I never worried about getting old. I figured that I would deal with it when it happened. Well, it happened, and I’m not dealing with it very well these days. Objects seem to fly out of my grasp. I’m constantly misplacing things. If I get down, I can’t get up without help. I trip when there’s nothing there to trip on. The technology that I used to use without a second thought now requires too much figuring out. It doesn’t help that, back in March, I accidentally sent my removable partial denture down the garbage disposal, making it unusable, and it’s taking forever to get a new one. I lose track of my finances and find myself owing more than I thought. My crazy sleep pattern doesn’t help, of course.
It wouldn’t have helped if I had worried about getting old before it happened. There’s no way to have known what it was going to mean for me. Everyone is different. My mother lived until she was 94, but her last 10 years were lost in dementia.
I wonder who those old people are who go out dancing, marathon running, paddling canoes. Of course, I’m assuming the Pandemic has put the kibosh on all of that now — unless they are the deniers. Good luck to them, I say.
I finally let my hair go gray more than a decade ago, and I was very happy with it. Only now, my hair is thinning. Not so happy, now.
The other day I took a magnifying mirror outside so I could see my eyebrows, which are also thinning – except for the long wiry white ones, which I plucked out. I suppose I could get one of those eyebrow stencils, that so many of the folks on tv seems to be using, but I think they look horrible. Not many choices here for me.
Over on Ronni Bennett’s blog, she has been chronicling what it’s like to get older. Exactly my age, she is now chronicling how she is dealing with the pancreatic cancer that is literally killing her. She is heroic in dealing with her situation. I wonder how I would handle it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful that I can still drive, blog, see the tv, chat on the phone with the one close friend I’ve been able to make in the ten years since I’ve moved here (more on that another time). Grateful for the support of my family, especially during this time of quarantine.
The Big Picture these days is like a Gordian Knot. From the domination of the patriarchy and its greed for power and resources, to the negation of any kind of true social and legal justice, fixing the Big Picture is going to take public persistence, strategic action, and (ultimately) creative cooperation to either unravel or discard the current system.
As a White, progressive, middle class extended family, we support working toward re-building our society into a world view that values all life, that prioritizes ethics, equity, compassion, and diversity, and that supports the development of the best of human potential to solve problems in ways that meet the needs of all sentient beings. We make an effort to find common ground – even with antagonists – as a starting point, and often that starting point begins in learning about, understanding, and accepting the truth of each person’s personal journeys and experiences. But too often antagonists don’t want to find common ground, and so there is no place to start or proceed, especially since we are living in a world that seems to have lost all shades of gray.
Decades ago, my (now) adult son was mugged and beaten by three men of color who robbed him of the meager amount that was available via his ATM. Because he was nurtured to understand the influence of the local environment in which these men most likely lived, he was able to move beyond anger and “hate”. As an adult, autistic and afraid of violence, he still lives his life committed to social justice and intersectionality. The road he travels is bumpy, indeed. But he persists in the best way he is able: by intelligent research,analysis, and writing.
When my grandson was 7 or 8 (he is now 17), he became enamored of firemen and their uniforms. Every week, he visited our local fire station, getting to know the firemen personally. Finally, they gave him a discarded uniform, including sections of the hose. He was so excited, he even wore the stuff grocery shopping.
I suppose his love of “costumes” was reinforced by the fact that we are a family with some history in theatrical performance, and his progression into costumes of “authority” was fueled by his feeling secure and protected when he wore them – fire fighter, EMT, detective, police, Dr. Who, Jedi.
So, despite all of his commitment to fairness, ethics, justice, and the goals of Black Lives Matter, and despite his acknowledgment that our system of policing needs to be overhauled, he cannot ignore his empathy toward the plight of some law enforcers – the cop who gets shot and leaves a wife and baby behind; the cop who doesn’t come forward and report unnecessary police violence because he is afraid his partner won’t give him the backup he might need in violent situations; the cop who needs his job to support his extended family.
In addition, my grandson is involved with an online game along with a young POC policeman from the Midwest who has become his friend. That cop has an unmarked police car that is his to drive and even take home. But he does not want to park that car in his driveway because he is afraid to make it public that he is a cop; he is afraid of his family being victimized by opposition forces.
The backlash my grandson gets from his “social justice warrior” friends when he tries to explain his feelings about the police, in his words, “hurts his soul.” But he perseveres in trying to explain why he feels the way he does.
We talk about these things over the dinner table. I tend to come down on the radical side of issues. He is a reminder to me not to forget that each individual has a personal history that is often ignored by critics – a history that might have room for some deserved “walk a mile in his shoes” empathy.
Many of today’s police are trained to believe they must be invincible and to accept violence in order to survive. In some ways, they are victims, whose own fears and bigotries have been co-opted to support a narrow view of law and order. My grandson reminds me that there often are understandable reasons why many of today’s police do what they do; there are understandable reasons why some folks are driven to rob convenience stores, at lethal gunpoint, for basic necessities. To keep our humanity, our empathy, strong, we need to be able to see some gray within all of the overwhelming “either/or” culture.
While Rudyard Kipling was a man with controversial political views, I am one of those who is able to look at art apart from the personal reputation of the artist. So I share with you a personally edited version of Kipling’s “If”, dedicated to my grandson. Edited pieces are in bold.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it all on you
If you can trust yourself when all folks doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And not worry if you seem too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings And move beyond the stress of loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all folks count with you, and some too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ of your soul beguiled, Your love of life will have no limit, And you’ll find your destined place, my child.
I invite any readers to open a discussion of what I wrote here (harkening to the style of the original “blogosphere.”) Or at least leave a comment.
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.
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,
until firm, juice-laden,
ready for needing,
fine night dining,
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
C. boots tooled
with female in-
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.
Apparently, a colleague and friend of my e-mailer, who was missing since March 22, has been found dead. Police do not suspect foul play; my e-mailer suspects suicide. He also seems to believe that she was somehow involved in de Ruiter’s group.
I guess he is doing his own investigation, and so I gave him the names of my old friends who left all of those years ago, in case they are still around and can help him. And in case they might like to get back in touch with me.
That’s why I blog. Because all of my stuff is sitting somewhere out there in the world wide web, and sometimes it is just what someone is looking for.
Well, it’s one reason I blog. I blog because I’m a writer and I need a place to write.
Six years ago today, my friend and once-husband died of lung cancer. This is the only existing photo of the day we eloped in 1962.
We were kind of a fire and ice mixture. Made some fascinating patterns and two great kids, but we were destined to destroy each other if we didn’t separate.
Our son published some of his writings, which are available on Kindle. In the early days, we were very competitive with each other regarding our writing/achievements. Back then, I kind of viewed us as an “F. Scott and Zelda” situation.
Only I didn’t jump into a fountain and wind up in a loony bin. I jumped out into the life I was destined to have.
We eventually were able to become good friends, and I was with him on his last day.
I often think about how much he would be enjoying the paths that our two kids have taken and the way his grandson is blossoming.
Why do I have him listed with Kerouac and Kafka in a poem that I wrote when I was twenty years old?
Even the information about him in the last available copy of his chapbook that I just bought for $10 doesn’t tell me anything about how I might have come to know anything about him more than a half-century ago.
Apparently, he wrote back in the late 30s and 40s, and this chapbook is his only collection. The inside cover says
Only a limited edition of 1000 is being printed, and none of them will ever be available except as a personal gift from the writer.
The copy I bought is inscribed to “Doc Chandler: who appreciates cheesecake and football predictions — all the good things in life. Jack Trussell, 10-15-57.”
I was a freshman in college in 1957. Might I have heard him read his poetry on campus? Did one of my fellow pseudo-beatniks tell me about him? Did I share a beer with him one night in the tiny bar on Central Avenue in Albany where we gathered around a table in front of a bizarre mural of Buddha, Shiva, and various other inspirational myths? I don’t know why his name would appear in my poem.I don’t remember. Have no idea. “Doc Chandler” certainly doesn’t ring a bell.
About the poems in this collectin Jake says “To me, poetry was always a personal thing, written for the pure joy of writing and for no other consideration whatsoever. These poems were written at very odd moments ….and on the strangest assortments of materials (napkins, the backs of old football programs, and scraps of typing paper crammed into a beat up portable late at night on a kitchen table).”
I guess that sounds pretty much like what we were all doing back then.
Most of his poems have end line rhymes, which I rarely like. I might never know why his name found its way into one of my very early efforts. Maybe I had read this one of his; I know I would have liked this one, which he wrote in 1938:
I have had the urge to get in touch with people with whom I was close but haven’t been in touch with for more than 30 years — former colleagues with whom I shared both professional and personal adventures.
Maybe it’s because I really haven’t made any new friends since I moved out here to Massachusetts almost four years ago. It isn’t that I haven’t made an effort; I just haven’t connected with anyone with whom I’d like to hang out.
So, that’s just another reason to love the Internet, where I am able to track down folks even if they have a very low cyber-profile.
We are all elders, now — retired and involved in both the tribulations and the pleasures of being where and when we are now. And most find it fun to reconnect at this point — each sharing the stories of our past 30 years, as well as sharing, again, memories of younger and more vitally engaging times. This is a time for opening memories.
OK. I’ve got to face it. I’m ready for the rocking chair — well, really I’m ready for Spring and the awning-shaded yard swing where I like to laze away the days, reading, knitting, and, often dozing. And catching up with old friends via my iPhone.
I layered it over a long sleeved shirt for photo contrast, but it looks much better layered over a white camisole — which is how I’m going to wear it when I go to Saratoga this weekend. No, I’m not going to the racetrack, although this is the season for that. I’m going to see the production of an original script performed by a new company with whose founder I worked and whom I’ve known since college.
After Saratoga, I’ll be spending a few days in Lake Luzerne with my long-time group of women friends. And, if all goes well, I will motor one afternoon over to Northville to visit another former colleague and still friend with whom I play Zynga on FaceBook.
I’ll be taking along my latest plarn market bag project to work on as we sit around in the evening drinking Comsos and getting therapeutically giggly.
But back to my latest improvisation, for which I had no pattern and no plan. I found a pattern for the hexagon and I wanted to try it with a lighter yarn that I had purchased ages ago on sale. I’m not even sure they sell it any more, so I’m glad I bought as much as I did, because I used every ball I had.
I started with one hexagon and just kept adding others, figuring out the shape as I went along. I wound up with it being too wide at the bottom. Hmm. I had to figure out what to do to make it work.
My mother had a saying in Polish that translated into something like “a dumb person will not even notice, and a smart person will think that’s how you intended it to be.” She used that saying a lot with me, since I’ve always embarked on projects by the seat of my pants and then had to improvise to figure out how to make them work.
So, I made a pleat in the back of the sweater to take up the slack. It looks like it was actually designed that way. Works for me!
I know that there are women who continue to be outrageous right up until the end. The extent of my outrageousness these days is wearing my latest improvisation with matching orange sandals and white cropped pants.
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.