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.
Alaska is too beautiful to be captured in photos, but I’m trying. Last week I posted a few pictures from a recent trip. Here are some more, all but two concerned with Humpback Whale Bubble Netting.
The BBC has an excellent short video* explaining how the Humpback Whales of Alaska (and only Alaska) catch herring by Bubble Netting. I had never heard of Bubble Netting, so the first time five whales blasted out of the water not far from our boat, I screamed. It’s an unforgettable sight. Here’s how it works:
The lead whale dives first. She (or he) is responsible for finding the fish. She is also the bubble-blower. The other whales follow in formation, with each whale taking the same position in every lunge. The lead whale locates the fish and blows a net of bubbles that completely encircles the shoal. Another whale calls (underwater) to synchronize the group.
Panicked by the eerie sound and the fizzing bubbles, the fish won’t cross the bubble curtain and the whales rise to the surface with their mouths open, swallowing the fish. The whales’ rubbery-looking lower jaws can expand to hold lots of water and fish.
This closeup of three whales in the circle shows the baleen in their mouths. It looks like very long, stiff hair. The whales push out water and air through the baleen, which acts like a sieve, and swallow only the fish.
Once that meal is completed, the whales move on to another group of herring and do it all again…
…while Smokey the Brown Bear watches from the shore.
I WANT TO GO BACK TO ALASKA!
*I can’t link to the BBC site but the video is on You Tube, dated January 2, 2015, and called “Whales’ Bubble Net Fishing/BBC Earth.”
Last week Bill and I joined six strangers and the crew of the Northern Song for a week-long cruise of the Frederick Sound and its environs in Southeast Alaska. We left from Petersburg, a bustling small town that looks like something out of Northern Exposure minus the Main Street moose. I had high expectations for the trip and they were exceeded on the first day.
Dennis and Toni Rogers own and operate the Northern Song; we heard about them because some of their cruises are sponsored by photography groups. The idea of being on a small ship rather than a giant ocean liner was a big draw. What I hadn’t imagined was how stunning Alaska is, how terrific Captain Dennis and his wonderful, knowledgeable crew is and how delicious Chef Therese’s food would be. After a week of deprivation at home, I still have two more pounds (out of five gained) to shed. The other guests were all good people: interesting and interested. We traveled well together and made what I hope are lasting friendships. It was also wonderful to be out of cell and internet access for a week. Here are some photos from our journey.
After a lot of barking and belching, he finally managed to clamber onto the other side of the platform but, as you can see, he was a little too chubby to rest comfortably.
This whale breached surprisingly close to our boat. It was like watching an apartment building rise from the depths.
I spend too much time thinking about TV advertising because there is so much of it, and most of it is bad. For example, Choice Hotels ads feature a pompous guy who promotes the slogan, “Badda Book, Badda Boom.” That irritating phrase sticks in my head but not the name of the hotel service being advertised. That ad is somebody’s idea of memorable, but to me it’s unsuccessful. If I were going to make a hotel reservation, what good does remembering “Badda Book, Badda Boom” do?
The very best ads are jingles–advertising set to music. Some of them were so good (or so annoying) that they have remained in my brain for decades. And that’s exactly what the advertisers intend. Consider “I Wish I Was an Oscar Meyer Wiener,” one of the ten most popular jingles in U.S. advertising history (and also grammatically incorrect). A logo company writes that “All it takes is being a wiener to ensure the love of those around you.” [Who knew?]
These days, the ditty “One Eight Seven Seven Kars 4 Kids” runs through my brain day and night. Whenever we’re driving and my granddaughter hears it, she chimes in. If she expects a car when she’s 16, she’d better start singing a song that has stuck in my brain for years: “Tell Me Somethin’ Good!”
Last week, while barely moving in one of Oakland’s many traffic jams, a men’s underwear ad came on the radio. I started thinking about what kind of society spends money on ads for men’s underwear. Just ahead, at the clogged intersection, two guys were holding up “Homeless” signs and trying to collect money in coffee cans. They weren’t having much luck, but then “Homeless” isn’t a catchy pitch. What a world.
Envy, the green-eyed monster and one of the Seven Deadly Sins, is not one of my weaknesses…until I come across a bit of prose so fantastic that I wonder why I bother even trying. [Along these lines, the writer Mark Salzman was a promising student cellist when he saw Yo Yo Ma perform at Tanglewood and decided on the spot that “his playing was so beautiful, so original, so intelligent, so effortless that by the end of the first movement I knew my cello career was over….”].
Here is what I mean. Earlier this week I was looking for a good mystery to read and chose A Gentleman’s Murder by Christopher Huang. I like English mysteries, especially the tricky ones, so the Booklist review that included, “The mystery itself is clever and should keep even the most experienced whodunit finders guessing,” sent me right out to buy a copy. I wasn’t disappointed. If you can think of a better way to describe a city and its occupants by class, send it to me. Here’s what Christopher Huang wrote:
This was St. James. Clubland. The men traversing these streets walked with that air of self-assurance that comes from belonging to a privileged set. In bookish Bloomsbury, the Londoners drifted around the British Museum in the wake of literary romance. In the working-class areas of the East End, such as Limehouse or Whitechapel, they trudged with a grim determination, playing the cards they’d been dealt. South of the Thames, in Battersea, where in 1913 John Archer became the first black man elected as borough mayor, they simmered after a better tomorrow. But in affluent St. James, they simply knew that they were the Empire.
Wow. Just wow.
The second piece of prose I can’t get out of my head is, unfortunately, not fiction. It concerns the recent College Admissions Scandal. Fortunately, Caitlin Flanagan’s piece–They Had It Coming—in The Atlantic is both insightful and delightfully snarky. Flanagan worked for a few years as a guidance counselor at an elite high school in Los Angeles. Here’s a description of meeting with the students’ parents:
Before each meeting, I prepared a list of good colleges that the kid had a strong chance of getting into, but these parents didn’t want colleges their kids had a strong chance of getting into; they wanted colleges their kids didn’t have a chance in hell of getting into. A successful first meeting often consisted of walking them back from the crack pipe of Harvard to the Adderall crash of Middlebury and then scheduling a follow-up meeting to douse them with the bong water of Denison.
I don’t know anything about Denison—but can’t you just picture the meeting? That is really good writing.
And now…back to reading “A Gentleman’s Murder.” Have a good week!
Thirteen years of Catholic schools may not have done all my parents hoped, but they sure did turn me into a Grammar Queen. No, there weren’t any Grammar Kings in my school. The boys didn’t catch up until later when, in real life, they earned more money doing the same jobs we did. But I digress. I love grammar.
My kids will attest to the fact that every time they said, “Matt and me are going to the store,” I would respond, “Matt and I.” And then I would explain that one wouldn’t say “Me… am going to the store.” At best, they would revise this to “Me and Matt are going to the store,” and ignored my oft-repeated correction until it became a joke.
It’s not funny at all when I hear grownups say, “They gave it to Julie and I.” I resist saying, “Julie and ME. You wouldn’t say, ‘They gave it to I.’” I resist it because I value friendships and I don’t think many people appreciate jerks tinkering with their English (even when we’re grammatically correct).
This April 2 piece in the New Yorker about a copy editor’s convention in New York is terrific, including the sentence: “You could feel the excitement in the room when a slide appeared with the heading “HYPHENS!”
I can’t say I’m grateful for 13 years of Catholic School, though good things—lifelong friends, as well as excellent grammar and an aversion to plaid—remain. In what must surely be some sort of Cosmic Catholic joke, the view out our picture window includes five crosses, two Catholic schools and a church. Somewhere in heaven, my parents are smiling.
The past week was an interesting mix of The Good (Superbloom), The Bad (Kondo-ing by clearing out more accumulated STUFF) and The Ugly (learning that China is no longer taking any U.S. trash).
THE GOOD California’s unusual weather has yielded a cheering benefit just when we all needed it. After the devastating fire season of last Fall, hundreds of thousands of wildflowers are putting on a stunning show, beginning at the south end of the state and heading northward. Last week we drove 350 miles southeast to the Carrizo Plain, and here’s what we saw:
THE BAD The Kondo-ing of American homes (named after Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and host of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix) is spreading, at least among millennials. You can read about it in a previous blog here, or you can just remember that anything you keep around should “spark joy.” I like the idea of keeping belongings to a minimum but the idea of their sparking joy is a tough one. Toenail clippers? Pretty much a necessity but certainly not a joy-sparker! A secondary effect of Kondo-ing is that charities such as Goodwill are being inundated with clothing, furniture and knick-knacks to the point that they are turning donations away.
THE UGLY Apparently the Chinese have enough trash of their own and no longer find it useful or profitable to take ours. Until recently I recycled diligently, believing that someone somewhere would sort and repurpose our separated plastic, glass and paper. It turns out that, according this article in the New York Times, I may have been naïve.
Nevertheless, I believe it’s important to recycle and will continue to do so. Surely we have the ingenuity in this country (if not the priority) to turn trash into treasure.
Bibi and Poldi have split up after more than 90 years of “marriage.” The sad news of the breakup of two Galapagos Tortoises, reported here, made my sister Liz and me howl with laughter. What happens when love dies? If you’re a tortoise, it can get physical: “A keeper saw Bibi rear forward and bite a large chunk off of Poldi’s shell. (She drew blood.)” After a few years of trying to persuade the pair to reconcile, zookeepers gave up and put the tortoises in separate but adjoining indoor quarters. Their outdoor space is separated by a divider with a glass window so they can see each other. This seems to be fine with Poldi but unfortunately, when Bibi catches sight of him, “she hisses like a snake.”
Who among us hasn’t hissed at one’s long-time partner/roommate/friend occasionally? After 40 years of marriage, I can assure you I have. My husband sniffs a lot; it gets on my nerves. He objects to my throat-clearing. Neither of us has committed the human equivalent of taking a bite out of the other’s shell, however.
And as long as I’m telling animal stories…
Last month I was so irritated at CatmanDeux’s constant whining for food, I decided to try Ivan Pavlov’s experiment in classical conditioning. You may remember that the Russian physiologist used a variety of neutral sounds before feeding dogs and eventually the dogs salivated at the sound, even when they weren’t being fed thereafter. Catman is fed at 7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. For the past several weeks I have set my phone alarm to those three times and, sure enough, when the alarm goes off the cat snaps to attention and runs to his bowl: easy-peasy. The unintended and unfortunate consequences of this otherwise successful experiment are that I, a sleep-lover, now wake up at 7:29 every morning and Bill has begun to complain that when the 11:30 alarm sounds, he wants to eat lunch.
Have a good week!
Photo of tortoises by Magdalena Kula Manchee via Unsplash. Photo of Catman one of hundreds by me.
I like road trips in the U.S. It’s fun to see new places, visit old friends and learn about life in different parts of the country. Earlier this month my husband and I traveled to Tucson to visit our friends Judy and Clint and then continued north to the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell and the slot canyons near Page, Arizona.
The Grand Canyon was not on my list of places-to-see-before-I-can’t. I have seen so many pictures of it, I felt like I’d already been there. Well, let me tell you: it is more than Grand. It’s amazing–immense, multi-colored, ever-changing. I am so glad I got to see it in person. A slot canyon is pretty much what it sounds like: a narrow slot in sandstone formations, big enough to walk through and open at the top so the sun filters through. Like the Grand Canyon, slot canyons have to be seen to be fully appreciated.
We spent a couple of nights in Page, Arizona a town founded to house workers and their families during construction of the Glen Canyon Dam. The dam across the Colorado River created Lake Powell, a reservoir, and in the process destroyed one of the most beautiful canyons in the U.S. Before the trip, we reserved a room at the Lake View Best Western. Upon our arrival, we discovered that there was a lake view–if you happened to bring a very powerful telescope. Worse, the Lake View Best Western was right across the street from the Best Western Plus. When I asked what the difference was, the desk clerk replied, “The other one’s fancier.”
I like Best Western hotels. We often stay at them on road trips because they are clean, comfortable and have excellent staffs. All of this held true for the Not-Much-of-a-Lake View Best Western. But every time we drove past the Best Western Plus, I wondered what fanciness we were missing. It reminded me of the scene from Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, in which Woody looks through the window of his dark, dingy train full of unhappy, depressed-looking people into a car on the adjoining track where there is a brightly lit party in progress, complete with beautiful women in cocktail dresses, laughing and clinking champagne glasses with handsome men. I have remembered that scene for 40 years because it perfectly depicted how I have felt at times. Haven’t we all? But then there were the stunning canyons, the birds of prey and endless vistas. A good road trip is the perfect reminder of the fanciness available to all of us.
Home and feeling at home are often on my mind. Bill and I travel a lot, trying to find out as much about the wider world as we can. The best part for me is seeing how people live in other countries—what kind of shelter they inhabit, what they eat, how they treat each other.
Here are some unedited photos from our trip to Vietnam.