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While I was at my mother’s she mentioned that she had a whole lot of slides she didn’t know what to do with. We had a good time one day looking at all them with a little hand-held viewer that used to belong to my grandfather and that I’ve hung onto for years. I was thrilled to see some photos I’ve been looking for for ages. When I was about twelve or thirteen, my grandfather gave me his old rangefinder camera.  Few people these days are familiar with rangefinders. They are a mirrorless camera usually designed for thirty-five millimeter film. It looks like a single lens reflex camera but it’s not quite as heavy. It was completely manual. Cameras with auto-focus lenses were only just  beginning to be produced for the general public at that time and I didn’t know anyone who had them and wouldn’t for a number of years yet. In a rangefinder, you don’t see directly through the lens. Like in the old 110 or 126 film formats, the image you see is slightly above and to the left of the image that will be exposed to the film. For shots that are far away, if barely matters, but for close-up shots it’s good to bear that in mind. In the center of the viewfinder, you see a double image, and when the image is united it is in focus. They’re considered more difficult to use than an SLR, but some years later I would buy a manual focus Nikon SLR when the film advance stopped working and I didn’t find it easier to use at all. The old camera was made by a company I’d never heard of, Aries, but it took beautiful pictures.

She took the slides to a photo store and was told that it would cost five dollars each to scan them. I found some less expensive places online, but that involved sending them off somewhere. So I got the idea in my head to buy a little film-to-digital converter. Since I have slides of my own, I figured this would be useful. I’m ambivalent about the purchase. I find the quality of the scanned images to be quite low. This might not be much of a problem for some “snapshots,” but it’s a little disappointing for some of my juvenile photography efforts. I believe Andy Warhol said, “My idea of a perfect photo is one that is in focus and of a famous person.” I think it might be hard for people today to realize that prior to auto-focus systems developing the skill of getting things in focus and getting the exposure correct was more of a challenge than it would become. So the low quality of the scanning is a little disappointing for me.

For my early efforts my poor sister was often pressed into service as the subject matter. Pretend she’s someone famous.

I can tell this is one of my "artistic" efforts by the low focal point.

I can tell this is one of my “artistic” efforts by the low vantage point.

A teenage girl on a bicycle.

So seventies! She bought this t-shirt in 1979. Those shorts, by the way, are terry cloth. That was a thing back then, a thing I nearly forgot. Yes, the brief fad of terry cloth jogging shorts.

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I’ve been trying to read Eliot Rodger’s, the Santa Barbara shooter’s, 140 page suicide note. In the year following the Newtown Massacre, there were at least 16 mass shootings, defined by the FBI as killings involving four or more people. Since the shootings in Santa Barbara there has been another mass killing in Florida. (H/T Skip Intro at Little Green Footballs.) Only a small portion of these capture the public’s imagination. For that reason, I wanted to write about it, but I felt that before I did so I should do my homework and, among other things, read the long autobiography the killer left behind. Doing the necessary background work has taken more time than I expected and the final result will probably come in two parts, one addressing the autobiography and another addressing the public’s reaction. Interestingly, the event seems to have functioned like a Rorschach test with various commentators projecting their own preconceived notions on the event.

In the meantime, I thought I would put up a few random thoughts.

Needless to say, I have abandoned my attempt to help my mother get into better shape. Her doctor has said that it’s necessary for her health and that was why I was willing to make such a big effort to help her in the first place. Unfortunately, the usually mother/daughter relationship dynamics kicked in and were exacerbated by the fact that we were spending so much time together. She seemed to forget that I was there for her sake, not mine. However, since I got on the exercise and diet kick, I’ve decided to continue it on my own. I guess one good thing came out of those two weeks was that I’ve started going to the gym again. It’s always, for me, the first couple of weeks that are the toughest. My first day back I was barely lifting any weight at all. At my peak I was bench pressing about sixty pounds (slightly more than 27 kg), which was about half of my weight, so doing curls with a twenty pound barbel was a little frustrating. When exercising cardio workouts are only one part of what I do because I really need to feel that it’s about health and overall fitness, not appearance. The looks-weight-health equivalency is something I really try to avoid, although subconsciously I’m subject to the same incorrect assumptions as most people in this culture.

I was looking in the mirror to make sure my form was correct and I couldn’t help notice that I looked like I had a ridiculously little pinhead on top of my body. Most of my adult life, I’ve kept my hair very short, although being a lazy slob it often is an outgrown shaggy mid-length mop. Since I gained weight, I’ve really been struggling, not just with a loss of prettiness, but with a shift in my self-image. For instance, I’ve always seen myself as being somewhat androgynous and have always incorporated lots of menswear, frequently actual men’s clothing picked up in thrift stores, like my favorite red satin smoking jacket, into my wardrobe. Once upon a time I looked kind of cute in that. However, now that I’m heavier, feminine dresses are more flattering to my figure. I feel between a rock and a hard place. What is flattering doesn’t fit my personality, or so I feel. More recently, I felt that it would be mentally healthier to dress in a way that suits my taste and to hell with whether or not I look attractive. For instance, I’ve been wearing more pants even thought I think I look dumpier. So when I was in Paris last year I walked by a salon and saw a photo that looked like the kind of haircut I liked when I was young and could wear anything I chose. I walked in and said, “I want that.” Humorously, I later read some text under it that said that it was a “retro-style” meant to evoke the eighties. Dang.

This morning, when I walked into the bathroom and saw my short hair plastered against my head, I remembered the pinhead look in the mirrors at the gym. I know that once I take a shower and fluff it up it won’t look quite so bad. This led to a bit of musing about my appearance. Short hair like this can actually look stylish when I’m fully made up, however when dressed down I look like someone who doesn’t care. Somehow this put me in mind of dating. For a while, when I had a profile up on a dating site, I got so many emails from men saying that they liked women who wore high heels that I added to my profile that I don’t wear them. After that, I started getting notes from men saying that they liked the “type” of woman that wore jeans and flip-flops. This made me equally frustrated because I’m not a type. Sometimes I dress up and sometimes I dress down. Some days I’m somewhere in between. I’m still the same person. I’ve had boyfriends in the past who have significantly preferred one version of me more than the other. It’s frustrating because I want to have both modes.

So, I’m headed out to the grocery store. I probably won’t put gel in my hair or blow it out, although I’ll probably fluff it a little with my fingers. I’ll put on some causal pants, my sneakers and whatever short-sleeved shirt is clean at the moment and I’ll look like the type of woman that goes to the grocery store, which is inevitable for all of us who are not the type of woman who has a full-time housekeeper. At another moment, I’ll be the type of gal who takes photographs while wearing practical clothes with lots of pockets that I picked up from REI. Sometimes I’m the type of gal who wears gym clothes while lifting weights. Or I’m the type of gal with a full face of make-up, dainty shoes and fashionable dress in a trendy restaurant. All of these things are me. I’m even a blogger in a bathrobe sometimes.

It’s probably inadvisable to keep putting up these diary-like posts, but body image and the shame associated with it are not anything therapists will actually talk to you about. All they will do is give you pills because it must be a “chemical imbalance” because this isn’t a “real” issue. Still, I find the subject almost impossible to escape. At the same time I feel guilt and shame, shame on top of shame, for even being concerned about it. I say to myself, “People are starving in the world how can you possibly worry about being too un-thin.”

I’m going to use the word “un-thin” because it’s important to recognize that I’m not talking about a health issue but an aesthetic one. I haven’t weighed myself in a while because it makes me feel bad, but since my clothes fit the same way I can pretty much assume my weight hasn’t changed much over the past couple of years, which means that I’m just a little bit above the top of the recommended weight on the doctor’s height/weight chart. In fact, I might be an ideal weight in terms of life expectancy. I’ve be criticized in the comments for calling myself “dumpy”, but I think that’s the most accurate description to give readers an idea. I’m not fat and I happen to be short and only have average curves, so I’m not curvy or zaftig.

I’m wondering how much withdrawing from the world is necessary to keep myself on an even keel, at least for a few days until I feel better. Anyway, today I came across an article about an opera singer. I happen to like opera. I can’t sing myself. I have volume, but there’s something about my voice that is just ugly. Too deep for a woman and a little gravely. Actually, I sound a lot like Marianne Faithfull. The first time I went to see an opera I was just amazed that sounds like that can come out of a human body. I was totally and utterly enchanted. I haven’t seen half as many operas as I would like because it’s entertainment for a class to which I wasn’t born, and now I live in a town without an opera company. I used to like the New York City Opera and am incredibly saddened by its closure. Its audience has been driven out of the city by rising rents. On the one hand, it might have been inadvisable to click on an article with “sexism” in the title, but it also had the words “opera singer” in the title.

As anyone who’s read my last few posts knows, I’ve had a great deal of difficulty lately with a low sense of self-worth. I should mention that it is not my own set of values that is the primary problem but the sense of occupying a low space on the social hierarchy. My psychiatrist doesn’t understand why I care what other people think. It seems to me that that’s more than a bit myopic on his part and an easy thing to say for a man who occupies a fairly enviable position in his profession. However, as I see it, human beings are social animals. Our location in the social hierarchy is integral to our sense of well-being. This is a cruel fact, but a fact nonetheless. However, we have multiple, overlapping social environments. We go to work or school, sometimes both. We have lovers and friends. We have our families. Frequently we have other groups to which we belong due to our interests. We may be low in one environment, but high in another. While we may feel devalued by the broader society, we may at the same time feel highly valued by our friends and families which offsets that. I’ve complained quite a lot about my social isolation. Needless to say, I don’t have those friends that can make you feel valued despite feeling devalued by the larger society.

I haven’t had a boyfriend in a few years, but I’ve stopped trying to meet men. Although I know that I’m not so heavy that no men would find me attractive, most ways that I can think of to meet people put me in a position in which I have to open myself to emotionally difficult exchanges. A few years ago, back when I had a profile on a dating site, a man wrote and asked me my weight. I wrote back, “135 pounds.” He was no longer interested. This is of course just one example that happened to be very clear. I got quite a few inquiries that asked about my weight, my body shape, how recent my photos were. In fact, I never put up photos that were more than a year old, however I was accused of lying about that. If these questions were coming from hunky men with whom I had nothing in common, it would be less discouraging. Frequently, these were the obsessions of men older than I was who had put similar interests in their profiles. It all just reinforced the sense that a woman’s only value lies in her appearance.

When I bring up my sense of worthlessness as it relates to my appearance and weight to therapists, they recommend dieting and exercise, as if that wouldn’t have occurred to me. What I would like it to develop a sense of self-worth that isn’t as fragile, that a change of ten pounds in one direction or another can have such a significant effect. Yet, try as I might, my self-esteem seems to be closely linked to my appearance, particularly my weight. For that reason, there was something especially discouraging about seeing the article about Tara Erraught.

A young woman in a sweatsuit.

Tara Erraught

Opera singers are rare people. It requires a combination of both natural abilities and lots of hard work. Acting, to use another performing art as a way of contrast, requires mainly hard work. A great many people have the natural prerequisites, so requiring an actor to be both capable and handsome is not a tall order. Even still, given the chance to see a good-looking bad actor and an ugly good actor, I’ll opt for the latter, however we don’t often have to make that choice. In Opera, frequently we do.

Two photos of Deborah Voigt, one very heavy and another about average.

Deborah Voigt before and after gastric bypass surgery.

There’s been a growing complaint about opera becoming more focused on looks and less concerned with ability since Deborah Voigt was fired by the Royal Opera House in London for not looking the way the director would like in “a little black dress.” At the time, Anthony Tommasini wrote:

The Royal Opera is not just replacing one of the leading dramatic sopranos of the day with a little-known German singer (Anne Schwanewilms). It is replacing the greatest living interpreter of this demanding Strauss role. Ms. Voigt first came to attention in a 1991 production of ”Ariadne auf Naxos” with the Boston Lyric Opera. I was there. Her triumph was total. The audience was awestruck.

Furthermore, as Joshua Kosman wrote in SFGate,

It isn’t just that Voigt is one of the great lyric-dramatic sopranos of our time, and that Ariadne is her signature role — though that alone should have sufficed. San Francisco audiences have to think back no further than the fall of 2002 to recall how stupendous Voigt can be in the part.

It’s that Voigt’s artistry encompasses more than just a magnificent set of pipes. She’s a superb singing actress — expressive, responsive, witty and deeply intelligent. And although she’s overweight, she moves onstage with utter elegance and poise.

However, in that  same article Kosman also says:

Have we really reached the point where only the slim or the beautiful (the two terms are far from synonymous) need apply? Does artistic prowess now count for less than comeliness? Must every other consideration be subsumed to the visual?

Well, no — although some of the rhetoric that has been thrown around recently has tended toward such apocalyptic extremes.

No sudden apocalypse perhaps, but rather a creeping change.

Tomassini, in discussing the implications of Baz Luhrmann’s Broadway production of La Bohème in 2002, traces the beginning of this trend to a much earlier date:

The operating assumption of this [Luhrmann’s] approach is that opera remains an anachronistic performing art, in which tubby singers who can hardly move portray young heroes and tubercular heroines. Even in Ms. Tebaldi’s day, this was an unfair generalization. The visual component of opera has increased in importance since the late 1970’s, when live television broadcasts from the Met started attracting millions of viewers. Today, opera houses routinely recruit bold directors from theater and film (like Mr. Luhrmann), and many younger singers are as beholden to personal trainers as to vocal coaches.

The article is worth reading in its entirety. However, it should be noted that this attempt to make opera appeal to a broader audience in fact lost money, so the notion that audiences actually would prefer beautiful singers and would result in opera becoming a popular art form is not necessarily correct.

Deborah Voigt underwent gastric bypass surgery, lost over one hundred pounds and was allowed to appear before English audiences.

Now, a decade later, a new scandal has erupted over another opera singer and her weight, in another opera by Strauss performed in England, no less. This time it’s Tara Erraught who sang the role of Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier at the Glyndebourne Festival, an opera festival in East Sussex, England. This time, it wasn’t the director who complained of her weight. She did perform. It was the critics who complained. Andrew Clements writing for The Guardian, Michael Church in the Independent, The Telegraph‘s Rupert Christiansen and Andrew Clark in the Financial Times were all far more concerned with her appearance than with her voice. The photograph of Erraught accompanying the Salon article showed only her face. My morbid curiosity immediately made me search for other images of her. Scroll down her Facebook page where she has posted many pictures of herself. It’s not an apocalypse, but it is a creep. Erraught appears to me to be no less thin now than Deborah Voigt after her gastric bypass surgery, possibly thinner. It would seem to me that the standards for women opera singers’ appearance have gotten stricter.

This distresses me on a few different levels, not the least of which is what this could mean for opera if these critics are taken seriously by the people who run opera companies.

In an attempt to be fair to the critics, I did read their actual reviews. The complaint about Erraught’s appearance seemed least jarring in the review in The Guardian, probably because the critic seemed to be unenthused about the production overall, calling it “brittle and sometimes mechanically shallow, with real emotion in short supply.” Also, by using the phrase “this stocky Octavian” it seems less a criticism of Erraught’s body than of the way the overall portrayal of the character, perhaps including the costuming choices as well. I have to say that I was at least as jarred by the compliment paid to Kate Royal’s physique as I was to the criticism of Erraught’s.

A woman in costume sitting in a chair.

Margarethe Siems who first performed the role of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. “Royal looks very much the 30-something Marschallin that Strauss and Hoffmannstahl envisaged but is too rarely seen onstage.”

Kate Royal

With or without her clothes, Royal looks very much the 30-something Marschallin that Strauss and Hoffmannstahl envisaged but is too rarely seen onstage. And it’s hard to imagine this stocky Octavian as this willowy women’s plausible lover.

Royal’s physique is relevant since the production opens with her full frontal nudity, a bit of staging that was very appreciated by Rupert Christiansen in the Telegraph.

Richard Jones’ staging of Der Rosenkavalier shows us a garishly wallpapered empty room with an alcove, where the Marschallin stands in a cockle-shell bath, tastefully nude and showered by golden rain – a Botticelli goddess of beauty, at once alluring and forbidding, holding Octavian in rapture.

At this point Jones wonderfully encapsulates both the sublimity and vulgarity of the opera: it’s a startling but enchanting moment, charged with the music’s slippy, voyeuristic eroticism as well as a brilliant coup de théâtre.

He notes, in the creepy preceding sentence, that the recently deceased George Christie “was a keen aficionado of the female form.” This is the kind of statement that has made me want to wear nothing but potato sacks ever since I was old enough to understand the intense and disturbing judgement of one’s body made by such “aficionados.” A form is not a person. It also left me wondering why Christie didn’t dump opera for exotic dancing. Christiansen’s criticism of Erraught’s physique seems all the more jarring because he seems to have enjoyed the production.

The other problem is Tara Erraught’s Octavian. There is no doubt of the talent of this young Irish mezzo, based in Germany, who sings with vibrant assurance and proves herself a spirited comedian. But she is dumpy of stature and whether in bedroom déshabille, disguised as Mariandel or in full aristocratic fig, her costuming makes her resemble something between Heidi and Just William. Is Jones simply trying to make the best of her intractable physique or is he trying to say something about the social-sexual dynamic?

How good could the production be if one of the leads is so bad, one wonders.

It would certainly be legitimate for someone to comment if a singer was miscast in a role, yet how much does appearance play in determining whether or not the singer is appropriate? I hope I will be pardoned for turning to Anthony Tomassini again. Regarding the earlier scandal with Deborah Voigt and The Royal Opera House he wrote:

The Royal Opera would seem to have forgotten the most basic truth of the genre. Yes, opera is a form of drama. But drama in opera has never been dependent on literal reality. Great music and great voices take you to the core of the drama and the essence of the characters. Naturally it’s wonderful to hear fine opera singers who also look good and act well, and the new generation who grew up watching opera on television seems increasingly concerned with staying in shape and looking the part.

I remember being unexpectedly overcome by a student production of ”La Bohème” at the New England Conservatory in Boston, sung in English and performed in an intimate theater. The endearing young cast clearly identified with Puccini’s Parisian bohemians. They even looked a little tired and hungry, as haggard students often do.

But my first ever ”La Bohème,” a Met production that I attended as a teenager, starred Renata Tebaldi as Mimi. Ms. Tebaldi did not remotely resemble a consumptive and penniless seamstress. She looked like a pleasant, well-fed Italian lady. But her lustrous and poignantly beautiful singing was the embodiment of youthful desire, of sudden love coupled with a wariness of heartbreak.

Next week the Met introduces a new production of Strauss’s ”Salome” with Karita Mattila in the title role. Ms. Mattila, a strikingly lovely and slender woman, has apparently slimmed down even further for this role. Attractive as she is, Ms. Mattila will probably not resemble the adolescent Salome of the Bible. It won’t matter, though. Opera creates its own kind of reality. What will matter is how well Ms. Mattila sings.

 

Karita Mattila as Salome

 

I’ve included all these photos so people can see exactly what we’re talking about. I can’t help wondering, would Karita Mattila be called “strikingly lovely and slender” by English critics if she performed for the first time today? Which brings another question to my mind, it was the English who fired the American Deborah Voigt and it has been the English who have been so harsh on the Irish Tara Erraught who is currently a member of the ensemble of the Bayerische Staatsoper in Germany. I am quickly put in mind of page three girls and the strangely excessive obsession with the bodies of female celebrities running down the right hand edge of the online versions of British tabloids. Is this something specific about British culture, and should the rest of us give a damn?

I feel hesitant to jump to Erraught’s defense since I haven’t seen this production. It will be aired online on June 8, although I must admit that I enjoy opera significantly more in a theatre. Perhaps, she is wrong for the role and would be wrong for the role at any weight. However, a prominent opera singer has achieved more in his or her life than most of us ever will. If it truly comes down to her weight, then women are not valued for anything more than their bodies. A few months ago, I wrote a post about the U.K. making blocking pornographic sites on the internet the default setting. One supposed concern was gender roles. This example, that it matters not in the least what you achieve because you will always be reduced to the desirability of your body, tells girls more about their role in society than a porn flick ever could. Most people understand that a porn film is fiction. This is real. To criticize pornography while giving these critics a pass would be, as my grandfather would say, like wishing in one hand and shitting in the other.

Eva von der Osten as Octavian

Tara Erraught has a career outside of Britain. If it’s only the British who don’t want to see her perform, then I hope she says to herself, “Well, then fuck ’em.”

Despite the impression I may have given over the past few weeks, and especially over the past few days, I don’t actually seek out situations which are liable to be emotionally difficult, although in retrospect I have to ask myself whether or not the idea of spending the amount of time with my mother necessary to keep her on a diet was not looking for trouble. After the fight with my mother, I had mentioned to my sister that I might not feel up to going to the conference.

Depression is a new issue for me having only been diagnosed with it two years ago, although I’d probably been sliding into it for over a year at that point. During that year I made several stabs at finding help but I feel that therapists weren’t taking me seriously. They kept suggesting that I exercise. Since I was already exercising for over an hour each day that struck me as unhelpful. I really feel that they weren’t listening to me. I had, over the course of a year or two changed, mainly in ways I didn’t like.

Today, I’m much calmer, but I’m still thinking of killing myself. I don’t enjoy my life much and I don’t see anyway out of that situation.

Okay, well, I got off track there, now didn’t I?

One of the problems I’ve been finding in my attempts to recover from depression is that some of the things it might be advisable to do, like getting out and meeting people, are at the same time potentially dangerous things.  Really, I thought this conference would be a relatively “safe” situation. After my crisis on Friday night, I decided to blow off the conference and try to salvage the weekend. I was determined to avoid anything that could trigger feelings of worthlessness. I went to the National Zoo to see the baby panda.

Zoos are always a mixed situation for me. I love seeing animals but I’m not really fond of seeing them in cages. How much space do the animals really need to be content? However, pandas are endangered and zoos have breeding programs, so seeing the baby panda that was born in the zoo last fall is not so difficult.

Without further ado…

The baby panda's name is Bao Bao, which means "treasure" in English.

The baby panda’s name is Bao Bao, which means “treasure” in English.

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I’ve written several morbid posts in the past few hours and quite a few people have been kind enough to write comments. I’ve read all your comments. I would like to respond to them individually, but I’m suddenly feeling incredibly tired. Sleep couldn’t hurt how I feel, so I’m going to take advantage of that. I don’t want anyone to be alarmed if I stop writing, so I just thought I’d say I’m going to go to bed now.

A lot of things can trigger a downward mental spiral. Tonight I’m fixating on age. That’s not an accident. I went to a conference today and there were a couple of panel discussions. One was on Intersectionality and Humanism. I don’t consider myself a “humanist” because, to be frank about it, I don’t think humanity’s all that great. The panel talked about seemingly every -ism under the sun. Anyway, someone, I think her name is Debbie Goddard, was asked a question about “ageism.” She said something to the effect that old women are the problem. For someone already struggling with a sense of being overlooked and worthless because I’m an old woman, this was really hard to hear. The “atheist movement” only wants young women. I feel so fucking unwanted everywhere. I’m thinking of going home tomorrow and not attending the rest of the conference. I’ve been crying all night. Actually it’s worse than that. I wish I could drill a hole in my skull and let out this pressure. I’m sure that’s not an accurate description of what’s happening inside my head physcially, but that’s how it feels.

As everyone who reads this blog knows, I really struggle with feelings of not being worth anything. I’ve always been told that I have low self-esteem by other people, but as I’ve aged and gained weight my feelings of sefl-worth have gone from low to negative. There seems to be a general consensus that suicide is a bad idea. It’s not absolutely necessary, but the conditions that could help me avoid it don’t seem to be on the horizon. Simply getting a hard cock in my cunt would probably do wonders, but no one wants to fuck an old woman. I’ve been toying with the idea of advertizing for a one night stand on CraigsList, but it’s getting late. On the other hand, I’ve also been vaguely wondering if there’s any convenient bridges to jump off of. I don’t know if I want to get fucked or to kill myself. That’s weird. Maybe it’s not so weird. Fucking someone would solve the lonliness problem at least temporarily and fucking someone would release all those natural opiates, I forget what they’re called, so that would probably make me feel better, too.

I wonder what the emergency room in Alexandria is like?

I was doing a Master’s Degree in computer science when the depression first kicked in and interrupted that.  It’s really hard to explain to people who haven’t known me for a long time, but I’ve been trying really hard to get something resembling a career going for the last decade or so. It’s not that I never tried before, but sometime in my late thirties I began feeling like I was running out of time. For some reason, actually for many reasons that would take an autobiography to enumerate, I was never able to find work that was anything other than just a temporary job. I moved from one job to the next and never could seem to move the next rung up on the ladder. In my late thirties, I tried going back to school. It wasn’t the first time. In my late twenties and again in my early thirties I’d gone back to school for education past a BA. However, those efforts never led to the fabled “career.” In my late thirties I started trying to be more hard headed about it. I’d talk about career and people would say “what do you want to do?” I’d respond that what I “wanted” had led me nowhere and I’d only consider things that had a future.

Anyway, I don’t even know what I’m saying. I feel like I ran out of time. Suddenly, I’m old. I’m lonely. I don’t know how to become un-lonely.

I live in Baltimore. I saw there was a conference in Alexandria, Virginia. I write about atheism, politics and similar subjects sometimes. I thought that it would be a good opportunity to get a little contact with people. I’ve moved several times in my life and I know that you need to put yourself out there many, many times and the likelihood of meeting anyone that could be a friend on any one occasion is low, but still getting out and talking to people is usually a cheerful thing. I’m a little bit of an introvert and a little shy, but I can usually manage. It can be stressful, but I can overcome my social anxieties enough to enjoy myself.

As I’ve mentioned before, it feels very clubby here. Actually, the audience isn’t that young overall, but the panels are.

In the context of everything else going on in my life being told that old people have nothing to offer hurts.

Anyway, I don’t know what I’m saying, I’ve been crying all evening and I’m still crying.

So, as everyone knows, I’m almost fifty, unemployed and divorced. I’m not in a relationship and money problems have forced me to relocate to a town where I know no one. Meeting people has been my problem since I’ve left New York.

I don’t have a lot of interests that involve other people much. At one level I’ve always been a bit of a solitary person and an introvert. My ex-husband used to describe me as shy. It’s difficult for me to meet people and talk to people and even more difficult to make new friends. Also. I hate to drive. Leaving New York has been a fate worse than death for me. It’s like a slow death. I have bad days and okay days. I no longer have good days. Life is nothing but an effort to figure out why I don’t kill myself. I don’t know why. Maybe if I had a reason to life I’d stop thinking of killing myself. I’ve seen psychiatrists. I’ve even been hospitalized. I take medication. I don’t know what more there is to do.

I give up. I no longer know how to meet people. It’s nice to meet people online, but at some level that feels like a stop gap measure.

How does a person restart his or her life when you’ve fucked it up enough. No career. No friends. No goals. No purpose.

I’ve talked to social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and I’m not one hundred percent sure what’s wrong with me. There are days I wonder if I went back to New York if everything would be okay again or if that’s just an illusion.

I feel trapped. No one wants to know a loser. I could hide what a mess I am, but then you can’t really make friends when you hide something essential about yourself.

So, I’m sitting on the floor of the bathroom in my hotel room. I’m not really sure how to describe it except to say that it’s really painful. I’ve toyed with the idea of taking myself to the hospital. It’s frustrating. I shouldn’t have to keep going to the hospital to keep from killing myself because all I want is to talk to someone. Going to the hospital feels like overkill. Yet, the last time I was in the hospital, that’s what I found. People who were all alone in the world. At the time, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe that’s why people get married and have families.

The fact that I’m not speaking to my mother has obviously excacerbated my loneliness. Maybe if I hadn’t had a fight with her I wouldn’t have started out feeling quite as bad and standing at the reception with no one talking to me wouldn’t have seemed like such a failure.

It’s hard to explain to someone who’s had a normal life what it’s like to have had nothing but failures in life.

Please, someone help me.

In the vain hope of getting out of my shell, I went to the Women in Secularism conference this weekend. I signed up before having a fight with my mother. Now I’m here and feeling so lonely. It’s so clubby and awful. Everyone knows everyone. They’re all friends. No one talks to me. This is terrible. I feel like I’m having a total breakdown.

No one wants to know an old woman. I’m fat and ugly and I want to die.

What does someone do when you get to my age and everything’s not okay. I’m divorced, unemployed. Too old to start again but too young and healthy to die any time soon, unless I kill myself, which is a thought.

I need help so badly but I’m so alone in this world. No one is there to help me. I feel like I want to cry for help but there’s no one to hear me.

I feel so alone and in such a jam. I don’t even know how to go about solving it anymore.

I woke up this morning. After breakfast, my mother started talking to me about an article in USA Today that her friend who still teaches told her about. She said, “They’re resegregating the schools! That’s racist!” So I looked up the article on my laptop. In the meantime, she went into the other room where she has her desk and her new computer and looked up the same article.

“Obama’s resegregating the schools.” I mean really. Doesn’t anyone even have a bullshit detector anymore. If no one’s noticed, the President is black. I would find it highly surprising if he was promoting or endorsing racially segregated schools. I will say that the headline is inflammatory and the way it is written it is misleading. Of course, anyone who thinks USA Today is a quality newspaper has to have their quality meter recalibrated.

Now, we can argue with Obama’s educational policies, and before I started having an emotional meltdown I was thinking of writing about that in a post. The basic point is that years ago Bush introduced “No Child Left Behind”, or NCLB, which would require schools to have 100% of their students passing a proficiency test by a certain year, or the school would be declared “failing”. Many people even at that time thought “100%” was unrealistic. Now, a decade later, there has barely been any change. The Obama administration has changed that number to ninety-something. Several states that have many schools that aren’t meeting these goals have asked for waivers. They want their schools to be considered adequate if an even smaller percentage of students are passing the proficiency exam. Since a smaller percentage of African-American students are passing the proficiency exam than of white students, several states would like that waiver to differentiate between white students and black students. Specifically, Tennessee would like to avoid having their schools declared failing if 94% of white students and 71% of black students are passing the proficiency exam. An important point here is that these exams are not testing the student, they are testing the schools to see if the schools are succeeding in teaching the students.

My mother misread this to believe that the schools were going to have lower graduation requirements for black students than for white students. That would have been shocking. I’m not saying that having lower goals for the schools is a good thing, but it’s a far cry from “resegregation.” As I said, the article is stoking outrage. I don’t know about you, but I feel burned out on outrage. It’s entirely possible for something to be just “a bad idea” without being “Oh my God! Obama’s a racist, black power, white supremacist, segregationist, Marxist, fascist Muslim!”

So, I sat at the dining room table looking at my laptop trying to understand this poorly written article, following links to the Education Week sources in articles from 2012. Weirdly, this wasn’t even recent news. My mother is reading off of her screen saying, “Look, it says here that whites need 94% to pass and blacks need 71%.” I tried to explain to her that the percentages weren’t for passing grades but the percent of students who needed to pass the exam and that the exam wasn’t to test students but to see if the school was teaching. “No, no, no,” she said. I tried to explain calmly and slowly, standing behind her reading over her shoulder. She raised her voice and spoke over me. Finally, I stormed out of the room shouting, “I don’t know why I talk to you. You’re such a moron!”

She followed me back into the dining room continuing to argue. I explained it one more time. She finally seemed to get it. She said, “But that’s still bad, so you see I was right!” Well, no, but I just had to stop because I’d already been yelling at her and I hadn’t even finished my coffee.

Finally, she says, “They need to stop funding the schools through property taxes. The only way to close the achievement gap between blacks and whites is to have schools supported through federal taxes so all children go to schools with equivalent funding.”

I said, “That’s not even on the table.”

She said, “I know.”

So, I got in the shower. The evening before my mother bought tickets for a decorator show house that’s being held to benefit the local symphony orchestra. She was sitting in the chair reading the numbers of her debit card to someone on the other end of the phone when I heard her say, “I don’t know why it’s not going through. There should be plenty of money in my account to cover it.” I got up and motioned for her to hand me the card. She gave me the card and the phone. Her eyesight is poor and she had been reading the wrong numbers. I reread the numbers to the man on the phone and completed the transaction for her.

I wasn’t really dying to go to this show house, but why not, and it’s something my mother really loves. So after having an argument with my mother over the USA Today article criticizing Obama, I looked online at the map to find out where the symphony box office is and where the decorator show house is. I’ve been to the Myerhoff (Theatre? Hall? What is it?) before, however I still wasn’t sure exactly where it was or how to get from there to a neighborhood called Locust Point, a place where I’ve never been before. It looked easy enough. After the show house, we would have lunch and then go to the gym on the way home.

As we’re going out the door, my mother handed me a bag of laundry. I’d been staying at her place helping her exercise and diet. Since I had gotten quite far behind on my own housekeeping at about the time we came up with this idea, I’ve been bringing my laundry over and doing it at her place. Really, I had an overwhelming amount. I, or more properly “we”, have only been doing one load a day. Slowly, however, I’ve been getting it under control. This weekend, I was going to attend a conference. I mentioned to my mother that I wanted to go back to my place after dinner because I needed to pack my suitcase and I wanted to make sure that everything I planned to bring was clean.

So, as we were getting ready to leave to go to the show house, I picked up the bag with a change of clothes for the gym and my mother handed me my bag of laundry. I asked why she had the laundry. She said that she wanted to take it down to her car and after the gym we could drive by my place and I could bring my laundry home and get anything I needed to wash to go away for the weekend. She would wait in the car outside my apartment while I went upstairs. I told her that that wasn’t what I had planned to do. She started arguing with me. I can’t remember what she was saying. It didn’t make any sense to me. I had planned that after the gym, we’d go back to her place, we’d have dinner and then I’d walk home, since I only live two blocks away, and bring my laundry with me in my cart with wheels. Once I was home, if there was anything that needed to be done, I’d do it then. This made the most sense to me. We probably wouldn’t get to lunch until one, we wouldn’t be done until about two, then we wouldn’t be out of the gym until at least three thirty. That would mean that it would be almost four o’clock by the time we got back to her place. Since she has always eaten an early dinner, it just made sense for me to go, with my laundry, after dinner. Standing there with the gym bag in one hand and the laundry in a large reusable grocery bag that was getting really heavy for my wrist, I found it difficult to explain the timing and the sequence of events to her. “But I thought we could go back to your place and I’d sit in the car and wait why you went to see if there was anything that needed to be washed.”

“When did you think we’d do this?” I asked.

“After the gym,” she said.

The timing didn’t seem to make sense to me, but I was having a hard time convincing her of this. So I just said, “Fuck it. Let’s go.” I figured it was worth and extra trip to the car carrying laundry to keep from having an argument.

So we went down to the car and I just felt so frustrated I started crying while we walked through the garage.

On the way to the box office, we stopped by a gas station. She pulled in and got out of the car while I stayed in the passenger seat. A minute later, she opened the door and stuck her head in. “I can’t work the pump.”

I get out of the car. The directions on the display don’t make sense to me. I want to push cancel and start over following the directions from the beginning. “Give me your credit card,” I say and hold out my hand.

“I already swiped it,” she said.

“Yeah, I’m going to start over. Just give it to me so I can do it.” She couldn’t figure it out and she asked for my help, so why she couldn’t just follow my damn directions is beyond me. It’s her inability to follow directions in the first place that makes her unable to pump her own gas. I swiped her card and pump the gas and we get back in the car.

We pull up to the Myerhoff. We had agreed that I’d jump out and get the tickets since I’m faster, but for some reason she changed her mind. I get out with her anyway because she seems to be having a hard time doing basic things. She couldn’t read her debit card number over the phone the night before and she couldn’t pump the gas this morning, so I just thought that I’d go with her.

We got the tickets and got back into the car. Driving with my mother is always a little bit tense, however we managed to find the place without too much of a problem. We went into the show house. At the end she says, “Well, it wasn’t Manhattan, but I guess it was nice enough.” She seems slightly disappointed.

Several nearby restaurants were giving 10% off to anyone who had gone to see the show house. That was convenient since I thought that we were in a part of town neither of us had ever visited before and we didn’t know what was in the area. My mother has difficulty parallel parking, so I try to choose one of the places that says that they had a parking lot, it was called Barracuda’s Locust Point Tavern and it said that it served New American food. That sounded okay. We find the address and there’s what appears to be a narrow driveway alongside it. I thought maybe it went to a parking lot in the back. My mother said, “If I drive in there and there isn’t a place to park, I won’t be able to back out. If I do that, will you back out for me.” I said sure. We drove in, but it appeared to be blocked off with a garbage pail. There were little fish painted on the wall with the words “Food this way” but there was no evident place to go that way. Someone with an apron was watching us through a glass door while we did this. I said to my mother, “How about I get out and you stay here with the car and I’ll ask them where this supposed parking lot is?” She said, “No, I’ll go in.”

She got out of the car. When she came back she was really angry. She came to the driver’s side of the car and said, “Get out.”

“Is something wrong?” I asked.

“Just get out.”

I got out of the driver’s side and got in the passenger’s side. “Did they tell you where to park?”

“We’re not going in there. The bartender just ignored me and it’s filled with good ole boys.”

I have to confess that in this area that surprised me a little. From the look of the place and the fact that it had “tavern” in its name I wasn’t expecting anything much fancier than pub food, but on the other hand the fact that they were advertising through the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s decorator show house saying that they served “New American Food” made me think that “good ole boys” wouldn’t be their target clientele. Stranger still, I couldn’t understand why my mother was so evidently angry. I tried to ask her what happened inside, but she just seemed to get even angrier, so I just dropped it.

“There’s another place about two or three blocks ahead on the right.” We pulled into a parking lot. It was an old warehouse building. Much of it appears have been turned into offices, but there’s a gym in the back and a place that is a Wine shop and bistro called The Wine Market Bistro. We go inside and are seated. I look around and I see a few people in business suits. In a t-shirt, black cargo-type pants and sandals, I’m the most dressed-down person in the place. I look at the menu. Happily, there are a few things which, while not “dietetic”, look as if they’re not going to be terribly choices in the context of trying to eat more healthily.  I turn to my mother and said, “Well, this looks nice.”

“Hmm,” she says.

“Don’t you think it looks nice?”

“It’s okay,” she says, drawing out the word “okay” to imply that it’s barely acceptable.

I look around and I wonder if she’s hallucinating or if I’ve missed something. It was one thing for the other place to be full of “good ole boys”, but I couldn’t find anything wrong with this place in terms of the way it looked or the sort of people in it. I glanced back down at the menu and there seemed to be things she liked to eat. I couldn’t get the problem. Making a stab at being congenial I said, as pleasantly as I could muster, “Is there someplace else you’d like to go?”

“No.”

Finally, I whispered under my breath, “If there’s something fucking wrong just tell me.”

“I can’t hear you. Speak up.”

We were too close to other diners for me to speak up so she could hear me. I felt like I was going to blow. I was getting hot under my collar. The entire morning had been one conflict after another of me trying to make everything okay for her. I didn’t want to wreck my breakfast arguing about Obama’s educational policies. I didn’t want to giver her directions while driving across town while she complained about the traffic. I didn’t want to go to the fucking show house. I didn’t want to go out to fucking lunch. I didn’t know where we were either. I didn’t know one restaurant on the list from another. I was just picking one blindly with the intent to make do. I was just trying to humor her. I didn’t fucking care where we ate. I was about three seconds from making a huge scene. I could feel my blood pounding in my ears. I didn’t know if I was going to cry or scream. We were seated next to the door. I realized that the only way I could avoid doing something I’d regret was to get up and leave.

So I left.

The walk home was seven miles. I have a bad sunburn. About two years ago, I got orthopedic inserts. I wear them in my sneakers. If I had known I was going to walk seven miles I would have worn those instead of my sandals. Now my feet are killing me.

Anyway, I don’t know what is happening now – if we’re speaking or not speaking.