Privacy–Is Google or Facebook Hogging The Bathroom?

I grew up in a fairly large ethnic household without much privacy. And in the last thirty years, I have always had to share a bathroom with 1-3 other people. So privacy is an issue for me. My younger siblings used to ransack my room, searching for contraband. I finally got a way to lock my bedroom door from the outside–and happily I wasn’t sharing a bedroom.
My first husband–may he rest in peace–used to read my diaries and journals. My current husband Rich lived for many years in a commune, and is relaxed about sharing space–sometimes a little too relaxed.
I’m territorial, and you might be too if your sibs looked for your secrets and cigarettes and your spouse read your old love letters.
Also, my mother was big on…commenting. Or criticizing–my hair, my body, my clothes, my friends, my choice of reading, my taste, my beliefs, my hopes, my fears, etc. And that created a lack of privacy. If the expression on your face is fair game for feedback, then the privacy of one’s own thoughts becomes important.
Of course, as a writer, I walk the fine line of confession and controlled self-revelation. As a rule, the reader sees what I want the reader too. (Except for the very astute reader, who can observe unconscious motivation). For example, there is a lot I’m not telling you about my mother here–and I’m not going to tell you. So there is still an element of my maintaining my privacy.
Much of the world lives with very little physical privacy. Millions of people live entire lives without what the 1st World considers basic privacy for biological functions. So I know that as a person who needs privacy, I’m pretty lucky to have some. Virginia Woolf wrote famously about a Room of One’s Own, and although I agree I know Jane Austen wrote in company and I doubt Sappho, who was running a school and raising a daughter, had much splendid isolation.
Which brings me to the issue at hand, social media and loss of “privacy.” I’ve kept the issue at bay by not using a cell phone. I’m roundly criticized by friends and family for this, but right now I’m quite content. The truth is–Goggle has no idea where I am. Ok–I’ll tell you. I’m headed to the bathroom–alone.

Jane The Widow

Jane The Widow

I prefer my widows cheery, although God knows I was beyond morose. When I was newly widowed I wept constantly, blowing my nose, rubbing my eyes. When asked how I was, I responded “I’m fucked,” over and over. However, even at the start, I craved some role models of widows who hadn’t completely collapsed, who had some kickback to life. I did find them—and found one inside myself—but it took a while. I wish that all those decades ago I’d been able to watch “Jane The Virgin.”
Usually television doesn’t have a profound effect on me, and “Jane” was no exception. Funny, cute, full of great Latina actresses, and some meta riffs on telenovelas and narrative—yes. But not much more. Until, to my shock, Jane’s new husband Michael DIES. Leaving Jane a widow. And in a very clever move, three years passes in the middle of a season. So we don’t have to watch Jane grieve. We get to see her recover.
“You’re in a long term relationship with grief—but it has to evolve.” That’s what Jane’s abuela tells her. Abuela herself is a widow—something we know but don’t focus on. I felt like Abuela was talking to me. I wrote it down.
Grief, despite our investigations, our systems, seems to have a life of its own. It’s like love or hate—it doesn’t yield to the purely rational. Sometimes I feel a door open and find myself prostrate sobbing on the floor—for my first husband, for those I lost to AIDS, for a high school suicide. These griefs have not gone…anywhere. Not away, not under. They are here, as fresh as they were when I preserved them like rose petals. They are part of me.
The one thing I still can’t stand is other people having opinions on what a widow can and can’t do. Remember Scarlet O’Hara, widowed, dancing with Rhett Butler beneath disapproving eyes? Even today there is some kind of allowable social opinion on when widows can date, or love again. Jane The Virgin nicely sidesteps this with a decorous passage of time. But, shocking as this may seem in our buttinsky world, what a widow does is no one’s business but her own. Smoke cigarettes, lie in bed eating ice cream, marry again, sell your house, join the Peace Corps—the truth is, you get to do what you want as a widow. And that is because—get this—grief does not make us stupid.
It may make other’s uncomfortable. But so what. For those of us who grieve…in our own ways, it makes us wise.

Criminal Minds

I’ve been stressed out about a practical matter in my life. This isn’t the time or place for details, but let’s just say that although the end is clearly in sight I’m feeling a bit like Hamlet in his soliloquy where he says that things like legal delays and irritating people have put him over the edge. (OK—I’m wildly paraphrasing, but you know what I mean).
So I’m watching trash. My old friend Miriam Bobkoff, a librarian, and sadly now deceased, always quarreled with my use of the word “trash” to describe what she considered “genre” in film and books. To take her point, I’ve always consumed a fairly steady diet of “genre”—preferences running more to spy and suspense plots than straight up murder mysteries.
However, right now, I crave the narrative flavor of wrongs that are righted—preferably within the hour. For over a year, my low rent television consumption was the entire series “House.” It wasn’t even really trash, and it hit many of my sweet spots—crippled protagonist on pain meds (yes!), rare diseases which are catnip to my inner hypochondriac, and longer lines of story/character development which I love.
Then I finished, life got more complicated, and I stumbled upon “Criminal Minds” which is basically composed of things I hate—violence, sex crimes, serial killers, menaced women and children, stock characters, no basic conflict other than generic good vs. generic evil…And I’m watching it. Quite a lot.
I feel better when those psycho killers are profiled as…psycho killers. And caught and locked up. I wish my own problems—both internal and external—were as tidy.

Letter To My Younger Self by Clyde Long

Dearest Clyde,

I write to you from seventeen years past your drop dead date. Turns out you will not replicate Dad’s fate. You will not strand three sons, you will live on and on and you will need to live life with the assumption of living. Your loss gives you the terrible wonderful chance to salvage the fatherhood that you missed as a boy. Recall the shame of a dad not there, the struggle of a mother to replace the impossible to replace. All this can build a strength you have, a scar of wisdom beyond your years more and more as the years pass. Not to death dwell, but those fears and worries that Mom has — turns out she’s right. I wish she weren’t.

Thousands of forks in the road will lead you to where I am now. Whatever else you do, be sure to ask out that cute girl from the La Raza party you met first week of classes.

The Porches

I’ve been to about twenty writers’ residencies in the past 40 years. These have been widely varied,from granddaddies Yaddo and MacDowell with spacious studios and three squares a day to a small trailer out in Great Basin at the edge of a bombing range. In Iceland, an active volcano loomed outside the window. In Petrified Forest, I was the only person sleeping in the park, in a WPA style cabin rattled by the spring wind. At the Betsy Hotel, my stay came with beach towels and use of umbrella seating.
Each place has its advantages, its irritants, its adventure. I like to go just to…go. I was glad to discover The Porches in Central Virginia as a way to break our cross-country trip, our visits with friends and family, a bit of a quest to see how others are dealing with community, relationship, retirement (and work), and aging.
One fortunate thing in my life is that my ability to write seems timeless—it takes me out of myself. So I enjoyed that this week.
The Porches is gracious, peaceful, and a great setting for creative endeavor. It costs more than fully funded places like the near-by VCCA (where you are still asked for a donation) but less than the B & B equivalent. It reminded me more of the international residencies than the ones in the U.S.—not super competitive, simple application, and available for a short term stay. Some of these, at least in Scandinavia, tend to be “artists’ houses” funded by the state which you can use as a visitor or as a part of a writer’s union or group.

The musings below are from my ongoing 100 Cups of Coffee project—I’m over a third of the way through. Have been developing it partially on the blog—sometimes taking out the coffee context. Thanks for reading!

http://www.porcheswritingretreat.com/

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The Porches. In my room—a rather fancy cozy B & B style room, a large painting hangs, showing a bend in the road. The blacktop curves away to the left, and it and the shoulder disappear into grassy hills with blue and purple/black mountains behind. Four white trees stand in a grove and the road, with its white dividing line, leads beyond the viewer’s vision.
Yesterday drove just such a winding road with Rich to drop me for three days at this charming house and garden, to write.
Wisteria climbs up the column of the second story porch rail. At 8 am it’s almost too hot out, and I’m glad I already went for a walk. Green hills stretch before me, imperturbable.
I look in the mirror, hoping for wisdom, finding a familiar face.
Dead insects, who writhed towards the light.
I don’t remember what I dreamed.

***

A garden. As always, it seems, the head of a woman, neoclassical, in stone or clay. Or maybe she is a pot, with a fern growing out of her head to signify…thought…or dream.
Pink geraniums, wicker furniture, the sound of a train cuts through my sense of solitude, intensifying it.
A train going somewhere, indifferent to this hamlet with its locked church, its historical marker, one or two cars passing early on a Sunday morning, the feeling of…being left behind.
The train implies elsewhere, a lot of elsewheres, but since it will not stop, takes no passengers, and will not slow enough—even in my imagination—for me to jump it I stay here with the bees in a bush of soft mauve flowers. With my pills for what ails me in advanced middle age, my modest hand wash, a pile of silky embroidery thread for a too large cross-stitch tablecloth I may never finish. And a novel I appear to have finished the first draft of just this morning, and not exactly on purpose.

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Ties That Bind

I have two of the necessary parts for this project.

The text:

Ties That Bind

When I was a teenager, I’d hide in my father’s cedar closet and try on his ties—around my waist as a sash, around my forehead as a hippie headband.
I was sixty years old when he died. I took three of his ties without telling anyone , cut them up, and knitted them along with wire, yarn, lace, string, and scraps into mourning pieces.
Did I ever truly know him? His ties were narrow.When they went out of fashion he held on to them, waiting for the style to come back in. And they did, although by then he no longer wore ties or anything formal.
He was many people, more than I am. I can’t tell if he knew who I was.

AND the three knit (no purl) pieces:

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Now I need to figure out how to “frame it.” A fabric book? A scroll? Or?

Cheating at the Game of Life

The Game of Life–the board game, that is, is pretty stupid. But my daughter loved it as a child. I think she liked the tiny cars with pink sticks for mom and girls, blue for dad and boys. I grew up as the eldest of four. Our rule was–winner cleans up. That way a bad loser could trash the board and throw things with impunity. I had systems for everything. When playing Candyland with a younger sib–later my daughter–I’d cheat. I’d set up the cards so the younger player would eventually win. A friend of mine was stunned to hear this. But I didn’t want to spend all day playing Candyland.
Now–the site 538 claims: “Stop Playing Monopoly With Your Kids (And Play These Games Instead). Oliver Roeder writes: “Parents want the best for their kids. This, no doubt, extends to the board game closet. But Mom and Dad may not be aware of the drudgery and fickle chance to which they’re subjecting the family. In a recent piece, I found that some of the most beloved childhood games — think Candy Land, Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly — just aren’t very good. The data emphatically says so. But where there’s data, there’s also hope.”
Actually I disagree. I think Snakes and Ladders is good preparation for life (real thing, not board game.) It is an ancient east Indian game that is based totally on luck. It teaches karma, fortune, reversals, acceptance.
And what is the “best” for kids? Maybe a dose of fatalism has its place. Maybe it is ok to have your big sister cheat so you can win. Life may be more than pink and blue sticks in a car. Or not.

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