Why Do I Feel This Party’s Over?

I’ve been drinking too much wine again lately. It’s one of those things that just gradually ramps up. Over the holidays I indulged in both food and drink — including beer, which I love but is verboten if I want a flat tummy, which I do — but I’m ostensibly back on my training program, to get the body fat down just a little more. Only I haven’t quite ramped down the wine consumption.

It’s all a tolerance thing. If I don’t drink anything for a couple of weeks, then one glass of wine is enough. It’ll be delicious and satisfying, and perhaps even give me a little warm buzz. Maybe it’s the dark January evenings, but I haven’t done a ruthless, no alcohol diet yet this year. Instead I’m sipping red wine all evening long. It doesn’t help that Barefoot came out with the biggie bottle of red zin — it’s the wine version of hot chocolate. A pretty glass, a sparkling fire and that spicey bloody wine makes the winter evenings worthwhile.

And though I rarely get drunk, and haven’t made myself sick from booze in probably ten years (though we were all dragging rear Christmas morning this year from some really excellent champagne), I am so compelled by Pink’s Sober video.

I’ve been into Pink’s angry white chick music since her I’m Not Dead Yet album. Before that I’d written her off as a frothy hip-hopper, confused in my mind with Lil Kim and her ilk. I’ve since picked up her earlier stuff, too, and while there is some hip-hoppy stuff (apparently she was pushed that way by her early producers), a lot of it is raw and real and moving to me.

While I, even in my most dedicated Gamma Phi Beta college days, was never the party girl Pink depicts in her video, there’s a part of her I know. Perhaps it’s that ever-present fear that you could slip that far. Fall over the edge into an oblivion where you no longer recognize yourself. Pink’s plaintive cry “why do I feel this party’s over?” echoes the somber realization of the over-40 woman. I’m having to realize that the days of perfect resilience are over. I no longer blithely burn everything I eat and drink.

A friend of mine is an adrenaline junkie. He’s made a career of it. A fabulous career of doing amazing things like climbing unclimable mountains and kayaking through ice floes and writing about it all. Just after New Year’s he went ice climbing with a friend. An avalanche roared over them and the friend died. I saw my friend yesterday and I almost didn’t recognize him, he looked so unaccountably aged. Perhaps it’s the grief dragging him down and he’ll recover. But I wonder what the over-50 adventure athlete does when the activities he’s defined himself with are too much for him to recover from. Not all of them face this moment — many get themselves killed before that. I suppose the one who survives redefines himself. Fortunately my friend is a great writer and a man of many talents.

It’s easy to feel like the party’s over when you hit the realization that second two-thirds of your life aren’t going to be quite as on fire as the first third. Or second half vs. first half. But maybe it’s just that it’s a different party. A party in which I can be satisfied with a single glass of wine.

Maybe two.

Labels For This Post

If you’ve used Blogger.com, then you know that they offer you a template and examples on the create post screen. It’s an easy set-up to learn, which is always a good thing. I had enough anxiety about starting a blog without wading through techno-angst as well.

What’s funny is, at the bottom there’s a blank where you can fill in “Labels for this post.” And then they offer “e.g. scooter, vacation, fall.” Every day, when I fill in my labels, I look at “scooter, vacation, fall” and think about using them. I’ve considered starting some kind of special Blogspot Commemoration Day, where we all blog about scooters, vacation and fall. Probably I’m the only one entertained by the idea.

Last Fall we went on vacation to Italy, and we all rented scooters. It was really fun.

We went on vacation to Italy and were having a great time on our rented scooters until my mom took a bad fall.

The preponderance of “Scooters” in the Bush administration made us all want to go on vacation, until last Fall when Obama was elected and we felt much better about everything.

Okay, it’s out of my system now.

True Grace

Yesterday I received an email from one of the writing groups I’ve joined. I don’t think I’ve met the woman who wrote it, but she sent it to everyone who’s on the email list
for the group:

Last Thursday I had a doctors appointment at [ ]. I expected to discuss new treatments. Instead she told me there was nothing more they could do for me. She estimates I have about 3 months. I’m totally at peace with pending death. I’ve enjoyed this group.

Adios,

Grace

I found myself near tears at this. Heartbroken and unutterably moved at her grace in sending this out, as if it’s just another thank-you note. I picture her like that: the kind of woman who sends you a thank-you note for the lovely lunch and mentions again how pretty your blouse looked. I’ve changed her name here, because I feel certain she’s not the sort of woman who would want her business all over the internet.

And yet, I felt compelled to share it. Perhaps how we face our deaths is the final measure of how we approach our lives. My great-aunt had little cards prepared — stamped and pre-addressed — to send after her death that said, “you’ve received this card because I’ve died.” She went on to tell us special things and asked us to remember her in happiness. My favorite professor declined extreme treatment for his cancer so he could spend his remaining days in the classroom.

So here’s to your “adios,” Grace. May your last months be filled with love and art and beauty. And may you be remembered in happiness.

Scarlett Take Me Away!

Work has been stressful the last couple of days — dealing with contract stuff and cost overruns. I woke up this morning thinking about it, which is always a bad sign. I ran the tape loop of fretting as I got ready for the gym, as I lifted weights and at the grocery store. Even at 6:30 in the morning in a small town, I had to wait in line for a moment, where the magazines caught my eye, as they’re meant to do.

Scarlett Johansson beamed at me, all sultry eyes and milky skin. Kate Hudson sparkled with a saucy wink. For an instant I longed to be them. I thought, how wonderful to have Scarlett’s life, with her beauty and those gorgeous clothes.

Yes, yes — I know. Silly.

In my defense, the emotion washed away quickly. I know perfectly well that the conference calls today won’t be anything I can’t get through. And there are much worse things in life than suffering a little stress for the money I earn, that allows me to lead a very pleasant life. I know, also, that Scarlett’s life is also full of stress and meetings and working out at the gym. She might not have to stop at the grocery store on the way home, but that’s about it. And Kate Hudson has done several things that I suspect makes her emotional life not all that rewarding.

The thing is, I didn’t really long in that moment be THEM, to live their lives. What I wanted was to be those pictures. I wanted to feel what the glossy women seemed to feel. Which is what they’re selling after all.

At least I didn’t buy it.

Muse-Baiting

That’s what Kev calls it. I noted it down in my list of ideas to write about just like that, so now I forget the specific context. But his meaning is clear: instead of angelically waiting for the muse to descend and inspire — perhaps via a delightful bit of meditation or self-flagellating fasting — you set out bait, to lure it in. In this scenario the muse is a grizzly bear and the bait something suitably rank, perhaps a rotting old emotional wound or a pungent idea best not aired in polite company. It works to extend the analogy. Grizzly bears are magnificent animals, glorious and terrifying. You’d like to get close enough to see one, but drawing that near can leave you ravaged or dead.

I like this idea of the muse. More of an avenging angel or tricky demon, than the sprightly Olivia Newton-John roller girl. The artist who calls in the muse should be on her guard, ready for the swipe to the gut she didn’t see coming. The artist who baits the muse… well, be careful what you wish for.

Here Fishy

Weekends are for spammers, have you noticed? Especially three-day weekends. I received easily three times as many spam messages overnight on Friday night and Sunday night as I normally do.

I’m picturing these people, coming home from their jobs and hunkering down over the computer. A dark room lit by only a single desk lamp. Or possibly only the blue glow of the computer screen. On and on they send, lining up appeals for financial exchanges, offers of penis-enhancement products and enticing work-at-home opportunities — presumably like the one they have. Apparently many of them go out on Saturday night, instead of working.

Or is this related to prison schedules? More computer time allowed, an extra perk for the weekend. Maybe all the spam (spams?) arrive overnight because of all the Africans, Europeans and Asians working while I’m sleeping to advise me of their gold mines, my lost inheritance, my lottery win.

I wonder if they communicate with one another, a community of spammers. I’ll notice that one will come up with something new that manages to snag my attention. What? A photo of me doing something stupid? Not that this is beyond the realm of possibility, but… and as the thought completes, I realize the scam and delete. Then for weeks afterwards I’m deluged with stupid photo subject lines, many that gradually evolve to add new elements. But it’s too late, I recognize the breed now, no matter how it’s redecorated. Perhaps they spam one another. There’s my late-night spammer, home from his job. He sees the email. A photo of him doing something stupid? He clicks. Oh! he grunts. So clever. I should do this, too.

Or maybe it’s just a pull-down list from Spammer Central: select from package delivery, dear friend, private and confidential. All pre-formatted, just add random email addresses.

No matter: it’s still the guy on the corner with the raincoat full of watches. The flapping flyer on the telephone pole urging you to work from home sealing envelopes. The eternal hope that, no matter how familiar and tattered the bait, some fish may bite.

Bon Voyage

My mother is in Egypt now. At least, I believe she is. She was to arrive there while I was sleeping around 3:30 this morning. I’m trying to picture here there, but I’ve never been to Egypt and I have only vague ideas of what Cairo looks like, which seem to be largely drawn from Indiana Jones-type adventures — I’ve got narrow streets, vendors with huge baskets, flapping awnings, dust and rogue camels. She doesn’t fit on those streets in my mind. Instead I keep picturing her in a billowy white cotton outfit (though I know perfectly well she owns nothing of the kind and that no Western adventurer has worn that kind of thing since the British first began to unearth the tombs) under a blazing desert sun, backed by the sphinx and maybe a pyramid or two. No matter how I override with a more logical guess that she’s probably catching up on sleep in a darkened hotel room, when I think of her, my mind supplies the sphinx/pyramid/billowing cotton outfit picture.

It’s a funny thing, being out of touch. Normally I wouldn’t have yet talked to her, early on a Sunday morning. In many ways, she’s no more distant from me now than she was in Tucson yesterday. And yet, there she is, out in a desert I’ve never seen, my mind shrouding her in an outfit she never wears. I find myself missing her.

When she called from JFK before boarding the flight to Cairo, I asked, “so, do you have any plans for communication at all — or is this goodbye for three weeks?” She paused, conferred with Dave, my stepfather, and replied with surprise that no, they hadn’t thought of it. The surprise is because Dave, also a former Air Force guy, and so level-headed with it, usually thinks of everything. (I’m saying also, as in along with Sullenberger, our new hero.) They speculated about Internet cafes, phone cards that could be purchased, that the Egyptian hotels might have Internet themselves now. They said they’d figure something out. I said not to worry about it.

Just a few days ago, my mom was lamenting her hard drive crash that prevented her from being on Instant Messenger. She had to call me on the phone to make contact, which seemed onerous. We laughed, wondering what we did before we had email or the Internet at all. When our phones were tied to the wall at home.

Our lack of contact now is only an illusion. For the right price, I could call her. She’ll find Internet access, most likely. And yet, in my heart, she’s as distant as a Victorian Egyptologist, white parasol in hand, admiring the Great Sphinx under the sun.

We Have Splashdown

The news has been chock-full of the recent plane crash at LaGuardia. (In a recent writing discussion, one person chided an author for misusing the idiom as “chalk-full.” Another poster responded that, since no normal person uses the phrase “chock-full,” that it didn’t matter how it was spelled. I, of course, couldn’t resist.) This plane crash has captured everyone’s attention, not just because airplane disasters always do, but because no one died. Amusingly, I notice that the article I linked to here refers to the incident now as a “splashdown.”

By now you have the details: taking off from LaGuardia, the US Air jet sucked birds into two engines. The birds were big enough to cause immediate, devastating damage, knocking the spinning turbines off enough that one engine burst into flames. The pilot, Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, reported the double bird strike, requested permission to return to LaGuardia, then said “unable,” and asked permission to land at a New Jersey suburban airport, again came back with “unable.” He then told the passengers to brace themselves because the plane was going down, and he landed the plane in the river. Hence the “splashdown.”

What’s remarkable here to me, is that Sullenberger kept his head so well that he not only navigated a spectacular landing, but he kept communicating the whole time.

Those of you who know me know that I have a consuming interest in plane crashes. In many ways the plane crash is both a seminal incident in my life and an ongoing metaphor for me. Sullenberger trained first as an Air Force Academy pilot, like my father. And where many cockpit recordings from plane crashes yield only frantic babbling, this one shows a pilot so well trained that he continued to let everyone know what was going on, even as he dropped an Airbus loaded with people into the Hudson River.

They’re calling him a hero, and that’s probably appropriate. The kind of hero who coolly walks through the plane twice to ensure all the passengers were off. The kind who smiles and nods graciously when people thank him for their lives.

But I think what really captures us here is that this is different than the usual metaphor. If a plane crash symbolizes how everything can go abruptly wrong, snipping threads in an instant of impact, then this is the reverse. The threads that weren’t snipped; how it almost happened, but didn’t. How someone who keeps his head can avert disaster. That a disaster can be magically converted to a splashdown.

Verbal compost

So, there’s this deal going on called “verbal gardening.” (The site will congratulate you for stumbling upon it — clearly there’s no thought that someone might be directed to it.) As a linguistic experiment, the creators have created “verbal seeds,” which are new word meanings or phrases they believe they’ve developed from whole cloth. I’m doubtful they can lay claim to starting “urban myth,” since I recall using that phrase in high school and, if you read yesterday’s post, you’ll realize how long ago that was. Of course, these are Brits, so maybe they haven’t figured out the Americans had urban legends back when they still had old wives tales. They’re also cagey about when they started seeding, which is key to any etymological discussion.

And yes, I realize I’m now complicit by using their phrases here. Alas.

Their “verbal superseed” — they don’t give a definition that I see, but I’m inferring that by adding “super,” they mean to convey it’s their favorite or most powerful — is “TK Day.” This is the day that you are 10,000 days old. You’re meant to celebrate it as more meaningful than arbitrary governmental birthdays that allow you rights such as driving a car, drinking, voting, going to war. And renting a car, in which you can presumably do all of these things. For those of you whipping out your calculators, your 10,000th day occurs sometime when you’re 27.

See? We knew it was silly.

Today, I am 15,488 days old. (If you want an easy way to figure this out, go to Excel, type in today’s date in one cell and your birthday in another. Go to Format>Cells and select “number” from the general tab. Subtract your birthday from today’s date and there you have it.) So I missed both my 10,000th and 15,000th day anniversaries. At 20,000 days, I’ll be nearly 55.

It’s sounding grimmer all the time — I can’t see this catching on like wildfire with anyone but a silly twenty-something.

They also push for returning the venerable “hello” when answering the phone to “are you there?” Apparently they haven’t realized that the cell phone sea change has already changed this to the universally used “where are you?”

Speaking of which, “sea change” is a bit of Shakespeare’s verbal seeding. It’s wrong of me to trivialize his phrase, especially to describe a society that largely believes “wherefore art thou Romeo?” means “where are you Romeo?” not “why are you Romeo?” Of course, with the sea change (sorry), Juliet could be staged on her balcony, with her cell.

“Where are you, Romeo? What? Can you hear me now?”

And. But. Or.

Conjunction Junction, what’s your function? Hooking up words and phrases and clauses. Yes — all of my cohorts out there are singing along now. Those of us who were children together in the 70s learned our initial grammar, multiplication tables and basics of government from Schoolhouse Rock. (Due to the miracle of the internet, all the videos are now available online, for your nostalgic pleasure.) Setting the rules to catchy music was a terrific method to introduce the concepts to children.

And in school, our teachers simplified the rules for us as we learned to parse correct sentences. Never start a sentence with a conjunction they said. (Oh look, and here I already broke it.) Starting sentences with conjunctions tends to lead to sentence fragments, just as starting the day with a bottle of wine can pretty much trash the rest of the day. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with drinking a bottle of wine in the morning. Wine is a lovely thing, drinking it can be wonderful and depending on what you were planning to do with the rest of the day, drinking a bottle of wine in the morning can be just fine. Say, for lolling on the beach. Not so much for working.

I remember when I found out that is wasn’t really a “rule” that you can’t start a sentence with a conjunction. It’s like not being able to ride the roller coaster when you’re little. Once you get mature enough, you can wrangle the grammar all you like. I felt such a sense of freedom. No longer was I confined by 3rd composition principles. The world of wordsmithing opened up, vast and full of possibility.

It reminds me of my favorite religious studies professor in college, Professor Hadas, who described himself as a non-practicing Orthodox Jew. (A fine joke, for those who don’t know.) Professor Hadas said that most people have a kindergartner’s understanding of their religion. Meaning that, most of us retain the stories we’re told as children — Jesus on the cross, Mary & Joseph in the stable, Mohammed and the mountain, Esther, the destruction of the temple, etc. — and don’t ever break out of that child’s mindset to really explore the adult spiritual concepts.

A contest judge recently marked me down– WAY down — for starting sentences with conjunctions. And for using sentence fragments. In fact, she recommended I go take a course in grammar. It was beyond her world to see that the rules can be broken. That for art, for example, to create a certain cadence, the rules should be broken. Many so-called rules of writing are like this. Don’t use ellipses. Don’t use adverbs. In fact, in the otherwise wonderful Georgia Review article on my essay collection, the reviewer’s only complaint was that I used adverbs. Every one has their pet peeves, but the point is, these “rules” are really guidelines; markers to guide your way to better writing. Ellipses are okay. Adverbs are okay. Deliberate sentence fragments are okay, too. Just don’t overuse them. Just like you shouldn’t overuse the word egregious. A little goes a long way.

Now, where’s the wine?