Est Bonum Vitae

There’s no food!

“There’s no food in here!’ says the woman in front of the refrigerator.

“There’s only ingredients!”

Exactly where I am with cooking. Then, there is shopping–getting stuff out of bags, washing it, chopping, grilling, sautéing, seasoning, plating, serving, putting everything away. It all seemed so easy at some point in the far past. Like when we had parties. Or went to the movies. Or hugged our friends. Being unable to make food out of ingredients is just the beginning. There is also the general deterioration of housekeeping.

None of our friends have been allowed in our house for months. So, of course, our house is a mess. For one thing, it is strewn with half-finished projects. I set up a sewing corner where I created one of a kind masks for my family: Nana masks. You should know, I only passed 7th grade home economics by gluing my final project together. Anyway, the kids like paper masks in the summer.

We have a children’s play area in the same space with the sewing station. The gym equipment is next to the sewing machine station on the other side from the extra guitars. My poetry project is one the coffee table next to the itch spray for the dog’s skin. On the couch next to me lie the last three pages of a list of references I am checking for my Handbook Chapter with Oxford. I am filled with loathing just looking at it.There is also a novel and a book I’m reviewing along with the cross-stitch project I started three years ago.

That’s just the living room. The yard is a whole other thing. And then, of course, there are the phone calls. You can’t see anybody, so you have to talk to them on the phone or, if there are a lot of them, on Zoom. Neither Larry nor I are totally with it on our Zoom calendars, a fact which our nephew (who graduated from college in computer science and philosophy) makes abundantly clear when he entreats us to do something or other by poking about in the Zoom menu.

I fear I’m wearing down now. This must be the final stretch, right?

This month, the Governor of the Great State of California, announced an entirely new scheme for understanding who can do what where, when, and with what “modifications.” It is color-coded by county. Santa Barbara, where I live, is purple. I discover this just as I am arriving at the outdoor operation of my hair salon. Everyone is masked, outdoors, spaced (looks like plenty of room to me) apart. I relay the information to Andrea, the operator of this small, woman-owned business.

“What does that mean?” She asks.

“I’ll try to figure it out,” I say.

“Can we go back inside? Purple sounds okay.”

“The governor says that 87% of California is purple.”

It turns out that Purple is also “Tier 4,” which is pictured at the top of the scale, is the worst tier mentioned. Get this! In the new plan, Red is better than Purple. Also, there is Orange, and Yellow which are all better than Red. There is no green and I have deduced that Blue would be even worse than Purple. Who is this guy’s communication avoidance advisor?  I honestly do not think that anyone can understand what the new plans means because, as upside down as it is, when you click through each level, to understand the modifications required, there is so much legalese that you give up immediately.

Apparently, the Governor and his entire team of 100 outstanding leaders on the re-opening team have reached the stage that Larry and I are at. Get obsessed by your list of references. Argue about how to hang the curtains while the house is burning down. In my neighborhood, people are at each other’s throats about the necessity of masks when you are walking your dog. We concentrate on what we think we might control as the opportunity arises.

September is the start of the school year, for heaven’s sake. This is sacred space for me as a single mother. This is the moment that, for so many years, my life became manageable almost barely. This is the time of year when I would meet my new students, when life would begin again for me as a child, when I could escape my family until at least 3pm. Other people’s blood runs high in the spring, mine peaks at the end of October. I once wrote a poem about Halloween in which I argued that it is the only good holiday.

Taking up this epistle two weeks later, I can report that we are creeping into Red—maybe Monday we will move up (although it is pictured as down on the Governor’s chart), from Purple to Red, where, apparently, those schools with good plans for safety can welcome some students back. We got indoor hair salons (with modifications) after we had been in purple for two weeks. You have to stay at each level for a minimum of two weeks.

On the TV, I hear that New York is experiencing ‘cluster outbreaks,” and maybe this is the first evidence of the “Fall Surge.” So maybe we will not get to Red this week, or if we do we will get “rolled back,” because of the surge. I wonder what is worse than purple. Will we be blue or black? Also, Halloween has been cancelled.

It’s August and we have finished everything we can think of to do that we might want to do. We are left with the things we do not want to do, like clean the garage and paint the office. In phase one of the shut-down, when we still all thought we’d be out by the end of May, Larry built raised beds for vegetables and a shack for my orchids, but he clearly doesn’t want to fix the fence. I must have sewn two dozen masks and planted a butterfly garden. I’ve organized my closets and drawers. The carpet has been steam cleaned. I finished the fun part of my chapter for the Oxford Handbook of Adult Development and Wisdom and worked on some old poetry. 

I’m left with figuring out how to embed video on my website and making a few more Instagram videos about various aspects of advanced directives. Also, the garage is a mess. These are things I would be doing Covid or no, but I used to be able to treat myself to dinner out or a new dress when I finished. Now, the restaurants are closed down again and it’s kind of creepy to buy things in a department store where customers are rifling through the racks and sticking their feet in the shoes. Can you get Covid from shoes?

Then, there are the days when I’m not going to get anything done at all, no matter how hard I try and even if Mercury is not in retrograde. I can’t straighten anything out at the bank because the phones are overwhelmed and you can’t go down to the branch and talk to a person. It is very hard to get a date with the DMV to renew your license before it expires, or get hold of the IRS to try and find out where your refund is. You wait in line for someone to answer the phone; when it finally picks up, it’s a message that tells you to go online to resolve your issue, but you are calling in the first place to get help with something you could not figure out on line.

Other days, I just can’t make it all the way out of bed, not for lack of sleep, but for lack of enthusiasm about getting up. There will be more bad news. Things will go wrong; the President will tweet at 5am; the news will dish up some horror story; the radio will remind me to wear a mask and wash my hands as though I never heard about it before. Things I bought at the store every week for the last million years won’t be there anymore—or ever again, like Clorox disinfectant wipes. The stock comes and goes at random from the shelves at Vons. Why are there no pepperoncini?  NPR reports that we are running out of the tin the cans are made of.

I know people everywhere have lost their jobs, or their apartments, or both–people who can’t feed their families, people who have no health insurance. I’m grateful to be who I am, where I am, but that doesn’t stop me from having days when the world is more than I manage: when I am too angry, when I am too sad, when I would run away, if only there was somewhere to go.

If my grandkids don’t return to school in the Fall, I don’t know how my kids will ever make it through Zoom school while they are all working. That means that I may soon be teaching 7th grade math or 3rd grade social studies. It’s not the material that’s the problem. It’s how they do it, especially the math. I can get the answer using methods I learned 50 years ago, but it only makes them cry because it is not the way you’re supposed to do it now.

All of this wishing and wanting and judging is exhausting by itself, without having to wear a mask and rubber gloves to the pharmacy. I used to find ordinary things relaxing. I have always loved grocery shopping, especially  the produce section. I have spent a lot of time in pet stores, often with small humans in tow. I don’t go to the pet store these days. It’s easier and cheaper online, and anyway the pet shop doesn’t show off kittens and puppies anymore. I can’t take my grandkids inside to marvel at ordinary household pets or to beg for goldfish, pretending that their mother would not mind at all. In fact, they’d attest, their mom would say that it was fine with her.

Nothing is more soothing than puppies.

Two weeks and a few days after the 4th of July, our whole family got together. Things were good in California. We celebrated. Our kids were on their way back to work. School would probably open. The hospitals were churning out knee replacements and hernia repairs. I was able to see my new doctor in person. He had a mask on and complained about how difficult it was to manage his work and his home life. It’s possible we are friends now.

Then it all shut down again.

Last week, Larry told me that researchers have documented cognitive decline among people in isolation. These studies were done in “care facilities.” Persons in care facilities are not the only ones. Both Larry and I have trouble remembering what day it is anymore, much less what we are supposed to be doing. We start things and wander off to other things. We argue about who said what to whom when. We even blow past a Zoom call now and then, but I’m not sure this is age-related. Zoom calls can be dull as a post. Children won’t sit still for them.

And so, we soldier on around here, doing our best to stay safe, to appreciate our family and friends, to help out as we are able, and to find hope that all of this will somehow, someway, lead to a better future. There certainly are noticeably more birds and butterflies. Smelly the skunk is back, and so are Dead Guy the possum and Buzz the hummingbird. We didn’t see them last year. They are joined this year by Fatso the lizard and Howie the Western Scrub Jay (and his friends and family). The slower pace seems to suit them just fine.

Of course, they don’t have to walk through the mess in the garage every day.

     March, 2020

I’m not going to watch anymore TV news. Not even PBS.

Newscasters who scream the news, or spend hours trying to pin

our misery on the President, who is losing the battle with his demons.

There is no real news: just new numbers, more deaths, more

                            new cases more

                            new hospitalizations, more

                            patients in ICU. And now,

                           more recovered.          

ER nurses blanch in horror; small businesses have disappear.

                           We sit in a stupor; eat too much.

                           We can’t remember

                           what we did this afternoon, or

                           how long this has been going on.

                          We are safe here inside these walls.

An occasional grandchild invades,

touches doorknobs and nonporous surfaces.

Later, we spray with Clorox Household Cleaner.

We explain to the little ones.

                          We can’t hug you. We can’t

                          touch you. We can’t

                          sit by you. But

                         we wish we could.

Lily is twelve and taller than me.

She touched my face today and grabbed my hand.

                         She’s not supposed to.

                         She forgets. Or

                         feels rebellious.

Me too. I want to touch then, to kiss them, to lie in their arms.

I can wash my hands forever if I can hug them again.

April, 2020

                                          The Plague

I am running out of projects.

I finished my last academic paper—ever. That’s it. The end. Basta.

There will be feedback to accept, references to extract from the welter

of notes made in long-hand on yellow pads with green lines, the way

I have done it all of my life.

Or at least as long as I can remember.

Now…what?

This summer there will be family and beaches. Shops will be open.

Gyms, hair salons, small businesses. Beyond that it’s vague.

                                      There are not enough tests.

                                      There are not enough swabs.

                                     There are not enough reagents.

                                     There are no PPCs, nor N95s.

                                     There are no surgical masks.

On the TV today, Trump says that we are about to be amazed

by this new test that is definitely going to be released soon.

Good. I am totally willing to be amazed.

                                     Amaze me!

I want to hug my grandchildren, put an arm around the guy

down the street who lives alone. I want to laugh over a glass

of wine in a good restaurant with my friends. I want to kiss

people I love and choose cantaloupes by pressing on the rind.

You can’t smell the roses with a mask on.

Please! Amaze me.

May, 2020

We are in the waiting time.

You know. It has been announced. Things are about

to CHANGE, but not right now. The Governor started

out saying weeks, months, maybe years.

                            It was so simple two weeks ago when

we knew that we should stay home, order out, send

our grown children out to shop for us or hire

someone else’s grown children.

We didn’t have to worry about consequences for

other people, 30 million unemployed,

most with no health insurance.

                              It was so simple two weeks ago.

We would stay home forever if that is what it took.

We would stop traveling, stop touching our children,

wear masks everyday for a million years to stop the thing.

But. it turns out:

                               we can’t stop the thing.

                               It will be here for months, maybe.

                               More people will die.

                              More children will feel they caused it.

Now, however, we are in the waiting time. They have told us

they will let us out now. The Governor talks now in terms

days and weeks, not months. He fears rebellion.

The word quarantine derives from Italian for forty.

                               Forty days in the Garden.

                               Forty days in the ark.

                              Forty years in the desert.

The ancients knew that 40 meant the end of the human patience.

No kidding!     

How to Talk to Kids about Coronavirus

based on an article by Pam Rutledge, Ph.D., media specialist.

In the midst of this pandemic, we are all trying to get answers makes us feel safer. This isn’t just true of adults. It’s true for kids, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty and Covid-19 evokes a lot of uncertainty and fear. Kids are dealing with their own social and academic uncertainties and are highly tuned in to their own sources and worries. Kids hear a lot of what adults hear but it’s filtered and translated by young brains. This means kids are easy targets for misinformation and a lot of wrong information can sound believable and terrifying.

How do you talk to your kids about the coronavirus when there are so many things we don’t know?

Here are 10 ideas:

  1. Start with your own anxiety.  Do a quick check-in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. We communicate emotions just like we communicate information. Voice, movement, facial expressions and even being distracted all communicate our state of mind. Try not to transmit your own anxiety.
  2. Before you talk, figure out what is important for kids to know.  What is age appropriate? Remember that they think differently than adults and worry about different things. They often feel they have powers to cause harm or to fix things when there is little they can do one way or the other.
  3. Listen to them. Begin with questions. Find out what they already know. This will give you a clue to what is age appropriate. See if they have the facts straight. This not only tells you what facts they possess but can give you a place to begin explaining the crisis at their developmental level. Correct their misinterpretations and build on what they already know.
  4. Find out what they are afraid of and address those worries.  Fear not only makes people act crazy, it is hard on the immune system. Focus on the precautions your family and the community are doing to stay safe and healthy.
  5. Be honest. Don’t promise they won’t get sick. Promise what you can deliver–that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe and that you will be there for them.
  6. Reassure them. For kids, it’s helpful to let them know that children seem to have very mild symptoms and the important thing is to stop it from spreading to people who are vulnerable.
  7.  Explain why precautions like hand-washing matter.  Tell them how viruses spread through coughing, sneezing or nose-blowing. Give them a silly song to sing that lasts 20 seconds (Google “20 second handwashing songs”). The alphabet song works if you sing loud and slow.
  8. Inspire them with stories of how people are working together, helping each other out.
  9. Keep the lines of communication open.  The news is changing every day – be open to a continued conversation, especially when things affect them directly, like school closures and activity cancellations.
  10.  Keep things as normal as possible.  Don’t give up on mealtime or getting dressed in the morning because their school is closed. Many will have a chance to experience some form of distance learning “Classroom to Cloud” with Google classroom, Zoom or other tools. Make it an adventure.

You may need to address your own anxieties as well. Remind yourself that you are doing what you can to avoid getting sick. You are not alone. Reach out to friends and family that seem to be weathering the storm well. Eat what’s good for you; allow enough time for sleep; meditate or pray; sing, dance, take walks. If you don’t take care of your own mental health, it can make harder for the kids. They take their cues from you.

Look for uplifting and inspiring programs and performances on TV and the web. Take a break from the 24/7 news rooms. Feed your own sense of well-being. Caring for yourself will keep your own immune system strong. As my Yoga teacher used to remind us, “You must take care of others from the energy that flows over the rim of your cup—not the dregs at the bottom.”

To summarize: Honest talk, reassurance, good listening, keeping routines and handling your own anxieties will make all the difference for your kids.


Sheltering in place


I was about to send you a piece I’d written about both the pleasant surprises and unavoidable miseries of academic writing at my age, but this seems far away at the moment as I scheme about how to get my son to understand my grocery list.

Five days ago, the Governor sent us an order to shelter in place. My children had been on me for days to stay home, but there were certain things I needed to do. And I am having trouble taking orders from my children, but I did give in. Now its Larry and me and the dog. The dog, at least, is immune.

I am relatively calm about it although I had decided to peel back on the anxiety meds in February as things looked so relaxed and prosperous for us this year and then….

Kapow comic speech bubble image with hi-res rendered artwork that could be used for any graphic design.

Denial, shock, numbness. Are you kidding me???? This is an overreaction. We have it under control in Santa Barbara—only 1 case so far. It is just out there on cruise ships. Control. Contain. Wash your hands, in fact, scrub them had, it tears the corona of the COV-19. On day, my hands bled. I wonder how people with ODC are managing!

I have actually become something of a germaphobe now—she who shared her food with grandchildren; she who prided herself on allowing certain benign floor bacteria to be consumed on crackers within 10 seconds of landing. I wash my hands ten times a day even when I don’t go out. I sing the alphabet song once. Happy birthday is a terrible son.

I clean thing with alcohol spray or Clorox, depending. I use hotter setting in the washing machine and dryer. I have consider making masks out of bandanas for my grandkids, but now my sister, who really knows how to sew, is doing it. Of course, I also worry because my son has been laid off, my hairdresser was forced to close her shop, my nail tech too. How will they get along for a month without pay? We try to patronize the local restaurants by ordering take out a couple of times a week, but otherwise we are cooking at home three meals a day. Just when I had decided that cooking for 50 years was enough.

Worst of all, I have to sit on my rebellious streak. I want to go out. I want to go to the store and read labels. I don’t need anybody to thell there is something I can not do because of my gender or my age or my poor spatial abilities. I’m smart and heathy. I will wear a mask and gloves. I will get a hazmat suit if I have to…I AM STRONG. I AM INVINCIBLE. I AM WOMAN.AN.AN.AN……

There is no way to know what is going to happen. Stay present. Stay calm. There is a lot of stuff that needs to be done around the house. I have a chapter to write, poems to edit, friends to call, a website to build, a blog to do. I have a new Parker Roller Ball pen as a gift from Fielding for my birthday. I should use it. So, I did to write you this.

This morning, Larry and I danced around the living room for twenty minutes and did some stretching. We can do this. ¡Se Puede! As we say in California where the hospitals are about to be overrun. ¡SePuede!

If it isn’t happening in the next 30 seconds, don’t worry about it.

Thanksgiving 2019

This season we have lots of reason to be grateful at our house. Emmy’s sneaky-sweet little smile has returned along with her love of the sleepy time cuddle. She still melts down, but at least there is sun again after the storm. She is doing well in school—reading at the 5th grade level in the 2nd grade. Lily has started middle school where she likes her math teacher and has taken up the viola. She made the honor roll, and best of all, she has found a clothing store she likes. She grew past me this year, shooting up from her long legs and out through her size ten and half shoes. I am so grateful that they are doing well and getting what they need. I am so lucky to be with them every Tuesday and every other Saturday.

Brett and Manu are struggling their way through the hard part—you know, where you have two little kids and you are both working too hard and sleeping too little but they look fabulous and the kids are happy. Kaiya and Lukas are 5 and 3 respectively, that age where you live from Halloween to Christmas in a state of nervous ecstasy. I take the after school on Thursdays.

Banjo is also doing well and Larry is fine. Banjo has earned the right to wear a vest that says “Love on a Leash” and visit hospice patients. Larry has climbed Manchu Pichu and camped out in an Amazon jungle with tarantulas the size of a toaster oven: living the dream.

As for me, I am working hard to slow down. I have always been in a hurry; but when I hurry, I make mistakes. Mistakes cost you more when you are old because everything takes longer. So, it takes you longer to make the mistake in the first place, and then it takes you longer to straighten it out. Furthermore, if it is a physical mistake, like when you don’t look where you are going and fall down, it will take you one heck of a lot longer to get better. Therefore, slowing down at this age is actually a form of speeding up.

The most inspiring thing I saw or did this year was attend a presentation about compassion from Roshi Joan Halifax

She believes compassion requires the aspiration to end suffering and the action required to follow it up. What was enlightening to me was the idea that, while compassion springs from empathy, empathy requires regulation. If empathy is unregulated, we can get sick from the suffering of others. Empathy can overwhelm and immobilize us. She told this story about serving in a remote area of Nepal. An older man came running into the clinic with a child in his arms who had burns over more than half of her body. Roshi Joan said she felt those burns in her own body and thought she was going to faint. She wanted to help, not faint, so she began to focus on the ground beneath her feet, to feel the ground with her feet, to realize that she was in her own body, that should was okay. That tiny practice allowed her to take action. She suggested that compassion relies on our ability to control our own attention, to be present to the suffering without owning it.

For some reason, I have found that story made it easier to get through the day, the news, this difficult year. I just drop into my feet, feel the ground and take the next step. Half way through our second year since Don died, things are smoother, a little easier. I am grateful for all the help we gotten from so many people at every turn. Writing about it all has certainly helped me and that is helping me help other people, which is very cool. I hope that this moment finds you all well and reaping a fine harvest this fall.

p.s

I have a new piece on the web, too. It’s about advanced directives and I know that if you are over 25, you need to think about this. Do it for your family and friends. Don’t just sign the papers, have the conversation. You can check it out at https://dyingwithwisdom.com/advanced-directives/

Retirement Blues

young cat at home

Almost everyone agrees that, once you retire, there are so many things to do that you’ll be busier than ever. I don’t know if this is because people take on too many things, or if it is just that everything takes a person longer, but I sure have been busy. I am doing a lot, for sure: volunteering at Hospice, keeping up a website, editing a new international handbook on adult development, taking care of my grandchildren 2 or 3 days a week, remodeling a rental property we bought this year. But it’s not more than I have ever done.

The year I was 40, I took care of my dad while he was dying as I tried to help a boyfriend who had tried to commit suicide. I was a single mom; my ex-husband filed for bankruptcy and stopped making child support payments, so I took a second job as a real estate agent and lived in a home that I was remodeling and so I could flip it. I also started working for Fielding part-time—that makes three jobs. I remember stressing about money, but not about doing too much. I think I was writing a book on adolescence as well.

Now, I need a nap at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. If I rush, I make mistakes and have accidents. I had two fender benders this summer, running into things in parking lots when I was in a hurry racing from Home Depot to the tile store and the plumbing supply. I forget appointments and lose my stuff. I lost my wallet twice last week—retrieving it both times, but only adding to the worry that I am “losing it,” in a more general sense. And, of course, once the mind identifies a downward trend, the idea that it will only get worse arises.

My body is changing. It aches and creaks and requires exercise, rubbing down, greasing up, exfoliating and soaking. This is all just normal aging, arthritis and bursitis. I feel lucky because some of my friends have cancer, Alzheimer’s, various neuropathies and heart failure. I try to provide emotional support and dinner.

The paperwork is ridiculous, from filling out forms on the internet (so I don’t have to shop) and answering questions my insurance company finds the need to ask every six months, to sorting through piles of mail to decide which charity is worthy or which magazine to renew and whether I have already paid to renew it.

When I think about the fact that I may live another 20 or 25 years, it seems exhausting. Maybe that is how, ultimately, people die in a modern world—exhaustion. Exhausted by the news, by the need to repair the past and work toward a decent future. Exhausted by the errands, the driving, the crashing of electronic devices, the proliferation of knick knacks, the need to conserve water and eliminate waste. Don’t forget, plastic is forever.

This month, I vow to slow down, to say no, to take walks with the dog and listen to music, to dance every day. We’ll see how long that lasts with the holidays coming along. Where did the year go? It’s October! Garden spiders and pumpkin patches are everywhere. The “season” is in full swing: fundraisers, new plays and movies, invitations to dinner, requests for time and money.

I remember once seeing the universe as a giant wheel, looking something like the death star, relentlessly pushing time forward. Nothing you can do to stop it or rewind it or even slow it down a microsecond. I know there is supposed to be no time in outer space.  They say there are multiple worlds and even universes (universi?) out there too.  Here on earth, however, there is only one world and time marches on with or without you.

So, here is a poem I use to remind myself that feeling overwhelmed is nothing new. I wrote it nearly 30 years ago:

                                                                                            Thursday

                                                Mammogram. Bad food for lunch. My stomach aches,

                                               Magic Johnson is HIV positive. It’s been a lousy day.

                                               My right ear rang for hours. I ran a temperature.

                                               Hot flash maybe, or anxiety attach.

                                               Who knows anymore?

                                               The morning paper is enough to

                                               ruin the entire day, not to mention television

                                               or the first day of a four day weekend boogie

                                               for my adolescent daughter in her run down

                                               goes-anyhow, uses-a ton-of-gasoline car.

                                               Furthermore, I have to work on Saturday,

                                               my neck aches, my feet are cold and, on the radio

                                              Dr. Jane Jensen, the KIRO vet, says you ought

to brush your cat’s teeth with a Q-Tip, assuming

                                              you have a cat, which I don’t, thank God because

                                              if I had to brush my cat’s teeth, I don’t think

                                              I could what with everything else that’s going on.

 

 

 

 

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Last week, Dr. Stewart Winthrop, a distinguished ophthalmologist in town, replaced the lens of my left eye (my bad eye) with a brand spanking new lens that adjusted my astigmatism and made the world bright again, in one eye. Through the other eye, the world looked like a picture viewed through a nicotine stained glass. Everything is sure a whole lot less yellow than I thought.

In fact, I hate the shade of paint I chose for my fireplace five years ago. It is way more pink and less gold than I (apparently) imagined. The walls of the living room are still okay though. Thank heaven. Also, as I immediately noticed, you could advertise cataract surgery this way “Look 20 years older in 15 minutes.” Good grief. I have decided to change the light bulbs over the sink in the bathroom. While 240 watts made it possible to put on eye make-up before the surgery, the new eye reveals more than one needs to know at 75. Trust me on this.

I have spent most of the week closing one eye and looking at stuff and then closing the other eye and looking at the same stuff. The world is brilliant and I can see much more of the blue spectrum with my new lens. The surgery went very well. My eye doesn’t seem to have swelled up much and the day after the surgery, I could read the smallest line on the eye chart with my bad eye! This week should bring more miracles.

This is the exact opposite of how I feel about hearing aids. I want them IN my ears, not on them. I want a literal miracle ear the way I have a miracle eye. For one thing, I am bad at keeping track of my “stuff.” It was hard enough when I was young and all I needed was my car keys and my wallet. Now, I need my wallet, my keys, my Galaxy phone, Galaxy watch, my glasses and my hearing aids. Since I was never good at minding my things and I am more dependent than ever on this stuff because everybody expects you to have a phone, to keep track of your keys, hang onto your glasses and carry a water bottle at the same time. This is not the natural state of man nor woman.

As I have explained before, I believe, I need a robot and a car that drives itself. Oh yeah! Today I drove a Ford Fusion. It drove itself a lot. My dream is coming true on that issue. When you start the speed minder and take your feet off the peddles, the Fusion slows itself down if the car in front of you gets too close. Apparently, my own car is capable of this, but I haven’t figured out how to set it up yet. My car will also park itself and, after two minor incidents in parking lots in the last couple of months, I am ready to let it.

My grandchildren are teaching me to talk to my remote control for the TV. Instead of running the arrow keys over the alphabet, you can just say, “play Stranger Things.” My watch can find my phone, take a reminder, set up a calendar event, take my pulse rate, measure my stress, and keep track of my every step. My hip replacement works better than my natural hip.

Scientists have found stars that are older than the universe. They don’t understand how this could have happened any more than I understand why talking to the remote control brings me to the next episode of Stranger Things. They say that Black Holes eat anything around them, but they have no idea where that anything goes. The latest picture of a Black Hole looks exactly like a cervix dilating to give birth to a child. Maybe this universe is just the child of the next one. Anything seems possible these days.

In a book called The Singularity, Ray Kurzweil predicted next year we will reach “the wall.” The rate at which things are changing is logarithmic and the wall is that point on a logarithmic scale where the rate of change goes nearly straight up like this:

exponential function

When you reach the wall, you can no longer predict what’s going to happen. Technology will be changing things so quickly, that we won’t be able to imagine anymore what is likely to happen next. Here is an example. Dr Winthrop told me that when he first began doing cataract surgery, it was painstaking. You had to do it by hand and the patients had to stay in the hospital for three days. Last week, the operation took 12 minutes. I left the outpatient surgery center an hour later and went home. The next day I could do anything I wanted except stand on my head or dive under water. He never imagined that would ever happen until it did. I guess we’ve hit the wall on that one. I hope we hit the wall on dealing with climate change real soon,

 

 

 

 

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Seventy-five is harder than I thought. Seventy didn’t bother me much, so I didn’t expect 75 to be that tough. My friends and family say, “75! Three quarters of a century. Wow! That’s a long time.” They also note, “It is just a number.” I remember being one quarter of a century and thinking that was old. I got pregnant that year, apparently believing I was quite old enough to take full responsibility for a newborn child. Brett is 49 now. Forty-nine! That affects me almost more than my being 75.

Okay, okay, 75 is just a number. Everybody says that. But, listen here. It’s a big number. It’s just plain weird to think I’ve been teaching for 50 years and driving for more than that. This is my last quarter century. Or, maybe it’s my last five minutes. I need more than five minutes, however. I have way too much stuff going on.

For one thing, the book is turning out to be a force in my life. There is so much to do if you want to market a book! I’ve learned how to manage a Website and add new articles, then optimize them for Google. I have a Facebook page for the book and a Twitter account.  I’m figuring out how to live with death as the focus of my work. I’ve made four presentations so far this year, have five more lined up and several new inquiries. Each presentation begets presentations. I’m doing the keynote for the Society for Research in Adult Development in June in Boston. I’m doing a presentation at the Harvard School of Psychiatry and Law this summer. My co-author, Dori and I are planning one in February in New York.

I have noticed after all these years of working, that my priorities have always revolved around the goals of other folks: raising two kids as a single mom, tagging along with Larry to the ends of the earth, helping care for my Mom and Dad when they were failing. I haven’t really been the decision maker. I have always the preferred the role of “right hand woman.” It started in Junior High when I ran for Girls’ VP—not President. I’ve been the Associate Chair of the department, the Co-director of the program, the “Associate Dean,” of the School. I’ve advised Presidents, Provosts, Deans and Chairs, but I never wanted to be in charge. It seems to me that the Person in Charge has to listen to too many complaints.

With the book and the website, I’ve finally stepped up to the complaint desk. It is truly my project.  I’ve heard all kinds of complaints about facts, fonts and grammar. I’ve had a thorough critique of my sub-heads. People all over the world can critique my work or just complain about it. And I am still taking care of other people’s projects, including their kids.

I’m taking the grandkids a couple of days a week. I’m not up to all four of them at once unless I have help.  I keep the older ones overnight on the weekends now to give my daughter a break.  I take the little ones around Santa Barbara as often as I can. Last time, we went to the Natural History Museum and saw the taxidermy exhibit. It’s one of the few things I remember from 70 years ago—the taxidermy at the L.A. Museum of Natural History. Lukas loved it—he’s four.

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to stay organized. I spend half the time looking for phone, or my drink, or my glasses. There are so many more things to keep track of than there used to be. We have cell phones and glasses and water bottles. You have to bring your own bags to the grocery store. I’ve gotten a smart watch so I can remind myself what I am supposed to be doing, but I forget to use the watch.

So, I write things down on old fashioned lists that I forget to check. I remember how impatient my mother got with herself when she reached this stage. I know it is scary. I don’t see the point in being mad at myself about it. I forgive myself. My lifelong tendency to spill things, bump into things and drop stuff has only gotten worse. My feet hurt from the neuropathy I developed after chemo. My back aches. I have allergies and a touchy stomach.  Not bad for 75.

I notice that I have taken to calling everyone sweetie. I can’t remember when this started, but I realize that my European and Middle Eastern friends are very affectionate in their greetings when they know someone. I have taken this to greater heights, by calling everyone sweetie, whether I know them or not. I do wonder if that bothers them. I call my grandkids sweetie too.  It’s just that I’m so much older than almost anybody.

And then there is the whole thing about the future. It does seem scary at times what with global warming, school shootings, thousands seeking asylum, and it’s hard to know what to make of those things. Older people have been worried about the future since the beginning of time. However, this is the first time we are on the verge of frying.

I worry that a day will come when I no longer understand what is going on. This has already happened to me watching television commercials and listening to alt rock. Also, I don’t understand Lincoln in the Bardo although it won the Mann Booker prize for fiction and rave reviews from the New York Times. I hope it’s not a sign that I am slipping.

I’m looking forward to the future though. I hope to own a self-driving car before they my kids take my car keys away. I’m planning on virtual reality to take me on safari in Africa or down the Amazon without the sunburn and mosquito bites. I’m hoping for a personal robot that will carry my glasses, my drink, and my phone around, remind me what I am supposed to do next and clean up when I spill things. Once I have all of this in place, I expect to manage the next twenty years and find out whether 95 is harder than 90.

 

Galapagos Notes

 

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We boarded the Panga, starting out Galapagos adventure in a rubber dingy with high spirits and good memories of last year in West Papua, New Guinea. We had joined Larry’s sister, Dale, her son, Logan and Kelly, Logan’s fiancé, as well as Kelly’s parents in Quito several days earlier. There are only 14 people on the cruise, so we constitute half of the larger group. When we arrived at the catamaran, our naturalist introduced himself. He was born in Galapagos, educated as a chemical engineer in Mexico, and had worked all over the world as a diver for a big Mexican oil company. He also earned a master’s degree in something like “ecology and conservation.” His name was Edwin, same as my father. I am an instant fan.
Our quarters are fine, exactly what I expected based on the 360-degree video of the rooms. It included a nearly queen-sized bed up against the wall of the cabin, making it easier to sleep because we one of us does not have to worry about falling out of bed. The shower sprayer hung above the bathroom sink, so you have to take the toilet paper out of the holder when you take a shower. Common arrangement in sailboats. Clean and doable.
Then the engines started up, and our cabin was wracked by the level of noise I imagine you hear when landing in the baggage hold of an old Airbus. And I found out it goes on all night. And, we can’t change cabins. I am began to fear losing my mind. And Larry had a case of tourista and the toilet isn’t working, so I opened the window in the bathroom, allowing hordes of mosquitos to swarm inside. I am crying now and carrying on loudly about the noise because we cannot hear each other if we don’t shout. I slept in the lounge that night with two other guests who tried to sleep in a room on the other side of the motor and one of the staff members. And I was seasick.
I spoke to Edwin about changing cabins, who promised to take it up with the captain. Later, he told Larry that there was no chance of that, even at the small city where half of the passengers leave and a new group of passengers gets on. No chance. Period. I found out there are two more nights that the boat is on the move all night. We can reach other ports during the day. Dale has an extra bed in her cabin and is willing to share. She is away from the motor. Okay. I began to believe I could survive.
Our first stop is Genovese Island. The wake-up bell rang four times, and we all arrive up for breakfast between 7 and 8am. However, it is really only from 7-7:30. Then, we are to be on the Panga for a ride to the island and a hike that lasts until 10. Edwin tells us about adaptation: how tiny changes in lowly creatures inspired Charles Darwin to change our whole view of the universe. It was, in fact, awesome to contemplate. And it was quite hot. And I could not really tell the difference between the small brown finch, the medium brown finch, and the large brown finch. We did see several iguanas and some red-footed boobies.
After the hike, we were free to swim for an hour, blessed relief from the heat, but I missed my floaty board. I didn’t bring it. I’m not a strong swimmer, but I love to float around in the water, thus the floaty board. It is a paddleboard and with a tether. A few of the women on the Panga had floaty board envy when I brought it out the next day.
In the afternoon snorkel, there were the shallow inlets, inhabited by big and small creatures alike. In this season, they seemed fat, fine and happy. The water was cloudy with food, nutrients that bubble up from the bottom of the sea, swept along by the Panama current. Thick schools of gray fish swarmed by, each four to five inches long, oval-shaped, adorned by lemon yellow tails. They swam off, a wall of yellow arrows faded in the gray distance. I turn my facemask around to the left. Good Lord!
It’s a sea lion. A Galapagos sea lion. Not a seal. Definitely not a seal. Seals have no ears, Edwin explains. My whole body jerks away from his ear-toting face. Kelly, in her maroon swimsuit, swoops toward the sea lion in her maroon swimsuit, following his motions in large, loopy back flips and front flips, a graceful dance in a sunlit sea. This is good. This is very, very good. There are hammerhead sharks too and a sea turtle.
After Genovase, there are two days where the motoring is all over by evening. This is a relief and because I have arranged with my sister-in-law to stay with her on two nights when we sail all night, I get some sleep. I needed it because the schedule was hectic. Up at 6:45 every morning. Breakfast at 7am. Hike at 8 am. Swim or snorkel at 10pm. Lunch. Hike at 1 or 2, swim or snorkel at 3 or 4. Briefing at 6:45. Dinner at 7. Logan, Kelly, Dale, Larry, June, and Ralph all found this schedule fabulous, except for Logan, who complained there was not enough swimming. I drop out of the morning slate after a brush with sunstroke while walking over hot lava. A lyric from a Noel Coward song comes to mind, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the mid-day sun.”
The Ecuadorian government schedules all excursions so that tourists don’t end up falling all over each other. We often passed the passengers from other boats returning from our destination. All the passengers are white. The only native people tromping across the lava are the naturalists assigned to these groups. Even the iguanas hide in the shade of low-slung brush.
I slept late as I the next day, grabbed some coffee, and sat down to write on the boat. This is how I like to spend my adventure vacations. Taking the morning off to read or write after everyone in the boat (cabin, hut) have gone out hiking (scuba diving, bird watching). Then, I snorkel or swim in the afternoon. I ditch the morning hike twice. Deborah from D.C. joins me. She and I have bonded over the difficulty of the hikes and the heat of the lava. We are the whiners. We also gossip about crew and the passengers that are the “other” group, a family of seven Argentinians who got onboard at mid-week. Deborah is now a part of “our” group.
And then, there are the nights. Quiet nights anchored in some far-flung bay two and a half hours from Quito by plane. On the top deck, a set of wicker couches sported canvas cushions. There is just barely enough room for Larry and me to lie, side by side, on one of the couches, staring up past the unfurled sails to the stars. One night, late in the trip, we crossed the Equator. We had been checking in with Orion every night. You know Orion, right? When you pass the Equator, suddenly (I am not kidding), Orion looks like it is upside down and backward. Neither Larry nor I could conger a reasonable explanation.

We snorkeled around enchanted, remembering, as Edwin warned, to take it slow; let the animals come to us. Out in the open, there were schools of transparent fish that boasted a dark outline around the edge of their bodies and a small black stripe down the middle, purple tropical with gold markings, polka dotted boxfish and huge parrotfish. They vanished in water thick with tiny organisms. Hordes of anonymous gray and black fish scurried below us. Then, all of a sudden, there was a sea turtle the size of a coffee table. Right by my side or three feet below me. He seemed completely oblivious to my presence, but for the sideways glance now and then.

Other hid in the crevasses, like the white ray with the four ray babies. I spot the ray. Logan dove down to check out the babies. Kelly spotted an octopus, pointing to a tentacle poking out from a tiny cave. Some things zipped by us—like a pod of maybe four dolphins. Our guide yelled at us to get in the boat. NOW. We scrambled in and took off to play with dolphins. They acknowledged us, jumping out of the water, but continued their mission. No cavorting with humans today. We turned around, heading back to the rocks, and jumped overboard.
A coupled of penguins dove of the rocks and there were more hammerheads, though I didn’t get to see one and everybody else saw three. On the other hand, I was the first to see the white tipped shark on the final snorkel. He swam around right under me with his skin smooth as satin and silvery gray. I wanted to touch him, but we had taken a vow to stay 6 feet away. This is a good rule, but it is hard to obey because the animals are often closer than that when you see them, like the white fin shark. The white fin almost ran into Logan’s face as Logan ascended from a dive. Startled, Logan spewed bubbles as he gasped and the shark took off in the opposite direction. They are quite timid, actually. Not all sharks are at all like the ones in the movie Jaws.

This is a place where sea animals are welcome. Mammals, birds, turtles, sharks abound and they are not frightened. When we arrived in town on Santa Cruz, the place where my guide grew up, a big sea lion lurched up from the beach, scooted across the plaza and slide into a shady spot on a bench in the plaza. I bought a tiny little beach dress made out of a heavy fabric, allowing me to parade around without a bra on without feeling weird. Life is definitely getting better.

All is nearly forgiven, but I still think I will write a letter to the owners, about my own misery, of course, but also about the misery, this must cause the crew. The noise causes them endless trouble with passengers. I know because our naturalist looks weary when I ask about it and there are many people in the world like Deborah and me who have trouble sleeping. Deborah also asked Edwin if she could move as she was next to the generator. Neither of us got to move. Maybe this was due to the status of the family that boarded mid-week. He was currently the ambassador from Argentina to Chile and had been the Ambassador to the U.S. under Clinton.

This trip challenged me to “make it work,” as Tim Gunn says on Project Runway. I found myself a quiet bed. I figured out how to make the toilet flush and kill mosquitos. I got the cook to make me breakfast in the late morning. I got Edwin to turn off the lights in the lounge because they shone through the glass door to my cabin. I am very happy with myself about that. I am also happy that I took those mornings off to think to write and think.

I am also certain that I am not going to the Amazon with Larry and Dale in the fall. I am going to New York to visit friends and see a Broadway show.

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