Monday, April 20, 2015

P.S. Bread Cloth

After writing that last post, I remembered that years ago, a friend living in Bulgaria had sent me a cloth people wrapped bread in--it was just the normal technology there. 

But... HAD I THROWN IT OUT, in one of my purges?

No, I just found it. Happy! It's lightweight cotton, embellished with a little needlework and a pretty edging...

I've never used it, but now I will stitch it into a bag and that will suit my needs. 

Welcome to the Working Week

Monday morning, and I woke up thinking of "Welcome to the Working Week" by Elvis Costello, though––unlike in that song–– I'm happy to start working today. 

Last week was kind of hard---my first week not working on Memory Care, and I was also house sitting, so I felt doubly displaced. 

"The self is not infinitely elastic."  --Parker Palmer

I felt comforted, reading that reminder last week.
There's a myth out there (is it peculiarly American?) that the self is infinitely elastic, and for a long time I wondered what was wrong with me that my rubber band kept snapping...

I'd say a grace of midlife is recognizing my limitations, and seeing them as helpful, as things that work to hold me together and give me shape.

So, while I do feel sad for leaving the residents, I [mostly] don't feel that I failed, personally, so much as that the circumstances were beyond my capabilities, for what I wanted to do.

The job needs someone who's OK with just doing what you can, even if it's only a little. But I wanted to reach each person with dementia to help them create meaning. 

What I learned is that this is possible (to varying degrees) with dementia. Exciting! But it requires a lot of time and a very low ratio of people without dementia to people with dementia, neither of which were available at work.

II. Back to the Books

Now I'm home again, with two huge piles of books and videos to sort. 

This is one of them >.

I'm going to start by writing a bibliography, a very satisfying task for a list-maker like me, and a good way to start to enter the various povs into my brain, which will sort them out eventually. 

III. Bags

And then--treat!
I'm going to start sewing cloth food bags, to take to the grocery store and use instead of plastic produce bags. 
This will be fun.

I realized, talking to Laura on the phone last night (thanks, Laura!), that I already miss my Sewing Group at work; it'd surprised me how much I enjoyed making hot pads and baby bibs and Easter bunnies. I also enjoy rummaging through the fabric recycling bin at the Thrift Store for usable cloth.

(Like all Thrift Stores, mine gets a lot of unsellable donations--stained and ripped clothes, for instance––and they sell the cloth for pennies a pound to a recycler. It's the old Rag and Bone trade.) 

I'm not sure I can find sheer cloth there, but I do think it's a good idea so you can see your produce,
< like here.

Photo (and instructions) at DIY Reusable Produce Bags

Lots of us already use big cloth bags to carry our groceries but not little ones for produce or bulk items. This project will meet my longing to keep making crafts and also address my heightened distress at how much garbage we make.

My subconscious seems to be on board with my plan of action:
last night I dreamed I was taking final exam in Calculus and had no clue, so I started writing a poem instead––
. . .and the teacher was enthusiastic with what I was doing.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

A New Spice

"Darling, you smell of Worcestershire sauce!"

Garbage research is adding spice to my life.

Yesterday at Trader J's, I was just about to put some prepared Indian food in my cart when my brain began to flash 
Red Alert: Foil Packets Last Until the End of Time
and I couldn't do it.

This is a good thing, really--I love Indian food, and it's cheap and easy to make. The spices do all the work: just choose three and add them to lentils and veg, and you've pretty much made something good to eat.

Today I'll go to the co-op and buy in bulk Indian spices I've let run out, or dry up--cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, garam masala, ginger, mustard seed, turmeric.

For fun, I'm going to buy asafoetida, finally, too––a spice I've never used but know from a line in a poem by Catullus (7) in which he says he wants as many kisses from his lover as the Libyan sands

that lay at asafoetida-bearing Cyrene ...

This drove me crazy, trying to translate it when I was studying Latin [quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis].
(For a while after I got my B.A. (in Religions in Antiquity, minor in Latin) (at 35!), I wrote like that too. My English was all twisted up, as if it were translated from Latin, badly. It took writing nonfiction for kids for a couple years for me to straighten it out again.)

Anyway, looking "asafoetida" up, I see it tastes something like leeks and is rumored to give Worcestershire sauce its distinctive aroma. 
Oh dear, its name looks like it'd smell like ass-feet... looked it up and--close--it means "fetid resin"--also nicknamed devil's dung

I like leeks.

* * * Krista comments (hi! Krista) that Mr. Husband recommends Majula's Kitchen for Indian recipes.

Here's also Indian Vegan Recipes--of course, you don't have to remove anything from a lot of Indian recipes to make them vegan.
Though sometimes I add butter so they're not...

The blogger provides an Indian Grocery Shopping List. Asafoetida is optional. The nice thing about buying spices in bulk is, you  can just buy a little.
Painting: "Nudes", Paul Delvaux, 1946

Friday, April 17, 2015


Marz and I went to see Carl Bernstein (Watergate!) speak last night at a free Town Hall Forum downtown.
You know, he the Dustin Hoffman one in All the President's Men (to the right; Bob Woodward, Robert Redford on the left).

I went because he was kind of a hero of my youth––not that I paid a lot of attention to politics, but he was a good guy in a rotten time––and also because after just one week of working at home again, I remember how isolating it is and that I must be careful to get out among people.

It's always impressive to see people at the top of their game, of course, and Bernstein was a lot of fun--humorous, serious, engaged... but what impressed me most was that before the event started, he sat gazing with interest at the audience in front of him--looking all around, even up to the balcony. 

Marz said she'd noticed that too: it was clear he was studying the crowd, and you could see that after fifty-five years of reporting (he started when he was sixteen), he's still actively curious.
Really neat!

I'm always looking around at audiences too, to gather impressions. 
As usual at these Town Halls, the crowd was mostly affluent and middle-aged or older. 

What struck me most last night was people's hair: almost every head was coiffed to perfection.
If you could count how many dollars this crowd had spent on hair care in the past month, it'd probably equal the numbers of hairs on their heads.  (Given that this crowd had thinning hair...)

Marz commented, "We're in the middle of NPR [national public radio]."

I feel better about my writing job now--I don't get to [have to] meet my informants in underground garages, and it's not original reporting, but it calls on the same kind of attention: 
being curious enough to find and collate and share, in Bernstein's words, "the best obtainable version of the truth."

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Garbage" Includes Sardine Cans...

Michael reminded me of this folk song written for the first Earth Day in 1970 by Bill Steele, even though it implicates sardine eaters (such as Michael himself).1986, Pete Seeger performs "Garbage" as part of a documentary, The Mountain in the City.

Garbage Day

Photographer Gregg Segal recruited people to save 7 days of garbage and then lie in it and let him photograph them.  
Above, "Marsha and Steve", floating

Glad® (the plastic-bags makers) did a similar project, Waste in Focus, but their images are much tidier (and less disturbing).
Below, "The Griffin Family"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What I'm Reading

1. Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, by Anne Jamison et al. (2013)
Essays on fan-written works, for example:
"Fic U: Higher Education through Fanfiction (Or, How Several Years of Writing Sex Stories about Television Characters Can Be Just as Valuable as––and Way Cheaper Than––a College Education)"

I also see the value of fan creation as education:
the way Marz, for instance, is delving into the Seventies background of Starsy & Hutch as deeply or more deeply than [most] classes would take her. Hers is a mix of purposeful search (why does Starsky wear Adidas? what programs/apps give you the best tools to create fanvids?) and serendipity:
The other day she was laughing hysterically having stumbled on the news that Jimmy Carter was attacked by a swimming bunny. (Some of us remember that firsthand...)

Or the way I got interested in Star Trek's use of mid-century design. (I was just talking about spun aluminum the other day, when a set of tumblers came into the Thrift Store.)

Alas, fandom doesn't provide a piece of paper you can parley into a job.

2. The Rime of the Modern Mariner, by Nick Hayes (2011)
A cartoon modernization of the Coleridge poem, with the mariner ending up stuck in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I picked this up for my research---it's great!
So I turned around frustrated
And looked across the sea
And saw we were surrounded...
By a wash of polythene.
  . . .
Tupperware and bottletops
Bottled bleach and tyres...
The detritus of a careless kind...
A scattered funeral pyre.
3. The Scavengers, by Michael Perry, 2014
Also picked up for research purposes---it's a Y/A novel about a girl in the dystopian future who lives with her family near a dump, from which they scavenge junk to live on and barter. Sort of a retelling of Little House on the Prairie (which the girl learns to read on).

I wouldn't have noticed when I was a kid, but the author's conspiracy theories soured the story a bit for me: the [future] government has staged terrorist attacks, has left people defenseless by taking away their guns...
Still, I think I'll put it in the reading list--it's an interesting enough take on garbage.

4. Skating to Antarctica: A Journey to the End of the World, by Jenny Diski (1998)

When I was recently trying to reread Doris Lessing (below, left), looking around online I learned that she had taken in Jenny Diski (below, right) in 1963 when she was essentially a homeless teenager.
After Lessing died in 2013 and Liski was diagnosed with lung cancer a year later, Liski began to write a memoir of that time. First installment in the LRB: "What to Call Her".

So then I got interested in Diski. Skating to Antarctica is a memoir of looking for the peace of empty white spaces--she really goes to Antarctica--and a reflection of growing up, not coincidentally, with a crazy mother and a con man for a father.

5. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, Parker Palmer (1998)
I picked this book out of a Little Free Library box yesterday when I was walking the dog I'm house sitting, because I knew Palmer, whom I've read before, would be soothing to my shaky inner self, having just failed at being a kind of teacher myself. (Leading Activities was a kind of teaching).

["Failed" maybe sounds too harsh, but I failed at least in the word's meaning to "cease to exist or to function, come to an end", which was not what I'd intended and which feels bad.]

[404 error pages]

I started Palmer's book last night, and right away I felt the relief of recognition. He titles one of his sections "When Teachers Lose Heart", and I thought, yeah, that's it, I lost heart at work:
the circumstances were disheartening.

I'd often thought in that job that I could now relate better to what teacher friends say about feeling demeaned and diminished by the administration of schools, even though the work itself is incredibly worthwhile. It's a big problem, not just mine (ha! hardly).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Garbage Strike, 1968: I _AM_ A MAN

Oh, my.
It never signified for me, until now, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his amazing last speech, "I've Been to the Mountaintop", [links to full text] in support of striking garbage collectors.
King said, "The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers." [boldface mine]
 Photo ^ via Miami Herald ("Four Decades Later", 2008)
I AM a Man. The underlining of what should be obvious... So horribly similar to today's "Black Lives Matter":

 Photo ^ via pixhark gallery
(I like the hand-added apostrophe: I can imagine someone making the sign.)
Excellent resources --more images and information-- at the I AM A MAN exhibit:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Can you think of any garbage in pop culture?

You know, I mean actual garbage, trash, waste, not pop culture that is garbage.

This is the first example I could think of: the Death Star Garbage Compactor, in the first Star Wars * (1977).

"What an incredible smell you've discovered."
--Han Solo, having just fallen into the soon-to-start-compacting compactor

The Star Wars wiki informs us that it is Garbage Compactor 3263827 (that's it's hatch number)
. . . and it also notes that in the "New Hope novel and Star Wars 4: In Battle with Darth Vader, this Garbage Compactor is incorrectly numbered as 366117891").

I love fans.

* So, OK, properly it's the fourth episode, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope.
But I saw it when it came out and there weren't no others, so it's the first. I never watched the movie for again for about thirty years, but I remembered this scene vividly.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Actual Dialogue

"Be a psychiatrist for one minute longer."
--Captain Kirk (William Shatner) to Dr. Elizabeth Dehner (Sally Kellerman) in the Star Trek pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (1966)


One of my [almost former] coworkers has said she wants my hours in Activities, so I don't have to go in next week.

In other words, I AM DONE with that job.

I'm hugely relieved, but I also feel knocked off my feet.

For 6 months I've been working face-to-face with people and thinking all the time about how to engage them, since their brains couldn't flip the "on" switch themselves anymore.

What now? 

Well, I've got the book––good, meaningful, interesting work; 
 bink, Marz, Laura and other friends; blogging; sewing notions; the Thrift Store; looking into volunteering at the nonprofit senior center... Also, rewatching Star Trek again!

I know I'll be fine, but I can tell I'm off balance because I spent all of this Saturday morning futzing, culling and condensing this blog's index. 
Probably pointless, but it gives me a sense of emotional security.

I never completed the blog-move to WordPress once Google said they wouldn't, after all, censor naughty blogs. 
It was going to be a lot of work to move, but also, clicking on various index entries, I'm reminded of how deeply and broadly I am rooted here.

(Like, remember Aretha's hat? )

I'd move if I have to, but I love being here on my home ground.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Transparent Boxes

I'm experimenting with using old double-deck playing card boxes to display vintage sewing notions. I like the see-through boxes, but their plastic faces are scratched. Of course the sewing notions are worn too--I got them all at the Thrift Store, mostly 50 cents/each.

Time warp: most (? anyway, a lot) of the notions were made in the USA, England, or West Germany. 
I'm  not sure what I'm going to do with these... collages/assemblages, when they're done.
Sell them on Etsy? Give them away? 
If nothing else, I could keep them for a while and then donate them back to the Thrift Store.
I don't know, I'm just enjoying assembling them.

I also don't know what to write "About Me" on my profile, now I'm won't be working in Activities anymore.
Just now I wrote "notions scrubbed and sorted into little packets", which is actually true but sounds too Manic Pixie Dream Girl: "I paid the cab driver in buttons!"

(I know I'm not a MPDG even though I put buttons in boxes because I don't listen to the Smiths.) 

I'm leaving it for now.  

This one ^ includes a Band-Aid I found in an old sewing case.  
P.S. Photos taken with laptop PhotoBooth---I still haven't replaced my broken camera.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Transparent Swindles"

"There are wise people who talk ever so knowingly and complacently about "the working classes," and satisfy themselves that a day's hard intellectual work is very much harder than a day's hard manual toil, and is righteously entitled to much bigger pay. 

"Why, they really think that, you know, because they all know about the one, but haven't tried the other. But I know all about both; and as far as I am concerned, there isn't money enough in the universe to hire me to swing a pickaxe thirty days, but I will do the hardest kind of intellectual work for just as near nothing as you can cipher it down--and I will be satisfied, too. 

"Intellectual "work" is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation and its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect, engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate, legislator, actor, preacher, singer, is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the magician with the fiddle-bow in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him--why certainly, he is at work, if you wish to call it that, but lord, it's a sarcasm just the same. 

"The law of work does seem utterly unfair--but there it is, and nothing can change it: the higher the pay in enjoyment the worker gets out of it, the higher shall be his pay in cash, also. And it's also the very law of those transparent swindles, transmissible nobility and kingship."

--Mark Twain,  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

I've been thinking about this topic--the "transparent swindle" of work and wages-- as I leave the nursing home (that's what it is, even if they call it a senior residence) to take up writing again: 
even though it's hack writing (to a publisher's specifications), it pays twice as much but is far easier than being a nursing aide (work I've also done).

I told one of the nursing aides that I was leaving because I'd begun to dread coming to work and facing the overwhelming needs of thirty-one people.

This woman, pregnant with her third child, said, "I feel that way every morning."

Yep, all my heartbreak aside (the pain of leaving people I've worked closely with for six months), the truth is I am now going to make twice as much doing easier work. Easier for me, that is, because I've been trained to it. 

 Working in activities is a bit of a mix---it's not going to break your body down (I quit being an aide after I damaged my wrist tendons), but in the World of Work, it's bottom of the barrel: you earn even less than nursing aides, and only a little more than workers at Walmart (Walmart's just raising their minimum pay).

It's high in meaning, though, and I hate to leave that. I am going to look into volunteering a nearby nonprofit senior day center that does a lot of community outreach.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Beginning to research a new book topic --I went to the library yesterday. This is my favorite step, like going to the candy store!

I've already learned a new word: gyre (as applied to oceans): systems of large circulating ocean currents caused by wind patterns and Earth's rotation.

Moby-Duck is about thousands of bathtub toys (like rubber duckies) that fell off a container ship in the North Pacific Gyre and made their way, over many years, up past Alaska, through the Bering Strait, and down to the beaches of New England.

Rubber duckies may eventually spin out of a gyre, but gyres are graveyards of plastic crap, such as the plastic microbeads we wash into water every day when we spit out our toothpaste or wash off our cosmetics.

I know the word gyre from the opening lines of "Jabberwocky":
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
   Did gyre and gimble in the wabe....

and Gerard Manley Hopkins (where?)---maybe I can use his lines,
  All is sèared with trade, blèared, smeared with toil
    and wears man's smudge and shares man's smell.
The book won't all be dreadful though---there's lots of hopeful and fun stuff, like [links to the blog] The Scavengers' Manifesto: A Guide to Freeing Yourself from the Endless Cycle [gyre] of Buying More and More Stuff...  

I'm off to work now.
This morning there was an e-mail from nursing letting me know yet another person is coming for Activities. If I'd had any doubts about my decision to quit... Well, I didn't, but that just made me even more relieved that I only have six more shifts.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I just quit my job.

I just sent in my two-weeks notice at the Memory Care residence.
The worst thing was not the low pay, it was the near impossibility of implementing Best Practices in Dementia Care, despite the marketing department's much trumpeted advertisement that they provide them.

I took this job thinking of it an an internship. But as  the thirty-first (31st!) resident moves into Memory Care, I find myself mostly doing crowd control without time to learn and explore much else.

This on top of being paid like a high schooler but expected to do the job a director, from training-in my coworkers to designing programs for people aged two to one hundred.

The final straw was learning that my boss, the full-time activities director, is going on leave all summer long, and management is replacing her at only 20-hours/week with a young person "not yet ready to be a director".

I found this out yesterday at the meeting where management spent one minute giving me the Employee of the Month award (I'd come in on my day off for this) and ten minutes talking about the pet policy, because a dog had "left a present" outside the administrator's window.

I am sad to leave the residents, but at least I won't feel guilty thinking of them missing me, because they won't notice I'm gone. They won't remember me today when I appear on the floor, which I am just about to do. But I'll miss them––I expect they'll appear in my dreams for years, as do residents from previous nursing homes where I've worked.
I trust I have done well by them, so I am proud of that.

I think maybe I'll give up on the idea of working in health care, though, after two failed tries now.
For the next couple months, I'm going to focus, focus, focus on writing the book I just signed on for--I can't afford to spend as much time on this book as I have on my previous books, so I really want to get cracking---and hopefully I'll get more short-term publishing work too.
We shall see.

Right now, mostly I just feel relieved.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Oh, thankgod:
The publisher wrote back that they were just about to offer the book job to someone else, so I wrote just in time, and it is now mine!
I am so relieved to have this independent project to sink my teeth into.
Wait, that sounds bad, given the topic.

Um, ...this project to rescue my brain from stewing in the deficits of my other job.
Eww. Yeah, that's about it.

Recognition and Restitution

Today is my day off work, but I'm going in because management is making me Employee of the Month, which means I get a certificate and a free lunch...

I suppose it's nice to be recognized, but it's a sop, of course. 
I don't want a free lunch, I want help developing and implementing the "Best Practices in Memory Care" the place advertises.

After six months of educating myself, I seem to know as much about best practices as m/any of the staff; being able to actually practice them is another matter: more and more people are being moved in but no more staff is being hired to help them.

I don't know... I've rather lost touch with myself in this work, feeling overwhelmed by so many stupid and greedy decisions. The work itself is good, but it's getting harder to DO it. 
Leading fifteen people with dementia in an art activity? 

More and more I am reduced to offering Cruise Boat entertainment, leading sing-alongs, or else I must choose out a few residents to do something more meaningful (say, helping them do something for other people) and ignore the others.
Let's see. What else?

Yesterday I came across yet another fascinating article on the publisher's proposed topic, so I e-mailed them to say I've changed my mind and would like to write the book after all.
It may be too late---they may have assigned it to someone else.

I would like to sink my teeth into a good research and writing project. I also want to leave myself open whatever art-making at my job show me, as I realized last month... but I'm so frustrated with the world of health care, I think I'd do well to distract myself.

I also suggested the publisher might consider a book on Art Restitution, which seems to be a hot topic these days. 

(Lots of articles in the  NYT--they address not only art plundered by Nazis, but questions raised by current destruction of art by ISIS. 
And of course there's the issue of Native American art right here in my backyard. 

I thought of the topic because I went to see Woman in Gold this weekend, a film about the late Maria Altmann's decade-long legal battle [links to NPR article] to win back from the Austrian government several Gustav Klimt paintings the Nazis stole from her Viennese family, including the famous portrait (left) of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer.

Best line: "Do you think the Austrian government is going to give back a painting so popular it has ended up as a refrigerator magnet?"

It's a clunky movie, but worthwhile because it's such an interesting (and true) story, and the acting is good: the younger Maria is played by the wonderful Tatiana Maslany, of Orphan Black; the older, by Helen Mirren.
 I'd like to see one of the documentaries about this case---I hear Stealing Klimt is the best.

A couple other things I've encountered on the topic recently:
 the mediocre movie The Monuments Men and the excellent book The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal, about the remnant of art that remained of his Jewish Viennese family after the Nazis--a collection of Japanese netsuke ("A Closer Look at the Netsuke", 3-min. video).

Sunday, April 5, 2015

bink's Camino: Now a Blog!

Rooftops of the Cathedral of Santiago, Spain ^ 
--travel sketch by bink
bink has finished writing and sketching out her entire graphic memoir of walking the Camino de Santiago--working title, Camino Real-- a pun on the "royal road" and the "real" deal.
Anyway, she's started a blog about it---I especially like the behind-the-scenes-of-art aspect of it, though she's also going to be posting travel tips, etc.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

"Peeps Blow Up (1812 Overture)"

It's that time again---time to repost the Easter classic I made with bink six years ago, in 2009 (31 seconds).

Happy Birthday, Marz!


Happy Birthday, Marz: I hope this year is full of Fresh Candy for you!  XO Fresca