Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Deconstructing Pandora

It's not the ads. I actually don't mind the ads on Pandora. I like it when Barry Manilow comes on with those few bars of a nice song, to share with us how he has atrial defibrillation -- "a fib," he says, casually -- and how we can find out more about it like he did. Plus, who knew Nyquil doesn't have a decongestant? I share the shock and disappointment of the guy in the commercial, and I'm glad his wife told us Alka Seltzer Plus is what we need for a cold.

So that part's okay. What I mean about the worrisome effects of Pandora is how it makes you feel like you're experiencing the stuff the singers are singing about. But you aren't. And they're hardly ever singing anything like, "Life is so great all on my own, I don't have to share the leftovers, oh no no no, I can listen to this stupid station as long as I want, oh yeah yeah yeah, and nobody knows the stuff I laundered last week was still in the dryer this morning when I went to put in the new batch."

Instead, for example, I've heard twice the Michael Buble (should be an accent acute over the "e", but I don't know how to do that) song "Home." And I'm singing along, and I am feeling it, "I want to go home, I want to go home."

But I am home.

And I'm singing, with feeling, "I'm through with Paris and Rome," even though the truth is, I was checking airfares yesterday. (And now that I've seen it costs $1500 to get to Europe, I probably am through with Paris and Rome.)

But I do wake up at the words, "I'm bringing my letters to you, the single lines I wrote from time to time" or something like that. And I'm thinking, "Jerk. You never even sent her a letter? You'll be lucky if she opens the door. You'll be lucky if she still lives there."

And then I take a bike ride, to add some verisimilitude to the concept, "I want to go home." Of course, once I'm on my bike, why would I want to go home?

Pandora Warning

Okay, after a day of my James Taylor station on Pandora, I see another danger.

I'm reverting to teenage, and not the good part. No, what's coming up is the angst. The does-he-love-me, will-I-get-a-date, am-I-pretty stuff. Any moment now I'll be losing my appetite.

And it's ridiculous. The prom is months away.

Monday, December 26, 2011


When I first heard about Pandora internet radio, I thought, "What a dumb marketing decision! Don't they know the story of Pandora? All that bad stuff set free in the world?"

Now I consider it fair warning. Not that Pandora is releasing anything bad in my house, but it has quickly made me an addict. I'm already thinking about a recovery strategy, with affirmations like, "Mary, it doesn't go away. You can always come back to it."

Because I need to go to the hardware store. My wonderful vintage-y medicine cabinet that I was so pleased to get for a fourth the price of the ones at Restoration Hardware? The latch tore apart yesterday.

Fortunately, I can hear my Pandora from the bathroom, so I got right on the job of unscrewing the six screws of the latch. Then, darn, one dropped to the floor. It has disappeared, which is pretty strange in a bathroom that's probably less than 5'x7'. Fortunately, as I said, I can hear my Pandora in the bathroom. I think it's worth it to spend several hours looking for the missing screw if necessary, don't you?

What I did was, I tried out James Taylor radio this morning, so I've been hearing him and Jackson Browne and the Eagles and the Hawaiian guy who sings Over the Rainbow from (faulty) memory but it doesn't matter, Jason Mraz (whoever that is), and Sting. I'm loving it.

Oh. Van Morrison now. Maybe I'll blog more in the coming weeks, since it appears that I can do this and listen too.

An Excellent Christmas

Heavy cat in my lap

Hot orange flaming fireplace

Sunday night blues on radio 88.5

Just enough too much excellent Napa Cellars 2007 Dyer Vineyard Carneros Syrah

Playing Royalty with a pal.

Going home covered in cat hair. Not caring.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Single, but not Alone

I woke up this morning all excited about Christmas! The Christmas Spirit has finally arrived.

Instead of a Christmas tree, I've arranged a tall candle, a budding amaryllis, and a scraggly bloomless geranium atop a wooden stool, with the Christmas gifts my family sent arranged around it. Quite festive, actually. 

It's supposed to hit 50 degrees today in Seattle, and the sun is out. Now that I'm working, this week is vacation time, and feels like it. I've treated myself in the last couple of days to singles' favorite DVDs, An Unmarried Woman and Up in the Air.

A friend said yesterday, "Let's bike over to West Seattle." So we did, and we stopped for a light, long lunch at Cactus, a wonderful Mexican restaurant that's beautiful, has delicious food, and when you go there the first time, delivers a complimentary creme caramel to share for dessert.

My friend is another Christmas "orphan," and has decided to go to midnight mass with me tonight. I'll be dancing first, at a CD dance at my local Sonny Newman's Dance Hall.

Christmas morning, I'll sit on the floor by my Christmas stool and open my presents while I listen to my Messiah tapes and eat my festive waffles breakfast, with toasted pecans and nectarines from my freezer stash.

Another friend and I, both lovers of cooking and good food, are collaborating on dinner tomorrow. We're cooking over there, with the wood-burning fireplace and two cats.

Not what I think of as my traditional Christmas, but still, all the essentials are in place: friends, food, presents, and Jesus. I'm smiling.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Single Christmases

It was Christmas Eve in New York City. Christmas morning, actually, since it was midnight, and she had just started her 12 to 8 am shift as a typist for a law firm, one of those dumb jobs you do when you're young so you can pursue your artistic passion. Her whole family was on the other coast.

As she walked home just after dawn, she saw what appeared to be the top of a Christmas tree somebody must have trimmed off, about two or three feet of trunk and branches sticking out of a garbage can. She carried it home. She made popcorn and strung it to garland the tree. She made other ornaments. She sat by her tree and cried.

He, when he had Christmases alone, he drove. Once, after a marriage meltdown, all the way from Michigan to Florida. Once from Seattle to Kalaloch, where the gray waves rolled in with a freezing wind. He didn't feel any better, but at least he was moving.

Another woman loved her Christmases alone. "But you had the kids, didn't you?" I said.

"Oh, no. They were with their dad."

"But didn't you miss them?" I said. And then I remembered, and she reminded me, how welcome a break is when you're a mom. She loved those Christmases.

What I'm learning from your stories, and I thank you for them, is something I know I'll be learning until the day I die. The worst thing about a bad day is our expectation that it will be different.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas for Singles

Somehow, in the several years since the 2005 end of my marriage, I've managed to insinuate myself into somebody else's Christmas plans every year. Until now. I have a feeler or two out, but I'm also intrigued with what Christmas would be like all alone. Toute seule, as they call it in Paris when you want a table for one. On my own.

Those all sound blue-ish. What if I call it 'Christmas My Way'? Sounds better, but what does it look like?

So far, no Christmas tree. Too hard to put up the big ones by myself. Maybe I need to start liking small trees on high stools. I could do that. Just my favorite ornaments, a string of lights, a focal point for the presents my family is sending.

So far, no Christmas cookies, but in about five minutes, the fruitcake cookies I love will be out of the oven. I see homemade eggnog in my future.

My dream Christmas day includes games of Scrabble and Christmas books read aloud, and people playing instruments and singing songs. I've never had exactly this dream Christmas day in my life, so I can't feel too self-pitiful if I don't have it again this year. I'm thinking, though, a nice roast chicken with roasted leeks and carrots and brussels sprouts, with the homemade fresh cranberry relish I like and a nice bottle of zinfandel. I can read to me, aloud or not, after I listen to my old cassette tapes of Messiah.

As I look back over my long life, I see different traditions through the years. I never thought Christmas alone would be one of them, but honestly, the idea is growing on me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Dressing for Getting to Work

Yesterday, for the first time, I traveled to work via bus rather than bike. True, the rooftops and cars were thick with frost, but that wasn't what kept me off my bike. I bussed to stop downtown for Christmas shopping after my school day. I'll stop at Elliott Bay Bookstore today on my bike route home and finish up.

I'm looking forward to being back on the bike. It's still frosty out there, but the streets seem dry, so I won't be slipping around. True, it will be cold, but I learned yesterday that the discomforts of cycling -- start out too cold so you won't end up too hot -- are nothing compared to the discomforts of winter bus riding.

You need to dress even more warmly when you're waiting outside for who knows how long to catch a bus. And then when you get on, it's apparently 75 degrees in there, and blasting dry heat, so you sit and sweat, because what a hassle to strip off your scarf and hat and gloves and down jacket, and even then, you'd still be wearing an underlayer and a shirt and a sweater.

Give me biking any day. This morning I'll definitely wear my warm booties over my bike shoes and my wool glove liners under my bike crab-claw gloves. My face will freeze, but I like that smooth-cheeks feeling.

A biker friend of mine says we won't really be a bike city until women feel comfortable biking to work in business attire. He was curious how I felt about dressing for a bike commute and dealing with my hairstyle.

Well, folks, I love it! because it's a perfect excuse! I figure, my hair may not look great, but hey, I just got it out of a helmet! Not bad when you take that into account.

As for clothing, my favorite bike attire involves bike tights and a skirt, with a couple wool layers on top. I'm still looking for exactly the right neutral wool skirt for a sort of school "uniform" -- neutral being gray or black or red. In the meantime, I most often pull on my black jeans or neutral taupe slacks over longies, with sweaters and scarves on top.

Best of all, I don't have to think about shoes! (I've never understood shoe lust.) Bike shoes speak for themselves. They make excuses. Probably people think I have really cute shoes in my closet but had to leave them home because of the bike. Let them think that.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Feeling Good

Janis Joplin: If it feels good, do it.
Mary Davies: If it feels good tomorrow, do it.

When you're single, staying upbeat is all on you. Thus I'm thankful I ran into Dr David Burns' book, Feeling Good, years ago. Basically, he suggests tracking -- via actual charts -- the things that make you feel good, and doing them.

Simple. But feeling good when?

I had a little piece of cake the other night with fudge sauce and Breyer's vanilla ice cream. Yum. I thought about having another piece. But I resisted because I know from experience that nothing beats how good I'd feel next morning about my prudence.

But you've got to try things out. (Within reason, of course.) Two Sundays ago, what with my new job and squeezing a lot of fun into what's left of my leisure time, it felt like I'd barely been home in a week. And I had a new novel to read.

But I love going to church, and my favorite preacher was in the pulpit. Since I bike to church, I decided to be safe, and go to the 11 am service instead of the 9, giving the ice time to thaw on the roads. I curled up with my book in the meantime.

When it got to be 10:30, I decided to go the 5 pm service. Then I started saying to myself, "Sometimes you just need a day in your PJs, and if you don't take it, sometimes you get sick."

Another Sunday tradition I skipped was a phone call to Mom in Michigan, since we'd spoken on Friday.

So I spent the day in my PJs. Read the whole novel. Should have been perfect. But it wasn't. I felt like when you eat too much chocolate.

The next Sunday I biked to 9 o'clock service and phoned Mom when I got home. It works for me.

I do other stuff, too, to stay happy, including fake smiling and laughing until it turns real. And I'm noticing all the ways my new job makes me happy.

Everybody knows a ride or a walk on the crummiest day is an upper, but what if you can't kick your butt out the door? So far, biking is the only way I know to get to the school where I work, so all other modes, untried, provoke anxiety. Thus I ride, even when I have to wear my hiker rain pants. I meet other cyclists, including a Seattle U engineering student who showed me a better route. Under the campus trees, it's still autumn. And on my bike, I feel young, a feeling that's getting rarer. By the time I get home, I've "worked out," an hour and a quarter of cycling, with hills.

And the kids at school -- I have to be on my toes every moment. "English only, boys," I say. "Claudio, eyes right here, please." "Tell me again, students, what's the Super Special Word of the Day?" I feel useful.

Funny, as an early retiree, I've spent a lot of thought on how to make not-working work. Now I'm thinking work is so much fun, we should all do it. But less. If only we had decent health care in this country, we could share the work in part-time jobs. We'd all be feeling good.

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies