Thursday, January 26, 2012

Random Thursday Thoughts

Funny how the same object can evoke different responses in 2 people.  This morning Bill and I went to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art--about a 10-minute walk from our home--to see an exhibit of Todd Webb photographs.  Bill loves his work, which spans a good part of the last century.  I know nothing about photography as a discipline or an art form, so can't really say much about the details, except that the work I saw today was very urban.  To me it was also very depressing.  Bill loved it.  I find urban environments very stressful and depressing.  Bill, with his photographer's eye, sees something worth documenting even in crumbling old buildings.  I just get sad.  One photo that he particularly liked was a panoramic view of a block in New York City.  He was looking at the people and buildings with fascination and interest and I was thinking how awful it would be to have to live there.  Other people might turn it around and say that it was awful that I have to live in a place like this.  As an anthropologist, I am glad that we all are different and bring different worldviews to the table.  As a person, I will take small urban areas in small doses and mostly avoid the larger ones.

This afternoon a friend emailed me to say that she had been going through all of the photos in Bill's "furry friends" gallery at and this got me thinking about how much different the process of photography is today than it was back in Todd Webb's day and how much easier it is to share your work among more people.  She asked me about a particular photo, so I went through the gallery myself to look at it and I found myself laughing and almost crying as I looked at the sweet faces of the animals that I shared part of my life with and who I still miss a great deal.

I started a book on Zoroastrianism in which the author was trying to cover every possible problem with definitions and power structures and she ended up qualifying things so much that she said nothing--at least in the 20 pages I got through before I put it in the "return to library" pile.  It is very good academic writing of a sort that I am quite familiar with and have done myself.  Reading this made me first wonder how I ever had the patience for it, and second made me very happy that I am no longer engaged in such things!

Heather gave me an "Insight from the Dalai Lama" calendar.  Yesterday's page said, " Buddha's teaching is that you are your own master; everything depends on yourself."  Yet another reason why I find such resonance and common sense in basic Buddhist psychology and philosophy!

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Beauty of Bach

It is not yet noon and I am prepared to declare the day weird.  First of all, it is brilliantly sunny outside and I always find that a very agitating start to the day.  Then there were several petty and minor annoyances that were easily dealt with along with the usual morning routine.  There was nothing large and I am reminding myself that I am lucky to have only minor annoyances rather than major crises.  Days like this make me realize anew that I am not a morning person.  It took me a couple of hours to do what I had to do but by the time I was done I was feeling agitated.  I much prefer to ease into my days quietly.  So while I had some plans for the morning, I scrapped them, wisely accepting that I would just get even more frustrated if I did things that required attention--my mind was just too scattered.  I was pondering what I should do instead when it dawned on me!  Put on some Bach!  So I did.  Then I picked up the current mindless knitting project and knit a couple of long rows.  I could feel my mind quiet as the agitation departed and my body calmed.  It's like magic!  Mind you, I really know nothing about classical music in general and Bach in particular, except that I know what I like--and I particularly like Bach.  There is just something about his music that creates an atmosphere of peace for me.  In the past when I would feel creatively blocked or generally agitated I would lay on my bed, close my eyes, and listen to Bach.  It put me in a place that was not conscious and not unconscious--it was somewhere in between.  I would come out of this state to find myself renewed and refreshed with ideas flowing freely.  So here's to Bach and mindless knitting and here's to a calmer afternoon!

Monday, January 9, 2012


This morning i read an article about a group of women who gathered in a Derry, NH ( a town I was overjoyed to leave in 1987) home to eat doughnuts, drink coffee and wine, and discuss tomorrow's primary.  Once again I was struck by the mental gymnastics people apparently engage in to rationalize their feelings.  One woman said that she was against "Obamacare" because we have to make a choice about whether we will be "self-sufficient" (good luck with that little fantasy) or one of those "European-style entitlement societies" that are going broke.  Um, what?  Presumably, if she is one of these people who are terrified by "Obamacare" she is also concerned with the deficit.  That's DEFICIT.  It is large.  We hear over and over that the DEFICIT is dangerous.  And if a person, household, business, country is running a DEFICIT, then they ARE broke.  We are a broke country already and I hardly think we can be considered an "entitlement society."  I don't care one way or the other what this woman thinks about entitlements and I am not suggesting that her view is not valid.  But why does she feel she has to give a reason for her feelings--she might do better to just admit that she feels this way and doesn't know why, because her argument certainly doesn't make any sense.  It reminds me of the reaction I get from people about the fact that we want to move to Ireland.  Most of them say something along the lines of, "Why do you want to move there?  The economy is bad."  to which my standard reply is, "As opposed to here where things are just so great?"  Then I get the sheepish smile and the admission that yes, things are tough all over.

People will believe what they believe and they will make choices based on those beliefs, many of which are not easily rationalizable.  We all do that.  So why not just accept that and stop trying to give reasons for everything.  If this woman doesn't like the sitting president, it's OK to just say that instead of trying to do mental backflips in order to appear sensible and thoughtful--because if that was her intent, it was a dismal failure.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Kinda Sorta Winterish

Today we have something like winter happening.  It is snowing and in the mid-20s.  Tomorrow it is supposed to be sunny and in the mid 40s, but for today, I will take this winter-like stuff.  The heat actually came on in the daylight, which it has only done once or twice since we finally turned it on 3 weeks ago--usually it just comes on once or twice at night.  I have some split pea soup in my 7 quart Crock Pot, lots of stuff to listen to on BBC, and a sock cuff to knit.  I have some dark chocolate truffle coffee left to drink and plenty of tea to brew once that is gone.  In addition to the jeans and sweater, I have on a mohair lace shawl, a pair of alpaca socks and a pair of wool/mohair slippers over them.  I am prepared.  I am content. And now I am off to enjoy this little taste of winter--the way things are going, it may be the only taste I get!!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What's Business Got to Do with It?

I had had people tell me, and I have read other people saying, that they might vote for a particular candidate for president because he has "business experience."  I never fail to be puzzled by this.  What does "business experience" have to do with anything?  The roles and goals of business and government are in no way the same.  I mean, I get the fact that people are concerned about the economy, but to then leap wildly to the conclusion that because business and government both have something to do with the economy, someone who has experience in one will be able to be successful at the other seems kind of silly.  There may be good, intelligent, serious reasons to vote for a particular candidate, but "business experience" really isn't one of them.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Overwhelmed with Abundance

I am a huge fan of BBC radio--especially Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra.  I often marvel at the fact that in the UK people can simply turn on their radios and find amazing dramas and intelligent discussions about a wide range of interesting and important topics.  It would appear that, in spite of some of the rather juvenile comedy, it is assumed that people there actually think and consider.  The contrast with the garbage that we get in this country is quite stark. 

People often ask me why I do not have a TV and wonder how I fill my time.  I want to ask them why they DO have a TV and whether that is how they fill their time.  Then I want to tell them that I have made the choice not to pay people to fill my enviornment with toxic crap, because that is exactly what people do each time they pay their cable bill.  I recently had the experience of visiting someone for a week and being exposed to a fair amount of TV.  When I got back to Maine I felt like I had to detox.  It strikes me that as time goes on, our environments just get more and more toxic, whether we are talking about the physical world, like air and water, or our cultural world, like TV and movies.  Is there quality content on TV?  I am sure there must be.  But it is not the norm.  I cannot watch TV or usually even turn on the radio here without feeling like my intelligence is being insulted and that I am being taken for a fool.  I just don't bother.  There is plenty of intelligent, thought-provoking, entertaining, and relevant content that I can have by downloading the podcasts that I choose (I have over 420 of them just waiting to be listened to on my computer, my nook, and my mp3 player!) and listening to programs on places like the BBC website, where they leave shows up for a week after airing.  Now my only problem is trying to find time to listen to all I want to hear before it gets taken down.  The podcasts will keep and I am so happy that BBC is making more and more of its shows available in that format.  But this week the Radio 4 Extra website is filled with an overabundance of wonderful listening and I have no idea how I will fit it all in.  I'll just have to give it my best shot!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Where Has Winter Gone?

It is January in Maine. It is supposed to be cold--or at least cold-ish. Today it was in the mid-40s. We did not turn on the heat until the week before Christmas and we only did it then because we were supposed to have single digit temperatures one night and we did not want to risk plumbing damage. We have a Monitor stove that runs on propane that we keep set at 54 with the economy switch on. This means that when it comes on, it will run at a steady pace until it reaches 66 degrees in here and then it turns itself off. This is better than having it run on the regular setting where it only goes to 4 degrees above where you set it--then it keeps coming on and going off. The way this all works we end up with the indoor temperature in the 56-62 degree range most of the time. This is good for us as any warmer makes us feel stuffy and uncomfortable. We also open the blinds on our living room window and the 2 in the bedroom which lets the sun stream in and heats the place pretty well. The living room window does not fit the frame properly and there was cold air coming in around that, so I packed a bunch of weatherstripping all around. The end result of all of this is that the heat rarely comes on during the day at all. It has not been on today since before I got up at 7:30ish. I do not know whether it came on last night. it is currently 62 degrees in here with the sun setting. It feels slightly stuffy.

We are supposed to get cooler temperatures in the week ahead and tomorrow night it is supposed to get down to around 0. The problem is that in between days of 20-something degrees, we will have days when it gets close to 40 again. I am not sure things will actually freeze and I really wish they would.

The week before Christmas, Bill and I were walking around doing errands. It was a warm day; I had a heavy backpack on; and I was sweating. We were coming up the hill just before home and I was breathing hard. I went about my day. I went to bed and felt like I had been hit by a truck--my whole body ached. I began shivering and my teeth were chattering. the next day I started coughing. I kept on coughing for a week and a half. After nights of being awake coughing and coughing and not only not sleeping myself, but preventing Bill from sleeping as well, I decided to just sleep in the chair sitting up. This was around the time that we turned the heat on and the dust and propane fumes made things worse, so when it came on, I put on a mask.

At the same time this started for me, Bill started itching. After some googling, it appears that exposure to mold is the likely culprit. I did not have allergy issues until I moved from Fairbanks to southern Oregon, but then I just became sensitive to more and more stuff. Now that winter has abandoned us and things are not freezing, there is more opportunity to breathe in the toxins. Yesterday morning it was sinuses and the whole body ache again. If things would only freeze, maybe there would be some relief before everything starts budding and blooming again. Sigh.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ordinary Days

About a month ago, I heard that a woman I knew in grad school had died at the age of 47. She had been dealing with metastatic breast cancer for most of the past decade. When she was diagnosed the first time, we were still in communication and I was aware that she had been treated and thought it was behind her. A few years later, she was diagnosed with the same thing again. By this time life had taken us in different directions, so while I knew somehow that she had a recurrence, I did not know that this time the whole thing was much worse and that the treatment would turn into one thing after another for years as the cancer spread. When I heard that she had died, I went to the blog she had been keeping and clicked randomly on some posts. It was strange reading it when I knew how it all turned out and that made some of the entries sad to read, because they sounded so hopeful. At the same time, I could see what a great help the blog was and will be for other people in similar situations and I was glad that such a valuable resource exists.

One post that particularly struck me was one dated about 6 weeks before her death, in which my former colleague announced that she had decided to no longer receive treatments. This was a reversal for her, it seemed, because she had been trying to stay alive as long as possible to be with her 11-year-old son, but she finally had started to accept that she was losing a good deal of her quality of life in exchange for a few more weeks of existence. She chose quality over quantity and said that while she felt "kinda sad," she also felt positive. And then she seemed to express some excitement at the prospect of cleaning up the clutter in her room and doing some work. It struck me that all this woman wanted was an ordinary day again. Here she was in the process of accepting her imminent death and the possibility of being strong enough and feeling well enough to clean her room and do some work was truly joyful to her. I have thought about this a lot since. I am just a homebody by nature, so I always am happiest puttering around at home, wherever that happens to be. When we were on our big trip a few years ago, our tent was home and that was moved every few days to a new patch of grass, but I still relished the days I could "stay home" at the campsite and read or stitch. Reading that blog post though, made me really stop to consider how we tend to take ordinary days at home for granted or we fill up our days so much that a kind of frantic activity becomes our definition of an "ordinary day." I kind of don't notice these quiet days until my life gets busy and they are taken away from me. Then when I have one, I notice and appreciate it. I try to set up my life so that I am not busy and always running around--been there, done that. What if I didn't have the choice, though? So now I try to appreciate my ordinary days doing ordinary things in a conscious way and to be grateful for each of them.

Deanna seemed to be at peace when she died and I am glad for that. I am also glad that she decided to start her blog, which will help so many people, whether they are ill or not.