Saturday, October 31, 2009

Power to the People!

Inspirational this morning to wake up to this Huffington Post, on Who is the Ultimate Game-Changer? I'm not alone in feeling some discouragement about the constant stream of requests from the good guys for contributions and calls to my Congressfolks: Don't they know yet what I think? Can't we just get this done?

But things are changing! Read about the guy who created sneak software to allow Iranians untraceable access to the free-press Web. Avaaz, a sort of international scope MoveOn with instant petition power to stop, for example, rain forest destruction. And the guy who, if I understand it correctly, actually is the corporate information officer of Washington DC and making government work.

It has been decades that I've been, along with you, probably, ending every political discussion with a depressed sigh and the phrase, 'Without campaign finance reform, nothing is going to change.'

Well, maybe it is.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Just Be Not Yourself

Before she moved to Seattle, Mary Davies was a regular columnist for the Port Townsend Leader. She wrote this Halloween column in 2008. Now in Seattle, still dancing, she's starting to panic.

I noticed in The Leader recently an ad for a workshop called, “Holidays without Insanity.” I’m afraid I’ve missed it, but I love that it was scheduled for mid-October. For too long, it’s been Christmas that gets all the attention, psychologically. Are you kidding me? Compared to Halloween?

Oh sure, occasionally you run into Pollyannas like my sister Marty. She thinks it’s amazing and wonderful that we set aside a day a year where any kid in America can put on a costume, approach a lighted porch and ring the doorbell, and get candy in return. Her son Roman is already planning his costume: he’ll be duct-taping himself to a buddy, thus creating the Two-Headed Duct Tape Man. She says in Cincinnati, where they live, the adults sit out on the lawns and drink beer, and hand out the candy from there.

Even my ex could get into the Halloween thing; he went to a party one year dressed as a spray can. But not me. I have made a point for more than 30 years of living in places no trick-or-treater can find, especially when I turn out all the lights, which is how I like it on October 31.

How could anybody with my issues have landed here in Port Townsend, with all the Kinetic events, the Uptown Street Fair, and the Rhody parades? Where else on earth do grown men and women wear costumes so much of the year? It’s probably one of those things like marriage, where you choose, unconsciously, the thing you fear, giving yourself another opportunity to work it out.

I wasn’t always like this. Halloween used to be okay, when I was a kid. Mom sewed complete costumes of crepe paper. I remember one year as a crepe-papered pilgrim: full gray gown, white hat, little black capelet. (When you’re wearing paper, you really hope it won’t rain.) Dad used to carve the pumpkin, and we made stuff to give out, like popcorn balls.

But where are the pilgrims and popcorn balls today? The last time I was in range -- at somebody else’s house -- of what passes for a contemporary American Halloween, I served a procession of Wal-Mart-outfitted Pirates of the Caribbean and Little Mermaids, Shreks and Harry Potters, carrying plastic jack o’lantern containers, which were filling up with boughten candy. Yuck!

On the other hand, I guess if I could get a Little Mermaid costume in my size, my troubles would be over. It’s chiefly the costume thing that panics me. “Lighten up, Mary! Where’s your playful side?” Hey, I’m playful! I just prefer frisbee, and charades, and Scrabble. Playfulness with clear guidelines and no costumes.

I’m a dancer now though. They have Halloween dances. They “encourage costumes.”

Okay. I have ideas. You could just use what you’ve got: “I know -- I’ll be the box the new dishwasher came in. Where are those brown tights?” Or go political: Planet Earth, melting. Or how about this: Columnist Barbie! She’d look just like the regular Barbie, all breasts and legs, but with glasses and a notebook. But do I really want to spend $50 for a padded bra? And anyway, what can they do about my legs?

If Halloween is actually an opportunity for grown people to play out a fantasy, to put on a role they always wanted, Barbie isn’t mine. I’d have to be a Mouseketeer. I wanted to be Annette Funicello like some little girls want to be Miss America. My sister Deb and I came home from grade school every afternoon and put on our prettiest slips, to dance around our television with the Mouseketeers on the Mickey Mouse Club. My Mouseketeer costume will be easy: I have a red dance skirt, and I can get my name stencilled across the front of my white tee-shirt. I believe Disney Inc. has a whole selection of beanies with ears, probably available online.

M-I-C: See, I can do this...
K-EY: Why? Because I want to dance!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is It Him, or Is It Me?

I phoned my sister Sarah the other day. Nephew Sam answered. I said, "Hi Sam! It's Auntie M."

"Oh, hi, Aunt Mary," he said. Slight pause. "Did I send you a thank-you for the birthday check?"

This is normal for Sam and me. I seem to induce instant guilt in the boy. Is it him? Is it that he's been brought up well, to at least believe he should say thanks for gifts, even if he doesn't quite get around to it?

Or is it me?

These questions plague me when I read the how-to-date books. Yesterday I spent a cozy hour with one in a comfy Craftsman-era armchair in the Fremont Branch Library. It's called, Why He Didn't Call You Back: 1,000 Guys Reveal What They Really Thought About You After Your Date. It was written by Harvard MBA Rachel Greenwald, now happily married and mother of three. She did interviews, and she includes her methodology, so you believe her. (Work that MBA, girl!)

I always learn something. You're supposed to dress feminine but not sex-crazed, walk a line between confrontational and doormat, eliminate phrases like "I would never..." -- move from Seattle, date a guy with a ferret, ride a Harley -- because, who knows? Mr. Right has occasionally turned out to live outside Seattle with ferret and Harley. Basically, you're supposed to be nice.

I am nice. True, I'm mouthy, but I'm working on toning it down, honest.

Here's the interview I can't get out of my mind. It couldn't have been a first date (could it?), because she made dinner, and they played Scrabble, then were kissing on the couch until 1 am, when she said, Time to go home. He said, Let me help clean up the kitchen first. He started loading the dishwasher and put a heavy skillet in tight to the glassware, and she said, Don't do that.

That did it, he said. 'Instead of complaining about how I loaded it, she should have just been so happy I was helping at all.'

I see the point, but hang on a minute. I think my ex spent our whole marriage with exactly that kitchen attitude. What? She not only wants me to help out in the kitchen, she also wants me to do a good job? She wants me to wash all the dishes from dinner? She wants them to be clean?

So, call me hard to please. But on the other hand, I'm deeply impressed with any man who keeps a clean kitchen.

Though of course I feel guilty for desiring such a thing.

Oh, and the thing with Nephew Sam? Clearly the guilt is genetic.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Living It Up

How are we to live? It's my eternal question. I look to see in other people's lives the answers they are living.

I had a long phone conversation about it yesterday with a California friend who lives much as I do, in this sense: He does what he wants. He's eager for the day each morning, his day that includes Fromm and Osher classes for retired folks and the weekly thorough reading of The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books and The Economist, and who knows what else. He told me he is thankful for his curiosity, which makes every day interesting.

Me, I'm planning to bike across America, just for fun.

And then there's my brother-in-law Bart and their family, who have lived their whole grown-up lives in urban ministry, in Philadelphia originally, and now in Cincinnati. He is busy with the endless work of helping people who seem never to have gotten to grown up, for all kinds of reasons. I think the worst of it is seeing the young people repeat the dooming choices of their elders, like teenage pregnancy. His work is of the greatest importance, and the most tenuous effectiveness. I hope he is doing what he wants.

He wrote, in a recent newsletter, about awaking to gunshots and furtive men in the yard; it's worth reading the whole piece. It includes this Mary Oliver poem that helped him remember, in that middle of the night, what it's all about.

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn,
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

To buy me, and snaps the purse shut,
when death comes
like the measle-pox

When death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

And I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

And each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Companion for the Journey

Next March, I plan to get on my Bianchi in San Diego and bicycle for two months, until I get to the Atlantic Ocean. One option is to join an organized Adventure Cycling group of 13. A vehicle transports your camping stuff, and you take turns cooking meals.

The other option is riding with the Bike Buddy I met when I moved to Seattle. We've done some 60-mile days in Walla Walla and around Lake Washington, routine rides to Alki and Seward Park and Edmonds. Our paces match, and he's willing to share a cinnamon roll.

But now we need to talk about things like maps and bike mechanics and first aid. Who is good at what?

I'm thinking I would have done better at my marriage if I'd applied some of the same planning skills. For example, you really ought to find out if you want to go to the same places and if, together, your combined skills make a capable team. I got married back in the days when I didn't realize how different people are. I figured most people were just like me, unless they were being difficult on purpose.

In addition to the life we made for 25 years, my ex and I actually made a journey, an 18-month RV odyssey around the US. We brought complementary skills to it -- he likes to drive, fixes stuff, reads maps, while I like to cook, tidy the nest, and find destinations -- but somehow it was uneasy. We'd agree to share out the jobs, but then he'd grumble and I'd feel guilty and want to discuss it, none of which was helpful.

Here's a question we didn't ask, that my Bike Buddy is already asking me: What do you need? What will make this a successful, happy trip for you?

My BB wants alone-time. He's going to ride a mile ahead of me, or behind. He says he likes a hug when he's upset. I need a book and boiling hot water for tea, and I like to end the biking day with a High Five, just, I suppose, to confirm my idea of teamwork.

When I'd ask my ex how he was enjoying a vegetable meal I'd served, he'd declaim, happily enough, "HTTB," shorthand for Homage to the Body. He meant that his first choice would have been a burger, but he knew the vegetables were important. We should have also figured out an HTTM, Homage to the Marriage. It's like my sister Sarah's idea that, since she and her husband believe in staying married no matter what, they might as well make it as pleasant as possible.

Hey, I can give my Bike Buddy some room. I can produce some hugs. HTTJ.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Do I Want a Man?

I got a nice thank-you letter from the friend who visited for the weekend recently. She said,
I talked to my friend Kathy in NYC today and was telling her about my visit with you and your 25-year attempt to make your marriage work and your wish to find a partner for the last lap. Kathy, whose out-patient boyfriend of 20 years has recently moved in with her due to some financial reverses, said, “Why? I don’t understand why anyone would want to live with a man.” She thinks back nostalgically to her thirty years of living alone and how happy she was. I think she was too. But she’s unusual.

I hear this all the time. Even happily-married women friends tell me they probably wouldn't look for a new husband if they lost their own. That's worrisome. And I don't think you make much progress toward a goal if you're phobic about achieving it.

So, since I do hope to find a partner for the last lap, I wrote down some things.

What I Would Gain

*sharing of expenses and chores
*company at home
*another's viewpoint and knowledge and mirroring
*sex and cuddling
*the pleasures and challenges of somebody else's family and pets

What I Would Lose

*doing everything I want, when and how I want: eating, activities, silence, music choices
*what if he got seriously, permanently sick?
*having to accommodate somebody else's family and pets
*what if he ate all the brownies I made? (But maybe I could eat the ones he makes?)

So then I thought about real life, and what it was I liked about my marriage, even with its difficulties.

*Saying, "What's your plan for the day?" Listening to his; telling him mine.
*Walking arm in arm.
*Doing things together.
*Doing things separately, and telling about it.
*He drove.
*Family projects, like painting walls and stacking firewood.
*An ally in work and family issues.
*Traditions. Cheese fondue on Christmas eve. Messiah Christmas morning. Tea time.

I went on a bike trip recently with a guy. Everything about it was good, from Friday to Sunday, but as we got toward home, I felt ready to be on my own. What if we lived in the same house? Then I thought, if this were my old husband, he would have said as we walked in the door, "Every man for himself?" Meaning, Let's each make our own suppers. He would put on his headphones and sit down to watch a football game on TV with a huge sandwich of peanut butter and onion and kippers and cheese and dijon mustard. And I would eat chard and garlic and feta while I read my book.

Then I'd probably bake brownies for both of us.

That doesn't look so bad, does it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Apple Season

It's seriously autumn today, here in Seattle. After a long and lovely summer, including Sunday's bicycle ride around town, Monday turned gray and cold. Rain is spattering my window as I write. I just got back from the grocery store, and my purchases alone would tell you winter is coming on. A Sweet Meat squash to roast with this week's loaf of bread. A cabbage for the baked soup. Mushrooms for the lima casserole. Cauliflower and sweet potato for the vegetarian Indian curry.

The peach bonanza of summer has made way for apples: two boxes of organic culls from Arturo at the farmer's market became 12 and a half quarts of applesauce last week. I made apple pie for a friend here for the weekend. If I get time this afternoon, I plan to bake a loaf of Mom's Apple Bread.

Friends are already talking about seasonal depression, with our early, long nights in Seattle. I'm having my annual talk with myself about turning inward, hibernating, slowing down, cozying in. About the necessity of a slower season, the grace of annual cycles. I'm thinking about finishing up the quilt I started last winter and put away in the spring. I'm thinking of afternoon tea with a good book and a slice of apple bread.

Apple Bread

Combine and beat well: 2 eggs, 2/3 c sugar, 1/3 c oil, 1/3 c buttermilk, 1 tsp vanilla

Separately combine: 1/2 c white flour, 1 1/2 c whole wheat flour, 1 t baking powder, 1 t baking soda, 1/4 t salt.

Stir dry ingredients into wet. Stir in 2 or 3 c chopped apple, unpeeled, and 1/2 c chopped walnuts.

Bake in a loaf pan at 350 degrees for about an hour or until toothpick comes out clean from the center.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lifesaving 101

My ex used to talk about how, if you came to the pond, and you saw the child drowning therein, you didn't think about it: you just saved that child. Your call had come.

Today, the call is coming all the time, if only we'll listen to it. Thanks to global communication, it's easy to find out where the 27,000 children who die each day are dying. The odd thing is, it's easier to save one kid in a pond, even if you know you'll ruin your new shoes to do so, than to respond to the distant children, who just look like more statistics.

Philosopher Peter Singer has written a call to action with his book, The Life You Can Save. He starts out pretty harsh: His standard is, "If it is in your power to prevent something bad from happening, without sacrificing anything nearly as important, it is wrong not to do so." He says, for example, of course you and your children should be clothed and fed, but it is unjustifiable to spend money on designer clothes and expensive lattes when that money could be saving the lives of people who are literally dying today.

He answers all the usual objections, including Does the money actually do any good? and Why can't somebody else with more money handle this? (For me, the saddest page in the book is 114, where he uses the 2008 Farm Bill as an example of why, with special interests in charge in DC, it's a waste of time to work for political change.)

I wonder how many people can bear to keep reading this demanding book, but by the time you get to the end, and he's gone through a mathematical calculation on how little each of us would need to give to eliminate poverty in the world, it's a relief to find that, for those who earn up to $105,000 a year, your fair share is just one to five percent of income. That's just $1050 to $5250 at the very top end.

Let's do it! Let's all click on his website and sign the pledge. There's a list too of vetted organizations to give to.

Let's all jump in and get those drowning kids out of the pond.

Note: Normally, it's not so acceptable to blow your own horn on your generosity, but Singer says that people are more likely to give when everybody's doing it. So let's everybody do it, and talk it up. Maybe our new greeting will be, Hey, did you sign the pledge yet? Where are you sending your money?

Let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Network of Friends

An advantage of singleness, "they" say, is that we have broad friend networks, unlike couples, who tend to put their eggs in the one-partner basket. But when push comes to shove, isn't it the couples who always have someone to call when the tire goes flat or you get cancer?

Important questions, raised in a recent post on Onely: Single and Happy. I don't think anybody is teaching us how to be a friend, the same way we aren't taught how to choose/be a spouse. It's one of (many) important things our culture doesn't treat as important. But I have friends who I can tell are committed to nurturing our friendship. I am so thankful for that. I believe caring for others is a need, an under-used muscle group. And if everyone starts bulking up, then there will be lots of help when we're in trouble.

Why aren't we using our nurture muscles? Here again, as so many studies show, we spend our time doing things that don't make us happy, like working too hard to earn stuff we don't really need. And, maybe, mindlessly browsing our Facebook friendships, which can be broad but shallow. And this leaves little time for activities that do up our joy in life. For example, I can never understand the near-universal idea that buying shoes is a peak experience for women: what is that? Give me a hike with my girlfriends any day.

Or dinner. I like to feed my friends who are out working all day. (I think I never got over walking into our house after school when Mom had dinner simmering and the whole house smelled good. I want to pass that on.) I'm not talking dinner party, just, 'Come on over and eat what I'm eating.' And then they can leave, if they need to, or like last Thursday, we go off to see a play together.

"Tryst" is what we saw, and if you're in Seattle, get tickets.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tryst at the Bathhouse

Less than one year ago, I was visiting Seattle and walked one day around Green Lake. A theater in a bathhouse! What a great idea! When I moved to Fremont in February, I saw "End Days" there, one of my lifetime favorite theater experiences. So I'm back this season with series tickets to the previews. The first was last night.

George Love is a con man. He identifies shopgirls with just a bit of extra wherewithal, and takes them for all they've got. Hatmaker Adelaide Pinchin is his choice for this round. We like them both, even the despicable George, perhaps because they speak directly to us, so we see them through their own eyes. Suspense builds instantly: we know what George intends; Adelaide doesn't.

She falls for him, exactly as he predicted. "Yes," she says, and "yes," and "yes." But there are surprises of the very best kind: the ones you don't expect, but know are true.

Karoline Leach's "Tryst" is as compressed as a poem; you experience so much and care so deeply in such a little bit of time. And it's set in England, with long skirts and high boots and revealing accents.

I love the seriousness and importance of the plays at Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse. You want to see things twice. But I'm predicting "Tryst" will sell out. Get your tickets now.

Oh, and the other great thing? To come out of a play at night, and you're in a park, and there are the lights of Seattle reflected in the still water. And you think, I live here.

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies