WHAT I AM READING

library

Someone else’s beautiful bookcases.

I’m often asked what I’m reading so I thought, on the occasion of giving thanks for what we have, I would list the books on my nightstand.

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins
Collins is a former US Poet Laureate. Some of his poems seem, at first reading, to be simple but they aren’t.  This fragment from the book’s first poem, “Reader” gives you a sense of how wonderful his writing is:

Looker, gazer, skimmer, skipper, thumb-licking page turner, peruser,you getting your print-fix for the day, pencil-chewer, note taker, maginalianist with your checks and X’s…

Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History
My husband Bill and I are news junkies and since Trump’s election our addiction has gotten worse. Katy Tur of NBC and MSNBC is smart, funny and as a junior reporter was given the least-likely-to-succeed-candidate assignment.  Then she wound up covering the winner. Her road warrior stories are entertaining and chilling.

Amor Towles: A Gentleman in Moscow
Do this book justice by reading it in as few consecutive hours as possible. I didn’t and therefore I’m going to reread it. When I got to the last page, I marveled at what an intricate, Stave puzzle of a story Towles has written. What a mind Towles has!

John McPhee: Draft No. 4
I have not gotten far into this book yet but have discussed it a lot with my very well-read friend, James. I have always loved McPhee’s writing. His essays concern complicated and often scientific topics, written in a novelist’s style. If you want to get a sense of McPhee, check out this recent profile from the New York Times.

Happy Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers and good reading to all!

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Autumn Leaves and Leaving

Autumn Leaves, Simsbury, Connecticut

Autumn Leaves,
Simsbury, Connecticut

In the autumn of 1996, Norm appeared at my kitchen door and told me he had come to say “goodbye.” Our family had moved to Connecticut from California six months earlier and Norm was one of my few friends. We had worked together fashioning a garden around the newly built house, planted trees, installed a raised bed for growing vegetables. It was Norm who taught me about frost heaves, the mud season, hardy perennials and Swamp Yankees—all new concepts for a West Coast native—and he was a good friend, besides, so I was distressed at his leaving.

“Are you moving away?” I asked.

He shook his head; I recognized the incredulity with which most locals greeted my cluelessness. “No. It’s the end of October. I’ll see you when winter’s over.”

It seemed odd, since we lived three blocks apart, but that was before I understood it wasn’t only the leaves that left by the beginning of November. The comforting night sounds of crickets, cicadas, and katydids were silenced. The ever-present, annoying mosquitos disappeared, too, but so did most of the neighborhood birds. All that remained were a few drab sparrows, winter-plumaged finches and—a life-saver for the Seasonally Affective Disordered—cheery red cardinals. Garden magazines carried articles about choosing plants for bark color to add “winter interest”—a depressing concept, if ever there was one. Then the sun set early—really, really early. By 4:00 p.m. the sky began to darken. By 4:30 I had to turn the lights on.

The natives had terms for all varieties of winter weather: sometimes the sky was only “spitting” snow; other times we endured Nor-easters, ice storms, power outages that meant not only loss of electricity but also water, because the well had an electrical pump. I began to wonder why anyone ever chose to settle in New England. By February even Florida seemed appealing.

That was many years ago. In time, Norm retired, the kids went off to college and I, belatedly, grew up, too. I stopped hating winter (well, except for January and February) and began to enjoy Snow Days, the “bones” of my leafless garden and flannel sheets. In California, one season slid into another and I scarcely noticed. All that counted was if it rained or not. In New England, I learned to appreciate the austere snowscape as well as the extravagant summer foliage. That appreciation is all the keener because winter is so long. I’d like to think that I’ve become accustomed to friends’ leaving, too; it would be a pat, inspirational way to end this musing. That’s not true, though. The best I can do is to remember that with losses comes the anticipation of new friends, different landscapes and other adventures–after an appropriate wait, of course. And for those of you who are impatient, there’s always Florida.

Note: I publish this “From the Archives” every November.

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TECHNOLOGY AND ITS VAGARIES

Media Closet controls

Herein lies the problem.

What do you call an expensive multi-media system that is supposed to work with the push of one button but instead requires three controls per device and a closetful of equipment? I call it the temptation to swing a baseball bat. Three smart, thoughtful young men have spent so many hours installing, wiring and programming our new system that they have morphed into family members—quasi-nephews. So why oh why can’t the troublesome high tech glitches be corrected?

As people of my age go, I am more knowledgeable than average. I know that the first rule when something goes wrong with a cable box, computer, cell phone, camera, etc., is to unplug it or turn it off, then restart it. That often works. Otherwise, though I don’t understand what the root of the problem is, I’m sure it must be my fault.

There is a voodoo element to my relationship with technology that led, in the early days of Kindle, to my ordering an e-book and then standing at a window with my device open to the light, half expecting a winged book angel to show up. I didn’t know much but I had faith. The same could be said about our granddaughter, age 8. She doesn’t know the first thing about how cell signals and internets work and yet performs miracles. Recently she asked that I play “Despacito” on my car radio. I explained that I didn’t have that song in my iTunes collection so it couldn’t be done. She held out her hand: “Nana, give me your phone.” I still don’t know what she did but less than a minute passed before she and her little friend in the back seat were grooving to the song.

I keep hoping for a clear explanation as to why our three wise young men can’t perform the same miracles as an eight-year-old. As the last installer/nephew left at sundown Friday, I asked if the system was ever going to work as it was supposed to. “Oh, definitely,” was his answer. “Then why does it keep conking out?” He shrugged his shoulders and smiled the smile of a man at peace with himself and the vagaries of technology: “It’s electronic. Things happen.”

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APOLOGIES FROM ANOTHER PLANET

MADE-UP UNIVERSE

ANOTHER PLANET?

Well, it has been another big week for revelations of sexual harassment. What caught my interest this week was the Apologies From Another Sexual Planet that the men involved offered up.

Apology #1: Harvey Weinstein: “I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.” Uh, no Harvey—it wasn’t. I put myself through college working as a secretary from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies and unwanted sexual advances at the workplace (and other locations) were no more welcome then than they are now.

I was sorry to hear that author and political commentator Mark Halperin also has a history of sexual predation. I have enjoyed his books, his CNBC show with John Heilemann and his appearances on MSNBC. I have valued his political opinions and was happy for him last January when he and his long-time girlfriend welcomed a baby boy into their lives. Then this past week I learned that “for years it was an open secret” that Halperin made inappropriate sexual advances toward women who were his subordinates. His response? Along with denying some of the allegations, he added:

Apology #2: Mark Halperin: “I now understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain.” How is it that he can only just “now understand” that it was inappropriate to press one’s (ahem) sexual organ against the shoulder of a young woman with whom he was having a business meeting? This from a man whose other perceptions and incisive analyses of the nuances of politics have made him famous and wealthy.

Our granddaughter, age 8, goes to a progressive school in Oakland, California. And when I say, progressive, I mean California Progressive. An example: this week “Crushes” were discussed in the second grade classroom. At dinner, Kamiko and her friend explained to her mother and me what a “crush” is and then enumerated the various crushes and cross-crushes in their class. It was both hilarious and encouraging. Maybe “inappropriate touching” will be on the agenda in fourth or fifth grade or later. Then, at any age, predators wouldn’t be able to pretend that they were only then discovering that it’s offensive to make unwanted sexual advances–period.

 

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#METOO!

ONE OF MILLIONS 
(Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash)

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock these past few weeks, you know the significance of “#MeToo.” And if you are a rock-hider, here’s what it means: Actor Alyssa Milano, one of Harvey Weinstein’s victims, wrote: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘#MeToo’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Since then millions of women have posted “#MeToo” on their Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram. They are supporting the women who have risked their careers and reputations by speaking publicly about the sexual harassment they experienced from Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Donald Trump, Bill O’Reilly  and other famous, powerful men.

Those of us who posted “#MeToo” have kept our own experiences with sexual harassment to ourselves. It is something we would rather forget. What I experienced was nothing as extreme and disgusting as what we’ve been hearing lately, but still I don’t want to think about the several times I was kissed or groped. The men weren’t necessarily my bosses, though some of them were. Some of them were just guys who thought it was their right to corner me at the copy machine. Those men should have been embarrassed but they weren’t. They saw a young (and later not-so-young) co-worker who wouldn’t want to cause a scene because she was surprised, embarrassed and besides, she was nice. Lord, was I nice. They were sure I would keep my mouth shut and I did.

There was only one time that I confronted one of my bosses. He slapped me on my butt with a file as he left the office one day. I fretted about it overnight and the next day told him I did not want him doing that again. His response: he denied it. It was just the two of us in the office—his word against mine. I was astounded. He implied that it was all a fantasy of mine.  Two weeks later I was laid off due to “lack of work.”

I don’t know how much change the public attention to “#MeToo” will bring. Most women don’t have the fame or money to bring lawsuits against their harassers. Change comes slowly but if we teach our children and grandchildren by example to be respectful of others, change will come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CAT VIDEOS

CatmanDeux sleeping

CatmanDeux, ready for his close-up.

Cat videos rule the internet. They are so popular that otherwise sensible people readily admit to enjoying them. As a friend commented yesterday, cat videos lift the spirits. Lately my spirits have needed lifting due to the unrelentingly bad news: political, social and environmental. It has been difficult to tear myself away from the TV and Internet. I suffer from the absurd notion that if I turn away for even a minute, something even more terrible will happen. Then our cat sitter sent me a video of CatmanDeux biting his own tail and I remembered the pleasures of cat videos.

A few facts. There are feline video stars: Maru, Grumpy Cat, Simon’s Cat, Surprised Kitten, VaneCat, Colonel Meow, Nyan Cat and Henri, The Existential Cat. Maru has his Scottish Fold ears and his tendency to climb into boxes; as a bonus, he’s Japanese. Grumpy Cat looks like her name; Simon’s Cat and Nyan Cat are animated (ugh). Surprised Kitten is so adorable that her video has been viewed 75 million times. If you want to watch any of these videos, here is a website for all of these cats and more, courtesy of The Guardian, the British newspaper. No one loves kitties more than the Brits.

My favorite videos feature Henri, The Existential Cat. He’s not particularly special in the looks department except for his perpetual scowl. The brainchild of cinematographer Will Braden, Henri’s ten videos—satires of French films and their existential ennui, raise the intellectual level of the genre. I don’t feel as guilty spending time with Henri as I do watching cats running into windows or leaping at the sight of cucumbers.

It has been such a pleasure researching cat videos for today’s blog that the next time I am overtaken by fears for our democracy, world politics and/or the future of the planet I will try to shift my focus, at least temporarily,

FROM THIS

Hiding Kitty

TO THIS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a good week.

 

 

 

 

 

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FAKE NEWS

Fake News

Protest Rally

The term “fake news” has been tossed around daily by the current US president, a master brander, not to mention a purveyor of “alternative facts” from his alternative universe.   Last week the death of Paul Horner, a well known “Fake News Writer,” was widely reported as due to “a suspected drug overdose.” I think it is wrong for an obituary to speculate on reasons for a person’s demise, especially if the possible cause is something as awful as a drug overdose. Reading further, I learned that Horner was proud of his fake stories and even claimed that his fakery had gotten Donald Trump elected. Despite my dislike of fake news, not to mention my negative opinion of the president, I continue to believe only verified facts are legitimate news and Horner got a bad rap, demise-wise. The irony is that the cause of death of a writer of fake news may itself be fake news.

Last month I fell for fake news. I’m a big fan of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ HGTV show, “Fixer Upper” and was surprised to read that they were ending the series because Joanna wanted to focus on marketing her new skincare line. As I remember, the article made it it sound really good, even the “greatest ever,” a lotion “The likes of which no one has ever seen!” You get the idea. The news article even included a handy link to the skin care site. Well, hey! Who wouldn’t want to have lovely skin like Joanna’s? So I bought it. For just a few more dollars the site touted some oil that would REALLY make me look younger but I declined. I thought Joanna was getting a little pushy; after all, isn’t she making enough money, what with the TV show, furniture store and her line of home furnishings? The lotion arrived and it was okay, though not as good as Moisturel and at a far greater cost.  Weeks later I read that the Gaineses are winding down Fixer Upper for other reasons. The “Joanna’s skin care lotion” story was a scam. So the next time you read that something– a product or policy or even legislation—is The Greatest Ever, Unbelievable, The Likes of Which No One Has Ever Seen, consider the source. You may be falling for fake news.

Photo by Kayla Velasquez, courtesy of Unsplash

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ROSES? WHAT ROSES?

Roses

Roses in their prime
                                                                                                                    (Photo by Jian Xhin)

I come from a family that does not “stop to smell the roses.” My parents, brother, sisters and I can best be described as a “Let’s get this done!” family or, at worst, a “Let’s get this over with!” gang. As adults, we called my dad “Vince-Half-a-Cup of Coffee” because when he’d visit us he’d agree to “just half a cup—I have to get going.” On one unforgettable occasion, he admitted that he was “rushing even though I don’t know what I’m rushing for.” That, indeed, is the question: what’s the rush?

I believe I eat too fast because a full plate looks to me like a task to be accomplished. I make decisions quickly so I won’t keep some imaginary foot-tapper waiting. There’s always the impulse not to waste time. It often feels uncomfortable to simply sit and read—but reading while walking on the treadmill, now that’s productive! All this rushing leaves precious little time to enjoy the present. I am lucky to have friends who are not so twitchy. Morella, a painter, sees shadows and gradations of color everywhere. Heidi, a world traveler, notices all the different nationalities who use our city park. My sister Liz never misses a bird and can identify nearly every one.

In December 2014 I wrote here about the meaning of “making time for time.” an expression I learned from a French friend about for practice of taking time to appreciate the time we have on this earth. It is the antithesis of rushing. It’s taking time to stop and smell the roses–or, in the case of the French, drink the rosés. I think they’re onto something.

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AT HOME LEFT AND RIGHT

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. Photo by Freddie Collins.

If you are a regular follower of this blog, you will know that I am changing home base from the Right Coast in New England to Left Coast of California. You will also be aware that this is not easy-peasy. It was a culture shock to arrive in Connecticut 20+ years ago and it’s a culture shock to return to California, a place where I once belonged. In 1996, I wrote about right coast/left coast differences:

THEN: New England formality: when I took my son to the school office at his new junior high, I was surprised to learn that “Mrs. X,” the voice on the phone, was not—as I had imagined–an elderly matron (in California, no one I know under 80 refers to herself as “Mrs.”) but rather an attractive young woman in her late thirties.

NOW: Last week I introduced myself to one of the kids in the neighborhood as “Mrs. Popik.”

New England church

New England church photo by Aaron Burden

 

THEN: A few of times in Connecticut I turned and commented about something to the person behind me in the supermarket checkout line. This was met with two responses: either the person would look back to see if I was speaking to someone behind them or he/she would stare at me and then look away as if I were a schizophrenic.

 

NOW: I went to a local Oakland cable store and chatted with the woman behind the counter while we waited for someone to fetch a cable box for me. By the time I left ten minutes later, I had the names and contact information for a hairdresser and acupuncturist as well a thorough understanding of the benefits of the Kaiser Health Plan for seniors as well as her age. As I left, thanking my new friend, she turned to the person behind me in line and said, “Hello, Pumpkin!”

It’s beginning to feel like home.

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WHEN OLD PEOPLE BLOG

Keyboard for the anxious.

This is unfortunately more true than not.

Something has gone wrong with one itty bitty piece of the technical chain that beams my blog around the world (yes, truly!) at 4:00 a.m. EST on Mondays. I am assuming you, too, were sent the same blog as last week’s. I have no idea why. I am in touch with a WordPress/MailChimp/GoDaddy wizard who can likely fix the problem. I don’t want to read that same Cat/Hurricane blog one more time, either.

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