Books. I….

One for my ears and one for my eyes. That’s how I do books — usually two at once. Maybe it’s an escape — a way not to think about the things I really don’t want to think about. You know what I mean — female infanticide in India, the GOP debates. You know what I mean.

The book I just finished was on digital audio, and I just couldn’t stop listening to it until I was finished. Everything about it was unique — the format, the characters, the premise, the language.

The Night Circus.

The author is incredibly talented on a number of fronts. I was particularly fascinated by her Flax-Golden Tales. Be sure to take a look.

The Night Circus was nominated for a Golden Tentacle Award, which

ts awarded annually to the debut novel that best fits the criteria of progressive, intelligent and entertaining. The book must be the author’s first published work of novel-length fiction in any genre.

Take a look at the other nominees if you are into “progressive, intelligent, and entertaining” reading.

Of course, I download almost all the books I read from my library’s digital catalog. I was surprised to see that they even had The Night Circus. Usually I wind up with a mystery or suspense, which is what’s on my mp3 player now. Not on the level of The Night Circus, but it keeps me from thinking about the things I don’t want to think about. You know what I mean — malnourished people, malnourished animals, malnourished dreams.

minding the mortal

Thinking about it. Annoyed by it. Just not yet destroyed by it.

There were times during that icy week without heat that I could imagine just slipping into a frozen sleep and not waking up.

There were times during the week or so after, floundering in a mix of aches and fever and stuffed sinuses and peppery throat, unable to rest or eat or think, that I could imagine dosing myself into a cloudy sleep and not waking up.

Discomforts for the young can become depressing struggles for elders.

And, if it’s more than just discomfort, if it is, indeed, mortality beleaguering your cells — as it is for my first hospice patient with whom I sat for several hours today — how do you wrap your mind around that?

When I got home from that visit, I found an email letting me know that I have three poems accepted for an online poetry site, the new version of which will be up sometime over the winter. Two of the poems I submitted were based on my experiences with my mother during the last stages of her dementia.

Mortality. It’s just the way it is. We are all terminal.

In the meanwhile, I have to come up with a recent photo to go along with my bio that will go along with my poems on Cyclamens and Swords. The photo that they have — and the one that was on this blog for a while — is almost a couple of years old.

So I take a new photo.

Yeah. More reminders of mortality.

But I do my best to look my best — a little blush, a little hair teasing. Only there’s no denying the passage of time, fine-lining it toward the final loosing of that mortal coil.

Like Mehitabel, I used to brag that “there’s a dance in the ol’ dame yet!”

Well, today, I’m not so sure about a dance. But a song, for sure.

….my youth i shall never forget
but there s nothing i really regret
wotthehell wotthehell
there s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai

the things that i had not ought to
i do because i ve gotto
wotthehell wotthehell
and i end with my favorite motto
toujours gai toujours gai.

Wotthehell.

If you want it but it doesn’t exist,
create it.

I moved into this town two years ago after a decade of taking care of my mom. It took me about a year to get over the stress and tension of living with my (demented) mother and (set-in-his-ways) brother for several years. And then my mother passed away.

For a year after that, until now, I have been trying to find a place for myself in this larger community. I joined a gym but found it all very depressing (and expensive). I joined a quilting group, figuring that I like to sew and might enjoy it. But I didn’t for all kinds of reasons, including that I have neither the space where I live nor the design talent and experience to get into quilting. And I find it boring to quilt from a kit.

So, I did more knitting to keep me busy, but that didn’t fill my need for community connection. I tried a couple of book clubs, but they never talked about the books and I didn’t quite fit in with the memberships.

So, I joined the Jewish Community Center, mostly for the Zumba and aerobics and gym facilities, and that helped to get me out of the house. But it still wasn’t what I was hoping to find. The JCC offers some other programs that I might have taken, but they were all at night (and I don’t drive at night) and cost more than I can afford.

So, I joined up to be a Hospice volunteer, got trained, and just met my first assignment. That was a start, but not exactly to the point.

What I miss from my old life are the people with whom I worked and the groups to which I belonged in which I took some leadership. Some were peer discussion groups; some were expressive arts therapy groups. They were groups that dealt with substantive personal issues and opened doors to creative and spiritual exploration (even though I am an atheist). I always made friends with people in those groups because we had those interests in common.

So, I went on a search for a group — preferably a therapeutic group dealing with elder issues or major life transitions.

Uh uh. No such thing. Not even within a 25 mile drive.

So, I drafted a proposal to start such a group under the auspices of the Jewish Community Center, and, since I am a trained study circle facilitator, I volunteered to lead such a group.

I’ve done that before — started a group to which I wanted to belong. It has worked in the past for me, and I’m hoping it will work again.

If it doesn’t, with the SAD season starting, I’m going to find it tough to muddle on through.

Oh well, I’ll think of something……

my life as sweater metaphor

I’m not the first knitter to come up with the idea that “knitting is like life.” (Google it and you’ll see.)

Even if you’re not a knitter, you probably get the point. And if you are a knitter, you might find my experiment in intuitive, no-pattern knitting something you might like to try. (“Intuitive Knitting” will also come up in a Google search, but what you’ll find is not what this post is about.)

One of the reasons I knit is that I prefer to have a useful product as the result of my creative efforts. And I prefer to play with processes that don’t come with patterns of exact directions. I like to wing it and see what happens. Thus, the title of this post.

For this particular intuitive endeavor, I experimented with techniques I had learned from two books: “Modular Knits” and “No-Pattern Knits.” Mitered squares, triangles, and the simple garter stitch became the basis of my improvisational project.

I started out with a few skeins of Vanna’s Choice yarn that I bought on sale a while ago, although I had no specific plan for their use. I just liked the variegated color scheme.

As I expected, I ran out of the yarn and went back to Joann to get more — but the store didn’t have enough of the dye lot, so I wound up buying a few skeins of a different dye lot as well. And a complementary solid color in case I decided on a contrasting trim (which, obviously, I did).

As I continued to improvise, I discovered that not only were the two dye lots of what was supposed to be the same yarn a little different in color; they also were a little different in thickness. Connecting one with the other was a mathematical challenge (the number of stitches per inch changes with the thickness of the yarn), but I persevered.

I began by using one of the dye lots to create a mitered 12 inch by 12 inch garter stitch square that became the center of the back of the sweater. The dimensions were arbitrary; it was just a place to start. And this is what the back of the finished sweater looks like. You can see the differences in the shades of color in the variegated yarn. And because I never did figure out the stitch gauge exactly, the bottom ballooned out a little and I had to take in the extra “fabric” with my sewing machine. (Sometimes I REALLY have to improvise!)

Coordinating the two thickness of the same dye lot of yarn worked better on the long panels that I knitted as the basis for each front side of the sweater. And I made the two sides different from one another. (I find asymmetry aesthetically pleasing.)

By using the solid color yarn to pick up stitches along the sides of the variegated panels, I added to the width of the sweater so that it would fit around me. Then I picked up the stitches around the top of he square armhole and used the Norwegian technique to knit the sleeve from the top down. I added the solid color cuffs and the variegated color pockets later. The neck band was definitely an intuitive romp — garter stitches with arbitrary decreases made on the right side.

This is a photo I took of me in the sweater (with my i-phone, in a mirror; but you get the general idea). It’s oversize, so I’m wearing a hooded sweatshirt under it. It was in the lower 40s today, and I was toasty warm when I went for a walk this afternoon.

I’ve already gotten unsolicited complements on the sweater. After all, it’s the only one of its kind in the world.

I suck at canvas and paint. My efforts at quilting have yielded marginal results. But give me a few hanks of mismatched yarn and I’ll amuse myself for months, playing at coming up with something that’s uniquely mine.

Some people make lemonade out of lemons. Me? I’d try for a lemon tart.

that long-gone gold

Those really were my golden years — those four college years between 1957 and 1961. And so I was willing to help plan our 50th class reunion. I even sewed a big 50th reunion banner and put up a class reunion blog. That was the fun part.

But it turned out that my closest “girl” friends couldn’t be there for the part that was supposed to be the most fun. When I checked in with one of them a month before the event, I found out that she had moved into an “assisted living” facility (in the same nursing home building where her husband, also a good friend of mine, was confined to a wheel chair with a deadly combination of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases). She told me that her daughter had taken away her car and license, and so there was no way she could attend the reunion.

(If she is there, will I not be far behind, I wonder. We are the same age, same height, same coloring; we shared wardrobes for four years and together descended on Fort Lauderdale, Florida for one glorious Spring Break. Life is not fair.)

A week before the event, my other close friend called to tell me that she had just had a mammogram and was told to go in for a biopsy. The biopsy turned out to be early Stage 1 breast cancer. She had a lumpectomy yesterday and will proceed with the recommended treatment. Life is not fair.

So, did I have fun at my 50th college reunion?

Well, I have to admit that there was a certain amount of pleasant nostalgia that propelled me through my planning committee tasks. Some things went right. Some things went wrong. What went wrong had to do with logistics; what went right had to do with having a chance to connect with some of the 50-years-older people whom I knew and liked back in those golden years.

As a female college freshman back in 1957, sharing a room in a small “group house,” I lived under rules that today’s female college freshmen would never tolerate: we had curfew hours, dress codes, no males allowed beyond the front room and not even there after 10 pm. Two of the girls who shared that group house with me came to the reunion. Seeing them again was part of the fun.

At the reunion dinner, a table covered with memorabilia from those golden years included a copy of the annual literary magazine from 1959. No, it didn’t include any writing by me. In 1959 I was too busy dancing in college musicals and writing a gossipy column for the college newspaper. And drinking beer. And dating. And joining a sorority. And cutting classes to TGIF. Many of my reunited classmates tell me that they remember me as always smiling and happy. Heh. Why not. Daddy was paying the bills and I was off absorbing the joys of life, the universe, and everything.

That’s right. I was no scholar. I managed to balance out my Cs and Ds with a greater number of As and somehow graduated as the B+ person I continue to be. But I digress.

From your absinthe tinted green dreams and
soulless wanderings across deserts of the mind, came truth–
ice-essence truth……

On page 32 of the literary magazine, I find a poem that begins with the above lines — lines inscribed on the flyleaf of a paperback book of Rimbaud’s poems by the talented young man who wrote the poem and gave me the book. I learned that he passed away a year and a half ago. I wonder if he had still had that tousled red hair, that red beard, that passionate, dark, beat-poet intensity. He almost seduced me. But I wasn’t ready yet, back in 1959.

The literary journal also had some pieces by his best friend, who also was my friend, and whose family became friends with my family after we both married and had kids. He is still writing. We lost touch more than a decade ago, although I had learned about his wife’s tragic illness and death sometime along the way.

Bob decided to come to the reunion at the last minute, and we sat together at dinner, recalling those mellow days and nights when we hung out together in front of his future wife’s sorority house — he and his dark-haired Irish lovely, and me with my brooding red-headed boy. And he asks me if I am happy. And what I can answer is that “I am not unhappy.” We plan to keep in touch. I went and ordered his recent book of short stories.

I supposed the ego-stroking highlight of my class reunion (which was part of the university’s Homecoming Weekend) was having a good-looking gray-haired guy (who was a college year behind me) come up to me to tell me that he still remembers the first time he saw me. I was sitting at the long table at the bar we all went to on Friday afternoons. He said that he remembered what I was wearing — a brown skirt and sweater. And I was smiling. And he thought I was gorgeous.

I guess it was a good reunion after all.

“attention must be paid to such a person”

This title is a quote from Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” and it’s sticking in my mind after finishing a book I just couldn’t wait to finish and wish I could have memorized — Jennifer Stuller’s Inkstained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology.

Since I discovered Wonder Woman at about age 7 (1947) I have devoured all kinds of media that featured kick-ass females, and Stuller’s book brought me up to date on some of the ones who showed up over the past 20 years (when I slipped up a little on following my scholarly avocation.) Well, I didn’t slip up completely because I do know about many of those females to which she refers, from Aeon Flux to Zoe Washburn.

So here’s the challenge I would love to put out there to current fantasy/sci fi writers: create a female superhero who is older than 60 and still has powers she can and does use. (But don’t make her into a Granny Weatherwax.) Attention should be paid to such a person. IMHO. And no LOL.

Speaking of people who should be paid attention to, how come someone as social-media savvy, widely-well-read, prolifically articulate, comfortably creative, and energetically willing as The One True Bix can’t find a job??!!

HELLO, JOSS WHEDON, MUTANT ENEMY PRODUCTIONS, FANDOM INDUSTRIES, CAN YOU HEAR ME!

Attention should be paid to such a person. Certainly, a living wage should be paid to such a person.

And I’m not just saying that because I’m his mother. Really.

_______________________________________________________

P.S. Someone should create an older female “superhero” — maybe one whose power is like that of the old “The Shadow” (“cloud men’s minds” to be able to outwit villains) and make a movie with Nichelle Nicholls as the star. She could be the mother of an existing younger female superhero. Great role model for mother-mentoring-daughter. And great counterpoint to current overly sexy female superheroes created by male fantasies. (Maybe her name could be Chhaya, which is the Hindu word for “shadow.”) Just sayin’.

What to tell your kid about dying
when you don’t believe in heaven.

Your eight-year old can’t go to sleep because he’s crying so hard. He’s crying so hard because, he says, he doesn’t want to ever die and he doesn’t want anyone he knows to ever die because he doesn’t want to be alone.

You don’t really believe in “God,” and don’t believe in heaven. You’re not religious, and the Golden Rule is about the closest you come to embracing any doctrine, although you try to pass along a moral and ethical code that you hope he understands and continues to live by.

But what about “after?” What about after this life? What do you tell your eight-year old that will calm his fears without outright lying?

What you do is write a book that explains who and what we are in a way that will address his fears yet still be in the realm of what might actually and scientifically happen. ( After all, Carl Sagan thought so.)

And you call this book Spark.

Go over online and read through Spark — and see if it’s the answer you’re looking for.

a box of books

Every time I move, I get rid of a bunch of books by donating them to the local library. There’s a box of books, however, that I keep hauling around with me.

As I’m rummaging around in my stored stuff looking for memorabilia for my college reunion website, I unearth that old box.

One of the books it contains is actually two copies of the same book: a translation of the Tao Te Ching by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. It’s been years since I’ve looked through either of them. There is one section that I memorized because it is so meaningful to me. I open the book, and there it is:

EIGHT
The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go keep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

No fight: No blame.

Good advice.

why I haven’t been blogging

Talking much about oneself can also be a means to conceal oneself.
— Friedrich Nietzsche

While I believe that the above quote is true, that’s not the reason I haven’t been blogging here.

The main reason is that I’ve been setting up a WordPress.com blog for my 50th college reunion as a way of generating some nostalgic interest among my former classmates — in hopes of getting them to attend. The reunion isn’t until the Fall, and the site won’t go live until May, but I’ve been brushing up on html codes so that I can add a little pizzazz to the look of the site. I don’t have a great design eye, but, using a simple WordPress template as the basis, I’ve been able to figure out how to insert lines to break sections and how to format a table within a page, and how to do some other tweaking that I wanted to do. I actually like doing this stuff, and hours can go by before I notice that my butt’s numb from sitting so long.

The other reason is that I’m figuring how to knit a sweater on a bias. I have a pattern, but I’ve had to change the stitch count because I’m using a different yarn. I’m sure getting my math-phobic brain some exercise.

Then, of course, there’s my FaceBook games of Scrabble, Lexulous, and Wordscraper, which I also do for brain exercise. And lately I’ve been doing an online picture puzzles as well.

I’m reading mystery novels and listening to an unabridged audio version of The Help, recommended by a friend and downloaded from my library. The narrative is totally engrossing, pulling me into the lives of everyday people whose lives were affected by the Civil Rights turmoil of the early 60s.

I just finished reading (for a book club I hope to join later this month) Home Repair, which has a story line very close to my own life’s narrative.

It is definitely great to be retired so that I can have this fun playing.

I did notice, however, that the taxes on my Social Security went up. Now, that doesn’t make for much fun.

I have to remind myself that it could always be worse.

down we go

Huckleberry Finn is being whitewashed while black birds fall from the sky.

I don’t subscribe to the “end of times” theory, but I am thinking that civilization is heading for a big fall — very much like the one that overtook that major power that was once the Roman Empire.

There are quite a few parallels between, say, a country like America, and ancient Rome, looked at in the context of their specific historical times.

The United States of America occupies 3.79 million square miles (9.83 million km2) and has a population of over 310 million. [go to] In its heyday, the Roman Empire consisted of some 2.2 million square miles (5.7 million sq. km), and its citizenship numbered as many as 120 million people. [go to]

Let’s face it. In the context of their times, America is, and Rome was, a power to be reckoned with.

From here:

Rome started out as a small settlement in the middle of the Italian boot. By the time it was an empire, it looked completely different. Some of the theories on the Fall of Rome focus on the geographic diversity and extent of the territory the Roman emperors had to control.

Think about America, with its diverse geography and diverse population and diverse regional needs. And think about America with its 50 states and their governments having conflicting agendas. Sounds a bit like Rome, doncha’ think?

Now, historians pretty much agree that Rome fell for a variety of reasons –reasons that echo into our times. From here:

There was the economic decay that accompanied the political decay. Some add Christianity to the mix of causes, and some add paganism. These aside, the political system was geared for occasional failures in competent leadership. And one might want to throw in an increase in population among those living outside the Roman Empire.

And from here:

Many historians believe that a combination of such factors as Christianity, decadence, financial, political and military problems caused its demise. Very few suggest that single factors were to blame. Some even blame Rome’s fall upon the rise of Islam, suggesting that the Fall of Rome happened at Constantinople in the 15th Century. Edward Gibbon, an English historian and Member of Parliament in the 18th Century, wrote a number of books, by far his most famous being “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” (written in six volumes between 1776 and 1788). This author placed the blame for the Roman Empire’s demise upon the loss of civic virtue among its citizens.

Gibbon’s famous “History” did conclude that the loss of civic virtue and the rise of Christianity were a lethal combination……..

One definition of civic virtue, from here, is
interested in having the government work for the common good

Wikipedia says this:
Civic virtue is the cultivation of habits of personal living that are claimed to be important for the success of the community.

TeaBaggers have replaced the kind of civic virtue that informed the creators of the Constitution with it’s opposite — a focus on its own small fundamentalist agenda to the detriment of society as a whole.

America has fallen before, (e.g. between the 1870s and 1890s).

A new economic superpower undermines established economic leaders. The collapse of complex financial instruments turn a boom into a bust. Banks fail in waves. Unemployment reaches up to 25% in some areas. A global depression holds on for more than two decades. Class warfare breaks out. Transportation networks stall—along with industries dependent upon them—as the main “fuel” for transportation disappears. Pandemic disease exacts a terrible toll. Religious fundamentalism skyrockets. Totalitarianism rises around the world.

If we generalize a bit from the 1870s-1890s, a handful of key issues emerge as likely to have echoes today:

# Aggressive self-interest on the part of states, despite clear potential to damage the overall economic/political structure;
# Desperate need to find scapegoats;
# Embrace of religious extremism as a way of finding support and solidarity;
# Heightened conflict between economic classes and political movements.

Rome did not fall in day. It was in decline for centuries before the final boot dropped.

I can’t help thinking that we’re on the same trajectory as Rome.