Dream a Little Dream of Me

I dreamed about Barack & Michelle again last night.

I know — it’s so dumb. But I did. For the second time now. No, I’ve never dreamed about the President and First Lady before. I’ve never dreamed about any politician, really. Not even my friend, Pat Kiovsky, and I was her campaign manager when she ran for Wyoming legsislature last fall. All of this makes me sound like a political gal and I don’t think I really am.

Of course, I come from an Irish-Catholic family, so political arguments over dinner are kind of a staple for us. I once brought down the house when I was ten and tartly informed my stepfather that he wouldn’t vote for Jesus Christ if he ran on a Republican ticket. To which he immediately rejoined that I was right on the money. So, you kind of had to be up on things, just to hold your own conversational ground in our family. But I have a low tolerance for news. Never watch it on TV. Don’t read any newspaper. Skim the news articles online.

The first dream, I was part of Obama’s team. I was riding around with him in a limo, taking notes, coordinating vague but important things. It felt good to be part of what he was doing. Last night, Barack and Michelle showed up on one of my work trips. I’m a private consultant doing contract work for EPA and they wanted to have lunch with me, to discuss important changes to EPA. I was excited in my dream — and couldn’t wait to call my mom and tell her who I got to have lunch with.

It might be partly because I get emails from them, Barack and Michelle. Also Joe and Cindy. More so during the campaign than now. Much has been said about the innovative nature of Obama’s campaign, how they drew us in and made us intimately involved.

I’ve always scoffed at my mother’s affection for Kennedy. Her idealism seemed part of her youthful past to me. I tired of hearing how the assassination affected everyone. But I kind of understand now. I feel so much hopefulness at the changes occurring. I enjoy the conversations, even here in my stalwartly Republican state.

I’m not much of one for idealism, but apparently I’m feeling the dream.

Compliments of the Season

“If he doesn’t cut my hair right this time,” my mother says, “then next season, I’ll find a new hairdresser.”

“Next season?” I repeat, bemused.

“In the fall,” she explains. “We can’t say ‘next year’ because that’s too confusing. It’ll still be this year when we come back.”

“I know,” I say, “but it sounds so…”



“Well, we are!” she happily replies.

She loves this, that she winters in Tucson and summers in Denver. I remember the winters of my childhood and how she hated the snow. How she’d stand at the window staring at the snow blizzarding down and give a cry of incoherent rage. She especially hated this time of year, when the wet spring snows crush the daffodils under their weight. This has been her new husband, Dave’s, greatest gift to her: the freedom to both live in the city of her birth and to escape the winter that comes with it.

Last year she and Dave came back to Denver too early, so they’re hedging their bets and staying in Tucson until June 1. Some Tucson neighbors do it by the thermometer: on the first day over 100 in Tucson, they pack up for Michigan. On the first day it hits 32 there, they pack up for Arizona. Our own neighbors, the elderly couple across the street, used to drive their RV down to Arizona just after Christmas and return like robins in the spring. But she has Alzheimer’s now, so they stopped going. David’s folks are the same: no longer making the annual RV trek to Yuma because their health isn’t good enough for the drive. And their pride is too great to let any of us take them down. Instead these snowbirds are grounded in their winter homes.

I think about these people, who spend the winter of their lives in the winter climes. I know it’s hard on them. Two winters ago I sprained one ankle severely and the other mildly (falling down a flight of stairs in front of 200 people — don’t ask). I felt so fragile on the snow ice, so afraid of slipping, of the pain, of the danger of further infirmity. For the first time I really felt in the skin of someone less than robust health and it was a scary place to be. The winter is colder, too, every year, and I’m only in mid-life.

Some of it is money, sure. But a lot of it is flexibility, too — the willingness to move away from family, away from the familiar and to make a new home somewhere else. Maybe it takes more than some people have. It may be easier to give in to the winter, to stand at the window and glare at the snow, than to fight and escape.

But then, there’s always next season.

You Never Write, You Never Call…

Okay, the heady romance is over. I confess: I’ve begun to cheat.

It’s not that I was ever completely monogamous, especially in the beginning. You know how it is: in the begining you’re still trying each other out, not ready to fully commit. I’d kept reading a hard copy book or two, would keep a book with me on the plane, in case the flight attendant decided my Kindle was an electronic device that must be shut off. (Incidentally, no one has made me shut it off through about 10-15 take-offs and landings. I wonder if this is because they don’t know what it is or it doesn’t look all that electronic?)

But I had committed. All of my recent book purchases were on the Kindle, either via the Amazon store or through other ebook sellers. Then, last night, I put the Kindle in the drawer and started a hard copy book. It felt good, too. Like coming home to an old love. It felt right to be holding my book, curled up in the armchair while the snow fell.

I confess, the in-laws soured things for me recently, what with the Amazon “glitch.” I really hate that Amazon may have been censoring and sanitizing, a serious development given their stranglehold on book rankings. I hear people saying they’re giving their business to Powells, which has ebooks, too. I might have to see if their formats are Kindle-compatible. Not every ebook is, it turns out. I suspect this situation will continue to improve over time. It seems like new tech starts out very specific and proprietary at first, but then natural market forces move everthing to intercompatibility (is that a word?) over time.

Maybe it’s good for us to have a little time apart. It’s okay for my Kindle to be just one part of my reading life. I’m beginning to think that any monopoly can’t be a good thing. In nature, diversity wins.

In love, I’m a one-man woman, but in this way, at least, I’ll continue to play the field.

A Font of Useless Information

So, did you guys know there’s this whole campaign to ban the use of comic sans?

No, really. There is.

Maybe saying “whole campaign” is a stretch since, so far as I can tell, it could be just one guy representing himself as a movement. But there is a website dedicated to it. Of course, anyone can throw up a website and start a “movement” to ban, say, the use of the color yellow.

I first saw the “ban comic sans” manifesto in one of the offices I visited this spring. That’s one of the interesting parts — okay, maybe the ONLY interesting part — of visiting a different cubicle farm every-other week in different parts of the country: seeing what people post on their hollow fabric half-walls. I should post some on here, actually. It was particularly interesting over the course of the election year, to see what people in different regions were het up about. But I digress.

Anyway, the ban comic sans manifesto — and I’m 99% sure they’re serious and not just really good at deadpanned satire, but I’m willing to entertain correction there — explains that the font (you knew this was about a font, right?) “comic sans” was created for cartoons and has enjoyed this extended life for which it was never intended. The people excited about this are the typesetting nostalgics.

Me, I’ve never cared about font that much. Except, hey, yes I use comic sans in my email and IM. I picked it long ago (15 years ago?) because I liked the way it looked. My only other opinion on font is when people make you use Courier, which is a nonproportional font and is thus ugly and inefficient for an electronic age, IMHO.

I have one friend who’s written about her father being a typesetter and the smell of ink, but I’m not sure she cares so much about font. Another friend gets really excited about font and spends a fair amount of time on which ones have which little doodad (I know there’s a real term for it — I forget what it is, this is how much I don’t care) at the top of the “l,” say.

We all need our causes, I suppose. And far be it for me to say someone’s cause is, well, insignificant in the grand scheme, when I have a special place in my heart for frivolous enterprises.

But I just keep thinking about bread & circuses.

I said something about bread & circuses to someone the other day and she didn’t know what I was talking about, so I think it bears repeating, just in case. The phrase was coined by Juvenal, a Roman satirist, referring to the observation that the people won’t care about politics as long as they get food and entertainment.

This is such a pivotal time. There are so many really important changes underway.

And we’re concerned about a font?

(P.S. I tried to format this in comic sans, but blogger won’t allow it!)

If You’re Happy and You Know It…Or Do You?

I once asked my martial arts teacher a question about emotions. This isn’t as odd as it sounds, because it was a kung-fu school and we spent a lot of time talking about chi (life energy) and how emotional energy is the battery for everything we do.

So, I told him how, when I’d lived alone in grad school, I’d sometimes go a whole day or two without seeing anyone. Especially if I was holed up in my apartment on the weekends. This was before all the connectedness of email and Facebook. The world reached me only via my landline, the tv (which I never turned on) and the radio (and I only listened to music). What I’d found was that I wouldn’t notice I was in any particular emotional state, unless I happened to make contact with another person. Then I would discover I was irritable or depressed or happy, by the way I interacted with them.

His answer was that I “downloaded” the other person’s emotions. That I absorbed what they were feeling and that I had to learn to differentiate my emotions from theirs. This led into one of his typical rants about how this was yet another reason for us to shun the world at large and stay away from the contamination of the mass mind.

Obviously, I don’t completely agree. About so many things. Which is neither here nor there.

I think there is something to this, sure. I do think you can pick up on what other people are feeling. If the energetic thing is too woo-woo for you, then suffice to say that we’re really good at picking up subconscious cues from each other. Our pets perceive our feelings and intentions. David knows what state of mind I’m in from the moment I walk in the door. If you’re a reasonably empathetic person who pays attention, you’ll pick up on what the people around you are feeling.

But I don’t think that’s what I experienced in my living-alone days. I think it has something more to do with context. That it’s hard to define something without a point of reference. For example, our visual system works through edge-detection. The receptors in our eyes and the neurons that connect with them respond to the contrast between one color and the next, or one shade and the next. Our visual cortex assembles images from all the lines and edges, then fills in the middle.

Maybe emotional states are like this, too. I might drift through a day or a weekend in an undefined dream. (Okay, yeah, this may be particular to me, being kind of a dreamy gal.) When I encounter someone else, I’m no longer just a wash of being — now there’s someone else and there’s a line between us, created by our differences, slight or great. Suddenly I have a point of reference.

The rest is just filling in the middle.

Gloria, We Hardly Knew Ye

Is anyone else noticing the whole waist/hip thing?

By anyone, I mean the gals, because I really don’t think guys do this. So, if you’re a guy, feel free to skip today’s post.

But gals, the whole waistline-drop thing seems to be getting stranger. Never mind that we really can’t find any slacks, jeans or even skirts that fasten around our waists — and if we could, we can’t wear them because, hey, we might have to concede to being in our 40s, but we still don’t REALLY want to look like refugees from the 80s. Even if that’s exactly what we are.

My mother will testify that I’m famous for keeping clothes forever. It’s the sentimentality. Throwing away a loved outfit is tantamount to throwing away all the good times had in that outfit. So, yes, I still have some of the clothes I wore in high school. A couple of sweaters. A few party dresses from college. None of the lower-body stuff because, let’s just say, my hips did not stay teenager narrow. But I was the girl whose friend told her she was the only person she knew who looked good in designer jeans (Gloria Vanderbilt, with an embroidered gold swan on one hip pocket and a similar gold cursive “Jennifer” on the other.) The waist buttoned around the narrowest point of my body, which meant the jeans stayed there, whether I was standing or sitting.

But the dropped-waist thing — they move around all the time! Sure the slacks will drape nicely over my hips while I’m standing, sitting in their comfortable three inches below my belly button. I went to all drop-waist slacks and jeans after I had my belly-button pierced. Believe me, you have to do it. Thus do vanity piercings drive fashion. So, standing around, looking cute is fine. But when you sit, they kind of creep up and flop around your waist like an Ace bandage gone wrong. OR they slide down further, showing your thong and butt-cleavage and… no, no, no.

Okay, compared to Amazon censoring homosexual books on their website, this isn’t a big deal. Lots of people have been talking about that, though. Is anyone discussing the millions of women out there whose pants won’t stay put? A can of worms there, I say.

I’m starting to understand why older women start to wear those mu-mus.

Is It Just Me?

Sanity is a relative thing. Ask Paula Alquist.

Granted, very few of us (hopefully) encounter someone who is trying to Gaslight us, a now famous derivation that means to deliberately attempt to convince someone that they’re insane. And yet, what with everyone trying to get their own way, it seems a lot of folks out there won’t take it amiss if you begin to doubt what you know.

I think about it like this: we walk around with an idea of what the world is like inside our heads. It’s built of how we think and feel, what we believe, what our families believe. We’re all kind of existing in our own bubble worlds, a separate parallel universe for each person. Thus the world is teeming with alternate realities, some based on thought, many based on emotion. Every time we try to talk to each other, we’re communicating with an alien civilization.

I try to remember this when I have the “am I crazy or are they?” moments.

All it takes is one conversation where someone tells you what you did, usually months ago, that doesn’t match what you remember occurring. Or worse, ascribes motivations to you that you’re certain you never had. I’ve known some people who rewrote history on purpose, recasting events in a light more flattering to themselves. I’ve known others so passionately invested in their position that they come to believe what they want to be true. It’s understandable. I think that we all do this, to a greater or lesser extent.

Which is the crazy-making part.

Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. I think this is what he was getting at. If you can’t scrutinize yourself and your life, there’s no way to know if what goes on in your own little universe has a reality that others can recognize or is simply a conglomeration of a fantasy of what you want to be true. There’s an old device in fairy tales where there’s a mirror that reflects how a person truly is. Usually only the “pure of heart” can face themselves in that mirror. I suspect this is something we have to do, every moment of every day: face ourselves in the mirror and see what’s there. If you flinch away, it’s because something has crept in. I don’t think I know what purity is anymore. Other people will be happy to chime in with what they believe is selfish or sinful or simply against the rules. Some of those people take those beliefs to insane extremes.

If you can face yourself in the mirror without flinching, I think that’s a good start.

Did anyone notice the lights dimming?

Happy Bunny Trails to You

David never knows when Easter Sunday is coming, he says, until three or four people ask him on Friday what he’s doing for Easter. Of course we’re doing nothing in particular for Easter, since we never do. He likes to report the grumpy answers he thinks up, usually Easter-inappropriate activities. I’m the only one who ever hears them.

It’s not that we don’t like Easter. It just doesn’t mean anything to us. The kids are grown up, so we don’t do Easter baskets. We try to keep candy and refined sugar-somethings out of the house, so we don’t gnosh that way. It’s not springtime here, so there’s no celebration of that aspect. We no longer consider ourselves Catholics; arguably, we never did. And, for whatever reason, this is usually a busy time of year for us, so we almost always have Easter Sunday as a breather day — to catch up on at-home stuff.

Now, if we lived somewhere with a decent Easter brunch, I’d probably do that. I love a champagne brunch. But what I love best is the afterwards, the lazy buzz on a Sunday afternoon of bubbly in my veins and enough food in my body to last the day. Like this bit from Wallace Stevens:

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

There’s something to be said for the “just after.” Many of the people who ask what we’re doing for Easter are hitting the road to visit family. And they look pressured. It’s a difficult holiday, being confined to Sunday and working folks needing to be back at it Monday morning.

My friend, Julianne, just posted that it’s “an oddly gray sky in Laramie this morning. The grackles are puffing their chests and making that funny sqwak sound in the cottonwoods.”

What am I doing for Easter? I’m listening to our black birds. And to the moment just after.

Giving and Perceiving

I’ve always been a joiner.

Not sure why. I don’t feel much of a religious call to service or an obligation to volunteer. But I’ve long been a joiner of service groups. On some level, I do feel like these groups fill a need. On another, I think we’re often just bashing our heads against the wall or filling a bucket with such small drops as to be negligible. Arguably I do it for the social interaction: I like getting to know the people involved and working with them on projects. In many ways I believe the only true charity is anonymous charity — when you give and no one knows that you have. Volunteering in a service group seems to me so full of ostentatious giving that it can’t really count as true service.

This reminds me of a study on vampire bats I read a while back. (I know — you were thinking the same thing, right?) The study found that vampire bats who were fortunate enough to feed on a given night would share blood with bats in the roost that weren’t able to feed. It’s a crucial bit of sharing because their metabolisms are so high that the bats can’t go more than a couple of nights without feeding or they’ll die. The study pondered if this was an example of true altruism. In general, it’s thought that altruism does not exist in nature. Most animal behavior is driven by perpetuation of the indivual or, more precisely, the individual’s reproductive potential. The researchers attempted to determine if the donors gave blood only to close relatives, which didn’t seem to be the case. Eventually they concluded that perhaps the behavior was to perpetuate the entire colony.

An online friend of mine told me that I’m a really sweet person. This is noteworthy because I can’t recall anyone who knows me in person who’s called me sweet. One friend told me I have so many edges that I’m practically a cube. But the gal who called me sweet said so because I read her work and gave her writing advice. And because I continue to read and give feedback. To me, this isn’t sweet. I certainly don’t always tell her nice things about what she’s written. She says that she’s grateful that I take the time. I think, well, I can help, so I do.

And it doesn’t hurt.

Maybe that’s part of my edge: I’m just not into giving until it hurts. If I can give, I will. If I don’t have the time or the energy, I say no. More often I say “later.” This is self-protection. Lately, a couple of people in volunteer organizations I belong to have been unhappy with me that they’re farther down on my list of things to do. Worse, they’ve begun to harangue me about it. Now, I have a lot of deadlines to manage and I like to think I’m reasonably good at it. I have a pretty simple approach: I work on what is due the soonest. Logical of me. I also work on the stuff I’m paid to do first. Mercenary of me perhaps. I’m also easily seduced by the more fun things, so they tend to work their way up in priority ahead of their time. Frivolous of me, I’ll admit.

The thing is, I find I really hate being pressured to do something I volunteered to help with in the first place, especially if I don’t see the fire. Everyone has their comfort zones, I know. There are people in this world who panic if a deadline is a week away. I’m one of those who slides the deliverable into the email five minutes before COB Eastern Time on some occasions. When I’m being paid, I do things their way — I figure that’s part of the deal. But when I’m giving, I find my altruism dries up if I feel forced.

Maybe that’s how it works for the bats, too.

Sand Between the Toes

I finally made it to the beach yesterday.

No, there won’t be any “life’s a beach” titles or comments. Just the sheer pleasure of escaping from the strange veneer of Orlando to something that feels raw and real. To me, this is Florida.

Now, I know a lot of people don’t like the beach. They think it’s silly and boring and there’s nothing to do but lie around. I know quite a few men who think this way. Fortunately mine is not one, because I really love a beach.

Two of the gals I work with went with me and didn’t get there until late. We finished our work around noon, had lunch with the client and headed back to the hotel to swap our pumps and laptop bags for bikinis and sandals. By the time we stopped at the store and acquired sunscreen and beach towels, it was 3pm. So we arrived at the beach around 4:30, just as the sleepily sunbaked people were trailing away from it, pouring down the access ramps like so many towel-wrapped children ready to be bathed and fed dinner and cocktails.

But the declining Florida sun pumped warm and friendly. The ocean welcomed us with tangy blue swells. It soothes me, just to touch the water and be near it. To let the undulations of it move me. Sometimes I fancy I can touch every life touched by the interconnected oceans, as if it’s still the primordial soup that flows through us all.

Maybe it is.