Thursday, March 26, 2009


I frequently spend time writing in a coffee shop or a pub. I generally do this when I become too distracted by everything at home. After all, I could do chores or knit or sew or read instead of my daily writing.

Most of the time, because I tend to go in the off hours, the cafe or pub is very quiet and I have the space virtually to myself. But there are those occasions where someone feels the need to speak just a smidgen too loudly about topics that would be better kept quiet or private. Naturally, I shamelessly listen in while appearing to be gazing into space in search of inspiration.

I have heard a couple of older gentlemen compare their nocturnal bathroom habits. I have heard all sorts of reprehensible bigotry expressed. I've heard way too much from young ladies about what they and their boyfriends are up to. And my most recent favorite was a clutch of little old ladies at a nearby table sharing their health difficulties. Who would have known that there were so many gory details to be related about getting one's toenails clipped!

I find some of my eavesdropping to be amusing. Other times I listen in total disbelief at what people will discuss in a public space. And I save up some of the tidbits for later writing projects. All of which makes me wonder whether these folks are assuming that people can't hear them or if they truly have no boundaries. Perhaps they are expecting others to have manners that they seemingly lack themselves.

Some people seem to believe that their physical bubble is somehow also an audio bubble which keeps other people from hearing what they are talking about. Similar to the way some folks think they are invisible in their cars, they think they have a cone of silence between themselves and everyone except the person to whom they are talking.
Or, maybe, they don't realize just how loudly they are talking -- too much life or too much iPod music having nibbled away at their hearing. Then again, it might just be that they permanently misplaced their manners. Perhaps it is different reasons for different people, but whatever it is it seems to be widespread and expanding.

One of the most annoying aspects of this baring it all in public frequently involves a cell phone. Many people seem to be constitutionally unable to lower their voice while talking on their cell phones in public. This is a nuisance because I really don't want to hear about the latest business deal you are making, or having to take your dog to the vet, or the ugly breakup you had with whoever it was that you were sleeping with last. I figure those topics are private business and can't for the life of me understand why anyone would loudly share the details with me. It's not that I don't find human behavior fascinating, because I do; I just don't care to hear a lot about it over food and drink.

I know, I know, one is supposed to ignore, or pretend to ignore, what is said at nearby tables. And I would, given half the chance. I'm a big fan of privacy. But in these cases, the people involved seem determined to make that extremely difficult if not impossible to do. Just a lowering of the volume would go a long way towards keeping your business to yourself. Or, even better, wait until you are in a private place to discuss private matters. And it isn't as though I'm making negative judgments on whatever is going on in someone's life, because I'm not. In fact, while it is distracting, it is also quite amusing sometimes. I just didn't come into the establishment hoping to know that much about strangers.

I realize there's nothing to be done about it. But if anyone ever hears me discussing my toenails, or God knows what else, in a public space please put me out of my, and everyone else's, misery.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


"No man is an island... any man's death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind...Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." -- John Donne, Meditation XVII.

In general, I agree with John Donne's thoughts here, although I probably understand it in a different way than he did. It seems evident to me that all life is connected in some way, and to varying degrees. Whether it be humans' connections to the various animals who are serving as the canaries in our mine of global warming or the common experiences of all people around the world, everything is connected and has some effect on everything else. Perhaps more than some, I tend to feel that connection deeply. I regularly go on news boycotts because I feel overwhelmed by the pain and tragedy it presents. I feel empathy when anyone dies. I've even been known to cry for strangers, and some fictional characters. So it came as a bit of a shock when I had to acknowledge that I had a few exceptions to that sense of connection.

Yesterday word came of the death of a person that I used to be related to. This person had disliked, maybe even hated, me almost from the minute we met. There was seemingly nothing I could do to win her over, so in time I simply withdrew. I learned later that her hatred for me continued for decades, long after there was no tie between us. But when I was told that she had died, I felt absolutely nothing. I wasn't happy that she had died nor was I sad about it. There was just a void where any feeling might have been.

This was only mildly shocking because I had an even more extreme case of it years earlier. Then it concerned a family member who was chronically abusive and actively looked for ways to harm her nearest relatives. When she died, the only way to describe my feelings would be a huge "Who Cares?' The only pain that I felt then was the horror of acknowledging just how terribly she had treated me and others.

In both cases, I managed to say all of the expected things and resist giving voice to what I was thinking about the individual. But I also couldn't help but analyze this seeming disjoint between how I thought I was and these glaring exceptions. It is a testament to my personal growth that I didn't feel that there was something wrong with me for not feeling sorrow. And I didn't try to force myself to feel something that I didn't feel. I was more curious about whether these examples were the exceptions that proved the rule or if many people respond in a similar way, but it goes unexpressed because we aren't supposed to speak ill of the dead, no matter what.

I also wondered a little bit if I have provoked the same lack of connection in others. And I am certain that there are a few other people, who used to mean something in my life, for whom I will feel nothing when they pass. And when it happens, I will say the appropriate meaningless words so that no one knows that I feel nothing. But now I know that it does not indicate something lacking in me. And as long as I don't tap dance on their graves, that is all right.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Recently, I took one of those silly quizzes that purported to tell me where I should live. And, while I'm skeptical that a 10-question long quiz could be accurate, it did hit fairly close to the mark. But the questions it asked seemed to imply that everyone was a certain type with, seemingly, very little fluctuation possible. Either one is an outdoorsy person or a bookworm, a sophisticate or a hick, a city girl or a country girl. This just seemed wrong to me. It seemed so one dimensional and so wrong. I am, at the very least, two types depending on my mood. I appear to be more of a both/and than an either/or type of person. Or perhaps I just want it all.

I was born in a fairly large city with all the usual cultural perks available. I don't remember the first time I went to the art museum, a legacy handed down to me from a grandfather who never even went to high school. And, if memory serves, there that the admission was free. It must have been, since we could have scarcely afforded to pay for it as often as we went. I also had access to Russian ballet, back when it was Soviet ballet, on three separate occasions. And both the open air theater and the symphony had free tickets on a first come basis. I definitely ran in circles that most of my friends in the suburbs never did, which probably made me seem to be even more of an odd fish to many of them.

At the museum, I soaked in the one Rembrandt and the French impressionist collection. And, since I was a kid, I also had a morbid fascination for the mummy. At the symphony, I fell in love with Faure's Requiem and Vaughn Williams A Sea Symphony. At the theater, I had my life permanently altered by Richard Kiley's portrayal of Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha. And there were other numerous performances of greater or less quality. And after decades of having these preferences suppressed, I hunger for it: the plays, the musical performances, the ballet and the museums.

I also truly appreciate the variety of cuisines available in large cities. Here in the moderately large city where I currently live, I can, with very little trouble find good Greek, Indian, Japanese, Mexican and Italian restaurants. Sadly, no Turkish food, but still a very good selection. We also have excellent ethnic bakeries and wonderful little privately owned coffee shops.

In addition to the cultural and food outlets are the people. Whenever I've been in large cities, it is as though the diversity and throbbing pulse of the people from a myriad of places and backgrounds enlivens the place as nothing else can. I've generally found myself in an international community and feel somehow strange when I am constantly in the company of more "conventional" folks. I've known musicians, writers, a composer, some artists and people from every continent on earth. My life has been enriched in some way by each one of them.

Now, lest I start to sound like some sort of elitist snob, which no one from the Midwest is supposed to do, let me turn to the appeal of living in the country. From the time I was quite young my ultimate escape and the places that I have felt most secure and most myself have been in the woods. Far away from all but the select few that I include, I sink into silence and truly listen to the world around me speak to some very deep places in my spirit. The woods represent a retreat into myself and a release of all the energy of the city, which I crave and need at other times.

Naturally, this feeling isn't limited to the woods alone. I've felt it above the timberline in the Rockies, along streams and rivers in the Ozarks and, more recently on deserted beaches on the Pacific coast. The country places offer respite when it is needed, a sort of retreat or a slowing down, which in turn allows me to incorporate all the other stimuli that I absorb in the rest of my life. After all, one can't peddle at full speed all the time.

The food in such places doesn't have much variety, but sometimes that is a comfort in itself. Nothing to be adventurous about, just the security of simple comfort food. And the people are much the same, simpler but very real in their expression of life. There is a small town in the Ozarks where, with just a few words, I can establish my bona fides and be welcomed in like a long lost cousin, which I probably am.

Comparing the city experience with the country one is truly a case of comparing apples and oranges. To my mind, neither one is better or worse than the other. They each feed and nurture different sorts of people with different tastes. Perhaps I am the strange one in wanting both. But there it is on my list of 10 things I most want, a home in both types of places where I can move between them freely. Given my current state of affairs, this might seem to be a wild ambition - to have two homes in two varied environments. And, barring my ship coming in, winning the lottery or becoming an insanely popular author, that dream will have to remain on my list until I can make it a reality. And I do truly want both, and even more.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Despite the fact that it is still coat weather here, there are signs of the inevitable reappearance of spring popping up. In general, I don't look forward to the coming of spring at all. For me, it is an all too brief buffer between winter and the dreaded heat of summer. And summer seems interminable as I wait for the relief of fall.

But there is one aspect of spring that I truly enjoy and that is the emergence of all the bulb flowers, especially the daffodils. Before I moved to the Pacific Northwest, I had a fairly limited experience of daffodils. A family that lived down the road from us had an entire front yard full of naturalized daffodils. Every spring, I would walk way out of my way just to look at them. They always made me smile. They seemed so cheerful and full of hope.

When I moved up here, once again I discovered a field of daffodils. This time I had access to the field and delighted in walking through it. There was also a bench nearby, so I could spend time just enjoying the yellow flowers swaying in the breeze.

Before I moved here I didn't realize that there was such a wide variety of daffodils. The first ones to come up are the tiny, miniature daffodils. At first, I wasn't at all certain that I liked these mini-flowers. After all, they were not "my" sort of daffodil and I felt a little shortchanged by them. But in time, I began to smile at these petite blooms, recognizing them as heralds of their larger relatives.

And I was surprised to see that the larger varieties had a wide range of variation as well. There were some that had a ruffled center piece. Others had a roundish, blob-ish, center. Some had orange centers. And still others were white with pink centers.

I must confess to disliking the pink and white ones. I guess I'm a bit of a daffodil purist. Despite the fact that I'm not a huge fan of the color yellow, in my opinion, daffodils simply must be yellow. No exceptions. I have expanded my range to enjoying the various sizes and centers, but I draw the line at non-yellow daffodils.

I don't know why the daffodils attract me so much. Pansies, primroses or geraniums don't have any of the same appeal. I will admit to a fondness for tulips and lilies, too. I guess that I'm just a bulb girl at heart.

My ambition is to acquire a home with a big yard and to slowly establish my very own field of daffodils. Then, every spring, I could enjoy them to my heart's content. And perhaps, long after I'm gone, some little girl will walk past my field of daffodils and dream of a field of her own.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


"Touch is the meaning of being human." - Andrea Dworkin.

I don't know that touch is the entire meaning of being human, but it is certainly an important component. It is well known that infants who are not held and touched "fail to thrive" and, I believe, the same holds true for the rest of us, if in less obvious ways.

One of my teachers in massage school pointed out that touch is the one sense that is reciprocal. We can't touch someone else without feeling something of it ourselves. And it is a profound means of communication when words are totally inadequate in times of joy and grief. It transmits comfort and connection in ways that nothing else can. The words "I'm so sorry" take on added strength when the words are accompanied by a comforting touch. It provides tangible connection in situations where we might otherwise feel isolated.

So it seems odd that ours is such a touch-phobic society. Granted, in certain situations,it is wise to exercise caution and restraint, but those cases are not the ones I mean to explore here. It is a given that unwanted touch is always unacceptable; however, I think we've taken touch avoidance to some strange levels.

I imagine that the seed for this no-touch or limited-touch attitude can be laid at the feet of our Puritan ancestors. Despite the fact that these people had an astonishing rate of babies born within 6 or 7 months of weddings, their reputation and their self-image was one of extreme restraint. Add to that a liberal dose of Victorian prudery and we have a fertile ground for a huge taboo to grow.

Part of it can also be attributed to our litigious society. In this country we have an unhealthy habit of suing people and organizations over the least thing, which leads to absolutist regulations, or zero tolerance policies. Recently, I heard of a middle school that had issued a zero tolerance rule on touching, all touching. No one was to touch anyone for any reason. That included congratulatory hugs and couples holding hands. Obviously this policy was established to allow punishment for unacceptable touching and to safeguard the school in lawsuits, but it is truly a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Rather than teaching children to differentiate good, healthy touch from bad or illegal touch, we forbid them any touch at all. This will probably lead to fear and a skewed relationship with touch.

Another aspect is the fact that touch has been highly sexualized in our culture and often there is a misinterpretation of touch, as though it must have some ulterior motive. In many cases, the only touch some of us experience is in a sexual context which adds to our collective suspicions. But the elderly and the uncoupled need touch, just as much as their younger and mated counterparts and, all too often, they must do without any at all. I can't help but believe that this leads to a less obvious state of failing to thrive.

So, what's to be done? I don't for a second think that any of us can alter the centuries old societal taboos that have grown to the extreme in our culture. However, I do believe that we can incrementally subvert them in our own little corners of the world. And it is past time we regained healthy touch for ourselves.

Our subversion of the status quo can begin simply and in small ways. We can couple any words of comfort with a touch on the arm or a hug, showing greater connection to the person we're speaking to. When greeting or leaving friends, add a hug. Whenever you feel moved to reach out, and you know the recipient won't faint from shock, do so. Only by behaving as if touch is a normal part of relationship will we all come to see it as such. What's the worst that can happen? Some onlookers might disapprove, but doesn't that say more about them than you? You might get a reputation as a notorious hugger. But would that be such a terrible thing? And you will have given the gift of touch to someone else and yourself.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Bad Hair Day

Having just endured yet another unacceptable haircut and knowing it will take a week or two for it to come close to being tolerable, I spent some minutes frowning at my image in the mirror. My haircut had garnered a few "cute" comments, but I certainly didn't see it that way and "cute" was not the effect I was hoping for. With short, blunt bangs and layers that flip out in random places, I think I look like a five-year-old going for the old Farrah Fawcett look. This is not a good look for a woman of a certain age with chubby cheeks. At least, I don't think so. But it got me to thinking about the images we present to others, how they see us and how that differs from how we see ourselves.

As I frowned at the mirror, I acknowledged that I am always harder on myself than anyone else on the planet would be. Whether it is physical attractiveness, inner beauty or some pleasing aspect of my personality, I don't generally see it and am always a bit surprised when others tell me what they see in me, pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless. So I freely admit that there are some areas where I am blind to some aspects of myself. I usually assume that there is a great deal that misses the mark.

I had always taken it for granted that no one could know me as well as I know myself, but I find myself doubting that that is completely true. It seems true that I can know what I think in a given moment, but I cannot be certain that I will hold that same thought or opinion should there be even the slightest change in the information that I have or the situation at hand. Also, I think that for the most part, I know more completely how I am feeling about something, someone or some issue than someone else could know. But again, that can be contingent too, depending on shifts of information surrounding the emotion. Bliss can shift to anguish from moment to moment, but I can recognize that sort of shift, so I still believe that I know my true feelings better than anyone else. But the self-image thing is a total crap shoot.

So why, I wonder, is this the case? And is this a universal or merely one of my little foibles? I can't speak for others, but I have some suspicions and it may be a different mix of several things for others. Part of this blind spot could be generational, which makes me nervous simply because I don't want to get into the habit of recalling "back in the day" or "the younger generation . . ." But I think those of us in the immediate post-boomer generation, still were raised with the notion of not being stuck on ourselves and not blowing our own horns, at least that is how it was in the Midwest. That could just be true for the females; I wouldn't know about men not having grown up male. We were expected to put everyone else's needs ahead of our own and many of us disappeared into the wallpaper without ever examining ourselves too deeply. Indeed, I didn't wake up to what I believe is my true nature until after I turned forty.

Perhaps it could be that we tend to internalize negative comments about ourselves so much that they drown out the positive ones. We fail to even hear them, much less incorporate them into our sense of ourselves. I know that when someone has touched me deeply with a wonderful comment of how they see me, I find myself hoping that they will repeat it or say something else equally good so that I might embed it more deeply into my psyche. Maybe when we are younger and have less depth of experience, we discount such comments as coming from someone who HAS to appreciate us. After all, your mom and dad have to appreciate you; it's their job. Or they come from our peers who have as little depth as we do ourselves and, therefore, the comments don't have the same deep truth as if it comes from someone we respect.

Primarily, I think we have to grow into it and that growing takes place on a fairly perilous field. Sometimes we find a comfortable place to stay and other times nothing will do but more in-depth investigation of who we really are. The need for growth and exploration continues even if we would rather not face it.

What I have come to believe is that we all have some sort of blind spot about ourselves. And that lack of recognition about something integral to our being can only be awakened by independent assessment coming from outside of our own view. In some very real sense, we can only truly see ourselves reflected in the discerning eyes of someone else. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what there is to see there and how much we are in tune with ourselves to begin with. But we know when what they see rings true, even if we feel obligated by modesty to demur about the good stuff or struggle to deny the negative. We can recognize the truth of it and hunger for more if it is a goodness we have not recognized or acknowledged in ourselves before. And, if it is not positive, many of us will simply fortify the wall around the blind spot rather than examine it for whatever truth it might reveal. It takes a lot of will and energy to uproot those things that go deep.

So, I'm resolved to listen for and consider what others have to say about me. And, if it seems to have an element of truth to it, I will try to make it a part of my own self-image. But, in the meantime, I'm going to go looking for another hairdresser and, maybe, buy myself a hat.