Saturday, December 10, 2016

Total Stranger

This picture was taken in January 2004 (almost 13 years ago in other words). I'm not sure why I took it. But, I did.And there it is among pictures of my tour group from Ballet Austin in Washington, D.C. for a performance of the company and other fun. So from inside a coffee shop I shot through the window, across breakfast debris (ours, someone else's?) and caught a car going by and a passing stranger. A total stranger. Isn't that an interesting phrase? Redundant perhaps.

I'm intrigued by the appearance of these people I don't know in my photos. You weren't introduced, you don't know their history. But there they are in the moment. When people you know appear in your photos, you usually know what happened to them. Maybe they have died. Or grown up. Or become infirm. In this same series of pictures is one of an Austin couple dancing in a very lively way. I see them occasionally today and they aren't capable of cutting a rug. But what happened to the lady in the red coat? I will most likely never know. I have thought of making a blog called 'total stranger.' And just putting in pictures like this where someone accidentally appeared in my viewfinder and, usually without their permission, I snapped the picture. I explored the phenomena a few years ago here. That is an even more intriguing picture.

Friday, December 09, 2016


The picture above is a snap of my FB Profile Header at the moment. The skyline out of the window of our condo is pretty dramatic, but it also seems like a fair representation of depression. Now, I've never been to a psychologist or psychiatrist but occasionally I would describe myself as depressed. Not clinically, you understand. Just with a bit of a black cloud or with a black dog following along. Down and not up. Sometimes with a reason, sometimes not. It almost feels chemical as if something could somehow wash some different chemicals across my brain and I'd feel better for no reason.

I'm grateful. I'm lucky. I'm in pretty good health and can walk a few miles, hit a few tennis balls and put on jeans without grabbing onto something. I have a place to sleep, plenty to eat, plenty of discretionary income for travel and fun. I have a bit of money to give away which is rewarding. (Growing up poor I though people who donated money were simply generous. Really they are trying to control the world in ways they enjoy.)

When I feel down (and I frequently do this time of year) it actually makes me feel better to know it will pass. I will feel, in hours or days, better about it all. And I know it.

Sometimes it's bad enough that I am glad that I will one day die. I'm never suicidal. I'm just glad to know that one day it will not matter because I will be gone and, believing as I do, this means that these emotions will no longer course through a living brain. I'll be what those who remain remember, something far different from what I seem to be to myself.

As I write this I'm feeling just OK. There are many drags on mood for me this time of year. The overdone materialism I once joyfully participated in, the family members gone or grown old, My mother loved Christmas and it's hard to generate the kind of enthusiasm she was capable of. We spend the actual holidays alone although we go to plenty of parties and shows during the season. We see a lot of movies if we can, watch TV and start to worry about taxes and year-end tax reports. Tax season really takes the shine off the holiday in a hurry for me.

I have no reason to be depressed. But sometimes I am what I'd casually describe that way. And it passes. Then I have no reason to be upbeat, really, except for the fact that I am upright, don't hurt too much and have everything I want and certainly everything I need! I manage to overlook things in the outside world that scare me and savor my cup of coffee and the sunrise or whatever is in the moment.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Here's to a Random Slide Show

In 2000 I moved my parents to Austin. I say I "moved them" to mean I had purchased a house for them to 'rent' from me and encouraged them to sell theirs in a Dallas suburb and move into it. My mother had been bugging me about things that she wanted. A new VCR, cable TV in her bedroom, a computer, a CD player. There were probably other things, too. Things with user's manuals. But I still worked and they lived over 200 miles away. The thought of remote troubleshooting of anything felt like a lot of work. One way I encouraged them to move was by saying that she could have any of this if they moved. I lived fifteen minutes from the house I'd purchased and worked five minutes away. I can keep things running for them, I thought. (Of course, I thought I could look after them if they got sick. That's another story for another day.)

They did move and Mom even got a computer. She couldn't remember how to surf the web and got confused using her email but she learned to use paint all by herself by looking at the HELP tab. When I set it up, I loaded up a ton of pictures and made the screen saver a random shuffle of these. She loved it, seeing pictures of family and friends flash  But, I confess, I love me a random slide show, too. On the computers on my desk, I have hundreds of pictures. Most digital. Some scanned. Most I shot or my hubby did. But some are stolen from the Internet, particularly eBay. Some I scanned from my mom's collection.

As I type this the other two computers are displaying pictures from these big collections.

There's a picture of my husband taking a picture of some busking musicians in Central Park, there's a junk store window reflection (I'm very fond of reflections especially of shop windows), See below.

There's a picture from my sister's wedding. There's a picture of a young singer who used to be in Austin but now lives in L.A. There's a shot from the Davis Cup which was held here  in Austin a few years ago. There's a shot of the wares in a tiny cheese shop in Paris.

There's a picture taken by a local newspaper photographer of FFP's (the husband's) dad. There's a picture of my niece taking a picture of some of my cousins in Maine. There's a boat on Lady Bird Lake. There's a detail inside the dome of the Norman Foster redesigned Reichstag. There's a picture of our bedroom remodel at the old house.

There's a picture of a stack of books. There is a snap of a shelf with some collectibles I have (or once had).

And there's a picture of a woman reciting from James Joyce's "Ulysses" at the New York Bloomsday. There's Colum McCann. Ditto. There are oysters roasting on an outdoor fire at a house on the Oregon coast. And a picture of the Zilker Park Kite Festival. There's an image of one of the many Manhattan Cocktails I've consumed. There's a picture from high up in the current tallest building in Austin. There's FFP by the Ignatius J Riley statue in New Orleans.  There's a picture of my friend Scott at an AIDS walk kickoff. There's the Space Needle in Seattle. There's a picture of books in a Little Free Library.

Pictures of food. Bone Marrow, FFP eating a crepe. Tacos. A giant pretzel. Delicately decorated raw tuna. Giant prawns.Lobsters ready to be consumed in Maine. A lavender stuffed duck being carved at Eleven Madison Park in New York City. A veggie plate at the local comfort food place.

There are geese and ducks. Turtles, egrets, cormorants, swans.

An Elvis lamp. Murals and sculpture. The Barbara Jordan statue at the Austin airport. Graffiti. Marchers in parades, motorcycles in parades. That's obviously a New Orleans French Quarter scene. Sunsets and sunrises. Jazz musicians and backstage pictures at the "Nutcracker." Details of chrome on antique cars.

There's my dad (seven years gone) holding a baby who'd now be in her forties.My niece. There she is grown with her first child as a toddler (now 16). Large group pictures taken at holidays.

You get the idea. I can waste hours looking at these images. Randomly shuffled. Crossing years and miles apart. Challenging myself to remember where they were taken and why. Thinking briefly of the ones who have passed, people and pets, who appear for a few seconds. And the babies who are now grown and have had babies who are also grown or almost so.

I often feel better about it all when I consider life a random set of images and feelings instead of something we plan or control.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

It's Only a Game

That's a shot of some of the stuff in my car's trunk. Prominent is a tennis bag with a couple of rackets and a box of cans of new tennis balls. I'm intending to clean out my car including this packed trunk and write a short essay about what is in there. Not today, though.

Today it's about sports. The ones you play and the ones you watch. I only play tennis. And only in very, very casual doubles games with random people showing up to take turns playing one set each with each partnership. And, yet...sometimes one gets upset over a bad call, their own mistakes, the conditions. But it's only a game. 

Yeah, a game. The results of my tennis aren't written down anywhere. No one cares. We often don't remember five minutes after we walk off. And, yet, we play by strick rules. We try our hardest to chase down a shot.

I sometimes think we do this because real life, where things really do matter and sometimes are matters of life and death, is too complicated. We can understand the rules, play between the lines, get control.

Sometimes we are only spectators. We have a favorite high school, college or professional team. We exalt in their victories and die a little with their failures. And this is so silly really. We know it. And yet we feel a surge of emotion watching a winning basket or a goal line stand. 

I've boycotted football this year. I enjoy watching it, really. But the awful injuries and the way it has overshadowed academics at colleges makes me feel guilty. It's been nice not really paying attention to games and reading or going out with a friend while FFP watches. I've snuck a few looks at plays while he has the games on. And, obviating my boycott, I'll look up during the commercials for these games and watch them. 

Real life seems to loom large for me just now. But games are just games. Nothing I care about is riding on the outcome. Even if I'm the one playing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Getting in the Spirit

When I was a kid, I guess I believed in this guy although I don't remember going to a store to see him in person. I snapped this at the Four Seasons hotel in Austin on Sunday. These kids were having a fancy little tea party and Santa visited.

We were Christians so, growing up, there were carols and sometimes little home-done nativity scenes with cousins.

The anticipation of presents, the time off from school, the fun gatherings of relatives, my grandmother's giblet gravy and dressing and homemade rolls and cinnamon rolls: there were lots of things to get excited about. Maybe my heart would swell about the birth of Christ during a rousing "Joy to the World," too.

Things are different now. I understand my tribe's myths in the context of other myths. But I still get a little cultural push from the songs, traditions, pagan trees, etc. Usually.

Last night we heard a 'holiday' choral concert at the Butler School of Music at UT. It was festive. Portions of the Messiah. (During the Hallelujah chorus a certain professor I thought was firmly in the atheist camp stood with his wife and the rest of the crowd then did, too.) There was a reading with orchestra of The Night Before Christmas and a God Bless Us Everyone with a tenor solo and the whole huge choir and orchestra. Very festive. For a moment I was in the season.

We've also wandered the downtown hotels and looked at trees and decorations, noticed the decorated shop windows on Second. We'll check out the Capitol Tree soon.

Friday we will make our annual trek to see "The Nutcracker." We are heavily invested in Ballet Austin. (We are donors, FFP is on the board for 15 years, we financed a new costume for the mechanical doll in the party scene, etc.) I usually come away feeling like it's Christmas. And glad that many performances will be sold out and help finance the ballet's more daring work.

But this year seems different. The Christmas spirit is hard to come by. And I guess I don't really miss it.

Monday, December 05, 2016


Over the weekend, we stayed two nights at the Austin Four Seasons. It's about ten blocks away. It's an interesting thing to do and we had one free night (charity auction) and another at a reasonable price. It's instructive to get away from the normal view of things and to see just how expensive things are. We watched some old movies and one of them was "The Lost Weekend." It kindled something I've been thinking about lately and that is addiction.

First, let's just say that I'm not an alcoholic. Now a perusal of my facebook page might lead one to believe otherwise as I have a habit of putting pictures of food and drink there, particularly Manhattan cocktails. But I don't wake up in the morning craving a drink. In fact, although I may sometimes say at 5 p.m. "I need a drink," that 'need' is more social and metaphorical than a draw of addiction. Seeing drinking doesn't trigger anything and I easily stop. (There is a scene in "The Lost Weekend" where the Ray Milland character sees a drinking scene at the opera and is overcome with the desire to drink. It's "Traviata" maybe?)

Which is not to say I'm not addicted to anything at all. I think we all have addictions. It might be drugs or alcohol or some classic thing like that. But, if not, there is something in everyone's life where resistance seems futile.

I'll talk about three things for me. I've indulged two already this morning and will no doubt dip into the third soon.


The idea of my first cuppa is one thing that gets me up in the morning. Two or three cups later or maybe a cup of iced coffee taken to tennis and the desire is more or less satisfied until next morning.

This machine is one of my prized possessions. It is the third one I've owned (the first two were a bit more massive). It grinds, tamps and pressure-brews each cup. It was expensive but it's so worth it. I've probably made hundreds of cups with this one.


Another thing that makes me rise in the morning is my daily newspapers and, I'll admit it, even more the prospect of doing the puzzles. I like the Ken-Ken, too, but crosswords really call out to me. I worked one this morning before we left the hotel (accompanying the activity with a cup of coffee I got from the downstairs coffee bar).It wasn't the one below...this is just an example I found in my picture file.

So, yeah, I find the puzzles irresistible. The empty squares make me ache to fill them in.


I like to say that I would consistently weigh 20 pounds less if I didn't eat cheese. I don't know if that's really true but hardly a day goes by that I don't consume some. Either on a salad, in a sandwich, with crackers or just a bite by itself. Or maybe queso or cheese enchiladas. If fact, the husband just asked if I'd like chicken chili for lunch. My immediate thought was, "yeah, with a bunch of cheese on top."

So, addictions. We all have some. Some people are addicted to exercise, I hear. I could use some of that.

Holiday Cards

That's it. A 4x6 print printed for pennies online, a collage of travel and eating and drinking. And the most positive sentiment I could muster.If someone sends me something in the mail, I'll send one of these back in a cheap Office Max envelope with 'Happy Holidays' written in red ink on the flap perhaps. I'll send a few people one without being prompted by receiving one from them.

I miss it, really. The many cards. When half weren't from a business or charity. I like the letters summing up the year. The pictures of the kids growing up. Or just the funny animals and Santas and tree and snow. But we send and receive less and less every year. I miss all the stamps and postmarks. I miss the hours spent updating the database and thinking of all the people, mourning a little the ones who had recently left us.

But change comes to everything. It's surprising anyone clings to tradition. I have only sent commercially purchased cards one year. We have made elaborate pieces some years, one year I handmade each one from canceled holiday stamps, I am often surprised to find some old ones in the closet. "Wow," I'll say, "I forgot we did that."

The years run away and the holiday card was a way to put a pin in each one and remember it.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Pen Sets

Remember pen sets? A lot of us of a certain age received 'pen sets' for Christmas, birthdays and, especially, graduations. These days I don't whip out a Mont Blanc or gold Cross Pen and use it. I do use pens: to do my paper crosswords, to write in the paper registers of a couple of checkbooks and write a few checks. (I also keep those balances on the computer and I write fewer and fewer actual checks since a lot of bills are resolved on the computer and online.) But when I use a pen I grab what's at hand, a giveaway from a bank or something. This time of year I often send a little holiday greeting, at least to those who send me something. I'll carefully select a felt tip, maybe, in a festive red or green to do a little personal note and address the envelope.

The other morning I cleaned out a taboret drawer under my desk  (yeah, I have a taboret, look it up, definition 3). The drawer contained dozens of felt tips, sharpies, mechanical pencils, regular pencils, nice ballpoints with refills, some refills. A couple of dozen didn't write well enough and ended up in the trash. I left the nice gold Cross pen and other nice pens with refills in the drawer. I think I was looking for something to write those aforementioned cards. Anyway, as you can see I have dozens of writing implements. (That's after dumping dozens in the trash!) So, no pen sets, Santa.