Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Snow Bus

Well, not really, but it was snowing when I decided to give me a break and take the bus to school this morning instead of riding my bike. And I'm so glad I did.

To tell you the truth, I'm having a little trouble adjusting from California weather to Seattle. At least, I'm a little weird, and the weather is what I choose to blame it on.

So it felt like a gift to get on the #5 this morning, and hear my name called. It was my neighbor Olga, who came and found me and stood up to chat all the way to her stop. I needed that friendly contact.

Then I transferred to the #2, not really the right bus, but it would mean I got a little walk in before meeting my students. The bus was full of people who were heading for, I don't know, a methadone program? Lots of talk about how the cops behave in Philly and Camden and how Seattle people don't know how lucky they are and you can walk around at 3 am in complete safety, except of course for that one time one of them got shot. I was sharing my seat with a man who is 53, adjacent to one 61, and the guy across the aisle maybe 37. I wasn't hearing any f-words, for a change.

And then I did.

This is when I enjoy being old. And of course I look pretty school-marmish with my glasses. So I just piped right up and said to the guy, "That's the first time I've heard any bad language from you, and I was enjoying it so much."

"I apologize, ma'am," he said.

And we all said a friendly "have a good day" when they got off the bus.

You know, I miss the bus.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Do you have to be happy already to care about happiness?

As you know, I'm so thankful to Gretchen Rubin for her wonderful book, The Happiness Project. If you think I write about it a lot here, you should hear me in person! All my friends know about this book.

And the reactions I get are intriguing. When I bought the book, at Third Place Books during a break from the dancing one Friday night, my dance buddy took one look at it and said, "Grim." I guess the music must have started up then, because I never asked him what he meant. I still plan to ask.

At, perhaps, the other end of the spectrum, I was fascinated to learn that one of the friends I visited in California, someone who never heard of Gretchen Rubin, has been conducting his own sort of happiness project. I never thought of him as a glass-half-full kind of guy, but I guess he'd say he was. But in the past several months, he has been reading about happiness -- he finished a book called Flourish while I was there -- and practicing it. He seemed fine to me before, but noticeably better now. And yet, I wouldn't be surprised to learn he's halfway through his own copy of Gretchen's book by now.

Why do the happiest people get so excited about happiness? And why do others disdain it?

I notice that I always preface my enthusiasm about Gretchen's book with a recitation of her other accomplishments: Yale Law School, clerked for Sandra Day O'Connor, wrote books about Churchill and Kennedy. Because, as she herself says, there's an idea abroad that a concern with happiness marks a person as lightweight. 

Gretchen says, "Some people associate happiness with a lack of intellectual rigor....There's a goofiness to happiness, an innocence, a readiness to be pleased. Zest and enthusiasm take energy, humility, and engagement; taking refuge in irony, exercising destructive criticism, or assuming an air of philosophical ennui is less taxing."

What do you think? Is it trivial to put attention and effort into getting happy?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Backpacking to California

In case you've been wondering where I've been, I'm going to tell you. A one-week trip, and I got everything into my daypack. Of course, my feet are so weird I can hardly wear any shoes, so I wore my Merrill trainers -- in tasteful black -- every day. For dressup, I brought my other jeans -- also in tasteful black -- and a posh scarf to wear with a sweater, but I never needed them. To tell you the awful truth, I wore my Levi's 525s every goll-darn day. I was on vacation! I did what I wanted!

My kids live in Petaluma. They moved; it's a new house to me, a townhouse in a development. From the master bedroom, where I got to stay while my stepdaughter and her husband went off to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, I looked through the heavy, turning limbs of a crispy-leaved California oak into a historic cemetery.

We said goodbye to the parents, my 17-year-old granddaughter and 9-year-old grandson, and I. Then Parker and I made sandwiches and headed for the cemetery. We spent part of each of my three days there. We made rubbings, first with old purple crayon and copy paper, then with a graphite pencil and newsprint. We found a part of the cemetery that was all babies. We read on a tall tombstone the history of a family in which three children had died within a few months. We saw the graves of a family that must have fallen, in 1912, to the flu epidemic. We peered into mausoleums, with their stained glass windows, plastic flower arrangements, a potted plant with a baseball on the soil, a marble interior with a broom slouched in the corner.

Parker has become voluble, and interesting, since my last visit. I asked him that first lunchtime in the cemetery about school. He told me all about his social studies unit on the local Miwok people, articulately and with detail. He mentioned that he was on page six of a story he's writing.

We were both intrigued, it turned out, with a tiny yellow house just across the playground from his home. When I saw it, I said, "If I lived in Petaluma, that would be my house." It has a corrugated metal roof, and a front door with a window on each side, like a child's drawing. Parker pointed out that the door is blocked by a shrub; hmm.

On Sunday morning, prior to his tryout for an elite competitive soccer team, I said, "I'm going to write a story about the yellow house. You want to write one too?"

He did. He disappeared to get his thick binder full of lined notebook paper, and we both just wrote. Then we read our stories to each other. Grammy heaven.

We ate oranges from their tree, and made a lemon sponge dessert from their lemons. I cooked with granddaughter Audrey, one of our favorite things. Parker and I walked to the grocery store and mastered self-checkout, and hiked downtown for a secret stop at Bovine Bakery: cookie for him, brownie for me.

We played the Game of Life, and Farkle, a dice game my stepson introduced us to after his birthday dinner on Sunday night.

Then I was delivered to Mark and Susan, at the top of Inverness Ridge. My little room was a dream: A single bed, right up by the window so I could feel the sweet cool air on my face all night. A view over the ridge to Tomales Bay below. On my second night, I woke at 4:38 and put on my glasses, so I could see the layers of fog filling the valley and the bay, and above them, a sky full of stars.

And those are just a few of the highlights of my lovely trip. So now I'm home in Seattle and, true, there's snow here and there, but also sunshine, and I'm biking off to work with my beloved kindergartners in a minute.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Is Klinenberg Right about Singles?

Author Eric Klinenberg is coming to Seattle Town Hall on Wednesday, February 29, 7:30 pm, to talk about his latest book, Going Solo. He says -- and you can read my full review here -- 40 percent of Seattleites live alone.

And he says we actually have pretty rich lives, going out and getting together. Let's find out if he's right! Come join me at the Town Hall cafe before the lecture, say, 6:30. Let's talk about what it's like to be single in Seattle.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Two Hour Handyman

As I got the so-called hot water from my kitchen sink faucet this morning, to stir into the bread I was making, I thought, Oh, what I would love is eight hours of a handyman! Because I emailed the faucet people, who emailed me with instructions to change the hot/cold mix and give me truly hot water at my kitchen sink, but of course, I can't figure out how to make the adjustment, which requires allen wrenches in sizes not on my bicycle tool, and with my luck, I'd be unable to reassemble it at all.

And I could have a handyman mount the coat rack in my entry, and some more hooks in my closet, and maybe he'd even have a quick solution for a light in my bedroom closet.

Anyway, shortly after this mental journey, and prior to sitting down for 30 minutes to work on taxes before I leave for school, I checked my email, and Lo, to my wondering eyes did appear an Amazon Local pitch for a two-hour handyman coupon for $59, instead of the usual $160!

I bought it.

Now I'm thinking, Is this a gift from 'the universe,' as they say?

Or the beginning of a Stephen King novel?

We shall see.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day, My Loves...

I just want to say thank you to the many wonderful men in my life, my brother and brothers-in-law, the men who dance with me as if they love me, the ones who talk to me about politics and bike maintenance, who ride bikes with me and play Scrabble and tell me I look nice and there's no place they'd rather be than dancing with me.

I don't know what having one special Valentine would feel like today, but I'm so lucky for what I have. I thank you.

Flat Happy

I finished Gretchen Rubin's wonderful Happiness Project book last night, and I intend soon to describe it here in some detail, but in the meantime, may I suggest you get your own, as soon as possible? As I was reading last night I thought, if somebody told me they only had $15, and they'd have to choose between Gretchen's book and dinner, I'd say skip dinner. (Of course, I myself was eating dinner as I thought this, but still, this is a wonderful book.)

But more on that later. What I want to say is, yesterday morning I headed off to school on my bike, every light turning green on my way. I was getting a better and better feeling about the Monday ahead.

Until Denny Av, when the first red light brought me to a stop, so I could take a moment to make sure that the odd feeling that had just begun was not, please God, a flat tire.

Well, it was a flat tire. But I was only about six blocks from the bus I needed, so I walked up there, put the bike on the rack, and made it to school on time. I had a couple of sessions with my wonderful kindergartners before lunch, when I'd have to tackle the tire.

First I ate, then got my gear, checking my watch to see how fast I could get this done. I had 15 minutes. My new yellow tire tools worked, so I got the tire off without too much trouble. The hole was fairly obvious, and I patched it. It was easy to find the object that made it, so I pried that out of the tire.

Then the awful business of getting that tire back onto the rim. My left hand has become, shall we say, my Achilles heel, due to arthritis, and even my good old strong hands of youth found getting those last several inches of the tire back onto the rim a challenge.

I had five minutes to go until my next group, when one of my supervisors came along and said, "Oh, take all the time you need. I'll do your group." It took me another 15 minutes -- and it's so odd, that last few inches of tire you work and work on and then suddenly, they're over the rim and you almost can't think how and when -- and then I got to sit in and learn as I observed her with my student.

Thirty minutes is a long time for most people to take with a tire, but I did it all myself, got it well aired up -- though I stopped for more air at a bike shop on the way home -- and as I biked along I thought, I wonder if that flat actually made it a happier day? I think it did.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Happier Alone?

As we discussed in my previous post about Going Solo, 40% and more of adults in cities live alone, because they want to.

But what about this, from Gretchen Rubin's wonderful Happiness Project book: matter what they're doing, people tend to feel happier when they're with other people. One study showed that whether you are exercising, commuting, or doing housework, everything is more fun in company. 
So what's going on with this? If everything is more fun together, why are so many people choosing to be alone?

What's your experience? Comments, please.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Going Solo

I've gotta admit, the last thing I expected in summer, 2005, when my marriage ended, was that way up ahead in 2012, I'd still be on my own. I thought of myself as a catch. (Doesn't everybody? of themselves, I mean, not of me….)

Not only am I still solo, but I guess I've become such an expert that they wanted my opinion when they wrote the book. And thus I was asked to review sociologist Eric Klinenberg's new book, Going Solo.

It made me feel better, and it made me feel worse.

I felt better as I read the statistics. I am not the Lone Ranger here. In cities like Seattle, 40% of households shelter just one person. Which I guess I should have known, since in my condo of eight, every unit is occupied by a single woman. For some reason, my hardest moments of singleness are when I think everybody else is with somebody. You know, like Christmas. I guess I don't have to worry about this anymore.

Women are more likely than men to choose to stay alone after the divorce or death of a spouse. Partly, they're loving a freedom new to them; partly they don't want to be caretakers for men who don't live as long. And it's easier for women to forge the connections with friends that make singleness work. We like to go out, which may be why the lead/follow balance is so often female-heavy at dances.

Klinenberg interviewed more than 300 people for his book, and some of the loneliest are apparently the meanest.

Thank God we are not like that!

But Klinenberg says even the mean folks are choosing to be alone, whenever they can afford it.

Money is the big factor in the huge rise in single living; we do it because we can, he says. We're healthy and prosperous enough to insulate ourselves from the annoyances and compromises of sharing a home.

However -- and this made me feel worse, and a little worried -- few of us are prosperous enough to afford the really appealing assisted living facilities we'll need. As a friend of mine said recently, he likes the ice floe option.

I'm not sure all this singleness is good for the human race. I think we get our rough edges smoothed when we live with others. It's a truism -- in other words, a truth -- that people who have never married are more prickly. So which comes first: you're prickly because you're single, or you're single because you're prickly?

Going Solo is more than a look at how various individuals tackle singleness. Think of the public policy implications: Do we need any more big suburban houses, ever? Don't we need lots more little apartments, with ballrooms and gyms and party rooms below? In fact, the urban singles trend is better for the environment than the sprawl we grew up in.

And speaking of how singles like to go out in the evenings? I'll be interested to see how many of us gather together to hear Klinenberg when he speaks at Town Hall on February 29 at 7:30.

That's leap day. In Britain, leap year is when, traditionally, the women get to propose. I guess that's not going to be happening.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Willie Weir

I heard the wonderful Willie Weir speak again last night, for Cascade Bike Club. I try never to miss his talks. He makes me want, as Jack Nicholson said to Helen Hunt in that movie, "to be a better man."

Last night Willie organized his presentation around our five senses, and how biking engages them all. For example, he reminded all us cyclists how amazing even crummy food tastes on a long bike day. He reminded us of the smell of the sea and fields of wildflowers, as well as long stretches of guano! We heard the sounds of his travels, singing in South Africa and Cuba, and, my favorite, the solo violin concert a 13-year-old girl gave Willie and Kat at a house in, I think, Rumania.

As a cyclist, I felt kinship, and some pride. This is how I travel too, I thought.

And then I thought, "Not really. I'm not that adventuresome, not like Willie! I've never taken off to a country where I don't speak the language, just me and my bike and my paniers. I'm a lightweight."

How does Willie know what I'm going to think, before I think it? I don't know, but he responded to that unspoken thought. As he ended the evening, he said, "You don't have to go far to experience adventure. It's right here in Seattle."

The truth is, it's not the miles he puts in. It's his openness to getting off the bike.

And actually, I know this well. I know it best from my bus life. It's an attitude, a willingness to travel without earbuds and pay attention, to strike up conversation with strangers. Take any bus....

Or, as I did last night, strike up a conversation on the way out with the older lady -- older than me, that is -- who'd also heard Willie. I asked if she's a cyclist. No, she told me; she's a lawn bowler. She said her lawn bowling association was about to die from lack of interest. Then Willie joined. Now there's a two-year wait list.

See? That's what I mean about Willie.

Friday, February 3, 2012

In One Minute

Yikes! I'm tired, from biking to school, and teaching, and painting my dining room on my day off, and needing to go dancing in my spare time. Things are starting to stack up around me: unwashed dishes, un-put-away clean dishes, books I need to re-sell, mail I need to file or answer.

So I like Gretchen Rubin's one-minute rule, which, as I recall -- not having time to review it, of course -- says, If you can do it in a minute, do it.

In this spirit, I tidied my kitchen this morning, putting away the now-empty canning jar that held applesauce, the two empty plastic containers I use to take lunch to school, a scarf I wore four days ago, and so on.

Also in this spirit, I post this blog! And I still have four minutes left to attack mail before I mount my bike for a sunny ride to school on what looks like a lovely day and 50 degree temperatures.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Icon Icky Vent"

I went last night -- girl date -- to hear Jennifer Egan at Seattle Arts and Lectures, after our traditional happy hour at the Alexis. It's pretty much the only place I eat beef, and I was craving their amazing burger with cheese and fries ($7) after spending the day putting two coats of paint on my dining room walls.

I could say lots about Egan -- she spoke so comfortably for nearly one hour about how her non-fiction journalistic work informs her fiction, which is never about her real life -- but then I'd be late to school. So instead, let me mention the whaddayacallit that posts the words she's speaking on a screen so people with hearing issues can read them.

But who is typing the words? Is it a machine? Is it a super-fast human? I try to ignore the screen as much as possible, just like I ignore the horrible TVs in restaurants and bars, but last night, just caught this phrase: "icon icky vent."

Get it?

All material copyright © 2009 by Mary Davies