Category Archives: Mid-Life

How did I get to be this age?

What’s a Girl Gotta Do to Browse?

When I took that class a few months ago on white privilege and fighting racism, one of the reading assignments was on a website called Medium, which aims to curate “Stories to keep you informed, sane, and entertained,” with a liberal bent. It’s definitely a quality site with respected sources, and they send me daily emails with stories that cover the gamut of racism, Black experience, women’s rights, and lighter fair in dating and relationships. The daily feed is a bit too much content for me — I’m a delicate flower and these days it doesn’t take much to push me into overstimulation. But as long as I can browse and pick and choose, I’m good. Kind of like radio, you know that old-fashioned thing — I pick the station like Emerson College radio or classic rock and they do the rest.

But then I got an email that said, “Hey, we noticed you read some articles on this topic, here’s a bunch more for you.”

Wait, what? No, no, no! Don’t algorithm me! This is why I stopped liking songs on my Pandora Donna Summer station. I was young and naive when I first started listening, so I clicked on the little thumbs up icon and “liked” an ABBA song, and suddenly I was deluged by ABBA deep cuts. No, no, no! I don’t like them that much, I was just being electronically nice. So now, I don’t “like” anything, and am content to listen to repeat songs after an hour of listening. It’s a small price to pay, and feels a lot like an actual radio station.

I get that a lot of people want to control every aspect of their lives. In certain aspects of my life, I’m looking for less control. Job, family, and friends take a lot of my energy, which is good and right. Do I want to spend what’s left on micromanaging my music and reading? Not really. If I want to hear or read something specific, I’ll go find it myself. Otherwise, I kind of want you, Pandora station and Medium articles, to throw random things at me. I’m cool with it, really.

But the algorithms are on the prowl, and trying to turn me into a more narrow reader than I already am. Talk about the “echo chamber” effect. This is like the echo of the echo. I’m already a lefty leaning snowflake, so please don’t make it worse by just sending me the stuff I read. I’m not really the best judge — if I had my druthers, I’d mostly read funny articles about bad dates. But I do have some curiosity and if you show me something well-written on another topic, I may read that. But then I may be done, or I may want to know more. But I don’t know that until I get there.

While I’m browsing the shelves at the library or a bookstore, sometimes I prefer to wander the aisles and see what catches my eye. This is how I stumble upon a book I wouldn’t normally read. Or I may go right to the bodice rippers section and dive in, cuz that’s what’s on for this week. But I don’t want the librarian or the bookshop person to see my books and start telling me all the books that are similar. Unless I ask first. See how that works?

I get that places like to customize the customers experience — what with that incomprehensible alphabet soup of “UX” and “UI” and UTI, oh, wait, that’s something else. But maybe you can give me a choice first? You can even make fun of me. I would totally check a box that says, “I grew up with the randomness of radio and get crabby about having my echo chamber double echoed back at me. Please keep your algorithms to yourself.” Look you can even roll it into your goofy “branding.” Like the store Moosejaw (HQ in Michigan, don’t ya know) where I bought a coat online and had to call customer service about an issue. Those poor souls have to answer the phone, “Welcome to Mooooooooose (higher pitch) jaaaw (lower pitch).” They could make the option say, “Would you like our Mooooooooose jaw antlers to stay out of your coat buying choices? Then go ahead and click on the moose hoof. We don’t mind!”

That would actually make me crazy too, but I’m trying find a compromise here. I’m not quite sure what to do about Medium; Pandora at least gives me an option to not press the like button. How do I not read articles? Or do I have to read all of them and go crazy, or do I have to go to the main website and sift through pages of filter choices (if they even have them). Ah yes, turns out I do:

  • Recommended stories
    Featured stories, columns, and collections that we think you’ll enjoy based on your reading history
    OnOff

Off, please! OK. fine. That works. I’m still crabby that I had to go to the site in the first place to turn off something I didn’t ask for. If your algorithm really worked, you should have known that about me and turned it off yourself. Or you could at least use my wording — that’s a customization I can get behind.

 

The Garden of Gardner

On a recent visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, I found myself drawn to the center courtyard, an enclosed space with water, plants, and a skylight 4 stories up. It’s one of my favorite places to escape in the cold winter weather. Isabella designed the garden and building with the Renaissance palaces of Venice in mind, and also incorporated numerous architectural fragments from European Gothic and Renaissance structures.

In previous visits I looked at the garden for a little while and headed the other rooms and three floors of artistic treasures of paintings, furniture, tapestries, ancient statues, and more.

But in this visit I decided to just stay near the garden and try to see everything I could in it. To look at it in a way I never have. Sort of in a meditative way, where you actually see the object, not the imagery and thoughts your mind thinks of when you look at it.

gardner 2

I don’t know how successful I actually was, but I periodically moved from seat to seat slowly making my way around it, to see it from different perspectives. I was also trying not to photo bomb all the young women who were taking selfies and then photographing each other on the stone bench with the garden in the background. One young woman spent so much time fussing with and flicking her long blond hair in preparation, I started to wonder if Vogue was doing a photo shoot. It made me feel wise and superior — oh look at those vain, young ones — as I leaned in slightly toward them to see if I could make them take a photo of themselves at an awkward angle to keep me out of the frame. Ah, youth. So fun to mess with.

There was a lot to see, and even though I spent about an hour and a half looking from the different angles, the details just kept coming–there was no way to see it all.

On the other side of the garden I found a book about it. It’s set out on the bench, so you can learn a little more. It said that most of the garden statues were of powerful women and goddesses, like Athena and even Medusa — death by snakes is pretty powerful. It teasingly mentions that Odysseus is tucked in the corner (I never did see him), and then the booked asked if that was Isabella making a statement about the power of women. Heck yeah! Her wealth and presumably a husband who was a good partner allowed her the independent life she led. So, yeah, I’m going with strong chicks in the garden for $500, Alex.

Then I noticed that the flowers in the book looked very different from the current flowers I was looking at — mostly white, which is a color I was getting all too much of outside. There were pages describing the careful attention to changing flowers for the seasons, spring, summer, fall — and all the elaborate cultivation of “warm” purples and oranges and yellows. Strangely they didn’t mention any elaborate preparations for winter, when the visitors are at their most color deprived.

Then in my little Zen experiment of being calm and really “seeing,”  I started to feel ripped off. In fact one passage said they start these long hanging orange flowers called nasturtiums with seeds in June and then grow them for 9 months, like a baby, until they are 15 ft long. There were pictures of the flowers hanging two and three stories from the gothic windows along the sides of the garden. Suddenly I’m counting 9 months after June — wait a minute. That’s right now. Where the heck are my pretty orange cascading nasturtiums? All I get is bunches of cold white flowers? There were a handful of pretty flowering maples in the back, which remind me of my beloved Memere, who grew them, but still. Mostly white flowers.

Where are my pretty, “warm,” colorful flowers?

I might as well have been flicking my gray/brown wavy hair and taking a selfie with all of the “wisdom” I was feeling right then.

Then the book explained what the big stone box was that I was sitting next to:

grapes

Because of all the grapes along the top, and because it is a good-sized box, I thought it was maybe used for crushing grapes to make wine. Can’t you see Lucy and Ethel stomping around in there? What? I’m a child of the 70s and 80s. Plus all the carved people are either looking at each other, or trying to grab their neighbor’s beautifully carved buttocks while also gazing at the other neighbor’s accurately carved naughty bits. Usually alcohol is involved in these situations.

However, the little book that taunted me with pretty flowers informed me it’s a sarcophagus. As in coffin. Excuse me, the Farnese Sarcophagus. According to the website:

‘The Farnese Sarcophagus is one of the most important works of art in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Its glorious images of cavorting satyrs and maenads has inspired generations of artists, collectors, conservators, and viewers.

This large, rectangular marble coffin was created in the area of Rome in the late Severan period, around 225 AD. The occupants of the monument are unknown, since the lid was lost or destroyed. It was rediscovered in Tivoli in about 1535 and its beauty inspired Renaissance artists.”

So, what do I know? I looked, and with my I Love Lucy education, made a really wrong guess. How can we ever really know what old things mean to the people who made them, 1,800 years ago?

We can’t. All you can do is be quiet and look as best you can. And try to not to photo bomb the young ones’ pictures.

 

 

Let Us Now Praise Spike Lee

Today I want to sing the praises of Spike Lee. I have been a big fan of his work since I saw “She’s Gotta have It” in 1986. As I started to write this blog, I felt like I was repeating myself, which is either a sign I’ve written about him before and forgot (plausible), or I keep writing about him in my head, and I can’t access my Jedi powers well enough to just transmit that to the blog without typing (also semi-plausible and a writer’s occupational hazard). I  searched my posts, and so far I have only mentioned him a few times. So this is way overdue.

I’m so happy that he and his fellow writers (Kevin Willmott, David Rabinowitz, and Charlie Wachtell), won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for “BlacKkKlansman”; the movie is based on a true story of a Black undercover cop in the 70s who infiltrated the KKK using his white voice (echoes of “Sorry to Bother You”) and his white, Jewish partner. I never watch these award shows — they make me stay up too late for movies that I like, don’t like, or won’t be seeing. What do I care if they win a prize? And that’s not just the sour grapes talking because the movies I like don’t often win awards — like most of Spike Lee’s movies. I know some people don’t even watch it for the movies, but for the fashion, which it also lost on me. Nice dress! Weird dress! Red dress! Repeat!

I tend to tune the whole thing out, so as it happens, I learned Spike Lee won by reading about the comments about his acceptance speech. That’s kind of messed up, but here we are. This broke down in two ways: white people — He’s too political! He’s racist! (Because apparently talking about race is racist.) He’s using the platform inappropriately! And of course Cheeto flea had to tweet his illiterate nonsense. The Black people were more like: Yes! Thank you, Spike! We love you! Actually I think they said it in a cooler way, that was me white paraphrasing.

Now I was intrigued. Hmmmm. What did that fiery artist say now? He has always been outspoken about race and social justice — have you seen the pivotal scene near the end of “Do the Right Thing” where his usually non-threatening character has to decide — does he join a riot prompted by the unjust death of a Black man in his neighborhood or hold back and not destroy the pizza shop window of his white employer? As I was leaving the theater after that movie, all the black people were pumped up, and all the white people looked pale and uncomfortable. As they should. Spike has been telling us what’s what for more than 30 years now, He’s directed more than 24 movies and produced and created even more short films and documentaries. There’s even a Netflix series, based on the movie “She’s Gotta have It,” but I haven’t seen it — I’m experiencing FOMMM (fear of messing with my movie).

What does my artistic role model and inspiration have to say now in 2019, such as we are? I watched the clip, with some anticipation.

And there he was, a man of middle age, gripping a piece of paper, visibly shaking and doing his best to speak the Truth in his allotted time of almost 3 minutes. And what did he say that got some people’s panties in a twist? Calling on remembering the slave ancestors and the sacrifices they made. He named his grandmother, the daughter of a slave and graduate of Spelman College, and thanked her for saving her social security checks so he could go to Morehouse and NYU. She called him Spikey Poo. He called for remembering the genocide of the native people and said connecting with our ancestors would bring us wisdom and help us regain our humanity. Oh, and there was a bit about 2020 presidential election being right around the corner: “Make the moral choice between love versus hate.” Then he said “Do the Right Thing,” and he laughed, “You know I had to get that in there!”

So, yes, it was altogether shockingly … calm? Inspiring? Heartfelt with personal thanks to his grandma? Funny? Similar to what any non-Trump supporter is saying about 2020? Rooted in facts that are already established? Yes, Black people were brought here from Africa as slaves, Natives were definitely killed en masse, and there is documented hate going around.

I can totally see how shouting out to your grandmother is really just wasting people’s time with useless personal thanks. Thank your industry buds, your spouse, and move it along.

None of it matters. Spike Lee, after 5 nominations finally was recognized for the work he has been doing tirelessly, with integrity, honesty, and passion. Thanks Spike for your inspiration and for setting this white girl on a path of better understanding 30 years ago about what it means to be Black in America. And thank you for doing it with humor, music, clear-eyed Truth, and without apology. I’m going to watch your video again and get to work.

 

Unplugged

I took a few days off to go to Conway,  NH, and I knew there wouldn’t be WiFi. Conway is not that remote — it’s a popular summer and winter vacation spot, so I wasn’t expecting that the cell signal would be nearly non-existent. I took most social media off my phone after the Cheeto flea made it a collage of constant nastiness, so I was pretty smug and confident that I would be fine without service. And I was for the most part. Texting was kind of maddening. Suddenly one bar would appear and my phone would buzz with texts coming in. I’d read them, and just as I would try to respond, the service would go down again. Nothing was very urgent, except to make sure a few key people knew I had spotty service and not to wait for my answer.

It did make me realize how much I do check texts and email, and so I was surprised at how freeing it was to not have to answer. To just leave it alone. For a few days, I had no idea what was going on in the world, and all I had to contemplate was the fire place, and these beautiful scenes on a couple of hikes.

Well, that and relearn how to use a map instead of Siri.

diana

Diana’s Bath

champney 2

Champney Falls

I’m back and checking the phone too much, but I’m going to try to put it down for a few hours on a regular basis. Now I just need a fireplace.

Traditions Have to Start Somewhere

I used to playfully envy my ex — his people hailed from the next batch of ships after the pilgrim’s landed, and they had a fancy family tree to prove it. I on the other hand had 2nd generation immigrants on my mom’s side and 1st on my dad’s. I would marvel at my mother-in-law’s stories about how her great-uncle was a photographer (hello, invention of the camera) and brother to Thomas Moran the painter. I had a French Canadian great-grandfather who was a poor farmer in Quebec. A little better was my Dutch great grandfather who was the captain of a passenger ferry. I was never a person who envied other peoples’ wealth, but I did envy their pedigree.

Luckily, all that envy has dissolved — with my divorce, my maturity, and just witnessing firsthand that pedigree isn’t necessarily better. I’ve learned that the more important thing is, do people around you love you, and will they give you wine and cheese willingly if you ask for it?

I mistook pedigree for traditions that matter, and traditions, such as the continuation of wine, cheese, and food with lots of butter are worth holding on to as long as you can. But families age and change; your beloved only child has absolutely no interest in the spritz cookies that defined your childhood Christmas experience and that you painstakingly make each year; so now just you and your sister eat them. He prefers the Nestle Toll-House dough you buy at the store. But truly, I’m not bitter. And parents get older and eat like birds, which is good because most of the traditional menu would make their primary care doctor put us on an “abusing elders by high salt and fat holiday food diet” watch list.

This year my family reached that point of hey, traditions are cool until they no longer serve, so what should we do this year?

I paraphrase “The Graduate” and the career advice the middle-aged neighbor gives Ben: “One word: plastics.”

Our new tradition should be one word: corn.

Like our epic tale of Beocat, this tale starts with an impossible task. To celebrate a Christmas when there is a new venue, the attendants all need to be picked up, and the holiday falls on a Tuesday in the middle of a work week. Oh, and there was a medical emergency just days before the holiday. (Everyone is OK!)

On Christmas day, my sister realized she had no vegetables to accompany the short ribs she was making in the crock pot. Or did she? Resourceful as ever, she dug around in her pantry until she found a can of creamed corn and a can of corn. Score! A quick trip around the internet revealed several viable recipes, some with cream cheese and bacon, also things my sister had on hand. Turns out folks in the South love creamed corn casseroles, cheese and corn, bacon and corn, corn and corn — it’s some kind of tradition down there. So my brother-in-law hunted down more cans of corn from the only store open on Christmas day, the CVS, and we were in business. Perhaps we have even started started a new tradition. Seems like there are plenty out to choose from, and it doesn’t take a pedigree to try them. It just takes a small panic and a stocked pantry.

Even if we don’t make it a new tradition, my sister said she always wanted to be the kind of cook who could look into her pantry and make a meal out of it. Congrats, sis, you can cross that off your bucket list.

Corn photo credit: State Street Farmers Market in Tennesse

 

 

 

 

Top 5 for 2018, Cuz We’re All in Hurry

I usually do a top 10 or top 11, because it amuses me, but this year I just have time for 5, but I’m guessing you won’t mind. You’ve got things to do too, don’t you. I just want to say thank you for reading in 2018, thank you if you’ve been reading longer than that (check is in the mail, I swear), and thank you for continuing to read in 2019, if you are so moved. I love that two pieces I wrote eons ago continue to get readership–it cracks me up and lifts me up : Jilted by My Hairdresser—Twice and Shaving, Waxing, Electrocution: A Primer on Women’s War on Hair. I just realized they are both about hair, one flippant and one serious. So we must all have a thing about hair–hmmmm. Food for thought for 2019. Or maybe hair for thought.

Happy new year and here’s to making 2019 better than 2018. The bar is pretty low, people.

Anyway, here are the top 5 posts for 2018. I swear I’m not insulted that they aren’t all from this year. That’s cool. Really. Fine, I’ll work harder next year!

5. Wine Whine  : So I’m guessing you all like wine, and that’s why I like you. Some of you are sommeliers, and more power to you. Me? I’m a simple girl. Show me your wine rack that’s organized in a way people can decipher and no one gets hurt.

4. X-Files: The Bad Boyfriend I Can’t Leave : This one is the 2nd in the series, so I would be negligent if I didn’t  encourage you to read the first one: Christopher William Carter, You’re Grounded and then #3 X-Files, Fin. The fact that neither of those made the top 5, or the top 10 for that matter, may be an indication that it’s similar to the Star Trek movies: only the even numbered ones are any good. Whatever. If you are an X-File fan, prove it and read them! If not, you’re forgiven. There is a high probability the 2nd one is better than the other 2, but you didn’t hear that from me.

3. It’s a Cute Hamster Week : Not sure why you liked this one better than this one, which was so cute, it hurts: It’s Time for Cuteness. But maybe the cute hamster week, with the hamster hanging on is more relatable than cuteness that hurts. You can be the judge of that.

2. It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: So I posted this twice, once in 2017 and again in 2018. I think that makes it a classic. (Hint: you will most likely see it in April 2019–for testing purposed only, I swear. Enjoy!

1. Alpha Flee: OK, so I’m going to pretend that the top post for 2018 is NOT a post I wrote in 2016. I’m going to be flattered you found it. Buried underneath 2.5 YEARS of OTHER FABULOUS POSTS. Did I shout? I didn’t mean to. I’m just SO EXCITED that you found it.  And now that I’ve reread it, you’re right. That is some damn good writing. So you’ve got impeccable taste. I totally knew that.

For the record, my personal favorite for 2018 was the Beocat Epic tale. Long live Sir Beocat!

Happy New Year my loves and see you in 2019.

I Am the Slurper

Koo koo kitchoo. Although calling myself cool is too much of a stretch unless there is a round of drinks going around that I am paying for, I like to think I have my moments. At the very least, I would say I’m a considerate, self-aware person, especially at the office. If I’m feeling perimenopausal and you’re a stranger crossing my path, well, good luck to you. But my coworkers I have to live with every day. I know the value of being a considerate office mate. Not like that guy who sucks the last drops of his iced coffee with a straw. What a jerk! And then there is a woman who someone said she makes the most noise doing absolutely nothing. Crinkling papers, paper clip jingling, moving stuff around on her desk. So annoying!

That’s not me. I try to be helpful, and if I can’t say yes to a request immediately, I let you know when I can. I try to entertain and not bore people with my stories. I empathize, I validate. Overall, I would rate myself a pretty decent coworker.

That was until the office holiday party. Did I drink too much? Interestingly I did have an office party with another group that involved alcohol, and since I haven’t been summoned by HR, I managed to navigate that party well, and I’m guessing I was “fun,” and not “fun?@!#$%^^&???”

Oh, no, this other party was just a bunch of us having a nice catered lunch, and my coworker who sits on one side of me said something about me slurping my coffee. But he teases everyone about the most ridiculous things, so I said laughing, “I do not slurp my coffee!” To which my coworker who sits on the other side of me said, “Oh yes you do!”

I had that Matrix moment, where time slows down and my morning routine flashed before my eyes: getting coffee from the kitchen, walking back to my desk, lifting the cup to my lips, and…

OH MY GOD! I’m a SLURPER!

How could I not know this? Me, self-aware, super helpful Sandy!? Of course then they also started complaining about the crunching noise of my daily celery and carrot snack. To that one I say deal with it. I try to close my mouth. That’s the nature of the food and not much I can do about it.

But slurping? Ugh, the absolute worst.

Actually you know what was worse? I sat down this morning and forgot all about it. I’m pretty sure I did it again today. I can’t even hear it! WTF? All those years of giving the side eye to people who make noise at work. I’d think to myself, surely you can hear that, you’re just being a jerk. But apparently being a jerk and hearing yourself slurp is not mutually exclusive.

Wow, so….sorry? I’m going to try to remember tomorrow, and I can only guess that my other good qualities have prevented my coworkers from poking me in the eye with a Sharpie. Or, I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. So that’s what that Beatles song was about.