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‘Cause I’ve seen blue skies
Through the tears in my eyes
And I realize I’m going home.

 – I’m Going Home“, by Richard O’Brien from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”

Several times, I’ve started this post and I keep stopping. Baltimore is something of an underdog city and I have enough of an instinctive sympathy for underdogs that I can’t help feeling almost guilty for hating it. To put it in the most neutral terms possible, I just haven’t been able to fit in here. Perhaps it’s my fault. New York is perhaps the last city to need one more booster, but there we go. I like New York.

Mensa having a preacher at their monthly meeting was certainly not the first time I felt alienated here, but it was the one that finally clinched it. It said to me, “No, you will never make friends here.” It’s been four years and there is probably no one here with whom I will keep in touch after I leave with the exception of my sister and brother-in-law. The cost of living is so much lower here than in New York City that I kept hoping that somehow I could make it work, by traveling more, by doing things that I was unable to do in New York like gardening, but it just wasn’t enough to make me happy. I suspect the isolation was making me a little bit nuts. It’s funny, because I’m introspective and just a touch introverted people think I should do well alone. It’s quite the opposite. Since I’m not especially gregarious I need many opportunities to make contact with other people in order to take advantage of the few occasions when I feel moved to reach out.

They say you take yourself with you wherever you go, but in my experience that just isn’t true. I’m not the same person in everyplace, or at least I don’t behave in the same way. Some people find New York too hectic. One friend left after 9/11 for that reason. I’m just the opposite. To me, everyone here in Baltimore looks like they are walking with the weight of the world on their shoulders. It makes me feel like everything is hopeless. Furthermore, the place is ugly. For better or worse, I’ve always felt very sensitive to my surroundings.

I know that the popular belief these days is that depression has a biological source, but I’ve always felt that living in Baltimore was a major contributing factor in my depression. I guess I’m going to put that to the test. Just the thought of moving back to New York has made me significantly more cheerful during the past week.

A few good things have come out of moving here. I feel closer to my sister than I have since we were teenagers. I had a chance to live in an architectural masterpiece. A former boyfriend from New York said that he heard that living in a place like this is not as enjoyable as it sounds. That is totally untrue. The building and the apartment are great. If I could bring it to New York with me I would. However, in New York I would never be able to afford it. I had a chance to learn programming and to learn more about plants.

People do choose to live in one place over another for a reason. Sometimes it’s a job or family, but many people go to New York for New York itself.

Well, I’m going to be pretty busy during the next couple of weeks. I have a new place to fix up and an old place to get ready to sell.

Get my sister Sandy
And my little brother Ray
Buy a big old wagon
Gonna haul us all away

….

Oh, Baltimore
Man, it’s hard just to live
Oh, Baltimore
Man, it’s hard just to live, just to live

from “Baltimore,” by Randy Newman
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I don’t quite know why I’m crying tonight. I’m having a hard time breathing. Suddenly I’m put in mind of something I read while trying to look for information on the internet the other day. It was something to the effect of depression being when your problems exceed your resources for coping with them.

This feels weird. I originally put up this blog to write about politics, society and related subjects. Somehow, it’s turning into some weird document of my ongoing breakdown.

So, after about two years of hibernation and dodging my problems, I’ve started trying to tackle some of the underlying causes. They’re not going to improve on their own, that’s for sure. Unfortunately, coming out of hibernation also causes emotional volatility. After all, I went into hiding for a reason.

What are my tangible problems? Nothing terribly original, I’m afraid. My career’s in the crapper, I’m living in a town where I know almost no one, I have no social life, no love life, I’ve gained weight and I feel unattractive. Unfortunately, all these things interact with one another, so fixing one without working on the others goes no where. Without a decent, steady job no one wants to date you.

Most recently, the loneliness has really been getting under my skin. So I set out to change that. I put an ad up on Craigslist. It wasn’t as crazy as what I said the other day, but it was still crazy enough that it got flagged and taken down. I looked at the rules for Craigslist and couldn’t figure out which one I’d broken. Nothing said that desperate, depressed people were barred from looking for a significant other. In the meantime, it was put back up. I guess the moderators there came to the same conclusion. Quite a few men wrote, concerned that I wouldn’t get the sort of responses I wanted. Well, I got hundreds. After a while I couldn’t keep up with them, so I only read the first hundred or so. The vast majority were actually quite nice. On average, the responses were no more rude than when I’ve put up nice, socially acceptable ads.

I wrote back to several people who for some reason or another struck me as promising, generally that meant near my age and seeming to share some sort of interest. I struck up a short exchange with one man. He phoned and we agreed to meet.

My ad had made it clear that I was lonely and looking for company, that I would be open for more but that I wasn’t expecting more. It was getting towards dinner time and I thought about suggesting a bite to eat, but I didn’t want to come off like I was expecting a man to buy me dinner or jump through a million hoops, so I suggested a pub that is located between his place and mine and threw a couple handfuls of nuts in my mouth.

We had a really nice time. We talked while sitting at the bar for at least an hour, maybe two, then we went to his place. When I got home that night, I realized that for well over two years I hadn’t had a long, in-depth, ambling conversation with anyone other than my sister and my mother. I thought to myself, no wonder I’m going nuts. That’s just not healthy. I also thought back and remembered one point in the evening when I was shirtless and draped over his lap. We were talking and while we were talking he was fondling my breasts. It’s funny because it’s hard to say whether I’m uncomfortable with my body or not. With some men I am, and I want the lights out before taking off my clothes, and with some men, I’m not. I took it as a good sign that I was feeling so comfortable with him. I feel slightly uncomfortable talking about someone else, so I’m leaving out details, but I felt we had a lot to talk about. In any case, he drove me home and said he hoped to see me again soon.

He contacted me. Because I’ve always been told that men are afraid of clingy women, I would have never contacted him first. I made it clear that I wanted to see him again and any more would have felt too pushy.

Tonight, by coincidence, we were meeting around dinner time again and I thought of asking if he wanted to eat together, but again I was afraid of being too demanding and made myself an early dinner. I’m just always so afraid of being one of those demanding women. Admittedly, he wasn’t feeling well when I arrived and things seemed slightly awkward all night. The previous time, we didn’t engage in vaginal penetration and I was eager to get him inside me. When we were fully undressed and lying on his bed I tried to kiss him and he pulled away. He said it was too intimate. That made me really uncomfortable. Establishing intimacy was part of the point of wanting to kiss him. Then he said that he felt that we didn’t have enough of an emotional history between the two of us to have sex. Since I’d already performed fellatio on him the first night and had been licking and fondling him earlier in the evening, this struck me as odd. The first night seemed fine to me and we had even less of an emotional history then. In order to alleviate the awkwardness, I asked if he wanted to talk about it and we spent some time talking about his ex-girlfriend. Then he commented that he had to get up to go to work in a few hours. I got up and put my clothes on and I was crying as I was leaving. He made no move to comfort me or even ask why I was upset. He seemed to think that the crying came on suddenly, but it had been building up ever since he refused to kiss me. He walked me to my car. I asked him for a hug before getting in and leaving and I can’t help wondering if he would have done or said anything at all if I hadn’t asked.

I have no idea if he wants to see me again. I’m not sure I want to see him again if he does.

A decade ago, or even five or six years ago, this would have been no big deal. It would be just one date that went awry. Maybe there would be a little bit of a puzzle about what was different between the first night and the second. But I don’t have the emotional resilience that I did then. I’m not sure if I feel like taking a chance and writing to any of the other men who wrote to me, and I’m not sure when I’ll feel like going on a date again. I’m unlikely to meet someone by chance since I haven’t in several years.

So, I’ve been crying and I’m not exactly sure why. It feels like a rejection, but not a big crushing rejection, more like a slow grinding away. I feel like I’m running out of resources. I don’t have the emotional resources to engage in normal dating. Maybe I should put the ad up in the casual encounters section and just have one night stands and not even hope for anything more.

Towards the end, he said something about his attitudes towards sex changing, but I really didn’t understand what he was talking about. It’s hard these days to find someone who is open and excepting about a woman being a sexual person outside of marriage without being treated badly.

I don’t know that I ever want to marry again. I don’t want live the rest of my life without intimate contact with another human being. I have the distinct feeling of drowning and being unable to breathe.

I’ve turned off comments on the last post because people don’t really get what’s useful to say and what’s not. I’ll probably turn off the comments on this as well.

I’m lonely. That’s it. That’s all. I want company. A psychiatrist can only do so much. We live in a society that values only beauty, money, youth, power. When you don’t have any of that, you wind up alone. You’d think that you’d be able to meet another broken person, but for some reason it doesn’t work that way. Men a couple of years older than I, with a slight pot belly and a balding head, are holding out for a young beauty. I don’t even have platonic friends these days. Once upon a time I did, but then I moved. Most of them had moved out of New York by that time anyway. You get past a certain age, and it’s not only hard to meet lovers, but it’s hard to meet platonic friends, too. Add to that having all the characteristics of a loser….

I have sought out professional help. In fact, two years ago, I put myself in the hospital because I was having a hard time getting the help I needed outside. It shouldn’t have come to that, but it’s harder to find help than you’d think. It has a lot to do with what insurance companies will offer. They’re geared up for emergency situations. Once you’re stabilized, then you’re sent back out, forty-eight hours and fare-thee-well.

Anyway, I do see a psychiatrist and I take medication. I think some talk therapy along with that would be useful, or could be, but finding a therapist to talk to you is tough, especially when all your talk is a perseverative, self-pitying mess.

A few years ago I tried online dating. In fact, I did it several times and did meet a several boyfriends that lasted about a year each. However, that was back before I moved to Baltimore and became depressed. Online dating is emotionally grueling. You have to be willing to subject yourself to massive amounts of negative comments in the hopes of meeting one person who isn’t a total jerk. There are plenty of nice people out there, but they’re hidden among people who range from neutral to mean. It was one thing to do that way back when, before I was depressed and when I had a reasonable level of self-esteem. Even then, the criticisms could have a temporary negative impact, but I was emotionally healthy enough to bounce back quickly. Now, I feel like it would be setting myself up for a potentially dangerous situation.

I’ve compiled a list of organizations and clubs to join, although so far I’ve only joined one. Meeting platonic friends can be even harder than meeting a boyfriend. How do you meet people? I just have to join a whole lot of things and hope for the best. I haven’t heard from my supposed best friend since January. He lives in another state. He never calls or writes anymore. I could email him, but why am I bothering? Why do I even still consider him a friend?

Complicating things a little bit is that I have a little social anxiety. That’s perhaps the only emotional problem I can remember having prior to going to college. It won’t keep me from going to any social events, but I find them very draining, so I won’t be able to load up a several week period with a whole lot of different things.

I feel like I have so many areas that need improvement, it’s like a juggling act and I’m trying to keep multiple balls in the air.

A boyfriend with whom I lived for a little while once observed that I don’t have a lot of “fun.” That was back when I was doing reasonably well. He was right, in a way. Everyone needs a little pleasure, enjoyment and fun in life. Back then, I was getting enough, at least for me even if it seemed paltry to him. But now, I really don’t have much enjoyment. Only part of that is the depression. A large part of that is reality. I really do live in a place where I know no one except my sister. These days, I wish I enjoyed television or movies, but I never really have. Just not a movie person.

I used to like dancing and I used to like going to hear live music, usually in a bar type of setting, not a big “rock concert” type of thing. However, those are past times for young people. I could probably go out and listen to music, but the sociable part of it might not be there because after a certain age you just become invisible. I don’t mean even flirting or picking up men, just interacting with people.

Humanity is brutal. When you’re weak, no one wants to know you.

The past few days I was actually feeling something close to normal. Now tonight, it’s not quite ten in the evening and I’ve been quietly crying for about an hour. Ten is the hour when I stop playing music and dial the noise down significantly and right now, I feel like I’m looking at a very long strange night.

It’s so strange what can trigger a depressive episode. It seems so trivial. If I were to tell you what the trigger is you’d think I was nuttier than you do already. I can see that this is going someplace not good and I don’t know how to stop it.

All I wanted to do was sit outside alone, have something to eat and read a book. I’d been cleaning my apartment and doing my laundry. I hadn’t eaten anything all day and in the late afternoon I had this idea that I would go take a break at a little Asian noodle shop that has some seats outside. Aesthetics matter a lot to me and I wanted to just spend an hour someplace attractive and pleasant. The shop itself is hideous, but they have some tables outside in an area that’s very pleasant. Of course, the place was closed.

It’s a little hard to explain why this upset me so much. Earlier this week, I was feeling like I just don’t want to be a basket case anymore. I hate exercising, but I exercised everyday this week except Friday, and that was because my mother had some problems with her email, so I went over there to help her. I’ve been good about cooking reasonably healthy meals at home and, most importantly, I’ve tried to be productive in a work related sense. I know that for a mentally healthy person, this is just normal behavior, but it took quite a lot of discipline and forcing myself to follow through. I just kept telling myself that I want to get better, I don’t want to be an emotional mess.

Two weeks ago, I cleaned my bedroom for what must have been the first time in over a year. My sister helped me and we cleaned out a small part of my closet. Or maybe that was last week. I’m not sure. Anyway, today, I tried to do the “routine” cleaning. It has to be understood that I’ve fallen behind on my cleaning by about two years, maybe longer. That doesn’t mean I haven’t cleaned anything at all, but I feel that each week I don’t do quite as much as is necessary to keep up on things and slowly, week by week, I’ve fallen behind and I could spend a full week, everyday, all day cleaning and not get my apartment, apartment not house mind you, to the level of tidiness of the average person. I don’t aspire to be a model of tidiness, just average.

So, my idea was, more or less, that I would do my routine cleaning, take a break in the late afternoon, have something to eat in a pleasant spot outdoors, taking advantage of the good weather, and read a book. It was a beautiful day today and the idea of a break kept me going. I didn’t want to cook because I didn’t want to dirty dishes. Also, I wanted to get outside as a sort of necessary “mood enhancer.” I’m not overly fond of the food at this noodle place, but it struck me as good enough and I really liked the idea of taking a break with a book.

So, of course, it’s closed. I began walking to another place that’s about a half a mile away. At the end of the block I paused. That place is very unattractive. I started feeling depressed just thinking about it. There was another place that’s much closer, but that’s even more unattractive, plus they have televisions. I stood at the corner not knowing if I should turn right, turn left and go back home or turn around and go to the other place. It was the idea of spending my break not only indoors, but in truly ugly surroundings, that had me stumped. It wouldn’t be much of a respite. If couldn’t have a respite, I might as well go back to my place, so I started walking back. I didn’t want to make myself some eggs because I’d have to dirty a pan and I was trying to tidy my place. I thought about ordering in, but the easiest thing would be pizza and I was trying to eat a little bit more healthily.

I got back home and I found I was crying, not hysterical, just crying. I just felt so defeated. It’s hard to explain.

I did eventually get myself some dinner, but it was in a really ugly environment. Worse yet, next door there is a sports bar and I had to listen to the sports news blaring throughout my entire meal.

Now, I’m home alone and I’m crying again. I’m not even sure why. It just feels like everything in my life is ugly and lonely. The worst part of it is that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.

 

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.”

Today is Mother’s Day in the U.S. and quite a few other countries, so I feel like I should put up a nice, light post. A photo of flowers would seem to be just the thing, or perhaps birds, but I am, unsurprisingly, at my mother’s and I have left the cord to connect my camera to my laptop at my place. As I mentioned the other day, we’ve been on a diet and exercise kick, so I just thought that maybe I’d report how that is going.

So, now we’ve exercised regularly for about two weeks and I’ve made most of the meals we’ve eaten for about one week. Part of the reason we started with this is because I realized that my mother seems to not know what’s in the food she eats. This became evident the other day when she suggested we have avocados as a snack. I said, “Let’s share one.” It turned out that she didn’t know that avocados are high in calories. She said, “I thought they were healthy.” This is a great example of the confusion between healthy and thin. I don’t think it is useful to talk about “good foods” and “bad foods” the way many people, including my mother, do. Avocados are certainly not “unhealthy”, however, they are high in calories.

Other things we’ve eaten lately:

Crab Salad Louis – This is one of my favorite meals. It’s something of an old-fashioned dish, and I don’t understand why it isn’t eaten more often. It’s a nice change of pace if you eat a lot of things like Salade Niçoise. I have a cookbook with a version of the Louis dressing which isn’t made with mayonnaise and is the version I prefer. It’s white wine vinegar or lemon juice, a small amount of chili sauce, mustard powder, salt and pepper, chives, olive oil and whatever other herbs you like. Obviously, if you’re on a reduction diet, go easy on the dressing.

As I mentioned the other day, I made Fish Veracruz style.

We had leftover crabmeat from the Louis Salad, so I made a recipe I got off of the internet. A boyfriend I had used to like making zucchini by taking a vegetable peeler and slicing off thin strips until there was no more zucchini left. I made strips of carrot the same way. I skipped the linguine mentioned in the recipe. I tossed the zucchini and carrots with lime juice, because I already had that in the ‘fridge. I blended that with the crab meat, parsley, basil cut into strips, and pepper. I skipped the salt. I forgot the pine nuts just because I’m forgetful, but they would probably be good. I had a little leftover Louis dressing, so I threw in a couple of tablespoons of that instead of the olive oil. Tossed everything to blend it. After putting it on the plate, I topped it with the grated cheese. It was pretty good. My mother said it would make a good buffet dish.

I also made a somewhat boring saute with diced chicken and some vegetables seasoned with some rosemary and lemon. That’s a typical meal for me when I’m at home alone because it’s quick and I only dirty one pan.

As I think is pretty self-evident, there’s no  special “diet” food. However, my mother is complaining about the expense, so I’ll have to look for more budget items in the future.

As far as exercising goes, I’ve mainly had my mother do gentle stretching exercises. She’s in her seventies, and has arthritis, so we’re not doing anything too extreme. We’ve gone to the gym and while I work out with weights she pedals the bicycle slowly.

Oh, yes, and her computer is up and running and she’s pretty happy with it. She still can’t read my blog, though, because she’s a former English teacher and I don’t want her to know about all the grammar mistakes I make. Ah, in my late forties and still afraid of my mother scolding me.

This blog might take some unusual turns over the next few weeks.

About a week ago, my mother asked me about when I was thirteen and put myself on a diet for the first time and lost weight. After that, I was thin my entire life until I moved to Baltimore. My mother has gone up and down her whole life and, after a period of being anorexic in high school and college, she has been heavier more than not and has sometimes been quite obese. When I went on a diet in junior high school, as my mother noted, I told no one nor did anyone notice until I started to lose weight. She asked me a few questions about that.

First, I said, that one thing I’d come to realize about being thin was that that and two fifty would get you on the subway. Sure, there was a small increase in the number of men who were interested in dating me, but the sort of men who will only date you when you’re at the low end of the doctor’s recommended weight range rather than the upper end tend to not be men I care to date. However, despite the fact that I have tried to care less about being as thin as I can without fainting regularly from low blood pressure, I’ve still been concerned about keeping my weight from spiraling out of control because diabetes runs very heavily in my family. So even now that I’ve tried to suppress my concern for my appearance, I still make an effort on account of health. I joking said to my mother, “The one thing I know how to do is to be thin.”

I’m not sure exactly how the conversation flowed after that, but I said, “Do you want to be thin? I can make you thin.”

She said, “No one has ever said that to me before.”

I said, “I can, but you have to do everything I tell you.”

So, now I’m staying at my mother’s place several days a week and we’re going to the gym and exercising. I’m planning and cooking all the meals. After chowing down last night on some fish prepared Veracruz style, she asked, “Am I really going to lose weight like this?” I told her that her problem was a cycle of dieting and bingeing. I said, “The trick is that we never stop eating like this.” I altered the recipe slightly because she has to limit salt.

Last night, over dinner, she said to me, “My computer is so slow, I get frustrated trying to do anything these days.” Her computer is about nine years old. She said that she did know if she should get a laptop or a tablet. I happened to have with me my portable laptop which converts to a tablet. I had her try to write emails to friends using it in each mode. She said the laptop keyboard was very difficult because of her arthritis. In tablet mode, it was less painful to use the on-screen keyboard, but she didn’t like how slow it was.

She said, “Why can’t I just get one that sits on my desk like I have now?”

As it happened, a few months ago, my sister was complaining about how her neck was hurting. I saw her working on her laptop one day all hunched over and I said, “How is your neck now?”

She said, “It’s killing.”

I said, that’s because you’re working all hunched over. A few years ago, I got a laptop and I’ve since switched back to a desktop. I offered to put one together for her. We came up with a budget and, with the help of the kind people on the buildapc subreddit, I picked out and purchased all the parts. By the time all the parts arrived, my sister seemed to have lost her enthusiasm and every time I say, “How about we put together your computer this weekend,” she says, “Aww, I’d rather do something else.”

Although it was a pretty modest build because my sister didn’t need anything too powerful, that’s still a few hundred dollars of computer parts sitting in her spare room going to waste. So, I called my sister and asked if she still wanted the computer. Anticipating my reason for calling, she said, “If Mom wants it, let her have it.”

So, later today, we’re going to go to my sister’s, pick up the parts and assemble it either today or tomorrow. I’ll have fun. My mother will probably curse a lot.

I try to remember to take some pictures this time.

This evening, I’m fighting several conflicting feelings at the same time. I’ve mentioned in some previous posts my depression, which seems to have suddenly gotten worse over the course of the past week. My usually volatile emotions now have a hair-trigger, at least the negative ones do. It’s gotten bad enough that a couple of days ago my mother asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital. If I thought it would help, I would. I was hospitalized for suicidal ideation two years ago. So, I know what will happen if I’m hospitalized and it is, at best, a temporary fix. I take my medication. From inside a hospital, I can’t work on the things that are making me depressed in the first place, which is basically the loneliness. As I’ve mentioned before, I live in Baltimore but I know no one here. All the contact I have with people outside of my immediate family is via the internet, which is part of the reason that I go nuts when my connection goes down.  I didn’t get quite so bent out of shape when that happened when I lived in New York.

A few days ago, I read a blog post called “How To Be A Good Depressive Citizen.”

Depression is messy, and ugly, and sticky. You don’t take it out in public until it’s thoroughly sanitized, freeze-dried, and vacuum-packed – or you make yourself a reputation that you don’t want. It is okay to be depressed, even valorous, so long as you never actually demonstrate depression.

Right now, dressed in the blog-equivalent of a crisp business suit, some depressive is blogging as the Good Citizen, tears wiped off of blotched cheeks, a stiff upper lip, toeing the party line that we can all get through this if we just keep swimming. She is an inspiration.

You do not discuss your depression until you can be an inspiration, or you are just fucking crazy.

Nobody likes crazy.

Well, I’ve already discussed my feelings when I’ve been in the throes of a depressive episode, so I guess I’m not a Good Depressive Citizen. Worse yet, I am about to do so again.

Have you ever had that moment in the immediate wake of a highly emotional event and you feel like a little thing in your brain goes “ping?” That intense crisis that make your response to something suddenly switch? Something you liked, you now hate. Something you once could tolerate you can no longer tolerate. You say to yourself, “I will never again do x,” “I will never again love anyone,” “I will never again trust anyone…” Of course, I’ve had responses like this many times in my life and, somehow, by the next morning, I’ve usually gone back to my previous position, loving people, trusting people, or doing whatever it was that I thought I could never do again.

A song by Steely Dan that sometimes makes me feel better has the lines,

Any major dude with half a heart surely with tell you my friend
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again.
When the demon is at your door
In the morning it won’t be there no more.

That always seemed to sum up the feeling well. So I write what I’m writing tonight, knowing full well that tomorrow I might feel as I did this morning.

A few days ago, on someone else’s blog, a Christian brought up Thomas Paine and said that on his deathbed he regretted writing The Age of Reason. Being American and a bit of a francophile, it would be hard for me to avoid knowing a little bit about Paine who was active in both the American and French Revolutions and generally considered to have been a Deist. I never read specifically about Paine’s death, I only knew that he had been abandoned by most of his friends in his later years and few people attended his funeral. As someone who stood by his radical convictions through many trials in his life, it did not strike me as plausible that he changed his mind as he was dying. I attempted a quick search on the internet, but most of the websites which came up were Christian, which I didn’t trust. It seems that for plain old historians without an agenda this isn’t an interesting topic. Finally, I found this post on Ask.com.

There are twenty death-bed witnesses, Madame Bonneville, Dr. Romaine, Dr. Manley, Rev. Cunningham, Rev. Milledollar, Mr. Pigott, Mrs. Redden, Willet Hicks, Mrs. Cheeseman, Amasa Woodsworth, Thomas Nixon, Captain Pelton, Walter Morton, Thomas Addis Emmet, Mrs. Few, Albert Gallatin, Mr. Jarvis, B.F. Haskin, Colonel Fellows, and Judge Hertell, many of them Christians, all affirming or admitting that Thomas Paine did not recant.

It was one of those tiresome things that, even while I was doing it, I found myself asking myself, “Why do I care?” However, I know that the radical right has been fabricating a strange view of history and I think that’s unhealthy. For what it’s worth, I’ve never much liked Howard Zinn, seeing him more as a propagandist than an historian. The truth may be difficult to grasp and subject to interpretation, but in order to know where one stands on contemporary issues, it’s important to examine the past. On the other hand, time marches on. We seek to make the world a better place, which is not possible if we think the country should be frozen in amber in 1776 or 1789. It is probably more relevant to know the words and deeds of Thomas Paine in the course of his life and the effect he had on the politics of several countries than to know what his last words were. Still, I decided to make an effort to counter the lie the Christians tell.

Freethought Blogs is a website that hosts the blogs of a score of people. Until recently, Chris Rodda had a blog there. Today it was missing. I wondered what happened to it and I searched on the internet for her name. I had never before taken note of her book Liars for Jesus. She has the introduction and the first several pages of each chapter available on the related website. I drank some coffee and read a little bit. I only got as far as the second chapter before doing other things, however that second chapter was strangely relevant to what happened later that day. By a funny coincidence, the chapter is about the Northwest Ordinance. Before I go further, let me state that I keep on my bookshelf a book called The American Pageant. It is a high school text-book that has been used to teach U.S. History since 1983. I frequently turn to it, not because it is the best book on U.S. History every written, but because it can give me an idea of the “standard” narrative. This and other U.S. History books have been criticized by the left for ethnocentrism. The American Pageant is a broad survey and covers very little in depth. I can’t imagine a class that wouldn’t supplement it with many other items. However, here is what it has to say on the Northwest Ordinance.

While still British colonies, several states-to-be were given “sea to sea” charters, while others had much more limited lands. The states that had claims to lands far to the west were Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The states without Western claims were New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. At the end of the Revolution, the new States each found itself burdened with debt.

A major complaint was that the land-blessed states could sell their trans-Allegheny tracts, and thus pay off pensions and other debts incurred in the common cause. The states without such holdings would have to tax themselves heavily to defray these obligations. Why not turn the whole western area over to the central government?

Unanimous approval of the Articles of Confederation by the thirteen states was required , and landless Maryland stubbornly held out until March 1, 1781. She finally gave in when New York surrendered her western claims, and Virginia seemed about to do so. To sweeten the pill, Congress pledged itself to dispose of these vast areas for the “common benefit.” It further agreed to carve from the new public domain a number of “republican” states, which in time would be admitted to the Union on terms of complete equality with all the others. This pledge was later redeemed in the famed Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The book then goes on to talk ever so briefly of the weaknesses of the government under the Articles of Confederation. Then it notes two effective laws that were passed during that period, The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.

This law came to grips with the notion of how a nation should deal with its colonial peoples…. The solution provided by the Ordinance was a judicious compromise” temporary tutelage, then permanent equality.

The book as very little more to say on the subject beyond a celebratory line about the “unstinted praise” deserved by the “wisdom of Congress,” probably exactly the sort of language the gets the book a thumbs-down from the left.

Since Rodda only gives the first four pages of the chapter on the internet, I was not able to read her entire version, not that it mattered. I was just engaging in a little idle reading while waiting for the wash cycle to be done so I could transfer my laundry to the dryer.

In her introduction, which I basically skimmed because it bored me a little, she writes about how she came to decide to write the book Liars for Jesus. She writes how she followed a link in a story. “Little did I know that when I clicked on that link that I was about to discover a whole new version of American history.”

I haven’t had one watershed moment, but for the past year, since I’ve been blogging and engaging with people on the internet more frequently than in the past, I am beginning to realize the same thing.

Then I went back to the Freethought Blogs site, and I happened to see a post that mentioned that May 1 was the “National Day of Prayer,” something I had never heard of, nor had my mother when I brought it up to her this evening.

Earlier today, I put up a very short post noting that, although today was a “National Day of Prayer,” I wouldn’t be praying. I didn’t offer any opinion about whether or not the designation was constitutional or not. My laundry was in the dryer. As soon as it was out, I was going to jump in the shower, throw on my clothes and meet my mother for our workout at the gym. I went on to do other things, but checked my computer again because someone owes me an email. There was a comment from a Christian who frequents atheist blogs seeming to pick fights. I have learned to avoid him. He says strange things about U.S. History the source of which is unknown to me, but frequently is quite far afield from anything resembling what I learned in high school. It’s one thing to argue with someone about interpretation. It is quite tedious when the other person seems to possess their own private set of facts.

I guess it’s hard to argue with the statement, “I did not pray today.” Despite the fact that I never brought up whether or not the National Day of Prayer was constitutional, this commenter went on a strange rant about the Northwest Ordinance. I would have had no clue what he was talking about if I hadn’t by chance just read portions Rodda’s book earlier that day. I dislike this person. He is very aggressive and has said vulgar, unkind things to me in the past. I have countered with my own unkind statements, and now avoid him. I dislike him so much that I sometimes avoid commenting on blogs where he might show up because I don’t want to have an argument with him. He frequently cites U.S. History, but not any history I ever learned, but his own Alice through the Looking Glass version. I thought about going back to Rodda’s site and responding to his argument. One thing I do not like to do is to allow factual inaccuracies to go unchallenged in comments. Not because I want to have an argument, but because I do not want to lead people astray. I do not want my blog to be used to spread known falsehoods. Then the timer I had set for the dryer went off.

I ran down to the laundry room and came back unsure of what to do. My blood pressure mounting by the second. Feeling like I was going to have a stroke, I wanted to delete his comment, explain why I deleted it, but since he is very aggressive in his argument I wanted to block him from commenting. I’ve only done that once before and I couldn’t recall how to do that. My mind clouded by anger, I tried searching, but felt that the words were swimming before my eyes. My mother was waiting for me. I took down the post and wrote the “I Hate Christians.” Quite obviously, that is an outburst. I can’t decide whether or not to take it down, now that I’m calmer. Maybe it’s good for Christians to see what their inability to be civil reduces people to.

And this is where I feel like my mind went “ping.” I’ve never considered myself an anti-theist, just an atheist. I’ve always tried to be an atheist who gets along well with religious neighbors. But maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe we can’t “coexist.” Some people make the argument that religion will always lead down this path. It’s only a matter of time before someone comes along to blow-up a school.

And this is where I become a bad depressive citizen. All evening, the same subject has been swirling around in my mind. Why do I bother? I virtually ooze privilege.  I look white, I was raised middle class and have a middle class accent, I got a reasonably solid secondary education, I have a B.A., I’ve been enrolled in Master’s programs, I have a successful supportive sister who is married to a supportive man, my mother tries to be supportive in her own way, I grew up with a really nice father who is unfortunately now deceased, I’m able-bodied, highly intelligent, in good health and very pretty according to standard norms of beauty when I bother to fix myself up a bit. Except for the fact that I’m female, petite and now middle-aged, I really exist in a surprisingly comfortable world. Why should I care about anybody else? Let’s face it, it has absolutely no impact on me if someone in Oklahoma teaches their kids Creationism. Mainly, Christians want to hobble their own children. Why am I fighting?

Then I thought to myself, “You can still write what you think, just turn off the comments.” Then I remember how isolated I am here in this town and maybe that wouldn’t be a good idea.

I could only write about things that don’t bring contentious people to my blog and start avoiding other people’s blogs, something I’ve already started to do.

Then I have other moments when I think about the frustration I’ve felt the past few days and feel that I should instead make my blog about U.S. History to counter the falsehoods. Then I think again and I feel exhausted at the notion. If it were my job, that would be one thing, but it would be a full-time job to even make a dent in it.

Then I get angry at Christians again. Where are the moderate Christians? Where are the people who are always bothering atheists that we haven’t thought about sophisticated notions of theology? They’re always up for an argument when an atheist says, “I don’t believe in God.” Why do I rarely (not never, I should point out) see them arguing with their fundamentalist coreligionists.

Then we get the people who are just out to lunch, like my mother. Honestly, I don’t mean anything against my mother, but a couple of weeks ago she wanted to talk about that missing plane and yesterday she wanted to talk about the racist basketball team owner.

I feel exhausted, I feel defeated, I feel alone in this fight and I would rather not care. Now, if I can only succeed in not caring.

So maybe I should just cocoon myself in my privilege and keep in mind that all of this has comparatively little tangible effect on me.

Before I say anything, I need to apologize for having such petty problems. I feel like an asshole for having the degree of internal angst that I have over problems that are so small. I’m entirely aware that there are people who are hungry, people who are homeless, people who are sick with physically painful illnesses, and I feel that I have no right to be so miserable over things in my life that are so comparatively small. But still, it’s there. I am miserable, miserable enough to start my morning swallowing an Ativan with my coffee. I don’t like taking the Ativan because it makes me feel sluggish and taking one in the morning is especially bad. However, it keeps me from having a full-blown anxiety attack, the kind where I start acting out and do weird things that I regret when I calm down.

One of my problems is that I’m lonely. Now lonely isn’t dying, but sometimes if feels like it is. The other problems, well they’re the petty sort of problems that don’t deserve a blog post, but I have no one to tell, so I guess I’ll put it on the internet and tell anyone who’s listening.

First of all, I’m a slob, not so much the dirty kind, but the disorganized kind. When things get disorganized enough, then my place may start getting dirty too, but my principal problem is disorganization.

Several years ago, I had to leave New York City because my income had stagnated and my rent and my health insurance kept rising. Eventually, I was priced out of the place in which I’d been living. I needed to make a change. My career, if my life’s hodgepodge of unrelated jobs can be dignified with that word, had stalled. I enrolled in a Master’s Degree program in Computer Science in the hope of straightening it out and moved in with my sister, which definitely relieved my rent problems.

My sister has been living in Baltimore for the past thirty years. She came here to go to college and never left. She’s married and she and her husband own a large house with a spare room and they did their best to make me feel welcome and comfortable. So I put most of my possessions in boxes. I was coming from a small Manhattan apartment, so there wasn’t too much. Years earlier, I learned that my disorganization meant that it was better if I owned less rather than more. Still, there was stuff and that stuff went into boxes. Occasionally, while I was at my sister’s I would need an item that was in a box. The box would dutifully be hauled out, actually, several boxes. I would rummage through the boxes looking for the item, and then the box would go in the corner.

Finally, we agreed that although it was economical to live at my sister’s place, it was awkward for me. As a temporary move it was good, but after a year and a half, I wanted to have what felt like a life again. There was something so contingent and unsettled about living in her spare room and having most of my possessions in cardboard boxes. I was living in Baltimore, but it felt so temporary. She lives in a suburban section on the edge of town and without a car I felt trapped in the house.

So I got a condo closer to the center of town. Baltimore is a city full of row houses. As a single woman living alone, I didn’t want a whole house, just an apartment. That meant there weren’t many choices about where to live. There are some nice condos down near the harbor, but they’re comparatively pricey, well, pricey for Baltimore. So I moved into a condo just north of Johns Hopkins University, right at the point where the urban density of the city changes to a suburban environment. Although I thought it was an urban area when I moved here, I’m more car dependent than I hoped. For the first few months here, I didn’t have a car and I felt trapped. I now have a cute little economy car which I happen to like, although I still don’t like driving. That was the reason I moved to New York City in the first place, because you can have a full life there without a car. Most of the rest of the country is not like that, Baltimore included.

The place wasn’t quite a “fixer-upper”, but it definitely needed repairs. Had it been a house rather than I condo, I’m sure that it would have been a fixer-upper. I shouldn’t complain about the condition too much because I had a tight budget. It’s an inherently nice apartment in a frankly elegant building that is noted for its architecture in a nice, if stuffy, neighborhood. Had it been in good shape, I could have never afforded it. A few repairs and I could easily sell it for more than I paid, so there’s the nice assurance of not being “under water.”

But those repairs. Throughout the period I was describing I began falling into a depression. There were several stages to the decline and if things had gone right rather than wrong at several junctures, I think I could have avoided a full-blown depressive episode of the sort that wound me up in the hospital.

There were several things I knew I had to do. One was taking up the worn, ugly vinyl sheet flooring in the kitchen which I replaced with linoleum tile. Next was refinishing the hardwood floors. This turned out to be a disaster. The concrete slab floors are covered with hard wood parquet tiles. These are very common in buildings in Manhattan built in the 50s and 60s and I’ve spent much of my adult life in apartments with floors like this and visiting friends with similar floors. I refinished a floor once and it was a big job. My thought here was that before I moved in, I would hire a professional to refinish the floors while the apartment was empty.

First, however, we discovered a problem we didn’t know we had when we bought it. The heating/cooling units did not work. They had to be replaced for quite a lot of money, thousands of dollars. It was now summertime and the large windows resulted in a lot of solar gain. The architectural masterpiece was built in 1959. If you know a little about architecture history of the period, this was the era in which Le Corbusier said that the world should be eighteen degrees. This was long before the oil crisis, long before Chernobyl, people were optimistic about the possibilities enabled by modern technology and they built buildings that were heavily dependent on it. Without air-conditioning and elevators this building is simply unlivable. The apartment was broiling hot and no work could be done until the hvac units were fixed.

It took some time, but after a few weeks that was done. It wasn’t cheap, but I do have to say that the company was competent, perhaps the only competent people I’ve met in Baltimore.

There were two things I wanted to get done before moving my possessions into the apartment. One was painting the walls and the other was refinishing the floors, two things that are infinitely easier to do in an empty space. I used to work as a decorative painter and normally would do any painting myself. However, my sister said that I should just make life easy for myself and hire some people to do it for me so I could get going on other things. It sounded reasonable. One upside of the apartment having been owned by an elderly woman who didn’t really take care of it is that there wasn’t a lot of thick, bad paint jobs. This had to be the world’s easiest paint assignment. A modern apartment without a lot of nooks and crannies, smooth flat walls and not much in the line of woodwork or moldings. The job also required some wallpaper removal in the bathroom and the removal of a wallpaper border along the ceiling in the bedroom.

First of all, they didn’t remove the wall paper. They painted right over it. The paint hasn’t adhered properly and in the bathroom it is literally sliding off the paper. The painting itself is among the sloppiest I’ve ever seen in my life. Even though most of the hardware hadn’t been painted in the past, they didn’t take it off before painting as I had asked. Nor did they tape it, or even make an attempt to paint around it neatly. On one knob on a cabinet, they slopped paint on it at one point, yet failed to cover all of the previous paint at another point on the other side of the knob. They clearly just swirled around it quickly with a brush like they didn’t give a damn. Same around switch plates, towel racks, etc. Considering that the modern apartment had so few features like this… well why go on, it’s clear they were incompetent and didn’t give a shit. The painters had come recommended by a contractor friend of a friend. It’s not as if I had tried to hire the cheapest people out there. Fixing the paint job will take more effort than simply painting it myself would, far more effort. Taking off wallpaper is enough of a pain. Taking off wallpaper that someone has painted over strikes me as a nightmare. I’m not even sure how to do that. Plus, I now have to scrape off all the drips. Even worse, they must have used a 3/4 inch nap roller cover. The previously smooth walls are now covered with those thick bumps and there’s those ridges someone gets when the paint spreads out along the edge of the roller and the person painting is a total incompetent who’s not paying attention and doesn’t go back over it to smooth it out. These ridges are all over the place and they make me angry every time I see them, which is several times a day. I don’t know what to do with this awful paint job. I feel at a total loss. Can a bad paint job drive someone into a depression? There are days that I think about how much I hate my life and I want to get out of this crummy little city. I think to myself, I’ll just sell the fucking condo and go somewhere else, anywhere. Then I think that I have to finish fixing up the things I started. Then I think of the paint job and I feel trapped. I hate this city, I hate this apartment and I hate the fucking painters who ruined it.

Next, the floor. Even more so than painting, refinishing the floor before moving in makes so much sense. Refinishing the floor was not a choice. It was a necessity, one that I was aware of before buying the place. Some idiot, in the great Baltimore tradition of total incompetence, put down a coat of polyurethane without wondering what might already be on the floor. It was probably a Swedish finish. In any case, the polyurethane didn’t adhere and it has been coming up in spots over time. It looks like there are pieces of old cellophane tape scattered all over the floor. They stick to my feet and I have to brush them off my clothes. I’ve even picked some out of my food on several occasions. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Once, when I was twenty-three or twenty-four and I found a reasonably priced apartment in Manhattan in “as is” condition, I refinished a floor, but I’m going on fifty and this just seemed like a job for a professional. So we call the company in town that everyone recommended, whose website advertises how they repair and refinish floors in historic houses, etc., etc. Certainly, my nineteen fifties parquet tile should be nothing for them. After all, I’d seen floors like this my whole life. It’s not particularly unique. Well, never underestimate the ability for someone from Baltimore to be totally incompetent.

So they came in with great big sanding machines and they noticed that some of the floor tiles were loose. They decided to try it anyway. When the turned on the sander, the tiles started flying up. They said they couldn’t do it. They recommended that we replace the floor with new hardwood flooring. Oh, and by the way, they no longer make the parquet flooring that’s in the apartment, so I’d have to choose something else. That would be a little over a thousand square feet because the floor covers the entire apartment, there is no saddle or other divisions between the rooms and it even goes into the closets. I said, “No thank you. I can’t afford that and I want to keep the current look of the apartment.” Damn, I chose the fucking place because it’s beautiful. In fact, I’d been resisting the urge to do a complete period restoration, but I really don’t want to change anything that’s already here. I just need something to fix this crummy peeling top coat of polyurethane. Ironically, the floors wouldn’t even be that bad if it wasn’t for that, which unfortunately can’t be ignored, although I’ve been ignoring it for nearly three years now, or trying to anyway.

So, Lady Baltimore, the incompetent floor refinishing company, left with one big bald blond mark in the middle of the dark floor of one of the rooms. So we couldn’t just fucking leave it. My sister and I got down on our hands and our knees and sanded and finished the floor. It took about a week and it was only the bedroom, perhaps one fifth or one sixth of the total surface are that would have to be refinished.

a parquet tiled wood floor

I’m actually pretty happy with the result in this one room, but it took two of us working full-time for a full week and my sister has a demanding full-time job. There was no professional we could hire to do anything like what we did, and we called a few others, and we couldn’t take the time to do it. Professionals have sanders that can be operated standing up. Doing it with a little hand sander on our knees was murder. I was not about to do the rest of the apartment. So, the bedroom floor no longer matches the floor in the rest of the apartment which as the crummy, peeling polyurethane on it.

an empty room

The big pale spot in the center of the picture is the test area the professionals did before deciding that I needed an entire new floor.

I mentioned resisting the urge to restore the place back to 1959, but one thing I did attempt to do was to find old Uniline bakelite switch plates and outlet covers. I tried buying some on Ebay, but they never arrived. Just one more little thing. Not a big one really, but there are days that is seems that this entire project is just cursed.

So, that was three years ago. Moving day came and the walls were still a mess and the floor was still not finished. I moved my stuff in, but somehow I never got settled. I began sliding into a depression. I did do a few more things. I found someone to put a linoleum floor in the kitchen and the same person built cabinets for the bathroom because that was broken. For what it’s worth, I love the kitchen cabinets which are original to the building. I see many of my neighbors have been ripping them out, which I think is a shame. Sometimes I think people should have to take an architecture quiz before being allowed to renovate.

Is there something wrong with me? I think these cabinets look great.

Is there something wrong with me? I think these cabinets look great.

So, at some point, I just gave up. That was two or three years ago. Then the other day, my mother gave me a little pep talk. She joined the gym to which I’d been going and we went there together. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve really let myself go since moving here. It’s hard to explain. I didn’t suddenly become obese, but I’m terribly out of shape, so I’m happy to have someone come to the gym with me and keep me company. Her little pep talk went something along the lines of, “Before you can help anyone else, you need to take care of yourself. Just take care of yourself. Eat the diet you want to eat and everyone else can mind their own business. Do want you need to do to feel happy.”

Then I started explaining how I felt that I couldn’t get out of my own way, how as soon as I fixed one thing, something else started falling apart around me, that there were so many things to be fixed that I didn’t know where to start and I was overwhelmed, that I was still, nearly three years after moving in to my current apartment, living out of boxes. I said that I knew it was a fantasy, but I just wanted to wipe the slate clean and start over again in an apartment that was clean and where nothing was broken and with the body I had three years ago.

I tried to give her an example of how I get overwhelmed. In the sitting room, there is a built-in cabinet with bookshelves. It’s not original to the building and it’s ugly. However, I thought I could paint it and make it acceptable because it is handy. The interior was obviously meant to house a television back when they were bulkier items than they are today and it had a little sliding platform. Three years ago, I thought that I could rearrange the shelves and put my old stereo equipment that I bought back in the late eighties in it. The little sliding platform would be convenient for the turntable. When I first moved in, I put it in there to get it out of the way, however although there was an electrical outlet inside the cabinet, I couldn’t use the equipment because I needed to drill a hole in one of the shelves to run the wires through to hook up the equipment. No big deal. So, one day, shortly after moving in, I decide to tackle drilling some holes in the shelf. Well, damn, I don’t know what on earth that shelf was made from, but it was the hardest material I ever tried to drill and I could not do it. My sister said that she had friends with more serious power tools than we have, so she took the shelf and put it in the trunk of her car with the intention of asking someone for help. That was two and a half years ago. In the meantime, I got the urge to listen to some music, and I cleared some books off of the shelves and put the stereo equipment on top of the cabinet, half sticking out of the book shelf. Now the books are all over the floor – and have been for two and a half years. Several times, I’ve suggest just cutting a new board out of plywood since that old one is so impossible to cut. However, I live in an apartment and I don’t drive on highways, so I’m dependent on someone else to help me with this. All I wanted was a 26 inch by 19 inch board of a suitable thickness for a shelf. At the same time, I didn’t know how much effort I wanted to expend on this because, after all, who the hell listens to cassette tapes and vinyl records anymore. However, I have them. In fact, this is a puzzle to me. How do people listen to music these days? What kind of equipment do I need? I have stuff on vinyl, cassettes, cds, mp3s. I want to some how rationalize all this. To make it functional and not so awkward and inconvenient to use. I have no way of listening to mp3s, so I stopped purchasing any. At some point, I’m going to need to figure this out.

So, my mother said, “Why don’t you make that a project.”

But then, I mentioned to my mother, that I’ve been hesitant to make any moves because what’s been happening is that I try to do something and then I can’t finish it immediately for some reason, and it never gets finished and it never gets put away and my place just gets more disorganized and messier. In the mean time, I’m drowning in disorganization. I just want to put my stereo inside the cabinet and pick the books up off the floor and be able to listen to music and worry about upgrading to a more contemporary system at my leisure.

She asked, “What do you need to do that?”

I said, “I need to drill a hole in the shelf that’s in the back of Sissy’s car, or I need to get a piece of plywood that’s the same width and an inch or two shorter in depth.”

She said, “Would you like me to drive you to Home Depot and you can get some plywood cut to size.”

Of course, I said yes. “This is good,” I said. “We can get this done today and I won’t be making a bigger mess.”

So, we go to Home Depot, buy a piece of plywood and get it cut to size. We get a bite to eat and my mother drops me off at my place with the plywood. Yippee! Almost.

I get home and start measuring the height of the turntable with the dust cover open and try to figure out at what height to put the shelf. It had previously simply been resting on some screws and I figured I’d just move the screws to the appropriate height. Then I realize, the board is too short. I measure it. It’s twenty-five inches. Later I confer with my mother and she agrees that I said twenty-six. It seems that the guy at Home Depot cut it to the wrong size. That’s too much of a gap to have it resting on screws. I’m going to have to go back to the hardware store and I wasn’t able to achieve my absurdly simple goal of moving the shelf and putting the stereo equipment in the cabinet and putting the books back on the shelves.

So, I woke up this morning and it was as I predicted. My attempt to make my apartment more organized and neater has made it messier. The board is on the floor, as is the turntable. There are screws and a screwdriver on the coffee table. The toolbox is sitting in the hallway, and of course the books are still on the floor where they’ve been for over two years. And I just started hyperventilating and having the urge to run away, just pack a suitcase and get on a train and go anywhere. I took an Ativan instead.

And I feel like an asshole and a jerk for making such a big deal out of a minor thing.