• art,  introspection

    The Game of Life

    When I was little, I used to play this board game with my friends called The Game of Life.  For those not familiar with it, there’s a long wiggly track that your car shaped piece has to travel.  Along the way, you go through life’s milestones in a typically linear fashion; you graduate high school, acquire massive debt, get a college degree, find a job, get married, buy a house (more debt), have kids and retire.  (They left death out; a rather massive oversight.)  Whoever retires with the most cash wins.  Not so different from how many people think, is it?

    Of course, being the sort of person who just can’t accept expectations, my strategy for the game generally was to roll the dice (well, a spinner) in such a way that I avoided college debt and getting a job entirely.  Such limitations were just not for me.  I would then careen around the board, making deals where I could, making certain that if I had to get married that it was a same-sex marriage, and avoiding having kids if possible or — if not, making sure that I had so many that they could barely fit in my car.  As a strategy, this worked out well. Unless an opponent managed to become a doctor, I nearly always won.  I was happy (and hilarious) in my Bohemian lifestyle.

    Last summer I played the newest edition of the game and I discovered that they’ve now made it impossible to play with my strategy.  You cannot get out of the first section of the game without acquiring a job.  Harrumph. I lost, despite avoiding college debt and my perfectly respectable salary as a policewoman. 

    I found myself thinking about The Game of Life the other morning as I was climbing out the subway steps at Wall Street, as I do five days out of seven.  This is the moment in my commute where the upcoming work day really becomes inevitable.  Being a train commuter, my brain is my own until then.  On my more motivated days, I fill it was the artistic stuff that I feel like I never have enough time to do.  I write or knit or read.  The days I write are the most satisfying; it’s what every adult in my childhood told me I should do with my life and a big part of me still feels like a failure for not having made a living from it like I was supposed to.  Shouldn’t I be published by now?  Living in a big house in the middle of nowhere with my car overflowing with kids and no nine-to-five?

    And so I sighed and turned the corner, tucking my artistic side inside myself until the commute home.  I put on my business face and walked into that skyscraper, into that office filled almost exclusively with men, and I conquered.  I was good at it.  And yet…and yet, some days I wish I had taken that Bohemian lifestyle, that I had settled for less stuff and less security and insisted on doing more art. Every day feels like a fight to blend the two and some days are just more successful than others.

    Perhaps, some day…

  • introspection

    Mother’s Day

    My life, rather like most people’s (I suspect), is rather circular in nature. This feeling has been coming up on me in part with the coming of Mother’s Day in the U.S., which translates into one of the bigger marketing campaigns of the year and always throws me into a reflective mind.  My e-mail inbox has been inundated with basically every store that I’ve ever bought anything from (and there are a lot) trying to convince me that buying their stuff would make my mom happy. Only my mother is no longer in a place where material goods will do much for her — and has been for nearly five years, so this makes me rather grumpy.  My mean streak enjoys making reference of this to every cashier who tries to convince me that my mom would really like a cheap bright pink travel mug for Mother’s Day (they never knew *my* mother – obviously), but mostly I’m trying to wait out the holiday with patience.  Still, the constant references keep putting memories that I hadn’t thought of for most of the years she was alive back in my head.  Death is a funny thing.  I had mostly given up on having much of a relationship with her when she was living, which must have made me more angry than I ever let myself consciously know, because I never thought about the good times when she was alive. But now they’re mostly what I remember when I think about her now.

    Most of the good memories come from my pre-teen years.  By the time I hit about thirteen, the distance between us was well established.  But there were a lot of years there where my mom was my favorite person.  I didn’t have a lot of friends as a kid, since I always seemed to stick out.  (My utter fondness for the game of Frisbee aside, I just didn’t have a lot of interests in common with kids, since they weren’t into trying to stuff every possible fact they could find into their heads.  I actually had a goal of reading every book in the library at one point…yeah. Nerd.)  We were close, but then something happened.  Maybe it was just that our basic personalities were so disparate that we probably never had a chance. 

    But there were good years, years filled with Friday nights on the fold out couch eating popcorn and watching movies, years where she put the piano in my room and let me play the same songs over and over again, years where we spent hours upon hours discussing the cats and playing Tetris.  I remember stealing her ice skates from her closet and walking around on them in the apartment complex grass, wishing that I lived in a place where you could go ice skating, the way she’d grown up doing.  I used to hide in her closet and look through the photographs and put on her dresses from when we lived in Japan.  I used to pass the hours just waiting for her to come home so that we could sit and have our subpar dinner, neither of us being much in the way of cooks. Then there were the nights we spent baking things out of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, brownies and cookies. Baking we had down.

    And then there were the rest of the years, where we were strangers to each other, where I learned not to look for her company or approval.  When I was a teenager, we more or less lived as roommates (I was obviously the freeloading kind).  I was such an independent beast that when I was sixteen, I planned a trip to Scotland to go look at universities on my own, she let me set everything up and took me to the airport.  I was independent just like she was.  Once I moved out two years later, she and I would often go months without any kind of contact.  I made a lot of effort to try and include her in my life when I first moved out, but it wasn’t long before we only got together to introduce each other to our various boyfriends and respond to family emergencies.  I don’t think either of us had any idea how to have a mother-daughter relationship.  When she first died, it was tough for me to sometimes remember that she was dead, because our everyday relationship was so similar to when she was alive.  I think that with time that we probably would have worked it out; there’s nothing like raising a teenager yourself to give you perspective on your own teen years.  We just ran out of time about twenty years sooner than we should have.

    Life is funny like that.  No guarantees.

    This last year we’ve had the roommate that mattered from my twenties living with us.  He’s going to be moving out at the end of the month, which sweeps me back to when I decided to move to New York and left him behind.  I don’t know how conscious I was of it in my early twenties, but he was a huge part of the replacement family I formed to replace my own when it became clear that mine wasn’t going to be around.  This time he’s only going about fifteen miles away, but I am still a little sad about it all, as it’s been nice to go back to earlier days.  I think part of it is knowing that I’m not really in the carefree roommate phase of my life anymore; that I will be married, which is, I imagine, going to change everything, even though my Beloved and I have agreed that he’ll always have a place in our home if he wants it.  But it’s not us; it’s the way my friends are reacting to us.  Part of his reason for moving out is that I will no longer just be his friend – I will be someone’s *wife*.  This is a time of transition and change, even though we’ve already been operating as a family since the day the Kid showed up three years ago.  The way others treat us is going to change entirely.  Just being engaged has been a lesson in that.

    Five years ago, when my mom died, I was in a period of slash and burn.  I’d ended a relationship, just finally finished off my college degree (useless, but satisfying), made the move to switch jobs and had just watched my friend that’s about to move out now move out of the apartment we were living in at the time.  Then my mom died, which turned my whole world upside down.  I started the new job, found my Beloved, bought a house and settled in.  And here we are, five years later, with nothing but change on the horizon.  It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just how things are.  It’s also rather deja-vu familiar.

    So here’s to my mom and the other moms of the world. Happy mother’s day. I hope you didn’t end up with lots of cheap crap the commercial world tried to foist on your offspring as some way in which to thank you for all the sacrifices that you made.

  • health,  house

    I would wear more sunblock

    Last weekend was one of the busiest weekends of my life, in which I was barely able to accomplish half of what I wanted to do.  (Clearly I ought to learn how to set realistic expectations.) My house had gotten to a point of distress, so I spent the Saturday not just cleaning, but also taking the time to buy storage for the sheets and organizing them, as well as getting rid of things and switching out winter clothes for summer clothes and dealing with the mounds of laundry that have piled up.

    I really don’t have any idea how people with neat houses do it; I also have no idea how to make my house stay clean and still have time to do anything else.  I do live with three people that have greater thresholds for mess than I do, so I do (probably a lot) more than my twenty-five percent, which contributes, but it’s still a mystery.  Even after working all weekend, there are still a ton of messy spots in the house; the bathroom I scrubbed top to bottom two weeks ago needs scrubbing again.  From a time management perspective, short of quitting my job and spending all of my time keeping up with the house, it seems impossible.  I presume that there are ways to make cleaning less labor intensive, so I’ve been focusing on setting up things in that vein, like getting the sheets sorted into nice storage bins and setting up cleaning supplies on every floor of the house.  The best that I’ve got is to keep trying to be more efficient, because I’m just not willing to give up the things I’d rather be doing just to have more time to keep the house clean.  Though I do love coming home to a clean house – the Saturday didn’t feel wasted, because the house seems so much fresher and restful now for all the decluttering and scrubbing that I did.  The process of turning chaos into order is a little bit magical, even though I’m not one to normally love cleaning.  On Saturday, though, it just felt like the right thing to be doing.

    On the Sunday I made time to go out cycling, doing a 16 mile training ride in preparation for the 5 Boro Bike Tour, which we’re riding tomorrow.  Cycling is a funny sport for me.  I never want to actually go, but once I’m on a bike and past the first mile, I am filled with such a joy for the freedom that a bicycle brings. There’s really no other transport like it.  Cars rush you by so fast that you can barely take in your surroundings.  Walking is so slow that you barely get anywhere.  But on a bicycle, you can cover a decent amount of ground in a short enough period of time to really get somewhere, but you’re going slow enough that you have time to look around and really see where you are.  It’s a delightful mishmash of situation.  It’s freedom and adventure.  It always fills me with a wonder of the universe, as I get to see my surroundings in an entirely new way.

    I tend to take a trail that runs from Massepequa to, I learned, Bethpage.  I was at the north end of the trail when a tall man with a rather impressively extended pot belly walked up to me.  He’d come to the park on foot.  He asked me if I knew how to get to some particular surrounding street.  I told him I had no idea even what town I was in, since I always start at the opposite end of the trail.  He looked at me in surprise, his eyebrows shooting upwards.  “You didn’t know this was Bethpage until I told you right now?”  Not at all, I assured him.  He looked amazed and chuckled, then walked away.  That’s the adventure of cycling; I managed to bike several towns away without even knowing where I was.  The town I was passing through was so irrelevant; but conversely I actually did know exactly where I was, in a different sense.  I knew the trees and the park and the water fountains and I knew how to get there.  What’s in a name?  It’s about the adventure.

    I read a recent Time magazine article with Julia Luis Dreyfuss, who most of the world probably knows as Elaine from Seinfield. She’s apparently on a new show called Veep, in which she plays the vice-president.  As a feminist, I probably should have known about that and should probably even watch it.  As a me, I have failed once again at pop culture.  But the very last question they asked her was, “What would you change about your life if you had it to do over again?”  She said, brilliantly, “I would wear more sunblock.”

    I am so inspired, Julia Luis Dreyfuss.  To the cycles and the pedals and the cleaning. I hope to live a life where I regret nothing and no time wasted. Here’s to the adventure and wonder of it all.

  • introspection,  writing

    Birthday Wishes

    It is my birthday this week and I will be turning thirty-two, which depending on how you look at it, is either kind of old or very young.  I’m not typically one to get very excited about birthdays, so I don’t have much planned, but I have taken the day off of work.  This is something that I’ve never done before.

    I am looking forward to my day off.  I’ve been very carefully not making plans, but I suspect that I’ll spend most of the day working on some fiction that I’ve been inching out train ride by train ride.  I began writing on the train when I got my Gtab, which was why I bought it, and it has worked out very nicely.  (In fact, these words are being written somewhere between Jamaica and Penn.)  In some ways, the train is a productive way to write in that I get two hours of dedicated time per day to do it, but it’s also a distracting way, because it is only an hour at once.  Inevitably, time is lost in trying to figure out where I left off and what I’m expecting my characters to be doing, though it does lead me to spending my work day daydreaming about what’s going to happen next.  Not all ideas being equal, this frequently leads to indecision, but it’s been good to work through these struggles day after day after day.  As with everything, it’s practice, practice, practice.

    Having a birthday does make one reflect on one’s life accomplishments – if you’d told my ten year old self that I’d be turning thirty-two without ever having completed a draft of a novel, I would have stomped out of the room.  If you told my thirty-one year old self that I needed to write one, she would utterly panic at the idea of trying to find the time.  From a writing perspective, I have wasted so many years in not writing, because I have let myself get busy with all the other aspects of my life.  Getting established in a career and earning my college degree while working full time didn’t leave a lot of room for imaginative fiction outside of my creative writing classes, but I don’t think my ten year old self would want to hear it.  These are all very reasonable excuses, but they point out that I am not living the sort of free life that I always imagined that writing would lead to.  After all, everyone around me told me what a talented writer I was, so clearly that was what I was meant to be.

    Sometimes I wonder if the drive to keep writing just comes from that expectation that was set on me at that age.  There are so many days where the hours of the days pass without a single word being written and, yet, when the writing goes well, nothing else matters at all.  When I can reach that meditative state of writing and, even more miraculously, stay there, it all makes sense.  That’s my birthday meditation.  I have it every year.  So now that that’s out of the way, I can think about all the other birthday things.

    The most glorious, of course, being that my birthday is April 25th, a day that falls in the same week as Earth Day, Pot Day, Shakespeare’s birthday and the blooming of the cherry blossoms.  It almost always rains, which would discomfit most people, but is something that I love.  Today is a gray rainy thing, which just makes me want to sit on a train with my Gtab and work on writing while looking out the window.  It is absolutely perfect, even as pools form against my kitchen floor from the truly epic amount of water that’s come down from the sky and lashes in under the back door.  Rain in the spring brings the promise of bounty and I am still enough of a pagan to appreciate that on a very visceral level.  It just makes me happy.

    Spring is productivity.  It is writing.  It is watching the ocean crash in to the shore with the passion that spring storms bring.  it is watching the garden get doused with water and knowing that will make the grass grow longer and the roses bloom better.  It is the beginning of abundance, of fertility, for whatever that means to you.  So that’s my birthday wish to the world; go forth and be creative, in whatever way that means to you.  Maybe it’s scribbling the words of characters who only exist in your head.  Maybe it’s blogging about whatever your interest is.  Maybe it’s planting flowers in a garden, maybe it’s writing code.  Maybe it’s making films, or painting or dancing or just dreaming.  This is the season of promise, where everything is beginning all over again.  Then come tell me all about it, because you are my inspiration.

  • introspection,  yoga

    To the Presidents, three hours of yoga and one hell of a bird

    The holiday weekend was filled with pure, unadulterated laziness. With Himself out of town, I thought that I might find the three days off rather oppressive, but I mostly found that even with three days basically to myself, there still  wasn’t enough time to do half of what I wanted to.  Clearly the problem is not external.

    I started out the weekend with an early morning yoga class, which I followed up on Sunday with a two hour yoga inversions workshop.  Basically I learned that I am not very good at being upside down.  I also learned that three hours of yoga in two days when your practice has not been particularly dedicated over the last year will turn your thighs into rock. It will take an actual volcanic explosion to make them molten enough to want to move again.  But I’m sure it was good for me; you’ve just gotta’ see my one-legged crow.  Maybe some day I’ll take the leap of faith and get that second leg off of the ground.

    Yogic inversions are suppposed to be good for the soul because they make you face your fears (and the strength limitations of your biceps).  I must concur.  It is scary to stand on your head with only a thin yoga mat between you and the floor.  And the floor hurts.  There are a couple of ways to work through this.  One, you acknnowledge the fear and then let it go.  Headstand.  Two, you learn how to position your body in a sensible way so that you master the physics.  This creates a body awareness.  The hip bone is connected to the leg bone.  Arms are easier to rest on if they’re positioned vertically enough that they turn into gravity supported shelves.  Crow.  Or, three, my method; find a wall, put your head on the mat, hop around a bit a la Gollum and pray.

    You can be the judge of which method is the most spiritual.  I can tell you from experience that the last will eventually yield results, though it helps if you mix the first two in as well.  I find that yoga provides a lot of metaphors for dealing with life in general. Learning to acknowledge and bypass fear is only one of them.

    The most valuable thing that I have learned in yoga is that success is rarely the correct object by which to measure achievement. It’s actually a rather shallow measurement, because it misses all the detail of the journey.  And if I’m worried about success, even when my yoga neighbor does a perfect unassisted middle of the room headstand (again), I’m never going to get that second foot off the ground.  And isn’t it the fact that I keep trying to fly despite failure really the important truth?

    In an unrelated adventure, I also met Cheeks the Quaker parrot this weekend.  (He does not actually wear a Quaker broadcloth suit.  I was disappointed.) Cheeks is approximately one pound, with semi-clipped wings, which he still waves around a lot.  And Cheeks crossed the entire living room to climb up my pants leg, using beak and claw, to sit on my knee and try to pick up the three pound ball of yarn I was knitting with.  He must have tried at least a dozen times, with each attempt winning him a few more inches before he’d have to put it back down and rest.  But he kept trying, which kind of makes that heart-filled creature my yoga hero.

    At least untill he shows up in my yoga class and does a perfect unassisted middle of the room headstand.  Then the bastard is on his own

  • family,  feminism,  introspection,  relationships

    Weddings for Feminists

    I am clearly not a stereotypical bride. In the three weeks in which I have been engaged, I’ve started doing some research in wedding planning that is driving me nuts. This began with signing up for theknot.com so that I could access their checklists. The Knot presents you with a nearly 200 item checklist that is largely presumed to be my responsibility. Because I’m the bride, which means that apparently I’m meant to have been dreaming about my wedding day for my entire life. (Hint: never once thought about it.) I’m meant to have a vision and colors and some dream about a dress style, all of which makes me want to have no wedding at all, because it sounds like a lot of expensive work that I can pretty easily screw up by picking the wrong napkins, etc. It all makes me pretty grumpy, but I am a fan of ceremonies and rituals to mark the important events in your life and I love seeing my family, so we’re going to have one anyway.

    Weddings, in their default traditional state, are pretty creepy. It’s probably no surprise that the heavily orchestrated gender roles of the process are giving me trouble. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on how to make my wedding awesome instead. I refuse to degrade my friends with the whole bouquet/garter toss and I would prefer both of my parents to walk me down the aisle, if only that were possible. I’d like a drum circle and dancing until the wee hours. I don’t want a groom’s side and a bride’s side – I just want our friends and family together, for a day filled with love and joy. It is a day for two families to come together, a day where I will not just make my fiancé my family, but also his family. It’s the day where he officially becomes part of mine. And that’s where I want the focus to be, not on the price tag of my dress or the rings.

    We want something that’s authentic to us, which doesn’t sync very well at all with the traditional ceremony. Above all, I don’t want it to be boring. People will be paying a lot of money to come to our wedding, since most of our relations and childhood friends are far away, and I want to make sure they have a good time and talk about it for years.

    No pressure there. None at all.

  • amusement,  introspection,  knitting

    The dreambrain

    Last night I dreamed of knitting as a type of personal hell; the stitch was stockinette, which references a project I’ve been working on that makes me dislike knitting.  Stockinette, stockinette, rows and rows of endless, never changing stockinette.

    But stockinette is the perfect stitch for dreams.  In dreams, your brain often goes over the same thing repeatedly to help you process and solve problems.  Most dreams are actually quite boring, which is part of why you don’t remember having them — just like stockinette!

    I’ve picked up another knitting project to keep me sane that is lace knitting, which is the polar opposite of stockinette.  It makes me like knitting a lot more.  I’m a challenge knitter, which is to say that if the project isn’t frustratingly difficult, I really can’t be bothered.  Some people like rows and rows of stockinette, but it’s purgatory to me.  It makes me feel like I’m running and running and getting nowhere, which is kind of what dreams are about.  Except that it actually does get you somewhere, because you wake up with the answers to things you were thinking about the night before.

    Isn’t the human brain neat?

  • culture,  feminism,  introspection,  politics

    Womyns’ Communities

    An article on lesbian separatist communities that I found interesting.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about communities of women (of all sexual orientations) because of the novel I’m reading, The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett. It is really, really good. It’s about a home for unwed mothers run by the Catholic church (and therefore nuns). There are, so far, two male characters and dozens of female characters. There are not a lot of books like that.

    Working in a practically all-male field as I do, I’ve found my need for companionship with other women has increased over the years. Women socialize very differently from men, which is really refreshing. We talk deeper, in a lot of ways, with more depth on a subject, but we discuss fewer subjects. However, finding women who want to talk about something other than the men in our lives has been challenging. I am as guilty of this as anyone – I find that I frequently am lost finding something else to talk about (and not having children does not help). To be fair, those relationships require a lot of time and effort and thought cycles. They require discussion and processing. But here we are, women together in a room – surely our life experiences have more to offer than just our romantic relationships? But how do you get past an entire culture that tells you otherwise – how do you bridge the gap for something more meaningful?

    I don’t know, but I try all the time. Perhaps these all female communities are on to something – I don’t know that I’d want to live in one all the time, but I would love to be able to visit.

  • introspection,  politics,  racism

    Tai Lam

    A very sad thing happened on Saturday. Tai Lam, a 14 year old boy and a student of the school for the gifted in math and sciences Montgomery Blair, was shot down by a gunman who appears to have just been looking for a fight.

    This story affected me pretty profoundly – I actually burst into tears when I read it. I didn’t know Tai Lam, but he lived and died right around the corner from where I grew up. The neighborhood I grew up in was a rough one. It was mainly populated by Central and South American immigrants and African-Americans. Being one of the few white-skinned kids wasn’t always easy. But the thing that united us all was our poverty and the problems it caused. And one of the first things that happens in the face of systemic poverty is violence. We had gangs. We had drugs. We had parents that were never home because they had to work long hours (mine included).

    I was lucky because I was white-skinned. I didn’t fit in anywhere, except in the world outside of our neighborhood. I remember the year when my friends became color conscious (it happens around ages 11 or 12). Skin color was the defining factor, the definition of my neighborhood. You could only live on one side of the street if you were African-American. If you were Latino, you could only live on the other. Violence was frequent because posturing was everything. When you have nothing, all that’s left is your honor and reputation.

    I had hoped that it had changed. It obviously has not. I think that’s why I found myself crying for Tai Lam and his family tonight.

    Dear Tai Lam, I am so so sorry that you didn’t get a chance to escape the cycle. You were a Blair student – you probably would have had a bright future in front of you. It is the saddest of worlds in which poverty is created and allowed to oppress people in this way. You will undoubtedly be in my thoughts for a long time to come.

    Edited To Add: Reading the comments on this post about Tai Lam also make me sad, since half of them are blaming “the Mexicans”, while complaining that “Mexicans” think that all Asians are the same. This is the damage of bigotry, folks. When does the cycle end?