost their usefulness, and simply feed the frenzy of food fads. Do you know what we see when we glance at the ingredients? We look at the carb count or the total fat and sat fats. We don't glance at the ingredients at all. If we did, and if we weren't inured to the fact that what poses as food is actually a mix of processed (What exactly is processed?) natural and artificial flavors, weird colors, scary chemicals, and is not actually food at all, we wouldn't take a bite or a sip.
I'd like to rant about these things, maybe make references to Michael's Pollan's new book again. But I won't.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Here's what happens when I sit down to post on my own blog. I visit other blogs. One blog leads to another, which leads to another, eventually leading to a publication inviting me to sign up for daily e-mails (which I do, adding to all the other updates I get each day and actually read). After romping around on the blogoturf, I run into a video clip to watch on YouTube and you know where that leads.
After my whirl in the blogoocean my head is swimming with ideas, feelings, thoughts, and I want to read some book and watch a movie, and tell everyone about a fascinating concept. I'm also awash in outrage about injustice and brutalization of humans and animals; devastation of the planet; and all matter of "wrong" stuff. I want to change the world on so many fronts. But I'm stuck, lying down with my laptop on my lap, blogging.
Posted by Judith Shapiro at 11:33 AM
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Two Poems by Tony Hoagland One Sister One Mother
When the medication she was taking
caused tiny vessels in her face to break,
leaving faint but permanent blue stitches in her cheeks,
my sister said she knew she would
never be beautiful again.
After all those years
of watching her reflection in the mirror,
sucking in her stomach and standing straight,
she said it was a relief,
being done with beauty,
but I could see her pause inside that moment
as the knowledge spread across her face
with a fine distress, sucking
the peach out of her lips,
making her cute nose seem, for the first time,
a little knobby.
I'm probably the only one in the whole world
who actually remembers the year in high school
she perfected the art
of being a dumb blond,
spending recess on the breezeway by the physics lab,
tossing her hair and laughing that canary trill
that was her specialty,
while some football player named Johnny
with a pained expression in his eyes
wrapped his thick finger over and over again
in the bedspring of one of those pale curls.
Or how she spent the next decade of her life
auditioning a series of tall men
looking for just one with the kind of
attention span she could count on.
Then one day her time of prettiness was done,
and all those other beautiful women
in the magazines and on the streets
just kept on being beautiful
everywhere you looked,
walking in that kind of elegant, disinterested trance
in which you sense they always have one hand
touching the secret place
that keeps their beauty safe,
inhaling and exhaling the perfume of it.
It was spring. Season when the young
buttercups and daisies climb up on the
mulched bodies of their forebears
to wave their flags in the parade.
My sister just stood still for thirty seconds,
amazed about the way that things can go,
then shrugged and tossed her shaggy head
as if she was throwing something out,
something she had carried a long ways
but had no use for anymore,
now that it had no use for her.
That, too, was beautiful.
If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.
Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.
Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.
Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,
amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.
And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
until she begged me like a child
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.
If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy
because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.
Yesterday Jerzy and I were within a few yards of Starbucks. She wanted a Venti Green Tea. I'm always up for an afternoon decaf-triple-tall-skim-no whip-Mocha. Between the two of us, an easy $7, a few yummy gulps, garbage toss and go. We decided against it.
Applause and encouragement please.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Check out the video at Adbusters. Here's what they have to say:
"Using a hybrid car for your two-hour commute to work, or eating organic food during your 20-minute lunch break isn't enough. In order to negotiate the ecological problems facing our planet, we need to slow down our way of life. The frenetic pace of the modern world is a hindrance to the kind of deep cultural change we need to ensure a healthy future. Slow Down Week is a great opportunity to take it easy and adopt a new perspective."
Posted by Judith Shapiro at 9:01 AM
Monday, January 14, 2008
Young at Heart is an amazing chorus. Check out the video below and watch the trailer to the documentary here.
Here's what occurs to me. Why is it that we feel compelled to use the word "young" to represent the notion of lively, bold, talented, exciting, energetic, among other qualities of this group? Youth shouldn't own it.
BTW, I found the links to this info at Wintersong, a nice blog to visit.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
So Chris (Who surely has a more detailed account of this.) and I go out hiking yesterday and oops, get on the Appalachian Trail (How exactly did we end up on the AT and how long did it take us to realize that those highly visible, bright white blazes were not the blue ones we should have been following?) and it gets very dark and increasingly colder and although we have two flashlights, an apple, two scones and a bottle of water, we're thinking the sign pointing 17 rocky miles one way, 8 the other doesn't bode well, so we follow the supposed .2 mile (This is only .2 miles?) billy-goat climb down to a hostel where Fairfax Station Boy Scout Troop #994 just happens to be having dinner (Okay, I'll have a just a little.) of tasty chili and fresh fruit salad and chips and olives and . . .Then two kindly scoutmasters, one with a GPS and the other an SUV (These culturally recognized abbreviations are not technically acronyms according to Julia since they do not form an identifiable word.) drive us back over and around the ridge to the Friends Wilderness Center where we'd parked our car and incidentally meant to be hiking, just when Sheila Bach, the Resident Manager of the Center who we've yet to meet but turns out to be an accountant (Who doesn't need an accountant?) and a lighthouse aficionado who has herself yet to meet Old Barney, my childhood lighthouse, and whose son went to the same Quaker boarding school that my brothers and I attended, is on the phone with the Sheriff to figure out how to begin to find the two old ladies that meandered into the woods several hours ago and never came back.
So that's what Friends are for.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Sometimes The Writer's Almanac has a way of making me feel as if I live under a cultural rock. How is it that I've gone this long in life without Maxime Kumin? How will I find the time to read her work while keeping up with the rest of the stuff I'm reading and want to read, and get to work, feed the cats, drive Jerzy to Japanese class, take a shower, go to the bank . . . not to mention the added thoughts, feelings, ideas that will build up and need somewhere to go.
I'm treading water.
Which One by Maxime Kumin
I eye the driver of the Chevrolet
pulsing beside me at a traffic light
the chrome-haired woman in the checkout line
chatting up the acned clerk
the clot of kids smoking on the sly
in the Mile-Hi Pizza parking lot
the meter reader, the roofer at work
next door, a senior citizen
stabbing the sidewalk with his three-pronged cane.
Which one of you discarded in a bag
—sealed with duct tape—in the middle of the road
three puppies four or five weeks old
who flung two kittens from a moving car
at midnight into a snowbank where
the person trailing you observed the leg
and tail of the calico one that lived
and if not you, someone flossing her teeth
or watering his lawn across the street.
I look for you wherever I go.
Friday, January 11, 2008
I like Ron Padgett almost as much as I like mocha lattes or Confessions of a Coffee Consumer.
I love to read the poetry of Ron Padgett. Coffee Corner got me thinking.
I fought with my caffeine habit for years. When I was pregnant with Julia I switched to a mixture of caf and decaf. With Jerzy I went all the way to decaf and beyond and by the time she was born I was caffeine free. Ten years. Then Starbucks came to the hood. Julia gave me sips of her yummy drinks, one sip led to another, I got buzzed and giddy. Then Kristara got a job there and, well, I'm hooked. I no longer fight it. I rather enjoy it, actually, now that I'm beyond the caffeine-induced,breaking-out-in-a-sweat-heart-palpitating-anxiety-attack stage.
Here's the part that weirds me out - not only are we a culture that eats at our desks, driving in the car, standing up, we no longer sit down for a cup of coffee. Coffee feels normal to me in a cardboard cup slurped through a tiny whole in a plastic top. I brew my morning tea in a real mug (albeit strangely with water heated in a microwave) but, not so my $4 afternoon mocha. I check the oblong-shaped opening with my tongue to make sure it's positioned just right before each pull, gulp it down with gusto and a few minutes later toss the cup into the garbage can overflowing with its friends.
A ritual is born. And it ain't your grandma's ritual.
Coffee Corner by Ron Padgett
The large bowls of coffee at breakfast in France,
the heavy porcelain cups in old American diners,
the disposable brown plastic cups in motel lobbies,
the feeling that you ought to drink the entire cup,
the slight resentment you feel at feeling this way,
the wondering why you do it then,
the gratitude for someone’s making the coffee,
the decision not to have a third free refill,
the surprise of a really bad cup of coffee,
the way it used to cost a nickel, then seven cents, then ten,
and now anywhere from sixty cents to three seventy-five,
sometimes a little more for decaffeinated,
the brown print of it drying on the cup’s lip,
the small amount left in the bottom,
the rest of it sloshing inside you,
sending its stimulation through tubes
in your body, hello, let’s go, we’re late, do
you have the keys, oh god I can’t find my wallet
Waking Ned Devine goes to New York
The most popular New York Times article e-mailed today is Corpse Wheeled to Check-Cashing Store Leads to 2 Arrests. I stay in Hell's Kitchen when I go to New York. It's become my favorite neighborhood. My hotel is on 10th Avenue, an old hooker place that I remember driving by as a kid and ogling with fear and disgust. It's been transformed into a tourist hotel where, if you're lucky, you might stumble upon Russian musicians in town to perform at Lincoln Center, smoking in the stairwells. Be Julia and you and your dog Duck will be invited to their room for vodka, cake and a serenade.
Hell's Kitchen ain't your grandma's Hell.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
I went to Woodstock. I ran into my brother there. I didn’t know he was going, not that with a half million people it would have made much difference if I had. He was lying down, leaning against a tree. Hi Josh, I said. Hi Jude, he said.
Last year a couple of neighborhood kids dressed up as hippies for Halloween. At first I thought it was pretty weird. Hippies? I was dressed as a bunch of grapes. I guess dressing as hippies isn’t much different than the time when I was little that I went trick-or-treating as a Beatnik. I wore a black turtleneck and carried a cigarette in a long holder. There weren’t many people on the island in the winter (All seasons were winter to us except summer.) so we’d walk for blocks and blocks looking for a house with lights on. I can’t imagine how we got so much candy or how we were able to get our cleaned-out, half-pint milk cartons with the orange Unicef wrappers taped on them filled up with coins. Maybe it’s because the candy bars were bigger in those days and the coins were all pennies.
About the election. Aware of my track record, McGovern, Carter and a list of others who lost their bid for President, I'm going to remain mute on the subject. Well, almost mute. I'm fairly pleased with the way the election is going and since I'm not unduly superstitious, I plan on voting.
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
TheWriter's AlmanacDoes it Again
"Sonnet for Mary" by Ralph Edwards
The old lady who's walking along Concourse A
Rather slowly in front of you, is making her way
To get on a plane to fly to Denver
Though she is in pain, she won't complain ever.
She walks all bent over. She's 91.
But her sister died and there's work to be done.
She must bury her sister and clean out the condo
And see to her niece who's retarded, sweet Rhonda.
There's a funeral to arrange, words to be said,
And her brother is useless, he's gone in the head.
Stuff to be cleaned out, a condo to sell,
And a 50-year-old child who can't care for herself.
She's an old lady who's needed out there.
She's heading for Denver on a wing and a prayer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Gloria Steinem's January 8 New York Times Op Ed piece, Women are Never Front Runners, is, well, let's see, where shall I start - totally on target, correct, depressing, obvious, startling, shocking, predictable . . . shall I continue? It reminds me of an old riddle. I can't remember exactly how it went but the essence is something like this: A son and his surgeon father are in a dreadful car accident. The father is killed. The son's parent operates on him to save his life. How can it be? Ummmm. It can't be or the father wasn't really killed or . . . The surprise answer is the surgeon is his Mother! I'm not much of a joke/riddle teller and I'm sure it must have been more clever than this, but you get the point.
Gloria Steinem makes astute, well-conceived, irrefutable points but what can we possibly do with the information? I say we change uniforms.
Uniforms - How incredibly powerful they can be. I remember fondly becoming a soccer referee. I was 41 years old. I took the course, passed the certification tests with flying colors. I was to be in charge of a field filled with 22 people running about, each with their own agenda, opponents with competing objectives and an assortment of potentially rabble rousing bystanders. I was nervous before my first game but everyone said that the uniform would give me confidence. Donning black referee’s shirt and shorts, whistle hanging around my neck was half of the job. Put it on, step to the middle of the field and my credibility as the authority and arbiter of all subsequent acts on the field was established. Anyone deeming to challenge me would have to take the leap of disobeying authority. I was a paid dictator.
Operating room scrubs; doctor’s white coat; Starbuck's apron; Kinko's shirt; bellman’s suit and cap; dark light-wool pin-striped suit, starched white shirt and silk tie, polished leather dress shoes of the corporate executive; and for women in the same business environment, dresses or skirts and high-heeled shoes - showing a more shapely calf while simultaneously rendering women more vulnerable, feet not only figuratively, but literally, less firmly placed on the ground. Go to K Street and watch the businesspeople walking down the sidewalk, groups of two and three on their way to lunch - men in leather-soled, flat shoes, women walking double-time at their side, teetering on little perches. Is it any wonder that women are never front runners? How can they run? Their uniforms are inferior.
How about we try this. Let's switch uniforms. Men can wear plunging necklines, control-top pantyhose, form-fitting dresses and high heels. And their legs ought to be shaved or, better yet, waxed. I wanna be able to get a good look at that well-turned ankle and shapely calf.
Monday, January 7, 2008
I was talking with Chris earlier in the week and she snuck in, ever-so-subtlety among other topics, that Michael Pollan has a new book, IN DEFENSE OF FOOD An Eater’s Manifesto. Aware of my reverence for Michael Pollan and sensitive to my Amazon-1-Click disorder (I think I should start a support group, AA, Amazon Anonymous), my book shelves overflowing with books as yet unread, she was reticent to mention it.
Michael Pollan is brilliant. I gave his last book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, to anyone that would stand still long enough to accept it. I was like the neighbor with the cat that keeps having kittens. Wouldn't you like to have this cute furry book?
His previous book, The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World is simply lovely. BookBrowse has reviews and of course, Wiki is always good - "This work explores the nature of domesticated plants from the dual perspective of humans and the plants themselves. Pollan presents case studies that mirror four types of human desires that are reflected in the way that we selectively grow, breed, and genetically engineer our plants. The apple reflects the desire of sweetness, the tulip beauty, marijuana intoxication, and the potato control."
Michael Pollan's new book is, naturally, about food. Or, more aptly put, about our unnatural approach to food. While you're waiting for your copy to arrive, you can listen to Michael Pollan on NPR; sample/savor the first chapter in The New York Times or read the January 3 review. The following excerpt from the review, by the way, reminds me once again why I voted for George McGovern:
"Among the historical details that underscore a sense of food’s downhill slide: the way a Senate Select Committee led by George McGovern was pressured in 1977 to reword a dietary recommendation. Its warning to “reduce consumption of meat” turned into “choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated fat intake.”
When Mr. McGovern lost his seat three years later, Mr. Pollan says, the beef lobby “succeeded in rusticating the three-term senator, sending an unmistakable warning to anyone who would challenge the American diet, and in particular the big chunk of animal protein squatting in the middle of its plate.”"
I resisted 1-Click, resorting instead to Multi-Click - Realizing Julia was at work, her job, conveniently, at Border's, I texted her - Michael Pollan has a new book, I said. I know :) she replied. I'll get it.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
This election, treat yourself to commercials from elections past at The Living Room Candidate, Presidential Campaign Commercials 1952 - 2004. This fascinating, eye-opening, nostalgic gem is an online exhibition of The Museum of the Moving Image.
Watch the country turn from blue to red to blue. See Tricky Dick in black and white; Lyndon Johnson with Lady Bird by his side (After the death of John F. Kennedy, Johnson promises to do his best, acknowledging that it's all he's got to offer.); Images of children juxtaposed against atom bombs exploding (Subtle message, Careful who you vote for.); I Like Ike; Young Jimmy Carter in his plaid flannel shirt. . .
It's a fabulous collection and in the context of an election year . . .
"The idea that you can merchandise candidates for high office like breakfast cereal is the ultimate indignity to the democratic process."
-Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson, 1956
Little did he know what ultimate indignities the holders of high office could bring.
Friday, January 4, 2008
In response to my entry, Consumption or What's your home page? MotherPie said...
"I find Dave Pollard to be a good source for sustainable living ideas.
Our footprint should be smaller. Much smaller. Our quality of life would improve."
Thanks MotherPie. Good stuff.
Remember the 1972 presidential election - Nixon vs McGovern? It was the first election in which I could vote since the voting age was still 21. I was so excited that I bought a television in order to watch the returns.
I voted for George McGovern.
Thursday, January 3, 2008
by Judith Shapiro
Julia leaves for California on her first cross-country road trip next week. She'll be driving her 2007 Honda Hybrid that we'll have serviced on Monday before she goes.
I'm reminded of the trip I took with my boyfriend when I was 19. We bought an old van from a construction guy (He'd be called a construction Dude these days.) for $400 (a lot of money, really). My brother, Jeff, and his best friend Bobby, built a platform for our king-size mattress. I pretended to know how to sew and fashioned some Indian-print material into quasi-curtains. The retread tires spent much of the trip just itching to explode (and succeeding from time to time, not always in the most hospitable of places) and eventually the only way to start the engine was to open the cover and manually connect some wire to the solenoid. It was a great trip.
So Julia and Kristara and I are sitting in Subway today (They're part of the Subway generation thanks to Jared and some highly successful marketing programs.) eating veggie patties on toasted whole wheat with all the fixin's talking about Kristara's headache from drinking strawberry vodka (strawberry vodka?) last night. She's decided she must be allergic to vodka - a low blow for someone who only recently turned 21. Julia suggests that she take what's left of the bottle on her upcoming trip to California. Being only 19, how else would she be able to acquire alcohol along the way? she asks. "Can you see me shoulder tapping in some strange town in Texas, yo?"
Shoulder tapping? Too good.
by Sharon Olds
Brushing out our daughter’s brown
silken hair before the mirror
I see the grey gleaming on my head,
the silver-haired servant behind her. Why is it
just as we begin to go
they begin to arrive, the fold in my neck
clarifying as the fine bones of her
hips sharpen? As my skin shows
its dry pitting, she opens like a moist
precise flower on the tip of a cactus;
as my last chances to bear a child
are falling through my body, the duds among them,
her full purse of eggs, round and
firm as hard-boiled yolks, is about
to snap its clasp. I brush her tangled
fragrant hair at bedtime. It’s an old
story—the oldest we have on our planet—
the story of replacement.
Sharon Olds, “35/10” from Strike Sparks: Selected Poems 1980-2002. Copyright © 2004 by Sharon Olds.
A Week Later
A week later, I said to a friend: I don't
think I could ever write about it.
Maybe in a year I could write something.
There is something in me maybe someday
to be written; now it is folded, and folded,
and folded, like a note in school. And in my dream
someone was playing jacks, and in the air there was a
huge, thrown, tilted jack
on fire. And when I woke up, I found myself
counting the days since I had last seen
my husband-only two years, and some weeks,
and hours. We had signed the papers and come down to the
ground floor of the Chrysler Building,
the intact beauty of its lobby around us
like a king's tomb, on the ceiling the little
painted plane, in the mural, flying. And it
entered my strictured heart, this morning,
slightly, shyly as if warily,
untamed, a greater sense of the sweetness
and plenty of his ongoing life,
unknown to me, unseen by me,
unheard, untouched-but known, seen,
heard, touched. And it came to me,
for moments at a time, moment after moment,
to be glad for him that he is with the one
he feels was meant for him. And I thought of my
mother, minutes from her death, eighty-five
years from her birth, the almost warbler
bones of her shoulder under my hand, the
eggshell skull, as she lay in some peace
in the clean sheets, and I could tell her the best
of my poor, partial love, I could sing her
out with it, I saw the luck
and luxury of that hour.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
The New York Times is my home page. When logging on to do any work on my computer it's the first thing I encounter - kind of like coming upstairs for tea in the morning and finding someone has left a warm plate of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies on the counter. Who's gonna pass that up? I don't intend to get caught up reading all these interesting articles when I've got a mountain of other stuff on my plate, but since I do and I did, I recommend this op-ed piece by Jared Diamond, "What's Your Consumption Factor?"
Got too much on your plate to read it? Okay, I've whittled it down to one quote to ponder.
". . . living standards are not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example, per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet Western Europe’s standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion, including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care, financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans’ wasteful use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures."
Posted by Judith Shapiro at 10:44 AM
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
As a member of the Human Rights Campaign I received an e-mail with this video today. Resolve.
My tongue-in-cheek, politically incorrect kids (lesbians included) would say it's sooooo gay.
I say it's sooooo good.