Sunday, February 9, 2020

ALWAYS LET THE BED COOL

I'm sure you're all familiar with aphorisms such as these, containing the accumulated wisdom of our species:

     Buy low, sell high.

     You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

     The early bird gets the worm.

These sayings have become hackneyed with overuse, so today I am going to give you some fresh material in the form of words of wisdom I have collected or coined over the course of my seven decades on Earth.

I hope that you will share some of yours in the comments.

Always let the bed cool.  (Elizabeth Purdie)

Some of you were probably taught to turn around and make your beds as soon as you arise.  Not me.  My Aunt Ella imparted these words of wisdom to me sometime during my growing up years:  "Always let the bed cool before you make it."  Brilliant.  I can let my body heat dissipate while I go off and do something more interesting.

So, brush your teeth and take a shower before making your bed.  And if you forget to come back and make it, just quote Aunt Ella.

Pour high.  (May Hayes)

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time at the home of my best friend, Bona.  He mother was a great one for imparting nuggets of wisdom.  One day, when I was pouring something from a wide-mouthed container into a narrow-mouthed jar, and managing to spill much of what I was pouring, Mrs. Hayes stopped me and gently said, "pour high."  So, I did.  And, lo and behold, the liquid stream became narrower and poured neatly into the container.

I think of Mrs. Hayes' words every time I fill the narrow opening in my bird feeder from the wide mouth of the container where I keep birdseed.  (Apparently, it doesn't have to be a liquid.) Here's the science: https://www.reddit.com/r/askscience/comments/2s5x8r/why_does_liquid_poured_at_a_height_thin/ 

A change is as good as a rest.  (James Speirs)

My father had boundless energy (sadly not inherited by me).  He could sit down, close his eyes, fall immediately asleep--then get up 10 or 15 minutes later, refreshed and ready to take on the next task.

But, he didn't always nap when he needed a breather.  Sometimes he would just switch to another activity, while repeating his favorite phrase:  "A change is as good as a rest."  These words don't always work for me, but they have sometimes come through in a pinch.  A couple of decades ago, when I was going through a really bad time, I took a bike ride with a friend.  After we were finished, I started toward home where I fully intended to take a nap.  (I was sleeping a lot during this crisis.)  Then, thinking of my father's words, it occurred to me that I had slept plenty the night before, and I went for a swim instead.  This was the beginning of my turnaround.

A bath is as good as a nap.  (me)

This is my rejoinder to my father's saying.

If I am tired on the late afternoon of a day when I have somewhere to be after dinner, and have run out of time to take a nap, I opt for a bath. Fifteen minutes of soaking both relaxes and refreshes.

So, a change or a bath -- your choice.  One of these two just might do the trick for you.

If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive.  (May Hayes)

Yep.  Mrs. Hayes again.  I have not been able to kill a spider since I first heard her recite the above words.  So, no, I don't smoosh that spider on the bathroom wall, or bedroom ceiling.  Instead, I drag over a chair, climb up on it, and carefully capture the spider under a drinking glass, sliding a piece of paper between wall and glass to keep the spider confined.  Then I open the front door, often in my sleepwear, and release the critter.

My garden thanks both me and Mrs. Hayes.  The spiders, however, do not seem to appreciate my thoughtfulness -- every year I sustain a spider bite or two or three while peacefully asleep . . .


Your children won't remember whether your house was tidy, but they will remember whether you played with them.  (unknown)

I read this one somewhere.  I hope it is true.  (This is not an excuse to live in a pigsty, but I think you get the drift.)  

Always carry a book.  (my husband) 

Bill keeps a book in the car, a book at his side of the bed (a stack actually), a book in his coat pocket, a book (another stack) on the coffee table -- you get the picture.  He is prepared for every idle moment.

Beats staring at your phone.

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.  (children's song)

Yes, it is possible to be happy and not know it, so pay attention.  I have written about this before, so I won't belabor the point.  You can read my previous post here: https://woacanotes.blogspot.com/2016/05/if-youre-happy-and-you-know-it-some.html


Until we meet again, may you pour high and never find yourself without a book.  (And please do share your words of wisdom in the comments.)



Image by Martin Castro on Unsplash

Friday, January 24, 2020

SWIMMING IN BOOKS: My Life As a Reader (Part I)

      When I started thinking about this post, it was my intention to tell you what reading had meant to me as a child.  How I could still see myself at age five or six, sitting in an overstuffed chair in my family's small living room, a pile of learn-to-read books on the arm of the chair, feeling the world shift and open as I deciphered the words on the page of each new book.  How, after I had conquered the rudiments of reading and gained some prowess, I would tag along with my best friend and her mother on their weekly trip to the public library, where I would carefully select five or six books, then take them home (barely able to contain my excitement during the ride) and hole up in my room to read them.  How, when I was about eleven, another friend's mother had chided me for reading what she called an adult book--A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (I'm still scratching my head over that one.) How reading allowed me to hide in plain sight, to slip off into another time or place while the adults around me assumed the presence of my body meant I was there in the room with them.  How in a chaotic household, presided over by an angry father, reading saved my life.

      And then I read Maria Popova's post on the subject on her Brain Pickings blog** and realized that everything there is to say about reading as solace for a sad and lonely child had already been said.  So, on this subject, I will simply leave you with these words from Mary Oliver as a teaser for Popova's post: "standing . . . deep inside books. . . can re-dignify the worst-stung heart."  

     I will today write instead about the role of books in my adult life.  The sad and lonely child is long gone, but the comfort, the sheer pleasure of reading remains.  The child who could not get enough of reading has morphed into the woman who continues to anticipate each new book with excitement and to feel anxious if her pile of yet-to-be-read books is not tall enough to topple.  Adulthood with its responsibilities and distractions notwithstanding, I read 75 books last year. The year before I read 74.  And before you jump to the conclusion that I spend half of every day lounging in an easy chair, let me disabuse you of that notion.  I would guess that of the books I read last year, I read about 25 while sitting in that easy chair or at the kitchen table or in a waiting room.  The rest -- and here is the secret to being able to read so many books despite the obligations of adulthood -- the rest I listened to.  


     Yep.  Ear buds firmly in place, I listened to book after book.  I listened while walking.  While gardening. While knitting.  While cooking.  While driving.  While waiting to fall asleep.  While not sleeping in the middle of the night.  


     In short, since the advent of audio books, I have conducted my life while reading. 


     I can hear some of you asking, "But is that really reading?"  I don't know.  Is cross-country skiing really skiing?  But I take your point.  I used to be a print snob too.  And then one day about 25 years ago, a book I had ordered from he library showed up in cassette-tape form--yes, that was the audio-book delivery system at the time.  As it happens, I was home with a cold or the flu or some such life-interrupting condition, and decided to give the tapes a try. I put on my my great big headset and lay there in my weakened state, letting the words wash over me, periodically rousing myself to change the cassette.  It was wonderful.

     

      I soon discovered that I didn't have to be sick to enjoy a book in audio form.  For the most part, the readers are terrific.  Remember how lovely it was to be read to as a child? The pleasure remains.  On the rare occasion where a reader disappoints, it is easy enough to return the audio version and seek out the same book in print.  And access has gotten easier over time.  Cassette tapes long ago gave way to CDs, after which CDs gave way to library apps.  These days, I have only to order a book from my library through the Libby app, and it will appear on my phone, as if by magic.  (I am convinced that it is magic.  Should there be many people wanting the book, I can place a hold on Libby, and the book will show up on my phone when it becomes available, courtesy of the same magic.) What could be simpler?  (Ten years ago, I traveled to Europe with a friend.  We each brought one paper back book.  When I finished mine, she started tearing off chunks of her book as she finished them, and handing them to me.  Thanks to easily portable audio and ebooks, such desecration is no longer necessary.)

      I am happy to report that listening to audiobooks has led me to read a wider range of books than ever before.  My time for reading printed books is limited, so I am careful where I spend that time. Audio books are another matter.  In the early days, when I had to satisfy myself with whatever cassette tapes or CDs were available on my library's shelves, I discovered books I would not otherwise have picked up.   My willingness to try new genres in audiobook form led to my trying out mysteries.  I would never have otherwise picked up Tana French or Louise Penny or Jacqueline Winspear.  What a loss that would have been.


      And then there is this.  When reading in bed, it is much safer to listen to a fat book than to hold one.  Take Dickens, for instance.   I like to return to Bleak House every few years, but if I were to fall asleep while reading and drop the book, I might injure myself.  Instead, I simply pop in my earbuds, turn on my book, and wait for sleep to arrive.  And on those nights when sleep is elusive--well, at least I'm getting some reading done without turning on a light.  


     Of course, I still love to crack open the spine of a "real book," and to settle in for whatever is contained in its pages, and I will continue to read in this fashion for as long as my eyes and my brain hold out.  But there is no more print snobbery for me.  Thanks to a combination of print and audio books, I am able to swim through my life on a tide of reading.  Sometimes the books are life rafts and sometimes they are guides, friends, entertainers, or teachers.  But always they have been my companions.

       I believe my childhood self would approve. 
      
** https://getpocket.com/explore/item/staying-alive-mary-oliver-on-how-books-saved-her-life-and-why-the-passion-for-work-is-the-greatest?utm_source=pocket-newtab%3Futm_source%3Dfbsynd&fbclid=IwAR2iwwMN3KX0TAsuj7CnRKjz_suKw6DfQrHGGn6CAN6Po-rkOL24DnsJgmc -- 
            

Monday, November 18, 2019

MIGHT AS WELL ENJOY THE RIDE: SOME THOUGHTS ON TURNING 70

Tomorrow is my 70th birthday.  This is a serious number, daunting even, yet it is possible that I have never felt less serious or daunted than I do today.  Instead, I feel almost giddy to find myself here, intact and thriving.  I am so very grateful. 

Here is some of what I have been reflecting on as this milestone approaches. 

How I thought about age over the years:

When I was 16, 24 was ancient, and, frankly, too distant to contemplate.

          When I was 24, I was entirely grown up, and wise enough to see that I had been but a child at 16.

When I was 28, I saw that I had been very young and quite unformed at 24.  (Are you seeing a pattern here?).  40 was the far side of forever, and frankly, too stodgily middle-aged to be on my radar.

When I had my first child at 35, and then my second at 38, and right up until the day each of them left home, I was too engaged with the eternal present to think much about getting older.  40 and 50 were in there somewhere. I sort of remember celebrating each.

When I was 56, my second daughter left for college and I looked up to find 20 years had passed since my first daughter came into the world.  I was surprised to find 60 looming ahead like an iceberg.  

           By the time I turned 60, the iceberg had mostly melted in the face of my very full life.  That life was good, if a bit overwhelming, what with work, graduate school, and an ailing mother.  I was aware of the speed with which time was passing by.  I was not pleased to think that 70 would be the next milestone; 70 looked like the beginning of the end.  

Things I could not have imagined on the road to 70:

At 70, I do not feel old.

At 70, I feel good, often great.  

          My life continues to be rich and full.

I look ahead with pleasure, curiosity, and eager anticipation.

Things I know:

80 will come.  

It will come quickly.  

There is a decent chance that I will still feel good at 80.  There is, however, no arguing with the fact that my wave is cresting.  I am sitting atop the crest.  The wave will fall, sooner or later, quickly or slowly.  In the meantime, to quote James Taylor, “Might as well enjoy the ride." 

The question I have been asking myself:  

         What do I want to do with the time, however short or long, that I have left?  

         I want to stop putting the things I should do (says who?) ahead of the things I want to do, the things I came here to do.  This is exciting.  And difficult – I have, after all, 70 years behind me of doing what I’m supposed to do. 

         So, what dowant to do?

1.    Play 
2.    Write
3.    Spend time with the people who matter to me
4.    Spend time in my garden
5.    Guard my alone time  (See 2 and 4 above)
6.    Spend less time on social media (because 1-5) 
7.    Say goodbye to perfectionism, impatience, and worry.



          Here’s the tricky part; I don’t want this to be another to-do list.  I want it to be a reminder not to waste my time. (This is not to be confused with whiling away my time.  Scrolling through my phone is mostly wasting; walking in the woods without a thought in my head is whiling). I want to wake up each morning and ask myself, What do I want to do today? Maybe some of you do this every day.  I haven’t been so good at it, even in retirement.  But I’m getting the hang of it. There’s nothing like a milestone birthday to focus the attention.  

           As I have been approaching this birthday, James Taylor’s The Secret ‘O Life has been playing in my mind. I love the image of sliding and gliding down to our finish. You can have a listen by clicking here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHWHPPHpAj8   (I think it loses something when it isn't sung, but I've included the lyrics in case you prefer the message in capsule form.*)

May the song speak to you as it has to me.  And 'til next time, try not to try too hard. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Me at 16 - On the road to adulthood

*Secret 'O Life
        - James Taylor

The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time
Any fool can do it
There ain't nothing to it
Nobody knows how we got to
The top of the hill
But since we're on our way down
We might as well enjoy the ride

The secret of love is in opening up your heart
It's okay to feel afraid
But don't let that stand in your way
'Cause anyone knows that love is the only road
And since we're only here for a while
Might as well show some style
Give us a smile

Isn't it a lovely ride?
Sliding down
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It's just a lovely ride

Now the thing about time is that time
Isn't really real
It's just your point of view
How does it feel for you
Einstein said he could never understand it all
Planets spinning through space
The smile upon your face
Welcome to the human race
Some kind of lovely ride
I'll be sliding down
I'll be gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It's just a lovely ride
Isn't it a lovely ride?
See me sliding down
Gliding down
Try not to try too hard
It's just a lovely ride
The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time

p.s. - Yes, I have written about a James Taylor song before.  See: https://woacanotes.blogspot.com/2019/09/fire-and-rain-on-time-travel-and.html No, I am not on his payroll.         


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

AMPUTATION: REQUIEM FOR A DOUG FIR

I have lived in my current home for 26 years.  When my then-husband and I decided to move all those years ago, I took on the search, and in the process, walked into – and right back out of – many houses.  Would we have to settle for just OK?  When I became discouraged, several people told me that when the right house came along, I would know immediately.

They were right.

When I walked into the house where I now live, I knew it was the house.  I knew because I had kissed dozens of frogs, and this house was obviously a prince, orange shag carpet and bordello-red bathroom notwithstanding.  I could see beyond the awful d├ęcor because nearly every house I had looked at needed a great deal of cosmetic work, and because, to my delight, the house was nestled in trees, many trees, mostly Douglas firs, or what we call Doug firs here in the Pacific Northwest.

The Doug firs, which are all over the neighborhood, had, by some miracle, been left standing when the house, and those around it, was built in the early 1960s.  (I often bless the unknown builder for this forbearance.)

The trees were big – well over 100 feet tall, and old – well over 100 years old.

And so, we settled into the house among the trees.  We tore out the orange shag carpet, repainted the bordello-red bathroom (along with the yellow and orange and chartreuse and royal blue bedrooms), planted gardens, and looked up often in wonder.



Over the years, other things changed; my then husband and I divorced; our daughters grew up and away; a new husband moved in.  But one thing stayed the same – the trees. Yes, from time-to-time a neighbor removed a tree, and occasionally one came down in a storm, but by and large the trees remained.

And then, last year, we had one of our Doug firs removed after being told it had been weakened by insect damage.  In these circumstances, removal seemed the prudent thing, given the wind storms that rush out of the Columbia River Gorge most years.  Still, we felt awful.  It was sickening to watch this tree that had been growing for over 130 years come down in two days.  First the limbs were amputated.  Then the trunk was brought down piece by piece.

It had housed birds and squirrels.  It had shaded our house.  And it had sequestered literally tons of carbon.*

Sadly, the story gets worse.  After the limbs were removed and after dismemberment of the trunk had begun, we learned that the tree had not suffered insect damage.  It was perfectly healthy.

We had committed arborcide in the first degree.

I intend no humor here.

When I was a child, I was taught in school that only humans could communicate or had feelings, that all other animals operated by instinct alone.  Plants were not even worthy of mention.  Of course, we have learned that our ideas about other animals have been all wrong.  Many have elaborate systems of communication.  But that is a topic for another time.

Lately, I have been learning about trees, about how they live in communities and, while they don’t have what we would recognize as brains, communicate through soil fungi, sharing nutrients and warning one another of insect attacks.** After reading The Hidden Life of Trees (Peter Wohlleben) and The Overstory (Richard Powers), I felt even more anguish about the removal of our tree.

And then there is this.  I fear we have started a movement.  Our next-door neighbors decided to have one of their Doug firs removed along with ours because its roots were pushing up their patio.  And right now, I am listening to the sound of chain saws as another neighbor has three Doug firs removed because the trees drop sap and needles on their cars.

I can hardly bear to watch.  I am so sad.

  

As you can see, many trees remain.  But each one taken down is a huge loss.  A loss for the creatures that made it their home.  A loss for our senses.  A loss for a planet that struggles to keep its air clean.

Each leaves a hole in the sky.

I hope the rest of my neighbors will safeguard their Doug firs better than we did (if only we had gotten a second opinion), and that we will all learn to appreciate and protect our oldest trees, to see them as fellow beings and not as inconveniences.  If we do not, I fear the world we leave to our children will be a poorer and more polluted one.

https://www.climatesolutions.org/article/mature-trees-are-biocarbon-heavyweights

**  https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-whispering-trees-180968084/

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

I CURSE YOU MICROSOFT

A while back, I heard someone on the radio talking about what she called “shadow work.”  She used this term to describe the unpaid hours we spend on work that someone else should be doing for us.

As an example she mentioned vacation planning, lamenting the loss of travel agents who used to do this for us.  Now we spend hours squinting at our computer screens, trying to put together the "best deal" for our next trip. 

Yesterday I spent 3 hours on shadow work of a different kind.  Today I spent 40 minutes.  All of this on the phone with Microsoft to try to resolve an issue with Word.

I won’t bore you with the nature of the problem.  I will share that it took me nearly an hour of answering questions from a robot, pushing various numbers on my phone, listening to horrible tinny music and messages suggesting I look for my answer online, to get a message telling me a human would call me in 20 minutes.  (Of course, I had already tried to find the answer up online – why did they think I was calling?!)

When, after more than 20 minutes, I got the call back, I first answered more robot questions, then was handed over to a human who asked the same questions AGAIN, then put me on hold (where I waited through more horrible tinny music and suggestions that I look up my answer online), while I was transferred to another human because the first human dealt only with Windows and I have a Mac.  

After the second human repeated the same questions, I, holding my phone to my ear attempted to keep up with his instructions using one hand, then switched to holding the phone to my ear with my shoulder – not easy to do with a cell phone.  Eventually, I allowed him to commandeer my mouse so he could fix the problem.  After he uninstalled Office and sold me a new version, we waited for the purchase to download.  When a message said download would take 40 minutes, I agreed he could tell me what to do when the download was complete, and we both got off the phone

By now two more hours had elapsed. 

When the download was complete, I followed the instructions the second human had given.  

Alas, when I opened Word, MY PROBLEM HAD NOT BEEN RESOLVED. *

I wanted to weep.  Or scream.  

I did neither.  I called a friend and vented, then took an Epsom salt bath (the phone-holding with the shoulder having left me with a sore neck and back). I lay in the tub fondly remembering my electric typewriter, which had never demanded more of me than a new ribbon.  And then I remembered carbon paper and Wite-Out, and had to acknowledge that word processing was a life changer.

I called Microsoft again this morning – this time I knew which buttons to push to get a human, but I still got a Windows human and had to be transferred to a Mac human and I still had to answer robot questions and the same questions from each human.  

Doesn’t anyone take notes?

By the time I got to human number two, I was just the teensiest bit testy.  My mood was not improved by the fact that I could barely hear her over the voices of the other phone helpers, one of whom was talk/yelling so loudly that I wondered why he needed a phone. 

I am sorry to say I was not nice.  I am not proud of the version of myself I showed to her.  I know none of this was her problem, but a person can just take so much.

I am happy to say she solved my problem.  I am sorry to say it took another 40 minutes.  

Each human was very nice.  Each was so sorry for my inconvenience.  Each kindly told me I was entitled to free tech support any time I need it.  

Seriously?  

If it’s going to take 3 hours and 40 minutes of telephone torture for them to resolve a tech problem, I want more than free tech support.  

I want house calls.  

I want to be reimbursed for my time.

I want a gift certificate for a massage to ease my tensed up shoulders and neck.

I want phone trees to be outlawed.

I want to put Bill Gates in a room and make him listen to Microsoft’s robot voice repeating the same message over and over and over again – with an occasional break for horrible music.  

Look, I know Microsoft isn't the only culprit.  But it was the culprit yesterday and today, so it gets my wrath.

I'm on to you companies that use phone trees.  I know you know that phone trees and long wait times and robot voices are crazy-making.  I know you know you don't have enough people to answer your phones and don't intend to hire more.  I know you are hoping I will get so frustrated that I will go away and live with my problem. 

Shame on you!

I also know this is a First World problem.  I know I am lucky to have a computer and a house to keep it in and a cell phone with which to seek technical support.  The thing is, I live in the First World and, in order to function well here and do what I do, which includes a lot of writing, I need word processing.  And it shouldn’t take nearly 4 hours of my time for Microsoft to fix, or help me to install, its product.  

Thank you for taking the time to read this rant.  I am sure you all have stories of your own.  I’d like to hear them.  

Misery loves company.  



* I don't blame the underpaid human.  He could only do so much over the phone.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

FIRE AND RAIN; On Time Travel and Sombreros

           So, you’re going about your business, happy or not--thinking of something important or nothing at all.  And then it happens--the chance playing of a song that absolutely shreds you.  If you have been alive for, say, four decades, you have been around for long enough to know what I am talking about--the sudden intrusion of the past into your present.  The unbidden, unexpected injection of a powerful past emotion into your current life, bringing about a moment so charged you can hardly breathe.  
         This is not nostalgia, which my dictionary defines as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”  Nor is it to be confused with the purposeful playing of a song to bring back fond memories.  
         No.  There is no longing here.  No volition.  It is not an attempt to bring back the past.  It is the past breaking through—not a wrinkle in time, but the rending of time        
         Anyone who says there’s no such thing as time travel is simply too young to have experienced this phenomenon.  For me, today, it was James Taylor’s Fire and Rain.   February 1970.  For those too young to remember, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOIo4lEpsPY  
         I wish I could tell you why this song.  Why today.  I have loved James Taylor since I first heard him, and have loved this song, with its melancholy wistfulness, in particular.  The lyrics have always been evocative, and they mean even more to me now (at an age where the losses are piling up) than they did in 1970.  Still, I would not have predicted that the song would have the effect it had when I chanced to hear it today.  
         This wasn’t a reaction to the lyrics; this was me transported. This, from the first few notes, was me momentarily inhabiting my 20-year-old body and psyche, feeling a set of emotions I haven’t felt with precisely this sharpness in decades.  Of course, I have known fire and rain; there have been plenty of highs and lows.  But there is a quality of emotion that can only be felt by the very young when the world is new and everything is before them.  This was me at 20 again, if only for a moment.
         So, was the moment a blessing or a curse?  Maybe it was neither.  Maybe it was simply a glimpse at the nonlinearity of time; maybe it suggests that time runs in loops, rather than a straight line. 
         I’d like to think so. 
         The older I get, the less interested I am in straight lines and the more open I am to curves and loops and waves.  After all, there are few straight lines in nature; so, why should time hew to the linearity of our calendars?
         The poet Wallace Stevens understood the limitations of right angles and straight lines.  He had this to say:

         Rationalists, wearing square hats,
         Think, in square rooms,
         Looking at the floor,
         Looking at the ceiling.
         They confine themselves
         To right-angled triangles.
         If they tried rhomoids,
         Cones, waving lines, ellipses—
         As for example, the ellipse of the half-moon—
         Rationalists would wear sombreros.
         
         And so I leave you with this wish:  May your sombreros be wide and round, and may your past break through just often enough to work some gentle curves into your straight lines.