Hiatuses (hiatii?)

It’s strange even to me to break my nearly year-long writing hiatus over a cat, and not even my cat, but like the song says, “any port in a storm.”

Say “Hi” to Rocky. My neighbors Joan and Joe asked me to paint him in the fall of 2006, They’ve reminded me of this every year, and every year I’ve said “I will. I promise.”

Rocky 1996 - 2013

Rocky 1996 – 2013

I’ve gotten a new lease on painting using the IPad, which. with the Procreate app, can function sort of like an Etch-A-Sketch. No harm, no fowl, no wasted paper. I don’t need a magnifying glass with it; I can just zoom in.

The first time I saw Rocky was fall of 2006, the day after I moved into this house. He was peering into my mudroom through the glass door, and from a fifteen foot distance, he looked like my six year old Sophie. I was startled to see her outside, because I hadn’t let her out. When a cat startles you with a risky move, you don’t jump into action; you move slowly so the cat won’t bolt. As I got nearer to the door, I realized that this was not Sophie, but a strange cat who shared similar coloring, and he bolted when I touched the door handle.

On my third day here, I carried Bettina, my sixteen year old cat, out the front door. I wanted her to have a taste and a smell of her new surroundings without any boots on the ground. That’s how I met my new neighbor Joe, who immediately invited me over to meet his wife Joan – and there was that “strange” cat lying their ottoman. His name was Rocky and he was about nine years old. He growled when I tried to pet him, even though I approached him carefully, crouching down so my face was level with his, and letting him smell my fingers first.

A few days after my official introduction to Rocky, I took Bettina out to the deck behind the house, and set her down. She immediately walked to the corner, slithered through the slats, and jumped. It was about a three foot jump, and she had no way of knowing what would be down there, but she jumped – and right there, a foot from where she landed, was Rocky. Bettina did that crazy walk that cats do, where the paws move but nothing else does, and managed to get about three feet away from Rocky before I got there and picked her up. Rocky just walked away.

Bettina, Ben and Sophie (six year old brother and sister) had been indoor cats in our apartment in Philadelphia, and I was unsure about exposing them to the dangers of the real outdoors. Bettina died late that fall, but Ben and Sophie spent the next year and a half as indoor cats.

That first spring and summer, Rocky showed up on the deck several times a day and sat there taunting Ben and Sophie as the captives they were. I would see him at the front, side and back of the house, and every time I approached him, he hissed and swatted. He even drew blood a few times.

In the spring of 2008, I relented and let Ben and Sophie out for small periods of time, with me supervising. They never stayed on the deck. Their favorite thing was to go up to the top of the rock formation behind the house and taut ME because weighing more than twelve pounds, I needed hiking shoes and low humidity to get up there.

Rocky still came through the back yard, but not when Ben and Sophie were there. There were a few times when Ben walked around to the front yard alone though, and Rocky always managed to be there, and the two of them would have yowling, screeching arguments. Rocky roared and screeched, and Ben screamed. It was Ben’s yard, but to Rocky, Ben was an interloper and had no business there. This went on for several years of springs and summers (Rocky spent winters in Arizona), and I always got between them, giving Rocky a chance to swagger on home, and Ben a chance to retreat.

About four years in, I heard the usual altercation between Ben and Rocky, but when I got there, Rocky was already skulking away toward his house. Ben had finally claimed his territory, and while I wished no disgrace on Rocky, I was proud of Ben.

Despite many visits to his house, Rocky never let me pet him until around 2011, and even then if I did it for more than ten seconds, he would hiss and swat, and I would quickly withdraw. 2012 was different. I could cuddle with him without retribution, and with no time limit. He even purred and rolled over.

The next summer, when I saw him walking, he walked much more slowly and carefully, and he kept mostly to the sidewalks and the parking area near Joan and Joe’s car. In the winter of 2013, Joan called from Arizona to say that Rocky had died.

Ben had one summer of no Rocky, and he died in the fall of 2014. They’re both gone now, and they’re probably having a standoff on the Rainbow Bridge.

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I used to be driven

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I was already 40 years old and living in Manhattan when I got my driver’s license.  When I told my then boyfriend that I was taking driving lessons, he said “Uh oh.” Until then I had relied on trains, planes, taxis, buses, subways and other people (men) to get most places. There was a point, in my 30s and in Philadelphia, when I found myself boyfriendless, and my biggest concern was how I was going to get to Chinatown without a man to drive me.

That license to drive may have been the last step in my journey to complete independence. Within six months I had broken up with my boyfriend and been promoted at work, I assume because I had more time on my hands and took the job more seriously sans the boyfriend – which had never been a goal, but what happens happens.

These days, it’s a twelve mile round trip to the grocery store, but I’ve been driving less and less as this winter has worn on, and on, and on. The roads got narrower, and the potholes and “heaves” multiplied throughout the winter.

The snow is still pretty deep, but there are signs of melting. I can hear it even though I can’t really see it yet. So Glenn Curtis’ “four mile challenge” was the perfect excuse to get in the car again, and drive for no reason.

I chose to turn left instead of right today. Right takes me down the mountain and toward food, gas, and practically everything else that involves capital. Left takes me to lakes, ponds, a cemetery and some farms. The roads to the left are in worse shape, and they do not generally have yellow lines. At about the 3.5 mile mark, I had to decide whether to turn left or right again. I turned right, thinking I could possibly get to Winchester Lake at 4 miles, but I ended up at a fairly undistinguished field somewhere on route 263 in Litchfield county.

_MG_1198 Or it could have been a lake. It’s impossible to tell right now.

I took more photos, but they were all overexposed. I did get an inadvertent selfie of my own fingers.

rear view mirror

I don’t care. I’m just grateful not to be driven.

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Light bulb

I changed a light bulb two weeks ago.

It took me almost four days.

I’ve lived in this house for eight years now, and for several years I had been eyeing the light fixture in the kitchen ceiling and wondering:

  • When the bulb would give out
  • How the glass thing that covers the bulb is attached
  • What kind of bulb it was
  • What I was going to do about it when the bulb burned out.

I wondered how I would get up there with my eighteen inch stepladder and my sixty-four inch height.  I can touch the 96″ ceiling from it, but wouldn’t be able to bend my arms to, for example hold a flashlight or screw anything in or out of something close to the ceiling.

A couple of years ago, when I asked a few friends around my age how they were doing, each one said, “I fell.”  Suzanne tripped over the threshold, or a dog, carrying wood inside, and also walking up my sidewalk.  Sheila fell on an icy step right outside her front door.  Marilyn slid on some leaves.  Joan broke her wrist near her front sidewalk.  Maureen broke her wrist trying to change a light bulb over her kitchen island…Fonda took a tumble from slippery moss at the side of my house…

About two weeks ago, the bulb finally gave out.  Oh, god, cue the slasher music!

I thought through a number of solutions, each one an attempt to avoid figuring it out myself.  They were, in order:

  1. Find a handyman with a ladder, but I’ve been down that road and it never worked out.
  2. Go to Lowe’s and buy a new fixture, and pay Lowe’s to install it.  I’m sure that screwing in the light bulb would be included in the installation.
  3. Call an electrician to check out the light switch.  (He’d tell me it was fine, just a burned out bulb, and I’d say “well…since you’re here, could you check the fixture and find out what kind of bulb it is?”  He’d have to take off the glass cover to do that, and then I’d know how it comes off, and maybe it’s just a regular light bulb in there, and maybe then I could ask to borrow his ladder for a sec, and maybe he’d just offer to do it.)  But that guy’s at least 10 years older than I am…
  4. Call Ray the plumber to replace the water heater.  It’s in the crawl space downstairs and I only go down there about twice a year.  When he arrived, I could say, “Oh, by the way, I need to change the light bulb in the kitchen.  Do you have a ladder?”  With any luck, he’d just do it himself.

In the end, I was ashamed to do any of these things, so I decided to figure it out and do it myself, but not try to do it all at once, like the time I changed an electrical outlet in my apartment  in Manhattan (because I didn’t want to call Maintenance) and shorted out my whole wing of the building.  (The guy from Maintenance said that, other than taking a hammer to the outlet at the end to get it flush with the wall, I’d done a good job.)

First up was to try to get another light in the kitchen.  After trying three or four lamps from the living room, all of which were too high to put on the kitchen counter because they blocked the upper cabinet doors, the tape measure came out.  I found one lamp upstairs what was low enough, brought it down and plugged it in.

That was day one.

On day two, I played around on the internet with my coffee, did some reading, but knew I should be thinking about that light fixture.  I looked at it from the doorway.  Around eleven AM, I moved the stepladder, unfolded it near the fixture, and got onto the top step to confirm that I could touch the fixture, but couldn’t maneuver around it.  From the top step, I saw the last of the sage in the freezing rain on the deck, and I went outside to save it.

Around two PM, I looked at the fixture again.  It hurt my neck.  Put the stepladder under the fixture.  Spent ten minutes looking for a flashlight to better see around the edges of the fixture.  Mounted the stepladder and felt around the edges, but could see or feel nothing that would move.  Couldn’t reach.  Needed to get up higher.

When I started to put the stepladder on top of a dining chair, Sophie, who had been watching from across the room, gave a little “Aeow” and ran upstairs.  I jiggled the ladder around on top of the chair, and it didn’t seem that unstable, but I wasn’t going to push my luck.

I checked my email; Amazon was shipping 5 cases of catfood that Sophie won’t eat but Ben would have.  Got on Amazon and cancelled the order.  Went back into the kitchen and looked at the stepladder perched on the chair.  But I noticed that in the lower lamplight, there was dust on unused parts of the kitchen counter, so I cleaned the kitchen counter.

Then I got back on Amazon and ordered naproxen sodium, but that fixture was nagging at me.  Looked at the chair on the stepladder  again, and decided to try it.  One step up onto the chair, then one on the stepladder, then another…didn’t fall, but had to get back down and reposition the whole thing so I’d have better leverage.

Got back up, grabbed the edges of the glass cover and pushed back and forth.  It gave about 1/4 inch each way.  Got back down and up, this time with the flashlight.   Used the flashlight to look around the edges.  Felt around the glass cover for anything that would move.  There were two stainless steel outer-space looking prongs that seemed to be holding the glass on.  Felt around some more (eight years of grime!)  Found button-like spheres at the outer edges of the prongs that could be laboriously unscrewed, and partly unscrewed one of them.

Moved the chair/stepladder again, partly unscrewed the second one, while holding the weight of the glass because I thought it could come crashing down suddenly, and break – or crack my head open.  It gave!  And I’m standing on top of a stepladder perched on a dining chair in the middle of the kitchen, holding that glass cover that weights about eight pounds over my head…I’m not sure how I got down, but I did.  I put down the glass without dropping it, and told myself to just walk away…

Read some news online.  Checked email again, and another email from Amazon says they’ve shipped my Kindle Voyage a week earlier than originally expected.  I’m on a roll!  I decide to get back up on the chair on the ladder and see if I can remove the light bulb.  After a lot of pushing, I got it off.  It was some kind of a halogen bulb.  I see it has “120V 150W etched on one ceramic end.  I could take it to the hardware store and ask them to match it, but it seems to be “my day” on Amazon, so I go BACK on there and put in “120V 150W halogen” – and there they were.  I had to measure the bulb length in centimeters, but in the end I found the right one.

That was day two.

On day three, I did nothing light bulb related.

On day four, the naproxen, the bulb, the Voyage, a case of “white meat chicken in a cream sauce with garden vegetables” for Sophie, and some printer paper arrived in three separate UPS deliveries.  I installed the light bulb using the stepladder-on-chair technique.  Couldn’t get the glass cover back on, but the light works.

I had to order a package of five bulbs, which should last a minimum of forty years.  I’ll be one hundred and eight years old, minimum, when the last bulb burns out.  At some point before that, someone else is going to have to climb up on the chair on the stepladder to replace a bulb, but I’ll think about that eight years from now, minimum.

Slap me for being dependent on the evil giant.  It’s an impersonal dependence, and it suits me.

 

 

 

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Seasons change

it’s been a while since I’ve written here.  We’ve had several major life events that are difficult to speak about.  When I’ve been overwhelmed recently, I’ve gone outside into the woods looking for what is permanent.

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Path to the sports field

 

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The seasons come and go, but they always come around again.  The leaves come down, but they come back again. Some trees are lost to disease or wind, but saplings arise, small creatures make their homes in the fallen branches, and larger creatures hibernate in caves formed by fallen trunks.  My life lately has been evidence of that.

In August I had a carotid something-ectomy to clean and repair a 90% blocked carotid artery that supplies blood to the left side of my brain.  Signed papers acknowledging that I understood the risks of the surgery were death, stroke, bleeding, some other thing, and re-operation.  Spent a night in Hartford Hospital.  Unlike the lumpectomy and mastectomy about 10 years ago, I could not talk the medical people out of this, presumably because they had to monitor overnight for signs of stroke.

The best moment was waking up and realizing that I knew who I was, where I was.  That was reinforced by the half-hourly proof that I could look to the left and look to the right, blow out my cheeks and make several other faces in the stroke script, squeeze both of the nurse’s hands with both of mine, and stand up.

My exhiliration quickly faded when I realized that the sheets were made of the same kind of paper they use for puppy training pads, because I had to fight myself out of them at least 20 times that night to get to the bathroom (dragging that stand that’s EXACTLY the same width as the bathroom door) and trying not to tangle up the 3 IV lines and the couple of dozen electrodes that were attached to it and me at too many places to figure out.  I was picking adhesive off my skin for the next week.  My frustration and discomfort were softened by the fact that I DID get out of bed at least 20 times that night.

I lack the photography skills to show you the 6 inch slit on the side of my neck, but luckily only others can see it in real life; it’s invisible to me when I look in the mirror.  There’s already enough crap in my appearance that I have to avoid seeing in the mirror.

I was to have not lifted anything weighing more than 10 pounds for three weeks, but first thing I did when I got home early the next afternoon was lift 21 pound Ben up to the sink to get a drink.  Nothing happened.

Something is wrong with Sophie.  About 2 weeks before my surgery, I took her in for her rabies shot and annual checkup, and we started chasing ideas about why she has lost about a third of her body weight in the last 2 years.  There were x-rays and ultrasounds and 5 or 6 blood draws.  There was a tooth cleaning and a tooth pulled and there were appetite stimulant pills and antibiotic injections, and now there’s a broader spectrum antibiotic gel to be given by syringe that has made her afraid of me.  After feeding her home-cooked chicken breast for a few weeks, we seem to have found a food she’s willing to eat.

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Sophie after her dental surgery. September 27, 2014.

After about a week of Sophie eating 2 small cans of food a day, Ben collapsed on a routine walk between two rooms last Tuesday.  The vet diagnosed vestibular disease and “prescribed” Dramamine for the motion sickness.  The vestibular disease (vertigo) turned out to be a symptom of advanced lymphoma which affects cats’ brains in about 10% of cases.  On Friday I took Ben to the vet for the last time.  I carried him to his bed which I’d placed in the passenger seat of the car.  I took his brush (he loved to be brushed more than anything) and his favorite catnip flavored treats.  I kept my right hand on him during the 15 minute drive, while he looked around in wonder at the beautiful fall foliage.

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We set him up in his bed in the examining room, and I fed him treats and brushed him.  He died purring.

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Sophie and I are both only children now.

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Hardware/software

IMG_0267_1I learned to walk in it, and talk in it, and run in it, and laugh and cry and sleep in it.

It had its weaknesses, and I did some bad things to it but it got its knees kissed and band aids and mercurochrome and Aspergum, and later stronger things, and it abided. It got whooping cough, chicken pox, measles, german measles, countless flus and ear infections and pinkeye, but it abided.

Its eyesight wasn’t the greatest, but oh the things it saw – peonies and lightning bugs and loving faces and churches and general stores and little painted Ukranian Easter eggs and cats and dogs and mice and fruit trees and blueberries and groundhogs and rattlesnakes. Indian arrowheads and cowboy outfits.

Its senses of taste and smell made up for the eyesight, it knew when milk would turn the next day and when the butter had been browned perfectly, and who had been the last person to use the bathroom at family gatherings. Roses and peonies and dry grass and woods, water minerals and soap. Clean clothes and dirty clothes. The Bible and the Girl Scout manual and hymnals and magazines and paperbacks and hardbacks all smelled different, and it couldn’t open a book without smelling it first.

It was with me when I learned to read, and to think and to drink coffee. It got butterflies about boys and ideas, and you really couldn’t tell us apart the first time I fell in love. I had my heart broken, but it didn’t, its heart abided.

I was a body and a mind and a heart – one travelled, one absorbed and synthesized, and one alternated between moving and standing still. Sometimes one claimed ascendancy over the others, sometimes they worked together, and sometimes they fought for attention; they argued about who got to go first. (The mind usually won.) The times they were most seamless were in childhood, in love, with psychedelics, with painting, and in sickness. Age didn’t set them against each other, but rather caused them to exaggerate each other’s flaws.

In career, the body and the heart were not essential and they got the leftover time. In menopause, that penultimate Great Leap of aging, they all got working together again, but their timing and thermostat was off. The end of that period freed them all again, and often untethered them from each other.

Then it gets complicated. They like different things. They sometimes resent each other. The body is a source of pleasure but also a burden, a wayward child, a slow learner. The mind tries to protect it, but thinks it’s an idiot; it’s on its own. Body wishes mind would cut it a break. But to mind, body is like an old Coach bag that’s scuffed and wearing through but you can’t get rid of it because you paid so much for it. And mind needs it to hold its stuff. Heart only needs it anymore to protect the abridged anthology of things it loves.

There is something foolish and western about referring to the body, mind and heart as different things. As though there’s an “it” and an “I.” I know they are inseparable , and yet “I” am often aware of them, separately.

This line, written for a spent love affair, keeps running through my mind: “You’ve been a good old wagon, baby, but you done broke down.”

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Fear without trembling

I’ve been quiet here for a few months now, thinking about forms of detachment, reasons for detachment, fear of intimacy, hoarding emotions, and other non-actions.

About two months ago, a couple of long-time friends found out about my blog.  At first I was relieved. One of my worst fears had been realized, and it hadn’t been so bad, really.   It was liberating – for three or four days.  The next time I sat down to write, I froze, was speechless, at a loss for words.  I had “stage fright,” maybe something worse.

Over these wordless months, I’ve recognized something I denied all of my adult life:  I have a fear of intimacy.  All of my adult life, I’ve believed that others had it, and I may have been projecting.

I’m an introvert, a solitary person, independent and self-sufficient.  All those things are true.  But it’s also true that I withhold things – not facts, but feelings.

All my adult life (“adult life” because it was very different as a child), I’ve felt comfortable telling the most “intimate” details of my life to virtual strangers.  But I’ve really just been telling stories.  They are true stories, but they are declawed because they happened in the past, or they weren’t anything to be ashamed of after all, or they were illustrative of some larger theme, or, or, or…The stories have been a way of glancing over the truth without penetrating it.

I don’t talk about my feelings; at this point, I’m not even sure if I feel them.  I’ve said before that I don’t cry for myself, only for cruelty to animals or children.  But it’s deeper and broader than that. Maybe my love of animals (which is real, and never will change) is where I store my feelings.

I was an only child with a dramatic, verging-on-mentally-ill mother who confided too much, too often, and always demanded that I take sides.  Because of her other qualities, I wouldn’t have traded her for any of the other mothers I’ve known, but I knew instinctively that her turbulence was a threat to my wellbeing.

My principal work from about age 13 was to pry myself away from her. We never were estranged, but I grew freer year by year. I know it hurt my mother, but if only one of us was going to survive, it had to be me.  During a conversation in my early thirties, my mother said, “I know that the only way to keep you is to let you go.”  I’d accomplished the work of my young adulthood, but there were consequences.

I avoided sick people, and my relationships with men were “conflicted.” I was drawn to relationships that couldn’t work in the long run, or withdrew when they got too close, or when they said they loved me (love was, after all, a threat), or wanted me to meet their families, or wove me too deeply into their lives. I once broke up with a guy because being thought of as “John’s girlfriend” was unbearable.

But there are other ways of looking at this distance I’ve kept.   Maybe it’s a need to keep things strange or unfamiliar, or to keep some things for myself only.  That would be second nature for an only child.  If “things” (people, ideas, movements) get too close, if I let them be part of me, I won’t be able to see them, and seeing is the most important thing for me.

And there’s the concept of gifts, life as a series of presents. If you open them, you ruin the anticipation. They may not be what you wanted, but you don’t have to know that if you don’t open them. They may have been exactly what you wanted, but you don’t have to know that either. You spare yourself disappointment, but you deprive yourself of a particular kind of joy.

This seems to be the opposite of “seeing” things, but both seeing and not looking are consistent with the concept of keeping separate.

So I live with it.   I’m going to find the guts to write again, because writing is only virtual exposure.

 

 

 

 

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My June 6th

1200px-Omaha_Beach_Landing_Craft

We’re coming up on June 6th, the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  I’ve been watching (read that, wallowing in) documentaries about that day.  The other night, it was a PBS documentary about the 2008 dedication in Normandy of the first memorial to the Navy’s contribution on D-Day.  There were memorials to all the other armed forces involved in Operation Overlord, but the Navy had been overlooked.

My father was in the Navy during WW II, and he drove one of those landing craft back and forth all day on June 6, 1944. His journal says it was Omaha Beach  I know it’s not that simple.  Some of his memories from the only time he spoke of that day are here:

https://dianow.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/my-fathers-hands/

In October, my father will have been gone for twelve years.  He had been gone for six years by the time that Navy memorial went up.  He was alive for the 50th anniversary of D-Day, in 1994.  He said he’d like to go back to Normandy some day.  He’d never been out of the country, except in the Navy during WW II.  Why didn’t I go to Normandy with him?

I can’t visit his grave.  My father doesn’t have a grave; he and my mother were cremated and their ashes scattered over the desert and over mountains respectively.

So next Friday, which will be the 70th anniversary of D-Day, I’m going to visit a cemetery four states from where my father lived, and I’m going to lay flowers on a stranger’s grave.  I’ll look for a grave that may be a little neglected.  It would be nice if I could find a neglected one with a birth year of 1922.  I’ll find the right one, and I’ll leave flowers for my father.

I’m not dutiful, or conventional, or sentimental, and I thought I’d never live to see the day…I wish my father had.

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The unbearable heaviness of being

Nature's metaphor for the "new" me

Nature’s metaphor for the “new” me

I wish my new neighbor had not gone to New York two days ago, and I wish I had not fed her cat.  The cat is a 16 year-old one-eyed orange male tabby, and I seduced him with catnip, but that’s not the point of this rant.

I wish that F had not gone to New York, and I had not been alone in her house, and the cat had not puked, and I had not picked up the puke with toilet paper and gone into her bathroom to flush the puke down the toilet.  There was a scale beside the toilet, a small modern unobtrusive thing, lit up when you stepped on it.  I stepped on it.  What could be the harm, I thought.  No one will see, it will only take 3 seconds, it won’t use much battery power.  I forgot to consider my reaction.

I have gained weight.  Since retiring in 2006, I have gained the entire weight of my great big fat cat, Ben, plus maybe a few more pounds (I’m not sure what Ben weighs).  I have gained TWO Sophies (Sophie is a normal-sized cat).  My BMI is 24.9, and If I gain ONE MORE POUND, I will be OVERweight.

This does not fit the self-image I’ve developed and solidified over 55 or more years (I’m 67, but wasn’t aware of my weight until maybe age 12 or 13). I knew that my grandparents and all the aunts and uncles on my father’s side thought I was too skinny (they were all quite “robust” – FAT).  I knew I was skinnier than most of the other girls, but didn’t realize how much skinner until they weighed us in gym in 7th grade.  It was fashionable where I lived in the late 50s and early 60s to be “pleasingly plump,” not SKINNY.  Not still wanting to crack 100 pounds in 9th grade.

It was what they call an uphill battle, but I was game.  In my earliest memories, I ate mayonnaise with a spoon from the jar, and butter in chunks like cheese.  I finished a 16 ounce steak at the age of 5 (it was grilled over charcoal, that’s why).

I worked very hard through junior high and high school to gain weight.  I had a friend, Gayle, who was even skinnier than I was and we did it together.  Gayle read that malted milk was the most fattening thing in the world, so we stopped at the drugstore after school every day and had either milkshake or a banana split (malted milk wasn’t on the menu).  We often had Creamsicles on our way to the drugstore.  We spent all of our spare time eating.  we spread out potato chips, pretzels and corn chips, butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, and strawberry preserves; and we at each and every one of those things with each and all of the others.  It was a tough job but we were hard workers, and we were in the “accelerated” class, so we knew what to do.   I think it may have taught us something about probability theory, or logarithmic progression.

My skinny mother and father tried to help.  (My mother was 5’4″ and weighed at her fattest 118; my father was 6′ and weighed 140.) When we had pork chops, the three of us had twelve pork chops among us.   When my mother made soup or stuffed cabbage, she made them in a lobster pot, and the leftovers were kept warm at the back of the stove until bedtime, always available.  There were always at least 5 kinds of ice cream in the freezer.  I ate a full dinner, and had scrambled eggs as a snack a few hours later, and then ice cream and potato chips an hour after that.  When I stayed overnight at friends’ houses and had what they had for dinner, I had to approach them later and ask for more food.

By senior year in high school, I was 5’4″ and weighed about 110; Gayle was 5’6″ and weighed about 100  I gained more weight in college, where not having 24 hour access to all I could eat forced me to eat as much as I could whenever I could.  Two burgers in the snack bar after dinner, or two orders of scrambled eggs, spaced an hour or so apart so I could get my appetite back.  In college, we also had a great chef and everyone else was on a diet, so I ate their portions too.  One Friday evening in the fall of my freshman year,  my boyfriend Frank was coming over from his college in Lancaster and it would be the first time I’d seen him since starting at Wilson.  The chef made creampuffs for dessert; I ate all the creampuffs from my table for eight, and picked up about two dozen more untouched creampuffs from the other tables on my way out of the dining room.  I thought they would be a great snack for Frank when he arrived, but he didn’t arrive until a couple of hours after dinner, and I’d eaten all of those creampuffs by the time he got there.  I don’t remember whether I told him about the creampuffs.

I weighed about 118 by the end of college.  That was still a few pounds under the “normal” weight for my height (according to tables that were later replaced), but it was progress.  The world can change on a dime, and by 1968 everybody wanted to be skinny. but I kept eating and got to 120 pounds and stayed that way for a good ten years, when I met Ali, who only weighed 130 pounds and, through nothing he ever did, made me feel like a cow.  I decided “we” should take up running, and we bought the shoes, and Ali ran.  I didn’t; it was boring.  I didn’t go on a diet, but I contrived to put maximum effort into the normal things I did, like walking, and got down to 112 pounds.

Twenty-four years pass.  and in 2004 I weighed 125 pounds before chemo, 120 by the end.  120 pounds (BMI 20.6) felt about right.  This, today, is not right.  I weigh as much as my father did, and he was 8 inches taller.

If you don’t know me very well, you may think this post is leading up to some kind of a plan.  It is not.  I’m just complaining.  Maybe this unwanted knowledge will lead to something good, but right now I’m headed for a pint of Brown Cow Cream Top Maple Yogurt.

 

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An undecided life

My life has been, on the whole, undecided.  Jobs, art, writing, men – none of them ever seemed exactly right, and each of them undermined all the others.  It hasn’t been restless, or burdened by unreasonable ambitions (not even reasonable ones), or wrecked by unrequited love, or washed out by vague longings.  Everything just cancelled out.  And in every arena, one step lead to another, and to another, and without consciousness, large issues had been settled.  This is surprising to me because I’ve always been so introspective – but maybe, while I watching the little things, the big ones were being decided, by default.

People are always surprised to hear that I was hired for my first “real” job, at a large Philadelphia bank, by the manager of “female employment.”  He grilled me about my plans for getting married and having children – in those days, women were expected to quit their jobs when they became pregnant, and the bank understandably didn’t want to make an investment that wouldn’t have a pay-off.  I told him that I was “sort of” engaged, but had no plans and no desire for children.  My by then established line convinced him:  “Everyone expects me to be a school teacher or a nurse or a mother, and I’d rather die than be any of those things.”

When I took that job, I really was planning to marry Dan, and I was pregnant.  I didn’t want to get married, and I didn’t want to have a baby, and I took care of both of those things in my own way.  Part of that story is here:    https://dianow.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/still-crazy-after-all-these-years-2/

So I took the job at the bank.  The field of compensation evolved around me, and it took me more than 10 years to realize that I had a “career.”  Every time a different opportunity arose (marriage, vet tech, interior designer, trader), it either didn’t pay as much, or it was one of my “didn’t wants.”  When I weighed my job against the alternatives, it was not so bad, and it used my brain.  It could have been worse.

Everything always could have been worse.

That’s been one pattern in my life:  I always knew what I didn’t want, what I wanted only part of.  My life has not been what I wanted it to be; I didn’t know what that was.  My life has been what was left after I got rid of what I didn’t want.

I didn’t want to go to art school; I didn’t want to be a daughter; I didn’t want children; I didn’t want a conventional man; I didn’t want to depend on anyone; I didn’t want to have a hairdo; I didn’t want Mexican.  You get the drift.

One of the big things I didn’t want was to fail at something I cared about, and I sort of liked being really good at something I didn’t give a damn about.

In later years, there were things about compensation that bothered me.  In the beginning, it seemed to be about fairness, and I think it really was, but in the 80s it came to be more about wealth – senior management’s wealth – and I wanted out.  At times in my career, I ended up (that’s the only way I can put it) with jobs that to normal people seemed close to the top.  I would do those jobs for a year or so, and then run away – to a smaller job, to a smaller city, to less pay, to less culpability.  Then the whole process would repeat.  I stayed at the last job because they seemed to need me more, and toward the end I needed their health insurance.

I broke the cycle by retiring early – and then broke another one by living (so far) a good seven years past my “odds.”

 

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Words

I’ve gone through stages with language.

In junior high school I read novels and high-brow magazines, and wrote lists of the words I didn’t know.  There were a lot of them.  Common wisdom is that you’ll learn a word if you use it three times.  I had no opportunity to use the new words, so I wrote them down, with their definitions, and read on until I reached the next new word, usually about twenty words along.  I learned the words so that I could read the books that held, for me, the meaning of life.

In high school and college, I learned that if I used big words, I’d get an “A,” so I used those dictionary words with impunity.  I threw around philosophical and psychological terms and speculated about man’s fate, the influence of Hegel on 20th century political movements, and the parameters of tragedy.  I picked at and analyzed the phrasing and symbolism of poems,  until they were good and dead.  That kind of cannibalism also guaranteed top grades.

My first real job had very different standards. As a Job Analyst for a bank (the bank where Edward N Hay worked when he developed the Hay Method of Job Evaluation), I wrote job descriptions.  The job descriptions were models of clarity and simplicity.  Verbs were capitalized.  Vague terminology (process, administer, supervise, manage) was not permitted.  Adjectives (complex, simple, difficult) were not permitted. You described the actions and made judgments about skill, problem-solving, and accountability based on the actions, not the words.

For example, to write this blog post:

  • OPEN the WordPress window;
  • LOG IN, using user name and password;
  • CLICK “new post” in the WordPress banner;
  •  SELECT a subject, based on personal experience, environmental influences, or current concerns;
  • DRAFT essay;
  • PROOFREAD for grammar, spelling and typos; CORRECT grammar, spelling and typos;
  • PUBLISH by clicking “publish post;”
  • DRAFT a short introductory (OOPS!  adjective!  Two adjectives in a row!) post on the Open Group for Bedlam Farm Facebook page;
  • LINK to the essay by copying WordPress address bar into Facebook post.

Learning (or relearning) to write those prosaic, factual, functional, simple job descriptions was painful.  I had been getting by through adjectives, qualifiers, elaborations and leaps of language and consciousness.  Job descriptions trimmed all of that away, and I never really went back to the fancy stuff.

My writing evolution took me from “See Jane run,” through “the ultimate operative synthesis of every gleaming obstacular paradox,”  right back around to “See Jane run.”

I am irritated by extra words and extra syllables (it’s use, not utilize).  When my Iranian boyfriend went back to Teheran I wouldn’t call him on the phone.  There is a very formal, very polite, very wordy form of address in Farsi.  I knew about it, and knew that if Ali  didn’t answer the phone when I called, I would have to do it, and I couldn’t do it, so I didn’t call.  I can’t read art criticism without getting angry.  Same thing for literary criticism.  Just write or paint, dammit!

Just read.

Just look.

In college, I had an English professor who often read paragraphs or poems aloud and concluded by saying “Isn’t this MAHvelous?”  I thought she was an idiot.  Now I think she was right and I was wrong.

See Jane run?

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