I have a problem with violent computer games

Why did the kids put beans in their ears?
No one can hear with beans in their ears.
After a while the reason appears.
They did it cause we said no.

(from The Fantasticks)

Like most folks over the age of 50, I have a problem with violent computer games, such as “Grand Theft Auto.” I’ve never played any of them, but, like many young folks, my 13 year old grandson does.

gtaOn one occasion, I look over his shoulder as his avatar – a strong, white, adult male, – climbs into his Super Sport Bugatti and sets off on a heist. The bank robbery hits a snag and he and his partner have to shoot their way out, killing the security guard. He makes it back to his virtual apartment with the designated “payout” stashed in his virtual account. He will use those earnings to buy more cars. Or maybe a helicopter or a yacht, depending on how wealthy he becomes. The graphics in this virtual world are realistic and compelling, a quantum leap in design and process from the “Space Invaders” arcade game of my generation.

“Hmpf.” I say to him. “I don’t like these killing games.”

“Grammy,” he says, with a patience that belies his age. “It’s like playing a part in a movie script. It’s fantasy. I know the difference.”

I know, and his parents know, that if he is forbidden to play, he might find a way to do it anyway, and the stress it would put on family relationships would not be worth it. The answer to this dilemma is not for the adults to say “No,” but rather to try to understand what this gaming culture is all about and how to ensure that the young players don’t internalize a wrong message.

For my home schooled grandson, well versed in morality and ethics, his gaming goal is not to kill anyone but to complete the assignment (although characters can get killed along the way). Granted, there are other gamers who get delight in escalating the violence just to see what they can get away with. That’s what I have a problem with out of a concern that they will become inured to the horrors of violence and start confusing fantasy with reality. Hundreds of contradicting studies have been done – and continue to be done – that both affirm and deny the ill effects of playing violent computer games.

The culture of my family is to try to understand where the other person is coming from before any decision is made, so my grandson has explained to his parents his approach to gaming and they have shared their concerns. It reminds me of when my 10 year old son became obsessed with comics during the time in the 1980s when many of the publications began to use illustrations with hyper-sexualized female superhero bodies. I remember having a long talk with him, expressing my feminist disapproval of such depictions of women and reminding him that it’s all fantasy.

I have embarked on a long learning curve that involves my grandson explaining how the game works, which is a complex process, on the part of the gamers, that involves planning, coordinating, and cooperating in setting up each heist. While the game program itself establishes parameters, the gamers make specific choices and have to deal with the consequences.

There are other modules that are available for GTA, my grandson tells me. His favorites are the ones in which his character is a fireman or policeman or emergency medical technician. While the scenarios for those modules can include violence, it is always because the protagonist is trying to rescue someone.

What I am learning gives me a more informed appreciation and understanding of why my otherwise non-violent teenage grandson likes to play “Grant Theft Auto.” And the conversations continue.

I see that what he is taking away from playing these games is so much more than I would have ever considered. For example, he has to budget and manage his virtual money so that he can afford to buy the new luxury items that he wants. In the process of researching cars, he has developed a knowledge of automobiles – both ordinary and classic – that is encyclopedic. He experiments with designing the appearance of his cars, playing with colors and shapes. He has forged online friendships with other players his age from around the world as they work together to develop strategies for their heists. He is honing his reading skills as he keeps up to date on understanding the evolving rules and improvements in the game.

Because he was not told “No” and instead was invited to share his gaming experiences with the family, the problem other families might have with the issue of violent computer games is not a problem for us — although I still really don’t like them. It’s probably a generational thing, as it often is with music, fashion, language, and etiquette. But I learn to appreciate it all. Like Walt Whitman, “I contain multitudes.”

Mother’s Day: for my kids

(I started posing this on Mother’s Day ten years ago, and I try to remember to re-post it every year.)

Some women take to mothering naturally. I had to work at it. And so I wasn’t the best mother in the world. I would have worked outside the home whether I had become a single mom or not. And because I did, mine were latchkey kids, with my daughter, beginning at age 12, taking care of her younger brother, age 5, after school. I left them some evenings to go out on dates. Oh, I did cook them healthy meals, and even cookies sometimes. I made their Halloween costumes and went to all parent events at their schools. My daughter took ballet lessons, belonged to 4H (but I got kicked out as Assistant Leader because I wouldn’t salute the flag during the Vietnam War). I made my son a Dr. Who scarf and took him to Dr. Who fan events. I bought him lots of comic books, invited friends over to play, and taught him how to throw a ball.

But most of all, I think/hope I did for them what my mother was never able to do for me, — give them the freedom and encouragement to become who they wanted to be — to explore, make mistakes, and search for their bliss. I think/hope that I always let them know that, as far as I was concerned, I loved them just the way they were/are.

Not having had that affirmation from my mother still affects my relationship with her. I hope that my doing that right for them neutralizes all the wrong things I did as they were growing up.

So, you two (now adult) kids, here’s to you both. You keep me thinking, you keep me informed, you keep me honest, and, in many ways, you keep me vital. I’m so glad that I’m your mother.

So, in memory of those not-always-good ol’ days that you two somehow managed to survive with style, here you are, playing “air guitar and drums” — enjoying each other’s company sometime in the late 70s and bringing so much delight into my life.

airguitar

Too much or too little. Stop #6 on My Medical Marijuana Mystery Tour

While there are all kinds of articles online these days explaining how to make cannabutter and how to calculate dosage if you are going to make brownies or cookies, I like this one because it includes both descriptions as well as other helpful information.

I think that I have pretty much given up trying to make my own edibles because I can’t seem to get the dosage right. Of course. everyone is affected differently, so it’s trial and error. I also wish I could get the leaves rather than just the buds. Edibles baked with buds have a strong skunky flavor. I don’t remember that happening when you use the leaves.

So, if you are going to start trying to use Medical Marijuana for insomnia, I suggest starting with the caramel nuggets, and the most cost effective way and easiest way to use them is to cut each 50 mg nugget into four or five pieces and suck on one before you go to bed. That is what is working for me. Not all dispensaries carry a wide variety of ways to consume Medical Marijuana, although all seem to carry capsules and lozenges. I just didn’t want to swallow capsules.

Between 10 mg and 12.5 mg of Indica seems to be enough to help me fall asleep and be able to go back to sleep after I wake up to go to the bathroom. It works better than any prescription medication I have tried.

So, for now, this tour is taking a break, since this dose and product seems to be working for me. If I have any great subsequent revelations, I will post them here.

I do have to report that one night I accidentally took a double does (didn’t cut the nugget correctly) and really tripped out. The worse part was panicking because I was alone in my bedroom on the other side of the house from everyone else and felt very disoriented. Suppose I got a heart attack! I was afraid to get out of bed because I was dizzy and the walls were circling around me. I learned my lesson. All I want to do is be able to sleep; I guess I don’t like feeling that much out of control any more.

Final Note: Remember, there is a big difference between hemp oil, CBD oil, and oil made from Marijuana with THC, and this article explains it clearly. http://www.mintpressnews.com/hemp-oil-versus-cbd-oil-whats-the-difference/193962/

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: Stop #5 on My Medical Marijuana Mystery Tour

Since I moved in with my daughter and family about five years ago (they are my assisted living arrangement), I have not done much cooking or baking. I never really did much baking anyway, but so far I’ve made two tries at pot brownies and one at cookies. I thought that buying the actual buds and baking my own edibles would be cheaper.

Before I did any baking, I ground up the Indica strain buds, slow heated them in coconut oil for hours, and then used the oil for the baked goods. That is the simplest way to do it. The most elaborate, and supposedly the most effective, is the Rick Simpson method, which up until last week, was a secret. Simpson makes his oil using the leaves as well as buds and begins by immersing them in a solvent. At the moment, the only place that you can buy Rick Simpson Oil is in California. I have decided that, even with my short cut version, not only is making the oil too much work; its impossible to figure out how much oil to mix with how much weed and equally impossible to ever know how potent the result is going to be.

Not only did my baked goods have an underlying skunky smell, but I had to eat too many of them to feel any effect of relaxation. And they didn’t taste that good either, whether I mixed the gunky residue in the the batter or not. I’ve given up on making my own oil and baking brownies.

I wish that I could grow my own plants. All I would need is a couple of them. But, in Massachusetts, you can only grow a few plants if you are disabled or can’t get to a dispensary, or are very poor. So much for legally growing my own. So, back I go to the dispensary.

As soon as I step through the door, I feel like Alice in Wonderland. alice

Each time I go, the “menu” is different, with different strains available with names such as “Amnesia Haze,” “Afgooey,” and “Sour Tsunami X Cataract Kush.” The “Edibles” on the menu are usually the same: chocolate bars, caramel nuggets, and lozenges. There’s tincture that I would consider, but it’s not available in the Indica strain (which is for relaxation). This time they also are advertising some kind of “shake,” but I don’t bother to ask.

Instead I get into a discussion about the menu with a gray-bearded guy in line ahead of me. He does the caramel Dose Nuggets, he says. I look at the prices. They are the same as the lozenges, which I have tried and don’t like. The capsules are $4 each at the lowest dose. I don’t like swallowing capsules at bed time, and I’m still playing around with “cost vs benefit.”

I notice that the caramel nuggets come in 50 mg doses as well as 10 mg. I look at the price of each and start doing some math. An individual 10 mg nugget is $5. A 50 mg nugget is $15, and if I cut it into five pieces, that would give me five 10 mg doses ($3 a piece). It’s a lot cheaper to cut up the bigger nugget, so I that’s what I get, enough to cut up and last me for several weeks. I also buy a cannabis chocolate bar to try. What the hell, right?

What a difference a “dose” makes. Next time.

Marijuana’s Dynamic Duo: Stop #4 on my Medical Marijuana Mystery Tour

I’m on Facebook with Grannies for Grass, and they post frequently about research success in the use of medical marijuana to treat and minimize the symptoms of various illnesses, and that is where I find all kinds of good information.

For example, it’s important to understand that marijuana/cannabis is composed of many different cannabinoids, CBD and THC currently being of the most interest to the medical community.

And, this is the most informative article I’ve been able to find that clarifies the distinction between CBD and THC. Most important to remember is that cannabis/marijuana is a form of hemp, the form that contains THC as well as CBD. The other form of cannabis, which is the hemp plant that has hundreds of beneficial uses for humanity, contains CBD not NOT THC.

I am willing to bet that researchers will eventually find that it is the synergy between the CBD and THC that is really responsible for whatever cures happen.

CBD can be bought online via any number of sites. It is legal. It doesn’t have a psychoactive effect. It doesn’t taste great in its most potent and least expensive oil form, so it’s also available as other flavored products, such as tinctures — which then dilute the potency. The place from which I ordered my CBD oil has lower prices if you have a medical marijuana registration card, which I do. But it is available to everyone. Just have your credit card handy.

I bought the bad tasting CBD oil, since I am used to the taste of herbal extracts, which often taste like dirt. And it was the least expensive of the oils they have to offer. Mine came in a needle-less syringe marked to indicate ten doses. Each dose of the very thick oil (the consistency of Vaseline) is about the size of a baby pea. I don’t take it every day, and I don’t know if that makes a difference in terms of its purported ability to prevent and heal disease. I’m experimenting. It’s part of the Tour.

The medical marijuana I buy at the dispensary is the usual kind that contains THC, CBD, and all of the other cannabinoids. And that’s where this Tour really takes off.

Shifting Gears: Medical Marijuana Mystery Tour #1

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Whatever I might rant about (corruption in politics, corporate mortal sins, our malfunctioning Gestapo) is being satisfactorily covered by my Facebook friends. My goal here has always been to deal with my own interests from, what I hoped was, unique perspectives. Whether explaining how to fix t-shirts so that you don’t have to wear a bra, or chronicling my mother’s five last days, I tried to share an authentic experience, told from my gut and my heart.

The challenge, lately, has been to find something I want to share with authenticity and guts and heart.

I will be 76 in another month or so, and my life as an older person is nothing like I imagined, in both good and bad ways.

One of the bad ways is that I have had really bad insomnia since the fall of 2014. I’ve tried just about everything available — prescriptions, OTC, herbal concoctions, TENS stimulation, exercise, meditation, visual imagery. Some worked for a while then stopped and some never worked at all.

When the state I live in, Massachusetts, legalized medical marijuana, I decided to give it a try. And also to blog, from my unique perspective as a “gray lady,” about this new adventure.

Soon I will begin “Gray Lady’s Medical Marijuana Mystery Tour.” As the Beatles sang, “The magical mystery tour is hoping to take you away. Hoping to take you away.”

I don’t know where it will take me. Will take us. Keep in mind that I’m not a very private person; I tend to put it all out there, and, as usual, you will probably learn more about me than you really want to know. Or not. What I hope is that my experiences will shed some light on how medical marijuana might enhance the lives of the elderly, whether to help us deal with insomnia, or pain and inflammation, or simply to help us just feel all-round better.

I will try to link to specific and factual information where appropriate. But mostly this is about me. Because, you know, it’s always about me.

Paul read his poetry naked.

He was a crowd favorite at urban poetry readings, especially at the former punk club QE2 on Central Avenue, where he screamed his edgy and ironic “White Boy” poems — often completely naked. Occasionally, he wore a baseball catcher’s mask to go with full-frontal nudity.

Such is how my once friend and colleague, Paul Weinman, is described in a tribute posted in the Albany Times Union today. He just died from the complications of Alzheimer’s. He was 75 years old. The newspaper piece celebrates Paul’s delightfully skewed lifestyle and creative pursuits and is an entertaining read even if you never knew him.

I met Paul when I began working at the New York State Museum in 1980. He already was a fixture and a legend in that institution, often annoying the staid administrators with his controversial off-site antics, while, at the same time, becoming a beloved and entertaining teacher in the Museum’s educational program. Parents and kids alike flocked to his workshops based on the Museum’s exhibits, and inner city neighborhood kids would show up in the Museum after school hours just to hang out with Paul and be entertained by his adventurous historical tales and re-enactments of life in the wilderness of the Adirondacks. He treated all kids with respect and affirmation; he dealt with adults with honest response to the way in which they dealt with him; he responded to the hypocrisies of every power structure with naively gutsy irreverence.

My professional path crossed with Paul’s because we were both poets in an institution that shared a building with the New York Sate Library and Archives and that often held literature-related events. Together, Paul and I organized and hosted the Museum’s annual “Banned Book Week” public readings. We held ekphrastic poetry events in conjunction with Museum art exhibits. We worked well together as colleagues supporting the educational mission of the New York State Museum.

Outside of our jobs, as part of the Albany poetry community, we came to know each other as writers, although our styles — in both content in presentation — had very little in common. As a challenge to my more conservative bent, one day Paul suggested that we do a collaborative poetry chapbook that explored male-female sexual tensions. I would write a poem and then he would write a poem in response. We would go back and forth like that until we had enough for a chapbook. Paul would print out and staple copies of the chapbook and then distribute it, for free, around the area, as he did with all of his poetry projects.

The whole idea was way out of my comfort zone, but Paul was pretty much an icon in the local poetry scene, and I was intrigued by both him and the challenge.

eating.jpg
This is what the cover and back page our chapbook looked like. “Fruits of the Harvest Press” is just the name Paul gave to his own personal printing and distribution system. There’s no date on the publication, but it probably was in the late 1980s.

It took me a while to figure out how to approach the subject of sexuality, but I found a way to do it my way: through food metaphors. Hence the title: “Eating Disorders and Other Mastications.” My first effort was inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey neck.

something about turkey necks,
gizzards nestled in palm of hand,
stroked with oil,
moist heated
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
nibbling, gnawing–
lip-licking
fine night dining,
giving
thanks

And we went on from there, as I branched out from the food metaphors into other expressions of female sensuality and Paul responded with blatant come-ons such as this, which became one of his famous “White Boy” series:

IN QUIVERS OF INAD-
EQUACY, WHITEBOY TRIES
BUCKUP UP HIS IMAGE
AS HE STRUTS FOR ELAINE
A.   autographing pens
      strapped to hips
B.   rakish hat
      festooned with
      panty hose
C.   boots tooled
      with female in-
      initials, cellular
      calling codes
WHITE BOY TRIPS…
POLEVAULTS ON THAT
POINT HE’S TRYING 2
GET ACROSS: ARRESTED
4 SEXUAL HARASSMENT

My relationship with Paul never moved beyond friendship, although as a willing participant in Dionysian revelry, he might have taken it in that direction. But as attracted as I often was to “bad boys,” Paul was way out of my league in that arena. Plus I got to know Paul’s wife at the time, Judith Braun , a talented visual artist who really didn’t come into her own until she divorced Paul. I liked Judith, enjoyed the bohemian parties they threw, was energized by the creative energies with which they always were surrounded. Paul caused me to stretch the boundaries of my writing and my perceptions of what is acceptable to me in both words and life.

Paul loved the lore of the Adirondacks, and he spent the last five years of his Alzheimer-ridden life making miniature chairs out of tree branches. As the newspaper tribute reports: He built miniature chairs in the Adirondack twig furniture style and left them anonymously around town with a note: “I’m an orphan chair. Please take me home and put a stuffed animal or plant on me.”

I don’t know his latest wife, but I’m going to try to contact her to see if I can get one of those chairs to hold a plant in my garden and hold his memory in my heart.

Facing Finalities

I am going to Maine with two friends next week. While there, I am going to put to rest what remains of the guilt and sorrow and regret regarding my relationship with my mother.

The other day I went and spent some time with a good friend, and who is also a healer of souls carrying burdens of regret and guilt. Ed Tick began as my therapist and over these 30 years, that relationship blossomed into a friendship. I still reach out to him when I am troubled, and I visited him earlier this week in his new home not far from where I now live.

The result is that, next week, in Maine, as part of solidifying this new phase of my life on which I have embarked, I will do a ritual to let go of stuff that needs to be freed. I will build a fire, read this last missive to my mom, and then burn the paper. And then burn the triptych with her images — sending her history as a woman to soar with the gulls.

In preparation, I have set up a little altar to honor the good parts of my relationship with my mother, who died five years ago. I have her wedding ring that I put on a chain, and beads from the old red coral necklace (that has been a part of my matriarchal lineage for several generations) that I made into another necklace. I will wear these during the ritual, but, for now, they are a part of the altar. One of the few things I have left of hers is her old statue of Saint Anthony, the heretic converter. I’m sure that she prayed to him all of the time to convert this heretic. It didn’t work, but this icon,one of her favorites, has become mine. Maybe I like him because he holds a lily. And a child. And an open book. In my poetic heresy, I can interpret that any way I like.

altar

So, here is what I will read. And what I will burn. In place of prayer, I write. Here and wherever. Because I can.

If we become the mother
we wanted, our children
grow the roots and wings
of our lost early yearnings,
Our daughters become
the women we wish we were,
our sons the men we dreamed.
But too often we succumb
to the echo of her voice,
caught in the tangle
of a cord never cut.
There is no burying our mothers,
though we lay them deep.
They live in us one way or other,
whether we heed or not.

I am sorry, Mom, that I was not the daughter you wanted. I’m sorry that you were not the mother I wanted. I know that you tried your best to be the best kind of mother that you knew how to be – the kind your mother was. And I did my best to break away from that kind of suffocating tradition.

Yet, despite how I disappointed you over and over, you were always there for me when I needed you. Because that is what the mothers in our family do, And that is how the best parts of you still live on in me – in the kind of mother I have finally become.

I’m sorry that your last years were filled with such turmoil. I wish I had made better choices about how to give you the care you needed. I guess it was my turn to try my best. That was all either of us could ever do.

I’m sorry that your last days were not what you had always hoped they would be – to die at home, in your own bed, with family around you. I did the best I could, Mom. I tried to make sure that you didn’t suffer. Instead, I suffered for you, and that was OK because it meant that in those last days I kept you safe from enduring some unnecessary familial narcissistic tyranny.

There were good times and bad times during the last of the years that we lived together. I like remembering the time we had then to talk and laugh, to dance the polka, to sing all of the old songs, to share our memories of times that were good for us both. I liked that I was finally able to do things for you that you really appreciated, that made you feel good. Because I know there were many other times before that when I made you feel bad.

All of those years as I struggled to grow up, I never really saw you the way that others did. You would have been glad to hear what cousin Cristine wrote to me about you after you died. She said:

I remember the enigmatic smile she always wore, like the one in The Portrait. I never remember her upset or angry. She was always dressed impeccably and I remember her love for Ferragamo shoes. Odd what we remember from our past — the strange minute things that become permanent strong memories and the important things that fade away. I always remember the bathroom at your house on Nepperhan — the l-o-n-g narrow pink bathroom with a door at each end (how cool!) and how it always smelled of green Palmolive soap. I remember your mom cooking and running back and forth to the kitchen and not sitting down and enjoying her own meal.

Someday, I will write a poem about that “enigmatic smile,” which I now think was a biting back of your disappointment and frustration for the parts of your life that you were never allowed to make your own — but I was too wrapped up in my own selfish agendas to realize that.

I don’t know if you were aware of much during your last days, but there was a sea gull who spent most of each day screeching from and pacing on the roof outside the window of your hospital room. This is what I found out about sea gulls:
Sea Gulls are messengers from the gods, especially ancient Celtic deities. They bridge the gap between the living world and the spirit world. Opening yourself to their energy enables you to communicate with the other side. Sea Gull can also give you the ability to soar above your problems and see things from above. Seeing all the different viewpoints.

So tonight I am here at the ocean, communing with the messenger seagulls, sending this message into the wind, into the endless sky: I miss you, mom, I’m glad we had some good last days together, and I wish we had been able to be closer, sooner. I release what is not worth carrying, and I cherish what is left: the comfort that, at the end, we knew how much we loved each other.

Back in the Saddle

It’s been about 25 years since I did my last public poetry reading, but I’m gathering up my courage and doing one tomorrow at the Springfield Library. Believing that you “have to get them at ‘Hello!'” I’m going to start with this one. (I just hope that I can pull it off.)

An Old Lady Raps Back

you don’t see me
not really
with my edges
grown soft and my
curves gone
to middle thick.

I see that your eyes
don’t stick on my face
laced with time’s
weary tricks.

I’m invisible in your world
of constant noise and sullen bluster,
all the anger you an muster.

I know you got it tough
rough — never enough.

You think that’s new?
I grew my thick skin
long before your tiny hide
slid into snide and sin.

Oh, I know your words —
I was talking hard
long before your sorry ass
passed its first gas.

But I make a choice of voice
to mold a tighter tone
to pose a clearer tune

And then I stand and roar
more than you even think
to know.

Those Christmas Cookies

My cousins in downstate New York are all ready for Christmas with their cookies, posting photos and recipes on Facebook and making me feel inadequate as a grandmother.

My mother started baking after Thanksgiving and didn’t finish until the day before Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve, after all, was always the extended-family gathering at my own grandmother’s for the Polish Wigilia, a meatless night of eating and drinking and singing “Koledy,” Polish Christmas Carols.

When I moved away decades ago, I drifted away from those traditions, and, not really being into housewifery, I didn’t get into the baking, either.

One of my mother’s specialties was “pizzelles,” which are of Italian origin, but that didn’t stop my mother. She got the recipe from her Italian sister-in-law and each year gave everyone in the family a batch of her homemade pizzelles — which are made on a kind of waffle iron and which take an awful lot of time to make. You have to pour each one separately and then stand there while the hot gadget bakes them. Then you have to remove each one separately and set them carefully aside to cool and harden.

One of the few things I took for myself after my mother passed away was her pizzelle maker, and this year I unearthed it from the cellar, cleaned it up, googled a recipe, and made a batch that I will take to my daughter’s in-laws on Christmas Day.

I found that I actually enjoyed making them — something about the meditative calm of the repetitive task, the memory of my mother humming softly while she poured, clamped, waited, opened, and gently removed her perfectly round and patterned pizzelles.

Mine are not so round or so perfectly patterned, but it was my first try.

My mother always bought — rather than made — one kind of pastry for the holidays. She called them “bow ties” and got them especially for my son, who loved them. They are really Jewish “egg kichel,” and this year I ordered some from Etsy and sent them to my son in Portland OR in memory of my mom. He said that they were just as good as he remembered.

I don’t have many Christmas traditions (especially since I don’t really celebrate the religious holiday) but I think I will make making my mom’s pizzelles one of them from now on.