Stress Test

I told people I was having a simple medical procedure today. I was vague for a couple of reasons. If I’d called it a test I’d be risking being asked for specifics. Procedure sounds serious and personal, requiring a bit of indelicacy to press for details. Details were the last thing I wanted to talk about. This isn’t the kind of test I had as a young woman. Those were often tied to issues of sexuality and/or fertility. This is a different time and a different test. I’m uncomfortably close to the age where I’ll mark life passages by my medical record.

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As I sit here in the waiting room, I listen to the nurse give each patient the same information as we check in at fifteen-minute intervals. I have enough time before the test to wonder what health care would look like if our system wasn’t for profit. I understand that because of the costs of resources there would always be expenses involved. But what would it look like in a Utopian culture? Would nurses hold our hands? Would there be space for empathy by the practitioners and dignity for the patients? I think about this as a nurse younger than I am calls me “dear” while peering at a monitor. She asks me the same questions their office has asked me four times since they scheduled this appointment. I realize I’m in a bad mood. It’s because I’m about to be charged my entire insurance deductible for the privilege of having someone look up my butt.

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I am now awake from the anesthesia. Thirty minutes of blessed unconsciousness. The older woman to my left wobbles as she struggles to get dressed behind a curtain. I’m glad I brought flip-flops to replace my heels for the walk out. The African-American man to my right laughs loudly like a comedian on stage, while recounting an improbable anesthesia dream about being on Leave It to Beaver. Later, he speaks softly and tenderly to his wife behind his curtain. Each of us here in the recovery room attempts in our own way to deal with the reality of this stressful test. We use these thin, narrow curtains as shields to hide our vulnerability.  Right now, having by backside exposed and vulnerable seems like a metaphor for my life in 2018 America.

 

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The Library

I recently recommitted to staying up-to-date with the changing tech we use everyday. (Except for iTunes.) As I’ve said before, I want to remain current. There is a place that the fast pace of tech changes hasn’t made obsolete (a la public phones and supermarket cashiers). It’s the library. Fortunately for all of us, the U.S. public library system has kept up with change and has evolved to meet today’s needs. We can install library apps on our phones.  We can check online to see if a book is available at a local branch and hold it until we get there. We can borrow an e-book and download it to our e-reader without leaving home. Anyone can use the public desktops at any branch (albeit on unsecured networks). And we can check out hard copy books by using the self-service scanners. (These require a staff member nearby to help the tech challenged folks who still can’t quite get the hang of it, just like in the supermarket.) Yup, the library has kept up and it makes me happy because it’s been my solace for a long time.

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I remember the first time I went to a library.  I didn’t imagine the doors that would open once I reached the one leading to the front of the little branch in Medford Massachusetts. My mother dropped my sister and I off there on a Saturday morning in one of her attempts to find something “enriching” for us to do. She had papers to grade, so she needed to leave us somewhere that, in her mind, was more useful than the neighborhood playground. She had little discretionary cash so that fact it was free was a good thing. That was back in the days when parents could leave their kids in a place with strangers and not have a) the strangers call the cops or b) the strangers abduct the kids.

I remember the way the children’s room looked and smelled. The walls were bright primary colors with posters attached encouraging us to READ. Isn’t it funny, to this day I love the smell of books, the paper together with the ink. The first time I caught the scent it was better than that of the lilacs next to my house. My love of the library goes back to that day. I spent hours with my head inside books, close enough to read and inhale them.

I discovered a place that was more comfortable  than my home. My mother was a single parent who worked long hours so home was sometimes lonely, sometimes stressful. It was comfortable and comforting at the library. I was able to walk alone and undisturbed up and down the stacks, taking out any book that caught my fancy. I’d look at it, put it back or tuck it under my arm for later. I wonder what the adults thought who saw me, the little black girl in blue cat-eyed glasses talking to herself as she marched through the rows. I loved dropping my choices onto the little tables and chairs set out to enhance the pleasure of reading. And I appreciated the QUIET. It was unbelievable to me that everyone, even adults, had to shut up so everyone else could read.

I went to the library often after that first visit. As I still do now, back then I’d choose a secluded corner near the back, close to a window if possible. I sat at those little tables reading the variety of styles I’d delighted in trying. My interests ranged from juvenile biographies of Louis Armstrong and Sojourner Truth to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (Although Charlie’s life was as mysterious to me as the factory.)  One of my favorites was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I loved books in which kids were stretching boundaries. My mother made sure we had books at home but I had to share with my younger sister. Those titles skewed younger. At the library I  stretched my own literary boundaries which made me feel more mature.

The library was the most civilized place my nine-year-old self ever experienced, and the library is still one of my favorite places. I wrote a blog post about using it as my writing office but I also still roam the aisles for comfort. Public libraries are wonderful resources for us and for many reasons. I hope we don’t decide we’re so advanced as to lose them.

 

1968

So here I am on the last day of April trying to stick to my commitment to post at least once a month to this blog. It’s been a challenge to do it since the re-launch. I used to have so much to say and now apparently, I don’t.

Anyway, I’ve been watching some retrospectives on TV commemorating the fifty-year anniversary of the significant events of 1968. The year factors largely in a novel I wrote during my hiatus from blogging. (It’s unpublished which is why I haven’t mentioned it before now.) In one chapter the main characters talk about how they felt as children witnessing some of what was going on in 1968. I was a child then too and the TV programs reminded me of how I channeled my feelings into those of my characters. It was an impactful time, even for children. Since I can’t think of anything else to write about, I decided  I’d share a little of the chapter with you. If you like it, maybe I’ll post more from the novel later.

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“I’ll tell you, it was some year, sixty-eight. Crazy. John dying in his crib like that.  Mom and Dad both wildin’ out and on top of all of it, half of Baltimore burning up in the Holy War Uprising. Yeah, it was crazy.” As Thomas gestured with his drink in his hand, his eyes filled with long past images. He, Junior and Judi thought back to the Baltimore riots of 1968 and their collective memory was one of fire. Memories of the glow of the TV screen in the living room of the homestead as David Sr. and Ella sat on the sofa, watching the pictures of everything burning. They remembered the way Ella, her pregnant belly touching the cushions, squeezed David’s hand and whispered, “Damn, that’s right where your cousin lives.” The kids had turned and looked at Ella wide-eyed because cussing was their father’s forte, something in which their mother rarely engaged. But it frightened them the most when David said, “It looks like hell.”  After a solemn dinner that night, the three siblings had huddled together in the playroom wondering which sins had caused the troubles and whether the hell fires would get them too.  The memory faded and the spell was broken by David Jr’s deep voice.

“Ain’t that much different around here now Tom, and um, you’d know if you didn’t live in a gated community.” Thomas was ready for his big brother’s taunts.  To him David Jr. was like Baltimore City, still vital but a little rough around the edges. The oldest sibling wasn’t the big, bad brother he’d been when they were younger. He hadn’t been since Thomas entered the meat and potatoes of his adulthood, the years that had brought the reality of negotiating a good career, marriage and parenthood as a middle-class black man. Thomas set down his glass and scratched the hair on his chest through his starched blue business shirt and undershirt.  

     “Ok, that’s true Dave but back then black folks weren’t just rioting because they were mad like they do now.  Everybody in this neighborhood and for that fact in black neighborhoods around the country were talking about Black Power. And it was all over the news so we saw all those pictures of raised fists on the TV when Mom was trying to herd us up to bed after dinner, remember? Matt, we know you and Ruth were too little to remember but I’m telling you it felt like something real would jump off at any minute.  Even at five I knew something big was going on.  It scared me, it really did,” Thomas said.

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(Photo by Ivan Cujic from Pexels)

 

Why Did They Take My Music Away?

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So some time ago, I updated my iTunes. I don’t remember how many versions ago it was because I haven’t updated it since. The experience caused havoc and a paralyzing fear of “improved” apps .

I know I sound dramatic but I lovingly and carefully curated my music library over a lot of years. (Yeah, it began with vinyl but we’re talk about my age later.) It started with Solomon Burke and ended with Kendrick Lamar. The bits and pieces in between told my story through artists inspired by a universal vibe. There were songs that represented every journey I’ve been on in that library. Most of that’s gone now. When I ran the update, almost half of my favorite songs disappeared. Where was my Taj Mahal, Van Morrison, Wu Man and Soweto Gospel Choir? Bambino, Buckwheat Zydeco, Yo-Yo Ma and Miriam Makeba were all missing. It took away my beloved Curtis Mayfield. And the song I associate with my husband’s passing was deleted. “…It’s so strange but true, can’t believe I’m still in love with you…” Yup, iTunes even took my James Hunter…So, I asked my audio engineer son to explain what happened. Here’s what he told me:

“with the release of Apple Music, (deliberately or not…) Apple made the access of traditional iTunes Music collections burdensome. While they shifted the focus of their platform to streaming, many users reported major glitches and missing music (they have never confirmed or denied this). In addition, many users had to re-download entire music libraries from difficult to find iTunes Music backup files to restore their original music collections.”

BURDENSOME? For real. I had to download my entire collection from an old laptop to a hard drive. Now I have the music but can’t transfer it to my phone from the drive. Oh sure, I can plug the drive into the cheap laptop I have now but the library won’t download (error message) and the speakers are shit  inadequate. And forget “difficult to find…backup files.” If I needed to call someone to explain what happened, I definitely don’t understand enough to re-install it.

My love of music started in childhood.  In church, even if the service bored me, the choir could make me both cry and shout for joy. I begged my mother to buy gospel records. Later, my music kept me company as I contemplated the context and complexities of my youth. (I’m looking at you Santana.) And then I danced to favorite songs with my children as I taught them to dance on the beat.

I get it. All the music services have changed the delivery model and they know some of us are slow (or old) so they’re prodding us along. But here’s the bottom line, the best of my music is gone.  I have the music that iTunes left me, the music I bought from them but resent because what’s left is their choice. And I will not pay for Apple Music because I resent that it feels like they’re trying to force me to opt in. I’m not going to re-buy music I legitimately owned but don’t have because I didn’t buy it from them. That only leaves me with free but commercial laden streaming services and radio.

I try to stay current and update devices to keep them and myself up to date. But c’mon, I’m not young and I’m not savvy so I can’t play these digital games. It’s okay because I’m grateful to still be in a position to take advantage of the benefits of modern times. I need to finish my life’s soundtrack though, so I wish I had my music.

Please Don’t Call Me Grandma

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My daughter called me a few days ago laughing. A family friend welcomed her first grandchild last month. My daughter was laughing because the friend told her she wants to be known as Neena to the baby. My daughter said, “All you baby boomers have different grandmother monikers and none of them is Grandma.”

Damn right. I have three grandchildren and I  dare any of them to call me Grandma. My chosen grandmother name is Memu. I love it when the middle one sees me at her preschool and says in her little New York accent, “I’m going with my grrrranmaa…” but I don’t want her to introduce me that way. I cringe when her teachers call out, “Nyla, Grandma’s here.” Is it crazy that I correct them sometimes? Her teachers are young so I’m sure they think, “Whatev.”

Is my daughter is right?  Do you think it’s because we’re boomers? If it is, maybe it’s the second stage boomers, those of us who came of age during the nineteen sixties. Our frame of reference developed during an era of major changes like the Voter Rights Act and the Equal Rights Act. We were empowered by its ethos. We define ourselves by that time and we think we’re cool. You’re more likely to see most of us in jeans and T-shirts than in black pants and Alfred Dunner blouses. You probably won’t find us with glasses hanging from chains around our necks. We turn our Marvin Gaye and Van Morrison up loud in our cars and we rock it like we know how. I don’t dye my grey hair but I do wear it in long braids, thank you very much. Many of us use social media. Interestingly, I know a few women born at the end of WWII who, although they like Facebook, won’t do Twitter or Instagram. I both tweet and ‘gram, much to the chagrin of my grandkids’ parents. I was told explicitly by one of them NOT to get on Snapchat. (Truth be told, I tried to post my first Instagram story recently, but I sent it to a young acquaintance by mistake. I could almost hear her saying to herself, “Why is this old lady texting me a video of her car window?”)

That brings up another point. I’ve had conversations with other grandmothers my age about how our adult children don’t like our attitudes. They would prefer it if we “acted our age” which I guess means old. I was told I’d be selfish if I let my social life impede being a good grandmother. I don’t understand what that even means. It’s not that I don’t like being with my grandkids. I look at their faces and my heart sings. They are my best friends. Their presence enhances my life for real. In them I have love to the second power…I just don’t want them calling me Grandma.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny my age. In fact, I embrace it. I’m fortunate to still be here. Several of the folks dear to me are gone now. And often I feel my age. I feel it when my knee doesn’t want to get out of the car with me after a long ride, when I fill my weekly pill case, when I catch myself eating dinner at 4pm and I feel it when the grandkids ask me to push them on the swings for what seems like days. But maybe my daughter is right. Maybe it is my attitude.  No matter how achy or tired I feel I’m always in the mood to put on my suede booties and go out to see what else there is for me to discover and enjoy.

So like all the other Memus and Mimis, the Neenas and Nonas and Nikas, I’ll be there on the school playground to pick up the kids and push them on the swings like the good grandmother I am. But please don’t call me Grandma and watch out for me when I leave. I’ll be the one tearing out of the parking lot with my music turned up, bouncing to the boomer beat.

Things Have Changed

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I kept wondering why I was having such a hard time re-launching this blog. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve posted.  I’ve taken breaks once or twice before and restarted without trouble. This time however, I must have written four re-launch posts but wasn’t happy with any of them. None of them felt authentic; true or sincere. Then it occurred to me, things have changed. The circumstances and nature of my journey have fundamentally changed.

Soon after I started this blog I revised my life. Since my husband had passed away two years before, I moved to a different state (fewer memories to make me sad) nearer to a new grandchild (new memories to make me happy). I joined social groups and dedicated myself to the real writing career I had neglected to establish when I began a wife and mother.

It was all working and things were going well until about two years ago. Then changes, important changes, happened that weren’t part of my decision-making process. I wasn’t the main agent of the things that were affecting me. I felt as if, instead of walking my path, I was being kicked down the road like a random can. My family changed. I didn’t want one of my family members to divorce but it affected me on more than one level. I didn’t want another member to decide to view my longstanding foibles differently but it affected our relationship. My body changed. I didn’t decide to develop lines in my face or a knee that goes in and out like a tide. I didn’t decide to change my metabolism to where I can gain 10 pounds in a month but can only lose two no matter how much I diet and exercise. And those physical changes changed my relationships with men. The country changed. I was a poll worker in November  2016 and still didn’t see the handwriting on the wall, or in this case, the ballots. The day after that election my outlook changed about people, race in the U.S. and the value of compassion. I continue to grapple with what it all means. (Is it a harbinger of a dark future or the wide swing of a constant pendulum?)

It’s only natural that if I’m going to continue writing this blog, it too must change. Seven years is a long time. I’m positioned differently these days, much more an attendant than the guide. So, Stop Along the Way’s tagline is now Looking Forward… From Back Here instead of Take What You Want, Leave the Rest. Back in 2010 my intention was to lay out what I’d discovered and learned from my experiences and that some of it might be somehow helpful to others. But things have changed. I’ll post now about what I see ahead from this new vantage point and ask you, the readers, for your take on my perspective. My life has new landscapes for me to travel and I need help figuring out the new territory. It’s much easier practicing compassion (the supposed cornerstone of my spiritual practice) when I feel equal to instead of greater than. Lol, that is a reference to the very first 2010 post. My starting point is always the same. I’m thinking of changing the blog name to “The Road” but I’ll wait a bit on that. Do you think I should change it? Maybe I should see if I continue to feel as though I’m being kicked along or if at some point I willingly go along and enjoy the view. Maybe the biggest change is that instead of walking this road, I’m at the point where I’d rather ride the rest of the way, in the back seat where I can observe more and judge less. I hope you come along with me.

 

 

 

Jingle All The Ways???

I’m too lazy to write a Christmas post this year so here’s a reblog of one from a few years back.

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Sometimes it's hard to stay focused at Christmastime Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused at Christmastime

It’s a hallmark (pun intended) of this season to say “I can’t believe it’s holiday time again already!” I know it always seems to come around more than once a year to me! Maybe it’s because I’ve gone through a lot of them and I’ve done Christmas (which is my family’s tradition) in every way possible.

It started after I had my first kid and I wanted to teach her the true meaning of the holiday. It was one of the many mistakes I made while child rearing. Anyway, in my search for a way to “authentically” celebrate the holiday I’ve tried a lot of different approaches , the first of which was,

IMG_1096The Purist Way: It involved a real tree with only wooden ornaments and strung berries. I wanted to put candles on it but my husband grumbled something about our…

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Of Love, Loss and Storage

Like most folks, I have my guilty pleasures when it comes to TV. You know, those shows you don’t readily admit to watching and that you try to justify by likening them to car crashes from which you simply can’t look away. I’m sure you have yours and I’m sorry if I’m holding  up an uncomfortable light in the darkened room where you indulge in your decadent viewing. In fairness, I’ll tell you that mine are (cough, cough) “Bring It” or as I like to call it, “Why Are We Teaching Our Girls To Be Strippers” and Married At First Sight (how old am I again?) Much as I’d like to say otherwise, you can find me sprawled out on my bed, chip bag in hand (if I’m going to be bad, I believe in going all the way) eyes glued to the TV when those two shows are on. I also read the live tweets while they’re on although I don’t tweet myself out of the fear one of my 10 followers will find out that I’m a trash TV watcher.

 

Funny I should call it trash TV because the kind of “reality” shows I can’t watch are the ones about the buying and selling of storage units. I think the philosophy behind these programs is supposed to be “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” but that’s not how it feels to me. When I see the ads the tag line I come up with is “pricing peoples’ memories” and it makes me sad. Maybe it’s because I took a trip to Boston last January (just ahead of the hundreds of blizzards) specifically to empty out my storage unit and it made me sad. I’d been paying to store my stuff from other life for over five years. I no longer live in Boston, my kids are grown and it was time to move on. Plus I was anxious that I be the one to determine what happens to my things, not the storage company or mother nature. The junk people stood by as I opened each box and decided which of my memories to keep and which to throw into the dumpster. I had to touch each one of my children’s old toys and my late husband’s golf trophies then let them go. I kept the tears at bay for the sake of the junk folks and for my granddaughter who happily ran up and down the long corridor of doors, making a new memory of her own.

The snake lamp I couldn't throw away.
The snake lamp I couldn’t throw away.

 

That’s why those shows seem cruel to me. I can’t believe none of those buyers feel empathy for the people whose belongings are in those units. If they do, they don’t display it for the cameras. They paw through the discarded, abandoned, forgotten items making callous remarks like “Chump change,” and “This is nothing but a dump.” Surely they have keepsakes of important times of their own. Surely they have experienced the loss of a possession that was special to them. Perhaps they lost a loved one and hang on to a material object as a way of hanging on to the person. I think if I were in their position, the first time I saw something that even remotely reminded me of a time in my life, evoked a memory from my own experience, I’d have to pull down the heavy steel door and walk away. I feel the least they could do is talk about it on camera. They could allow the viewer the real emotion in wondering out loud about the circumstances around each unit owner losing their belongings.

 

But they don’t. At least, not that I’ve seen in the half minutes I’ve been able to stomach watching a couple of episodes. Instead they greedily assess the contents, then scurry to the nearest dealer or retailer with anything deemed valuable to sell the goods for the best price. Big red plus or minus numbers appear in the corner of the screen to let the viewer know whether the buyer was a “winner” or “loser” on any given unit. But isn’t the underlying understanding that the unit owner is the ultimate loser? Then again, maybe not. After all, those buyers also get the karma attached to disposing of other’s possesions without knowing the provenance and good luck with that. Anyway, I threw my junk in a dumpster. Maybe one day I’ll have the guts to throw in my TV.

Blue Blazes

Is it me? Man, it feels hot! As I’ve written about before, one of the reasons I moved to Virginia from Massachusetts was for the weather. I don’t like cold and I love the heat but man, it’s been hot here lately. When I came here in the summer of 2012 I relished the 90 degree days. I’d compare temperatures on my Yahoo Weather app and then call my sisters back in New England and ask them with stifled laughter if they were chilly. There were fifty 90 plus degree days that year and I rejoiced. So far this year there have been 52 and I’m uncomfortable.

Is it me? What’s different this year? Is it because 2013 and 2014 weren’t as hot? Did my Boston bred body reboot? These last couple of days, I thought my car thermometer was broken because it read 90 every damn time of the day and night. That was until yesterday when it read 93. And today it read 95!  I was actually annoyed to see a group of high-school students, during only the second day of the new school year, practicing band OUTSIDE, laughing and dancing. How dare they look fresh as little daisies while I look like a wilted brown-eyed susan, bent over in the heat.  And I’m tired of seeing skinny, good-looking young women in cute sundresses and Michael Kors sandals. I need for them to need to cover up.

Every morning for what seems like a month, as I sip my morning coffee (ice coffee), I hear the words “hazy, hot and humid” coming from the local TV meteorologist. I’ll give it to her, she has tried to change it up a bit lately by using expressions like, “trending above normal” and “summer continues” but we all know it just means it’s hot as hell. As a matter of fact, there was a fire in a field nearby a couple of days ago and the combination of the heat and red glow made me wonder if I’d slipped, bumped my head and now… Anyway, I’m not tolerating it well. I feel as if someone soaked a lead x-ray apron in water and threw it on my chest. The only consolation is that I’m not the only one. I’ve seen other folks huffing and puffing as they push grocery carts to their cars in supermarket parking lots under the blazing sun. And I was behind a man in FedEx today whose shirt back was completely wet with sweat even though the AC was on full blast. Earlier this afternoon,  I was stopped by the neighborhood dog walker who told me he’d never understood the term “hot as blue blazes” until today. Speaking of the neighborhood, I’m just moving in this week, this incredibly hot week, and three of my boxes collapsed  from the sweat on my hands. I’ve already written off the 3 new neighbors who asked, “Is it hot enough for ya?”

The forecast is for cooling in the next few days, a quick change which is good, I guess.  I thought I’d remembered there being a transitional period in August, a cooling off period, a winding down time between pool days and apple picking days. But that’s probably a memory created by classroom posters. When I was in elementary school I more than likely I went to the first day in shorts gratefully washed by my mother just like every other kid in my grade. So, right now I’ll wait with heavy, congested breath for the cold front I hear tell is about to pass through. Now watch, I’ll post this and tomorrow I’ll be looking for my sweater.

How about where you are? Has it been devilish hot where you live? Do you see a change in recent weather patterns?

Out of The Mouths of Babes

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Two-Nine-Year Olds’ Magnificent Open Letter to Disney About Racial and Gender Stereotypes.

I wrote my previous post as a humor piece with the sharp end of a stick aimed at Disney. These two third graders however,  explained the unsettling aspects of Disneyland/World better than I did. Please click on the link above and read their  letter to the chairman of Walt Disney Parks. It’s lucid and heartfelt, pointed yet respectful. Maybe if my generation had been as wise at nine as they are, I wouldn’t have a problem with the idea of taking my grandkids to Disneyland today.

(Big snaps to Maria Popova at BrainPickings.org)