Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Turning Off and Tuning Out

My friend Debra has been insisting I do this for years, but like trying to tell a toddler the stove is hot, I had to learn it myself. Television is evil, the source of fear and loathing, permanent brain damage, laziness, sloth and torpor, and in my case, soaring blood pressure stats.

Living virtually alone, since even when my husband is in town he is usually out of the house, I have habitually turned on the TV to stay connected to the world, hear some voices other than my own, and have a few canned laughs with Frasier or Ray Romano. But lately the box has become nothing more than a dispenser of fear; turn it on and right away you are advised to worry -- about mesothelioma, hair loss, advancing dementia, sudden heart attack, fading libido, gastric distress, robbery, the falling dollar, the rising temperatures, deafness, arthritis, depression, insomnia, children born with no upper lip, dogs and cats suffering from abuse or that growing bugaboo, identity theft.

And those are just the commercials.

Under the guise of news, the editorial content pushes the dark side even more: The advance of ISIS, violent tornadoes wiping out entire communities, dead veterans, living veterans with PTSD, global starvation, rioting in racially-unstable American cities, trigger-happy cops and egregious wrongdoings by Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush, depending on which station you're watching.

Today I hit the wall. That's it. No more manipulation by unseen forces. If I'm going to be manipulated, it's going to happen in person. Retreating into my art-infested cocoon, I will from this day forward forgo all brain poison. Right now I will vacuum my dining room rug, which has needed it for some time, and then go to a Feldenkreis class to  realign my body parts and hopefully restore my natural high.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Death Is a Mother-*%?@#*!

Even though we can all die at any moment, at any age, it is still shocking when someone we consider "too young to die" goes ahead and does it. This just happened to a woman in my husband's circle of friends, someone he worked with years ago. I too knew her and would see her at company functions, dinners, picnics and when I stopped in at Mitch's office.  After he left that job, I lost touch with her even though Mitch and she maintained a connection.

Single and childless, Brett was only 45, way younger than me. How come her? I feel guilty now. We learned of her passing last night, and it has blown my mind, bummed me out, laid me low, and any other cliche you can think of.

Brett lived dangerously. When I knew her so many years ago she was living in what was euphemistically called "a changing neighborhood." In Washington, D.C., that just meant "bad." She paid a high price for it when she was violently mugged one night on her way home. Then, as bad luck would have it, the same thing happened to her again months later. Eventually she took off for foreign shores. She went to Bali for a vacation, then went to Turkey to live and work, and then back to Bali to make it her permanent home. Mitch kept me abreast of her adventures posted on Facebook.

Last night he yelled out from the next room, shocked and dismayed. "Brett's dead." She had contracted thyphoid shortly after arriving in Bali last February and never got better. After a long illness and a long hospital stay, and despite several surgeries and ongoing medications, she lost the fight.

There is no punchline. It sucks. No matter what age. Today I woke up feeling like I was given a gift of a new day, but I was too depressed to open it. For that I am sorry, but really, when someone living large dies, you feel it.

Life Is Too Short to Fake Being Tall

I am not sure if this is true, but yesterday's New York Times reported that more than a few women attending the Cannes Film Festival were banned from walking on the Red Carpet, which despite being nonsensical is still something some women enjoy doing, for the "sin" of wearing flat shoes and not high-heels. This is indeed a sorry state of affairs.

The wearing of high-heeled shoes apparently goes back many hundreds of years, and since there have already been scores of scholarly papers written on the subject I won't bother to plagiarize them here. Let it suffice that since historical reasons no longer exist, today it is just plain dumb to wear shoes that are not properly designed for the human foot. The fact that women do this and men do not pretty much sums up why men rule the world and likely always will, at least as long as such shoes are being manufactured. After Armageddon, all bets -- and probably most shoes -- are off.

Despite the growing body of medical evidence that "high heels drastically alter the wearer’s posture, displace the foot and ankle bones, strain the knee joint and tighten the surrounding tendons, leading to osteoarthritis and hammertoe due to the narrow toe box," many women of affluence and influence wear shoes like the ones shown below in the hopes of looking sexy (getting one of those men who rule the world), feeling powerful (by getting access to the bank accounts of one of those men who rule the world), or gaining a few inches of height (to look taller). When I see them trying to navigate the cobblestone streets of Portland's Old Port district, usually slightly drunk since that is the scene down there, especially in summer, I feel sad for all of us.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

America's Favorite Pastime

Today my husband and I went to a baseball game. A friend gave us tickets he couldn't use, for great seats right behind home plate. The weather was perfect, with temperatures in the mid-70s and fluffy white clouds floating overhead. It seemed like a very patriotic thing to do, especially on a holiday weekend.

Naturally it wasn't a real game but instead something called "AA baseball," being here in Maine, but still it had all the trappings. The national anthem was sung. Miss Maine was there, wearing a crown and a skimpy red, white and blue outfit. Crowds filled the stands and I noticed that hardly anybody paid the slightest bit of attention to what was happening on the playing field, instead focusing mostly on the purchase and consumption of food, which when it comes right down to it really is America's favorite pastime. This included pizza and hamburgers and hot dogs and fried fish and French fries, fried dough and those big, doughy salted pretzels. There were ice cream sandwiches and ice cream sundaes and peanuts and popcorn and Cracker Jacks. And lots of beer. Wishing I could eat any of the aforementioned without feeling sick or guilty or both, I opted for a Chicken Caesar wrap. It was tasty.

Oh yeah, the game. It was the Portland Sea Dogs against the Other Guys. (I swear I never heard who they were.) This being Memorial Day weekend, it was officially Superhero Day, so Captain America was there, whoever he is, strutting around in his odd costume. Kids were told in advance to dress as their favorite superhero, so there were lots of little Supermen, Incredible Hulks, Batmen and Spidermen running around.

We left at the bottom of the 7th inning with the Sea Dogs trailing, 3-2.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

It's All So Complicated

Lately I've been reading a lot about meditation and have learned that there are many "experts" in this quickly-expanding field. Apparently many people feel strongly that their way is the way, and to that end have gone so far as to write articles and books, produce CDs and create extensive websites extolling their sage advice. Stunningly, much of the advice is stuff everyone already knows and is already doing, like, "Breathe in normally and slowly exhale." It is also suggested that one should, "Let thoughts enter your mind as they will." I have been doing this my whole life; who knew I was meditating?

Another quite popular trend is "living mindfully." To live mindfully, you must pay attention to what you are doing. Like if you are eating, eat. Or if you are listening to music, listen to the music. It is actually fairly simple if you put your mind to it, ha ha, no pun intended. Yet there are seminars and retreats and teachers and courses and entire sections of bookstores dedicated to the subject. Many of these "experts" even support themselves and their families by telling other people how to live mindfully!

So I decided on my morning walk that if I presented myself as an expert on walking, maybe I could make a few bucks. After all, I have been at it my whole life. Here are a few of my suggestions, just off the top of my head:

1. Before undertaking a walk, it is best to stand up.
2. For a good result and the least amount of injuries, wearing socks and shoes is advisable. Choose socks that are comfortable and fit you well. As for the shoes, they too should feel good on your feet, not cause blisters, not be too tight or too loose but instead be just right.
3. Decide in advance which foot you will start with.
4. Lift up and then place the chosen foot on the ground in front of you, at a comfortable distance from your body. Gently move your entire body weight onto that foot, taking your weight off of your other foot and raising it off the ground.
5. Now place the raised foot on the ground in front of you, and allow the first foot to rise up into the air and move ahead of your body.
6. Continue alternating the feet in this manner.
7. These individual movements are called "steps." Take as many steps as you can without straining your heart.
8. You may move your arms or not, your choice, however it is best not to keep your hands in your pockets or you may fall over.
9. Practice doing this daily. It is important not to skip a day, unless you are ill or incapacitated.

Congratulations, you are walking!  Over time you should be able to walk without thinking about it, unless you are trying to live mindfully, in which case you should concentrate on each step. For those who are ready to advance to the next level, read my article, "Running: Moving Faster Than Walking."

Stuck in a Rut

Most ordinary people do the same things over and over. This is commonly called being stuck in a rut. Being an ordinary person this applies to me, and I am pretty much sick of it. Life is fleeting and so when, if not now, will I do something new and different?

Following is a list of things I have never done. I need to pick one and do it today. Hopefully other people reading this will follow my lead and many people will have new experiences today.

install a hardwood floor
paint a self-portrait
have a pedicure
eat snails
ride a horse
clean my basement
read "Jane Eyre"
not talk for one whole day
take in a refugee
move every piece of furniture in my house
have acupuncture
use the Shop-Vac we bought a year ago and is still in the original box, unopened
go fishing
visit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
get a hamster
make a pizza from scratch

Friday, May 22, 2015

In Case You Need Me, I'll Be Here

By any measure, last winter was rough. It snowed on and off for seven months, burying the fall leaves in early October. With drifts piling up around our house that were waist-high, things looked bleak because they were. My car got stuck in my own icy driveway and it took a day and a tow truck to get unstuck. It was well below zero many days and nights. My husband and I came to the same conclusion: We're outta here!

So we started looking for houses back in our old stomping grounds, Washington, D.C.  We still have many good friends living there who we'd love to hang with. The climate is much better -- they actually see flowers in late February whereas here in Maine it's not until late April or early May that a daffodil shows up. Aside from the preponderance of knee-jerk liberals and a simmering undercurrent of racial tension (the city is 43% white, with African-Americans, Hispanics and a host of other ethnicities making up the balance), life there can be pretty sweet.

Except, as it turns out, the real estate market in D.C. is so hot that every house sells for between 50 and 100 thousand dollars over the asking price. Bidding wars abound, even for a crummy dump. So our enthusiasm began to wane, considering how much we love our current home and could never come near anything as nice ever again, certainly not in Washington. Still, our wonderful old friends! The Kennedy Center! All those theaters, so many museums, the fabulous tulips and cherry trees! Beautiful parks everywhere! Movie theaters of every ilk, showing everything from indies and oldies to brand new IMAX blockbusters!

Cherry trees in bloom around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

Then last week, that simmering racial tension boiled over.  A wealthy white family of three plus their housekeeper, living in what is arguably Washington's best neighborhood, and certainly its most secure since the Vice-President's home is but a few blocks away, was robbed, brutally tortured and then burned to death in a fire set in the home by a black man. They caught the guy a week later, tracing his DNA from a leftover pizza crust found at the scene. (Imagine, he ordered a pizza while he was holding people hostage.)

Back when I lived in D.C., which I did for 30 years, I had friends who were murdered too. And others who were raped, and many who were robbed, and lots who were mugged -- you name it, it happened to someone, even us. Since moving to Maine six years ago, the worst I have heard of was a cell phone stolen from the front seat of an unlocked car and an ice dam on a neighbor's roof.
Fresh fish for dinner every night!

So you know what? We're staying in Maine. I'm making new friends, lowering my hoity-toity standards concerning "theater" and "art," and sleeping soundly at night. And no small thing, what with all the talk of omega-3's, the fish here is to die for. And speaking of death, I'd rather freeze to death lost in a snowstorm than meet my maker at the hands of a crazed lunatic with an axe to grind.