Monday, August 31, 2015

A Simple Rebalancing

Why am I not simple now?

I’ve been here before, you know,
watching loads spin out of sync.
Never think the load will shift
and bangety bang my peace.

I rearrange and spread the sheets
of heavy out to ease the spin
and turn my back and there it is
the bangety banging once again.

I’ve muscled sheets back into place
the livelong mother day-
till arms are tired, back is sore,
but now it's going to change.

My load has changed, my mode has changed
my sheets have gotten wee,
and dainties now have grown in weight
so spin should come with ease.

Why did I make such a fuss?
Years of angst and pain
to see that balancing the load
is natural as rain!

So - why am I not simple now?
As first I came to prance
when all my washing did itself
and I knew only dance?

My Third Way beckons.
Spread that load among the gems and pearls
among my pleasures, living here
amid the spins and whirls.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hung on the Nail of Devotion

Today is a day 
I will leave my hat on,
to wear it wherever 
I want me to be,
to take me to tea 
or to play by the sea
or in sweet reverie,


Monday, August 24, 2015

Lookin’ for Life in All the Wrong Places: Five New Perspectives on the Joys of Age

Getting old is indeed a bitch, and I am trying very hard to find where the real positives are.  As I get more aches and pains in the body that once didn’t have hardly any, it is easy to focus on the losses rather than the gains. There is no doubt that I have lost physical power, dexterity, flexibility, and strength, and with those the ability to keep up repairs and housework on the home that I love, move stuff around inside and out to accommodate my many interests, care for two dogs bigger than my grown children, and a whole host of activities with which I have been happy for many many years. have spent the last 10 years dealing with this trajectory and it is easy to see how much work and attention it will take to cope in the future, but my point here is, what else is going on that is on the positive side?  

A few years back I was feeling that losing my power as the female head of family, the one who did dinners and parties and made arrangements for all ritual, was a big loss.  A tragedy even.  At age 60 I still needed dinner service for 12, a drawer full of tablecloths, another of napkins, and a cupboard full of candleabra and vase choices. I am getting over it. Today the thought of a formal meal for 12 is not impossible, but it is not a happy one.  And I see that the inability to physically accommodate that kind of party has freed me from the NEED to have that kind of party.  Big dinners were once a great pleasure for me, but the pleasure of NOT having that kind of party has taken me over.  If I must feed that many people, it will be a pot luck and paper plates!  The hard work of cleaning, prepping, cooking, serving, and clearing up is too much for me now and I joyfully avoid it.

Others joys I have found include:

Less patience with putting myself third.  I have always had plenty of energy and could take care of everyone else without completely abandoning my own needs.  Separate vacations, business of my own, back to school after kids, etc.  But I still FIRST ran the household and met everyone else’s needs. I got my leftover time. While it is still a struggle, I try very hard now to schedule me first. Selfishness has become a virtue.

Greater appreciation for the many many skills I have developed over the long run of years.  There seems to be nothing that I want to do now that I have not already practiced or at least become familiar withA lifetime of experimentation has now to be replaced with choices that are probably my last big ones – at my age there are no longer any Mulligans. While that is scary for me, I find I am comfortable with looking at the wonderful array of skills I have developed that are open to me for future happiness.  This is a place that a younger person could never be; it speaks of accomplishment and future goals at the same time.

Increasing commitment to friends. My family are all busy with their own growth and futures and I am relegated to whatever place they have already put me in their lives anyway.  They probably won’t notice a slight withdrawal from me nearly as much as I will, and my friends have things in common with me that support my future in a way my family do not. I see travel and adult companionship in my future.

The second part of this is that as we begin to fail, there will be increasing sickness and death.  I can ignore this and stick my head into the youth and business of my family, or I can help my friends as much as I can, stand by as they need me.  That means more phone calls and cards and letters and packages and visits.  Anyone who still has her mind can attend others in this way, and although it is bittersweet, it is righteous.

Confidence in my own opinion across a whole range of issues, including my health. We are so used to going to experts for advice about every little thing that it has taken a while to understand that the answers I have sought from them are very often confused and more than occasionally flat out wrong. What I think counts double now, as I am in this body and I know it better than anyone. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Structuring Reality: Buildings as Symbols

Construction projects have been of interest to me for years. I like to watch them.  

In spring of 2009, work began on a new student services and classroom building on the east bank of the Mississippi River, just behind and below the walkway behind my own workplace; I could stand at a wall and look down and over a street into the new gaping hole where a structure had been just weeks before. Good times. This is where I began taking my morning breaks.

As they rearranged the earth and moved in a sky-high crane to maneuver in the limited space, I watched daily while swarms of yellow-pinneyed people and dodging bobcats and huge trucks built structures, poured foundations, moved mountains of supplies, raised pillars, and gradually created solid order out of mass confusion right before my eyes.

At that time I was struggling with how to approach the last part of my life, and struggling as well with finding the motivation to care in the face of what felt like overwhelming confusion and chaos. Friends and family were becoming sick or dying, age was rearing its ugly head all around me. I knew personal choices were going to be required but they all just kept going around and around in my head. I could just work out my time and retire like anyone, but I was thinking that not having goals for the next 20 or more years might get real old real fast.  I don’t like golf. I am not much interested in giving away more of my time: I did a whole bunch of that when I was a stay-at-home mother and entrepreneurial artist, and even more trying to get a second contracting career off the ground in my midyears. Even traveling, which I love, would have financial limits in such a retirement and my partner is not interested.  

On the other hand, I could retire to any of the creative activities I had developed in earlier years, finally becoming a good fine artist or prolific bookmaker or a writer or a volunteer archaeologist (butcher, baker, candlestick maker)–the choices made my head spin.  I must be REALLY old to have done all that stuff!  Then, I was offered an opportunity at my workplace to take an even more intense job designed for my own skills–a chance to grow some career into what is basically an administrative and not creative worklife, and I would not be forced to retire no matter what. What to do????

I began thinking that lives, like buildings, need foundations and carefully planned structure.  Soon I started playing a game with myself by trying to think what things I would need in the foundation of a future planned existence, and all summer as the crew below me poured basement walls and put up supporting pillars, I thought through what I would need to support each of the life scenarios I was considering.   I discovered that at the basement level, each scenario required the same things, that common to all forward motion in my life are the things most important to me now: retaining my relationships with family, assuming joy and finding emotional satisfactions, conducting a life that gives me personal and intellectual satisfactions, and maintaining my body to the degree that it does not interfere with my other goals.

The entire process of watching the new building go up became the analogy that structured my choices for a future that I believe will keep me positive and interested in living during years that so often produce pain and bitterness. The concreteness of the real structure has lent strength to my confidence in my internal structures, and I think that without this I would not have been able to sort what was most important to me, choose what I think is best for me, create the internal fortitude that will realize my bucket list. I emerged excited about my plan and overwhelmed with the power of personal symbols. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Part Two: Storage and Backup

In the beginning was the server.  There were no “desktop” computers, and the servers were directly accessed with complicated coded messages designed to get answers from calculations based on on or off, 1 or 2 positions within the mechanics of the beast, by operators who typed into the server keyboard. As the mechanics became larger and faster and more questions could be answered and calculations performed, the “languages” developed to speak to it were codified so that regular people could learn them to use them to punch 1s and 2s into cards, that were then fed into the servers that were by then so large they took up half a floor of a library (you remember that, from about 1970, right?).  

The technology for moving components in the machines closer together, based on how much heat the traveling electrons emitted and how well the materials used could take it, advanced exponentially through the 80s, mostly through the innovations of Seymore Cray, the eccentric genius of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and suddenly the monsters were tamed to the size of (and looked like) a hotel banquette while they could crunch enough numbers to impress entire nations. No one then envisioned a laptop.

But the desktop computer was the next big thing (well, small actually) to come down the pike, and then the competition was for making as much memory or space for calculations inside the tiny things as possible all through the 90s. At the same time, the desktop design facilitated their use in all kinds of businesses that could not have afforded the cost or space of the previous computers. Once this started to happen, and the little things could not store all the bits of information from a whole big company inside, the familiar term “server” came in use, where the desktops downloaded their data to work on from machines in the back of the house that could store much, much more.  They used to sell racks for stacking the servers higher and higher as companies needed to keep more and more information, and from these the desktops became cable-connected “workstations” that would then “backup” or transfer the new data they created through the cables to the on-site servers every night. Basically, this is still how it works in most large corporations, but the exponential growth of memory has made servers much more compact and easier to have around. Since the internet has become available, the amount of saved information boggles the mind.
Now, there is the Cloud. I have had little direct experience with the Cloud, as I am paranoid and assume that one day we will wake up and nothing electronic will work.  I am placing my bet that if I have electricity to power the iPad I can read the books I have stored in it (which BTW was the reason I got it to start with–over 200 books and counting and not a bit of shelf space used!).  I am purchasing a hand-crank generator for that. Whereas, if you have stored information on a remote Cloud server, you could not access it without the internet.  Which is probably doomed, but it is the only communications game in town these days. I hear they may shut down the post office! New devices incorporate the Cloud for your information almost whether you want it or not. I doubt it can be avoided for very long. 

The Cloud is a very large bank of servers created by companies in electronically centralized but physically redundant and widespread places where you (or the company you work for) can store your infomation off site (the site being your computer or device) for a fee, of course. Your servers will back up to their servers through the internet. Actually, some services, like my Kindle e-book service, provide the extra Cloud space so you will buy more and not worry about filling up the multigigabytes you have in the device at no overt charge to you.  Other online Cloud services like Dropbox provide a smaller amount of memory for free (like 2 gigabytes)  and then if you want more, there will be a charge. The Cloud location out there in the universe is handy if you have two or more computers, say work and home, because you can access it through the internet from any location. They make it easy to drag and drop a file from one computer into the Cloud that can then be found and downloaded into another. This is the best benefit I see in the Cloud, although I guess if I had kilogigs of music or maxibytes of scientific data I might be more interested. Still too paranoid to rely on it, I am bummed to find that all the computer applications I know and love, like Word and the Adobe Suite, have begun to be available for upgrade only by purchasing licensed monthly access from the Cloud. Buying an upgrade for your applications is another shining artifact of the past, and I find this makes me very anxious.  I do believe there is little recourse if you intend to stay connected, however, so I am going to just suck this up and do it. Everything I own needs upgraded, a bit of old-fashioned planned obsolescence if I ever saw it!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

About Face

No sooner had I crossed that bridge,
come to it in innocence,
fantasies not one bit like
the trueness of the place,
the winds began to whip and buck
and toss me to the ridge.

There’s been no time to look behind
or view on down the mount,
as so it seems this part of town
is famous for the bay of hounds
from hell intent to fiee the bounds
of flesh and blood and mind.

Where has been my calming space
for deep consideration?
Where the mat to find my place?
The howling stream of soul survivors
soaks me up and turns to torrent,
picking up the pace.

Change is here, so seeming strange
I can’t remember otherwise.
All is now bent forward, over
after, last, and everlasting
life behind, our new and final face
we wear approaching death.

Make it mine, the face I find -
it blooms without my knowing,
glows and grows my understanding,
awed but barely comprehending.
Final face with scars alight
and fascinated eyes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Sorceress of Jive

Lift your neck and pound the keys,
raise the bells of brass,
drums that knock me to my knees,
and conjure up my past.

In my cradle, music slept
like sound surround, rocking me,
cuddling me with Dixieland
and blues and jazz and harmony.

Trombone laughing, Grandpa led
a whole procession by my bed,
screwed his eyes up with delight
in Satchmo, god of all things bright.

Dad leaned in with trumpet high
to softly wail a lullaby
and such a lucky babe as I
had music in my cradle.

Everybody raised their voices,
uncles, aunts, cousins, me,
quartets, choirs, solos, choices
long forgotten, history.

Wondrous keyboard, rocking rhythm,
squealing brass and joyful noise,
phantoms forming, now they stand
playing with you in your band.

Who are you to pound out ghosts?
How is it you know my heart,
rocking me in memories and
rolling me to silent tears?

Lift your neck and pound the keys,
raise the bells of brass,
drums that knock me to my knees,

and conjure up my past.

Friday, August 7, 2015

"Do You Want to Live Forever?!"

Raise your hand if you recognize the title quote. It's from Sandahl Bergman’s Valeria, Conan the Barbarian’s lost love, inviting him to melee.

Valeria was only in the first movie, and after she took an arrow for Schwarzenegger's Conan, the poor wrecked superbarbarian was doomed to search for her through the rest of the series unrewarded. She was a thief and a warrior of skills equal to his own, and she captivated him completely. Standing before a lethal drop into the evil king’s domain, going for the gold, he falters and she taunts him with smile and broadsword: “Do you want to live forever”? For me, Valeria is the feminine face of risk, where the rush is in the odds and the action, and may I never be too timid to call it up once again.

In an important way, the risks we take as older people are stacked for or against success by the sum of our experiences: the more we have the better the odds.  So if you were a victim of your Terrible Twenties you may have more “common sense” than someone with less, um, practice sorting people’s intentions and separating opportunity from disaster. If you remember, damn!  that was a young person’s game - very expensive emotionally, physically, and/or financially when you lost, and in my case I lost a lot.  But even the biggest losses instilled in me knowledge of outcomes that now through the prism of all these years solidify into wisdom.  And so they were not really losses; maybe I think of them as battles lost to win the war.

This is not to say that you should not take risks if you haven’t much before, but it would be wise to look fully and cautiously into where you may be jumping; evil kings abound. The world is full of scam after scam enticing us to separate from our money, talents, or power, more than ever before now that we are growing more frail.  If you don’t have any money, you can be relieved on this count, but we all have other things of value that can be lost, including innocence and self-respect.

And yet, there is the thrill of taking a risk.  It does not need to be a large one, and it does not need to be a lethal one.  But if we don’t take any at all (like perhaps not going to coffee with that nice widower who asked you out or not going to a group meeting you find interesting?), if we never do things that are new or unknown, we will smile a lot less and our wits get no practice!  The most important thing, as Valeria’s shining eyes reveal as she jumps over the side and into the fray, is to have the rush, to feel the excitement of doing something you want to in spite of reasons to not.

The more afraid you are, the more threatening and strange things become. As we age, we imagine more things can hurt us and so we are more cautious and less adventuresome.  I believe it is important to keep excitement with us, to keep a sense of warring for our own happiness, the opportunity for risk.  The less we fear,  en-joyment we will find.

Monday, August 3, 2015

We Called Ourselves Freaks

Yes, we were Hippies, but we were serious. We differentiated ourselves because of our intentions. Hippies were only serious about partying; we were just as interested in social change, most immediately protesting the needless war in Vietnam and the breathtaking injustices of our racist and sexist culture, and the greedy bastards on Wall Street who have since shown us just how evil they could grow up to be. Sad, sad, sad!

You would see us in our frayed jeans and work shirts, almost a uniform, denying our feathered and brocaded brethren. We called ourselves Freaks.

Throughout the 1980s it fascinated me to watch the media trash and trivialize a movement that encompassed almost a third of a generation.  After the end of the war in 1975 and the following descent into madness that was Watergate, Hippies were roundly caricatured and forgotten as quickly as possible (with the exception of rock and roll bands), and never did you hear the name for the people who brought us the environmental movement, the food co-ops and organic farming, the tenants unions, the free clinics. A whole generation of idealists left unnamed and uncelebrated and relegated to the shallow "me generation" drug culture that had caused the righteous hardworking middle class so much grief, as if we were adolescents going through puberty. In fact, it was a different kind of puberty to learn in your 20s that all those 1950s Sunday School Christian Values we were taught were degrees of, if not outright, lies.

We Freaks did not get over it. We still sit out here watching with outrage a cultural demise so extreme that we cannot believe it. A disconnect with our most sincere belief that we could make a difference, that modern tools could make life better for masses of people. Who said that a cynic is a disillusioned idealist? He was correct.