Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Enlightenment, Kate Chopin

The Enlightenment by Kate Chopin is on of several novellas I will read for a class of feminine literature. Written in the 1880s, this picture of Edna, a young wife of a wealthy New Orleans businessman, is, in fact, enlightening today for it's picture both of the emotionally innocent -- extremely childlike -- heroine and the world in which she lives. The strict social rules are taken for granted; when she begins to act on her impulses she is seen by husband and friends as simply a wayward child, In fact, to me, she never stops being a wayward child with the emotional maturity of a 12 year old although she has two small children of her own. The children are in the care of a nanny who has no name, she is simply "the quadroon."

Chopin tells the story in the leisurely way stories were written at that time, and her style is graceful. The reading experience is relaxing, the story unfolds without drama. A reader today, probably much more so than when it was written, will pay attention to the details -- for me the descriptions of life with servants who are usually known only for their color -- "the little black girl" "the mulata" -- is almost shocking, nearly disgusting. A scene in which Edna stays with a friend during childbirth never actually says the friend is having a baby; such things apparently couldn't be written about. The book is a time capsule. I was fascinated.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Want Creation

How old were you when the anglers of Madison Avenue began to hook your insecurities and lure you to stores where you parted with your allowance, or begged your parents for specific items that you felt would make you happier, more attractive, more popular at school? Younger than you think, I'll bet, even if you are, like me, beyond the Big-7-0. It's popular knowledge now that even very small children are told by TV that they can have the newest toy or cutest clothes. If you follow a mother with a kid in the grocery basket through the store you'll hear just which cereal, juice, candy the child knows is best.

I had a nice talk with a young woman who is researching and writing about how advertisers and the media "created" the teen-age girl beginning in the 1920s--yes, girls specifically were called teenagers at first, they had passed from little girls to beings who needed to learn femininity and domesticity in order to become marriageable. Boys, back then, tended to move directly from boyhood to "youth" when many had to go to work and leave school and those in school were headed directly for a profession. Women's service magazines began to print columns for mothers about molding their daughters for the ideal domestic life. My mother swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. In retrospect, I know that she was dedicated to giving me the skills, some of which she regretting not having herself, such as playing the piano and sewing. She actually gathered a few other mothers and started a chapter of the 4-H club so that I would have access to sewing instruction, Writing secretarial reports of those meetings and sending notices of activities to the local paper was encouraged as well as learning public speaking. I am grateful for all her efforts.

Meanwhile she educated me to a broader world via a subscription to American Girl [not part of the doll company as far as I know] and a bit later to Seventeen Magazine. Of course I read her McCalls and Lady's Home Journal. I saw the fashions in those books and the advertisements for cosmetics. I was so indoctrinated that when I had read a few times that nightly application of moisturizing face cream would insure a lifelong attractive complexion I developed a habit that has become as ingrained as brushing my teeth. I gave up on the Ponds face cream and moved to Avon and have since used nearly every brand on the market. And happily my complexion is withstanding some ravages of age but I don't know how much of that is genetic.

So my conversation gave me insight, not only into ways I was influenced by the, by then, rather robust advertising to girls, but into what motivated my mother's actions. Boys, said my friend, did not become the target of advertising until about the '60s. Of course we know now that, woebetide all of us, boys are the target of much of Hollywood's production. I'll return to this topic, the conversation gave me other things to think about also.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Older People Dream Too

I read a lot but I have never read an article about older people dreaming. Do people think we stop dreaming when we eat our 65th birthday cake? In both senses of dreaming, the world at large seems to think we've lost that part of our lives as men lose their hair and women too often lose their waists. Well, it's not true. We keep on dreaming of things for ourselves -- and, no, it's not just that we should see our grandchildren married or spend days on a Florida beach. We dream of the things we have not accomplished and may yet have time to do. We dream as we always have done but the objects, I think, are now honed to a more realistic future. The world that thinks we don't dream but live in some TV or golf course fog has stopped seeing us as people with anticipations and aspirations. I find that insulting.

Likewise the world of psychiatry seems not to care what we dream about at night. If they ever ask, if they ever write about it, it's kept to the pages of obscure journals. I've never seen anything of the sort in a novel. What's wrong with writers that they think their 70- or 80-soemthing characters have no inner life? Speaking for myself, I've lately noticed a dream life that is different from my past dream live, more complex and often more dramatic.

Like many other people, at earlier stages in my life I kept dream journals. For a while I discovered that if I made a practice of writing my dreams shortly after awaking they began to multiple. At times dreams seemed to want to take over my waking life. But I was busy with many things. I couldn't let that happen. So I stopped writing down the dreams and, like bodies during a fast, they grew less robust. I reached a balance that worked for me when I wrote down especially vivid dreams and forgot the rest.

I don't write down the dreams these days, but some stay with me for many hours. Last night there were leopards, beautiful, sleek and silky. But then they came indoors and became menacing. I was not frightened that they would kill me, so they shrunk to kitten size and when I threw one out the door, I felt sad because I had endangered it.
What does that mean? I don't know. I never dreamed about wild animals in the psst. If I had a therapist would s/he care about that dream? Maybe not much if I went on to tell about another that came to me an hour later with people in it from my past whose ages and abodes changed almost moment by moment in the dream

These images have stayed with me today. Are they messengers or simple another of the several things that made up today? I think the later, a strange and peculiar part of life as I now live it. I wish someone with training in the field were writing about such things. I'd be curious what's happening in the lives of others whose life after the Big 7-0 is more complex than they ever expected it to be.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Another victory for women

The women of Saudi Arabia who go out of their homes covered in abayas from head to toe, have in the past several years been allowed to go to school. The sheiks have realized -- possibly, I think, due to nagging from their teenage daughters -- that these women are going to want to have jobs. Times are a-changing which has to be pretty obvious to just about everybody in the Arab world.

It has now been decreed that women can now get jobs as clerks in women's apparral shops, especially those selling underwear. No longer will women who seem to have no bodies at all under all that cotton drapery have to buy their panties and bras from a shop full of men. Hurray. One small step for womankind ... Sometimes reading the small filler articles in the Sunday can really cheer me up.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Older woman on screen

This incredibly beautiful woman is Meryl Streep made up to look like Margaret Thatcher at the height of her power. Maggie was never so beautiful, and her face was never quite so mask-like and I don't believe Street has ever before been so plastic-ly ideally beautiful. That is how she looked in about half the scenes of the movie, Iron Lady. Another actress played her in a few scenes when she was about 20.

The other half of the movie showed us Thatcher as she supposedly looked a few years after leaving office when she was struggling with grief over her husband's death and beginning to suffer from both forgetfulness [she now has severe Alzheimer's disease] and seeing hallucinations of her dead husband, sometimes knowing it was an illusion and sometimes not. In those scenes the perfect face and perfect coif are gone. She is always shown as dignified, even when hallucinating but the make-up artist has, it seems to me, exaggerated what a 75-ish woman's face looks like.

As the title of this blog admits, I'm more than 70. I am not happy that I don't look like I looked ten or fifteen years ago, but I'm not as changed as Thatcher was shown to be. I look around me at the senior women in classes I take and teach. I can see that they have changed from their younger selves; there are degrees of aging that is probably both genetic and a matter of care. Some women wear too much makeup or wear it badly, many eschew makeup entirely, sometimes I see a happy balance.

I believe the makeup artists for the movie over-reached themselves both with the powerful Thatcher and with the aged Thatcher so that both are grotesques of a woman who was, until disease intervened, entirely herself, never a mask and probably not the face that is all sags and bags and ropy exaggerated neck. As I think of that image and what the movie is trying to tell us, I am angry at the director for making those choices. I believe the director is not a young woman, but she certainly has a horror of old age -- a horror that I think is an unfair stereotype. I think of Angela Merkel, Madelaine Albright, not beautiful women, probably never beautiful, but older women with faces full of character -- real women with serious jobs like Thatcher's. I am not thinking of Betty White or Elaine Stritch who are actresses and have a vested interest in their face. I read that the Baby Boomer generation are horrified that they are pushing at the Big-7-0, and I believe they are horrified because they cannot break away from the extreme pictures that they see in entertainment like this movie. In movies about "ordinary" people the older women are usually caricatures of dotty grandmothers, whining, demanding, disappointed mothers, sometimes frail and needy, sometimes harridans.

Fine as Streep's acting is, and it is superb, she was handicapped with the faces she was given in this movie. Although I did not like the way the script was handled, it was the masks Streep had to wear that ruined the film for me.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tired of Wraps

A choice of six different kinds of wraps for lunch - it wasn't surprising. I was at an all day informative event about the arts on Cape Cod, lunch was included. For about a hundred people, the cafeteria prepared six kinds of wraps: egg salad, tuna salad, seafood salad, ham and cheese, turkey and tomato, and chicken salad. Each diagonally cut in half, served buffet style. Most people took two halves, each different. Mini bags of potato chips, spears of dill pickles and cans of soda on ice were available along with three kinds of cookies for dessert. A very light, lunch, each to prepare, choose, clean up after. I did not expect anything more lavish and didn't even desire anything more lavish, that was sufficient to my appetite.

But the truth is I've never thought wraps were a good idea and don't enjoy them. The tortilla like base is usually flavorless even when it is fresh and seems special because it's whole wheat or red [tomato?] or bright yellow. And there's just too much of it. I always tear away nearly half the wrapping. I strongly suspect this kind of sandwich was designed by someone with the motive of adding filling carbs while scrimping on the more expensive filling. I can certainly see the advantage of the wrapping method for keeping the filling from falling out onto a plate. It's neater to eat and I'm sure that makes many people happy. But I would work harder at keeping my food under control and appreciate an old fashioned sandwich with enough filling to actually taste and a minimum of the unnecessary carbs.

No, I don't long for the happily dead days of Wonder Bread sandwiches with a thin slice of ham and the artificial brightness of American cheese. I'm thinking of real sandwiches that I might make at home -- in fact, often do make at home. Not the stacked high deli sandwiches that certain NYC restaurants have made a reputation with and for which they charge extravagant prices, good old fashioned ham and cheese on rye with excellent mustard and maybe a crispy leaf of lettuce, of the beloved BLT.

I see in the wraps more all American calorie loading along with nutrition diminishment -- yes, wraps are better than Big Macs or Whoppers in the cholesterol area -- but really not so much. Eating healthily is not easy.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Where Have All the Johns Gone?

I had the unexciting job of being an impartial person who pulled names from a basket for the lottery of next year's class at a charter school where my daughter is the secretary. Something over 500 applicants for about 240 places. I drew the card, someone wrote the number on it, my daughter read the name aloud -- to the room full of parents and some students -- and another secretary entered it into a computer. I listened to the names of these 14 and 15 year olds. Many Taylers and Tylers, Hannahs and Emmas. There were some ethnic names but our area is markedly Yankee so I was astonished at the end because among all 500 I don't think I heard a John, George, Edward, Charles, David or James nor did I hear a Mary [one Maria], Elizabeth, Anne, Margaret, Barbara nor any of those J girls so popular in my generation, Jane, Joyce, Joan, Jean and Jennifer.

Name popularity is trendy. Every now and then I come across lists of "most popular baby names this year". They reflect our demographics and they reflect popular entertainment stars. Nevertheless I remained amazed that in New England the solid names of 50, 150 and 250 years ago are rare. However, my daughter, who has had to file and deal with all the applications tells me that many of the old names, especially for girls, remain as middle names.

And isn't it wonderful that the possibilities are so great that even in some of the largest cities' phone books many names are oners. Mine is one of those combinations that a Google search tells me has no match in all their files. Isn't it wonderful that parents look at their tiny babies and expect them to be unique, give them unique names and watch them grow into unique individuals. And then it may happen that a time will come when they sit in a room where a lottery is drawn waiting to hear that name, hoping the boy or girl will get a certain kind of education. I was truly impartial but I couldn't help looking at the little girl whose eyes swam with tears when she heard her name among the chosen, and then later at the parents sitting stoically as they did not hear their children's names until the numbers were so high they could not possibly climb up that wait list.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What Happens in a World of Men, Without Enough Woman?

An article I just read tells me: still-growing international predilection for sex-selective abortion is by now evident in the demographic contours of dozens of countries around the globe — and it is sufficiently severe that it has come to alter the overall sex ratio at birth of the entire planet, resulting in millions upon millions of new “missing baby girls” each year. In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls.

This article from the New Atlantis says the phenomenon is prevalent all around the world. I wonder what will happen when we have a large part of the world over populated with young men with all their natural aggression and not enough young women, who at the same age are looking to find husband and start families. [I speak biologically, not culturally]. Does this promise a continuation of war which has always levened the balance by killing off man of the young men? Does it suggest some very different role being forced upon the women?

As soon as we start tinkering with the balance of mother nature, be it human or the introduction of kudzu bad things happen. Now I have something else to worry about.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Yoga American Style

The dangers of yoga poses are discussed in last Sunday's NYTimes Magazine. Not surprising! I began doing yoga at age 29 because I read a small bit about it and began gathering what few books were available at the time -- over 45 years ago. Throughout "fly over" land yoga was unknown although some people on both coasts had begun practicing yoga. I understood it to be a meditative practice meant to make the body flexible and ultimately to allow one to meditate for long periods without physical strain or harm. I understood from the few books I read, that asanas were to be done with attention to both breath and what the body was capable of doing, never stretching to the point of pain, never holding a pose beyond your comfort level. I practiced that way, alone, at times I did not expect to be interrupted by my small children. I became flexible and I gained both patience with myself -- because daily repetition was necessary for gaining both flexibility and strength -- and also the ability to concentrate most deeply on whatever I was doing.

Then yoga exploded on the scene. Today millions of people carry their rolled up yoga mats around, attend class with all kinds of variation, teachers study in various schools. People do yoga in large classes or at home watching videos. Some do only the physical positions, some meditate before or after sessions. I have gone to less than half a dozen classes. In a class one follows the teacher's pace and instruction, in a class you are always aware that the person next to you is better [or you feel proud you are better] Competition, more reps, longer poses -- the American way -- endless ways to sell classes, clothes, books, videos, accessories.

I find it distasteful. No wonder the author of the article has seen, and also experienced, serious physical injury. As he points out, in India, the home of yoga, people traditionally sat on the floor, not on chairs. From childhood their bodies were used differently than we use our bodies today. Yoga was originally a practice for those seeking true discipline, not beautiful bodies, not bragging rights about how many difficult poses had been accomplished. I believe my many years of yoga discipline, eventually honed to only a fifteen minute routine nowadays and that modified due to a hip replacement [not the result of a yoga injury] have contributed to my ongoing good health and stamina. Yoga is not the culprit the author of the article claims, the American way of mutating practices into fads is at fault.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Farewell to a Favorite Store

I learned about bargain shopping at Filene's Basement the day before I got married. I had been living in Boston a year and was daunted by the two messy below street level floors beneath the otherwise unexceptional, respectable Filene's Department store. But my about-to-be groom needed a tie. We went to The Basement. A serpent's nest of silk ties were in a bin. He recognized a respected label on many. They were something ridiculous like $1.50 each. He bought a dozen. I had never seen anyone shop like that. If he had bought two or even three, that would have made perfect sense. I pondered that purchase and, obviously haven't forgotten 50 years later.

We moved far away but occasionally when we were in his Massachusetts hometown we made a foray to Filene's Basement to see if they had anything special. They always did. I began to love the hunt for a wonderful bargain. A designer dress or coat, an incredible pair of shoes. No other store was like it. I was not familiar with the stores that were similar in New York City. Quite a few years later for some reason I no longer remember, I decided to make the 300 mile drive from our home in upstate New York to Boston with my teenage daughters for a shopping spree at Filene's Basement. We had a budget, we wanted to see how much we could get that we would love. In the afternoon we carried our shopping bags to the car and drove to the edge of the city where we got a motel for the night because I didn't want to drive all the way back in one day. We dumped our treasures out on the bed, got a pencil and pad from the desk and began reading "Original price." "Today's price." We did the math. Wow-wee! What a heady feeling of excitement! We felt like we'd robbed Tiffany's.

By the time I moved to NYC alone, Filene's Basement had followed many other businesses in expansion. They had a stand alone store. It was not very different from most other off price stores. I did not return to the original Filene's Basement in Boston. But I had learned to comparison shop. I had learned it's not necessary to pay full price unless you also think the newest fashion is necessary. For me, for my lifestyle, the latest fashion was not and never had been that important. But I still have a much worn red raincoat I finally found in a Filene's Basement and a few sweaters as well. I have a warm place in my heart for what I learned about bargain shopping. So do my daughters. I don't believe any of us have ever bought a dozen of anything all at once, however. Well, maybe underwear and socks.

Like so many other businesses Filene's has gone belly up. I'm sad for them. At this stage in my life I find my best bargains at what I sometimes call "My favorite boutique." A big, well organized, clean Goodwill store in our town.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Lucky but Skeptical

Because I was married to an M.D. and most of our acquaintances were also doctors, I learned that the good doctor image is iffy. They are not gods, but a whole variety of people. In more recent years, as I grow older and have a few age-related medical problems, I have been lucky in my dealings with the medical world but retain an edge of skepticism.

These thoughts arise today because I am recovering from bilateral eyelid surgery yesterday. All is well as long as I don't look in the mirror at my red-rimmed swollen eyes. [I was warned this would be the case and am icing on schedule and it will go away.] Where does the skepticism come in? My doctor is part of a very large ophthalmological practice which I became acquainted with two years ago when I had cataract surgery that was thoroughly successful. Almost upon the first appointment the retina specialist mentioned that one eyelid was especially droopy while the other seemed fairly normal. This was mentioned on follow up visits so last summer I had a peripheral vision test that showed that indeed the eyelid -- in fact both lids -- interfere with my peripheral vision. So the surgery was eventually scheduled.
My skepticism arises from large medical practices that seem to gently push people toward procedures that are probably helpful but that they may not need in a serious sense. My hope is that I will see better and I have my own peripheral hope, which is that once the trauma to the area is healed I will look a bit more bright eyed and bushy tailed, that is to say a little bit younger.

This is not my first instance of wondering if I have had a procedure that was not strictly necessary. About 9 years ago my internist said my EKG was abnormal and sent me to a cardiologist who did a stress test and echo cardiogram in his office. He said there was some blockage and we should find out how much with an angiogram at a major hospital. It was scheduled, I was told very little but to bring overnight necessities in case ... The catheter was threaded up to my heart, the docs called my cardiologist and told him I had about a 60% blockage in the left ventricle, what about placing a stent? Do it, said the cardiologist who had not discussed this possibility with me, nor, as far as I remember did the hospital personnel although I think there was small print in a consent form I signed. The stent -- the latest version, of course -- was placed. It was a painless, short procedure, I was awake the whole time. I remained in the hospital, went home the next day with the need now to take the latest greatest blood thinner for three years.

It is my belief that in a smaller city I would probably have had angiography -- removal of the blockage--and no stent. And if a stent possibly not this super newest one. However, I did have a problem and it was treated and I've had no recurrence although I hated that blood thinner, especially as first the recommendation was one year and suddenly "new tests" showed that I should take it for three years. That seemed to me out and out manipulation by the pharmaceutical company. I feel much the same about the standard prescription for statins which every cardiologist now says I must take for the rest of my life. However, I happened to transcribe in the work I did a speech by one of two MDs who won a Nobel for discovering statins who said that he is still working on understanding them because all his data shows that only 17% of people using them actually from taking them. They have side effects, especially, for me, muscular fatigue when doing something like stair climbing. I believe I could keep my cholseterol at good levels through diet - indeed, I strongly suspect my diet and not the statin I take is responsible for my good statistics.

One other example of big city hospitals' possible over zealousness. [Procedures and devices are reimbursed by Medicare and are money makers for large institutions and doctors] When I broke my hip, the doctor explained afterward that he had implanted the latest and greatest artificial hip because, besides the actual break in the bone, there was some age related degradation of the hip joint. It is my belief that I probably didn't need an artificial hip and might have lived my entire life without problems once the broken bone healed. But I have my titanium joint and, happily, although there is widespread replacement of faulty artificial hips. this doesn't seem to be one of them.

I consider myself in good shape and have been treated by highly skilled physicians -- it is not they who make me skeptical, it is the medical establishment, big pharma and the device people who seem to overtreat when money is to be made.

Meanwhile my luck is holding out because this new operation was originally schedule for later in the month when I would have missed various activities because I don't care to be seen looking like I do at this moment. However I have over a week ahead with no appointments. I can say home and let nature take its curing course.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Perspective, 1-1-12

I have just read Barbara's comment on the previous post and also just come back from a walk on the beach with my daughter. At this very moment the evening sky beyond my window is blue;pink/mauve -- incredibly beautiful above the umbrealla shaped branches of a huge tree across the street. And I am thinking of things that are truly real.

As we walked the beach we met many strangers who wished us a happy new year. We also met a young man and probably his father. The young man had been a student at the school where Rachel works and she said to me after we walked on, "his family are Luddites." They have no modern electronics; it caused the teachers a lot of problems because they had to see that material other students were accessing online was available to him in written form. The same problems arose with his younger sister in the same (charter) school but teachers and administration made adjustments. She does not know the story or philosophy behind the family's decisions. But clearly people can live without these modern conveniences which most people think of as necessities.

In William Least Heat-Moon's book The Road to Quoz: An American Mosey which I read last month, he describes among the many people he met in him meandering journeys around America, a woman who lives "off the grid" -- i.e., she is a senior but does not accept social security, lives in a formerly abandoned trailer near a town in one of the Western states, buys only the most basic food and gathers other food both wild and from stores and restaurant discards, walks wherever she goes, has no electronics either.

The point is, we do not have to be immersed in the things of the society around us. We can choose how we live. I think most people are unaware that they have more choices than society suggests. I do not yet own a cell phone -- and haven't owned a TV for more than 30 years. To most people that make me a Luddite. Actually I pick and choose what I think I need. A computer is something I need. I have my reasons.

New Year - 2012

Happy new year and wishes for the restless parts of the world to settle into peace.

Ruminating last night, as I tend to do on New Year's eves, I considered how many things we all take for granted are only constructions of civilization. Perhaps, even, civilizations means having convinced large numbers of people, sometimes almost everyone in the world, that certain abstractions are realities. Time, for instance. Time exists, of course, the days go from morning to night and back to morning. In all but the equatorial parts of the world seasons also go through a predictable cycle. But that this is 2012 is a construction, such a powerful one that it overshadow the much older calculations of the Chinese and the Jewish and other calendars -- and they too are constructions. Likewise the division of days into hours. Hours exist only because we agree they do. These time divisions help us tie our lives and the past history into packages, give us tools for thinking and for getting along with one another.

And then there's money. Oh Boy! When simple barter ended and tokens began to be given value Pandora's dump truck spread a sticky mess of tar that stuck on all our shoes. Smple relationships between the haves and have-nots became more and more complex to the point where individuals are overshadowed by institutions which are over shadowed by countries and world organizations. I wonder what would happen if everyone in the world truly understood that money isn't real.

That's two biggies for a start. And just a little thing besides those: what about success, your persona success? Does that word mean anything? Then there's happiness and peace and love ...