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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Well, I was hoping to get one more substantial post in before the end of the year, but I was having a moment of nostalgia and bought a train ticket to New York. I have in my drafts folder some musings about social and political issues regarding race and two more installments of my memories. However, I’d been planning for a few weeks now to do a New Year’s post because I put up my first post on the first of January last year, making it also the anniversary of my blog, which was a sort of little birthday present for myself.

Blogging has been interesting, a little bit of failure and a little bit of success. I believe that my personality comes through on my blog far more than I could have anticipated. I’ve always known that I was emotionally volatile in person and tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, but I thought I would be more distanced on my blog. It shouldn’t surprise me that it didn’t work out that way, but it does. I had intended originally to post everyday, which I did for the first half of the year. Although I did not succeed in that goal, the reason I set that goal in the first place was because previous attempts at blogging resulted in zombie blogs after half a dozen sporadic posts. Now that the pattern has been established, I think I can continue to write without hanging onto that self-imposed discipline.

I’m still struggling with trying to be a better commenter, trying to conduct myself as a guest when visiting other people’s blogs. I’ve found that my humor works on my own blog, but it’s problematic in the comments elsewhere.

It would be nice to develop a thicker skin, but it might not be advisable. I think being overly sensitive, in all meanings of the word, has its advantages from an aesthetic perspective and I’m not sure that I wouldn’t lose something. On the other hand, I really do need to learn to let things go, to shrug off small slights.

One of the nicest surprises about blogging is that I’ve met a few great people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I have also been surprised by the degree to which my musings and anecdotes have been read. One engages in amateur blogging in the hopes that there are out there, somewhere, a few sympatico individuals.

If I am correct, Socrates is credited with having said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Examining one’s is central to blogging, where we do it visually with photos, or literarily.

In the coming year, I hope to get back on track with recounting my memories. I’ve actually come to the juncture of an unpleasant point in my life and writing it down has been difficult. In the end, though, it is only three posts at most, so I think I should be able to push through it and get on with telling my story.

I also hope to do more sketches and drawings.

Have a Happy New Year!

carolers on the street

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The main thing I remember about that day was the color gray, not cold, hard gray like steel, but soft, warm gray like a cloudy sky during a summer rain. I had walked over to a building we called the Grange. A large, gray, boxy building, it was, perhaps, a ten or fifteen minute walk from my home. Public concern about adolescents changes with the regularity of bad fashions and fad diets. That year, they were concerned about teenage idleness, about kids “hanging out” on the street. So the made a room for teenagers in the back of the Grange with pool tables and easy chairs with the intention of keeping us out of trouble no one was getting into anyway. At twelve, I technically wasn’t a teenager, but my older sister was and she said that no one checked anyone’s age. She encouraged me to stop by. The door to the room was at the back of the building and I was walking down the black top driveway that circled the building when it started to rain. It was a mild summer day and the rain felt good on my face. I paused momentarily with my back to the door, lifted my head towards the sky and enjoyed the feeling of the rain on my skin.

My reverie was interrupted by the door bursting open. “What the hell are you doing?” It was my sister. She grabbed me by my shirt and pulled me inside.

“I liked the feel of the rain.”

“People are going to think you’re a fucking freakazoid. Don’t do that again.”

I was always feeling like a freak. Still do. I looked around the room. There were older boys I didn’t know playing pool. I felt my face flush, but I didn’t know why. I wanted to stare at them, but I didn’t want them to know. I sunk into a chair and tried to fit in.

I had a really weird dream last night and I want to write it down before I forget it. It’s a bit gross, so you might not want to read it while you’re eating. Nothing in it has any bearing on reality whatsoever.

I was walking up the staircase of a very large modern building. The building itself was a museum, perhaps a design museum, and was filled with a large number of people who were just wandering about. However, the building also housed a school of some sort and I was hurrying up the stairs, past the slow-moving museum visitors, because I had a project assigned. I didn’t know what the project was, but we were supposed to meet with the professor to find out. When I got to the room, it was an exhibition room, but there was a table obviously unrelated to the exhibition set up in the center. There were people in the room, but no one in the class and no professor. On the table were a variety of molds and little plastic cups filled with what appeared to be a modeling clay of sorts. At first, I thought perhaps I was early, but then it appeared to me that some little cups of the clay had already been used and I began to get anxiety that I was, in fact, late. But it was the right time, and some of the cups were still there. Nonetheless, I worried. I always seemed to be behind everyone at school, always late, always disorganized, always forgetting things. I picked up one of the cups and tried to press the “clay” into one of the molds. The clay crumbled in a funny way and it was obvious that it wasn’t supposed to be used in this manner.

I kept scanning the room for signs of the professor. Finally she appeared, a small, dark woman who was very neatly, severely, groomed. “No, no, no.” She said, seeing me fumble with the unknown substance. “You’re supposed to eat it. It is a newly developed green plastic. Instead of using an industrial process, it uses an organic one. Your body’s digestive process turns the raw materials into a usable plastic.”

“Eat it,” she commanded. So I did. “Come back when you’re ready to expel it,” she said and walked purposefully away leaving me a little stunned and puzzled and wanting to ask more questions.

“When I’m ready to expel it?” I thought to myself, “That could be a couple of hours.” I wondered how long the museum would be open and hoped the professor would still be around. What if she wasn’t? Why didn’t I ask that when I had a chance? Gosh, I was always messing everything up in school. I was certain that I’d manage to mess this up as well.

So I wandered around the museum. Finally, I felt as I was going to have a bowel movement, so I headed back to the table where the professor had set up the materials. The room was dark and there was no sign of the professor. I turned on the light and went back over to the table in the center. There was some information printed out on sheets of paper that I hadn’t noticed before. It described how a class of middle school students had made gallon water jugs out of the material. “Eew, gross,” I thought. Apparently, that was the point, to show that the material could be used for food purposes. At that moment, one of my classmates came in, a tall guy holding a teeny, pink, green and red martini glass on a tall stem. “Look what I made!” he said. He was always so enthusiastic but his work was so ugly.

“Have you seen Professor Manara?” I asked. (I don’t actually know anyone with this name. She is not a real person.)

“Not for a while, but she must be nearby somewhere,” he said and waltzed off with his martini glass.

I walked through the museum, past the tourists, and headed for the corridor where the professors had their offices. Professor Manara was not there, but there was another professor and I asked him if he had seen her. Indeed, she was in the cafe area. The students and the professors rarely went there and I couldn’t help thinking that she should have given us something like this and then gone someplace unexpected, but, as you know, students have no footing to complain about anything, and I headed quickly to the cafe area hoping I wasn’t going to have an emergency before finding Professor Manara.

I found the professor laughing convivially with a group of people I didn’t know. Finally, I managed to get her attention. “Why didn’t you say something! Come with me,” and with that she began walking back towards the exhibition hall. From beneath the table, she pulled out a plastic cup like the one doctors give you for samples and a small paper bag. “Here, go to a restroom and deposit it in this,” she said.

I was definitely beginning to feel a sense of urgency and was really hoping that there would be no line for the restroom. Luckily, there was none. Unfortunately the lock didn’t work. I guessed the paper bag was simply so we wouldn’t be walking around the museum carrying stool for everyone to see. Someone came in and startled me, and I missed catching the stool and it went into the toilet. I started crying because I’d already been kicked out of two design schools for incompetence and it all seemed so unfair.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep because of kidney stones. If you’ve never had them, be happy. They’re about the most painful thing that won’t kill you. “What do you mean I’m not going to die?” That was my reaction the first time I got them. I went to the emergency room, via ambulance because I couldn’t walk although it was only two blocks away. They gave me intravenous morphine for the pain and ran a million tests. When they first brought me in a nurse said, “It’s kidney stones. I’ve had two children and two kidney stones and the pain from the kidney stones was worse.” Finally, fourteen hours and six thousand dollars later, the doctor decided she was right. They sent me home with painkillers and instructions to drink lots of water and get mild exercise. A week and a half and a great deal of pain later, one day it was gone. Poof. You pass the stone. You have a couple of episodes of painful urination, and suddenly you feel fine as if nothing was ever wrong. Anti-climactic is an understatement.

So, I barely slept last night. Not really a big deal. I would have made up for it by staying in bed late, but I’m supposed to meet my mother and sister for a holiday house tour at noon and I needed to do a quick load of laundry unless I want to surprise everyone by viewing Christmas lights in my birthday suit.

Normally, I wouldn’t even bring it up, mainly because it’s not that interesting. I have my little set of petty burdens and you have yours. The pain, happily, has subsided. The reprieve is only temporary and it could come back later today or next year. I made myself a cup of coffee and decided to read some blogs while waiting for the washing machine. Despite the lack of sleep, I was feeling pretty good and was in a good mood. This is no small thing to me because about a year and a half ago I spent about forty-eight hours in a psychiatric institution for suicidal ideation, and since then I take medication for depression. If there’s an upside to getting an official diagnosis, it’s that I finally take my own moods seriously. Doing something that makes me unhappy to make someone else happy, or out of a sense of obligation, was something I did routinely. No more. My sister wrote “ought” on the center of the white board I used to use for reminders, circled it and put a slash through it. “No more ‘oughts.’ ”

So, my own mental peace has finally become precious to me. I still engage with things that disturb it, like we all must, but I no longer feel as if I’m shirking my duty to be a responsible human being when I say, to myself or others, I can’t deal with a particular subject right now. It’s not a moral failing to not be up for any argument at any time. It’s just being human. We need moments of calm. We need moments of pleasure. It can’t be all work and duty unless you want to drive yourself into a depression like I did. If you don’t know, and you probably don’t, I’m a natural-born puritan. I do everything the hard way, or I used to.

This is where the internet, and specifically commenting on other people’s blogs, becomes difficult for me. A couple of days ago, I received a response to a comment I didn’t even recall making. Well, no surprise there, I made it back in March. It was a short, almost off-the-cuff, comment about how I used to call myself an agnostic and now I call myself an atheist. I feel like I have to say the following over and over again, “I’m in my late forties. I don’t see myself as old, but I’m old enough to have some perspective on things. Neither of my parents were believers, nor was the grandparent, my maternal grandfather, who was most influential in my childhood on this subject. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in New Jersey that had a lot of Jews, ie. Christianity wasn’t even culturally dominant in my childhood. The Christians in the neighborhood were divided into many sects and not especially imposing. Add to that a sprinkling of Buddhists, Taoists and people who just didn’t care. I started calling myself an atheist around eight. Starting in my late teens, hitting its greatest intensity during my college years, and then tapering off during my early adulthood, I went through a period of questioning about religion. I started calling myself an agnostic. Eventually I wound up calling myself an atheist again.” That’s a summary. I’ve been writing down my life story in almost painful detail. You can find it under the “memories” link in the header if you need more detail and want to follow along.

A lot of ink has been spilled, and pixels have been darkened, over the atheist versus agnostic question. I just read a nice post on it earlier today over my coffee. It’s not a super-interesting question to me. I’m pretty blasé about the whole debate. Call me an agnostic if you like. Just don’t call me before I’ve had my coffee.

The comment to my comment, that I used to call myself an agnostic and now call myself an atheist, was a long, rambling rant that started with the statement that agnosticism was the only sensible position and continued on about things that had never been mentioned by me or the original poster, whose post was only one sentence long, by the way. For instance, he or she thinks chemistry is a superior science to physics, for reasons that aren’t worth repeating. It also included a complaint that the commenter had been blocked on other blogs. I read the comment, which confused me. I wondered why this person was writing to me. I looked at my original comment and then saw the date from last March. I decided to not respond to the comment. Apparently, my lack of response did not satisfy that person. I got another response to my comment (Remember, this isn’t even my own post.) from the same person. Now, frankly, this is getting weird. My blood pressure rose. I’m sure my face turned red and steam came out of my ears like a cartoon character. So, I responded. Considering the anger I was feeling, I think I was surprisingly civil. Instead of saying what was on my mind, which was “fuck off and die,” my reply was as follows:

Thanks for the caring response, but I think you may be putting more depth into what I said. First, I actually grew up without a religion. My father was most likely to call himself an atheist and my mother an agnostic, but I don’t really see a lot of daylight between them. It’s more a question of emphasis than a difference in belief. As far as I can see, one can be both at the same time. The probability that the Judeo-Christian god, or any other personal god, exists is low enough to be effectively zero. Therefore, I am a-theistic, without god. However, sometimes people discuss the divine in more abstract terms. In fact, I know very few fundamentalists. I grew up in a very boring, suburban, mainstream environment in the U.S., not in that particular subculture. The majority of the people with whom I grew up were Christian, but fundamentalists were a very small percentage. So, most people I know view the Bible metaphorically. The same things goes for most of the Jews I know. When those people tell me that I can’t prove that their very abstract notion of god doesn’t exist, I’m perfectly happy to say that I am not trying to prove that. If they want to call me an agnostic, that’s fine. There are things about which I have no knowledge, therefore I am a-gnostic, without knowledge.

So, I am essentially both. I don’t believe in a personal god who intervenes in the universe and requires regular worship and there are things in the universe beyond my knowledge.

I’m going on fifty, and a lot of other things occupy my mental space. In late adolescence and early adulthood, I thought about these things a lot, but not these days. I rarely ever get into discussions about the existence, or non-existence, of God with people on the internet. The only reason I’m prompted to engage with other people at all is because I believe people should be able to enjoy sex without shame, I believe that contraception should be readily available, I believe that people should be able to enter into romantic unions with anyone they want, including members of the same sex, I believe that that people should be free to control their own bodies and identities, which includes their gender identity, I believe that state funded education should teach mainstream science, I believe they should not promote a particular religious view.

Your views on physics are frankly very ignorant.

I tried ignoring your previous comment because this subject is not of great interest to me. Please do not engage with me about this again. I have zero desire to explain my position to every Tom, Dick and Harry who is vain enough to think he deserves his own extra-special personal explanation. I’m sorry you grew up in a fundamentalist environment. I did not. That is your burden, not mine. I have my own issues, frankly.

I guess my response hid the actually level of anger I was feeling at having my mental peace disturbed by this individual twice in one week, because he had the temerity to respond with something other than, “Sorry to bother you.”

Well, my laundry is done and I need to make myself presentable. I’m just going to throw this up as is and continue it later.

When my sister first moved into her current house, one of her neighbors came over and said, “When someone puts up Christmas lights, we say, ‘There goes the neighborhood.’ “

The huge snowstorm we were told to expect turned out not to be so big. Still, I went outside hoping to get some nice seasonal shots.

The huge snowstorm we were told to expect turned out not to be so big. Still, I went outside hoping to get some nice seasonal shots.

I walked around the corner to a street of pretty townhouses hoping that there would be some nice decorations.

I walked around the corner to a street of pretty townhouses hoping that there would be some nice decorations.

A surprisingly large number of people still had pumpkins out. I missed a shot of a squirrel eating one.

A surprisingly large number of people still had pumpkins out. I missed a shot of a squirrel eating one.

The temperature was supposed to drop all day, but instead it rose and the snow quickly disappeared.

The temperature was supposed to drop all day, but instead it rose and the snow quickly disappeared.

Then I spied one of my favorite little birds, a Northern Mockingbird, in a sapling.

Then I spied one of my favorite little birds, a Northern Mockingbird, in a sapling.

He waited patiently while I circled the tree trying to get a better shot.

He waited patiently while I circled the tree trying to get a better shot.

It's good that they're not timid birds because I had to take my time and focus manually.

It’s good that they’re not timid birds because I had to take my time and focus manually.

Finally, he flew into a tree and was quickly joined by two others.

Finally, he flew into a tree and was quickly joined by two others.

Here's the third bird.

Here’s the third bird.

I never understood why tough girls were called tough. The girls called tough often seemed to me to be the most vulnerable. T, whom I mentioned a while ago as being the daughter of one of my mother’s friends, had a neighbor about a year or two older than we were. It would be a dozen years or more before she would earn the title of Limbo Queen of Pleasant Green, but we’ll call her that anyway. If the waif look had been popularized a decade or so earlier, she would have been very fashionable. Girls wore boys’ jeans back in those days and the Limbo Queen’s fit her narrow hips. Her blue eyes always had a look of apprehension, like those of a small animal. Like a lot of the tough girls, she was nicer to me than the nice girls.

I can’t remember her story, but she lived with her aunt. Maybe I never knew her story. Her mother wasn’t around and why is one of those questions you just don’t ask.There was just a general impression that her home life wasn’t a happy one and she often came over to T’s place as an escape.

I remember one day, it must have been either the weekend or the summer because, although T lived in the same town, she lived at the other end and it was too far to walk after school and still be home in time for dinner. Or maybe my mother was visiting T’s mother and I got a ride with her. In any case, I recall being in T’s basement, with the checkerboard linoleum tile. Of that much I have a clear recollection. The Limbo Queen had brought over a small pile of records albums. I remember distinctly that one of them was by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. It was not much to my taste, but I was always intimidated by the confidence other people had in the superiority of their musical taste. Music, at that age, was never just music. It was burdened by a complicated set of social signals that I never felt that I quite understood. Simply liking the wrong song, or the wrong band, or not liking something, would have you tagged as a “fag” or a “queerbait” for the rest of the week, or maybe longer. Generally, when other people brought out music, I just faded into the background and didn’t express an opinion. I had a reputation as someone who was not at all interested in music. I also remember her describing to us what Quaaludes were.

Another day, we were in T’s dining room. That might sound odd, but there was something about the layout of the house that we often wound up there. T implored the Limbo Queen to run back over to her house and fetch her guitar. “The Limbo Queen plays really well.” T told while we waited. “She’s too modest.”

When the Limbo Queen returned, she pulled a chair away from the table and settled into it with her guitar. She seemed oddly reluctant. Finally, she took a deep breath, as if she was willing herself into another world and began. She sang the most moving version of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” The tough girl with the wounded eyes. The wise waif. She had lost all self-consciousness. Indeed, she seemed to already be far away. That was over thirty years ago and I can still see her and still hear her.

A few days later, I spoke to T on the phone. The Limbo Queen had run away from home.

More than a decade later, I saw the Limbo Queen again. No longer a waif, she had a womanly beauty. She wore a sheath dress and high heeled pumps. Her blond hair was done up in a French twist for T’s wedding. She had, I was told, become a bond trader.

In the intervening years, T had moved to Pittsburgh where she was living a bohemian life with her filmmaker boyfriend, now husband. The friends I didn’t recognize, her Pittsburgh friends, all fit a slacker-hipster profile, men with hats and interesting facial hair and women in thrift store dresses. She got married at home and group of her friends who were in a band played on a small platform that served as a stage. They mostly played their own music, but they did incorporate a few songs appropriate for the occasion.

Then the band broke into a Carribean rhythm and a stick was brought out. Limbo time! I probably hadn’t done this since I was a kid and I was quickly out and watching the Limbo competition from a prime seat. My dancer sister didn’t last much longer. Rapidly, the line of dancers was narrowed down to about three highly flexible people. The bar went lower. The Limbo Queen kicked off her pumps and hiked her dress up to the tops of her thighs. The bar went impossibly low. One person was out. The next was out. Only the Limbo Queen was left. She shimmied under the bar, bent backwards, her torso horizontal to the ground. She came up, her feet bare, her dress wrinkled, blond tendrils escaping her French twist, and her face beaming. There was still a wild child inside of the bond trader. Someone grabbed her wrist and held her arm above her head. One of the members of the band shouted, “The Limbo Queen of Pleasant Green!”

Last month, when I was walking down the street, I saw a sign saying inviting people to enter a building and look at some artists’ studios, so I went in. When I saw this sign in the stairwell, it reminded me of Maugryph, so I snapped a picture.

A wall in a stairwell with pictures painted on it.

Follow the Dragon

more dragon painting on a landing.

dragon4

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a photo of the head because other people were trying to walk up and down the staircase at that moment and I didn’t want to be obnoxious and stand in everybody’s way.

The artists of 59 Rivoli (a little crazy, but very nice) await you on the second through sixth floors.

The artists of 59 Rivoli (a little crazy, but very nice) await you on the second through sixth floors.