Monthly Archives: April 2014

this is what 88 looks like

this is what 88 looks like

happy birthday queen mum!


unhappy easter


Why do people always look so miserable in family Easter photos? Is it the weak April light? The church clothes? The ham?

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This is what 60 looks like

Anne Lamott at some age, doesn't matter, because she is so beautiful.

Anne Lamott at some age, doesn’t matter, because she is so beautiful.


I love Anne Lamott. Bird by bird, the most encouraging essays for spurring on writing. Traveling Mercies, for feelings about faith. Crooked Little Heart, for its every page.

Once, with Merrie, we tried to find her house in Fairfax (I think, upper Marin anyway), driving around, looking for a wiry white woman with dreadlocks.

And now I read she is turning 60 and has, characteristically, some thoughts about that, starting with her “not ideal” slathering on of baby oil under the California sun when a child and smoking two packs of Camels every day until she was 32. But she says this, which I love:

My heart is not any age. It is a baby, an elder, a dog, a cat, divine.

This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe. When my son Sam figured out at 7 years old that he and I were not going to die at the exact same moment, he said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.” That says it for me. It’s hard here, and weird.

Oh gosh I’m just going to paste the whole thing and remind myself to read it on my every birthday, as a comfort and a remembrance of those who don’t get to have another birthday cake with candles (Merrie and Laurie). I won’t look for an updated photo of her, even though “looks like” was my pledge. Doesn’t matter in her case:

This is the last Saturday of my fifties. The needle isn’t moving to the left or to the right. I don’t feel or look 60. I don’t feel any age. I have a near-perfect life. However, I grew up on tennis courts and beaches in California during the sixties, where we put baby oil on our skin to deepen the tan, and we got hundreds of sunburns. So maybe that was not ideal. I drank a lot and took a lot of drugs and smoked two packs of Camels (unfiltered) a day until I was 32. I had a baby and then forgot to work out, so things did not get firmer, and higher. So again, not ideal. 
My heart is not any age. It is a baby, an elder, a dog, a cat, divine.
My feet, however, frequently hurt.
My skin broke out last week. I filed a new brief with the Fairness Commission, and am waiting to hear back. 
My great blessing is the capacity for radical silliness, and self-care.
I’m pretty spaced out. I don’t love how often I bend in to pull out clean wet clothes from the washer, and stand up, having forgotten that I opened the dryer that’s above, and smash my head on the door once again. I don’t know what the solution to this is, as I refuse to start wearing a helmet indoors. I don’t love that I left my engine running for an hour last week, because I came inside to get something, and then got distracted by the dogs, and didn’t remember I’d left the engine on. It was a tiny bit scary when a neighbor came to the front door to mention this, and I had to feign nonchalance, and act like it was exactly what I had meant to do all along.
I backed into an expensive truck in the parking lot of Whole Foods last month. Boy, what an asshat THAT guy was. My bumper had fallen off in the mishap, and I had to tie it back on with the shoelaces from my spare running shoes. Sigh.
Wednesday, the day before I turn 60, I am having a periodontal procedure that Stalin might have devised. How festive is that? But that night, my grandson and niece will pelt me with balloons, and we will all overeat together, the most spiritual thing we can do.
Mentally, the same old character defects resurface again and again. I thought I’d be all well by now. Maybe I’m 40% better, calmer, less reactive than I used to be, but the victimized self-righteousness remains strong, and my default response to most problems is still to try and figure out who to blame; whose fault it is, and how to correct his or her behavior, so I can be more comfortable.
My friend Jim says, “I don’t judge. I diagnose.” That’s me. 
Spiritually, I have the sophistication of a bright ten year old. My motley crew and my pets are my life. They are why I believe so ferociously in God.
Politically, I am still a little tense. I love that Obama is president. I love Obamacare. My great heroes at sixty are Gloria Steinem and Molly Ivins. 
Forgiveness remains a challenge, as does letting go. When people say cheerfully, “Just let go and let God,” I still want to stab them in the head with a fork, like a baked potato.
This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe. When my son Sam figured out at 7 years old that he and I were not going to die at the exact same moment, he said, “If I had known that, I wouldn’t have agreed to be born.” That says it for me. It’s hard here, and weird. The greatness of love and laughter, the pain of loss, the bearing of one another’s burdens, are all mixed up, like the crazy catch-all drawer in the kitchen.
This doesn’t really work for me. 
If I was God’s West Coast rep, I would have a more organized and predictable system.
So we do what we can. Today, I will visit a cherished friend post surgery, and goof around with her kids. I will try to help one person stay clean and sober, just for today. I will loudly celebrate my own sobriety, and also the fact that my writing has not been a total nightmare lately. I am going to go for a hike on these sore feet, and remember Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Charged, electrical with life’s beauty and light! Wow. Then I will probably buy the new issue of People magazine to read on the couch before my nap, and a sack of the black plums at the market that seemed overpriced yesterday, but not today.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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you can call me Aunt Vicky

In a home decor shop in Portland and the song “There she goes” comes on. The lovely and stylish gay sales guy apologizes for singing along.

I say the first thing that comes into my head: It was in The Parent Trap.

“I just watched that movie. I love that movie. I loved the first one too,” says my new friend (is how I think of him now). 

I agree with enthusiasm.

“I just re-watched the old one and I was so horrified at how mean the Dad’s new wife was. And her mother!” he says and then repeats one of the very best lines: “You can call me Aunt Vicky.” 

“Did you know the actress who played the hot new wife in the first movie, played the mean old mom in the second one?”

“No,” says my friend. “You are blowing my mind.” 

This is better said by IMDB: In the original The Parent Trap (1961), Joanna Barners was golddigger Vicki Robinson. 37 years later, she played Vicki Blake, mother of the new golddigger, in the remake The Parent Trap (1998).

right place, right time

This has been a charmed weekend in Portland. My visit coincided with the city’s first spring-like weekend, weather that brought on bursting cherry blossoms and new-green leaves and people going barefoot (maybe they do this in any kind of weather; I think they do, in fact ) and singing tunes on the street corners, accompanied by ukeleles. I am sitting outside on a second-floor balcony, waiting for by bubble tea. Iced, ginger, green. What the bubbles are, I do not know.

At the Portland Farmer's Market

At the Portland Farmer’s Market

I have been thinking about a concept I’ll “displacement,” thanks to Delia Ephron who made me realize other people feel this too. Essentially, it’s the feeling that whatever you’re doing and wherever you’re doing it, you wish you were doing something else, somewhere else. More complicated than that is that you don’t wish at all — rather, you wonder if you should be otherwise and elsewhere occupied. Frustrating, isn’t it, when not even what you want is clear to you? For instance, working inside on a Saturday you think you’d be better off outside playing, but if you were doing that you’d feel guilty about not working. Out at night, you want to be home in your jammies; in at night, you want to be at a swanky party like everyone else. Exercising, you’d like to be doing anything but. Not exercising and that’s exactly what you should be doing.

If you don’t know what I’m talking, read no further. I don’t want to infect you with this kind of thinking.

Dog in the hot weeds is from a poem that Merrie gave in a card on my birthday the year before she died. I looked for it last weekend (when I found the letter from Gladys). I can’t recall the line but it said something like “the dog in the hot weeds doesn’t think he should…” An extremely weak support for why the “dog” poem is just right for this feeling. But Merrie gave it to me and we talked about it and I want to stick with this little piece of what’s left of it (and her).

Suffice to say, in Portland, in the springtime, with the sun shining through pink-blossomed trees, drinking iced ginger tea and writing and thinking about Merrie … there’s no other thing I’d like to be doing right now and no other place I’d like to be doing it.

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Previously on Damages

All my life I have put myself to sleep with a novel, eyes pulling down as I struggle to read, dreams wending vine-like into whatever story I am reading. Sometimes I awake and try to settle myself on the page again, only to find that the words on the page don’t match the story in my head. Proust writes about this in one of his interminable Remembrances novels, this being the only thing I remember about them. I’m sure I fell asleep to him as well. Presumably he would be forgiving.

These days (or nights I should say) I get into bed with my laptop, watch the red Netflix page download and, soon enough, delight to the introduction: Previously on Damages. No matter how cold-bloodedly conniving Ms. Close is I fall asleep to her too.


These are my grownup and plugged-in bedtime stories. Proust and Damages, however different they are, they have the same soporific affect.

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clogs n more

When you’re in Portland, Oregon and the sign says Clogs -N- More, what’s inside is more clogs.


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Old Friend, part 2

Inconvenient that blogs are chronological, pushing prior thoughts down so that the sequel is read before the prequel. 

Never mind, no one is reading this blog.

So I had this beautiful friend named Laurie Anderson. Not the musician with the spiky hair but a lovely school teacher and neighbor, mother of two girls, and eyes the color of a wolf’s. I was better friends with her before she was diagnosed with cancer, fell out of touch (I feel remorse writing this even now), and then she died. While she was in treatment, I saw her husband on the train and my instinct was to avoid him. More remorse.

“David, hello, how is Laurie?” I said instead.

“She,” he said and then he looked at me in a way that made me feel as if I had said the wrong thing. “She’s not going to survive this cancer, you know.”

There is no right thing to say after this either.

This morning, five years after her death I get an email from Laurie Anderson, or so it seems. In fact, one of those spammy scams had grabbed her contacts and sent a mass email to them with a link to an article about Paula Deen’s remarkable weight loss.

I feel mad at Paula, irrationally, even while knowing she had nothing to do with any of this.
Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 11.00.50 AM
Although there are things to be mad at Paula Deen about, for sure.

And she still looks fat. 

Old Friend

There’s this kind of lady, ten years my senior or older than that. She has settled comfortably into her large and padded body. An interchangeable body: spreading thighs, ample bottom, low and squarish busom (you’d have to call it), thinning, flossy or frizzy short hair, rimless glasses that seem to reflect more than the average lenses. This last is important because you can’t see their eyes, just flashing rectangles of light. There are two of them across from me at SFO, waiting for an early flight to Portland, both of them favoring the “bohemian” garb sold at Chico’s. Tunics, vaguely Asian jackets with Nehru collars, dangly beaded earrings and beaded chains for their glasses. They look to be old friends. Old and friends, as well as old friends. They are discussing the kinds of issues social workers deal with, I imagine: inclusive language, wheelchair accessibility, diversity workshops, and lots of application processes. One of them speaks in sassy Southern tones, the other in the nasal, pinched way of older Midwestern ladies. 


The nasal one: It just makes me feel invisible.


The sassy one: Getting old sucks. 


I, too, have been feeling invisible lately, just as the literature about aging said I would. Young people, stylish women, men of any age don’t see me anymore. Am I imagining this? I find myself speaking to strangers so they will notice me. Affirming that I am, in fact, visible. 


Yesterday crossing Union Square a guy looked up and said: Hello gorgeous. Out of force of habit (an old* habit, meaning one I no longer have), I put on my arrogant look: I don’t see you. Then I wondered: isn’t this what I wanted? And also, he must be selling something.


Back in the airport:


The nasal one, proudly: I’m the type of person who doesn’t want to join the stress of the crowd at the boarding gate. I’ll just sit here and wait it out, thank you very much.


(Is this what it means to live on the edge in your Sixties?) 


The sassy one: Traveling sucks. 


*Funny how “old” can mean “doesn’t exist any more” (old job) and also habitual, a constant (old friends). I guess being old makes you appear (or at least feel as if you appear) both: habitually non-existent.


In therapist’s office, a tiny bit weepy, I escape to the bathroom for a little minute before I leave. 

I just started working with her; not sure we will make progress together.

There’s a little wooden thing — a sign, let’s call it, as it appears to have no purpose — propped up on the counter around the sink.

Live, love, laugh, it says.

Now if it were that easy, I think, wouldn’t this piece of advice just about put all those in the therapy business out of business?

And why didn’t she just tell me this before we got started? Would have saved both of us a whole bunch of time.