Can a person really “go home again” and what does that mean? Thomas Wolfe’s most famous book title says we can’t. I’m not sure.
This week Bill and I went home again to the San Francisco Bay Area where he was born and where I lived since leaving Stockton to attend the University of California at Berkeley. We haven’t abandoned New England, where I have left a sizable portion of my heart, but it is time to have a California outpost near both our families and our old friends.
After more than 20 years away, California still feels like home in a deep sense that is hard to explain. Despite the physical changes here—all kinds of new construction that make lots of areas unrecognizable—I am always confident that I won’t lose my way. Never mind that this is a foolish illusion; it’s a sense of having belonged in a place for a very long time. When we first moved to Connecticut, I got lost all the time. There were no geographical landmarks to show me the way—no San Francisco Bay, no Golden Gate, no East Bay hills. I remember pulling over to the side of the road somewhere outside of Simsbury to steady my heart rate and remind myself that there was no chance of getting lost in a sketchy neighborhood. The only danger was from a falling branch or a wandering bear. All I could see on all sides were trees. I’d never seen so many trees. It was impossible to see any landmarks at all—until some of the trees eventually became landmarks.
There are changes, though, and they make me wonder where “home” really is. The traffic is awful. The summer is foggy. There is a lot of ambient noise. Just when I think I’m going to hop on the next plane, though, a complete stranger in a checkout line turns to me and discusses the details of her divorce, or the party she’s attending later on, or difficulties with her teenage daughter. This never happens in New England. I’ve gotten used to keeping my mouth shut. But here, I get right back into it and commiserate or even give her advice, pat her on the back and go on my merry way. It’s like being home again.
NOTE: No photo this week. The downloads and links aren’t working but I wrote this so I’m posting it.
I have always felt a kinship with Sylvia, “the easily irritated woman,” a character invented by Nicole Hollander. I think of her whenever a voice gets my attention. Some voices are so captivating I could listen to them forever. A good example of this is the Audible narrator of The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. It is an excellent book and I was sorry to to come to tis conclusion because I so enjoyed the voice of its narrator, Rebecca Lowman. On the other extreme there are the voices of TV’s talking heads. It’s the nasal, tinny ones that grate.
Television commercial voices are notable because the distinctive ones are part of the product’s promotion. According to an admittedly small sample (my friends), everyone recognizes the voice of the manly underwear guy of Dry in the Fly Pants. The ads are parody of manliness (“Get a Pair”) pushing the propriety envelope but also downright funny. There’s no confusion about the ad’s target demographic. Then there are the irritating ads directed towards women. I was listening to but not watching television one day and heard a slow, sexy voice intoning “Anticipating…Feeling…Touching….” That got my attention! It was a car ad, of all things. I thought for sure it must at least be a lingerie ad. It’s hard to imagine getting that excited about an automobile, even a Jaguar. The last television commercial I find irritating is one featuring Jennifer Aniston selling eye drops. It’s hilariously earnest. Close up and looking right at us, Jennifer explains that her friends know her “so well” but (and here she really pours it on, managing to look surprised at her clueless friends) “what they don’t know is that I have dry eyes! Some friends they are!!!
I feel much better now that I’ve gotten this off my chest.
Reactions to last week’s blog, “Dread Full,” were more numerous and different than I expected. I got e-mails, phone calls and ran into friends on the street who wanted to tell me that shared the feeling. Who knew? Apparently there are a lot of us out there functioning happily in events they dreaded beforehand.
Dread of Going Out
I dread going to nearly every event on my calendar. Hartford Stage: “Can’t we just skip this play?” Eating out: “Do we have to dress up?” Just about any party: “Will they even notice we’re not there?” I even dread daily walks with my friends. The corollary to this is that once I get out, I always have a wonderful time.
This isn’t “social anxiety,” which results from fear of interacting with other people. I can talk to anybody any time, friend or not. I don’t get nervous around strangers. It isn’t “existential dread,” a pervasive feeling that life is pointless. It is an irrational reluctance to put myself “out there.” What’s more, I’ve asked around and many of my friends feel the same way. That is a biased sample, but still….
As is my practice, I turned to “The Google.” It seems that many people experience dread of leaving their houses, but some of the advice for “conquering” the feeling is ridiculously obvious. I’m not going to name the sources because they are well-meaning, even if the advice is plain as day: “Reframe” your thoughts so that ‘I don’t feel like going’ is reframed as, ‘I know I’ll be glad I went.'” I remind myself that I always have a good time. That affirmation, plus a good deal of guilt, gets me out and about, but it is no cure for pre-social dread.
What about you? We could discuss this over a cup of coffee, but I would dread our meeting.
Yesterday Bill and I celebrated the 39th anniversary of our marriage. “Celebrated” may not be the appropriate word because we didn’t do anything special. We have been lucky enough to share so many special trips and meals that it would be difficult to come up with a unique celebration. (What was worth celebrating is that we both remembered it was our anniversary.) I look back to our wedding day all those years ago and hardly know who those two people were. We looked good, we felt good but we didn’t have a clue about what a lasting marriage involves.
The New York Times recently carried a column by Ada Calhoun entitled “To Stay Married, Embrace Change.” The illustration alone is worth the price of the newspaper. Artist Brian Rea depicts a wife in bed and her husband, sitting in his underwear on the edge of the other side, clipping his toenails. There are bits of toenails all over the rug. With that title and that cartoon, you just know the writer and illustrator have been married to someone, sometime. Calhoun’s point can be summed up by one of her quotes: “I’ve had at least three marriages. They’ve just all been with the same person.” Time changes all of us.
There used to be a column in the Ladies’ Home Journal: “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” that I read when my mother wasn’t paying attention. I don’t remember what the marital problems were but the stories gave me plenty to think about when my parents argued. What I didn’t understand was that their arguments were only one of the many ways that they were smoothing the rough edges we all have in order to accommodate to the challenges of kids, jobs, finances and everything else that daily life brings.
You may wonder what the photo above has to do with any of this. These two young osprey are setting up their first nest together, one that they will return to every spring if all goes well. So far, they have a mess of a nest and an interloper who tries to oust them every couple of hours. They are holding firm. I am counting on them to join us next year for our big Four-O.
Jack Popik died last week. My father-in-law was six days short of his 96th birthday and quite ill; he was ready. Jack was, however, the last of his generation from two large extended families and it was strange to think that all of those brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, are gone.
Services were held at Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City. The funeral was the usual combination of the ridiculous and the sublime. Probably due to the tension and grief surrounding death, every funeral I have ever attended had moments of hilarity. I was concerned that our granddaughter, Kamiko, was too young for a funeral but she wanted to go because it meant a ride in a limo (where does she get this stuff?). Then she complained that the ride wasn’t very long. Jack was an accomplished tennis player, competing well into his eighties. He didn’t like to dress up—ever—so he was buried in his usual outfit: tee shirt, tennis shorts and sneakers. We (“the kids”) thought it was perfect but some of the mourners didn’t think it was suitable at all.
Later that day, family and members of the Temple gathered at Sue’s house for Shiva (a Jewish mourning ceremony) and to share memories of Jack . There was mention of a “life well lived.” I don’t know if Jack thought about that and, if he did, what living well meant to him. He worked hard, had a long, happy marriage and raised two children who in turn raised their own children. At the end of his life he said to me, “I never thought getting old would be this way.” By then he was too tired to talk much so I didn’t find out what he had expected.
At Shiva there were prayers about making every day count. It is a good thing to remember that our time here is limited and that too often we let the days dribble away. It can be hard to pay attention to small pleasures; it is so much easier to think of what we don’t enjoy. Later that week, I was taking Kamiko and her dog, Bella, for a walk. The dog needs to be walked twice a day and I was on duty. Bella knows how to savor every moment as well as every blade of grass in her path. Her walks take forever. Kamiko—in between skipping ahead—whined about wanting to get home to watch Beetlejuice. I had my own plan—to drink a glass of wine and watch the news. I wanted to whine, too. Then I recalled the lessons of the past few days. It was springtime, I was walking in a park with a goofy dog and a sweet little girl skipping along in front of me…. It made the day count.
Male Osprey Contemplating His Fish Offering
The words “bird” and “sex” don’t automatically belong together but that has been the spectacle this weekend. Spring has come to the south coast of Massachusetts and osprey love is in the air. A pair of these large, beautiful “fish eagles” is building a nest on a new platform we erected on “our” marsh last fall. Along with the birds’ adding sticks and other nesting materials, there is quite a lot of mating going on. The male is not much into wooing, but he occasionally brings his mate a fish as an enticement. She seems to appreciate it, as she undoubtedly appreciates the fact that he pulls in his talons when he mounts her so as not to tear her to shreds.
The Fresh Fish Seems to Have Worked Its Magic
An interesting factoid I picked up from Return of the Osprey by David Gessner is that osprey nests are often a hodgepodge of materials: “sections of TV antennae, hula hoops, old flannel shirts, styrofoam cups and bicycle tires.” My favorite is Gessner’s report that “the early neighborhood prize for the most original choice in building material goes to the pair at Chapin Beach, who have added a nearly naked Barbie doll to their nest’s northeast wall.”
Other signs of New England Spring…
Our Weeping Cherry
The Daffodils have one more week of bloom left.
This tiny Hosta will be enormous by July.
If you haven’t already, please “Like” this page.
NICE NICE NICE!
It’s nice to be nice–at least that’s what I was raised to believe. I think it’s a good approach to life but sometimes the reflex to be nice is inappropriate. I am in agony every time I return an item to a store. Last week I put off returning a $100 item I ordered online because it involved calling Customer Service for a return label and I hated to let those people down.
There are other situations where it doesn’t make sense to be “nice,” if that’s the right word. Years ago I took my company car to be repaired and the owner of the shop wondered aloud “which boss I slept with to get the job.” I should have taken my business elsewhere but instead I was so shocked that I couldn’t think of what to say.
Here is a recent example. A few days ago I had a consult with a doctor regarding back pain. In the room was also a female medical resident, listening and learning. In the course of the interview he asked if I felt pain “during the day when sweeping, doing the laundry or gardening.” That really griped me. What century was this dude born in? But I let it pass because he was a kind man, meant well and I wanted to be nice. The urge to please, not to be thought of as a bitch, is very strong.
Luckily, I did get a second chance. As I swung my legs off the exam table, the doctor observed that I am “quite limber” and asked if I “did a lot of gardening.” I took the opening to tell him that I do a lot of carrying heavy camera equipment up mountains and assured him that I had recently acquired a lighter camera and no longer haul a tripod around. I wish I could describe the look on his face. I hope the medical resident learned something about not stereotyping patients during interviews. They may not react nicely.
Note: Angel illustration courtesy of ZWANI.com via Photobucket.
Is this wasting time?
Time is precious. For a long time, I didn’t believe time passed quickly. An hour of elementary school seemed like 24 hours of my life today. The late poet, Richard Brautigan described it best:
I remember all those thousands of hours
that I spent in grade school watching the clock,
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James
for all the time they stole from me.
Now time has picked up speed. After my mother died and I became next up at bat, so to speak, I began to take life more seriously. I started thinking about not wasting whatever time I have left. There are so many things we do that don’t help anyone, don’t enrich our lives, just fritter the hours away. I vowed to make nearly every moment count.
So why, oh why am I spending precious hours every day playing Words With Friends? I could be learning Spanish, working on my novel-in-not-much-progress, reorganizing closets—practically anything but trying to beat my friends with Words. The majority of my playmates aren’t even friends in the usual sense. They’re people I have never met and never will. We exchange an occasional sentence remarking on strategy or vocabulary. There’s nothing personal or creepy about it. Oddly, though, they feel like friends because we spend so much time online together.
The real question is, am I wasting my time? What’s wrong with a game that requires a reasonably good vocabulary, a little strategic knowhow and the opportunity for an hour (or two, seldom three) of relaxation every day? As Robert Reich would ask, “What do you think?” If it’s relaxing, enjoyable and not harming anyone, is it a waste of precious time to play computer games? I’d love to hear from you.