Thursday, September 29, 2011

Back to School

I'm surprised that the relatively few years of my life spent in school have so established in me the feeling that, as days shorten, it's time to get back to real life, whatever that may be.

For me, I'm off in a few minutes to take two classes at Lifetime Learning Center, one on creative writing and another on Antigone. And last night, I went to another orientation at 826 Seattle, this one for volunteers who want to work in afterschool tutoring.

Two new learning situations. But they're not the only ones. In the course of outfitting my replacement bike, I have to fit it up with the stuff the old one had: seat, pedals, under-seat bag, computer (to keep track of miles and speed and stuff), bottle cage, and so on.

A friend put my new seat on, and my pedals, but when it came time to do the computer, he said, "I'll let you do that, Mary. In the spirit of 'teaching a man to fish'..." It's still not on there, and I've thought of hiring someone to do it. I'm so bad at that stuff. And I don't like it. And usually I end up with scabs on my hands.

And then, at the grocery the other day, the produce man was helping me pick out a late-season melon and, when I thanked him, said, "Teach a man to fish...."

I'm getting the idea I'm supposed to dig in and take on the things I don't like to do. I'm hearing voices.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

How My Day Was

When I went to bed a couple nights ago, I thought, I have to clean my bathroom first thing tomorrow! A friend was coming for tea at nine.

When the alarm rang at 7:15, I leapt from my bed and started immediately to clean the bathroom, still in my PJs. That done, the rest of my morning could be leisurely. (As usual, I was astounded at how quickly this onerous task I'd been putting off was accomplished.)

Despite my plying her with tea, my friend was about to leave at 11 am, never having entered my bathroom! "Need a stop before you hit the road?" I asked hopefully. But no.

Still, better that then spend the whole time worrying she might need a bathroom, pouring only stingy smidges of tea, making up medical stories about the dangers of drinking tea anyway. Trying to rush her out with allusions to nonexistent appointments.

Then, that night, I went to orientation for 826 Seattle volunteers. That's author Dave Eggers' program for young writers. I learned his first location was 826 Valencia in Los Angeles -- no wonder I could never remember the number. (Now I have a mnemonic: 826 is the workaholic version of 925.)

They'd pushed every table in the room into one huge square, maybe 40 volunteers filling the perimeter, most of them a lot younger than I. This was a superbly well-run meeting. It started on time. It was content-rich, as the leader acknowledged apologetically at the end.

Anyway. I had noticed up the table from me a woman who, of course, didn't look as old as I do, but did have that kind of dull finish to her dark hair that I associate with years of coloring. I was looking for somebody to say hi to after, so as we left, I caught up to her and said hello, said, "I just wanted to say hi to somebody else who's on the more mature woman end of the spectrum." She looked at me uncomprehendingly, so I said, "I mean, I just thought a lot of the volunteers look like college kids...." Nothing. I began to wonder if she spoke English. And of course I started thinking, Is she a college kid? Am I offending her? So I tried a new tack. I said, "Have you done any tutoring before?"

"No," she said, and turned away, to her cellphone.

Okay. Embarrassing. I made a mistake there, with the mature woman thing. Shoulda just said hello.

But you know what? I decided to nip my self-excoriation in the bud. My words may have been thoughtlessly ill-chosen, but my intention was only to be friendly. If she didn't want to see or respond to that, it's not a problem I can solve. So, never mind.

Why am I writing all this? Because I noticed, during the month when I didn't blog, that life began to seem less and less meaningful. And one day, blue as I could be, I suddenly thought, Life is meaningless, unless we arrange it into a meaningful shape, unless we look for meaning.

Then I thought, when you live with somebody, meaning emerges daily simply in response to the regular question, How was your day?

Wow, like so many things you take for granted until you're single and don't have them, there's a big one.

But that's okay, because writing my blog is how I answer that question no one is asking me.

It was a good day, with a clean bathroom, a visit from a friend, an exciting tutoring program ahead, and a decision to give me a break. I had a good day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Zydeco Dance Camp

I was driving to West Seattle early Friday afternoon to pick up my friend Dana and head to Mount Hood for a weekend at zydeco dance camp. Ten minutes into the trip, I thought, "Darn it! I forgot my cellphone. Oh well."

Five minutes later I thought, "Were we supposed to bring bedding and stuff, like at the old camp they used to go to?" Of course I couldn't call anybody to check, and I hated to turn around. I kept driving.

I got to Dana's. He had a pile of stuff on his porch: tent, sleeping bag, pad, backpack. "Are you camping, Dana," I asked, "or are we supposed to bring bedding?"


He lent me a quilt and towel and said there was a St Vincent's on the way to the freeway. We stopped, and I got a nice cotton sheet for $4 and a nice throw pillow for another $4, plus a fetching little swingy skirt for another $4. And onward we went.

As on my two previous camp experiences, we arrived after dark and a few minutes after the band started, which means I leave all my stuff in the car, pull on my cowboy boots, and dance in what I came in. At midnight, a friend picked up half my stuff, and we walked all over camp in the dark to find my room, only to realize in the end it was just a few yards from where I'd parked.

Camp was great. I always get a little afraid, on the way there, that I'll be disappointed, but as usual, the people are warm and the music is hot. I learned two zydeco variations I've wanted for years to know how to do.

And I remembered how much I love men.

When we first arrived among the strangers at camp, I thought, These people are old! And we are old, of course, but once you know the people behind the faces, you don't see age: you see Diane, and Ben, and Ginger, and Larry.

And old as we all are, the men still know how to appreciate us. They tell us we look good, and offer us drinks and porterage and an outing to Timberline Lodge. But most of all, they put their arms around us and dance us single ladies into temporary endorphin heaven.

I just love men.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Frances Moore Lappe at Town Hall Seattle

The third person I asked to accompany me to hear Frances Moore Lappe speak at Seattle's Town Hall last Tuesday said, "Is she still alive?"

Ouch. She hasn't disappeared; she's actually written about twenty books since Diet for a Small Planet. Of course she is alive, probably just a few years older than we are. I expected somebody short and a little dumpy, in those high-end baggy cotton knits with the batik stencilling, and Birkenstocks.

The program started late -- typical, unfortunately. The introducer said a bunch of impressive stuff and then, out onto the stage came -- Jamie Lee Curtis! At least she looked way more like Jamie Lee than like what I expected.

Okay, I know this is tacky, but let me tell you how she looked. She's hot! Chic short hair, black pumps, black pencil skirt that showed her nice knees and legs, a terrific sort of sweater top with a scoop neck so broad and flattering that throughout her talk my attention kept returning to wonder, Where on earth can her bra straps be? Because some foundation was doing a fine job of upholding her.

Then she proceeded to give a tai chi of a presentation, all bending and large swoopy arm gestures at the edge of the platform. Her new book is EcoMind. She says we're afflicted with scarcity mind (which, if you've been reading my blog lately, you know is precisely so). We're engaged in a competitive struggle over not-enoughness: lack of goods and lack of goodness.

But Lappe says no. We have enough and we humans are good enough. She cites data. The sun makes way more energy than we need. We have 40 percent more food than we need to feed everybody. True, it's late to be responding to global warming, but we know what to do. We just need to pay some attention to the kind of life that really makes us happy -- not the big house big car big energy life the media displays as tops -- but a culture of mutuality. We just need to believe we can do it! Believing is seeing, she says.

I want to believe this. She's talking to people like me, who are afraid. "We need to rethink fear itself," she says. "Fear is an idea." She calls the racing heart of fear "inner applause." I do like that.

I can't remember though, if she said that before or after my friend passed me a note that said, "It was nice seeing you. I can't take anymore of this. Sorry." And left.

That surprised me. I couldn't decide myself if her human-potential-guru delivery was just a result of her wanting so badly to persuade us and change the world, or what? And do I buy her message? If the news was full every day of success stories about a new world, wouldn't we be encouraged and join the movement?

I don't know.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Looking Up

Yes, things are looking up. When I called Les Schwab Monday morning about getting my car tire fixed, they said I'd probably ruined it completely by driving it home from church. My heart sank. Not only a bike to replace, but a tire as well? And I know sometimes you need to replace more than one tire, so they match up.

I left it at Schwab, and they said they'd call when they got to it and tell me the verdict.

Then I took the bus back to the bike shop, and got myself a replacement Bianchi Imola. They had a 2010 model on sale for only $1099. Before I rode it home, I phoned Schwab to see how they were doing on my car. "It's all done," they said. "No charge, come and get it, we're tired of looking at it." It surprised me that this was the moment, finally, when my eyes welled with tears. But a friend pointed out later that when things are going bad, you can't cry. You have to stiffen the spine and woman up. It was just so soothing to have something go so right.

I finally got around this morning to calling my insurance claims people about the bike. They got back to me this afternoon that I should send them all my receipts, for the bike and the stuff that goes on it -- pedals, bags, computer, light, bottle cage, lock, and so on -- and, except for the $500 deductible, they'd send me a check for the rest. No hassle.

So yeah. Things are looking way up.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Buying a Bike, Again

Buying a bike. Wow. I wrote about this five years ago when I got the Bianchi. All the arguments I had to win with myself to get permission to buy a good bike.

And now I'm doing it all over again. Yesterday afternoon I thought, Okay, I'll have to get aluminum. Even though all my research five years ago led me to choose steel. (I don't even consider the high-end stuff like carbon fiber and titanium.) And then maybe something less than the Shimano 105 drivetrain will be adequate....

But no. Biking is a big thing with me, for recreation and transportation. Why do I think I don't deserve a decent bike? (Possibly because I want to punish myself for being stupid enough to lose my good old Bianchi?)

But I think I'm back on track. As I decided in my post on -- Friday, was it? -- I'll just be thankful that, even though at age 80 I may not be able to afford a $1200 bike (sale price), today I can.

And I am thankful.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Does my Karma Suck, or What?

True, nobody is dying, and I myself believe any problem you can solve with mere money is not one of your truly bad problems, but still....

My recent Hugo House course in novel writing gave me a new respect for and attention to the narrative details of life. So you tell me: What am I to make of all this?

First, my left foot goes. Since June, I have been unable to walk more than a few blocks. It has so limited me that I can't even take the bus freely anymore. I might be able to walk the necessary five blocks from the #5 stop to a lecture at Town Hall, but I have to plan carefully to find a happy hour venue that's not out of the way.

Then yesterday, I loaded my bike and my friend's on my Thule rooftop bike carrier for the trip to Edmonds Ferry and a Kitsap County pedal. On I-5N, just before Northgate Mall, my bike flew away. Thank God nobody got hurt, and that it wasn't Lynn's pricey custom bike that went, and no cars crashed -- but still. My blue Bianchi, my only bike, my first road bike, is gone.

I'll find a replacement, but meanwhile, I had to get to Queen Anne this morning for church, where I was scheduled to be "greeter," and for later commitments. I headed out in lots of time with all my gear and found my right rear tire flat.

I drove two blocks to the gas station and put in air. I discovered a nail head in the tire. I drove to church, hoping the leak was slow. I wrote all this in Uptown Espresso after church, hoping my tire was holding.

So, three transportation-related mishaps. What's the meaning of this? Am I supposed to stay home? Am I living at some frantic pace to avoid -- myself? I don't really think so, especially since I already decided to get back on my blogging horse, a significant self-discovery practice for me.

Maybe I'm just supposed to prove I can keep on keepin' on. Not let it get me down. Bounce back.

I don't know. Something else entirely? Got any ideas?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Undriver Licensing

Last Sunday I volunteered at the Undriver Licensing station at Seattle's Bumbershoot festival at Seattle Center. I got my own Undriver License a month or so ago. It doesn't mean you pledge not to drive. The Undriver license says, "Congratulations! You now have the freedom to reconsider your transportation choices every day, make the same trip a different way, and share your discoveries with others. So start getting creative about getting around!"

Plus, it's a way better photo than the one on my driver's license. They let me wear a red feather boa and hold a model bicycle -- though now that I think of it, I suppose I could appear at DMV next time with props like that.

Anyway, to get the Undriver license, you simply make a specific pledge for the next 30 days, something like 'substitute one bus ride a week for a car trip,' or 'bike to school half the time,' or, for undriving overachievers who already do a lot of this, 'show your Undriver license to 10 people.'

One guy last Sunday pledged to show his new license to 1423 people -- all his Facebook friends. A family of four each got a license, and as they discussed their pledges, you could hear the ways they would be challenging and encouraging each other on reducing car use.

Undriving's surveys report that 75% of licensed undrivers report new transportation habits after their pledge month. It's a fun way to think about making changes, and showing my license has been a fun way to bring up the idea of taking the bus or the bike with my friends.

But, guess what! I'm about to load my bike and my friend Lynn's on top of my car(!) and head up to the Edmonds Ferry for a day ride in Kitsap!

Balance in all things....

Friday, September 9, 2011

Saving in Retirement

I've been pondering lately on how much to spend. I've always been thrifty, but I'm starting to dislike it that when I walk into a cafe on a bike trip with friends, my first thought at the pastry case is not, "What looks good?" but "What's cheap?" I'm on a fixed income and probably won't earn another cent in my lifetime. I want to eke out what I have without being driven by frugality. How can I be sure what I have is enough? As my friend Jim said, "The first thing you need to decide is how long you're going to live."

Absolutely right, but not too helpful.

I talked to a friend about it, and she thinks the more you have, the more difficult it is to remain unattached to your present lifestyle. Her idea, and I know she's right, is to be grateful for what you have, knowing that it could go. And then you'd find gratitude for what is left.

So I kept all this in mind on my recent mini-vacation. I drove my car (!) instead of taking four buses for $6 to get to Anacortes and the ferry to Orcas Island. Turned out it was good I did since I ran into other bikers in the ferry line who had taken up all the bike rack space I would have been competing for on the bus. I figure my round-trip gasoline expense was around $20. I paid $7 to park overnight, and about $11 for ferry passage for my bike and me. My friend Nadine had offered to let me sleep at her place on Orcas Island. She also said I could use her sunscreen, sweatshirts, and flipflops, so I could travel really light. And she fed me.

When I got to Orcas, I went to the wonderful Orcas Hotel with its shimmering view of the water and the islands, and got a double espresso for $2 with tax and tiny tip. I had brought a PB&J from home, plus gorp. I enjoyed my coffee a lot, then set off for Nadine's, 21 of the hardest miles I have biked all year, and the loveliest, with sunshine all day and varying views of coves and beaches and cottages.

Had a fine evening with my friend, who let me beat her at Scrabble too.

Then she took me along in her car on her run to Eastsound for propane, cutting my biking trip back to the ferry to just seven miles. I went to the grocery at the waterfront and spent $10 on a sandwich, yogurt, three plums, and an inferior cup of drip coffee. I tried to find a nice place to await my ferry to Lopez, but ended up back on the porch at Orcas Hotel, with a day-old Morning Glory muffin in hand: $1. Should I dump my bad coffee and get another of those delicious espressos? While I pondered, the barrista came out with a cup in her hand saying, "I made a double latte by mistake; anybody want it?" It was excellent.

Then off to Lopez, where I biked all day -- 33 miles -- gradually eating up my food. Back to Anacortes and home.

Total: $51, and I wasn't holding back, either. By contrast, I had a front-porch chat with a guy from the Bay Area cycling the San Juans with a Backroads tour group. I'll bet two days cost him $200.

So have I boiled this all down to a helpful maxim with which to move ahead into my twilight years?

Not yet.

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies