Thursday, December 23, 2010


I made that commitment to Holidailies and then, after the 15th I could not bring myself to write a word. I felt bad that I couldn't write some drivel every day. How hard could it be? I have produced reams (if pixels can be considered in paper terms) of daily stuff. In fact, I went looking around and I could show you an entry for every single day in 2005. Well, almost anyway. But it would "bore [you and] me terrifically, too." (Points for knowing that reference.) I got mired in 2005 for about fifteen minutes when I thought about it and had to go get coffee and make up the bed to escape.

The fact is writing, and keeping a promise to get pixels to screen every day, used to help me get through.

Here's why: I used to find the humor in it. Even if I seemed down last year (when I got through Holidailies in fine style while dealing with quite a rough patch for Dad's health) I was on the lookout for a bon mot, a bit of humor, to make writing a little easier. A funny hook for a serious discussion maybe. Maybe my dad was the one that helped me find that. Maybe without him writing blog entries will seem empty and silly. It's sure looking that way. Sigh.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Am I there? In the picture I mean. My life is like that.

Yesterday I uploaded this picture, titled this entry 'Divagate' and typed "Am I there?" Then I could do no more. I had no words to spill into pixels and keep up the stream that is supposed to be my (almost) every day Holidailies 'obligation.'

I'm a wanderer. It's so with tasks. It's so with reading. It's so with my stories.

I love this word. This title. Divagate. No, no, it isn't a scandal at the Metropolitan Opera.
divagate, v. intr.
  1. to wander, stray
  2. digress in speech
Love it. This was's word of the day sometime in the last couple of weeks. I actually pay them money to have access to the site with more info and less ads online. But word of the day, facebook and the iPhone app (which is ad-rich) are free. But...I digress.

I was so, so sad yesterday that I couldn't write. I felt empty. We went out to our house which Dad used to live in. Every time I go out there it makes me sad. And sadder. Like when I'm tossing and giving away 'stuff' I'm emptying my dad, maybe even my parents, from my life. Some of that stuff had been with them as long as I knew them. But. Oh. Well. It's really the memories, right? That's what people say. Of course, I have a lot of pictures and souvenirs. If a computer goes to screen saver after a few minutes a picture of my dad or mom will flash up.

I was also sad because we are getting old. My skin is getting thin and these red 'blood under the skin' bruises appear out of nowhere. Sometimes the skin breaks. We have our ailments. We are old. We both get Social Security checks. For now. Who knows what the Congress has in store. FFP's troubles and surgeries capped by a mother of a stomach ailment last weekend just made me feel it was all worth nothing. There would never be fun again. Just illness and worry. Trips to the drug store, etc. My in-laws are still alive. But old. I worry about them. My dad's youngest sister was in the hospital after falling. (She did get to go home and sounded pretty good today.) She is only 17 years older than I.

I am so lucky. But still I was sad. But words can make me smile. But I wander. Divagate!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Get Control of the Papers

This picture was taken some time in the late '90's I think. Not sure. Found it in my dad's stuff. Perhaps my mother shot it with her camera. And, yes, I look like one of those 'paper and bones' ladies surrounded as I am by newspapers and magazines I'm trying to sort. Or read. Or something. I see a precipitous pile of magazines on a table in the room, too. This was our media room and the place we sat in chairs and watched TV for a while until we moved that activity mostly to the bedroom. We also entertained in this large room. You know, when it wasn't so messy!

I have a real love/hate thing with newspapers. I love getting my three papers every day really. (Except on Sundays. Then only two.) And, of course, we pick up those weekly give away Chronicles and get a West Austin News in the mail every week.

I hate the way they pile up, taunting me. If I try to trim the pile down, quickly tossing the sports pages, some business sections, ads, etc. then I end up with a smaller but, in a way denser, pile of arts sections, interesting front pages, metro sections (gotta read those obits). When we moved to the condo, I had to do a better job of controlling the accretion. I decided to use two bins I had. One would hold that day's papers (assuming they weren't stacked on the dining table or beside my chair). One would hold those sections I couldn't bring myself to discard and the ones I hadn't even sorted. When the latter got too unwieldy...I'd do something about it, by golly. I usually do. Although lately there have been some tough times and getting reading done didn't seem to be in the cards.

Plus when I settle in and read the papers it depresses me. The bad news, of course. But also the things I just don't know about that seem to be dispatches from another world. You would think, with all this newspaper reading that I would know a lot about world issues, local issues, politics, the arts. But really. No.

And yet I can't give up the papers. I do get lots of news on RSS feeds, through links on social media, from the TV and even sometimes on the radio. But. I need to be a person who gets the papers. I am a newspaper reader. I need to work the Monday New York Times crossword and feel that smug satisfaction of getting the puns or whatever. Yeah, yeah, Monday is easy. Sometimes I can work the Wednesday or Thursday one. Or the Sunday magazine. Without cheating too much.

It's been a rough day. FFP was sick this weekend but is getting better, I hope. (He's got the energy to take a load of papers down to recycling!) Actually getting sick after his surgeries and recoveries was an unnecessary blow I thought. And so it goes. I guess I'll go read some papers. And work that Monday crossword. I am so lame.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Can You Really Control Anything?

Action/reaction. Cause and effect. Can we really control anything? There are all the things we are supposed to do to stay safe and healthy. To keep things running in our modern world of cars, computers, gadgets and appliances (all which have filters if they involve water or air in any way).

The worst things to control involve other people. People you are supposed to be there for in their time of need, physical or mental.

I can't shake the feeling that my dad would have had a different outcome with a different caregiver. Don't get me wrong. Everyone owes a death. I did my best and maybe his came later than it would have in other circumstances. But you make all these tiny decisions even though you are essentially helpless in the world of doctors and treatments. You try to encourage behaviors, look up drugs, get the right professionals. You help make decisions.

With FFP's health I always feel inept as well. After all the surgeries and such he has come down with a stomach ailment. Complaining of cramping and nausea he took himself to the doctor, got drugs, tests. He feels awful. I feel helpless.

And through it all I have been trying to keep things going. Changing light bulbs, getting cars serviced, paying bills, getting Dad's stuff and affairs in order. It runs away from me.

When FFP is ailing (and this happened during stints babysitting Dad at home and hospital and doctor's offices), I sometimes give myself a vacation from all other duties and just sit and read and eat and don't exercise and just be there to fetch things while entertaining myself reading or with my iPhone or iPod.

And, of course, this brings up the question of when caregivers get sick. How do they manage to postpone the sniffles, the sneezes, their own stomach ailments, their own major complications? Last year at this time a friend was at the hospital every day as his wife fought deadly complications of H1N1. Now he fights cancer. Should we be trying to harness this delay of symptoms so that, even if we have something terrible, we can delay the onset because someone else is sick?

Plus...does anyone else think that the routers, computers, phones, Internet access, cars, TVs, appliances, etc. really have a mind of their own and will only work when you, the caregiver, hold your mouth just right and delay getting that cold or allergy attack?

Sorry about this silly ramble, but it just amazes me that we can seemingly control so many things. And yet. Not.

[Photo taken in Vegas at fancy shopping.]

Saturday, December 11, 2010

There's Always Something...

Dad used to say: "There's always something to take the joy out of life." He used to also say: "I've bought a lot of cameras but I never owned one." He didn't buy the digital point and shoot that I used to shoot the Harrah's sign in Vegas (in August) or the computer and software I used to snip it so it just said 'ahs.' But Dad speaks a lot of truth.

I'm listening to my husband moan right now. It isn't anything serious, I hope. Just a digestive upset and some pesky cramps. Still. No joy.

I'm getting ready to go play tennis. I love it, but I sometimes feel it's the only active thing I'm making time for and it shouldn't be. I have to go check on our other house after that. I no longer have to check on Dad, but I still have to check on the property. I'm ready to be done with it. Of course, I still have to settle his affairs and found out that the estate's inventory has to be on file for ten days and my sister has to sign a paper before I can finish up.

I feel OK myself this morning. Although I didn't get enough sleep because I went to bed too late. After going to see "The Nutcracker" and staying after to talk to dancers and walking home, I felt the need to stay up and read papers and watch stupid crime shows. I slept well but I had dreams. There were battles with office supplies and strange court room scenes where everyone was eating sausage.

OK, but troubled in a vague way. That's me. I need to straighten out a bunch of things. I need to find time to write and love the activity. This daily journal is a chore right now. It isn't Holidailies taking the joy out of it. It's something else. Always something.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ephemeral and Colorful

This morning I was doing my best impression of sleeping in. Which due to tennis some mornings and other duties, like being at the courthouse yesterday, is surprisingly hard for this retired girl to achieve. But FFP woke me to see the contrail tracing up the sky by the Frost Bank. It was pretty dramatic. Fleeting. But dramatic. Dawn and dusk are like that: colorful and dramatic. Just like the drama at the beginnings and endings of everything.

Sometimes I wish things would be static for just a moment. Just hold up and let me catch up. I could get through the newspapers and the bills and the duties if more didn't show up each day. But every bit of life is a fleeting moment, a picture you can never take again. Whenever you stand over a dying person or try to help someone who has just been through surgery or just smile or frown at a stranger on the street? That is that moment and it is complete even as it flees across time like the contrail. It fades but it is that dot on the time line and it's irretrievable.

Knowing how ephemeral life is can give us a calm respect for how time towers over us. Or it can weigh us down as we try to do everything at once as we pursue a static place that doesn't exist. I'm trying to grab the calm this morning. To find some peace with the reality of life. To revel in the fact that this moment and its discomforts are soon gone. That things change and that's the good part.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Quit Whining and Pay Attention

It's been a surreal fall. Tomorrow I go to court for my dad's will probate and I was thinking "Life will somehow be 'normal' when I've gotten all that taken care of." Yeah, sure. Life is never 'normal.' It's always FUBAR. Anything else is an illusion. You just have to take the blows, feint left or right, dodge, go on.

FFP sent out an e-mail saying his latest surgery didn't find cancer. Yeah, we are happy and thinking about being festive and such. Someone replied that their journey was taking a different turn, toward hospice. And then we saw in the paper that our friend died on Sunday. I heard that my aunt had a fall. Don't know where that's going but they took her to a big hospital in Dallas from the suburb where they are living. Fortunately she's near Dallas, near my cousin. She doesn't have children, just nieces and nephews. So I'm glad my cousin's wife is there to help her husband. And her.

I have a feeling that I have got to quit whining and pay attention to things. But, of course, I feel like celebrating FFP's good news of the day. (The permanent sections confirm: no cancer in the thyroid. Turns out the tumor on his eyelid was the only thing that was cancerous.) I told him that for Christmas I wanted to dine in nice restaurants and he made a reservation for tonight at one of the best. Now, of course, I'm worrying about other people. Those not so lucky. But you just go on. You do. Grabbing what joy you can. Whining when you have no right and not paying proper attention to your duties. Fact is, we walked to a place for breakfast this morning and while crossing Congress, solidly in the crosswalk with a walk signal, a guy ran the light, managing to stop only after getting well through the intersection. FFP alertly grabbed my arm and we halted as he passed a few feet in front. I really, really have to try to pay attention even as I keep whining.

We took cabs back and forth to Jeffrey's last night so we could both drink and had delightful food and wine. We are lucky. No whining. Awareness.

Objects of Desire

I don't really want an art object that is a crane woven from what? Paper? Vinyl? Glass? I don't know. I didn't go into the shop. I just stole the image of it, added my camera-obscured visage and put it here. But thousands of objects, arty and otherwise, are in my possession or control. Dealing with them, their value, their weight and their emotional freight consumes a lot of my time.

Even my images, like this one, weigh down the hard drive, obscure other pictures. The more you have the less you can concentrate and cherish one thing.

When we moved we let stuff go. And go. And go. Lots and lots of stuff. I love a lot of what's left. That painting there. That book. My coffee machine. Some of my clothes. New Italian furniture we acquired. Even now we have to stay on top of things because we kept so much (or acquired the perfect object for this space) that the condo is pretty full. When we add something it threatens us.

Since we moved we acquired two new art works. We had to eject another work to hang one of them. I think the rejected one ended up in our condo storage cage. We managed to work out a space for the other new one. At one time we had several hefty sculptures. And some life-sized ones in the yard. No more.

I rarely see things I desire these days. But I must confess that I take a peek at most of the catalogs that come in and stare at ads in newspapers and magazines. And sometimes a desire is created, but, more often I see a possible burden. And some resistance ensues. I wish I could impose the 'one in, one out' rule. You know where if you buy a new outfit or new shoes then something old has to go. Instead I wait until things are out of control and get rid of piles of things. Or I find places to tuck the goods and wait, as my dad and my mom did, for someone else to deal with it when I'm gone. Six years ago I created a (of course incomplete) list of objects I owned in my blog. It would be interesting to review it and see if I still have the stuff and if I can even remember what happened to it if not.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Going through my dad's things yielded some surprises, some tears, some real finds. OK it was mostly trash and moderate treasure headed to the thrift store without regret. A few things were saved for me or my sister, a few other things judiciously given away. One thing I immediately moved to toss and then didn't was an Austin 2004 date book. Apparently someone gave it to him, maybe for Christmas. If so, he didn't write who gave it to him inside. Maybe he'd bought it for himself. After I retired, I taught him to go to Barnes and Noble, prowl around, read their books in the coffee shop. Sometimes he would buy things there.

Anyway he used it throughout the year to jot down his appointments and in a few cases who he visited with and what he had to eat. Pretty mundane stuff. I read through it all and moved to throw it away and then didn't. I trotted it out again and read all the mundane entries. The name of the urologist he didn't like and later fired. A bunch of appointments to see about a large goiter we'd just discovered. Appointments with a GP I later fired. A note on one day that he spent $14.35 on food. Indications that he planned to attend water aerobics, later abbreviated to H20 Arb or W-A. On January 17, 2004 he wrote 'Rain 5 inches over 3 or 4 days.' Emptied his rain gauge, I guess. This was back when he drove himself lots of places. Not everywhere. The surgeon considering his goiter was in St. David's big medical complex and he wanted me to take him there. He noted cards he mailed to his grandchildren and calls he made to his sisters. The gate code for an apartment where he picked up a woman and took her to church activities. Dates were noted for parties for a friend's 90th birthday and a couple's 50th wedding anniversary.

On June 2, he noted 'Linda and FFP to France.' On July 20 he wrote 'Fly out 12:30P to Frankford [sic].' He meant Frankfurt. Germany. He was eighty-seven years old and headed on an almost thirty day trip to Germany, England and Iceland with a friend. On August 17 he wrote: 'Return from London.' On the 18th: 'From Chicago at 1:30AM No luggage.'

The last six years weren't kind to my dad and he had some difficulties even back when keeping this datebook, but somehow these few scrawls show me just how in control of his life he was then and how much he was enjoying it in spite of everything.

I still haven't managed to throw it away.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Festive Me

The 'Visible' Woman, you see, is a bit of a joke. I like to hide in reflections, opaque images and, if I'm honest, writing that obfuscates and complicates rather than reveals.

This year I'm only festive in reflections like this one. I'll be brushing the glitter off my hands from your cards (actually who sends those now? especially the ones with glitter?) and putting a Santa hat on in reflection only (at Top Drawer Thrift). I'll be looking at your lights and trees, drinking your booze. Oh, I may cook up a jazzy seasonal music play list to listen to on the iPod and I'll post seasonal pictures. But, honestly, I'm not doing festive this year. There was a time when I decorated the house, however idiosyncratically. That was when we had a house. And even a year or two when I had a Christmas party at that house. There were years I gave scores of gifts to relatives, friends and co-workers.

There will be presents for party hosts and my in-laws. That's it. Oh, I sent money to Colorado for the kiddies, but that hardly counts.

So, yeah, as Holidailies kicks off don't count on me to conjure up the smell of cider and cookies or to advise on roasting a turkey. I may, rather, be talking about my strange 2010 of travel and adventure, death and diagnosis, healing and milestones and, of course, downsizing. Downsizing is a favorite topic of mine and a time when you have to decommission an abode is ripe for downsizing tales.

Stay tuned, if you will, for the Visible Woman type of reflection. But, in any case, enjoy the writing that the Holidailies portal offers.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Frames of Reference

When you embark on some part of your life experience (marriage, moving, new job, illness, vacation) you have expectations from past frames of reference but really who knows what is coming? This year we tried to snap back from a time when my dad needed me very badly and tried to be those happy retirees in comfortable shoes who can drive long distances and fly off on weekdays. But illness and death had other things in mind. I can't find the words to describe my year and its ups and downs, trips and towns, exhilaration and gut-wrenching anguish (sometimes on the same day). So it won't be a year that I describe in a family newsletter or represent with a happy picture of our downtown abode. Which is why I'm not sending a holiday card. The collage above only partially represents my attempt to make sense of it. Maybe when Holidailies is done I'll have the ability to represent myself to the 200+ people I usually send a missive to on the holidays.

[I threw this together for testing Holidailies. So expect more coherency when that actually begins next week!]

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lost Me

Normally I have a real good idea who I am and how I am feeding my own selfish desires. The last three months have been trying in this regard however.

My dad died. My husband needed medical care. My dad's affairs needed to be concluded. I began to worry about my in-laws more because, after all, they are 90 and 100.

So lately I keep asking myself: Where am I? What am I supposed to be doing? Why didn't I get to do the things I dreamed about when I managed to retire early and not completely broke?

I am selfish. I know I am very, very lucky. I have resources both physical and monetary against the onslaught. My husband is going to be fine. For now. One day we will all not be fine. The problem is that that day seems all too imminent of late.

And so....while others are shopping, decorating and celebrating...I'll be helping FFP through a surgery and recuperation and perhaps reading and blogging and pondering the rest of my life. I have made one or two momentous decisions: I won't do a holiday card for the first time in a very long time and I will blog in this space every day until the new year. I will write complete sentences. I will punctuate as well as I know how. I will complete thoughts and write my demons off in pixels.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


This is my dad around Thanksgiving 2002. He was getting ready to go on a trip to Germany with a friend. He'd gotten over the mental and physical ravages of my mother's hundred days in the hospital earlier that year. After this he would have some other trips, get to meet two additional great grand kids, enjoy events with friends and family, lose scores of friends and family members and suffer a number of physical indignities brought on by time (and occasionally doctors' attempts to reverse it). On Sunday morning I made a welfare call to the house where he was living alone (with assistance with cleaning, cooking, errands, lawn, etc.). This was the one you dread. I found him in his bed where he'd neatly organized himself for the night and where he'd had a heart attack and a stroke. Thirty-six hours later he died. Dad was very much a presence for me, especially the last ten years since he moved to Austin. I cared for his needs the best I could. We had a couple of fun road trips together after my mother died and I retired. He kept his sense of humor until the end. I don't think I could have done.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Road Trip

In some ways the road trip we took, lasting a couple of days shy of two weeks and covering about 4500 miles, was essentially pointless. We had only two goals beyond the trip itself: (1) see some friends in Las Vegas and check out a hotel there that we had a free suite in for two nights; and (2) spend some time in the Portland, OR and Oregon coast area with some dear friends as we often do in August. We could have flown to these two destinations, burning three or four days on airplanes. Instead we spent about six and a half days on the road and spent three nights in Vegas and five nights in our Portland area destination.

The idea took hold, though. Once we decided to spend those days in those places and travel between them, I had a couple of long sessions with Internet TrikTiks from AAA, some scouring of hotel WEB sites, some conferring with friends on dates and plans, and the trip was afoot. Or acar, specifically, via our 2007 4 cylinder Honda Accord with new tires and a fresh maintenance run.

Getting away isn't easy these days. We arranged for people to give our elderly parents a hand, but then my dad ended up in the hospital for a couple of days after an antibiotic he was given sent his sodium perilously low. I almost thought we'd have to cancel. But we kept planning. I put together two notebooks, Outbound and Homebound with detailed driving instructions and hotel confirmations. I got new paper maps from AAA. I made lists, lists, lists.

There is something about the road running out under you, transferring you magically across the changing landscapes, listening to books on CD, nibbling road snacks, talking, laughing at what you see that concentrates your attention and gives you some perspective. I am energized most by the reality of people, what they wear, where they live, where they shop; by the signs, trash and animals (dead and alive and just promised by crossing signs) along the way. This is the same detail I find interesting in my walks around my own neighborhood but the details really stack up when you cover thousands of miles of the U.S.

So we do get to go on this lark of a trip. The car is all nicely organized. A bag with hiking boots, hiking socks, jackets and sweatshirts stuffed way in the back of the trunk for the Oregon coast. Small bags to take inside one night stand hotels. A bag with books on CD, an emergency first aid kit and a portfolio of DVDs. A small suitcase with some extra clothes. A laptop and its accouterments in a separate bag. Atop this in the trunk two hanging bags with extra shirts, slacks and a blazer each.

In the back seat, a small soft-sided cooler with a few drinks and a little cheese for first day. Also, two pillows; a canvas sack with plastic utensils, wipes and napkins; a canvas sack with peanut butter crackers, cereal bars, plain almonds, beef jerky; a backpack for each of us with gadgets and books. In the front a slim organizer for maps, directions, hotel confirmations, pens, receipts and two commuter cups full of fresh coffee. We are off around five in the morning. Our goal is to achieve escape velocity west out of Texas on our way to Las Vegas.

Las Cruces, NM is not a garden spot but it was a convenient place to lay over. We did our usual marvel at the 80 MPH speed limts on IH10 in W. Texas and the giant windmills turning ponderously on the bluffs in stretches of nothing. We ate at a restaurant specializing in New Mexican wine. In fact, I think, an actual extension of one or more New Mexican winery. The food and wine were forgettable. Our goal was to sleep and be off in the morning very early to make it all the way to Las Vegas. We had gone 618 miles. We needed to go 742 to get to Las Vegas.

Traveling is so different now than it used to be. Once there was no Internet mapping. No iPhone to pop out to help navigate. In fact, I remember road trips before air conditioning and seat belts. And certainly before cup holders, pay the pump, cell phones, singing shoulders (that rough pavement that wakes you up as you run off the road) and books on CD (or tape). Indeed before CDs and cassette tapes. And certainly before XM radio which the Accord also has. These things have changed travel as have more reliable radial tires. We saw few disabled vehicles.

I thought the car would become disorganized straight away, but the organization held up pretty well for the entire trip. Of course, I moved things around every time we stopped. The cooler only had cold packs when we had a frig with a freezer in the room which we did at most of the small Comfort Inns and such. Trash accumulated and was discarded, drinks were rearranged in the four cup holders in the front.

That second day on the way to Vegas was very scenic. From stately Saguaro cacti to mountains and amazing rock formations and rock-bordered lakes on the Colorado. I've traversed some of this before, of course. But it never gets old for me. I really liked Texas Canyon near Benson, AZ. I'm sure I'd been through there before, but I forgotten the majesty of the giant very rounded rock formations. I actually enjoy seeing the crumpled shells of old abandoned buildings and the various people at the stops. It's a long drive, though, and we arrive in Las Vegas pretty weary. We find the Wynn Encore and valet park, taking most of our stuff inside. We will stay here three nights. There are long check-in lines, but we finally get to a lovely suite. A sitting area, a perfect desk with power and Internet, a flat screen that twirls around between the sitting area and the area with the king-size bed. Lovely bedding, an iPod dock, a giant bathroom with a shower and a tub, two sinks, etc. This is no Comfort Inn.

Lest I devolve into a minute-by-minute (or day-by-day) account where I'm trying to convey some of the moments that make the trip worthwhile, I'll just briefly recap the rest of the trip. Spent three nights in Vegas. Ate several fabulous meals (one lunch with the aforementioned friends) and had lots of good eats and drinks. Slept, shopped, viewed a couple of the fabulous fake environments. Did not risk one cent gambling. Then we drove to Boise, Idaho. And then on to Vancouver, Washington across the Columbia from Portland, Oregon. We had a nice lunch on the Columbia, dinner in Portland and took off around noon the next day with our friends to spend a couple of nights on the Oregon Coast (Cape Meares). Then back to Vancouver. We made our pilgrimage to Powell's City of Books and added a new must-do to Portland shopping: Everyday Music down the street from Powell's. We attended an Oregon wine tasting, had a super fab meal where we got to see a very dear friend I've known since Junior High. Our Portland-area friends made every minute of these three days fantastic by knowing places to go, cooking for us and enjoying music and movies with us. Then we spent three days driving the couple of thousand miles home. I used to keep much more detailed records of the activities and not just in tweets and facebook photo uploads. Start here for such a recount of a 2005 trip. Sometimes I wish I kept the details of my life like that now, but it is just so much work.

Was it worth it? Did we see anything like the Eiffel Tower (real not Vegas one) or even the Grand Canyon (which was, after all, right there in Arizona)? Could it be said to be restful what with going from hotel to hotel and doing all that driving? To those who see the very real problem of making sense of this 'vacation' I can only offer the following bits of narrative and flashes of images which make it all worthwhile for me.
  • Sitting down with our friends in Vegas, listening to the narrative of how they live in the Vegas suburb of Henderson, sharing stories and seeing how they are handling their retirement.
  • Enjoying the wonderful suite in Vegas, having good simple steak as well as delicacies like lamb's tongue and sweetbreads and marveling at the over-the-top ostentation, but still getting a feeling of escape when watching the lights recede as we plunged into the lonely desert to make our way north on the loneliest highway in America.
  • Wondering why all the road kill seemed so dry and dessicated as if it had been a long time since anything fresh was felled. Also, wondering at how trucks can throw all that rubber that I mistake for roadkill. Laughing as the silhouettes on the game crossing signs got more and more exotic with bigger and bigger racks with the passing miles on Highway 93 in Nevada aka the aforementioned 'loneliest highway in America.' Along said highway, by the way, we found the people very friendly and the restrooms rather clean. Highlight of our animal spotting was a walk to feed goats pinned near the Oregon coast and seeing a tiny pig survive a run across the road in Texico, NM. (This is the first live pig in the road on my life list. I have seen a dead one.)
  • Wondering why every other customer in a combo convenience store/gas station/Domino's pizza joint was American Indian. Then realizing we were driving on a reservation.
  • Loving the feeling of crossing the map, turning the pages in the book of directions, recalling past experiences in some of the places. Also: I can now say I've been in Idaho and Utah. I don't think I'd ever crossed those state lines before.
  • Seeing the same franchises in place after place and knowing that it is really possible to mostly avoid them. An exception to this is occasionally made, of course. FFP finds a particular concoction of a freshly-made Subway sandwich good for filling his stomach. I started to laugh as he searched for Subway outlets, particularly before 9AM but he often found them. We also stopped at one McDonald's to fill a cup with coffee and use the bathrooms. We filled up at more local places on our one-night stands: brew pubs in Boise and Salt Lake and the Owl Diner in Albuquerque, for example. We were asked by one of the owners of our Austin Ruth's Chris if we tried the one in Vegas. But, no, only 'our' Ruth's Chris will do. We look for something different on the road and our affection for that particular Ruth's Chris is not transferable, generally.
  • Speaking of dining: we did some of the 'fine' variety. Sure, Austin has a wonderful dining scene. But I swear Portland never ceases to make me sit up and take notice. This trip we tried out Wildwood, Metrovino and Davis Street Tavern. All stunning. Add to that the amazing cooking of our friend Tina and eating some fine food in Vegas and we had that element we demand from vacation: fine, fresh and adventurous food. From roasting freshly-bought oysters on a fire to eating offal in Vegas, I'll remember the food and the fun.
  • Speaking of filling coffee cups. Taking along our Nissan stainless 12 oz. commuter cups allowed me to have a steady stream of surprisingly good coffee provided at prices ranging from free (yes, free) to a little over a buck. That McDonald's filled the cup for thirty-five cents. And no. No, Starbucks. Not one. Of course, many of these spots were chain convenience stores associated with gas stations but they all had a whiff of the local entrepreneur about them.
  • Speaking of gas stations. We stopped at several Sinclairs with the good old green Sinclair dinosaur. This surprised me because this brand was subsumed in Texas in the '70's I think, by Atlantic Richfield. Which became part of BP decades later, of course. I guess I didn't know the cute dinosaur survived anywhere, and it was one of those little details I enjoyed.
  • Reading. Honestly, I took along several books and some old newspaper sections and didn't read much of them. But I did enjoy papers we bought or got along the way and I did enjoy the books we listened to on CD. We caught up with the Swedish novel "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Even better relative to the passing landscape and the highway system, we listened to "Lolita" which besides being a telling investigation of pedophilia is a paean to driving the U.S. highway system with its motels and tourist sites in the '50's. We also listened to a book about the Panama Canal which was a constant reminder of how hard it was to cross the continent even in the early 20th century. Funny while driving in air-conditioned luxury at around 70MPH even on 'lesser' roads.
  • Speaking of driving again, I find the long drives, supported by planning routes and sleep stops like a giant game. We try to observe the speed limits exactly, minimize wrong turns and long stops. Each caffeine-fueled mile feels like victory even when the scenery isn't the best.
  • A walk on the beach. The beautiful Pacific. Sunset. A three or four mile walk. Ah. Of course, my mother-in-law didn't know why we needed to go to the west coast when we've 'already been to the east coast.' And, of course, we'd already walked on that Cape Meares beach, too. My mom-in-law has not seen the ocean to my knowledge nor left the state of Texas. She probably doesn't know that the Idaho license plate says something about Potatoes. I'm just saying. What's important in this world?
  • People, people, people. Great to see friends along the way. But also great to see strangers. The couple reading books about beavers in Powell's City of Books coffee shop. She had a T-Shirt that said 'No religion. No flag. No fear.' The truck drivers and other travelers. Was a little upset with the guy dragging three trailers and having trouble holding the lane when I passed him and he was reading a book. But, yeah, all those people, doing their things. Including hundreds at the Tillamook Cheese factory. I didn't see the attraction, but I did enjoy seeing the tourists there. And wondering...why? Although there were free cheese cubes. And a cafe and ice cream shop and gift shop.
Yeah, I loved our trip. I think it puts me more in touch with the greater U.S. where almost twenty percent of people live in manufactured homes and where some of the clerks ringing up those coffee fill-ups may not stray far from the little town you are going through as fast as you can. I wouldn't want to only do that mindless driving, staying in Quality Inns and Comfort Suites, some of which look like they've fought a battle. But mixed in with fine dining, beautiful scenery, wonderful visits with friends, it worked for me. Missed a small crisis for my dad or, rather, got in on the tail end of it, but the caregivers managed it. So it goes. See you in the rear view mirror.

Monday, May 31, 2010

In the Abstract

I like abstract art. I like collage. I like pieces that use letters, words, portions of words, torn paper. I like this piece.'s actually a photograph of a window in an abandoned store front that has had posters adhered to it then ripped away.

Still, I like it very much. It's accidental quality, curated by me with a digital camera, makes me like it more, maybe, than a painting in a gallery. Or less.

I love collage. Not every artist, of course. I've been a fan of Lance Letscher for a long time. We didn't discover him until he was famous and expensive. But we did recently acquire a piece. It's small, but that's OK because we would have had to give up some other art work if we had gotten a large one. We don't really live large any longer. Except in our heads, of course. Or reaching out into the World Wide WEB to fill our heads with news, facts, images, opinions. And we couldn't have afforded a large one anyway.

I also like Laurie Frick. She created a collage that is in the lobby of our condo. At the recent 5x7 fund raiser for Arthouse at Jones Center, I spied a couple of pieces that Laurie had donated. You aren't supposed to know the artist before buying but I identified the work by its style and, when I bought one of them and turned it over, saw I was right. (Someday we have to explore this whole thing about how we identify an artist's work, people's images, etc. again.)

I want to create collages. I sometimes make homemade greeting cards that are collages of sorts. I put them together with rubber cement which makes for easy work but fragile ephemeral results. I don't know anything about physically making collages that last. I have made some digital collages. I made one of photos I made of assemblages of stuff. I have made simple ones layering on the scanner. I have made them by manipulating ephemera on the computer. I've made them manipulating letters and words and colors and shapes and ephemera on the computer. Not that I consider any of this art, really. It's more practice looking, learning what I like free of the influence of others. It's not unlike looking at work and seeing what I like about it and learning something new about myself.

I'm constantly learning, really. What I like, how I react to art and what art work I might someday is constantly evolving. Can you be unfinished, still, in the year when you plan to apply for social security checks? I don't know if you should be, but I think I am. I think I'm growing and changing every day. And learning. And finding out what I like. Maybe that's how I cheat death until, like everyone else, I don't.

I have been trying to finish this for days. But, I looked up Laurie Frick for the hyperlink (does anyone call them hyperlinks anymore?) and ended up having to look at everything on her site, friend her on facebook and have a chat over there before I could wind up writing this. Then I look it over and I haven't really said much. So it goes. But there is the 'artwork' up top.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

It's Right In Front of Me

Sometimes the answer to all your dilemmas is right there. In front of your face. Sometimes the answer is as simple as this: do your own thing, let others do theirs. That might take the form of not going along with FFP to workout at the country club and rather pretending to workout across the hall in the condo gym and really sitting here and working the Sunday NY Times magazine crossword and then blogging. It might be more complicated than that. Not trying to make others love what you love and not trying to be more than the audience for others' efforts, rather than a cheerleader and promoter. Not trying to be all things to all people, to be every place at once and to get people together who can allegedly help one another.

The head picture today was shot on South Congress at Uncommon Objects. I like it, particularly the way my face is pretty distinct except obscured by the ornate candelabra.

I was trying to work the aforementioned crossword puzzle in a printout from the Times digest (rather than in the magazine itself). There was a typo that caused puzzlement. (Or, you know, extra puzzlement.) Last week there was one also. Why always look for other people's typos? (Even if, as in this case, it interferes with your pleasure?) Mother's Day is driving me crazy as people keep saying "Happy Mother's Day to all the mother's [sic] out there." I had an e-mail the other day where an accusation on a heated topic used an adjective where and adverb belonged. For some reason, both FFP and I leapt on that. Just like we always do with something in print. Ignoring the meaning, ignoring the accusations, going for the syntax.

But I digress into my digressions. We were talking about art (were you here the last few days?) and what it represents and I mentioned we might discuss the delicious whiff of criminality that some art carries.

Today's picture has triggered my discussion above about things that are right in front of you or "as plain as the nose on your face." I was looking at how my obscured but recognizable face is an element of the 'meaning' of my 'art.' When I made an artist's statement back in 2006, I initially used a picture with the reflection of people, but absent myself. My partner in artistic pretending, SuRu, offered that the artist often makes an appearance and I added this revision. I appeared in that shot, although you have to look twice since the (non-reflected) person and shop window are so distracting. And, my face is obscured by a camera. (My jeans, hiking boots and black blazer are recognizable, though. My tramping about in other cities outfit. Paris in this case.)

What happens to obscure my face, what interferes with a pure mirror image, is important to the messages of the pieces. I love this picture because the whimsical irregular painting on the wall obscures the face. (It's reflected in the window of the sales center for the W condos, with part of the model building.) Whether obscured by folds and sparkles or partly by the camera and a pig's head or by light streaming from an opposite window, it's me. For sure. I love this one where my hubby is completely recognizable (to me) from the back with his head turned slightly.

To loop back around to the whole criminal element of these shots: I have actually been approached by a security guard at least once (at the fancy Domain shopping center) about it not being 'allowed' to take pictures of shop windows. This is the merchants, shopping mall people not wanting competitors to rip on show windows, I think. Because he said that it was OK to take pictures of people or the art work (outdoor sculpture, etc.). He really didn't know how to respond when I said I was taking a picture of myself in the window. Of course, when passersby appear, I (almost) never ask their permission. Photographers take crowd shots or details or full-on individuals. Sometimes they have permission, often not. With my shop windows, the art of them and the things they reflect may well belong to someone else. As does most everything but the sky and plants. Even domesticated animals are a 'possession' of someone else. Like graffiti artists putting their work on things, photographers and even painters take away images of things.

For all that I feel like this work is mine alone. Especially when it's stamped with an image of me, however obscure.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Art, cont.

No, you aren't getting off that easily. I'm going to keep hammering on these ideas until I bore myself silly. Which may be before you lose interest but more than likely will be well after. We like to listen to ourselves talk. We can take more of ourselves than others can tolerate. At least I can. I have just this instant decided to call this picture 'More of Me.' This reflection was shot in April at a fancy downtown apartment building. It was cropped and retouched for the header. There is me, recognizable as always. I'm looking especially, um, robust partly due to the backpack and jacket (still cool in April, sigh) and partly due to the full head-to-foot image. But it's me, three times. Really, there is no question, right?

Below is the picture again, after the crop, before the retouch. I now think I like this one better. I am definitely more recognizable but the loss of detail to the darkening above really didn't do that much harm to one's ability to identify me.
Since last I wrote I received a notice through social media that there was a show at a local gallery. The work intrigued me and I also thought how it meshed with this discussion. The work is at Big Medium and is by Jason Urban and I thought 'Wow, this idea of making pictures and then rearranging them on three-dimensional objects. Cool. I could steal that." Not really. But it is a little like my idea of printing my reflection pix and putting them in shadow boxes lined with reflective material or objects. Jason's work has that element of art that is the whole 'idea of it' that we so often see these days. Oil painters? Well, you can move beyond the medium and have an idea of it but often it's one someone else already had. (Lump up the paint, drip the paint and make friends with Peggy Guggenheim, add non-paint to the canvas, paint mostly all one color, etc.) Anyway, how much of art is the idea and how much is the execution? There's always some of both.

I promised that today we would trudge through some old reflection pictures and my comments about them. If you don't feel like linking, then stop reading now. Sometimes words without pictures are so boring.

Going back over four years, I want to call your attention to a picture replete with meaning and unintended consequences. There we are, of course, obscured and reflected (mirrors! yeah, more layers) but ourselves. I weighed eight or ten pounds more. (Don't ask how I know. The answer reveals an occasional streak of OCD.) The shop window is one at Uncommon Objects, one of my favorite places to shoot because I can rip off the fun objects they put in the window. The church across the street provides a shape and, in this case, a religious symbol, too. Pointed to by the hand of, well, of something. There are many 'frames within the frame' on this one. That is an attraction to photographers according to some words I've read from great ones. (Maybe they said amateur photographers.)

That church across from Uncommon Objects has appeared in so many shots, for so many different effects. Here is just provides a shape, cutting the corners of the photo. Here some shape and texture. Here it once again plays a church sort of straight up.

Some of the work also evokes an idea of a place that isn't Austin. In this picture there is an icon of the city I was in at the time, reflected in the distance. But somehow I like this self-portrait one at the same spot better.

Here's a shot where I intentionally (nah, probably accidentally) reflected something in the window object with my stance, hand up with camera, sort of evoking the statuary. I don't usually try to imitate the objects, but hey it's an interesting idea.

That's all for now. But after slogging through so much of my old 'work' I'm thinking of addressing this issue: why, when there is already so much writing and so many photos (a bunch of it your own), why create more? Now here is a (free idea alert) notion: a novel about a society that decided that there were enough texts and images and that no more could be created for purely artistic purposes until the collection had been adequately studied and cataloged. This would mean that texts would be limited to news stories, government documents, technical papers and that images would be purely for historical or personal identification. Naturally people would start trying to sneak the invented and inventive into the mundane. Doing art illegally. Which always makes it better somehow. Maybe tomorrow we will talk about how the whiff of crime can enhance art and how that applies to my 'work.'

Friday, May 07, 2010

More or Less Art

Today's picture (taken over on W. Sixth a couple of days ago) is not an all-time favorite. But it does represent a couple of the topics I'm flogging here.

I contend that the reverse images of FFP and I are recognizable although reflected and therefore backwards (note position of wedding ring if you take a closer look at me) and with parts obscured by objects in the shop windows (e.g. most of my face). I liked this better after I cropped it and adjusted the saturation to make us more black and white in contrast to the pink car (which was actually brighter pink in the real shot). Whenever you see those bank robber pictures in grainy security photos with caps pulled down, etc. don't you wonder how anyone would recognize them? But if you knew them well, I bet you would. Often when I'm on the tennis court I catch sight of someone on another court or walking by, not facing me, etc. I know immediately who it is from tiny clues. This line of thought makes me wonder if anyone ever appropriated those bank robber photos to make art. Wouldn't interest me, but who else is interested in my line of inquiry?

You can pluck and pick from the images in your camera, of course, taking the parts that fit your vision, the parts that give coherency to the things you are trying to say. Another person might eliminate self reflections (by the angle of the shot or in the computer). Here is an example of a another picture, taken from the same original. It could be used by an illustrator for an article about how we are running out of time to save energy. To me it's not art, but to someone else? Maybe. Also, it doesn't have the same coherency with my other 'work' as the head picture. This coherency is important in our response to art whether it's in the comfort of recognition or the upending of expectation. ('LB was in her shop window self portrait period during the early part of the 21st century.")

That's all for today, folks. Thanks for listening. Blathering on about this stuff makes me feel less adrift from the arts which I love so much. I should probably eschew active participation in this world, but because of blogs I don't have to sit on the bench. I can assert my art even to an audience of one. (Me, later.) Tomorrow maybe I'll create pointers to a gallery of old photos that illustrate some of my points. Hmm, what were those points again? Ah, yes. Layers, recognition, art and appropriation.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

So Sue Me

This whole intellectual property thing is interesting, isn't it? (And, really, don't sue me. Please. I can't stand the paper waste lawsuits cause.)

Yesterday I talked about all the ownership problems with my reflection photos. Today, let's talk about an artist poet named Austin Kleon. He makes poems by redacting articles from The New York Times. He has published a book (Harper Perennial) of these poems. It's a fun book and it addresses the ownership of ideas in a couple of ways. First it's clear, of course, that the articles, word for word belong to the NY Times. But redacted to words and letters? Well, they don't really own them, do they? Second, he addresses all the accusations about his 'idea' of selecting words from newspapers for art not being 'original' by talking about similar ideas he found with research. So, go buy Austin's fun little book and enjoy some poems. Make some yourself even. He encourages that, too.

And now I'll steal his idea and talk a little bit about how that felt. Here's my first effort:This came from an NY Times obituary. If you like poems about death (or marriage and children) I would recommend using obits. I learned a couple of things doing this one. First, I was tempted to destroy it by simply blacking out every word. (Sort of the blank page poem equivalent of wadding up the paper and tossing it toward the trash can or deleting your file on the computer.) Second, I learned that although the page was full of words, I didn't want to use most of them. I found the blacking tedious at first and then sort of satisfying.

This is my second effort:
I clipped the crossword from The New York Times Digest that I receive on my computer each day. (I print the puzzle sometimes instead of doing it in the actual paper, which I also receive.)

I had worked the crossword. I wish I printed 'SANE' and 'JOVIAL' a little neater. But so it goes. I didn't get the idea to use the puzzle until after I'd been scribbling the answers in while sitting at a lunch counter eating hash browns and a sausage wrap. I didn't get any ketchup on the paper or that could have been part of the charm. I managed to sign this terse work by selecting my initials, conveniently arranged in yesterday's answer.

Is this art? Did I rip it off from Austin K.? First, yes, it is art. But, I'm thinking not great art. I didn't sense in myself the enthusiasm for the medium and the joy in the result that would make me defend it as my art. I must say I had a great time trying it out, though. You should try it. Or, you know, take a shop window reflection self portrait. It's fun to try stuff others suggest. It's much easier, in this case, to defend Austin's efforts as art. Is this just because I started with his technique? No. I simply haven't selected a technique which gives me the satisfaction of, say, collage or reflection photos. Those techniques are ripped off from practitioners aplenty, too. If you doubt this, type 'shop window reflections' into Google Images or study any modern street photographer. But I find myself expressing something with them that is deeply felt, like art is supposed to be, and unique to me, ditto. I freely admit their reductive nature. All art is reductive. Even the abstract painter uses shapes and colors that recall something else.

So what are we to think about the issues of art vs. not art and originality vs. plagiarism? I say we make what we respond to most deeply, that we look at and buy what moves us, that we listen to ourselves not the critics and, you know, wait to get sued. It's a litigious society, you know.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Exploring Creation

I've been silent in this forum for a while. Sure I've been tweeting along and commenting on facebook things and firing a picture a day into the City Daily Photo mist with my helpers. But Visible Woman is where you are supposed to keep up with me, dear readers. Few though you are, I'm supposed to write here and you are supposed to read it and confirm that I'm still here and still not crazy. Well, still here anyway.

I have written down some writing topics that I've gone over in my head, but at the moment I can't find all of that. Was it in a paper journal? A sticky note? An iPhone note? Maybe the sticky note app on one of these computers?

Well, never mind. I'm just going to start dumping out a few thoughts a day here while looking for my own notes and other inspiration.

One thing I really want to talk about is art. I've been supporting the art of others a lot lately and honing my ability to be the critic. (Read: "I know what I like. So sue me.") I've also been thinking about my own art and taking it more seriously. But, what, you ask is that? What art have you produced?

Well, if I may be so bold, this blog is my thing. Its words and pictures. The neglect I've been giving it is representative of how I think I've been neglecting my own creative juices, subsuming them to others.

Of course, I don't consider myself a great artist or writer. I can't draw or paint. My work is largely the act of appropriation with digital photography and collage. I fully understand that it isn't going up in galleries to be oohed and aahed over by the in crowd. Since anything that might be my visual art is going to begin with some derivative work, some appropriation, we are going to be covering that ground. Of course, I'll be arguing for the side that says everything is appropriated and some people try to hang on to things as theirs alone that are themselves appropriated.

My 'art?' (Maybe we should always use the quotes around it since if the artist isn't sure and confident, and I'm not, then it's certain no one else will be.) Most of it consists of quickly shot reflection pictures. Usually of shop windows, although any extra lens will do. I also dabble in digital collage. There are three ideas I'm exploring. The concept of life in layers, most unlike sharp photo portraits with simple unobtrusive backgrounds. The realization that we recognize other humans (and indeed objects) with the tiniest visual clues and yet have trouble describing people (or things) if they aren't in front of us. The notion that the appropriation that occurs in photography and collage leads to the breach of the intellectual property rights of others.

For example, today's lead-in picture. I have given it a title: "Self-Portrait, Spring 2010." However I haven't used a field of Bluebonnets with me in the middle, smiling at a time release shutter. No. I have shot my reflection in a window with fancy spring clothes that I'd never buy. The clothes were no doubt designed by someone. They are on mannequins designed by someone. In the play of layers in this reflection shot, you have a bit of me and my camera. Enough to recognize me. (At least I could do it even if I didn't remember taking the shot.) The shape of the head and hair. The stance. There are layers here. The reflection of the 'architecture' of the strip center and self storage across the street. The street itself. I chose a shot without a passing car (though I shot several versions with one). No other people are obviously reflected as often happens in these pieces. I didn't do much 'work' on this in the computer. But I sometimes do.

Is it art? Does it explore the idea of Spring? The ideas of transparency and opacity and layers? The idea of recognizing people from small cues? Does it toy with the notion of what is my work, my vision and what belongs to someone else?

Anyway, that's all for today. We will be exploring this further in the days to come unless it is like most of my projects and I run quickly out of steam.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Shedding Light

Sometimes you figure out something and it is, after all, really simple. In my case the revelation was that if you put people together and they don't get along then you just continue to support them as you wish, but separately. If you can't split the baby, you give it to the most logical nurturer and let everyone make their own way in the world. It's not your job to save people. And, more importantly, to cram them all in the same lifeboat.

This is a picture of the sunset reflected in the Frost Tower last night. The changing light in this thing is so interesting. Moments before the layer that is blue here was deep pink. Life is an ebb and flow, brain chemistry changing, things happening that influence others, words spoken and falling into the air, seemingly gone and yet always lingering. If you look away, the moment is gone and it's time to move on.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Novelty and Nostalgia

A couple of weeks ago I went to a local Austin event that is part of a larger international movement. Called Pecha Kucha it's a gathering of creative types with presentations by people in various disciplines that consist of twenty slides which are presented for only twenty seconds each while the creator of the show speaks. I found the presentations intriguing, but I was by myself and I bumped into another woman I'd recently gotten to know, Elizabeth Neeld, who was also husband-less. We chatted before the event and at the break and it reminded me how intriguing I found her. That interaction and putting a face and voice to a person whose blog and twitter feed I follow turned out to be the best things about the event.

When I got home, I went to Elizabeth's WEB site. I discovered a blog entry that intrigued me and since then I've been trying to reconcile the interesting concepts she addressed with some things I feel deeply about personally and that are somewhat contradictory to these ideas or maybe simply a flip side notion.

Her entry cites some research that initially sounds very compelling that asserts that novelty gives our brains pleasure.

I immediately thought that it made sense. People are constantly telling themselves that they should seek the new. "Let's go somewhere different on vacation this year." "We always eat there...let's go someplace new." "Maybe we need some time apart and to see new people." People change their environs, their jobs, their residences, their companions, their lives. And are often invigorated by it. Sometimes they just go see a new movie or museum show or listen to some new music. In Elizabeth's piece she quizzed people about things they'd done to push their novelty pleasure centers and it seemed to be a concept that worked.

And yet. As compelling as that logic seems, as jazzed as we often get to do something different, aren't we really addicted to the familiar and comfortable? The blog entry Elizabeth wrote references research that shows that when confronted with something new "the brain lights up in a way that results in a positive experience for that individual."

Interesting because synonyms I find for nostalgia are 'fond memories' and 'yearning.'

Do we want to be comfortable and on familiar ground and yet seek something new? Is this dichotomy part of our fundamental failing as humans or our gift?

I consider myself a shy person. New situations do excite me but they also create anxiety. I often prefer to settle into a comfortable familiar routine. I love the idea of meeting new people and learning about them but I feel a physical internal resistance when actually seeking these experiences. I love exploring new places but it also creates anxiety. I read some research years ago that showed that babies who were sensitive to environmental changes like light levels would turn out, statistically, to be shy children who resisted meeting and interacting with new playmates.

Do we all contain a desire for the new, for novelty, and yet a sensitivity to change?

Nostalgia may not be the right word. Routine might be a better choice. I chose nostalgia because 'novelty and nostalgia' is alliterative. And the brain loves alliteration, the repetition of the first letter of the two words. Why? Shouldn't be brain like the novelty of a different sound? Why do we like rhyming, repetition of melody. Why does an old familiar song light up our brains in a 'pleasurable way.'

I wonder if this push and pull between novelty and the familiar is why I love found object sculpture and collage. Something entirely new from something we recognize. And maybe that's why I like to shoot reflection pictures. Finding something new even in the familiar and easily available.

There is probably something the marketeers can use in this line of thought. Some way to get us to buy things that are novel and yet known. It argues for movie sequels, movies with big stars and yet a yearning on our part for something entirely new. I'm off to an Oscar party where both the novel and the nostalgic will be fully celebrated for their ability to light up our brains with their projections.

So give it some thought, readers. Newness or comfort? Branching out or well-worn trails?

[Today's photo is of a window of what I think is a computer security firm on Congress which has a video projection of worms getting wiped away. Some of the worms are, of course, my fingers on the camera.]

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Less is More

I snapped this picture on a beautiful day in December when the temperatures didn't seem as threatening as they do today at the Gables Apartments near our condo tower. Dripping faucets inside apartments seems like overkill if you leave your heat on...what? Our condo has been set for the heat to come on if the temperature at the thermostat reaches 60F. I think anyway. That hasn't happened yet but the current cold front may make it happend. The temp has been dropping since I got up this morning and seems to have settled just below freezing. With temperatures, at a certain point less is not more. But this summer during the days and days of 100F plus temps any drop was welcome.

There are other times that less is more, though. Covering some news stories, for example. Eating, drinking.

Also: stocking up. It seems like a good idea to people. They are walking through Costco and they think, yeah, I could eat that many (pick one) nuts, chips, ounces of cheese, etc. But sometimes it's good to not stock up too much and just eat what you have around. When the weather turns bad, people strip the stores of food and water. How long do they think they might be stranded. Don't most of us have enough cans of chili to get through a crisis?

I once was the owner of two beat-up VW Beetles. Somehow we got the idea that having a 'spare' car would relieve the times that we had one car in the shop. (Our other car was a rotary engine Mazda. Remember those.) But. It was a pain. It expanded the times one car needed some work by 50 percent and there was insurance, license, inspection. More trouble than it was worth. And you had to have a place to park 'em, too.

Now, sometimes it's reasonable to stock up on stuff. It's best to have enough underwear, socks and blue jeans to get past the next wash day and enough dishes to fill a dishwasher before you have to run it. But lots of other things, you know, you don't need so much of really. And stockpiling is a really bad idea. You really only need a certain number of pairs of shoes or T-Shirts (but those things multiply, don't they?). You only need a few watches (um, do people even use them any more or just tell time with their cell phones?).

But most of the complications of our life? They are from having too many things going, too many duties, too many households to manage, too much of things we should have never gotten into. From letting too many people grab your time. I've spent my retirement looking for things to do but, at the same time, jettisoning responsibilities and stuff. Some responsibilities are pesky, though, and grow and grow and there is nothing you can do to make them all that much simpler.

But...if I'd made a New Year's Resolution it would have been to remember 'less is more' and to try as hard as I can to simplify things in my life.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Needing a Hand...and Holidailies

I wanted to do something else for a couple of hours this morning. My dad wanted me to get yet another prescription out of a doctor. For constipation. Trust me, no matter what is wrong with an elderly person it always gets back to the bowel. Trouble is, some of the drugs he's taking cause constipation. He no longer had the pain they were to be used for. Stop those. Some drugs he's taking may cause diarrhea. Some drugs for constipation reduce the efficacy of some antibiotics he's taking. So. What is needed is for a doctor to look at the drugs and situation and recommend something. My sweet husband faxed a drug list to his GP and went over there to try to sort it out and go get a prescription filled or a recommendation. I needed a hand. Someone else to do what may be useful, may be futile but makes everyone feel like we are good caregivers and makes Dad feel like he has what he needs. Someone to wait to talk to the doctor. To take the prescription to the pharmacy and wait for it to be filled or get the OTC drug recommended. To talk to Dad about it. This is all I do, it seems to me. Doctor's offices, pharmacy, emergency room, talk to Dad, repeat. It could be worse. He can take care of some things, or try to do so, himself. But it is constantly on my mind. Other things are scooted out. Because Forrest is doing this possibly fool's errand, possibly errand of mercy, I can sit here and write about it. And go to a two hour class and write peacefully. Unless the phone rings. And my crisis management is required again.

But too many of my Holidailies posts have been about my dad's illness and my frustration with it.

There are other things to write about.

For example, I have managed to write a paragraph or two in this space for thirty-one days. I sometimes did it on a laptop while waiting for my dad's next need. (Often encountering his ire because he apparently wanted us to do something else while waiting for his next need.) I even wrote one on my iPhone. It was a nice release and while I will wince when I look back and see how bitter and ungrateful I was during this period, it will be instructive to look back. I was also pleased that this post got a 'best of Holidailies' designation. I always hope to get one of those a year.

Also, Chip did such a great job on the Holidailies site that it's been a true joy to use it. Why can't more sites cleanly present data, changing seamlessly as people add things?

And, of course, during this spate of writing here I have had the pleasure of displaying many of my shop window reflections, replete with shape and color and depth. Well, I like them and one reader, at least, does as well.

Nothing feels like an accomplishment any more. Not the things I do for my dad. Not the things I write or photograph. Not getting out Christmas cards or paying bills or (when I do get to it) cleaning the apartment. I have been walking a friend's dog since Saturday and I have to say that this chore has been a little bit of a joy, forcing me out into the cold air and forcing me to look around the neighborhood a bit. Fortunately her elimination is working and for that I'm grateful and I'm happy to pick up the poop in the pink bags. Now if Dad can just successfully eliminate, too, everyone would be happy. Well, not really, but you often does just come down to the bowel and bladder. It's good to remember that.

Goodbye to Holidailies. Let's hope I can keep up a bit of blogging or writing without it. Have a great 2010, readers. I hope mine does not consist of 80% of the days taken with doctors, emergency rooms, etc. as the first five have been. Gotta get better.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

If Only...

If only shop window reflections really were art and a reasonable (and financially lucrative) avocation for a sixty-something lady.

If only meeting the Holidailies promise of posting every day from Dec. 7 to Jan. 6, were a real accomplishment you could take to the bank. (Today is the penultimate day of the challenge.)

If only knowing words like penultimate were a real skill.

If only I felt at the peak of health so that shepherding my dad through a very rough patch health-wise didn't feel so much like a rehearsal for my own decline.

If only when I found time when I wasn't doing Dad's stuff or year-end, quarter-end financial stuff for multiple individuals and a business, I would not watch mindless TV but, instead, maybe clean the house or write something significant or exercise.

If only I'd known then, what I know now.

Maybe tomorrow, the last day of Holidailies, will bring something significant to this space.

[Thanks to Mercury on Second Street for this shop window.]

Monday, January 04, 2010

Life's Rubber Bumpers

I used to love leaning into a six-foot-long tilted board lighted garishly and covered with lots of lights and rubber bumpers and roll overs and flippers you controlled, trying to guide a silver ball to defy gravity and rack up win a free game or beat an opponent or just to listen to the score being counted with dings and clicks, the thunk of the free game counter. No video game ever gave me this feeling. Also, the Atomic Fireball which featured Norse gods was where I learned the names Odin and Wotan. The former is often useful in crossword puzzles.

Life isn't unlike an old school pinball experience. There is the inevitable decline, the lights and color and score-keeping. And the random way the rubber bumpers and roll over poppers send the arc of things careening here and there.

Last night a couple at a party we attended told the story of their meeting, how they both went to a dance club on a certain evening. How she asked him to dance, he refused her because he was in the process of buying someone else a drink, how he found her later and danced. Our lives are like that. FFP and I once wrote a version of our paths through life that improbably brought us together and packaged it up as our holiday card, masquerading as a board game called 'IF' I believe.

All those moving parts of our lives, the world, everything mattering in ways we never expected. All the little accidents, the happy ones and the tragic ones. And you with just the tiny control of a bit of table English (not too much or TILT!) and the flippers (relax, use them separately, careful, timing is everything).

Holidays is drawing to a close...ends Wednesday. Maybe I'll keep writing in this particular space. Or not. Put another couple of quarters in and see.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Anger, Grudges, Euphoria and Memory

I am sitting here with a cup of coffee, typing on my blue tooth keyboard on my iMac (a physically pretty computer that hasn't lived up to its beauty). I'm leaning back in my chair. I usually use the wired USB keyboard because I'm usually doing numbers and it has a number pad. The blue tooth one doesn't have one. This little keyboard is light and magical. There is that great cup of coffee nearby. Maybe I'm 'just typing' but it is always a euphoric moment for me, using a computer that is working at the moment to write something to store forever (or while blogger archives it) and sipping good black coffee. My life is full of these moments. Moments of reading or visiting with friends. Completion of a task. Just walking my friend's dog this morning on a dreary, damp day felt good. Toasting with friends with some great live music playing gives me a rush of well-being.

Lately I've had lingering anger and attendant grudges to deal with. The good news is that the euphoria of moments of reading, writing, visiting with friends or listening to music stick with me. A sip of coffee takes me there and makes me happy.

But my memory for other things grows vague. Rude comments and slights, behavior that I found offensive, someone taking advantage of me? I hold onto it but then it slips away, a victim of the vagaries of memory. Perhaps because these things are inspired by the memory alone and not, like my moments of euphoria, fueled by the smell of coffee or the clink of ice cubes in a Manhattan or a sight of a red wine twinkling in candlelight.

I'm not sure how it came to be that good memories were associated with these readily available triggers, but I'm glad it's so and that my grudges and anger are more easily put aside, having to maintain themselves out of brain stuff alone.

[Today's photo is an untitled shop window reflection portrait of FFP taken with an iPhone at Let's Dish on South Lamar.]

Saturday, January 02, 2010

My Thoughts and Prayers

When someone is ill, people pray, send good thoughts, send cards and letters, visit, call, bring food. bring plants and flowers and other presents and volunteer to help any way they can. It makes a difference, of course, that support and help. But it isn't a cure. It's not that support might not help you get well. It's just that the support that truly might help is the diligent relative or caregiver managing the real problem. In the end, no one can save anyone. Not forever not from everything.

If you think inserting yourself in pre-op patient prep room to pray helps medically you are wrong. You are in the way. If you think bringing a plant, a green jello concoction and telling relatives that they don't know what they are doing vis-a-vis the patient's care is just the ticket to restore your friend to the healthier person you enjoyed...well you are wrong, too. You might give your friend a nice visit and some hope but you aren't saving the day.

Cards and letters are appreciated and sometimes give the person the spirit to fight on, but they're not a cure. I was surprised that my sister saved funny letters I sent to her while she was fighting to recover from hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes. They were fun and she liked them which pleased me, but it was therapists, the family close to her, the docs and her will that got her somewhere, that helped her recover to a certain point. I sent the letters because I was far away and helpless to help her.

And when people say "if there is anything at all I can do?" Yeah, most don't mean anything really. Particularly not the tough hands on patient care. Certainly when I say it I don't mean it. It's hard enough when you are the primary caregiver and can't avoid it.

Dad's last ditch fix appears to have failed after three weeks or so. We went to the emergency room for the second time in the new year today. I am tired of being asked to speculate on what is happening inside him, what his doctors think. Yes, it' moderately helpful having me around to recite his facts since reading a chart seems to be a lost art. So I may actually help him get better or at least get comfortable. My thoughts and prayers, though? My opinion is that they are at best placebos. Maybe yours are more effective. But really I don't think so.

Today I will write a sympathy card to someone who is grieving. It won't really help the grief process but it is the right thing to do. Just like all those cards, letters, prayers and good thoughts coming my dad's way. They are mostly the right thing to do. Except get out of the way and don't second guess the caregivers.