A couple of odd thoughts about music.

October (and the beginning of November) have been a bitch. December may not be all that much better, sadly. I’m resorting to the nuclear option: I’ve started listening to holiday music. That’s right: nearly two weeks away from Thanksgiving, and it’s beginning. Unlike after turkey day, I’m not listening to it nonstop, simply the preparation of the Holiday Playlist and listening to several iterations of Pentatonix’s version of “Come All Ye Faithful,” which is the most joyous version of any Christmas carol ever recorded. I love all of you, so I won’t inflict (if that’s the right word) the video on you this early. The day after Thanksgiving, however…

I have a new musical obsession. If you watch The Voice, you have heard the magic that is A Girl Named Tom. They have an album on iTunes, which I bought. The version of “Wichita Lineman” they performed on the show is superior to that on their album, but I can’t seem to find it. (That video, though, I think you need to see.) For one thing, unlike a lot of successful Voice contestants, they have some idea what dynamics are. Each of them is perfectly competent, but the whole is definitely more than the sum of the parts.

I am happier with The Voice than I have been in several seasons, although I won’t be if Girl Named Tom doesn’t make the finale. You can never bank on the taste of the American viewing public, however.

If you are a Voice watcher, you are already familiar with their tradition of having acts in the finale perform with established musical stars. I really want Girl Named Tom to reach the finale because of which act they might have a chance to sing with. I would be pulling for Pentatonix. If they did Christmas music it would be even better.

Music is making me happier today, somehow.

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How’s your week going?

I won at trivia last night. I not only won, but I also dominated, winning by seven points over a three-person team. I am trying to figure out how.

I tanked the handout round (consisting of two handouts), getting the lowest score of any of the seven teams. (TV opening credits was the first, financial institutions was the second.) The next several rounds I did okay in, but not wonderful. Each of those rounds had a team that crushed the round. (I did better in the music round than I usually do.) By the time the bonus rolled around, I figured I was pretty much out of it, so I bet the max.

I got the bonus round. Bonus Q: place these movies in chronological order: Cars, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Toy Story. (Answer: Toy Story, Monster’s Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars. Sometimes having kids pays off in the oddest ways.) It seemed to me that most of the teams got the bonus, but it turns out I was wrong.

I did well in the double-point round.

I had written myself off after the third round, and closed off my tab early, expecting to not even place. I wasn’t upset about this, merely resigned. I rarely even place in games, at least recently, contrary to what people seem to think. I was preparing to leave right after the game, before the winners were announced, but got held up. I was so shocked when I won that I asked C. — my friend the trivia host — whether he had done the math right.

He assured me he had.

So I am left with confusion and a certificate for a large pitcher of beer which I will not use. (I will either give it to the bartender to stand a round for the next person who orders a large pitcher of beer, or maybe one of the kids will use it.) I am trying to figure out if there are some sort of “life lessons” that I can pick up here.

So far, I’ve come up with:

  • Don’t give up too early; you may be doing better than you think you are.
  • Go big or go home: if you have nothing to lose you might as well bet the max.
  • I’m just as smart as the next guy, even if I do not win at trivia very often.
  • It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

It’s been a good week for trivia for me. In addition to winning at bar trivia, I had a good day in the “mini-league” I’m doing over at Learned League. (Learned League is an invitation-only trivia league that friends had been urging me to join for years, but which I finally did in 2020. I expected I would have a rough time actually finding time to compete, but it’s turned out not to take much time at all.) It’s all very good for my ego.

I am still trying to decide on NaNoWriMo; I am leaning against it since I would have already lost two days of writing.

I think it might be a good week overall; in spite of the foot doctor telling me that the pain in my left foot was arthritis and beyond having good arch support and wearing a brace when it hurts there is nothing really that can be done. (He also suggested ibuprofen and icing when necessary.) He also referred me to physical therapy, and since I am already going to physical therapy I can just add it on.

The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy is planning to paint the outside of the house. This is exciting, and the house is way overdue for a fresh exterior.

Yesterday I cooked pumpkin (and discovered the big food processor didn’t work, so was reduced to using a mini food processor. It was slow and frustrating, but I ended up with three bags with almost two cups in each (Call it about 1 7/8 cups. Close enough that the recipes will work.) Today I cut up dried fruit and put it in a bag to soak with a couple of ounces of spiced rum. Tomorrow I will make pumpkin date bread.

And the Braves won the World Series, so the Rocket Scientist is happy.

What are you going to do?

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Random tech issues and NaNoWriMo.

My backup drive Chuck bit the dust. I can’t even reformat it, and it’s not really worthwhile to take it somewhere to get it fixed or get the files from it. So, I spent $40 on a 2T backup drive which is about the size of a thick credit card.

Its name is Albert, after Bierstadt.

It astounds me how cheap memory has gotten. I spent twice the money on Chuck and got half the storage. (I have a thumb drive with 250G of storage. I named it Diego.)

My major concern with Albert is that it’s small enough, it would be easy for me to lose it. I kept losing Chuck, and it was over twice the size of Albert.

I also have a large screen to work with now. I rescued an old iMac that someone had wiped and set out on the curb, and the Rocket Scientist turned it into a monitor. Working with a large screen is easier on my eyes, and having a full keyboard to work from allows me to use a keypad for entering numbers. Having a two-button mouse helps too, and I have an easier time using a mouse than a trackpad.

I also use my computer in a common space, rather than isolating myself in my room. Even when no one else is out there, it’s good for me to be out in the open. For one thing, it helps my posture: I am sitting in a chair, not slouching on my bed.

I have not yet named the monitor. It’s not only mine, you see, and other people in the house have different naming conventions. The Rocket Scientist names his computers after Greek Muses. (Actually, he just told me that he had named it: Annie, after the Little Orphan. That works.)

I’m glad I chose artists. There are a great many to choose from. I only regret that I can’t refer to some of my favorites, such as Chagall and Singer Sargent, and Whistler. (I don’t use first names used by people I actually know.)

Not a tech issue, but related: should I do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year? I pretty much have to decide today or I will get tremendously behind and not be able to finish. (I need to average 2,000 words a day every day in November — and I can’t write on Thanksgiving.) For those who are not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it is a challenge for people to write a 60,000-word novel in a month. Not a good novel, mind you, just something with characters and a vague plot. I wrote one several years ago, and have wondered ever since whether it was good enough to actually edit into a real book.

I have an idea for a book I thought of several years ago. I would write about election workers coping with an active shooter. Four years ago, that was unusual – now, given the death threats facing election workers, it seems “ripped from the headlines,” rather like an episode of Law and Order. (I am just waiting for election workers to be murdered in, say, Georgia.)

I wish I could use NaNoWriMo as an excuse to get a new computer, but a) it’s recreational and b) I can’t afford one anyway. I would name it Piet…

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Today’s topic: science.

I watch The Voice, quasi-religiously. And, so doing I have to suffer through commercials, including those for other NBC programs. On one the newest is a science-fiction thriller called La Brea.

In La Brea, a group of people fall through a sinkhole into a far past (or is it?) This past is populated by scary creatures such as giant sloths. In the same ad where the giant sloths appeared a character said “I think we’ve fallen back into at least 10,000 BC.”

I was all prepared to be outraged about this. “No!” I thought. The Egyptians had a thriving civilization on the banks of the Nile!

Well, no they didn’t. Not even remotely. Egyptian civilization dates to the 4th century BC.

The problem with my outrage turns out to be that Megatherium (giant sloths) did in fact co-exist with humans. As did giant short-faced bears, and Irish red elk, and the last of the saber-tooth cats. (And the wooly rhinoceros! Can you imagine? I find that more impressive than giant ground sloths.) These all died out in the Quaternary extinction event, which went on from the mid-Pleistocene to the beginning of the Holocene era, which began in the mid-11,000s BC. People were around long before that. And had early civilizations before that. (Dogs were domesticated around 12,000 BC, cattle even earlier.) Cave paintings in Altamira date to 36,000 BC.

Clearly, in my trips to the Natural History Museum in DC, I was too hasty to stop and look at the anthropology exhibits. I was too busy charging ahead to the gem and mineral section so that I could look at the Hope Diamond.

I sometimes sneer at the lack of knowledge of civic sometimes shown by MAGA-types. Clearly, I have my own areas of academic darkness. (As a former history major I feel vaguely ashamed.) Not that they have much more knowledge of prehistory than I do, but that maybe me sneering at things like some of the exhibits in things like Creationist museums are not quite warranted. (Displays showing humans with dinosaurs are right out though.)

The world is so much stranger — both then and now — than most people, including myself, can comprehend. We have the opportunity to learn so little of it in school, and some of us turn our curiosity to other, vaguer areas, such as the social history of Britain in the 19th century, or the ways in which current society resembles the run-up to Nazi Germany or the Fall of Rome, take your pick, and cherry-pick your facts to satisfy whatever political points you wish to make. (Not that there are not some parallels, but they are less clear than people believe.)

It’s a lot harder to politicize wooly mammoths and giant ground sloths. Or, to take another current example, octopuses. Octopuses are phenomenal! Just look up John Oliver’s piece on octopuses to see why.

Oh, I suppose you could start a discussion about climate change and the ways in which it is leading to mass extinctions that resemble the Quaternary mass extinction event. It’s an important conversation to have.

But in the meantime, I am just going to marvel at the fact that human beings actually got to see giant sloths. And that an over-the-top (at least judging from the commercials) television show got their facts right.

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I am full of grief.

I thought it was simply depression, but the more I experience, the more I think it is something else.

Depression is soft and enveloping. It smothers. It pins your hands to your sides, and drops you into a black void. You don’t necessarily feel sad, you feel empty.

Grief knifes you in the heart. It is broken glass strewn in your path. Instead of soft darkness, you find yourself filled to the brim with pain.

It is all I can do not to cry.

I am not grieving my mother-in-law alone. G. and I did not have the strength of relationship to cause me to mourn her passing in depth. I feel deeply for the Rocket Scientist, but that’s a different emotion.

I am grieving my mother. I know she lived a long life and died peacefully, but I wish she were here. I wish she could meet the Not So Little Drummer Boy’s fiance (at least over Zoom, like the rest of us). I wish she could have seen The Red Headed Menace graduate from college, and know that he is currently working on his Ph.D. I wish she could see how Railfan has grown into a responsible and useful adult, and how he is working hard on getting his bachelor’s. I wish I could talk to her about how I feel useless and sometimes unlovable, and have her reassure me that yes, there are people who love me.

I miss her. I thought I had stopped grieving her, had “moved on,” but apparently not.

I had always been skeptical of people who claimed to be grieving someone years after their death. Not anymore. I know what it is like now, how it is complicated by feelings that you should be over this loss, that grief is self-indulgent.

I will be better. I hope that happens soon.

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Things I like recently: fall, pumpkins, eggnog (even if the store is starting eggnog season early), chili, medical care (which I have had far too many opportunities to rely on recently)…

And Says You!. Says You! is a quasi-game show on NPR (meaning the points are almost randomly assigned and don’t mean anything). Instead of recent events (like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me) or general trivia and comedy (like the now sadly defunct Ask Me Another), Says You! focuses on language. Not that there isn’t general trivia — such as occasional questions about movies or music — but mostly around words, words, and more words. Two rounds each game are devoted to “bluffing words” — one person on one side is given the actual definition of an unusual word, and the others on their team have to make up fake definitions. The other team has to figure out which definition is the real one.

I started to listen to this program precisely because of this round. I was hauling stuff to the recycling center, randomly listening to whatever was on KQED, when a word was used which had been submitted by someone I knew. It turns out that she and her husband are frequent contributors (including one week when they wrote the entire week’s game).

I used to listen every Sunday. Then, for some reason, I stopped. By that time I had signed up to get the podcast, so I collected many weeks of programs. There they sat until this week.

Says You! has been getting me through the past week. I am struggling with depression caused by the death of my mother-in-law, the fallout (including an ER visit to make sure that the pain in my leg was a pulled muscle and not a blood clot) from a stupid trip on a sidewalk in Georgia, upcoming very expensive oral surgery (and the fear that it might be the first of many), and general under – the -weatherness.

Listening to back episodes has helped me stretch my brain in the same way that weekly trivia does. It also helps my ego, when I get the answer before the panelists. They’re smart, but not impossibly so. The same people show up every week, so they feel almost like friends. And I learn things. And given that several of the panelists are brilliant punsters, I almost always smile.

I don’t know what I am going to do when I run out of episodes. Maybe by then I’ll feel better.

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I went to The Bar last night for trivia. I did respectfully; I would have come in third except I blew the tiebreaker about how long wombats live in captivity. Silly me, I just assumed it was similar to how long echidnas live in captivity (roughly mid-fifties) and it turns out wombats are much shorter-lived (as in around thirty). Oh, well. I didn’t need another certificate for a pitcher of beer I wouldn’t use anyway.

I still feel nervous in the bar given the Delta Variant. People are supposed to wear masks, but they don’t. Or they get food and use that as the pretext for not masking, even when they are not eating. Hell, the bartender wasn’t masking.

I ended up taking a half tab of Klonopin for the anxiety. Formerly I would have had a double bourbon and Coke, but I have started taking a new med with which I am really not supposed to drink. Klonopin lasts longer, and if I only take a half-tab I can still drive.

Having had the booster helps, but only so much. If it is so stressful, why do I go, you ask?

My mother-in-law.

G. isolated herself from nearly everyone outside her family. Her loneliness (if she experienced it as loneliness) helped grease her slide into dementia. I can’t help but compare her with my mother, who stayed sharp and on the ball up until she died. My mother had a circle of friends – little old ladies who hit up bars on Thursday nights – and was very active in her church. She remained happy and cheerful and aware until her death at eighty-seven. G. died at eighty and was struggling with dementia for at least two years before. When she died, there were not many people with who she was still friends. Most of the people who came to her memorial were family members or their friends.

My grandfather had severe dementia due to atherosclerosis. I saw him about a month before he died. I do not want to die like that. 

And it is not healthy to be so isolated. It leads to loneliness, which can lead to depression. And in some sense, your emotions are like muscles – using them makes it easier to have them at hand. Not that I can “think your way out” of depression, but that it becomes easier for me to recognize good things when they happen. 

Using my brain makes me healthier, too. I worry about the effect that aging (and the bout of encephalitis I had in 2015) has had on my cognitive abilities and memory. I am not as smart as I used to be; I do not remember as many facts as I used to; I have much more trouble processing difficult concepts than I used to. Reading complicated books and articles has become laborious. Because of attention difficulties (caused by the encephalitis), I often lose track of what is said at the top of the page by the time I get to the bottom. I find myself rereading materials to get a solid grasp on them. Writing has become trickier too.

And so, trivia. I play as a team of one so that I am forced to answer the questions by myself. Think of it as pushups for the brain. It requires me to reestablish memory and thought pathways I might otherwise lose.

And I have friends. I have people who value me, who enjoy my company. That makes me happy. And I value them back.

So I’ll be back at The Bar next week. Probably. If I don’t get too freaked out by the maskless people.

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[Day three of writing goal for the week. When you have nothing else to talk about, you can talk about the weather.]

It’s been raining for days here in Northern California. The sun is out now — the sky is that beautiful cornflower Northern California blue, except with white fluffy clouds. The temperature remains pretty steady, too: high 60s to low 70s. It is supposed to be no more than “partly sunny” through the rest of the week, but maybe we’ll get another storm system coming through soon.

I sure hope so. I pray it’s not like last year, when dry day followed dry day through the end of the ostensible rainy season.

No rain equals drought equals brutal fire season. Ours started early this year, and one of the effects of the early rain (and its concomitant drop in temperature) is some relief for the firefighters. Not without its dangers, though — areas left bare of trees by fires face a higher risk of mudslides with debris flow.

Although in our area it seemed to me that the summer was generally cooler overall, that was not the case elsewhere along the Pacific coast. Record highs hit Portland and Seattle (116 and 108, respectively), and British Columbia had a record of 121. When I was growing up, such temperatures were found mostly in Death Valley.

Climate change causes this. Each summer is hotter than the one before. When will our country — our world — be too hot for the human race to endure?

We’re the lucky ones, mostly. We live in a country with an advanced technology sector that can help us mitigate the worst effects (except for fires). Even in our rich, technological society, people are going to die. Poor people who can’t afford to air-condition their homes, homeless who suffer from dehydration and heatstroke. And God knows what is going to happen in the developing world.

Storms, too — warmer ocean temps mean stronger cyclones. And Southern Louisiana and South Florida face being “swept out to sea,” as a friend put it. Water becomes an issue as well. Living in a desert that relies for survival on snowpacks in faraway mountains gets difficult when those snowpacks diminish and disappear.

We will leave our children and grandchildren an unholy mess. I only hope we can find answers soon.

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Pumpkin time.

It’s October! Oh, boy!

I generally love October. (This month is a bit of an exception.) I love the weather, especially this year with its mist and rain. I love Halloween decorations. When the kids were young, I loved planning Halloween costumes. They were always homemade, if not particularly impressive. (Unlike my mother-in-law, who once lost a costume contest because the judges believed that the Scarlet O’Hara outfit she had made for her two-year-old niece had been storebought because of the quality of the workmanship. Once the judges were told that no, she actually made it, they awarded her a “Special Grand Prize,” the only time in the history of the contest they did that.)

I like pumpkins.

I like selecting pumpkins. I like living where getting pumpkins can be a quest, an adventure. Yes, I could simply go to Safeway and select one — and I have before. Much better, though, is braving the traffic to Half Moon Bay to Bob’s Pumpkin Patch (where we always go) to pick out special pumpkins.

When the kids were little, we would go to a local pumpkin patch that had a straw maze and a little train that went around the fields. The pumpkins were more expensive than at the grocery store, but the experience was worth it. We might still be going there, except now it’s a subdivision.

As years have gone by, my pumpkin consumption has increased. I get a large pumpkin for a jack-o-lantern, which will be trash by November 2. I get smaller pumpkins — white or orange – for use in cooking. I seed them and roast them and divide the flesh into roughly two-cup units. They’ll be there for pies at Thanksgiving (although I have not generally been a fan of pumpkin pies). More importantly, I’ll have the pumpkin for my Not Quite Fruitcake, which gets rave reviews even from people who do not like fruitcake. To quote one bar patron who had a piece one Monday trivia night, “This is what fruitcake should taste like.”

This year I have also gotten tiny pumpkins and gourds which will be part of a fall display (along with colored ears of corn) until time to put the Christmas wreath up. I don’t decorate for spring and summer, but I do for the time between the autumnal equinox and the second week (or occasionally, the third) when the Christmas decorations come down.

We have been lax in getting pumpkins this year, although I did get a smaller orange pumpkin (plus the gourds) from Safeway in late September. I wanted to celebrate fall — and I am glad I did before everything fell to pieces. I still have to get my Jack O’Lantern pumpkin and another small pumpkin for cooking.

Tomorrow is the trek. Oh, boy.

Pumpkin time. It’s a great time of year.

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Values.

I have started an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Skills Group. I have been given a series of exercises, including values and goals. The goal for this week is to write for forty-five minutes four days during the week. Oh, boy.

I have been told — and actually believe — that the way to become a writer is to actually write every day. I don’t do it. I am not sure why — I don’t think it is laziness. I think it is the belief that I need to have “something to say.” Something worth saying. I usually feel that whatever I have to say is not worth other people’s time.

But here I am, typing away. Perhaps I should talk about one of the things I am supposed to be working on.

Goals arise out of values, ideally. What you value should determine what you do. You can’t “complete” values — they’re aspirational. Goals, on the other hand, are supposed to be targeted actions that you can complete, like determining to brush your teeth twice a day every day or exercise for twenty minutes a day.

Or write for forty-five minutes at least four days a week.

My last post was easy: I had something to talk about, my account of my trip to Georgia, and my thoughts on living and dying. Today, not so much.

So what are my values? And how can I work towards them?

Creativity. I can work towards that by writing more, and by beading occasionally. (NaNoWriMo starts in a little over a week, perhaps I can do that? It would require me to write 60,000 words in the month of November, which becomes a little tricky around Thanksgiving.)

Working towards a better society. I can be engaged in political and civic causes that will make the country better. (The hardest part of this is to not get incurably discouraged. Things look pretty dark right now.) I can follow the news, to the extent I can without exacerbating depression. Sometimes this value can be in conflict with the next value.

Not being a burden to my family. This means working towards better health, both mental and physical. Right now, that also means not being cavalier about COVID-19. I hate wearing masks. (One way I work towards making life better for my family is cooking, and fall is my favorite season for that — Thanksgiving dinner and Not Quite Fruitcake, to name two. This also falls under the rubric of “Creativity.”)

Learning. I need to keep learning, either by reading or taking online classes. Helping others to learn matters to, hence my Facebook Art of the Day. Most of my friends like to learn new things. (This is also why I have trivia, both bar trivia and Learned League.)

So there are my values. I suppose I do have others, like care for other people, and compassion generally. I find that most of my social and political beliefs arise out of these values.

So there they are. Who I am, in a way.

What do you think?

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Death and dying.

October has been a bitch of a month and it is only two-thirds done. Usually, October is my second favorite month, but I will be happy to see this one in the rear-view mirror.

On September 30, we got word that my mother-in-law had suffered a fatal brain injury and that my sister-in-law was only waiting for everyone to get there (“there” being the length of the country away from where we live) before discontinuing life support.

We flew back East, and said our goodbyes. G. was taken off life support. We prepared for her last breaths.

They didn’t come. In fact, G. held on for eight more days before dying. She never liked me (and, after enough rejection, the feeling was mutual), but I have to admit she was one tough old lady.

I have never been with someone as they die. It’s a profoundly moving and at the same time disturbing experience. I don’t know how health care workers can handle being around dying people all the time. COVID-19 must be brutal for them.

We arranged for a family visitation (it was decided that the word “viewing” was too gruesome) and a small graveside service. She was being buried in a military cemetery alongside her husband, and we were not allotted much time for a ceremony. (Pro-tip: if you are a veteran (having served at least during wartime — I don’t know about any other time), you can be buried in a military cemetery. The government won’t supply the casket or funeral services, but they will supply a plot, grave-liner, and headstone. And spouses can be buried alongside the veteran. If you find yourself in a relevant situation, ask your funeral director. We were lucky; when my father-in-law died, we dealt with an ethical funeral home that told us about all this.)

I remember the meeting with the funeral home. My job was to be quiet, although I took it upon myself to look through the flower book and make suggestions. (The flowers turned out to be lovely.) I occupied myself by looking at the funeral urns scattered about the walls.

Although the Not-So-Little Drummer Boy and Railfan were not able to come for the services, the Red-Headed Menace was able to get away from their doctoral program and fly down from the Northeast. It was good to see the RHM, even under such circumstances.

Immediately after the graveside service, we got word that the Rocket Scientist’s cousin had died from complications of COVID. We added five more days on our trip so that we could attend his funeral.

We overdressed: wearing the black velvet pants I had worn for my MIL’s service, with the Rocket Scientist in a suit, we stood out among the people in blue jeans and rock and roll t-shirts. Given that the deceased was buried in jeans and cowboy boots (although a nice shirt) holding a Bud Light, with a “Trump Team” hat in the casket with him, such attire was strangely appropriate. Welcome to South Georgia, y’all. We were also (with one exception) the only people (of the thirty or so that drifted in and out) wearing masks. It was a sure bet that some of them were not vaccinated — some of the RS’s other cousins had only gotten vaccinated after the deceased ended up in the hospital. Again, welcome to South Georgia.

We then had the unenviable task of emptying out my MIL’s clothes closets and preparing them for donating. As an avid smoker, her clothes reeked. We had to wash all of them extensively with vinegar to get the smell out. (When we got home, my clothes smelled from the tobacco smoke that clung to the walls, even though she had not lived there for a year.)

We then locked the house up and flew home. All of us may gather there at Christmas, one last time, and then prepare the house for rental.

I was glad to be home, even if I am sort of stuck in my room (or at least wearing a mask in the rest of the house) for a few days. (Because we flew, and because of RS’s cousin’s funeral, we are self-quarantining and then taking an antigen test.) My cat was, we think, glad to see us. While we were away, she peed everywhere. Five times on my bed, three on the NSLDB’s, various other places where we can smell a generalized odor but can’t locate the source. Making the house presentable — it’s only barely livable — is going to be a big task. Of course, that’s true even when the cat hasn’t peed everywhere.

Anyone need a black and white catskin rug? Just kidding. We love her. Usually.

Being confronted with death got me thinking, both about life and what I want when I die.

  1. I need to take better care of myself. My health is terrible, and I do little to improve it. I want to postpone as long as possible the moment when my loved ones have to sit there crying while I gasp out my last breath.
  2. I need to do more enjoyable and exciting things. Sometimes I think I am not living but merely marking time.
  3. Resentment and anger are eating me up inside. I need to work on not spending so much time feeling aggrieved.
  4. I have too much stuff. It is going to be a headache for someone to go through all of it after I die. Most of it is not even good stuff. (Lots of books. LOTS of books.)
  5. I want to be used for something after I die. I am officially an organ donor but I doubt any of my organs are donatable. But don’t stop there: give my body to a med school so some eager student can learn about anatomy, or strip the flesh from my bones so some befuddled pre-med can learn to differentiate the ulna from the tibia.
  6. If you decide to cremate me, don’t put my ashes in an urn on the entertainment center (where we currently have a former cat’s). Don’t just scatter them in the ocean. Bury them, and plant a tree on top of me. Let me nurture in death.
  7. The preacher at the cousin’s funeral didn’t know him. He gave a terrible sermon, which among other things, questioned whether the cousin had repented enough of his wild life on his deathbed to enter heaven. I know at least four Episcopal priests and am related by marriage to an Orthodox priest, so for heaven’s sake have someone run my memorial service who knows me — preferably well. Even if you have to fly them in.
  8. Don’t let a funeral home try and upsell. The simplest, least expensive casket (although I do prefer wood), if you choose to bury me. Carnations, not roses. Yes, I know that roses are more traditional (and cost more) but carnations are my favorite flowers. Red would be good, or the striped kind.
  9. Mainly, life’s too short, and death is permanent.

One last thing: GET YOUR COVID SHOT. The first and second rounds or, if you are eligible, the booster. The Rocket Scientist’s cousin was 58 when he died from COVID-19. I don’t know how old a good age is to die, but that’s too young.

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Gauguin’s tarnished legacy.

As long as art has existed, so have artists. Artists present problems.

Not all artists are decent human beings. Frank Lloyd Wright, an arrogant SOB, ran off with a client’s wife. Caravaggio killed two men, and was on the run and waiting for a papal pardon when he died. No doubt the tribes in prehistoric France hated one of the first painters in the caves of Lauscaux.

We still admire Wright’s buildings and love Caravaggio’s painting and stand in awe of the bison and horses made by those cave artists.

Some artists evoke a stronger response: sexual misconduct places some artists even more beyond the pale. Woody Allen has been accused of abusing his stepdaughters. Director Roman Polanski, who helmed such brilliant movies as Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, is currently avoiding the United States, having been charged with drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old girl. He pled guilty of unlawful sex with a minor and skipped the country when it appeared a judge was going to refuse a plea bargain that would have kept him out of jail.

And there is Paul Gauguin.

Paul Gaugin was not a nice man. Christopher Riopelle, co-curator of a show about the painter held at the National Gallery in London, describes him as a “very complicated person, a very driven person, a very callous person.” After a failed career as a stockbroker, he moved to France to become a painter, leaving his wife and five children in Copenhagen. While there, at one point he tempestuously shared a house with Vincent van Gogh. An argument between the two of them led to the mental breakdown during which Vincent cut off part of his ear.

 After another stint in the South of France, Gauguin abandoned his family to run away to Tahiti.

In Tahiti, he “married” – to the extent a middle-aged man can marry them — a succession of pubescent girls, impregnating them and giving them syphilis. He painted what are on the surface eloquent portraits of them.

Gauguin’s paintings of Tahitian women (usually women, rarely men) usually include nudes.  The women are exotic, fetishized – a colonialist’s wet dream. Gauguin presents the Tahitians as “noble savages,” exhibiting that picture to Western audiences and fixing it in their minds. The women are presented as demure, passive, subservient. One particularly disturbing picture (Contes Barbares (Primitive Tales) includes a red-headed male figure in beret and painter’s smock anxiously chewing on his nails in the background.

Even the pictures of the women in Western dresses are not without issues. Tehana has Many Parents – a portrait of his child bride in a high-necked dress – has in the background a stylized nude picture and “hieroglyphics” which have no meaning in Tahitian culture. Gauguin could not resist the lure of the exotic, even if he had to make it up.

All of which presents a problem for museum curators, especially those who curate exhibits specifically on Gauguin. Do the problems posed by Gauguin’s life and picture mean that those pictures have no place on museum walls? Are they offensive enough to merit being ignored?

Some museums refuse to display Gauguin. Some museums place explanatory plaques next to exhibits, placing the pictures in the context of Gauguin life and explaining the colonialist impulses behind them. Some museums do nothing.

The media weigh in, too, with ominous articles titled “Is It Time Gauguin Got Canceled?” from the New York Times and from the Independent, “More than a century after his death, has the time finally come to cancel Gauguin?” More reasoned articles appear, too, such as the BBC’s “Gauguin’s ‘strange, beautiful and exploitative’ portraits.”

The pictures are certainly important from an art historical point of view. Gauguin’s use of color and form influenced later painters greatly. His Tahitian pictures are part of a significant oeuvre that forms an important force in subsequent art movements.

At what point does the art transcend the artist, and the subject?

Certainly, the subject matters. Modern-day Tahitians have found ways to protest the clichéd exotic colonialist “otherness” of Gauguin’s paintings, which hang on in Western culture as depictions of Polynesian life.

Gauguin himself presents answers. He had a significant body of work aside from his Tahitian paintings. One of those paintings, After the Sermon, showing Breton peasant women in prayer, demonstrates the startling use of color and form that was to become his trademark. Perhaps exhibiting those pictures might be enough to give a sense of his genius.

Art belongs to the world. Once a painting – or sculpture, or movie – has been sent forth by the artist, in some sense it no longer matters who made it. We can evaluate art on its own merits, and find the Tahitian portraits offensive based on their colonialist “savage” vision of Tahitian life. We can object to his pictures of his child brides based on the sexualization of children.

Paul Gauguin’s art matters. His squalid, terrible, and in the end, evil, life does not.

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Everyone has 9/11 stories. How did you find out about the attack? Did you see the towers fall? Did you know anyone who died? I too have a story – less important than many. I didn’t lose anyone. My mother-in-law alerted me to the attack when she called me and told me to turn on the television.  As far as I went, I was just another American coping with the unimaginable, spending the day – and many days afterward — in shock and bewilderment.

But sometimes God answers prayers you don’t even know you’re going to say.

In the second week of September 2001, The Rocket Scientist had gone on the road. He intended to go to New York for meetings with engineers at a firm in lower Manhattan, and then fly to Phoenix for meetings there. That didn’t happen.

At the time the first plane hit the towers, he should have been eating breakfast in the restaurant in the Marriot at 3 World Trade Center, preparing for his morning meetings. He lucked out. The engineering firm had decided that they were not ready for his visit and so he had gone first to Arizona.

As for me, I went around in so much shock on 9/11 that I didn’t think about the alternative. He was safe in Phoenix, that’s all I knew. I worried for a friend of ours from college who had previously worked in the towers. I hadn’t talked to him in a long time. Fortunately, when I got hold of the Rocket Scientist, he knew that E. was now working in Connecticut. 

It wasn’t until later that I thought about what might have been. In all likelihood, he would have gotten out of the hotel – all but about forty of the over 900 guests did. But at what cost? What level of PTSD would he have suffered? What toxins would he have inhaled? How much more would our lives have changed, beyond the almost unbelievable ways all of our lives would be upended by the events of that horrible day?

Instead, he ended up having to get home without being able to fly. That involved its own set of troubles (such as locating a rental car and fighting with Hertz about price-gouging), but which in the end were inconsequential.

As I said in the beginning, I didn’t lose anyone. My story is not all that different than many. Sometimes when I think of 9/11, though, I am haunted by the way it could have been worse for my family.

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Truth in music

I was listening to my “Going Places” playlist (all songs with names of places in them, as well as those involving transit) and I came upon the song “Banana Republics” (original by Steve Goodman, cover by Jimmy Buffet). One line stood out to me, about the natives of aforesaid places:

“You know you cannot trust them, because they know they can’t trust you.”

This seems to me to accurately reflect United States foreign policy for a while now.

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The obligatory Summer Olympics post.

Every two years I lose two weeks of my life, as the Olympics comes to my room. A dozen-odd thoughts about the Summer Games:

  1. I use the term “stick the landing” when discussing matters other than gymnastics.
  2. I get cranky when I can’t easily find television coverage of equestrian events. I realize that dressage is not everybody’s cup of tea, but I find the marathon really boring, and they show that.
  3. I think I like badminton and table tennis better than tennis. Perhaps because I only get to see them every four years.
  4. Best uniforms: Chinese table tennis players, with a pink and purple dragon on a black background.
  5. I have a list of who I root for, and the USA is not at the top. I pull for individual athletes I like (Katy Ledecky, anyone on the US gymnastics team), athletes from the Olympic Refugee Team, athletes from odd little countries (Flora Duffy won Bermuda’s first gold medal in the women’s triathlon, making Bermuda the smallest country to have a gold medal; even better, San Marino (San Marino!) has both a silver and a bronze in shooting, making it the smallest country by population to have Olympic medals), Team USA, South Korea, the host country,  the Canadians, and the Brits, and whatever athletes have interesting life stories. In that order.
  6. I hate to admit it, but I occasionally engage in sexist behavior such as ogling the male divers in small Speedos. I do wonder why the divers wear those rather than the longer suits worn by swimmers. I’m assuming it is for competitive reasons – maybe it makes it easier for the judges to assess their form?  (Their diving form.) Women’s beach volleyball, ditto. I can see where the small bottoms can reduce the chance of getting sand in delicate places, which I can attest (having grown up in Florida) is distinctly uncomfortable.
  7. I am disturbed by the de facto segregation in sports in the US. Swimming is almost completely white; track and field, while not exclusively Black, is heavily so. This reflects a long history of segregation of facilities, both as a result of overt discrimination, and more insidious forms of racism. Even today, Blacks at swimming pools can be viewed with suspicion. (Not to mention that the international governing body for swimming has outlawed the use of swimming caps designed for Black hair in competition.)
  8. I am delighted that women’s gymnastics, once the exclusive purview of white women, seems to be less so. This year’s USA team is composed of two Black gymnasts (Simone Biles, whom I love, and Jordan Chiles) and a Hmong gymnast (Sunisa Lee) with Grace McCallum, Mykala Skinner, and Jade Carey (white gymnasts). Dominique Dawes (the first Black woman to win an individual Olympic medal) and Gabby Douglas paved the way, of course; and of the run of five consecutive gold medals at the Olympics in the women’s all around, three (Douglas, Biles, and Lee) are BIPOC. Props also to Laurie Hernandez, a Latina who was part of the gold-winning team in 2016, and who won a silver medal on balance beam.
  9. Speaking of Sunisa Lee, I have learned about the Hmong, an ethnic group I was heretofore unaware of.
  10. Seeing all the “my parents sacrificed everything so I could be an Olympian” stories makes me question my parenting skills.  Of course, a lot of things make me question my parenting skills.
  11. Since watching the Olympics is how I learn about unusual sports, I wish cricket were in the Olympics.
  12. I am still in love with Megan Rapinoe.

In two years, I’ll write another post about my feelings towards the Winter Games, starting with my love of curling.

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