Monday, March 20, 2017

Tangibles

I always used to wonder why older people, particularly, clung so stubbornly to that tattered old chair, that rickety old coffee table, that sweater with the holes all over it. I wondered until I found myself one of them. When I moved from my home in Northern Wisconsin to this very small apartment in Chicago, I had to get rid of a lot of furniture, and I was surprised by how traumatic it was.  One of the items that had to go was a couch I had custom-made when I lived in Los Angeles. It was a very nice couch, even though it was getting pretty threadbare even though I’d had it re-upholstered once, and I loved it. The thought of getting rid of it was unbearable.

Why? Because it was just a couch? No. Because my mom and Ray had sat on it, and many years later I could sit on it, and reach out my hand to the cushion beside me and imagine Mom there, or Ray. As long as I had that couch, I could pretend that they’d just gotten up and would be back any moment, to sit beside me again. Getting rid of it cut yet another cord which bound me to the past. It’s not so much that I want to be bound to it, but simply that I have no choice in the matter.

To me, life is rather like jumping out of a plane: it is a wonderful, exhilarating experience until you realize that the ground is coming closer with frightening speed, and you don’t have a parachute.

I readily admit that I probably take this hanging-onto-the-past thing a bit too seriously. As some can never throw away a piece of string, I can never throw away the threads to my past.
My move to Chicago also necessitated that I, with great reluctance, turn over custody of some key links to my past to my relatives for safekeeping: my grandmother’s steamer trunk; the radio on which I heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I keep a storage shed in southern Wisconsin wherein I am keeping the desk and chair I bought at a Goodwill in Los Angeles and carefully refinished, plus a large coffee table I gave to my parents as a Christmas gift almost 50 years ago. I have no room for them in my apartment, but I cannot part with them.

I have a huge box of playbills from every play I’ve ever seen from 1950 on up…as well as several of the ticket stubs (a good seat for a Broadway show used to run less than $10.00). I have a flier for a bar in San Remo, Italy. I have jars of stones picked up along the shore of Lake Superior; I have the letters my parents wrote me throughout my time in the Navy and beyond.

I have the envelopes containing the plane ticket stubs from the time I took my parents to Hawaii—Mom had always dreamed of going there—in 1960. I have a petrified snail shell I found while walking along a railroad track in Los Angeles in the 1970s; and a small liqueur glass I stole from the bar at the Istanbul Hilton in 1956.

In my dresser drawer is a pair of sweat-pants with “Margason” stenciled on the seat. They were issued to me in August of 1954 when I entered the NavCads. I don’t wear them, of course…their purpose is not to be worn, but to keep me tangibly linked to that part of my past.

I suppose there is a very fine line between “idiosyncrasy” and “psychosis,” and I readily acknowledge I probably do a balancing act between them on this issue. I can never fully explain how important these direct links with the past are to me. They protect me as the ground rushes up toward me; they comfort me. They are part of who I am, and as long as I have them, I have the past, and I am not alone.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Pity Pool

As I’m sure you probably have noticed by now, I am infinitely fascinated by me, partly because of my self-perceived isolation from the rest of the world and partly because my thoughts, experiences, and reactions are the only ones of which I can feel fairly confident.

Somewhere, in the dark forest of every human mind, there is a pity pool where the wild regrets and yearnings for lost things come to renew themselves when they suspect we may be forgetting about them. The nice thing about the pity pool is that we are comforted by the thought that nothing that happens to us is our fault or our responsibility…that all our woes are visited upon us by anyone and anything other than ourselves. And there is a certain nobility in the self-assurance that we are terribly brave to face such adversity alone. (“Alone” is a key word in all contemplation of the pity pool.)

My personal pity pool is actually more of a lake, the full extent of which is hidden by thick foliage of reality along the shore. But while I really do tend to avoid it, I catch an occasional glimpse every now and then and, in the heat of emotion, have been known to take a dip in its murky waters.

My trips to the pity pool are most frequently occasioned by reminders of what I could once do…so casually and without giving it a single thought…that I can no longer do. (Yesterday I found it necessary to use a straw to empty a half-pint carton of milk since I was unable to tilt my head back far enough to drink it normally.) These little reminders of the difference between who I was until six years ago and who I am now are hard to take. We are two different people. Totally different, and yet still the same. I can’t fully grasp it, and quite probably never will.

And because there are so many reminders, the temptation to take a dip in the pity pool is irritatingly frequent. Some friends meet every Friday evening for drinks. I know I would be welcome to join them, but I do not: it’s too close to the pity pool. For years, I had a routine of having two Manhattans between getting home from work and dinner. I truly enjoyed them. But now any alcohol burns my mouth. I don’t even use mouthwash that contains alcohol. Occasionally, when out for dinner, I will have a Kahlua and cream…heavy on the cream, light on the Kahlua. It still burns, but I do it. (Did I mention the nobility of bravery?)

And one reminder triggers a domino-effect of others. Carbonated beverages of any kind also burn, but in a different, hard-to-explain way, as do things like orange juice, lemonade, or anything citrus based. When I was at Mayo and took all my nourishment through a stomach tube, I used to literally dream of chug-a-lugging a tall glass of orange juice, or a big mug of root beer. But when I was finally able to try, I found the carbonation of the root beer and the acidity of the orange juice limited me to a few small sips at a time. And a flashing neon arrow over the words “This Way to the Pity Pool” comes on in my mind.

Why I’m laying all these things out here now is not, I assure you, a bid for sympathy: far too many people have had it much, much rougher than I, and I realize it and am embarrassingly grateful that I have had it so relatively easy compared to others. No, I do it in the hopes that you might do what I never did before the problem arose…take a moment at least once every hour to realize just how very lucky you are.

And I excuse myself for this Rubensesque self portrait of “Roger at the Pity Pool” on the grounds that none of us is fully aware or appreciative of what we have until we no longer have it, and by then it is too late.

An occasional dip in our own private pity pool is perfectly normal, and probably even healthy. The key lies in not staying too long before getting out, drying ourselves off, and getting on with our lives.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Monday, March 06, 2017

Things--and Things, Again

[Roger would not be happy with my erratic postings of his blogs here; I take some comfort knowing that I do post them to his web site regularly on Mondays and Thursday (www.doriengrey.com).  So, since they are related, I'm posting two today.             --Gary
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Things

God, how I hate endings! I can’t help it, but every ending reminds me that my time on earth is not infinite, and endings, like the ticking of a clock, are a constant reminder of that fact.

Every day I have the same “lunch”…an 8 oz can of liquid nutritional supplement (350 calories), half cup of milk (60 calories?), and a small container of Benecalorie nutritional supplement (320 calories, but containing the only essential vitamin not found in the other liquid supplement). It never varies. I don’t have other things for lunch partly because I’m too lazy to try to think of what else I might have, and partly because I probably wouldn’t eat much of it if I did have it. I’m in it for the calories, and I know how many my standard provides.

But this morning at the store, I bought some yogurt, with which I planned to vary my routine by adding it to the other ingredients and whipping it up in the blender. Which brings us to the subject of this blog.

My blender belonged to my mom. I have absolutely no idea how old it is, other than very. I’m sure mom had it since the ‘50s. I inherited it from her when she died in California in 1970, kept it with me through my various moves within Los Angeles and Pence and now Chicago.

So I prepared my smoothie—the blender working perfectly as it has for over half a century. Drank most of a glass, then went to pour the rest from the blender to the glass. I noticed as I did so that there were some flakes of black at the bottom of the blender. Investigating, I realized that the black rubber gasket at the base of the pitcher part of the blender was crumbling. Not knowing how much of it I’d already swallowed in what I’d just drunk, I dumped out the remainder of my smoothie.

Thinking I might be able to find another gasket, I tried to unscrew the aluminum blade housing from the glass container portion. It would not budge. I got a hammer and tapped one of the flanges on the side of aluminum, and the glass container broke, leaving me with yet another intimation of mortality. The bottom section, with the motor, still works fine, and I’ve ordered another canister and aluminum canister base w/gasket, but it won’t be quite the same. And at least I won’t have to throw it away. I can pretend it’s still my mom’s! It was in my two L.A. homes, and my two Pence homes, and my Chicago apartment. It’s done everything I ever asked of it, and did it well and without complaint. So I guess I’m making a big fuss over nothing.

I know, I know, things are just things. They have no awareness, no feelings. But I do, and rightly or wrongly, things make up the fabric of my life. They are tangible memories. I touch them, and knowing that others I have loved and who were so much a part of my life also touched them means they are not really gone…just away for a while.

As I understand it, Eastern cultures espouse the meaningless of things, and I in fact have friends who believe basically the same things. And I agree that things can be a burden…carting them around from place to place when they can easily be replaced by newer and better things. But they are not and can never be the same things. They do not have, on their surfaces, the tiny residual atoms of those people who once held or touched or sat on them so long ago.

I have stuffed animals I bought for Ray, or Ray bought for me; I have the end tables my mom bought at an unpainted furniture warehouse and varnished herself when she first moved to L.A., and the chair she bought. I have the delicate cocoa set which belonged to my grandmother Fearn (who died many years before I was born), and pocket watches belonging to both my grandfather and grandmother Fearn. I have a wooden Buddha given me by my friend “Uncle Bob” to welcome visitors, and an artillery shell brought home from WWI by my Uncle Buck.

Do I need them? No. But do I need them? Oh, my yes, for they are as much a part of me as my fingerprints, or my soul.
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Things, Again

The dictionary lists several meanings for the word “things,” but for the purposes of this blog, I’m using the one referring to possessions. People have three types of possession-things: things we have because we need them, things we have because we want them, and things we just have for no particular reason. The only exceptions seem to be those who live in total, abject poverty, and those devoted to the monastic life.

Having spent more than 50 hours working at Norm’s condo (I have to keep track as part of my being executor of his estate), going through his things, organizing them, and trying to find a way of disposing of them, I realized once again just how addicted we all are to…things. And being in the position, with Norm, of standing somewhat removed from his things, it is clear that the last two of the three types of things are by far in the majority. These are things we do not really need regardless of how much we may have wanted them when we got them, things we no longer use and never will use again, things we come across in our closets and dresser drawers that we’d totally forgotten we have.

Just about everyone I know has an “everything drawer” somewhere, usually in the kitchen, into which we toss things we don’t know what else to do with but think we might conceivably need at some future point: keys to locks seldom used or lost (but which we’re sure will show up at some point), somebody’s business card, matchbooks, perhaps an ashtray just in case a smoker comes by, a “church key” (bottle opener), and a wide assortment of unidentifiable objects, usually small pieces of something we meant to repair or get to one of these days.
But in truth, for many of us our entire home/apartment is in effect a large “everything drawer.” And as the years go by, more and more things are tossed into it.

I live in a small, one-bedroom apartment. I have no fewer than 12 bath and hand towels, and I’m not that dirty. Even were I to have overnight guests, I couldn’t accommodate more than two, and I do laundry every week. So why do I have so many towels? Oh, and the other day at Norm’s I came across a couple of really nice, big bath towels which I of course brought home to add to all the others I already have. Why? Did I want them? Yes. Did I need them? No. Will I soon forget I have them? Probably.

My closets are full of clothes I haven’t worn in years, and probably never will. Yet whenever I determine to clean out a closet, I’ll come across shirts or pants or jackets that I’d forgotten I had. (“Oh, that’s where that went! I’ll wear that next week, for sure!” And I don’t throw it away, and I don’t wear it, and it sits there until next time I determine to clean out the closet.)
My bookcase is overflowing with books. A couple of them I’ve never gotten around to reading but hope to. Several of them I’ve read more than once and plan to or may well read again at some point. But I’d say the majority of books there are ones I’ve read once and will never look at again. And I do give them away on that rare third-or-fourth blue moon that I get around to clearing out the bookcase. But bookcases are amazing things in that, having been cleared out, magically tend to refill themselves in short order.

Now, there are two distinct sub-categories of “things”: those which really matter and those which don’t. I’ve spoken often before of my total inability to get rid of those things which have some special significance to me…which are tangible bridges to the past and to the people I associate with them. I’ve said several times that I would never, on my own, have purchased the small art-deco display piece—a woman with a 1930s hairstyle and wearing a 1930s negligee—draped with a 1930s bakelite necklace— Ray bought for me as a gift because I’d once mentioned to him that I liked art deco. But it is one of my most treasured “things” simply because it came from him. And it stands on another of my most-prized “things,” the battered old dresser Norm and I bought and refinished somewhere around1960. Together, they represent a tangible combination of memories of loved ones lost but never gone.

Were a fire or some natural disaster to destroy my apartment and everything in it, as tragically happens frequently to others, would I be able to survive? Of course. I realize that the true value of almost everything I treasure most derives primarily from the memories I associate with them. And I know that memories remain long after the thing or person with whom they are associated are gone. But it is far better to have the both the memories and the ability to physically touch those things which are the doorknobs to open the door to the past.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: