Monday, February 27, 2006

The Story Will Have To Wait...

For a time this winter, writing consumed me. I was at it several hours, every day. Then it got frustrating. I felt I had things to say, but the words went away. I felt chained to the keyboard; it taunted me…it withheld its grace. The words choked and clogged. "Control+X" was my "go-to" tool.

Sleep, for me, has been much the same--choked and clogged. On-again, off-again…mostly off. Last Friday, stutter-stepping through another long night, this thought came to me: I want to be able to just...look at the pictures without coming up with the words. For a little while, anyway.

Monday, February 20, 2006

This Is Your Life

The milestone birthdays come packaged with a DVD of mandatory retrospective. The more advanced the age, the more maudlin the video. Up until now, I’ve studiously avoided the one that came with my big 5-0 last July. A couple of things have happened over the last week to inspire me to finally crack open the jewel case and take a cautious peek at what’s inside.

First of all, I got a chain e-mail which casually mentioned that most people get about 75 years out of life. (This was certainly originated by someone under forty.) But, I have to admit, it sounds reasonable. My own dad died at 79. Mom is still hanging in there at 83, but there’s a world of difference between living and just being alive. My sister died at 48. Hmmmm…maybe I don’t want to add her into the family death lottery; if Mom died today, that would drag the average life span down to seventy.

Mom will just have to live to be 98 in order to restore the balance.

And no one else can die for at least twenty years.

Ah…there is just a tiny sample of the higher mathematics at which people my age suddenly become proficient…

Okay…75 years. That used to be unthinkably far away. Seventy-five was as unimaginable to me, even at forty, as the fact that I would be forty-five in "The Year Two Thousand" seemed to me when I was ten. (Didn’t all school kids of the sixties sit around and calculate how old they would be at the turn of the century?) In the space of one high-speed decade, I went from still having half my life to look forward to, to realizing that 2/3 of that same life has already passed under the bridge.

Ten years ago, when I looked back 25 years, the picture—of a fifteen-year-old hippie in raggedy bell-bottoms that dragged on the ground, holey moccasins and a fringed leather jacket—at least had a misty quality of nostalgia about it. In 1996, in my big shirt, lycra leggings, and Nikes, I could look at that old, creased instamatic photo and say, "Wow! Wasn’t that a lifetime ago!"

But, 1981? I was already an adult. I had a husband and a mortgage, two car payments and a houseful of pets. Not so terribly different from what I am now. In fact, the object obtained with one of those two sets of car payments is currently sitting in my driveway. The last 25 years, with their victories and defeats, spotlight moments and deep shadows, moves, loves, lessons and losses, have just been like…stuffing added to a finished pillow. Unremarkable, in many ways, from the previous stuffing, waiting to be covered up and tamped down by the stuffing yet to come. I liked it much better when I could look back 25 years and still see the pieces waiting to be stitched together.

The other thing that pushed me into a retrospective mindset was my last post, where I mentioned my tug-of-war, high-energy/melancholy personality. It got me to wondering, how long have I been that way? I realized, it’s been as long as I can remember. And I thought about that… What was it like to carry around that odd, almost old-womanish persona in a child’s world? And I recalled the school year of 1968-69. I was in eighth grade. It was the worst year of my sheltered young life. Bad enough that I can still recall how miserable I was, but I have a hard time focusing on the actual details…I’m afraid I simply blocked them out. But since this entry is already getting long, and I have a ton of work to do today, I’ll share that story in my next post.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Working out the Kinks

What is success? I think it is…knowing that it is not enough, that you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.

Margaret Thatcher

Yesterday was a successful day. The sun was out, the air was crisp and blue, and I had work to do. I read other women’s posts, the ones they write at the end of an exhausting, whirlwind day filled to overflowing with errands, tasks, and responsibilities. They are dog tired and squeeze out a precious minute or two to jot a few lines before falling into bed; mostly to say they would sell their right arm for a little quiet time. And I wish I could tell them, make them understand: You don’t know how lucky you are.

I would give anything to have that, right now. I am a naturally high-energy person; running my butt off is what I do best. Unfortunately, I am also naturally melancholy…bordering on depressive. An odd combination. And it has been difficult. Imagine physically needing to be busy, to be occupied, keeping three or four balls in the air at one time, but at the same time, being depressed to the point of not really being able to move. It’s like wading through crude oil; desperate to go forward (or anywhere at all…) but you can’t move your feet. And you have some kind of itching powder just under your skin that you can’t get rid of. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but it IS how it feels.

After the rush and bustle of the holidays, I had the entire month of January "off." I can hear people out there saying, "A month off? What I wouldn’t give for that!" What I wouldn’t have given to have had work during that month! Without something to force the wheels to turn, to make me get out of bed in the morning, I ground to a standstill. I couldn’t do anything. I’d start little projects, lose interest almost immediately, and then wander on to the next thing. I am completely unmotivated to do things just because I want to. I need to have to. There needs to be some accountability, some deadline, some "this needs to be done and only I can do it" attached to a task, or I just don’t follow through. That’s why the whole "job" thing was such a see-saw life for me, all those years I was out there in the workaday world. My personality is such that finding the right job—working for someone else—was nearly impossible. I think it was because I needed to be needed…needed to be the one that, if I didn’t haul my ass out of bed and get to work, the important stuff wasn’t going to get done. I had exactly one job like that in my whole life, and it was my dream job. Most employers, however, are in the business of making it crystal clear to their employees that they are far from irreplaceable…the old "Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out" philosophy. That just does not work for me.

So, anyway, yesterday was a good day. I have my first event of the season coming up in a week. I have—praise the Creator—work to do. I have to buy supplies, make product, spiff up equipment, make lists, check things off the lists, run my butt off…for at least a few hours a day, anyway. And it makes the sunshine a little brighter, the blue sky a little bluer, and my night’s sleep a little more welcome. Life is good.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Feeling Old

My sister’s husband had a stroke yesterday. He is five months older than I am. Ever get the feeling that mortality is crashing down on you like a ton of…clay?

Of course, it is the height of selfishness and insensitivity for me to make his tragedy about me. Isn’t it? Let’s face it, for those of us hovering around the half-century mark, that’s just something you do. You hear about the death or illness of a peer, and the first thing you do is mentally subtract your age from theirs. When the answers start coming up in negative numbers, you try to ignore that prickle of sweat rising up on the back of your neck. You go to the funeral, you send the flowers or the get-well card, you make the hospital visits, all the while trying to sublimate your fear that, next time, you will be the visitee rather than the visitor.

For me, my brother-in-law’s misfortune is a double moral challenge. Because the fact is, his is a shit, plain and simple. He and my sister have spent most of their nearly fifteen years of married life seeing how miserable they can make each other. I have never understood their relationship, I have never understood why they are so dog-assed determined to continue it. I think it boils down to neither of them wanting to be the first one to give up the fight. The only way to ever win this interminable epic battle, would be for one of them to finally walk away and hand victory to the other. And, of course, they would rather sentence each other to eternal conflict, than give the other guy the satisfaction of being the last man (woman) standing. Thank god there are no children hostage in this war of wills.

All signs indicate that J’s was a mild stroke; though they haven’t completely summed up the damage yet, and haven’t, as far as I know, ventured a prognosis. I can’t seem to muster up much concern for the situation either way. I feel bad for my sister; I feel sorry that they are going through this frightening experience. But my disquiet just…doesn’t seem to go very deep. In fact, it’s more like it’s happening to some passing acquaintance than to my own immediate family. So I feel guilty, on top of everything else. You know how you try to stir up empathy for someone by imagining how you would feel if their problems were happening to you? I can’t even do that, here, because I really don’t want to put myself, even hypothetically, in my brother-in-law’s shoes. It gives me too much of a feeling like…like there, but for the grace of god, go I. And that’s way too disturbing.

Sometimes, growing old is just a pain in the ass.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Lament...or a Call To Action

I am the silent majority.
I am the endangered middle class.
I am the fifty-something American citizen, bound to conform to the realities of the out-sourced twenty-first century workplace—minimum compensation in exchange for minimum commitment—for at least another decade. Or maybe forever.
I no longer dream of retirement, because I will neither be able to count on the government program into which I paid all my working years to sustain me; nor will I be able to depend upon the pension in which I invested a lifetime of drudgery, so that I could still enjoy my golden years in the not unforeseen event that Social Security would collapse before I drew my first dime.
I will need to work until I drop dead, which I will most likely conveniently do ten or twenty years before my time, since I can afford neither the medical care nor the drugs to keep me healthy.
I am a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent. I am a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, an agnostic. I am white, black, hispanic, asian, Native American. Neither religion nor politics can exempt me from this colossal crowd shuffling off to a dark, ailing, impoverished demise.
I am a former beaded, bell-bottomed Viet Nam War protestor, who foresook activism somewhere between high school and life, and is only now shaking out of my ears the debris from those thirty intervening years of keeping my political head firmly planted in the sand.
I am a Baby Boomer. And the only salvation I can count on in all the world is…ME.

Monday, February 06, 2006

An Invitation (Help...!)

About a month ago I was approached with a proposition. A beleaguered midlifers' romantic fantasy? Hardly. But I was excited by it, nonetheless.

Actually, the proposition came from a group of writers for whom I have a great deal of respect: The bloggers at "The Blue Voice." For those of you who don’t know, TBV is an ensemble blog collaborated upon by eight gifted political writers who became acquainted with one another through the AOL Journal Community. In June of last year (long before the AOL exodus) they launched this enterprise at Blogspot in order to have a crack at airing their opinions to a larger, more diverse audience than offered by AOL. I have been a reader and more or less regular commentor almost from their first day.

To my immense delight, a few weeks ago, they approached me with the idea of becoming a "guest writer" at the blog. Though I was flattered and stoked by the idea, it took me a long time to decide whether I would truly be up to the challenge. I’ve been in the habit of firing off my political rants when something in the news sent me over the edge of reason. I didn’t know—and I still don’t know—if I could come up with a regular stream of good, topical, thoughtful political commentary. But…darned if, in the end, I couldn’t resist giving it a shot. I posted my first entry at 3:00 this morning. I’d appreciate it if those of you who visit my personal blogs—Coming to Terms on AOL and Better Terms on blogspot—could mosey on over to TBV and read my first offering. Maybe give me a few pointers. Or tell me to get out now while I still have my dignity. Most of it, anyway.

While you’re at it, read the rest of the posts there as well. If you’re anything like me, you’ll get hooked on the great writing showcased at TBV, and you’ll become a regular reader. And however you are inspired by the writing, yea or nay, don’t forget to comment. After all, despite what the Bush Administration would have us believe, political discourse has kept this nation vital for more than 200 years. Any and all opinions are sought after and welcomed at TBV. As it should be.

I'll be hiding in the corner, scanning the crowd for a few familiar faces...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Another Chilling Opening for Robertson's Judgment?

Crews Search for Survivors in Red Sea

SAFAGA, Egypt (Feb. 3) - An Egyptian ferry carrying about 1,300 people sank in the Red Sea early Friday during bad weather, and rescue ships and helicopters pulled dozens of survivors and bodies from the water. Some 180 escaped on lifeboats, an official said.

I can't wait to get Pat Robertson's perspective on this one...

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


he was not
a fiery furnace
meant to heat a towering building;

nor yet an explosion
which warms the distant
while incinerating the near.

he was simply
a steady glowing coal
in the family fireplace;
a dependable comfort and light
that burned for nearly eighty
of the twentieth century’s
ever-advancing years;

the quiet warming
bright red ember
that waned, flickered, and died
on a rainy, windy February morning…

I miss you, Dad…
it’s cold.

Inspired (?) by the SOTU

Maybe all State of the Union Addresses sound like Inauguration speeches. I wouldn’t know. Last night, I did something I’ve never done before: I sat through an entire televised broadcast of a State of the Union. For this, I have George W. Bush to thank. That, and my pesky sense of fair play that proves, at my age, to be little more than a monumental annoyance. Mr. Bush inspires me to such heights of frustration, anger, and despair, that I thought it only fair to actually tune in to what he had to say for himself at the beginning of his sixth (oh my god…sixth???? ) year in office. Or maybe I was just looking for more fuel for the fire of rage this administration has lit in me.

I can’t figure out why I was disappointed. It’s not as if Mr. Bush didn’t come out of the gate waving the American flag that he snatched from the twin towers, and peddling the same "America is great, support our troops" rhetoric that he’s paraded in front of partisan audiences since the 2004 presidential campaign. To my surprise, he did not indulge in any highly divisive right vs left rhetoric. I suppose he leaves that to the likes of Karl Rove and the GOP Congressional leaders. The only time he even brushed up against the concept of partisan politics, it was to connect that condition to any Bush Administration action or program that the entire country had not opened wide and gulped down without a whimper. Like his Social Security plan. At the mention of which, the Democratic side of the aisle indulged in a little back-thumping and high-fiving of their own. Inappropriate perhaps. But it was the highlight of the hour, for me…

Once again, Mr. Bush took 9/11 in one hand, and the Iraq War in the other, mashed them together like two clumps of modeling clay and presented them to the audience as one entity. To distract viewers from the fact that those two issues had never been and were never going to be a single ball of wax, Mr. Bush showcased the family of a fallen soldier, invited to the sit in the gallery and display their sad but brave faces to the cameras (while administration henchmen made sure that Cindy Sheehan and her unpatriotic tee shirt were duly arrested and whisked out of eyeshot of any wayward photojournalist...) He gambled that our eyes would fill with honorable, patriotic tears and cloud our vision once again; that vision which is just beginning to clear of the dust from ground zero. Proving that he will simply take a slightly different path to the same well of fear, revenge, and blind nationalism from which he has been ladling since September 11, 2001. But this was not unexpected…and I didn’t find myself yelling at the television anywhere near as often as I thought I would be. Except when the Republican legislators' seats seemed to eject them every time the President paused to cue their loyal adulation...I just had to scream, "Oh, sit down and let him get it over with!"

Following the pathetic tear-jerker, Mr. Bush went on to enumerate the list of important sounding but barely fleshed-out legislation that his administration would like rubber stamped by his sycophantic, power drunk GOP Congress. Studies, commissions, programs, created from the same mold as the great, lofty, unfunded, frustrating-as-hell "No Child Left Behind Act." Wow. I can’t wait. As a real bonus, we were treated to a couple of minutes of Mr. Bush citing statistics on crime, abortion, teen pregnancy, AIDS…statistics collected and designed to show what a phenomenal job the Bush Administration has done over the years. I don’t know. Every one of Mr. Bush’s speeches, toiled over by the best and the brightest of GOP spin-doctors, has been so chocked full of outright lies that I wouldn’t trust the President to tell me the sky was blue. So pardon me if I was not impressed by his statistics.

In the end, I had a feeling that I had spent an hour in "Neverland." That Mr. Bush was valiantly trying to sweep the damage of the rocky first year of his "mandated" second administration--miserable war news, FEMA flubs, allegations of corruption, erosion of his administration’s web of lies, runaway energy prices, and a health care crisis of heretofore unrivaled magnitude--under the carpet and call for a "do-over." It appears his reasoning was that, if he didn’t address any of those issues, or possible remedies for any of those failures, then they never happened. I’ve got news for you, Mr. Bush: The elephantine mass of your regime’s lies and failures is getting way too big to hide behind your back while you smirk and joke, or put on your serious face and point to the bereaved family of a valiant fallen soldier. To an increasing degree, we’re not buying it anymore, Mr. President.

In the circus atmoshpere of anticipation leading up to the speech, created by our intrepid hype-crazed media, I heard pundit after pundit describe how the sixth year of a two-term president’s run is historically fraught with problems…from Nixon’s Watergate to Clinton’s Monica-gate. As a nation, with respect to the G.W. Bush Administration, we can only cross our fingers--and work like hell--for that trend to continue.