Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Gorgeous glittering snow.
Citrus season.
Sharp bright air.
Sharp bright and just sweet enough
fresh oranges, grapefruit, limes.
The Cara Cara oranges and the Moro blood oranges are both wonderful this year.
I make Lisa Greco's blood orange martini with
the juice of 1 Cara Cara,
and 1 Moro orange, orange
vodka, a splash of Roses lime,
 cranberry juice, and fresh snow.
Sharp, bright, wonderful.

Raise the glass to Lisa.
If there is heaven and you are in it,
I hope that you are telling the angels hysterical stories
and making them roll with laughter,
and are telling God about the things
that should be done better.

If there is no heaven, it does not matter,
I keep you sharp, bright and wonderful in my mind.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Do you think you are pretty?

I have a good friend who I have seen through a dreadful marriage and a few fairly long term relationships that ultimately didn’t work out.  We are well-educated middle-aged professionals.  In the hearts of my friend’s relationship issues my advice has always been “What exactly do you want in your relationship?  Is that where your relationship is going?  If it is, great, if not, perhaps it is not a good relationship for you.” She has appreciated that simple advice.  However, I fear that my friend, like so many people, compromises what she finds acceptable simply out of a fear of being alone. 

We were recently talking about issues of finding dateable men. I expressed dismay over how many men were focused on whether a woman met their criteria of “pretty” before even considering them.  Why can’t we be humans first?  We are people who are interesting, thoughtful, enjoy things.  But no, since we, my friend and I, and so many women, are not pretty we aren’t even considered. My friend fell silent for a bit before the conversation moved on.

Later she called me to tell me how hurtful it was for me to say that she is not pretty.  I apologized for hurting her but was astounded.  I said that truly I did not consider myself or her to be pretty.  We are middle-aged women who are not physically extraordinary.  Pretty might describe a percent of children and young adult women, after that it becomes rare. It doesn’t describe us.  Why should we even supposed to be pretty? Shouldn’t being interesting and worthwhile human beings be enough?  I have been contemplating having a more in depth discussion with her on this subject.  We are both feminists, and I was astounded that she was insulted by my original remark.  I want to ask her if she thinks that the vast majority of all women are pretty, I want to ask her if she thinks that being pretty is an essential part of being a woman and if you are not it is a sign of failure, but I am afraid to.

Perhaps my bar for “pretty” is high.  Perhaps hers is low.  I don’t know.  Is my friend deluding herself?  Does it matter? If someone were to tell me that my eyes were pretty, or they liked my hair, or they enjoyed my short and very tapered fingers I could go with that and be pleased.  But if someone were to say “Oh you’re so pretty” I would assume that they are out to flatter for some reason and they would get the hairy eyeball from me.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Fairness and accuracy: how much are they alike? 

Years ago, in the early 80's, I was living in NYC. Gay men in the city, as well as in San Franciso were dying mysteriously of diseases associated with immunodeficiency. People were calling it GRID for Gay Related Immuno Deficiency. No one knew what caused it. One of the major hypotheses was that it was caused by the use of recreational drugs called "poppers". Then in 1984 a couple of scientists discovered the retrovirus, HIV. Soon it became clear that this virus met Koch's postulates and work started on how to protect against the virus that caused what was renamed AIDS as it was soon very clear that it was not only gay men who were affected in the world.

But there was this other scientist, Peter Duesberg, who in 1986 decided that HIV did not cause AIDS. He claimed, against all evidence, that AIDS is caused by recreational drug use, and now by anti-viral therapies. He is a professor at UC Berkeley and science generally tolerates contrarians, even when they are considered crackpots with dreadful data. Nonetheless in scientific circles, people look at what he says and writes and his arguments, sees that they are lousy, and dismisses it.

Unfortunately that is not how our news system works. Upon discovering this contrarian, for years every time there was a news story about AIDS Duesberg would be trotted out for equal time as the opposing voice. The fact that most everyone else was working on an infectious disease and treatments for it and Duesberg was just one solitary contrarian with effectively no data didn't matter. The News was trying to be "fair" and to give equal time to opposing viewpoints. Unfortunately that legitimized him among non-scientists and in 2000 he ended up advising the South African President, Thabo Mbeki. South Africa had a ballooning AIDS problem, and Duesberg convinced Mbeki that HIV was not the cause and that those expensive retrovirals were bad. South Africa embarked on a wacko course of advising people to drink water with lemon in it, not get HIV tests, and not take antiretroviral drugs. It is estimated that a third of a million people died as a result of these years of bad advice.

Why am I talking about this? Because sometimes equal time is not a good idea. The news should not be giving equal time to largely discredited science. A story? Sure. Talk about the contrarians. On very very rare occasions they are the ones that turn out to be right. That is why they are tolerated in science. But geez, don't give them equal time. Similarly, come Monday, if Clinton tells a lie and Trump tells ten, don't devote an equal amount of time to Clinton's one as Trump's ten. Don't over-weigh or under-weigh dramatically in an attempt to be "fair". Proportionality should reflect reality. Don't make false equality. It can cause great harm.

Monday, August 22, 2016

An Old Torch, Going Out.

An old acquaintance is dying.  He is a couple of years older than me and when we were in high school he was the first chair viola player in both my high school orchestra and our regional Junior Symphony.  He was cute, an excellent musician, and had a good sense of humor.  I played farther back in the viola section in both symphonies and had an enormous crush on him. He probably had no idea, which is just as well. 

As has been the case with almost all of my many crushes, he fell in love with someone else.  The love of his life was a cello player.  I remember, soon after they got together, riding on a bus with the other symphony players on our way to a distant town to play a concert.  I was sitting across the aisle and a little behind.  His sweetheart dozed, her head on his shoulder, his arm wrapped around her.  Her long, straight, honey brown hair glinted with golden highlights in the sunlight filtering through the dirty bus windows.  He looked at her with wonder and satisfaction.  I was jealous and sad.  There was no way to find any fault in it.  She was not spectacularly gorgeous, she was not mean, she was always supportive and sweet. It was simply my misfortune to have ever developed the crush.   She loved him, he loved her, they were lucky souls to have found each other. 

He went on to become a professional musician in a city not many hours from where I now live.  She became a school music teacher there.  We reconnected on facebook some years back.  They had raised two sons, handsome and successful young men.  Their life was not easy, the vagaries of the lives of professional classical musicians and of school teachers is not for the weak.  But they seem to have thrived, lead good lives and to have given a lot their community.  We talked of Oregon, where we were all from, music, and education.  I talked mainly to his wife.  We periodically mentioning my maybe coming up and visiting, but when I did go through their city I was in a hurry passing through on my way to somewhere else.  I never went.  I would have liked to have sat and had a beer and talked about old times, music, education, politics, how to solve the problems of the world and bring joy into people’s lives.  They were like that.

Then about a month ago, maybe two, there was information that he had had a stroke.  He was working on rehab, it was not a terrible stroke, but that recovery was slow. 

Then mentions of continuing difficulties, then YAY he played in a concert, had a ways to go, but there he was with his viola.  Then more appointments, things just not seeming to be going right.

And then…

After more work ups, it turns out he has a terrible incurable fast moving brain disease. He had not had a stroke. His sons and parents and brother (who was also cute and a bit of a crush of mine many decades ago), all zoomed out to visit, while there was productive visiting to be done. 

I offered my access to research information to his wife.  It is a terrible disease though there are some very experimental things out there.  They are nowhere near being tried on humans, and may very well be futile.  She decided not to take advantage of my offer, and that is a perfectly valid choice, perhaps indeed the best choice. 

The plan is for him to stay home, cared for by his wife until she can no longer do it.  He will be gone very soon.

And I have been oddly devastated by this.  I am not entirely sure why. He will be the second of my many crushes to die a terrible death. 

I found out about the other one a few years ago, a year after he had died.  I was shocked. I connected with his sister.  That particular crush had stayed single all of his life.  We had been close friends in college, not boyfriend/girlfriend, but close.  His sister did not even know he had had any close college friends.  Mutual friends said, yeah, that he was a very private person except with me, and I had never realized it. We parted ways when he went off to medical school and I to grad school.  He stayed single and private all of his life, though a good uncle to his sister’s kids, until he died of bone cancer in his early 50’s.  I cried over him too.  Gone forever.

I have not seen the viola player in over 30 years.  I can only imagine what his wife is going through.  She seems to be amazingly strong on fb.  I have no idea if it is just a brave front, but she seems to have a sturdy soul.

Why does this take me to tears?  I do not really know the man who is dying any more.  I do not really know his wife.  We knew each other when we were teenagers.  In social media we seem to have things still in common.  I admired them.  I admire his wife.  They seem to have lead a good life, done good things, improved the world they have lived in.  I suppose he was lucky, until the last few months, to have had the work he loved, a great family, his best friend also being his wife. He had for most of his life these important things that many never have.

Am I mourning the talented teenaged boy who gazed on his love tenderly while she slept?  Am I mourning the end of their (imagined) wonderful life?  Am I feeling sad for that plump, awkward, and nerdy teenaged girl, who also played the viola, who never had any years, any months, any weeks, or even days of a protective arm and a loving gaze?  Am I regretting not having gone to visit them (yes)? Am I putting myself in his wife’s shoes and am imagining the loss of the partner of an entire adult life?  In truth I do wish there was something I could do to give her moral support, other than what I have.

My level of sadness seems inappropriate.  We do all have to die, somehow, sometime, and he had a good life.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

George Harrison in a Dream

I put this on the blog before, some years ago.  But I was reminded of it tonight, lsitening to a George Harrison song "Here comes the Moon" that I had not heard in a very long time.  So here is version two of the same dream as in the post "The Meaning of Life" .

A long time ago, probably 30 years ago, I had this dream: Some of the Beatles had gotten together to play a concert. 

It was outdoors in a Greek-style amphitheater in a park. At the end of the concert I manages to slip "backstage" and found myself in a botanical garden, the white marble of the Amphitheater behind me. 

There among the flower beds, sitting on a marble bench in the bright sun was George Harrison. I was so exited. He slowed down my puppyish bouncing and proceeded to tell me important things. Very Important Things about life, and the world, and being. I was amazed. 

But Damn! I realized I was dreaming. "But I'm dreaming" I said. 

He smiled, of course I was. 

Then I had a bright idea! If I could only write these important truths down maybe they would stay with me. I hunted up a piece of crumpled paper and a stub of a pencil. I asked him to repeat bis words of wisdom and he did, with a quirk to his mouth, some place between laughing and sad. 

Foolish child that I was. 

I woke up hand gripped tight around the paper and pencil stub, but of course my hand was empty and the great truths were gone from my head.

Monday, September 29, 2014

I am indeed a woman. Deal with it.

Once again I have let close to two years fly by.....  I was listening to an interview on NPR on Fresh Air, and something that repeatedly annoys me came up again.  The topic is women and what women are like.  The interviewee, an intelligent funny women, asserted that women were a particular way.  In this case the subject was sex.  The assertions, women, particularly women who do not feel themselves to be attractive, will often do all kinds of things to try to please a man in bed, thinking that it is the only way to keep him.  A loose quote "You want to stick it in my ear? Sure stick it in my ear". In addition it usually takes a long time before women actually enjoy sex and they fake it a lot.  

OK  I am a woman and have no problems with that.  It is true that if I were to wake up tomorrow and discover that I had turned into a man overnight, I would have to make some changes, but it would not change me as a person.  I do not consider my gender as a deep fundamental characteristic.  Nonetheless I am perfectly ok as a woman.  I like a number of things associated with women.  I am straight.  I have long curly hair and do not cultivate a masculine look.  I wear makeup.  I like men.  Having said that….

I am strong and muscular and I like being strong and muscular.

I don’t change my mind much at all.

I am very literal.

I am not emotional.

I like math and science and being analytical.

I have no clue about how to play social games.

I cannot multitask.

I have no affinity for babies.

I do not like chick-flicks, or chick-lit.

I do not care how much money a guy makes.

I do not like to be pampered.

I am not scared of walking by myself at night.

I am not scared of being alone at night in a strange city.

I like to drive really long distances... 7 hours is comfortable for me... doing it by myself is just fine.

I am a slob.

I love science fiction, fantasy and horror.

I like hard rock.

I like the Blues.

When I was sexually active I LOVED sex, I enjoyed it the very first time, and was continually disappointed in how hard it was for me to get.  Plain vanilla sex, much appreciated. But it was so much trouble to get (and later as a trained virologist, clearly risky) that I eventually just gave up.

Generally the people I managed to get into bed were just that, people who I managed to get into bed, no emotional attachment.  I failed to get anywhere with people I was hung up on (though they often were good friends).  Divorcing sex from love was no problem for me.

Compliments make me uncomfortable more often than not.

Shopping is not generally a pleasure for me.

Shopping with some one is way worse than shopping alone for me.

I am more comfortable by myself than with people typically.

I have no children and I never will.  I have no husband and I assume I never will.

I am not terribly nurturing.

I don't worry.

I don't get nervous.

I have to concentrate not to sprawl when I sit in public, I sprawl at home, I still sprawl a little in public.

I have a good innate mechanical sense.  I am good with machines.

I do not mind getting dirty.

I love riding big fast roller coasters, ideally in the front seat.

I have no fear of insects, spiders, or snakes.

I am almost 57.  My feet don't hurt, my back doesn't hurt, my joints don't hurt.  I'm fine thankyou.

I sleep well.

I like the gray in my hair.

I almost never carry a purse and I totally do not get designer bags.

I drive a manual transmission.  It's what I prefer.

I think "intuition" is bogus.

I realize that my body is not what is considered beautiful and sexy but I like my body.  My body has been a good machine and I am in many ways a physical person.  Yeah I could use to be thinner, but you know what, if you don't like how I look, fine.  Now if you don't like or at least respect my brain THEN I have a problem.

I get so sick and tired of people, articles, interviews all saying women this, and women that, I can almost guarantee that whatever it is that “women” are like or do according to anyone, including other women, will not be true of me.  But I am a woman!  Why must we make all these boxes and try to cram people in them.  It is so alienating.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Follies of Youth: Ray

I was in college at the University of Chicago in the late 1970’s.  I had gone through adolescence in a blue collar part of Eugene, Oregon on the other side of town from the University there.  I was an intellectual nerd and so had had no social life to speak of.  I never had to study much, and I was never grade oriented but I managed to be in the honor society and I got great standardized test scores.

The University of Chicago was Nerd Central and I was surrounded by like minds.  I quickly developed friends, real friends! and then slid into bad habits and wild company…. such as it was at the U of C,  where the unofficial motto was “Where Fun Goes to Die”.  So I partied and slept late and had to repeat some classes, while learning a tremendous amount.  Even at parties you discussed science and philosophy.

But the upshot was that I was not able to graduate in four years. 

In the fifth year my more studious and disciplined friends were gone.  I found myself among screw-ups and people associated with the university only tangentially if at all. Among these assorted people were Ray and Diny.  Diny’s grandparents were supposedly Russian aristocracy who escaped the revolution.  I do not know if this was true, but she was petite and fine boned, with a broad high forehead, thin fine blond hair, high cheekbones, a small pointed chin, and large sad blue eyes.  She looked the part of fallen Russian aristocracy.  She had gone to the U of C.  Ray was her exact opposite.  He was a big man, very muscular with short dark curling hair.  He worked out. He was part African American, part Native American, part Polish, and part Irish.  He had a menial job, he drank, did drugs, and had an explosive temper.  He also had the one thing few of us had, a car.

Ray could take us to the clubs.  Ray could take us to concerts.

The problem was that Ray would get wasted and then drive us all home.  It was impossible to get car keys away from Ray.  It was scary. You can pretend that you are in a taxi, glue your face to the window and watch the tall buildings careening by, but in truth I did not want to die in a car accident. 

The third time Ray took us to a club, probably O’Banions, we closed the place down at about 2:00 a.m.  Ray was reeling, bashing into things.  The three of us that lived in my apartment decided to get home some alternate way. We even tried to get Diny to come with us, but she wouldn’t leave Ray.

Unfortunately for us the Howard L which goes directly to Hyde Park was shut down for the night so we had to take the Dan Ryan L which would drop us in the ghetto west of Hyde Park where we would have to wait for a night bus.

So there we were, one guy and two women, all of us white as snow and in our punk finery; black clothes, black eyeliner and all, standing near the Dan Ryan L at Garfield, waiting for a bus in the small hours on a deserted street in a bad neighborhood in Chicago at a time when Chicago was one of the highest crime cities in the country. Still it seemed like a better idea than letting Ray drive us. At least it did until a gang of youths sifted out from an alley.

There were about five of them.  There were three of us. Two of us were women.  The one guy among us was a small, slender artist.  The gang surrounded us and told us to come with them to the alley.

Now there were gangs even in Hyde park in those days, and in fact our apartment was on Blackstone and part of the territory of the Blackstone Rangers. I was no expert, but I knew a little bit about dealing with gangs.  No Way in Hell was I going to go into an alley with these guys.  I had no desire to be raped and murdered. So I ran into the middle of the street.  It was largely deserted, but during the day was a big busy street.  I could see headlights in the distance head slowly in our direction.  One of the gang members said he had a gun.  My response to that was to duck behind a parked car on the street side.  My female roommate (Anne) was being pulled towards the alley by a couple of the gang-members.  My male roommate (whose name was Jeff I think) was nowhere to be seen.

“Anne!” I yelled, “There are cars coming! Come out to the street!”

Anne, who was not much of a physical person yanked herself away from the gang and ran into the street with me.  The guys started to come after us, but the lights of the coming cars were finally starting to light up the scene and instead the guys skittered away into the ally.

One of the cars turned out to be a cab.  A cab!  In the ghetto!  Sheer luck. I hailed the cab, but where was Jeff?

Jeff staggered out of alley, badly beaten, blood running down his face and matting his hair.  So we took the cab to the hospital in Hyde Park.  Jeff had had his wallet stolen, a concussion and lots of big bruises, but fortunately nothing more serious than that. 

Thanks Ray.

We lived in a strange winding warren of a basement apartment with three bedrooms a kitchen, and two good sized common rooms that were reasonably suitable for parties.  We had our own front entrance a few steps down from the street, and on the back side of the building our own back exit, a few steps up to a small lawn a tree and a parking lot.

Some months after the gang in the ghetto incident we had a nice big party.  Of course Ray and Diny were there along with the whole general circle of friends, and friend of friends etc.  As usual Ray was all hopped up on alcohol and some other unknown substances.  He was already in a foul mood and Diny was annoyed with him.  Then some typical U of C nerdy white kid said something.  I do not know what it was.  In the noise of the music and all the people I don’t know that ANY of us knew what it was.  But Ray was sure that the kid had insulted him.  Between black and Irish and Polish and Native American Ray was always finding insult, rightful or not.  But Ray flew into a rage and went after the kid who was shocked and promptly panicked.  So I had Ray lunging after this kid  like a Kodiak bear after a salmon.  Diny tried to intervene and Ray flung her aside Her head hit the corner of the dining room table and she went down.  Ray didn’t even notice.

I am not sure quite how I did it, but I got in front of Ray, put my hands gently on the center of his chest (roughly eye level for 5’5” me) and looked straight up into his angry dark eyes, and just quietly said “Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray” until it registered on him.  Somehow the hands on his chest stopped his lunging about.

“Ray, I need to talk to you” I said over and over.  He eventually focused on me and I said, “Too loud in here” and keeping my hands on him gently, stroking lightly like you would a fearful cat lead him along the winding halls to the front door, walked him up the steps, told him to close his eyes and take a deep breath of the fresh air…. then I turned and leapt down the stairs ran inside and slammed the door behind me, locking and bolting it. Ray roared and crashed down the stairs and beat on the door.  I zoomed through the halls, found the kid, who had been slugged a few times but was ok and sent him running away out the back.  It was complicated to get from the front of the building to the back without going through the inside.

Diny was sitting up which was good as I had worried that Ray might have killed her.  I suggested that she too go out the back and head home and perhaps lock Ray out.  She did not want to do that.  She would go out the back, yes, but then she was going to go around through the parking lot and alley and around the block to the front of the building and collect Ray and take him home.  She said he’d be sorry by the time she wound her way to the front.

And so he was, but I had had it with Ray.  He was too much trouble.  In fact my whole life was filled with too many problematic people.  Not long afterwards I left Chicago, shaking off most of my “friends” of that time with few regrets.  I was one credit short of graduating, but I transferred that credit from the University of Oregon in Eugene rather than go back and get sucked into that dysfunctional group which included my one and only boyfriend, who I have not even mentioned in this story, who I was also eager to be far, far away from.

Dysfunctional people are often very accepting of others and easily become “friends” with misfits and lonely people. 

Sometimes it is much better to be lonely.

It is certainly far better to have a select few good friends who are sane, thoughtful people than a whole circle of problematic types surrounding you.