Saturday, May 23, 2015

It's All So Complicated

Lately I've been reading a lot about meditation and have learned that there are many "experts" in this quickly-expanding field. Apparently many people feel strongly that their way is the way, and to that end have gone so far as to write articles and books, produce CDs and create extensive websites extolling their sage advice. Stunningly, much of the advice is stuff everyone already knows and is already doing, like, "Breathe in normally and slowly exhale." It is also suggested that one should, "Let thoughts enter your mind as they will." I have been doing this my whole life; who knew I was meditating?

Another quite popular trend is "living mindfully." To live mindfully, you must pay attention to what you are doing. Like if you are eating, eat. Or if you are listening to music, listen to the music. It is actually fairly simple if you put your mind to it, ha ha, no pun intended. Yet there are seminars and retreats and teachers and courses and entire sections of bookstores dedicated to the subject. Many of these "experts" even support themselves and their families by telling other people how to live mindfully!

So I decided on my morning walk that if I presented myself as an expert on walking, maybe I could make a few bucks. After all, I have been at it my whole life. Here are a few of my suggestions, just off the top of my head:

1. Before undertaking a walk, it is best to stand up.
2. For a good result and the least amount of injuries, wearing socks and shoes is advisable. Choose socks that are comfortable and fit you well. As for the shoes, they too should feel good on your feet, not cause blisters, not be too tight or too loose but instead be just right.
3. Decide in advance which foot you will start with.
4. Lift up and then place the chosen foot on the ground in front of you, at a comfortable distance from your body. Gently move your entire body weight onto that foot, taking your weight off of your other foot and raising it off the ground.
5. Now place the raised foot on the ground in front of you, and allow the first foot to rise up into the air and move ahead of your body.
6. Continue alternating the feet in this manner.
7. These individual movements are called "steps." Take as many steps as you can without straining your heart.
8. You may move your arms or not, your choice, however it is best not to keep your hands in your pockets or you may fall over.
9. Practice doing this daily. It is important not to skip a day, unless you are ill or incapacitated.

Congratulations, you are walking!  Over time you should be able to walk without thinking about it, unless you are trying to live mindfully, in which case you should concentrate on each step. For those who are ready to advance to the next level, read my article, "Running: Moving Faster Than Walking."

Stuck in a Rut

Most ordinary people do the same things over and over. This is commonly called being stuck in a rut. Being an ordinary person this applies to me, and I am pretty much sick of it. Life is fleeting and so when, if not now, will I do something new and different?

Following is a list of things I have never done. I need to pick one and do it today. Hopefully other people reading this will follow my lead and many people will have new experiences today.

install a hardwood floor
paint a self-portrait
have a pedicure
eat snails
ride a horse
clean my basement
read "Jane Eyre"
not talk for one whole day
take in a refugee
move every piece of furniture in my house
have acupuncture
use the Shop-Vac we bought a year ago and is still in the original box, unopened
go fishing
visit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts
get a hamster
make a pizza from scratch

Friday, May 22, 2015

In Case You Need Me, I'll Be Here

By any measure, last winter was rough. It snowed on and off for seven months, burying the fall leaves in early October. With drifts piling up around our house that were waist-high, things looked bleak because they were. My car got stuck in my own icy driveway and it took a day and a tow truck to get unstuck. It was well below zero many days and nights. My husband and I came to the same conclusion: We're outta here!

So we started looking for houses back in our old stomping grounds, Washington, D.C.  We still have many good friends living there who we'd love to hang with. The climate is much better -- they actually see flowers in late February whereas here in Maine it's not until late April or early May that a daffodil shows up. Aside from the preponderance of knee-jerk liberals and a simmering undercurrent of racial tension (the city is 43% white, with African-Americans, Hispanics and a host of other ethnicities making up the balance), life there can be pretty sweet.

Except, as it turns out, the real estate market in D.C. is so hot that every house sells for between 50 and 100 thousand dollars over the asking price. Bidding wars abound, even for a crummy dump. So our enthusiasm began to wane, considering how much we love our current home and could never come near anything as nice ever again, certainly not in Washington. Still, our wonderful old friends! The Kennedy Center! All those theaters, so many museums, the fabulous tulips and cherry trees! Beautiful parks everywhere! Movie theaters of every ilk, showing everything from indies and oldies to brand new IMAX blockbusters!

Cherry trees in bloom around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

Then last week, that simmering racial tension boiled over.  A wealthy white family of three plus their housekeeper, living in what is arguably Washington's best neighborhood, and certainly its most secure since the Vice-President's home is but a few blocks away, was robbed, brutally tortured and then burned to death in a fire set in the home by a black man. They caught the guy a week later, tracing his DNA from a leftover pizza crust found at the scene. (Imagine, he ordered a pizza while he was holding people hostage.)

Back when I lived in D.C., which I did for 30 years, I had friends who were murdered too. And others who were raped, and many who were robbed, and lots who were mugged -- you name it, it happened to someone, even us. Since moving to Maine six years ago, the worst I have heard of was a cell phone stolen from the front seat of an unlocked car and an ice dam on a neighbor's roof.
Fresh fish for dinner every night!

So you know what? We're staying in Maine. I'm making new friends, lowering my hoity-toity standards concerning "theater" and "art," and sleeping soundly at night. And no small thing, what with all the talk of omega-3's, the fish here is to die for. And speaking of death, I'd rather freeze to death lost in a snowstorm than meet my maker at the hands of a crazed lunatic with an axe to grind.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Fear Factor

A childhood trauma has come back to haunt me. So says the therapist I see to help me understand why my blood pressure has chosen this particular time to rear its ugly head, if blood pressure can have a head, ugly or otherwise. She suggests I engage my 4-year-old self, the age I was when the trauma occurred, in a dialogue and convince her (me) that she (I) is safe now because my grown-up self is looking out for her (us).

Thus I am posting a picture of the dear little girl here so she knows how important she is to me. And somehow our conversations will help control my runaway hypertension, once the child inside of me truly feels safe. Aha! If only. Just now on the radio I heard that ISIS controls fully half of Syria and a lot of Iraq and there is no stopping them. Their goal, like in the game of RISK, is to take over the world. Suddenly my 68-year-old self is feeling pretty damn unsafe too. Who's going to protect her? (Not Obama, that's obvious.)

Happy Birthday Cher

Among today's young adults, fitting in is all the rage. The desire to be like everyone else, from what you eat to how you dress and including even one's vocabulary, sexuality and most of all iPhone apps, has made individuality all but obsolete. In fact, being "different" is no longer even a goal.

Once considered bold and daring, tattoos, body piercings and crayon-colored hair are now the uniform of the young, along with a few pathetic midde-agers clinging to their fading youth.  The wildest outfits are merely yawn-inducing, barely worth a turn of the head, since everyone wears them. This is truly a sad stage in our evolution and one that I hope soon passes.

As for my generation, we don't care about fitting in and we never did.  Aside from getting wrinkles, having arthritis and fighting with my blood pressure, I am still happy to have been born when I was. After all, I'm not dead yet. And yesterday, Cher turned 69. She's even older than I am and still doing her own thing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Setting Goals

If you live long enough you reach a point where you can honestly say, "Been there, done that" about most things. If you are not careful this can lead to a deep feeling of ennui, which is annoying to say the least, especially if you have a lot of years left to live. So in the interest of staying interested, I am trying to come up with a "bucket list" of sorts. Not the usual kind involving seeing the Taj Mahal or climbing Mt. Everest, but one less focused on the external world and having to do primarily with controlling the unruly wild child that inhabits half my body and wreaks havoc with half my brain. The one that watches TV and eats donuts. That one has simply got to go.

The first step on this path is mastering the art of meditation, something I have grappled with for years. Since I have a sort of bad hip -- I say sort of because it causes me little trouble but takes a mean X-ray-- I can't sit on the floor in that typical cross-legged Buddha pose and instead simply sit upright in a hard, straight-backed chair. This feels much less Zennish, making me think I am not really doing it right. Also, I don't light candles or incense since that just seems stupid and poses an unnecessary fire hazard. Still, I am determined to get it right and will keep at it.

My long-term goal is reaching Nirvana. Apparently, experiencing "the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished" is way better than donuts, TV and even summiting Mt. Everest. In the short-term, I would like to go one whole day without checking my Facebook page.

Monday, May 18, 2015

On Being Out of It

Born and raised in New York and educated at New York University, I used to know about pretty much everything except brain surgery and rocket science. Certainly I was up to speed on literature, art, food, music, theater and film. You could have asked me anything and I'd have an answer. This is no longer true and it's not because I have Alzheimer's. It's just that two things happened, one causing the other: I moved to Maine and I stopped caring.

Living in Maine one cares most about the weather, the black flies and how the fish are running. There is only one art museum to speak of and it has a new exhibit only two or three times a year, mostly of boats and rocks and surf crashing on rocks painted by Maine artists. The symphony plays rarely and sometimes when you go expecting violins and Mozart you get a fake rock concert instead. Big name performers come here only every few years. The theater is amateurish and movies that open simultaneously all over the country don't play here, or else finally show up when they are already old news. To be fair, the city of Portland is very into food and many of the trendiest places serve all the same pretentious things you never heard of that you find everywhere else.

Katy Perry
These are facts, folks, not my skepticism talking. Anyway, because I don't listen to popular music, instead limiting myself to my son's rapping and my Queen CDs, I have never heard Taylor Swift sing and had no idea her song was responsible for that horrid "haters gonna hate" line. (My husband, who is 11 years younger than I, knows all that stuff and he told me.) And who is Katy Perry and is she any relation to Governor Rick Perry?

I don't watch regular TV, only reruns of comedies from the 90s when I was busy raising a child and never could watch them the first time, and so I missed that Diane Sawyer interview with Bruce Jenner about how he has always felt like a lady inside. I know nothing about the art world these days. I read books I have loved for years, eschewing modern fiction for obvious reasons. But something caught my eye in this morning's paper: Harper Lee has written a new book and everyone is all excited, with bookstores nationwide ordering many copies and planning "read-a-thons" to draw in customers.

I have to say that I read "To Kill a Mockingbird" back in 9th grade and thought it was just okay. Then I read it again a few years ago and thought it was a boring drag, and because there would be no test I stopped halfway through. So I will not be reading her latest and instead will keep working on my own novel, which I am hoping will be finished before I am. It is quite a good story and one you won't want to miss.