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Life as Participatory Performance Art

I am not a card player. As a team-building exercise at work some years ago, I had to play a card game in which I was given a sheet of rules and told to play with the others at my table. Each table’s loser was moved to the next table. Already anxious because I seldom play cards, my anxiety level rose as the game became more chaotic and confusing. I told the facilitator I was having an anxiety attack and had to quit.

Afterwards I learned that everyone had been given different rules. Essentially nobody was playing the same game–thus the chaos.

In a recent dream, I entered a sort of amusement park made up of different people doing performance art. As I proceeded from group to group with the expectation of interacting, I realized there seemed to be no standards or rules. I quickly played along, just enjoying the interactions, moving on when I was ready. One tall, rather imposing man (British–as was everyone else) was having trouble with his sleeves and his cuffs. I sorted it out for him, fixed his cuff-links and helped him on with his jacket. He then kissed me gently on the lips. It was neither sexy nor romantic, just very sweet. He looked like Michael Caine.

In other scenes there were babies and little children. Everyone was having a good time, and I just flowed with it.

What an empowering dream! Unlike the card game, either because of maturity (or Prozac) I was at ease with not knowing the rules or expectations.

As I awoke I thought about applying this to my waking life. I realized that everybody is operating on a slightly different set of standards and rules, and we have no idea exactly what they are.

As long as I act with a good heart, humor and integrity, it will be all right.

We are getting ready to move, and the process is overwhelming after 18 years in this house. This dream was so freeing because I contemplate the zillion tasks that need to be done–getting this house ready to sell, finding a new home, making the actual move–and it seems impossible.

So I remind myself to follow my own rules with a good heart, integrity and (this is hard) humor. Our agent tells us to do certain things to make the house sell quickly, and I’ll do my best with the resources I have.

In the meantime, we took a spring break trip to Jefferson, in East Texas, a historic Victorian town near Caddo Lake. Everything was blooming: azaleas, wisteria, dogwood, wildflowers, and we stayed at a beautiful B&B, the Azalea Inn, along with a couple of dear friends, so I’ll leave you with a few shots from the trip.

Our B&B, with its namesake azaleas in full bloom.

 

Wisteria in the Azalea Inn side yard.

 

Us in a park with the wisteria, which grows crazy wild in East Texas. It was actually cool enough for jackets!

 

A quilt in the Jefferson historical museum.

Watch for an upcoming post with details of our moving plans.

 

 

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Jewelry Diversion

Instead of writing about our recent Florida trip*, I’m writing about jewelry. I love jewelry and have lots of it. I like it because I don’t have to try it on in a tiny room with ugly mirrors, and it lasts forever.

Two special items:

On New Year’s Eve, 2000, my husband and I were in a nasty traffic accident when a guy in a pickup ran a red light, totaling my car and sending us to the emergency room, where we greeted the new millennium on adjoining gurneys. Released in the wee hours of New Year’s Day, we had to wait hours for a taxi (in retrospect we should have called a friend or relative to pick us up). When I slid across the taxi seat, I found this pinky ring, and considered it a talisman of survival. It’s a trifle loose and I’ve lost it several times but it’s always turned up again.

Talisman

Talisman

Last November I lost it in my car while negotiating a twisty driveway. I knew it had to be in the car but could never find it, even after thorough vacuuming and searching through the vacuum bag. I had given it up for lost this time.

Getting into the car at a grocery store in Florida, I thought I must have lost an earring when I saw something metallic on the mat. I was flabbergasted when I picked it up. After all those months it was shaken loose from whatever crevice held it.

The main reason for the Florida trip was to see my sister Pat, my cousin Kay, and members of her family who were visiting my sister and brother-in-law from England.

Our grandmother came from Whitby, and I love visiting there, especially looking at the beautiful jet jewelry in the shops. Kay brought me this necklace, a sweet reminder of her, of Whitby, and of our Gran.

Jet is highly polished coal that was used for buttons, jewelry and the like before plastics were available. Queen Victoria made it fashionable, and it is the origin of the term "jet black."

Jet is hard fossilized stone that was used for buttons, jewelry and the like before plastics were available. Queen Victoria made it fashionable, and it is the origin of the term “jet black.”

Cousin, sister and the rest of the relative (I'm on far right end).

UK and US relatives. The three cousins, Kay, Pat and I are at the right front.

* The visit to the relatives was wonderful and we laughed a lot. I like to think someday I’ll also laugh about the rest of it, but for now I’m still trying to recover from the heat, humidity, mosquitoes, crowds, illness (severe sinus headaches) and Disney World with an eight-year-old. It falls into the category of “a supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again” (thank you, David Foster Wallace), or “what was I thinking?” or, simply, “just shoot me.”

Bittersweet end of day at Disney World.

Bittersweet end of day at Disney World.

Nature presented us with a goodbye gift as we left Disney World.

Nature presented us with a goodbye gift as we left Disney World.

OK, so I wrote about the trip after all.

Thanks to my sweet, patient husband for his trip planning, driving and generally being a good sport through it all.

Thanks to my sweet, patient husband for his trip planning, driving and generally being a good sport through it all.

 

 

How Do You Take a Sick Day when You’re Retired?

I’m terrible at being sick. Unless I’m too ill to get out of bed, I find it boring. I get twitchy and restless, wanting to get to my various to-do lists.

Right after spring break I got a dry, scratchy throat. Being Queen of Denial, I treated it with home remedies and went about my business. Wednesday of that week, we made a round-trip to Dallas for a funeral. I had to leave the chapel briefly to get cough drops, and sat off alone at the reception, and the drive home was miserable, but otherwise I kept on rocking. Thursday it moved into my head with lots of congestion and the dry cough became very, shall we say, productive.

Every day I swore I was a little better.

We had longtime plans for a weekend with friends in Houston, already postponed once, and the weather promised to be Houston’s best, probably only, spring weekend. Another week and it would be, well, Houston. And we really wanted to visit these friends. So with my piles of tissue, cough medicine and water bottles, off we went.

My favorite piece in an exhibit of Islamic art, and tiny jeweled jar for henna or perfume.

My favorite piece in an exhibit of Islamic art, a tiny jeweled jar for henna or perfume.

I had been sleeping in our guest room so my coughing wouldn’t disturb husband, and at our friends’ we had the guest room. I managed to get through the nights without waking him. We went to the Museum of Fine Arts and took an azalea tour of River Oaks, even a short neighborhood walk. I was chugging along. Had some nice chicken soup at a Denny’s on the drive home. Plugged away through Monday, again sleeping in our guest room.

By noon Tuesday the pressure headache told me it was time for a visit to the doctor. As I suspected: sinus infection. Antibiotics.

Three days later: The cough has abated, but my stomach and back hurt from coughing. My head is a phlegm farm and I drink water like I swallowed a sponge.

When I was working somebody had to do my job whether I was there or not–it didn’t wait. More than once I fielded calls from home and even sometimes gave my cell number to a trusted reporter.

So it’s weird that if nothing got done last week or this week, nobody cares. Basic meals are somehow being prepared and eaten. I shower and change clothes every day. I’ve done a little knitting, finishing the cotton scarf.

Finished and blocking. A light cotton spring wrap for a birthday present.

Finished and blocking. A light cotton spring wrap for a birthday present.

I’ve spent more time reading this week than usual, which I enjoy. But I still have to keep reminding myself it’s ok to sit and read a novel and get absolutely nothing done. And here I am updating my blog.

Not even trashy novels and magazines!

Not even trashy novels and magazines!

Radical Retirement Review

Since I started this blog, I’ve mentioned more than once that someone told me it takes about five years to settle into a rhythm in retirement. Before I retired I was sure I’d nail it from day one, but my friend was right.

Today marks the end of year five. I think–although I’m not so smug about it–I’m finally getting it right. Not doing too much, not bored. The days are still not long enough, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s better to have a never-ending to-do list than to be bored or idle. I am NEVER idle. A neighbor says I’m “driven.” Maybe so, but the older I get the more aware I am of time running out, and there are so many things I still want to accomplish while I can.

Today I’m looking back over the five years. I’m not re-reading blogs or pulling out diaries. This is just what pops into my memory as I look back.

Year One, 2010: I had the privilege of serving on the search committee that recommended Meg Barnhouse as the settled minister at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin. If it’s possible, her ministry has even exceeded our hopes; the congregation is growing and a capital campaign is raising money to expand the physical space.

2011: Traveling with Texas Choral Consort to Uruguay and Argentina; singing Faure’s Requiem in Montevideo and Colonia, Uruguay, and Mozart’s Requiem in Mercedes and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eating empanadas and drinking malbec. Making new friends, especially my Montevideo Posse.

2012: A chilly spontaneous spring art trip to Washington and Baltimore. Taking the then-five-year-old granddaughter on a road trip to Carlsbad Cavern and San Diego. I became nearly ill from the stress of nine days 24/7 with a young child. My doctor eventually diagnosed me with anxiety disorder and put me on Prozac. That trip made me discover I had been suffering from severe anxiety all my life, so I’m grateful for the trip, and we did have a good time in Coronado, La Jolla, Sea World and the Zoo.

2013: Our four-week tour of England and Scotland was the highlight of the year. Seeing “Matilda” with my New Zealand cousin and her husband, who were in London when we were; visiting the Yorkshire cousins and their families; Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Inverness; Bath; Cambridge; Newmarket (my birthplace) and a very warm London, including museums, galleries and more shows.

2014: Singing Mozart Undead with Texas Choral Consort at the French Legation, and the Beck Song Reader at the Blanton Museum, were peak experiences. A week at the coast with the grandchildren. A week in New York in November.

Most of my creative output has been been writing poetry and blog pieces. It was cool getting a poem and painting in Postcard Poems and Prose this month.

But I’ve mostly just dabbled in art, using my graphics skills for things like the condo association newsletter and publicity materials for my husband’s theater company.

In April I got into a postcard swap and something about the format lit my fire. I have mailed more than 70 cards in a variety of media including water color, marker, collage, monoprint, acrylic, photography, poems and quotes incorporated with art. I have a million ideas I want to try. I launched a second blog solely to show my art.

Newest postcard, "Monkey Shines." I can get silly and whimsical with the small format. (Water color, metallic marker, sticker)

Newest postcard, “Monkey Shines.” I can get silly and whimsical with the small format. (Water color, metallic marker, sticker)

I’ve also been knitting quite a lot, but I’m not good about keeping photos or records, and I give most of it away.

Current project, a sampler blanket for Chloe, trying out stitches from a book I got at a garage sale.

Current project, a sampler blanket for Chloe, trying out stitches from a book I got at a garage sale.

Now I’m excited about… drum roll… stitchery! I have several pieces working, one of my own design, in a postcard-size format, so someone may get a stitched postcard. For a person who is constantly moving, I find needlework to be calming and meditative (yet productive!).

Sampling stitches from another garage sale book, painting with stitches and cloth.

Sampling stitches from another garage sale book, painting with stitches and cloth.

The best use of retirement has been being able to spend time with the grandchildren, especially the now-eight-year-old, Chloe. She is a ball of fire, light of my life, force of nature. I adore her and she exhausts me. I  pray for the stamina and energy to keep up with her as long as she needs me to.

I haven’t come up with any new year’s resolutions, but I hope to laugh a lot, meditate a bit, get enough sleep, and keep living a healthy and active life. I’m getting a new laptop, replacing my reliable workhorse seven-year-old Dell Inspiron with a Dell Latitude; the only other thing I want now is Google Fiber in the complex–a real possibility this year.

With gratitude, wishing everyone a beautiful, healthy, joyful and richly rewarding 2015!

 

New York Wrapup

The Sunday before Thanksgiving promised clear skies and mild temps, so we headed down to the 9/11 Memorial and the new World Trade Center building. We had decided not to visit the museum this trip.

The memorial is beautiful and moving. Even on a Sunday morning it was crowded, but people were mostly somber and respectful. One family was chided for letting their little girl up on the ledge that holds all the names atop the wall around the pools, but I think they were just helping her see.

Pools at the 9/11 memorial

Pools at the 9/11 memorial

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Reading the names aloud felt like an elegy to me. Gary traced his hands over the names. The most heartbreaking were the ones that said a woman’s name “and her unborn child.” One of Gary’s fraternity brothers died in the Pentagon.

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Gary’s friend

 

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Some are honored with a flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

The new building gleamed against the blue autumn sky, much like the sky on September 11, 2001.

World Trade Center 2014

World Trade Center 2014

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Realizing it was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and being  close to Battery Park, I suggested we walk down there so I could get a look at the Statue of Liberty, as I reminisced in an earlier post.

We walked around the Village, taking a short break in Christopher Park, near Stonewall, with statues by sculptor George Segal honoring the gay rights movement.

George Segal art honoring Stonewall

George Segal sculptures

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We took a stroll along the High Line along with a Sunday parade of New Yorkers enjoying a respite from the freezing weather.

Photo taken by a man from Sydney, Australia

Photo taken by a man from Sydney, Australia

Entertainment on the High Line

Entertainment on the High Line

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gary had been carrying around a coupon for a Thai restaurant near our hotel and was determined to use it despite the abundance of good places to eat all over the city. We needed to get our bags anyway, so we had a late, and very good, Thai lunch and a glass of wine.

Having found the secret to getting to LaGuardia quickly and cheaply, we schlepped down to the Times Square subway station and took the N train to Astoria, where we got a bus to the airport. Traffic was horrible and the bus ride was painfully slow (but cost nothing since we had Metro cards, and not as slow as the Super Shuttle had been), but we got checked in and through security as our flight was boarding.

Some reflections:

  • Flights: Virgin America out of Love Field was the way to go. There are few direct flights out of Austin, and we are blessed with wonderful friends to stay with and get us to and from the airport. It was cheaper than flying out of Austin, and the flights were not full and were very comfortable.
  • Public transportation: the last time I rode a cab in a major city was in Buenos Aires, when a friend who lived there recommended we take it back to our hotel (we had also, at her recommendation, ridden the Buenos Aires Underground, known as the Subte). In London we ride the Tube, in New York we ride the subway. It takes a lot of energy, and dragging luggage up and down stairs is a real workout, but if you’re fit it’s fast, cheap, fairly comfortable, and often entertaining, with buskers, preachers and various oddballs. We listened to a Mennonite choir in Grand Central and heard live Mexican music on the A train.
  • Food: New York, San Francisco, New Orleans–there are some cities where it’s nearly impossible to get a bad meal. From museum cafes to hole-in-the-wall delis, it was all good. Our go-to take-out place near the hotel, Carve, had great pizzas, made-to-order sandwiches and scrumptious desserts.
  • Hospitality update: Almost everyone in New York was friendly and helpful, despite their reputation for brusqueness (and our past experiences). Bus drivers, museum staff, restaurant workers, even coat-check people–we encountered very little surliness and several instances of extraordinary help. When we needed to switch some theater tickets the guy at the box office was above-and-beyond helpful, even telling us about a shortcut to the Elephant Man theater that got us out of the cold.

When people tell me they’ve never been to New York, I say, “go!” There’s no place like it.

 

 

Autumn in New York

Hudson sunset with George Washington Bridge, taken from the Cloisters

Hudson sunset with George Washington Bridge, taken from the Cloisters

Even with temps in the 20s and 30s (F) and an eye-watering wind, it still had all the glitter of the song.

Even the week before Thanksgiving, when the Rockefeller Center tree was still under wraps and the store windows were bare of holiday decor, Autumn in New York was still inviting.

Rock Center tree waiting to be unveiled

Rock Center tree waiting to be unveiled

Even girded for the chill, we kept to indoor activities as much as possible, and rode the subway practically everywhere (except for an excruciating two-hour Super Shuttle ride from LaGuardia to our hotel near Times Square. I know it was rush-hour in Manhattan, but we were going in circles in the East Village. My only regret is that, as everyone sat silently staring out the windows or at their devices, I didn’t speak up and say, “Hey, let’s sing 99 Bottles of Beer, or somebody tell jokes.” Or, at the very least,”Where are you from?” And a two-hour bus ride uptown another day; more about that next time.)

Our first destination was MoMA, for the Matisse Cutout exhibit. The lines were long, it was packed, there were school groups–and it was sublime. Matisse’s genius was his mastery of color, line and composition. We were both in awe. Photos were not allowed, but here is an image from MoMA’s website.

One of Matisse's windows from the Vence Chapel.

Henri Matisse (French, 1869–1954). Nuit de Noël. 1952. Maquette for stained-glass window. Gouache on paper, cut and pasted, mounted on board, 10’ 7″ x 53 1/2″ (322.8 x 135.9 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

After that delight and a quick deli lunch, we attended a matinée of The Elephant Man, with Bradley Cooper in the title role, Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola. Cooper played the role using only body language, speech, clothing and props–no grotesque makeup. The staging was also spare, and the whole production was fantastic and very moving. (I’m not going into logistical details, but we had to do some ticket switching; we still got pretty decent prices for all the shows we saw. )

Apparently still not sated, that evening we saw The River, with Hugh Jackman. Strange and thought-provoking play. We talked about it for days afterwards, trying to puzzle it out.

We had never spent much time in Brooklyn, so next day we hopped on the subway and rode it all the way out to Flatbush and walked around a bit, then took the train back to the Brooklyn Museum. I had wanted to see Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo since part of it had been shown at Austin’s Blanton Museum. To my great disappointment, the Asian floor was closed. There was a show called “Killer Heels,” the history of the stiletto and its many foot-torturing relatives, plus a couple of other interesting exhibits, and the museum’s permanent collection, so it was worth the trip.

Three of my favorites. Nine of these are on our bedroom wall.

Three of my favorites. Nine of these are on our bedroom wall.

Edo fishEdo swing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening we saw our last show, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It’s about an autistic teenage boy who tries to solve a dog’s death and ends up learning awful secrets about his neighbors and his family. There were many kids in the audience, and my English-teacher daughter teaches the book, which led to a lively Thanksgiving-table discussion. Great story and performances, and the staging was mind-boggling: an open cube with ever-changing electronic images on all the inner surfaces.

The repast is only half finished and I’m over 500 words, so….to be continued. Next: The Met, the Cloisters, Grand Central, PS1 and Queens, the World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial, Greenwich Village and the High Line Park, and lots more pictures.

 

Best of everything

Break I did: Four days in a little blue beach cottage on Aransas Bay, doing as little as possible, and it rained. This would normally go on my jillybeans site, since it’s a post card, but it sums up the week.

Poem, "Idling in Neutral," and photo of rain through the kitchen window

Poem, “Idling in Neutral,” and photo of rain through the kitchen window

For a complete change of pace, we hosted a birthday party for the eight-year-old granddaughter the day after we got home. It was more fun than I expected, with all of her cousins and grandparents and a few friends and neighbors. Gary wrangled the kids in a treasure hunt and some other games.

They left the 8th off and spelled Chloe "Choe," so they squeezed in the fixes. It tasted good, anyway.

H.E.B. bakery left the “8th” off and spelled Chloe “Choe,” so they squeezed in the fixes. It tasted good, anyway.

Gary herding the kids on a perfect November Saturday

Gary herding the kids on a perfect November Saturday

Chloe stayed overnight. The last thing she said before she fell asleep: “Today was really fun. Thank you.”

Chloe shares a moment with friend Laci.

Chloe shares a moment with friend Laci.

Best birthday ever, especially for Grandma.

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