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I’m sitting in a wide wicker chair, throne-like in the way it ensconces me in a sea of pillows. In the chair next to me is my daughter. She works long hours, the TV/film industry standard. The least I can do is pamper her, a pedicure when I visit. This is her turf, L.A., her salon of choice. They give you a menu here, a cornucopia of temptations tailored to price. I’d be a fool now, wouldn’t I, not to at least go for the dharma add-on, a whopping $4.50 extra for a chakra-charged foot massage. My lotion of choice is citrus-scented, with its promise of creativity. Not that I could go wrong with eucalyptus and rosemary (for centering) or rose oil (love and be loved).
There are some things you just never want to come to an end.
My daughter passes a magazine to me, one of the two issues of Vanity Fair she has brought for us. I watch her riffle through hers, pick up mine, begin reading a poignant piece by Christopher Hitchens on the nature of ‘voice.’ I need to know – right now – if this is something I can retrieve online, bookmark and tweet. I reach for my iPhone, a trusted pet tucked in my purse, at my beck and call. Only something happens on the way to satisfying this very immediate need of mine. I glance across the room at a woman getting what would appear to be the royal treatment. A man sits at her feet, massaging them. A woman sits at her side, massaging an arm. That leaves one arm free, for reading a magazine. And this is what stops me.
Why would I want to do anything but luxuriate in this moment, the foot massage more transcendent by the minute? I put down my magazine (and the iPhone), look over at my daughter immersed in hers, no words, just shared experience between us. The flat-screen TV on the wall is playing the best of Mike Myers, the very best, I should say, he in his Linda Richards I’m-verklempt, talk-amongst-yourselves mode. The sound is turned down, proof positive that some things you don’t have to hear to know what’s being said. I lean back in the cushioned chair, sink into what I do hear, Bob Seger, Against the Wind. The magic fingers of the woman massaging my foot dig deeper. Bob Seger gives way to Toni Braxton putting me in a trance. I may truly never breathe again.
My mother, if she could see me now, would be smiling, her way of reminding me that nurturing takes many forms and the shift from dependence to independence, with its seismic rumblings, is a two-way struggle. A week earlier, driving down a road near my house on the opposite end of the country, I stopped for a deer and the very small fawn following her. The mother made it up the rock wall, no problem. Her fawn stumbled, turned to look at me staring at her from my car. I’ve seen deer, many of them, with and without their young. I’ve seen the young without a parent. I’ve never heard one cry, and my temptation to get out of the car, help her up the rock wall, was tempered only by good sense and the trust that mama deer, only a few paces ahead, would be back the moment I disappeared.
Visit Deborah’s website here . . .
When I was in law school, I had a couple of mock interviews arranged by the career center. Neither was particularly successful. During the second, I was distracted by the interviewer’s amazing view from the Sears Tower. I knew I wasn’t giving the interview my full attention, but yet I was powerless to stop staring out the window. I consoled myself that it wasn’t a real interview.
The view wasn’t my problem during the first mock interview: that interview was conducted in a window-less, closet-sized room in the library. I actually had thought everything was going fairly well until, when the interview portion had concluded and the reviewing portion had begun, the interview set down her papers, crossed her arms, and said, “I’ve never had to tell anyone this, but you smile too much.”
I couldn’t even make sense of that. I was sure that I hadn’t been smiling cheesily or vapidly throughout the interview; I was sure that I hadn’t even been grinning nervously. I had been feeling relaxed, and so I had been smiling. I liked law school, and it was easy for me to smile when I talked about it. Didn’t that reflect positively on me? That I enjoyed what I was doing? Nevertheless, I nodded seriously and wrote smile less in my notes.
I thought about it for the next couple of weeks, making concerted efforts to put a serious expression on my face during class. (Unfortunately, I think my expression of “serious thought” with knitted eyebrows was awfully close to my expression of “now, wait, that doesn’t make sense.”) Then I promptly discarded my interview notes. I wasn’t going to smile less. That was ridiculous. If I’m pleased to meet someone or enjoying the conversation, I’m going to smile, even if I’m in a professional situation.
In fact, I would smile especially if I was in a professional situation. When I began having real interviews for jobs, it was my enthusiasm for bankruptcy law that led an excellent conversation with the interviewer from the firm that eventually hired me. I’m obviously not saying that I got that job just on a smile, but the smile certainly didn’t hurt anything.
Read Katie’s blog (the name of which came about from that mock interview) at Perky to a Fault!
I am the very definition of an avid reader. I can lose entire days when I have my nose in a book. One of my favorite topics of conversation with my girlfriends is what books we’re reading. It was only natural then when e-book readers were introduced for those same girlfriends to ask when I was going to get one.
How would I decorate my apartment if not with books?
My aesthetic admiration of bookshelves aside, I can’t bring myself to give up real books. I love everything about books: the colors of the covers, the weight of the pages, the way the binding cracks with repeated readings. There’s an entire sensory experience with books that can’t be replicated with an e-book reader.
Physical books also carry remnants of their past readers. I love borrowing books from friends and seeing which pages they’ve dog-eared and which sentences they’ve underlined. There’s delicious fun in opening a book purchased from a used bookstore and discovering a bookmark left behind from its previous owner. Used books make me weak in the knees.
I can see certain instances in which an e-book reader would be beneficial, most notably when reading an excessively thick book. I nearly dislocated my shoulder toting Anna Karenina around with me last fall, and I’m currently reading Infinite Jest which is so heavy that I can really only comfortably read it when it’s flat in front of me. In my opinion, though, those mild discomforts are outweighed by the pleasure I get from turning actual pages.
It might also come in handy if you were traveling extensively, allowing you to carry multiple titles with little weight. If I had done carried an e-book reader, though, on some of my long trips, I would have missed out on discovering new titles through book exchanges in hostels and used bookstores abroad. Sometimes when traveling I will bring along extra books that I have already read just for that purpose. You never know what you’re going to find. I traded a pulpy legal thriller for Special Topics in Calamity Physics in a used bookstore in Chiang Mai, and it turned out to be one of my favorite books I’ve ever read.
I hate to think of all the books I would have missed out on if I kept out of used bookstores, and there’s simply no way to replicate that feeling of discovery on an e-book reader.
It’s an overcast Sunday in May, graduation day at SUNY New Paltz, a slight chill in the air, typical of upstate New York on the cusp of spring and summer. The sky is not so much threatening as it is filled with anticipation. At least it’s not raining.
The keynote speaker does what all keynote speakers do well in reminding the graduates that endings and beginnings are all of a piece. Today is a really, really important day, the beginning of the rest of your life. College was a set-up, at its best the tightrope strung just high enough above the safety net; at its worst the safety net too torn and tattered to even catch an illusion. When you’re twenty-something, anxious to move on after four (or more) years of studying (and partying), all those speeches and awards, the music and the marching, can feel endless. When you’re sixty-something, a guest at the ceremonies, that sneaky suspicion – if I only knew then what I know now – creeps up on you, demanding that you listen with a little more attention.
There is humor in the keynote speech, an allusion or two to pop culture, an appeal to always value the importance of art in our lives, and a kicker phrase –
What would you try if you knew you could not fail?
To my niece, and the friends graduating with her, there’s no time like the future, even in a world threatened by a disregard fueled with greed. You can see the way it registers in their faces: I made it this far, what’s to stop me now?
A man puts his hand to his forehead, a salute as the national anthem is played. In the row in front of me is a family – mother and father, sister of the graduate standing next to her grandmother. Everyone wants a better view, cameras at the ready.
I get up, take a break, walk around. An usher hands me a card. I ask if I need it to get back in. “No,” she says. “It’s for your memory.” I’m so in the moment I assume there’s something on the card that will help me find my way back to my seat, in case I wander too far.
For my memory.
This is the reason I’m here. For someone’s memory, even if not my own. For the bittersweet joy of it all, the shared rite of passage, this one with its ringing reminder that possibility is more a see-saw than an endless sea of hope.
Visit Deborah’s website here . . .
My favorite instructor teaches a sixty minute class (which, because I’m not a super-strong yogi, I vastly prefer to the ninety minute classes) at 6 pm on Wednesdays. The small problem here is that, every other day of the week, I work out at 4 pm, and therefore I have my post-workout snack around 5:15 or 5:30. My body is used to having a snack at that time, and so it wants to have a snack before yoga starts.
Last week, I munched on a Luna bar while I waited for class to start and then, because I didn’t see any trash cans in that corner of the gym, tucked the wrapper under my towel when we went into the studio. Fast-forward about thirty-five minutes, and I’m sweating in a three-legged dog while our instructor, this fabulously nutty woman who sometimes breezes into class wearing this huge, outrageous floppy hat, walks around the room. She tapped me on the back and whispered, “Did you eat that before class?” I acknowledged that I had and apologized for bringing the wrapper into the studio.
“It’s okay,” she told me. “That just reminds me I should bring something up with everyone.”
Oh no. That sounded ominous.
We shifted to rest in child’s pose, and she began telling us that we shouldn’t eat for at least two hours before we practice yoga. It wasn’t just that we shouldn’t do it, she told us, it was that it was one of the basic principles of yoga not to do it. I was mortified. I felt only marginally better when she also (gently) reprimanded the students who had brought water bottles into the studio.
I was also slightly indignant. I mean, it was a Luna bar. It wasn’t as though I had eaten a Subway sandwich or something. Regardless, I made a point of not eating before class last night.
This was unquestionably the wrong decision. It was impossible for me to concentrate on my breathing or the poses because I kept thinking about when I would get to go home and have dinner. I bolted out of there when class was over, and I didn’t even make it all the way home. I had to stop at the Duane Reade on my way to the subway so I could buy a cup of grapes.
Consider my lesson learned: one shouldn’t eat before yoga, but one shouldn’t not eat before yoga either. It looks like I’m going to be having a 4 pm snack on Wednesdays from now on.
Originally published on Katie’s blog, Perky to a Fault
There’s a woman who lives down the road from me, a hearty soul who ran the family business, a septic-tank service, until Alzheimer’s put the brakes on some of her organizational skills. I’d see her on the road walking one dog or another (she has two), a stick in hand to keep at bay any aggressive canines straying from their property, getting a little too close for comfort. She always carried biscuits in her pocket, treats for the friendlier dogs she’d come across. All mine had to do was sit and look pretty, her wagging tail as good as any smile. Over the years we’d strike up conversations, mostly about dogs, sometimes about the challenges of life. She lost a brother early on (a car accident), ministered to her husband when his kidneys were failing and he needed dialysis, at home. She drove down to visit her father in Florida for a few weeks every year until he became too frail to live by himself. At which point she brought him (and his dog) up to her house in Westchester County. She lives an hour north of New York City and has never been drawn to its pulse.
Her Alzheimer’s is far from advanced, and she always seems to recognize me, though I’ll have to remind her why Maggie isn’t with me, pulling me toward her house, a dog’s charm all the trick she needs to get her treat. And she’ll remind me of how much pets bring to our lives. The tug of her dogs, small as they are, is too much, so these days she’ll take walks with a friend or her brother-in-law, who shares her home.
She always wears lipstick, and it always extends past her upper lip. There’s something about this that really touches me, the need to smear on that lipstick, no idea really that she’s missed the mark. She is not a glamorous woman, has never been. She could be wearing sweatpants and a sloppy sweater. Her hair is neatly in place. Then there’s the final touch before she heads out the door, the lipstick.
Many years ago, as an editor of a newsletter focused on AIDS-related health and social issues, I attended a panel discussion on developments in research. One of the panelists was a ground-breaking researcher, a woman who had a certain style and glamour to her. Still, the last thing I would have expected, as the panel discussion was winding down, was to see her pull out a compact and freshen her lipstick. Years later, I still remember being struck by the ease and nonchalance with which she did this. The more I thought about it, the more I admired her for the ever-so-subtle pronouncement. It’s only lipstick.
And yet. There are studies that call up the ‘lipstick factor’ as a reflection of economic times. Maybe yes, maybe no. More to the point is what that purse-size stick or tube reflects in the woman who has made a deliberate choice today: Red or pink or tangerine. Purple. South Beach Bronze or Peppermint Candy . My (unglamorous) neighbor is doing her best, putting on a face that pleases her even as something inside is dissembling. I would like to tell her she doesn’t need it, and in fact might look better without it. I would like to tell her that the person she sees in the mirror when she puts that lipstick on is not the person she is, or was. But she knows all that. And besides, who am I to talk? I always dab on some lipstick or lip gloss when I head out. I like the way it makes my lips feel. I wear it like an assumption.
Photo courtesy of Mercedes Yardley
Visit Deborah’s website here . . .
In order to fulfill my life science requirement in college, I took a class called “Bugs and People.” The title was misleadingly simple, and it was taught by an energetic, if slightly kooky, woman who was clearly quite passionate about entomology. The class strove to teach me much more science than I had bargained for, but, to this day, the thing that I most recall was the lesson on eating insects. We learned that people in other parts of the world routinely eat insects, and the accompanying lab offered the chance to taste some of these insects. I politely declined, explaining that I was a vegetarian.
At the time, it was true. I was a vegetarian throughout my early to mid-twenties, and, although I was never militant about it, it kept me insulated from having to eat undesirable foodstuffs like insects. My vegetarianism arose my distrust of the cook in our sorority house and my fear of food-born illness, and, once I had stopped eating meat on a daily basis, I lost the taste for it. I stuck with it throughout the rest of college and through a traveling consultant job that found me relying on peanut butter and carrot sandwiches as a main source of sustenance. I was still a vegetarian during a trip to Egypt, in which I struggled patiently to explain to a server that I didn’t eat any shrimp, so just giving me “little shrimps” was not satisfactory; similarly, telling me that there were “no shrimps” in my meal was not acceptable when I could clearly see legs of something emerging from it.
China was what finally broke me. I was able to maintain my diet in Beijing, our first stop, and pleaded vegetarian when faced with the street market of skewered scorpions, starfish, and, yes, insects. Once we were out of the capital city, however, finding meat-free food became more of a challenge. Armed with only a tiny phrase book and a laughable attempt at a Mandarin accent, I was rarely able to explain that I didn’t eat meat. My guidebook suggested I tell servers that I was Buddhist, but I was reluctant to appropriate an entire belief system just to accommodate my entirely voluntary dietary restrictions. I did my best, but meat showed up in the strangest places, including inside my tofu once. I finally gave up. Let me tell you, once you’ve gotten sick from reintroducing meat into your diet, it’s not an experience you want to repeat in this lifetime.
Since I started eating meat again, I’ve eaten all kinds: ostrich, alligator, and even snake. I had never again been presented with insects, though … until today. We were strolling along innocently through the Lower East Side, enjoying the spring day, when we stumbled across a promotion for a certain beer company. They were giving away free street tacos, but the catch was that the tacos all contained non-mainstream proteins. We ended up with one filled with brains and one stuffed with crickets. The brains were not particularly enjoyable. They were wet and lumpy, and it was similar to what I imagine it is like to eat paper mâché. The crickets, on the other hand, were crunchy and salty and not bad at all.
These crickets also had the benefit of being presented with avocado. Somehow, I doubt that the science lab’s edible insects came with such accoutrements.
Visit Katie’s blog at Perky to a Fault.
Image credit: Flickr
I cashed out at $29.75 last night. I called it a win. My husband said we broke even. No high stakes here. Just having a little fun with a one-armed bandit at Caesar’s Palace. Every few years my husband is lured to Las Vegas for a trade show. Every few years I tag along, although full disclosure demands I tell it like it really is: I’m the one more eager for the trip to Sin City. Every few years.
Tell most people I know that I like Vegas for two or three days, and they look at me like I’m crazy. Then comes the nod, well, they kind of get what I mean, Disneyland for grown-ups, right? Yes, there’s something about all those blinking flashing lights that beckon in an R2D2 kind of way. And yes, I can pretend, with all the faith I give over to magic and mystery, that the right touch of a button or pull of a lever will make my wheel of fortune spin till it spills over. And yes, the stimulation becomes physical, the fantasy transformed into innuendo, the hotel room now a den of pleasure. But what I think fascinates me most here is the dreamscape of it all. The old woman making her way through the casino with a walker, the man with a three-year-old sitting on his shoulders, the motorcycle dude chugging a beer, the woman in a sequined mini-dress and high heels are drawn to this Mecca in the desert for mostly the same reasons. And even if they never took a psychedelic drug, they recognize a good acid trip when they’re on one.
There’s no getting around it — Las Vegas is overkill, the ultimate in artificiality. And maybe that’s the point. It might as well have been Bugsy Siegel who coined the phrase, “if you build it, [they] will come.” Even if he never imagined a skyline that would one day morph into a giant stage set (look one way for the beckoning wink of a sphinx, another for the clarion call of knights around a table, another to mill about in the shadow of gods standing sentry in a sea of marble, no crazier than they ever were), the man knew the value of a good dream. Not his problem if one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare.
This morning I took a break from keeping my husband company in his booth at the convention center. I sat at the “beach” at Mandalay Bay, watching children of all ages ride wave after wave (it’s all here – wave pool, lazy river, loud music). My father, were he alive, would shake his head, what’s the world coming to? if I told him about family fun in Vegas. He loved the art of the card shark, no counting on penny machines for his luck to turn around. In his day I highly doubt there were billboards for free dental implants, cheap divorce, Wet Republic (some ad team’s idea of making an MGM Grand pool the place to cool off). But in this town sometimes known as the city of lost wages, some things have always been a constant. There’s a young woman walking past me, the bottom of her long white gown edged in a pattern of feathers stitched in red. No royal wedding here, just the very royal flush of a bride straight from the chapel.
Visit Deborah’s website here . . .
Now is one of those times.
After starting this piece about five different times with five completely different topic ideas, I decided to go with the only thing that I could write about: not writing.
It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about. I have much to write about. What I don’t have is a good writing practice — a committed discipline — and without that, my writing is subject to my moods and the unscheduled time slots in my calendar (between the hours of 12am and 6am). I need to cultivate the practice of placing butt in chair to write whether I feel like it or not — rain or shine, inspired or stymied, happy or cranky.
My most developed writing ritual is procrastination. I tend to find ways to procrastinate until the pressure I put myself under gets really unpleasant. I do a lot of web “research.” I think about the logistics of my writing rather than the content. I fret about the fact that I didn’t schedule writing time in my calendar, or if I did, I used the time for something else. I go grocery shopping. I do laundry. I even pay bills — another activity I procrastinate religiously, unless of course I end up doing it as a way to procrastinate the writing.
How long can I write about not writing? Isn’t that an act of procrastination?
I could write about how I brought my laptop with me to the couch with the intention of sitting comfortably and writing but fell asleep instead. This is what happens when you start a writing session after midnight, after a fabulous dinner with friends that included a couple of bottles of wine. I could write about how much bill-paying I completed, or how many new photos of my baby nephew I added to my growing digital collection. I could write about how I learned that actor Ed Norton dated singer Courtney Love from 1996 to 1999. Finally, I could write about how I viewed the online galleries of all the photographers I used to work for in the 1980’s after compulsively Googling them for the first time ever… when I was supposed to be writing. I guess I thought I might write about them. I guess I just did, so in retrospect it was web research.
Did you know that “ok” first showed up in 1839 as an abbreviation for a deliberate misspelling, “oll korrect?” It was the vestige of a slang fad in New York and Boston. Should you care to question the source of this random piece of information, according to the Chicago Manual Style (CMS), the proper way to cite it is:
o. k.. Dictionary.com. Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/o. k. (accessed: April 18, 2011)
I think I just have to accept that this piece will not be what I had originally intended. It will end without me writing about anything substantive that I experienced before this bout of writer’s block. It will be disjointed and self-indulgent. It will end without much logic or warning.