Saturday, July 22, 2017

Social Work

Crumbs.
Last night, without thinking, I called one of my black coworkers by the name of a different black coworker. 
I caught myself as soon as the wrong name was out of my mouth, and apologized, but there was no taking it back, and yet another black coworker standing there laughed and commented on it incredulously, "You think she's A__?"

I'm embarrassed that my racism showed, and chagrined that I caused my coworkers some slight dismay (even if amused).

I feel a little awkward writing about this, but I want to record it, so I can SEE it. From the beginning at this job, I decided to see myself and my coworkers from the pov of an observer--like an embedded journalist.
I chose to adopt that not because of race and social issues, but because I wanted to avoid getting over-involved in how the place is managed, to avoid resentment. 

But of course I'm also getting to see at this job, in real life, how I am permeated by and play out the race divisions in my country, which play out in economics, like oil and water.
It's somewhat unusual, in my experience, for white people like me, from a middle-class, academic family, in a historically largely white part of the country, to take a low-paying job, once we're out of high school, at least, where we'd work with working-class people, which means a lot more people of color than there are in publishing.

[In the sixteen years I've been working with the children's book publisher, I've worked with.... zero people of color there.
Can this be??? 
*thinks hard*
Yes.]

People like me just didn't grow up knowing a lot of black people well (or at all), unless they were, like, the children of professors from Nigeria or something (or, now, of the president of the United States--ha, ha, I mean the former president! it's like I forgot...).

A white friend from South Carolina, in contrast, told me when he moved up here, he was shocked by the subtle racism, having grown up in a state with some of the worst race history.
[The Confederate flag flew over the courthouse until 2015---and is still a live issue:
From July 8, 2017---that's 13 days ago:
"
The S.C. Secessionist Party will host a flag-raising for an event marking 'two years since the initiation of the politically correct cultural genocide we have seen sweep across the Southland,' organizers wrote on Facebook".]
Racism was more overt there, my pal said, but he was used to black and white people constantly interacting--you wouldn't misname someone because you weren't used to seeing their features.

I'm not condemning myself here, but I'm under no illusions that I am "not racist". How would that even be possible in this country?
Of course I hold the usual white, liberal person's views about racial equality and all that, but in the USA, we live in a society so permeated with race divisions, it's inevitable that we all take them on, and I've done little to counteract that actively:
I don't know many black people, personally, and it showed in my unconscious misnaming, to which you could assign the horrible, old "they all look alike."
OF COURSE I don't believe that,
consciously, and the coworkers whose names I fudged have a slight similarity (short, plump, young women), but hey--the proof is in the pudding.

I pondered afterward if I've done the same to white people--called them by the wrong name.
Yes, of course. 
But I find in myself a difference:
I'm not great with names, and at SP thrift store there were several white, middle-aged women who looked very much the same, and whose similar names (Jane, Claire--not similar in sound, but similar in social feel) I confused.

But here's the thing:
I knew I wasn't sure of who was who, so I just didn't use their names. 


I truly don't know because I don't want to ask––most of my coworkers don't ask questions, usually, and I don't get the sense they welcome them either–– but I don't think most of my coworkers went to college. 
However, there's a young, white woman who dropped out of college recently. She and I have discussed books, travel, and other things that come with class privilege, a bit; I was reading Into the Wild, by Jon Karkauer, in the breakroom, for instance, and she asked me if I'd read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, which I had.

When it came up later with one of my black coworkers that this white woman and I were both from Wisconsin, she said, 
"Oh, yeah, you remind me of each other."
Ha! 
I don't think it's Wisconsin we have in common. In fact, we come from very different towns.
But you know, mixing up people who have more social power (simply by being white), doesn't have the same insulting sting, doesn't carry the same obliterating charge.

Meanwhile, I was happy last night to have a small conversation about religion with a Somali-born, Muslim coworker. 
He asked me what religion I am, which made me happy, and we had a tiny discussion--he was saying as a Muslim, he can't take loans with interest to pay for school---he's going to train as a med tech.
I told him I'd studied religion, and he was very interested---I got the sense he'd like go to the U himself--he knew they have a religious studies major--but I gather that's not practical for him now.
He's young. Maybe later.

That's a huge difference I sense in immigrants and children of immigrants: it's not money, it's that idea, "maybe later I will go on".
I saw that in my own father:
as the child of immigrants, he wanted to get up and out, and never thought he couldn't.


Ayayay, it's complicated. But it's fascinating, and even if I put my foot in it, for which I'm sorry, it's worth stepping into more closely.

Hot Dog, Happy Cats

It's hot. L&M's wire-fox terrier, Astro:

My father's cats, Harry (orange) and Ciccina (calico), went to live with his (and their) good friend, his next-door neighbor, where they are already happy, and go well with the rug.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Dapper Doll

It was the right thing to do, gathering all my toys on the couch. Sitting among them, I could decide which one to start working on.
It was the crocheted person I'd rescued from SP thrift store, who was a tube from the neck down. She looked like a formless washer woman, akin to those dolls whose crocheted lower-halves cover toilet paper rolls

I gave her a neck and arms, with hands tucked into white trousers-- formerly a huge circular skirt. I sewed leatherette rounds on the bottoms of her legs, so she stands up.  With shirt buttons, belt bead, and a vintage button bow tie, she's a dapper doll.

Marz has borrowed the camera back, so here's a laptop photo:

And this is what my couch looks like now:
It makes me happy and proud. 

I was shocked when a neighbor came by this morning, saw me sewing the doll, and said, "Watch out you don't turn into one of those old ladies with so many toys you can't sit on your couch."

I said, "But, I'd be OK being that!"
[watch this space]

What is this impulse to clean up?

My sister emailed last night that she'd brought back our father's (once our mother's) sewing basket for me, as I'd asked, which is very nice, but then she said,
"And I just went through it and got rid of all the tangled threads and things."

Nooooooo! I wrote right back, asking her to get them out of the trash, if possible: "Those thread nests are one the wonderful, unique things you can't find anywhere except in old sewing baskets."

Thankfully, she could and did rescue them. 
Whew!
"Now you say it," she said, "I can see how lovely they are."

Yes.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Good Behavior for Memoirists

Blogging is nonfiction, creative journalism, sometimes fiction, and sometimes it's memoir on the hoof. 
A big question for me when I'm writing about my life is how to handle other people in it.

I usually don't write much about other people because I don't want to use them, or get them wrong. 
(I don't much like writing such as David Sedaris's that relies on using other people's intimate lives for material.) 
But some people are integral to my life, like my father, and I do want to talk about that, and about them. Then I wrestle with how much I need to expose them in writing to get my story across.

What I wrote yesterday, for instance, was a lot longer to start, with examples to illustrate what I meant by my father not always being "nice." But then I figured my main point was that I couldn't trust him to be nice, and now that he's dead, I'm released from that problem; you could fill in the blanks for the details, which don't much matter.

I'd hesitated to write about that at all, but I was surprised when I told a friend who'd had a good relationship with her late parents that my father's death had improved our relationship, and she burst out, "Me too!"
So, I figure it's A Thing, but not a thing people say much––and maybe simply because of that, it's worth saying, and I should say it.
So I did.

The obituary my sister wrote for our father is a good example of how unreliable memoir is. She didn't end up using Wordsworth, but she did write about our father almost soley from her perspective, with a result so glowing I can barely see the man I knew through it. 

Fair enough, it was far more important to her, so I just offered a little editing. I didn't much care what she wrote until she e-mailed the obit to friends, saying we had written it together.
Aargh! Then I was angry that she would present her experience as mine. No!
It was a great reminder of how I want to be careful about how I write about other people.

Related:
From Tracy Kidder's Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction
Some Basic Rules of Good Behavior for the Memoirist
Say difficult things. Including difficult facts.

Be harder on yourself than you are on others. The Golden Rule isn't much use in memoir. Inevitably you will not portray others just as they would like to be portrayed. But you can at least remember that the game is rigged: only you are playing voluntarily.

Try to accept the fact that you are, in company with everyone else, in part a comic figure.

Stick to the facts.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Commence, Again

I.  Toy School Photo

The toys, most of them, have gathered this morning, one week after my father's death. I had thought it might be a memorial, but they are not interested in death: 
they decided it was a school photo, like at the beginning of the school year.
(I don't know how the toys know things--it's very selective.)

I'm ready and wanting to get on with the Stuffed Needy Animal Rescue Project (SNARP), repairing and clothing them. Some aren't even re-stuffed yet. Tan bear with black ears (third from left, back row), has no stuffing at all. 

scroll right, for full photo > > >

II. Repair
I want to say clearly that I'm sorry my father has died.
Until a few months ago, when liver cancer started to take him down, he was in robust good health for a man in his eighties, and he would have relished another six healthy years, like his sister, my auntie, who turns 92 next month. 
I wish he'd had them.

But here's a thing I hadn't expected:
My relationship with my father has vastly improved, now that he's dead.


I liked many things about my father. 
But all my life, I couldn't trust he'd be nice to me or to other people. When I was little, I never wanted to invite friends over. He might be very nice. Or he might not.

I never have to worry about that again.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Giving and Releasing

On the day my father died, Marz took me to the art institute to see a statue of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. 
(Japan, 13th century; cypress wood with lacquer, gold, and inlaid glass: full image here)
I'd never seen it before. 
I especially like how the hands seem to be both offering and releasing.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Rabbit Ears & Cucumbers

Remember these? I bought them yesterday at work, $1.99.

I got these "rabbit ears" antennas as possible special-effects props, thinking I might one day get around to my old idea of making a low-budget sci-fi film, Starship 379 (oh, wow--I blogged about that in 2008). Or maybe--more doable--a series of still photos, telling a story (like La Jetée).

I thought these got on the floor by mistake--sometimes whoever's pricing and sorting donations lets worthless (useless, dirty, broken) things through, but looking it up, I see people still use these rabbit-ear TV antennas. 
From 2015: "Don’t toss away those rabbit ears just yet – TV antennas are making a comeback

I don't have a TV, but I felt a surge of affection, seeing these antennas. I loved messing with them when I was a kid: they're fun to twiddle, and they brought a better picture to our little black-and-white screen. But also, they're an admirably elegant piece of equipment––one of the few technologies that makes sense to me.
(If I had to choose to be someone, something else, I might be an engineer, which is a far stretch from me.)

I found them because it was my job at work yesterday to salvage (cull, weed) the electronics section of the store, which is always a crash of plastic and a tangle of wires. 
To me, they're all sci-fi gadgets:
unless it's something obvious like a plug-in clock, I barely know what half the things are, these receivers and senders of invisible rays.
But the customers do. 
One guy spent several minutes explaining different power cords to me, as I was trying to tame them with rubber bands. (They go out in tidy coils, but they don't stay that way.) I might learn something eventually, but I'm not motivated enough to pursue it on my own.

Cucumbers

I'm much more interested in getting to know my coworkers, most of whom I like a lot. They're almost all from different backgrounds from me. There are several Americans from other countries--a Cambodian woman my age, for instance, who always brings a big glass jar of water with slices of cucumber, lemons, ginger root, and sprigs of fresh mint in it.

It looks so good, I brought a jar of water with lemon slices in it, and on break I told her she'd inspired me. 
"You need the cucumber," she said. "Good for the kidneys, and keeps the weight down."

Ha. Yes.

We talked a bit--she came here in the early 1980s. 
I said, "Oh, wow---hard times. Vietnam... Pol Pot..."

She raised her eyebrows, and agreed.

Differences in geography and politics are a big gulf, but the US-born working class folk can feel just as foreign to me, in some ways. 
I'm trying to practice Watch, Listen, and Learn, restraining myself from asking too many questions, for instance, since almost no one asks me questions.
Also, I'm aware that the way I bounce into a new social setting, bursting with questions like a socialite Tigger, can be invasive--and may send waves that swamp subtle messages coming my way.

Re my publishing coworkers, in contrast, I could probably compile a list of the many questions newcomers would exchange with coworkers–– almost every one of whom is a white, US-born woman with a college degree in English (or something similar)––a list of acceptable questions, as if agreed-upon, which they are, but not, of course, exactly consciously.
Nothing wrong with that--we're equipped with the same social technology. 

But ideally, humans are able to pick up signals from other humans, even on different channels.

At work yesterday, I told one of the donations sorters that my father had died. She was very sympathetic, more than most, and I asked if she'd lost a parent.

"My father killed himself," she said.

"My mother killed herself!" I said, and we sort of beamed at each other, and did a fist bump.

I'm going to the Asian market now, to buy ginger, lemons, mint, and cucumbers.

My Father, Happy

My sister chose this photo of our father for his obituary, which I love--it catches my favorite side of him, doing some silly dance in his p.j.s.

From 2015, he's eighty-four years old here (January 1931–July 2017), on the beach in southern California where he and my sister went on vacation several years running--he liked to watch the seals and whales nearby, and pick up feathers.

The full picture of my father is much more complex, of course, and involves far darker qualities, but as his body goes to cremation tomorrow, I feel free to remember this, his endearing side, first and foremost.
My father took the Eeyore I rescued & restored for him to California, and Eeyore is going on this last trip with him too.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"Something your hand touched..."

Lucinda read this quote at the memorial for my father yesterday:
"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted.
Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there.

It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. "
Sort of unexpectedly, it's from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

Today I go to work at the thrift store for the first time in a week (luckily I'd taken most of the week off for something else; death took its place). 
I feel just a little nervous, going back into the world, but also it's very, very welcome--I'm so glad I have a job to go to, not more writing work alone at home, and I'm totally ready, and needing, even, to be around strangers and stuff and other distractions again. 

My intention (fingers crossed) is FINALLY to set up the sewing machine this coming week (after I've done all the dishes from the memorial) and start on all of that--touching fabric and thread and buttons.  

Thank you all for the emails and comments--the contact and kindness means a lot, and I appreciate it: 
your words are a kind of touching too.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

"with a merry heart..."

 
 


(Marz brought the camera back, just in time.)

Italian Afternoon (la felicita)

I'm (unexpectedly) having fun preparing for my father's memorial lunch today. 
I was a little dismayed that it's going to get hot today, after several cool days, but then I thought, no, that's correct:
it fits the spirit of the family gatherings for the birthday of his mother, my grandmother, every August

––minus the obligatory-for-the-era uncle in plaid shorts, black ankle socks & sandals, stirring a huge vat of spaghetti sauce, who always grabbed the females a little too closely and kissed us a little too sloppily––
but that creepy uncle (Uncle Larry!), long dead now, is like a gateway to some of my happiest childhood memories.

I'm listening to a CD Italian Café: my favorite song is "Juke Box" (on youtube)
"Juke box e una magica invenzion, ... la felicita... [happiness], con Sinatra e Johnny Rave , Franky Lane e Doris Day..."

My sister just emailed me our father's work ID from the 1980s.

I laughed: he looks like a character in a Coen Bros. movie--not a gangster, my father actually had a touch of the laid-back Dude about him:  
"All the dude ever wanted was his rug back, man.

REPLACEMENT FEE $2...
Could we get the father back for that? :)

OK, back to house cleaning, and arranging olives & salami...

Friday, July 14, 2017

In Memoriam (Lunch)

i. The Menu 

Strong emotion makes me sleepy, and I've been sleeping a lot since my father died (gosh, only two-and-a-half days ago). I think some funeral rituals are helpful simply because they make you get up and get dressed... and maybe even clean the house. 

I was just now looking at an old glass peanut-butter jar full of pearl buttons, thinking that if I were someone else, I would be spending this afternoon hand-sewing a little, treasurable favor for everyone who is coming to the home-made memorial I am holding for my father in my small apartment tomorrow.

Instead, I am figuring out the ratio of sleeping-time desired to house cleaning–time required.

I did manage to go out and about to gather for the memorial some of the Italian foods my Sicilian grandmother served for casual gatherings:
salami, cheese, bread, fresh fruit, Jordan almonds (Italian in origin), and red wine.


Ignoring my grandmother's advice that "the cheapest wine is the best," 
I splurged ($65) on Amarone della Valpolicella, which we never drank.

I only tasted it a few years ago. 
It's amazing: made from semi-dried grapes (raisins), but not sticky sweet--it's a dry red wine (insert something about chemistry... )
Photo, right, of the grapes, drying over the winter.

ii. Marking the Change

Funeral rituals get you out of bed, but they're also important for me because I need to mark the event, to help make it real. Death is so weird---the psyche has a hard time accepting someone has gone forever.  It doesn't compute.

I woke up this morning thinking that losing my father to a natural death is a million times easier than losing my mother to suicide. 
 It was much harder simply to take it in, when my mother killed herself. I dreamed, and still sometimes dream, that she's not really dead: once in a dream, I ran into her in Australia, where she'd been living for years but hadn't bothered, somehow, to write.

I'd arranged a big funeral for her--I really needed the big guns to mark her death, and I very, very much appreciated the many people who came and the many cards people sent. Now, not being on Facebook, I haven't heard from many people and haven't reached out to many either. It's fine. I've invited only a handful of old friends to this memorial for my father--there'll be a couple readings, but mostly it's lunch. *

iii. Time and Chance

I think I'll read my father's favorite Bible passage---the bit from Ecclesiastes about the race not going to the swift, but chance playing a major role in how things turn out for people's lives. **

That sums up my father's political philosophy, that people who succeed give themselves too much credit if they think they are better than others: usually they're just luckier than others who're trying just as hard or didn't get a chance even to try. 

My father was a professor of political science, whose politics (everyone deserves the dignity of choice, I guess sums it up, even if their choices are dumb) were shaped by growing up during the Great Depression in the industrial city of Milwaukee, the son of hardworking but impoverished immigrants.
He always spoke with deep bitterness of the way the government relief workers would visit the family's home, to make sure they weren't lying about their need for clothes, and how the government-issued shoes had orange soles, so the children who had to wear them to school felt marked out. His father, my grandfather, was a violent, brutal man, but my father always said he was made worse because he was a proud man who'd been made to feel humiliated.

iv. Different Landscapes

My sister is writing our father's obituary for the newspaper. Earlier today we spoke on the phone, and she asked if I had any suggestions for quotes to include. 
I suggested the Ecclesiastes bit, saying our father was always an Old Testament Christian (insofar as he was Christian at all, which wasn't much)--he even said as much, and it summed up his odd mix of New Deal + Libertarian politics.

She paused. 
"I was thinking more of the Romantic poets," she said."Like 'Travelling,' by Wordsworth--it reminds me of our wonderful trips together."

Wordsworth?!

I can't think of any sensibility much further from [how I see] my father's.
What can I say?
Every person is many different people; my sister and I share the same biological father, but we knew different ones. 


My father's favorite book, so far as I know, was The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa:
"
This tale of the decline and fall of the house of Salina, a family of Sicilian aristocrats, first appeared in 1958, but it reads more like the last 19th-century novel, a perfect evocation of a lost world."--NYT
My father even named his son Fabrizio, after the main character, the prince.


THIS, from the novel is the landscape--the psychological landscape, the Sicilian DNA-- that shaped my father:
“For over twenty-five centuries we [Sicilians have] been bearing the weight of superb and heterogeneous civilizations, all from outside, none made by ourselves, none that we could call our own.

This violence of landscape, this cruelty of climate, this continual tension in everything, and even these monuments of the past, magnificent yet incomprehensible because not built by us and yet standing round us like lovely mute ghosts;
all those rulers who landed by main force from every direction who were at once obeyed, soon detested, and always misunderstood, their only expressions works of art we couldn't understand and taxes which we understood only too well and which they spent elsewhere:
all these things have formed our character, which is thus conditioned by events outside our control as well as by a terrifying insularity of mind.”

My sister's thinking daffodils, and I'm sure that's true to her experience of our father.

I'm thinking artichokes.
And wine that's made from reduction.
____________________

 * P.S. If you're a friend in town reading this, and I didn't invite you, I was probably asleep: you are welcome to turn up uninvited!

* * Oh! How 'bout that? 
I just now looked up the Ecclesiastes quote, to link here, and it follows shortly after,
"
eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart", which also fits my father, and is perfect for a memorial lunch!  

This is the bit he especially liked (KJV):
"The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all."

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My Mother, Father, and Unborn Me

I've posted this before---a favorite photo:
my mother, Lytton Virginia Davis, 7 months pregnant with me, and my father, Daniele Dominic DiPiazza,

Christmas 1960/New Year's 1961, 
at the house of my mother's parents, in Missouri.
Of the trio, there's just me now.

Toys from My Father (R.I.P.)

Two days ago, I flew down and said good-bye to my father in the flesh––kissed his hand and told him I'd always remember him with respect, which I thought was the thing that would please this Sicilian man the most––spent the night, and flew back the next day. 
My brother called this morning at 5 a.m. to say our father just died. 

(Have I mentioned a brother? Maybe not. He's not in my life. Our family is a like a broken ceramic plate--it's hard to fit the pieces together again, all those razor-sharp edges and rough, grating edges.)

I'm grateful I made the trip in time.
My father wasn't responsive when I got there, but his consciousness didn't seem to be totally shut down, and I definitely got the sense he knew I was there, along with my brother and sister. 

I knew it would be hard to be in the house of my father, and it was (bad dreams came to me), but my father had refused to go to his own dying father's bedside, and I realized when I was there that by showing up, now my actions would never in any way echo that, in the mind of my father, me, or anyone else. 
Unexpectedly, it felt a little bit like I was ending a curse.

(Hm. It's only as I write this that I see that so clearly:
perhaps only the one who is hurt enough to want to carry on the curse has the power not to, and thus to end it . . .  [wow])


I'm grateful my father had a good death, as death goes---hospice in his home and morphine both worked beautifully, and people he loved attended him. 
My brother said he simply slowed and slowed until he stopped.
And I'm grateful that after a brutal boyhood, my father had a good adult life, and even a great second-half of his life, and he knew and said as much.

I wrote before that one of the great things I inherited from my father is a love of toys. I brought home with me some of his santons, French nativity figurines, bought over many years on trips abroad with my sister. 

These [fuzzy laptop photo below] are some of them, on my windowsill. When I hold them,  I feel plain old, straightforward love for my father.

Monday, July 10, 2017

I learned about dying from the movies

The morning after I heard my mother died, I cut off my long hair with the kitchen scissors, because I'd seen the protagonist in the movie Smoke Signals do that when his father died, and it seemed the right thing to do.
And it was absolutely was the right thing to do.

My sister e-mailed me yesterday that our father's breathing has changed---and called again this afternoon to say it's changed again--he's definitely slipping away...

I've been at peace with the good-bye my father and I said in person in February, and I've thought of myself as the black-sheep child in this movie who didn't have to or need to go to her father's side as he was dying, like Ronny Camarari (Nicholas Cage) in Moonstruck who does not go with his brother to Sicily to their dying mother's bedside because, he says,
"She don't like me." 

So I said to my sister, if it feels OK to you, please kiss my father's hand for me---like at the end of the movie Philadelphia
Our father had loved that.
When people complained, at the time, saying the gesture on the part of a gay man saying good-bye to his dying lover was the filmmaker's homophobic de-sexualization of the relationship, my father had objected strongly, saying where he came from (Milwaukee, but that's not what he meant), it was the highest sign of respect.

My sister said, yes, she would definitely kiss my father's hand for me.

And then I thought (two hours ago), For god's sake, Fresca:
 GO DO IT YOURSELF!

So, sigh, it'll be a horrible line at the airport, everyone flying out on vacation, but I can't face another bus ride, and I don't drive, so I'm heading to the airport in a couple hours and flying down to kiss my father's hand good-bye.

I can't think of what movie that's from.

The movie of my life, I guess.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

P.S. mushrooms & goddesses

I went looking for mushrooms in art. There are plenty.
ABOVE: Fragment of a Greek funerary stele, c. 470-460 BCE, possibly Persephone and her mother Demeter holding mushrooms

Its meaning is unknown, but I like it: Wikiepeida article on this stele, image at the Louvre Museum, who say they're holding possibly poppies, pomegranates, or sacks of grain? They sure look more like mushrooms to me.

Saturday Morning, Catching Up

Good morning. I'm sitting here with my coffee on the couch in the morning sun--it's a cool enough morning that that's nice. I just heard a cicada for the first time this summer--it seems too early to remind us fall will be coming. Hm.

I spent yesterday doing nothing, just sitting with my life, letting myself catch up with myself.
I don't want to rush past this moment, when I've learned my father is in the process of passing out of this life. It feels to me that death can open up a soft spot in time... when things that might not normally be able to touch you, now can.

I got a little bored in the evening and thought about going to watch the Great British Bake-Off at L&M's, but sometimes I've gone too quickly past these distensible, softening times, and I don't want to this time.

The contact with the past has mostly been nice and mellow, like opening a big old chest and looking through goodies. It seems I've spent enough time in the past being angry and hurt and disappointed with my relationship with my father that now all I feel is a gentle sadness that he has to go, 
and gratitude for this treasure chest.

Though I also feel a stomach-churning drop as I free fall toward orphan-hood. My father has not been someone I would normally turn to for help, but I do hate losing the history he contains. 
But I'm not a vulnerable child, I can do this. I can carry on. 

The only question for me, really, is how to mark my father's death, when it comes. (Sister is holding a memorial with his neighbors, but that's nothing to do with me.)
I don't know. I'm sure something right will present itself, if only a glass of red wine.

At the same time, my life here and now is picking up speed, with so much incoming information, new people, places, and things, and the challenge of being active in my body again. (Hello, feet!)
This is good timing--my job in thrift fits me, it reminds me of who I am and things I like and care about.

I've always felt heartened by contact with connectors who are kind, or maybe not even kind, but who look me in the eye: 
workers at the post office, bus drivers, baristas, librarians, and clerks (sometimes at thrift stores).

We're like those mushrooms I learned about recently--the above-ground life-forms of an underground network, fine fibers that carry messages throughout the forest floor.

All people could be mushrooms, but the awareness of fellow mushrooms is more likely to break through with strangers, for me, anyway--because there's no particular reason for that connection to occur, except that we're... you know, connected. One.

These recognitions can be weirdly profound and simple.
Years ago, I was sitting on the lake shore, and a man with a child came past in a canoe. 
The man looked at me, and I looked at him.

"Hello, man on the water," I said.

"Hello, woman on the shore," he said.

And that was that, a mushroom moment that was like meeting a fellow member of a spy network and exchanging a secret code:
you are not alone.


 ________________________

Friday, July 7, 2017

Good Presents

Yesterday I talked to my sister for the first time in months. She'd called from our father's house to say our father is ebbing away: 
he can still hold the newspaper, and wants to--was there ever a day since he was a boy when he didn't?--but not turn the pages. The hospice people can't know, of course, how long his passing will take, but not long now, they say.

I'm deeply grateful that my father is well attended in his home by people who love him, my sister first among them, and his cats, and that his final illness (liver cancer) is not a bad way to go, comparatively.
He asked the hospice nurse (again--his memory is confused) what his final days will be like, and she told him he'll continue to get more and more exhausted and weak, and confused, but it's not exactly painful, and there's morphine standing by...

My sister said our father was greatly calmed by that, and he, who can't speak much anymore, said, "To sleep, perchance to dream..."
It's not like my father to quote Shakespeare; I'm certain he meant that in a comforting way (not like Hamlet).

My father and I are alike in many ways I value––for instance, we share a sturdiness and a love of toys! and an impatience with stinginess––but we have never been close, and sometimes far worse than that. He told me once I reminded him of my mother--not, from his pov, a compliment.

And it's true, I was a million times closer to my mother.
A lot of the emotions I'm feeling are retroactive to my mother's death, and further back, to my loss of a sense of home when she left the family when I was thirteen.

Funnily (or not?), I had a wonderful talk with Sister, who is very close to our father, about THINGS: 
she wanted to know what I might want from our father's house, when the times comes, if anything. 

I said I'd like the few things that survived from our childhood home (my father had later moved)––most had been our mother's.
My father doesn't throw things out, so what my mother left behind is still there. Sister and I had fun talking about what remained: among other things, a couple faded pink, terrycloth towels, (rags, really), monogrammed in brown with the initial of my mother's great great–aunt, "F" for Miss Fern O. Hines (1892–1978).

He has some things I've given him, too. My father has never been one for compliments. When I asked him to name three things he liked about me, he asked for 24 hours to come up with an answer. When the 24 were up, he asked for an extension.
The next morning, he had his answer:
I'm smart, he likes my laugh, and I give excellent presents on a limited budget.


Presents! Good, cheap ones! I love that he admires that about me! It's something we share.
My father, a child of the Depression, loves frugality. I don't know if I've ever seen him happier than when showing off a new item of clothing, and asking us to guess how much he paid for it.
The answer, with a crow of delight, is always something like, "Three ninety-nine!"

Sister gives him big-ticket items, like an electric grill and laz-y-boy chair, and I give him... 
Well, two of my gifts are in view in this photo, from a couple months ago:
a rooster pillow from the old thrift store (he loves chickens), and a Science March button, propped against the lamp (he was tickled, sister told me, to see me and my Spock poster in the newspaper---the actual hard-copy newspaper!). 




Not in view, but also on the bedside table, my sister tells me, are the little stuffed Eeyore I re-stuffed for him a couple years ago >>>
his car license plates read EEYORE
[I added a red scarf before I sent him off],
and the Jefferson nickel I gave him as a spontaneous thank-you present, when I went down in February to say good-bye. 

She asked if I thought it would be okay, when the time comes for cremation, to send Eeyore into the fire with our father's body. She was also thinking, she said, of including another of my thrift store gifts, not, this time, a cheap one: 
an antique Chinese silk cuff, embroidered with butterflies and peonies--our father also loves butterflies, and even went to see the migrating monarchs flocking in California. 

Yes, of course, I said, her choices are perfect: 
the donkey is the body, and the butterfly is the spirit.

Godspeed, I say, and thanks for my life.

My father's left hand, and my right, 2009: 

New Little Animal Person

I. Little Person
The new Little Animal is a person. 
I don't have any other people toys, I don't think, but she totally caught me at the thrift store as plucky and sturdy and self-centered, in the good way: she has real feet (not deformed for high heels, like Barbie)--she can stand on her own.
It was half-off toys & children's stuff day, so she was 49¢.

She had no clothes, so last night I improvised with fabric scraps I'd requested from Michael--originally for Red Bear, but she has stopped wearing clothes--perfect for Red Hair Girl.
I have all sorts of sewing plans, but haven't even set up my sewing machine... Maybe today I'll have the oomph, now I've been at my job three weeks and am starting to feel more relaxed. 
Though yesterday I had my first unpleasant customer, who, as luck would have it, I made more unpleasant by ringing up her purchases to $71,513 and not being able to figure out how to rectify my error.

I'd hoped she'd think it was funny, but she wasn't at all amused, especially since the manager had to void the whole thing and re-ring the sale (many, futzy items). But I got the sense that the customer was chronically annoyed at the world, and the manager said not to worry, so I didn't.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Time for Turmeric


Turmeric: late Middle English, perhaps from French terre mérite = "deserving-of-merit earth".
I like turmeric, but it does taste like bitter dirt.

I've started making a cold drink--sort of a turmeric tea (one recipe + info on health benefits)--with fresh lemon, grated ginger, honey, a couple dashes of turmeric, and a wee pinch of black pepper (to help absorb the curcuminoids--the natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory that make turmeric orange-yellow).
I'm going to buy fresh turmeric root next time I'm at the co-op: it's this gorgeous color. I've never tried it.
 (Marz still has my camera so you only get laptop photos of me.)

This is all part of my plan to use my new job as part of an overall take-care-of-myself plan. 
The work is physically active in a relatively mild way––picking things up off the floor, reaching things up to a shelf, walking around––but because I was so sedentary, writing over the past year, it's a work-out for me.

I'm thrilled about that, and I can tell I'm stronger already, but I'm also feeling cautious, worried about injuring this out-of-shape bod.
Thankfully I had two days off after Sunday's sale, because I was quite sore from running around too much on hard floors, and lifting too much with my fingers: that was a wake-up call.

My coworkers had even told me to slow down, to pace myself!
"Don't work harder," they said, "just because it's busy."
(I'm liking my coworkers a lot, so far.)

So, this is my plan: 

PACE MYSELF: never run! pick things up with my whole hand, not my fingers

STRETCH: especially foot stretches, to prevent injuries--like these from a sports site, including spread your toes, write the alphabet (or a phrase with a variety of letters) in the air with your foot, calf stretches, etc.

EAT WELL: always pack a lunch, so I don't end up eating the torn bag of sour gummy worms (I love them, but they're not food);
eat colorful foods, like turmeric and strawberries

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"Look for the Silver Lining"

Thinking about our inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, I went looking for one of my favorite song and dance duets,
in one of the dearest and best comic-but-serious
performances ever (in my book), Marilyn Miller cheering up Joe E. Brown--"Look for the Silver Lining", from Sally (1929)--the sound is poor, but here it is:

Monday, July 3, 2017

Our First Paycheck

I. The Garden Blooms

Red Bear clutches my first paycheck >

She says she was worried that I wasn't earning any money, but THIS IS NOT TRUE:
the Little Animals have no concept of money. 


But they do sometimes  pick up things from you.

Turns out I was a little worried and am not only loving my job per se, but loving getting a paycheck--even for the princely sum of $172.81 for my first days.

I've signed up for automatic deposit now, but I might change it back because it's so nice, psychologically, to get a piece of paper money every two weeks. The publisher had paid me for the fandom ms. in 3 installments over 9 months, so I always felt I was writing for free yet under stricture---NOT a happy arrangement, and while I'm now glad I wrote it (something I was doubting, during the editing process), I am relieved I won't write for them, ever again. 

I'm feeling like writing for myself, for the first time in a long time.
The bit I wrote last week, Salvage, was interesting---words are such sensitive instruments, aren't they?---because several people who read it implied to me that the customers who'd turned the store over were bad, which I hadn't meant to imply; 
I was trying to get at the ecosystem of thrift, but--duh--I clearly had invited judgment:
I'd called them a "herd" who "trampled" through the store.

So I went back and changed it:
"[The shoppers] had turned the store over, like creatures who aerate garden soil, leaving in their wake inside-out jeans on top of racks…"

II. Resentment Management

You know I struggle with resentment, but not toward everyone, all the time--mostly toward people in power who use it unwisely (so, OK, that can be a lot of people, a lot of times, if I'm paying attention--to keep it down, I've stopped reading the NYT daily).

[Though I do want to point you to the excellent essay by wrestling fan Andrea G., "On the Folly of Trump's Wrestling GIF".]
 
The shoppers don't usually trigger resentment--I usually feel fellow feeling, they are like me.

I had gotten way out of whack with resentment at SP thrift store, so much so I'd flown out of there in a rage.
I look back and see the management & board were enragingly dysfunctional---the store closed one year later, partly due to that (they had to move but couldn't get it together to do so)--but I had also handled myself badly.
(Sometimes walking away is the best policy,  so I don't regret that, but I still regret the angry way I did it.)

Anyway, I have a policy for myself at the new thrift job:
For my first three months, just Watch and Observe.
And reserve my judgment.
I am going to practice being a neutral observer, like an embedded reporter. This store is run by an international corporation, and while it's a nonprofit with a benevolent mission, I can see already it runs like a for-profit store: workers are treated as cogs, for instance; the CEO, someone told me, makes a 7-figure salary. I'm not even looking this up at this point because I don't want to focus on that--and also, unlike with a local board whose members you know, there's nothing much I can do about it--this sense of "don't even bother" also helps keep resentment down.

I'm focusing on what I personally care about: 
the people in front of me, the stuff, and how the two connect––
for instance, two regular shoppers buy things to send back to their home countries---one buys shoes, specifically, to send to Cameroon; 

another buys all sorts of things to send to Liberia. 
They both save up stuff until they have enough to fill a shipping container---and then they pay $5-6,000 to ship it. 

There are lots of Liberians here in town--which is why I chose Liberia as the country I would visit (don't hold me to that though). 

"How's Liberia doing?" I asked this shopper, and she told me they're having presidential elections in November, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf having served her limit of twelve years.
"Are there any good candidates?" I asked.

"We'll have to see," she said, ". . . like here," and we laughed.

I wasn't going to write so much this morning--my hands are sore from carrying too much at once, stocking the shelves. It's like resentment: to some extent, you can limit it by controlling how much you take on.

Carrying ten heavy beer steins, one finger wrapped around each handle, is not good self-management. The little finger on my left hand feels sprained. 
Luckily I have two days off, to rest it.
So--off I go to cash my paycheck!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Blue Sky Tag

I just got home from working the thrift store's early Fourth of July 50%-Off Everything Sale: I spent 8 hours running around re-stocking the shelves and am thoroughly pooped--and happy. I enjoy the stuff, the people, and the exercise, though it's a bit hard on my feet:
I spent my break lying down outside, out of sight under a shade tree, with my feet up on the trunk.

So--the perfect evening exercise is to take up blogger Cathy's Blue Sky Tag challenge (her answers), answering eleven questions.
I'm going to try to answer them in a fast and frothy manner, and not make a major philosophical treatise out of them...

1. What do you most enjoy about blogging?
In the cosmic scheme of things, I most enjoy the friends and connections blogging has brought me, most especially Marz, who has become one of my favorite people ever, but many others too--some still blogging or otherwise posting somewhere other than FB too (Michael! Art Sparker! Deanna! Mortmere!), some no longer around (the dearly departed Bianca Castiafiore)--including folks I've met in person and those I've never met.

I also like the writing practice, the chit-chat, and having a place to share images (including art) and a place to reflect on my self, life and times
I also love how without meaning to, I've created a record of my life, one post at a time.

2. What made you start your blog and how long have you been doing it? 
I started my first blog, Flightless Parrots, in 2003 inspired & helped by a techie pal, Tim, and his  blog Primate Brow Flash (long since moved to FB (sadly, to me))--among other things, before there were icons for everything, he taught me basic html so I could italicize text, etc..  
Blogging appealed to me as a mix of personal  diary-keeping, creative journalism, and having pen-pals!

I deleted that blog after a couple years, took a break, and came back and started this one in late 2007--so, a total of about 12 to 13 years overall.

3. What most attracts you to a blog and what makes you keep reading it? 
Idiosyncrasy


4. What other hobbies and pastimes do you enjoy?
Uh... let's see.
Is blogging a hobby
What is a hobby? (STOP WITH THE ANALYZING, FRESCA!)
OK:
Reading and sometimes editing Wikipedia probably counts as a hobby.
Repairing and sewing clothes for stuffed animals
Little art projects, like making Little Animal Collages to leave anonymously for people to take
reading the Economist obituaries 
sitting in coffee shops
finding stuff
not having to do anything, after doing a lot

5. Given your time over, without any restrictions, what would be your ideal job? And why?
I'm amazed to say I'm in a job that is related to an ideal job for me:
I would like to work in thrift, which I am!
I imagine it differently though: 
perhaps a collectively run thrift store, one that doesn't carry clothes, because I don't care about clothes (though if someone in the collective did, which is likely, I have no objections, I just don't want to be responsible);
I want to work with what GW calls "hardlines" (dishes, furniture, books, artwork, vintage odds & ends, paper ephemera... etc.), as well as "softlines" that are not clothes: 
toys! fabric & crafts! linens!

I would call the shop CURIOSITIES

6. Which new country would you like to visit?
Well...
Liberia, maybe.
What a fascinating history this country has---founded as a political entity, you know,  by former slaves from the USA...! In truth, it frightens me---it's so hot & humid! And only recently survived a terrifying civil war.  And ebola... I would like to go with someone from there who would help me. 

I'm not really interested in travel for the sake of travel, but more for the possibility of forming relationships? I don't know...
Possibly, in an ideal version of my life, where I am much more active than I really am, this trip could somehow tie-in to thrift? I could learn some creative recycling? Start a relationship with folks who do that sort of thing?


7. What is playing in your headphones right now? Music, podcast, audio book?
I don't much like to listen to things, either music or words---I feel overwhelmed by incoming aural info---I much prefer to read print or watch a movie.


8. What is your favourite book and why? 
Let's say Fludd, by Hilary Mantel. 
A coming-of-age story about claiming your own life with the aid of unexpected and
. . . inconvenient spiritual forces: 
in some ways, I've grown out of it at midlife, but I still love how idosyncratic it is---you can see how Mantel went on to become the writer she did...


9. If you could go to any point in history to witness it for yourself, when and where would that be? 
The sack of Rome in 410, seen from Hippo Regius in the Roman province in North Africa (now Algeria), where St. Augustine was bishop --I feel the event has similarities to 9/11 in the United States... and Augustine was seeing it from the hinterlands, sort of like me in the midwest of the USA


10. If you could eat anything for your next meal, what would it be? 
Oh, please bring me some perfect roast chicken with crispy skin, on a platter with white rice, like the chicken bink & Marz and I were served one evening in rural Spain, where we saw the chickens eating bugs and greens in the sunshine! 
Yes, please. 
With ... hm, maybe some grilled vegetables, like shish kabobs of zucchini and summer squash and purple onion. 

For dessert, Swedish princess cake---sponge cake layered with whipped cream and raspberries, covered in green marzipan.

11. I’m writing this while watching Glastonbury, what would your dream gig line-up be? 
Oh, just give me Bruce Springsteen. Hm, maybe he could play some Beethoven... I wonder how that'd go.

Anyone who wants, please answer these questions too!