Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Few Words On Marriage

Greg hates it when I blog about him.  So I'm not going to.  I'm going to blog about marriage in general; I can't help it if his name gets brought up once or twice as a familiar frame of reference.  Because marriage as an institution has been on mind lately for a few reasons.  And, yes, in part because I am angry that he's driving my car right now to do his paper route - his stop gap job to keep himself busy.  He's using my car to do it because he wrecked his on the route.  Those of you who know us understand that I HATE it when he drives my car.  When he drives my car in brutal, un-car-friendly situations my dislike overflows.  My car is definitely not liking it.  She generally runs like a kitten purrs, but I noticed on Thursday when I got in her she was idling so rough the rearview mirror was vibrating.  Yesterday, I got ready to leave for work - no makeup on and wearing an outfit that unfortunately accentuated my middle-aged-post-menopausal paunch so I could dress for Halloween (see my Facebook wall) and - surprise! - no gas in the car when only the day before the tank was full.   To say that I was irritated was an understatement.  So, I would lie if I said that the trials and tribulations of having a house husband over the last few months didn't put me in mind to ponder the institution of marriage.  And, some might say, this post is my revenge for my poor sweet baby Subaru, that I constantly worry about when she's away from me in his care.  But, seriously, I've been thinking about it for other reasons as well.

For one thing, I didn't grow up thinking that I needed to be a wife, yet I've been one for a really long time.  When I envisioned my adult life, as I suppose all teenagers do, it was always as a successful businesswoman who either lived in a sophisticated high rise condominium or in a modern log bungalow with high, arching windows that looked out over the Rockies with my several rough collies.  I carefully imagined my dog population, but my fantasies didn't include a man (well, I had this intense crush on this poor guy in high school who was two years older than us so for a while I used to imagine him living next door to me in the mountains).  But, the point is, I was comfortable on my own and didn't picture anyone saying "You complete me" as part of what it would take to make me happy.  Part of the side effects of being an only child, I guess.  Don't get me wrong, I liked men.  It was the 70's - I liked them a lot and felt no guilt about it.  And, my self esteem was such that I wanted them to like me back, but I wasn't sure I wanted the ring on the finger as part of that or that I needed their stuff mingled with my stuff on a permanent basis.

Somewhere along the line that changed and I did want it.  I think it's Bride Syndrome frankly.  Suddenly, as you enter your 20's and your friends begin to get married and you sit through bridal showers, where all the attention is on the glowing bride-to-be and they're getting presents - really cool stuff that you'd love to have - you tend to think to yourself, hmmm...  And then you go to the wedding, and there's your friend in resplendent white being Queen for a Day.  And you think, I can see myself doing that.  And then you visit them in their new little duplex or whatever and see all their new stuff and they seem happy.  And they all are sporting big diamonds to boot.   It's like a chain reaction.  By this time you may be dating someone seriously, someone whom you're now mature enough to truly understand and relate to on an adult level, so you size that person up.  Is he husband material, and how would he look in a tux?  It's almost as though Fate sprinkles Fairy Dust in our eyes and clouds our vision to make us wish for this fantasy land existence so we will go forth as couples and procreate.

Now flash forward several years.  The wedding gifts are used up, broken, lost or at least not shiny new any more.  You're knee deep in a mortgage, your relationship is more about who can leave work early to take this kid to that thing so the other one can shuttle that kid to this thing, you've got spit up in your hair, you're tired, you wonder where your own identity wandered off to, you're so used to being referred to as "Billy's mom", and your husband wonders why you're not romantic anymore.  I watched a lot of those formerly resplendent brides and handsome grooms split apart at this juncture.  Ten years in seemed to be a critical time period.  When my own ten year anniversary loomed large, I thought more than once to myself, "Uh-oh, here it comes..."  I was almost braced for it.

But we muddled through, and some of my friends did as well.  Still others found new husbands and walked down the aisle again, more quietly and less resplendently than before maybe, but still ready to get back in the saddle and try to tame that horse again.

Flash forward several more years.  Suddenly the kids who have made life so hectic for so many years are grown and repeating the cycle on their own, and the house is roaring with quiet.  You look at yourself in the mirror and realize that you've spent so many years taking care of others that you didn't take great care of yourself and you look it maybe.  Your body is changing in its inevitable way, and you're no longer in complete command of it.  Trying to decide how to deal with it - face lifts, Botox, personal trainers which will get you some results, but risk making you look like an older woman who's had "work" done, and that's if you can afford it, or just accepting it and look like a woman past her prime.  That's a big mind trip, let me tell you, and it happens physically before you can adjust to it mentally, so when your husband wants you to be all romantic like the couples in that stupid ad with the twin bathtubs outside now that the house is empty and you look at him like he's lost his mind, then you've reached another critical juncture.  Or maybe, your husband doesn't even fool with you, he goes off and fools somewhere else with something younger.  Very critical juncture!  And, I'm seeing some of my friends who passed through the first gauntlet crashing into this one.

Yet, as a society, we continue to try it. Young men and women continue to walk down the aisle in search of the fairy tale romance.  Women still yearn to call themselves a "wife", men continue to want to be labeled "husbands".   And some of us, almost improbably, survive all the trials that come after the honeymoon to actually have a successful union.  So, I've been pondering why that is.  More later:  I have to begin pacing now since my car's not home yet...

My Version of the Bride Syndrome

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

House v. Home

We hope we've found a house in Pittsburgh.  I've never seen it except in 18 carefully crafted shots on the Internet.  But I've made an offer on it.  Most people would say I'm crazy.  Heck, nearly everyone would say that I am.  About every other second I tend to think that I am.  Yet, it's a means to an end.  It's a portal to get us from here to there.  We all know why I want to be there - I've blogged about it, but even before that, it wouldn't have caused an overwhelming shock wave for me to announce I'm migrating to the capital of the Steeler Nation.  If you asked most people who know me to say one thing about me it - sadly - would not likely be that I am a mother or wife or good worker, it would be that I bleed the Black and Gold.   Is it fair of me to drag Greg into that world?  I don't know.  He has agreed to it.  He's as desperate as anyone else to try and kick start a new life without the yoke of this sorrow.  I think, for him, just anything that distracts him is a good thing.  Are these good reasons to uproot a pretty rooted family?  I don't know really.  I just know this is what we are doing.  If we don't go to this particular house, we will go to another in or around the city.  There is no turning back now.  This move will happen.

Yet, am I moving to my new home soon?  No, it's not a home.  Not yet.  It's a house I'm trying to buy.  It's some walls, windows, and an elevated radon level right now (although that's on its way to being resolved).  It'll take more than my buying it to become a home.  But, it's got that potential.  Even if it's not the perfect house we want to spend the rest of our independent days in.  Hopefully we'll launch a new life from there, and it'll become somewhere I love just because of that.  Just like people I don't know spent their lives there before us and probably loved it because it housed their memories.  Some family or families woke up on Christmas morning and ran down those stairs to that living room I stared at until my eyes watered in photos.  Children tore open the paper on their gifts, laughed and played as the smells of holiday dinner wafted in from the small kitchen.  People sat in that same room watching television as the Beatles performed on Ed Sullivan, astronauts took their first steps on the moon, or as Richard Nixon waved a double peace sign from the door of the helicopter taking him in shame from Washington following his resignation.  Life, in short, ebbed and flowed with the tide of history within the walls of the house I hope to buy.  That intrigues me - it's part of the reason I have never entertained buying a new home.  I want the shades of the past to speak to me (of course, if it's actually haunted, I will be really unhappy).

But, even with a house that brings some instant history, it's not my home yet.  But this investment is very personal for all the reasons you know.  For the couple selling the home, it's likely personal as well.  They are selling a piece of their past to total strangers (well, not total strangers since I happen to know that the man at least has trolled through my blog).  Whatever their reasons for selling the home:  good, bad or indifferent, there has to be a flutter of regret when one turns over the keys to someone they don't know and, in so doing, turn over the trust of the memories that whisper along the walls and floorboards of the house the keys unlock.  I didn't really feel that when we sold our little house on Applewood in Austin, so maybe that's not true in general, and I've missed the mark.  For me, having never really liked the house; I was taking my memories and the things and people that/who were important to me with me into this house, so I never really looked back.  But, I'm guessing there are more than a handful of transactions that are emotional powder kegs.  Real Estate is a business with "real" property changing hands, but - for those of us who aren't buying for investment purposes - it's not a business to buyers and sellers.  It's a labor of love.

Brokering a deal between two people with emotional ties to a physical asset and trying to keep it what it truly is, a matter of commerce, has to be a long walk on a high wire.  Someone wants the house, but doesn't like this thing or that thing.  The person who installed that thing just loves it and thinks it's the best thing in the world, maybe paid a lot for it or spent a lot of time installing it and gets their feelings hurt.  People sweat the money:  one person wants a profit and thinks of the house as their castle.  Another wants to afford it, and it has yet to reach castle status to them.  All of this is done outside of the buyer and seller's working hours, so that means the agents are on call at all hours on all days.  People just want a house, they are ignorant of the law or the protocol.  Expectations run high.  The money is large.  No matter your income bracket, it's the biggest investment you'll likely ever make (unless your name is Jerry Jones or Mario Lemieux and you're in the market for a professional sports franchise or two).  It's a lot for a person to handle.  It's a lot for four walls, some doors and windows to live up to.  My pledge:  I'll take the house for what it is.  I'll make a home out of it for what it will help me do.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My Apologies

I was so inspired by the news of Mrs. Clarence Thomas soliciting an apology from Anita Hill that I decided it was time I ponied up some of my own.  To the following people, I would like to offer up my most humble apologies:

To Rush Limbaugh, for thinking you are a wannabe who can't really do, so you talk about it on the radio.  I should not have thought bad things about you, despite your own mean-spirited, short-sighted view points, such as calling photos released of the President "satanic" looking.  What in the world would possess you to say such a nonsensical, hurtful thing about anybody on air, let alone a sitting United States President?  Nonetheless, I should not have thought when I heard it, "Oh, well, consider the source:  a slob of a pill-popping jackass trying to make a buck by being a professional horse's ass."  That was just plain mean of me.  Kind of like calling someone "demonic" looking, wouldn't you say?

To Glenn Beck:  for thinking you are possibly the most dangerous man in America, preaching hate and fear to thousands who are too ignorant to know better.  I have been told by some of my more conservative friends that you consider yourself a comedian.  See, I didn't realize all that hateful crap you spew like so much toxic vomit was supposed to be funny.  I mean, who knew?  Surely you can forgive me for the mistake.  

To Sarah Palin:  I should not have made the statements that your ego is bigger than the state of Alaska and that you are only in it for yourself and the money you can make espousing socially conservative values that your own family cannot live up to.  I should remember the wise adage that if you cannot say something nice about someone you should say nothing at all.  From this point forward, therefore, I will be struck moot in regards to you.

To Sharron Angle:  I am sorry that you are a fellow female.  I really can't say more than that after your speech to the Rancho High School Hispanic Student Union.  The sad thing is I think I may actually understand what it is that she was trying to convey, but she botched it so badly that all I can be is mortified.

To Christine O'Donnell:  I am sorry that my general impression is that this has got to be a sick joke.  I am sorry because I'm sure you're actually really working hard on this campaign and that, in a way, you prove what we were all told growing up:  that anyone can grow up and run for public office.  But, really, c'mon...

And, finally, my sincere apologies to President Obama.  A lot of us worked hard to put a good man in office, but it was exhausting and it was expensive.  Personally, I've had a lot happen since that election two years ago - it seems like eons ago actually.  So, as we approach the critical mid-term elections, I don't have the kind of energy that I need to really rise up and combat these blasts of what I can only truly describe as complete idiocy that seem to be rocking the political landscape lately.  Forgive me for being tired and burned out.   I am genuinely afraid of the direction the company is leaning toward currently, led by people who have been radicalized by the work we all did two years ago.  They have the right to put forth their view, but unchecked I fear they will take us in a dangerous direction.  I should be manning phone banks, going door-to-door, whatever it takes.  But, I can barely keep my eyes open.  There's no way I can engage in political discourse.  Am I guilty of abdicating our future to people who frighten me and do not have the interests of all of us at heart?  If so, I am so truly sorry.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Second Year Blues

Sunday Morning, Week Six of the NFL Season:

Year Two.  We're four months into it.   It's fall here in Texas.  Meaning I actually have a hoodie on sitting out here at 8:30 in the morning.  It won't be warm enough to make me sweat until noon when it's time to don a black jersey that doesn't breathe for the Steeler game.  Things don't really turn colors here.  I miss that.  Our Bradford Pear out front will for a couple of days.  It'll be a glorious blaze of red and amber, then just as suddenly as the leaves turned, they'll drop and it's all over.  Winter in Texas is bleak.  Live oaks keep their leaves until spring when they shed them like a dog blows its coat - during which they all manage to find their way into my pool - but the other bushes and trees are barren, the grass is brown, the sky is often leaden, but there's no snow.  Of course, that means no worries about blowing off your driveway, or scraping your car, or any of that nonsense, but it's all worth it to look outside your bedroom window the morning after a snow storm and see the fresh white blanket of snow covering the world below you.  But I digress, like I tend to.  The point is:  we lost Kelsey in the summer.  Last year the summer was brutal.  The day of her memorial service, it was blast furnace hot, I remember.  Now, in the cooler weather, that seems far away.  A year and a season ago.  Yet, the pain persists.

There's no longer the surreal feeling that this cannot be happening and surely you'll come to your senses at some moment and realize it was all an intense dream, or that a mistake was made and your real daughter will come home from wherever she's been.  An acceptance settles in.  Now, the work begins to figure out where you go from here and who you will become going forward.

Others are beginning to or have already moved on.  They may miss your child, maybe they think of her even daily, but they have dealt with the loss and put it in proper perspective for them.  Lovers meet new people, friends continue on with their activities, just one person less at the party.

Life moves on at the same rapid unforgiving pace it always has.  Bills have to be paid, work attended to, other people need attention from you.  Others are born, still others die.

As I've learned, friends lose patience.  It's been a while, time to move on.  They'll grant you that first year, it seems logical that it's all about grieving - the first birthday without her, the first holiday, the first everything, but then after a while - come on, get over it already...  Like the Fallout Boy song, no one wants to hear you sing about tragedy, I'm sure there are people who will pull this up and say, "Enough already!"  And I sort of agree.  I long to write about more frivolous things: finding the best Pierogie in Pittsburgh, bumping into LaMarr Woodley at Walmart (wouldn't that be a "bump"?!), watching my dogs learn to walk in a foot of snow, and that's where the rubber hits the road on the second year conundrum.  You want to move on too.  You want to be "normal" again, whatever that means.  Have a sense of contentment, enjoy life, experience new things, yet you feel somewhat ajar.

Sometimes I feel light years away from Kelsey.  And that makes me - sad is not an adequate enough word - hollow, I guess.  I was her mother.  How can I feel so apart from her even in death?  I don't feel her presence anymore like I did occasionally in the immediate months after she died.  I don't know, of course, whether I ever really did, or it was just a trick of my own mind to get me through the first awful days and weeks.  But, whatever the case is, I can't get that sense back strongly.  Sometimes a tingle, but I'm on my own for the most part in trying to find my way in this new world.

I do have fun.  I had a blast at ACL last weekend.  I loved going to the Rush concert.  I didn't feel particularly guilty about either one.  There were times, however, when it hit both her sister and me that Kelsey should have been there.  We both watched an act called The Sword at ACL - a horrible metal band that Kelsey just loved (when I say horrible, they are not to my tastes at all, but I will concede they are talented musicians - just think they waste that talent).  Marissa got right up front for it, I sat back a ways and just sort of clenched my jaw and endured through the set, but we did it to honor Kelsey.  She was schoolgirl giddy over that band for some bizarre reason.  But I think that's the issue with this second year, it's a conflict between the grief and the just inevitable pull of life.

This is a dangerous time as a result of the incongruity.  I can't exactly trust my own emotions.  I have no idea what will trigger a negative reaction in me.  What will make me angry or send me into deep despair, or maybe what I'll be able to just let roll of my back.   No telling.  Does that mean you need to feel as though you are on thin ice around me?  I hope not.  But maybe I'll just extend my apologies in advance for any weird reaction you may receive from me.

This is a year of adjustment is the bottom line.  Again, I write this blog both for myself,  but in hopes that it'll help someone somewhere along the line.  To that mysterious "someone" out there, all I can say is buckle up for the bumpy ride of this second year.  But, don't give into it.  Don't let the grief pull you down.  That doesn't serve anyone, in my opinion.  What I continue to hang onto is that we're still here for some reason.  A purpose that has yet to be served.  I want to be strong enough to realize that purpose when the time comes so all of this means something.  In the meantime, there is the return of Big Ben and the NFL debut of UT's Colt McCoy on the opposite side line to distract all of us.  For three hours today I'll be a football fan and not a grieving mother.  I take what I can get.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Trying to Move On

"No one wants to hear you sing about tragedy"
- Fallout Boy
   Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes

"Came in from a rainy Thursday
On the avenue
Thought I heard you talking softly

I turned on the lights, the TV
And the radio
Still I can't escape the ghost of you

What has happened to it all?
Crazy, some are saying
Where is the life that I recognize?
Gone away

But I won't cry for yesterday
There's an ordinary world
Somehow I have to find
And as I try to make my way
To the ordinary world
I will learn to survive"
 - Duran Duran
Ordinary World

As I was trying to figure out iPhoto a couple of nights ago so I could get my Boss's Day gift finished and watch Fringe, Greg waited on me by watching an ESPN film about the Yugoslavian National basketball team in the late 80's and early 90's.  Vlade Divac narrates the story of the team that began in a unified Communist Yugoslavia, then splintered as the country did, ripped apart by a civil war most of us knew about but paid little attention to.  I tried to concentrate on what I was doing, but the story was compelling.  Former teammates and friends made into enemies by their sense of ethnic pride juxtaposed with scenes of war, bloodshed and suffering.  This was as violent as any footage of war torn Europe during WWII I had seen, and it happened not that long ago.  That gave me pause.  We think we live in a civilized time, yet uncivilized horrors take place everyday.  Sitting comfortably and relatively securely in my living room, I am sheltered from the kinds of dangers and suffering that millions of others are exposed to from the time they are born, some of them, until they die.  Some live far away from me, but there are people in our own country who live in unspeakable conditions.  Really, what it is that I have to complain about?

Well, a little voice inside my head replies, you've got a lot to complain about and then it usually breaks into a litany of the string of events that have transpired over the last two years.  In short, I've got a hard case of feeling sorry for myself.  I have this sense that the Fates, God, my Higher Power, whatever you want to call it, should cut me a break because I've done my time.  Every little set back hits me a little harder these days than I believe it would have two years ago, because my nerves are raw, I'm tired, and I just have had enough.  But, then I occasionally stop to counsel myself:  really, is this or that so bad?  You have a roof over your head - granted, not the one you want - you have food in your stomach, and you have the NFL package, and your team is 3-1 (the Penguins aren't doing that hot right out of the gate, but it's a long season...)

The latest affront to my calm is the house hunt in Pittsburgh.  Very long story short, I have another short list gathered and two of the top four went under contract while my Realtor was on bereavement leave due to the death of her mother-in-law.  A little panicked, I pushed her a bit to look at the other two houses still available with the idea if she liked one or the other of them, I was just going to pick one.  Greg was on board with it, he finally reasoned as I had all along that if we get there and the house doesn't work, we learn the area and buy another one.  Clearly houses do sell up there - at least the ones I want seem to.  So, she sweetly cooperated, the burden of picking a house for us clearly a little worrisome for her, and we settled on a sun drenched little house in Shaler.  Our Realtor is taking good care of us and did some digging because some things about it struck her as odd - like why had the house been vacant for so long and why, when there was an offer last spring, was it withdrawn after only three days?  Radon.  The house has high radon levels.  4.5 to be exact.  I had to research that, actually.  It's not an issue I've come across in Montana or semi-rural Texas.  Radon happens everywhere, my research indicated, but it suddenly struck me that, yeah, this is the fallout (if you will) of wanting to move to a city built by steel and mining.  There are remediation devices that can be installed, but they're expensive.  So, we've determined to make an offer on the house contingent upon the owners installing a remediation device.  My guess:  they won't go for it.  If they would, they likely would have done so already rather than let the house literally sit vacant for more than a year now.  While I am very grateful to my Realtor for her diligence which has caused us to dodge a deadly bullet, I'm highly frustrated and have to confess I had some emotional moments over the last couple of days.  The, "Oh, come on, all I want to do is buy a house." and "Why is this happening to me?" crept up, despite my best efforts to look at it from the other side, which is that it just means this probably isn't the house for us and Fate is nudging me on. 

In the meantime, the heating element in our old oven here went out.  That really made me mad.  Really?  You really had to crap out now?  I don't want to be buying stuff for this house!  And apparently it's not all that simple to pop one out and back in, according to my husband.  So, no oven for now.  Why can't Life cut me a break for once, I think to myself?

All of this got me thinking about a comment Marissa's nutritionist made that she shared on one of my blog posts.  The second year is harder than the first.  At the time, I thought it was an oddly blunt thing to say to my daughter, but I also discounted it.  How could it be worse than the year we just endured?  I put the statement away in the back of my brain.  But, as I tried to step back and look at the things that had happened in the last few months:  my break with my sister-in-law, the blow-up with my co-worker, my ups and downs in trying to move a crowded household across country, my generally crappy attitude about every little thing, I realized that it's true.  The second year completely sucks.

Why?  Well, I'll tell my next post.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Keeping It Weird

Keep Austin Weird.  That's the motto this city adopted to promote shopping local vendors.   You can buy just about anything with that logo on it.  The city has taken to promoting itself as a liberal bastion in the larger conservative state, and that's fairly true - if you live in the city itself.  The closer you get to the Capitol, the "weirder" it gets.  Track back north and into the 'burbs, and it becomes more typically Texan-cowboy social conservatism or Dell-upperwardly-mobile-fiscal conservatism.  In the three decades I've lived here, for various reasons, I've been a central Austinite stuck in the suburbs - fancy the Rush song Subdivisions as you read this.  When I was trying to decide where I wanted to press Greg to go to, Hyde Park sprang to mind initially.  We lived in a little older house for a brief while before Kelsey started school, and it was the only time I felt in my element.  Hyde Park is where I turned when Marissa and I shopped for Kelsey's first apartment.  But, because of that. Hyde Park is now haunted for me too, as is South Austin.  There is not really any place in this city I can get away from the calling of my late daughter.  It's time to move on.  Yet, I want to give the city its due.  I slam it a lot - as anyone who spends any amount of time around me can attest.  I have stayed here for love, not geography and, trust me, there were plenty of times I wondered if I made the right choice.  Yet, there are things about Austin that are awesome.  Things I will miss.  A lot.  As I savor my experience at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, I thought I should give the city its proper due.

Austin has long touted itself as the Live Music Capitol of the World.  I don't know if it could truly live up to that if tested, but there is no doubt that it's a vibrant music community.  If you like the club scene in particular.  As part of that, bands that are up and coming tour through here a lot.  Kelsey loved that about Austin and for that reason alone probably never would have left it.  Marissa grew up on music as well, and she's done her fair share of music venues downtown.  There is always something or someone playing on historic Sixth Street.  As part of its love for music, the city hosts two major events every year South-by-Southwest (more inclusively a media festival since there is also an incredible film festival that compliments a whole week of bands playing in clubs all over downtown) and ACL (aka, Austin City Limits Music Festival), which is three days of major acts mixed in with up and comers spread across six stages in Zilker Park.  Of course, the problem with these two things, as with many things everywhere, is you have to have both bank and time to participate.  I've never been able to attend SXSW, and this is only my first three-day pass to ACL.  My only other experience with ACL at all was a gift from my staff.  But, I give the city its due for how awesome these events are.  They draw in people literally from all over the world, and for good reason.  I've heard some incredible music over the weekend.  Broken Bells, Band of Horses, Muse (which totally rocked in an intense set of almost nonstop music and visuals), and lesser known names like First Aid Kit and The Foals.  I got in a little moshing even for Gogol Bordello - not on purpose, mind you, but I lived to tell the tale.

But there are other things that are cool and unique about the city that are not cost prohibitive - or, at least you get to spend as much or as little as you choose.  One of our favorites as a family over the years has been Eeyore's Birthday Party in Pease Park.  That thing is a total time warp back to the free-wheeling, totally tripping 60's.  And we love it.  My personal favorite, and the thing I will probably ache for the most, is the Pow Wow at Burger Center on the first Saturday every November.  The largest indoor indoor Intertribal Pow Wow in the United States, it's been a centering and cleansing experience that I anxiously await for every year.  One weekend every spring and fall is the Pecan Street Festival, a cornucopia of art vendors, music and food.  And, speaking of food, Austin has a reputation for excellent food.  Among our favorites are The Omelettrey (although I always struggle to spell it), Kerbey Lane Cafe, Magnolia Cafe, Trudy's - should I go on?  But, I would be remiss if I didn't include my all-time favorite haunt in Austin:  Alamo Drafthouse.  For me, it's the ideal coupling of food and cinema.  Being vegetarian or even vegan in Austin is no big deal, restaurants are up for it.  Even at ACL, we could easily find things for Marissa to eat.

Austin boasts a decent symphony, which I love to attend.  They have a ballet, which is where Marissa took me for Mother's Day.  They have an opera - only been there once.  They have UT football, baseball and basketball to assuage the sports lover.  And it has a share of museums, although nothing like what Pittsburgh has.

There are natural attractions as well.  When not hosting ten of thousands for a music festival, Zilker Park is actually a lovely, sprawling park with its gem the Barton Springs pool.  Of course, come prepared to see topless women - and not Playboy topless, more like I-know-I-sag-and-I'm-damn-proud-of-it topless.  Marissa is fond of Mount Bonnell, a steep narrow climb up a rock hill, which rewards you with a breathtaking overlook of the city, Town Lake and the 360 Bridge.  And speaking of lakes, if you're a water lover, there are plenty within easy drive.  If Lake Travis or Town Lake are too crowded, you can drive just a bit to get to Lake Georgetown.  When we were a young couple, Greg and I would take my dogs to Lake Travis and let them romp in the surf.  I confess, that's not my scene anymore, but I understand the draw.  A cursory listing of all the places like that to go and see could on for pages.  If it weren't so damnably hot here, one could explore for months on end and not repeat a single location.  But, of course, it is so damnably hot here, so...

In short, as I prepare to leave it, I'm reminded that Austin is keeping it weird and wonderful.  The fact that I've never felt completely at home here doesn't make it less so.  Thanks Austin.  Keep it Weird.
Broken Bells
Gogol Bordello
Me with the real star of the show, Marissa Pearl

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Politics of Politics

Fair warning:  this post will make you mad.  If you have any political leaning at all, it will at any rate.  Just keep in mind when it does that you've just proved my point...

...which is that we are a highly polarized society, the like of which I personally have never experienced before, and we have somehow lost sight of the fact that there can be more than one reasonable opinion on any given issue and, for the most part, we all value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for both ourselves and our neighbors.  Just because our neighbor goes about that pursuit of happiness a bit differently than we do or look different as they do it does not make them anti-American.

I remember the night Barack Obama won the Presidential election.  Most of us do, but for me it was particularly memorable in that I sat and watched the election results with my Mother's night attendant, a hippy-esque young woman with definite left-leaning views.  It would be the last night my mother would ever spend in her own home, and we, in our exuberance, really wrecked it for her.  Mother never thought of herself as a bigot, she just felt that individuals of color had their place, and it was not in the Oval Office.  Maybe the White House kitchen would be okay.  Why did she think that?  Why did people once believe that innocent young women in Salem were witches?  I won't try to justify either position, but I just accept that's the way it was.  At any rate, aside from getting into a fairly nasty argument with Mother, I did have the nagging feeling, even as I celebrated the victory, that we were really in the soup now.  The fringe elements of the right wing would mobilize almost certainly as a reaction to this particular President in a way they couldn't or wouldn't for anyone else, not even a female President.

I didn't realize just how right I would be.  The Tea Party was born out of that election.  And, like the rudimentary law of psychics, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.  So, it was no surprise either that the fringe element of the left wing galvanized to come forth and do battle with the Tea Baggers (or whatever they call themselves).  What I didn't anticipate was that my husband would be one of them.

Let me give you some background first.  For all our lives together, I've been the political one.  I'm the one with the iron clad, no bending, this-is-the-way-it-is viewpoints, and he's been more or less along for the ride.  I guess they call what I am socially progressive these days as opposed to liberal.  But, whatever you label me, I favor social programs, a strong federal government, and of course I was very pro-health care reform.  I am not anti-business.  For crying out loud, I owned one.  I am, however, a proponent of government watching out for the interest of the individuals as opposed to the needs of big business.  I am not of the ilk that if you nurture business, it will trickle down to the little people.  Nurturing big business, in my opinion, primarily nurtures big business owners.  The ideology of "trickle down" is flawed to my mind.  Greg agreed with me politically for the most part, but didn't really get fired up about it, and he never got overly bothered when others saw things differently than we did.  He did become more engaged during the Presidential election.  He began watching Keith Olbermann with me most nights and, even when I'd need to take a break from Olbermann's - oh, what's the word? - single-mindedness, he would watch it without me.  After he stopped working, with time on his hands, he began to be obsessed with most of the prime time MSNBC shows.

I first realized he had gone over the deep left end when we were watching the debate over the First Responders bill back in July.  We watched the clips of New York Republican Peter King and then the fiery response of Anthony Weiner, and I made the comment that King had a point.  The Dems were, I felt it was pretty clear, playing politics with a bill that almost any American would want passed, knowing that the Republicans would line up against it procedurally, and it would give them a bully pulpit from which to point out how Republicans didn't care about the little man.  The way I saw it, none of them did - well maybe Weiner did. That seemed highly sincere.  But, it was gamesmanship with some of the most worthy of us all caught in the balance.  That's how I see it, that's how I called it. Greg became angry and told me I wasn't a true liberal.  Those are fighting words.  I got in his face, wagging my finger, and told him never to say that to me again.  That sort of shook him out of it a bit.  I think we both realized it was a stupid fight.

The next example came a short time later when Olbermann had Howard Dean on his show to discuss the proposed Mosque at Ground Zero.  I don't always agree with Howard Dean, but I agree with his stance in this instance.  To me, it seems reasonable, with a mind to various points of view.  But, unfortunately, for all the heat he's taken, it seems overly idealistic.  I think that time my husband accused me of not being liberal enough.  When in the world did we start quantifying what is liberal enough?  When suddenly did my spouse decide that my opinion was wrong, just like my socially conservative neighbors have always seemed to think it was wrong?  Wow.

Those two episodes combined got me to thinking about how it seems that people have now propelled themselves into these sharp corners and are clinging to them as though to let go is to risk death at the hands of the members of the enemy camp in the other far corner.  To my neighbors I would say:  I love my country just like you do.  I just see the role of government differently than you do.  I respect your right to your opinion, as long as it is respectfully spoken and doesn't impede on my right to my own.  I'd like to think you would listen to my point of view, but I know that you won't so just please don't impinge on my right to express it, and I will try, in kind, not to spit on that Don't Tread on Me flag one of you had flying on the public utility pole that my taxes pay for each and every time I go by. To my husband I would say pretty much the same thing, minus the flag part (which has subsequently been taken down - I think because my husband called the utility company to complain about it).

Somewhere along the way we lost the ability to be civil about our civil discourse.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wings of a Pumpkin Colored Butterfly

I am not an outstanding chef.  I have a few signature recipes.  My chicken and dumplings, for one.  My stir fry is pretty good, and I do a mean spaghetti sauce.  But, by far and away, I am known for my pumpkin cookies; an old family recipe of my Mother's.  I made a batch to take to a work function the other day, my first of the season  (it's decidedly a fall dish).  The thing about baking them is this:  they take for bloody ever.  A single batch is large - I have a mammoth mixing bowl just for it - and they take 20 minutes to bake.  So, one has time on one's hands.  I oiled the butcher block, cleaned the countertops, cleaned everything else I could think of in the kitchen and still had time to let my mind wander aimlessly between swapping out cookie sheets.  These days, too much idle time to think about things can be dangerous, leading me down dark alleys of the mind.  The other night was no different.

Greg turned on one of those channels on cable that's strictly music so we'd both have background music as he sat at the kitchen table and worked on paperwork and I baked. At first his selection had real promise, beginning with a Foo Fighters song, but then it went off into an old classic rock vein, working its way through some power ballad from the 80's to even older stuff from when I was in my teens.  I was reminded of the times in the house I grew up in when I would sit at my kitchen table at night, listening to Manfred Mann's Earth Band singing Blinded by the Light or Heart's Magic Man on my parent's old transistor radio, doing some forgotten task - homework maybe - and thinking about my future.  The future that was wide open.    Both the folly and the power of youth is the belief that all things are possible.  And I had big dreams.

I wanted to be a writer.  I love film, so I daydreamed of writing screenplays to rival those of my favorite films:  Dr. Zhivago, A Lion in Winter, and - yes - Star Wars (say what you will - it's a clever story).  Of course, I never really had any desire to live in Hollywood - that's never really where I saw myself, but these are fantasies, so I get to live wherever I want!  I never really thought about settling down and having a family.  I thought my family dynamic was way too screwed up to pass that along to a new generation.  In the moments I tried to think on a more practical matter, I still conjured up visions of some exciting, dynamic career - being the next Woodward and Bernstein, for example.  I never once, in my wildest, worst dreams, thought I'd be where I am right now.  I think, even though my path went completely awry of where I was trying to chart it on those long ago nights, I was only a few twists and turns away from achieving, ultimately, what I really wanted out of life before it skewed out of control:  a sense of contentment.  I would have been content in a house like this one with a hoard of dogs and two beautiful, intelligent daughters, a loving, generous hearted husband and six Super Bowl rings.  With just a few changes in the choices I made, what might have been, I think to myself as I plop orange balls of dough onto the cookie sheets.  These thoughts are nothing new, I've hashed over them before in my blog.  I just not have fully come to terms with them, it's pretty clear.

As I slide a tray of raw round plops into the oven, I look up at the fridge.  I have two group pictures of "The Cousins" - Marissa, Kelsey and their three cousins.  One taken when Kelsey was probably 13, another at Christmas when she was 19.  Then I glance over a bit at the picture of my mother playing bridge, flanked by Greg's Great Aunt Hazel, an awesome lady now departed.  Below them is a picture of me with two of my original pack of dogs, Lando (yes, named for who you think) and Daphne, both long gone.  Wow, that's a lot of death, I think almost casually.  I make myself look back to the pictures of Kelsey and study them for a long moment, then cast glances at the other people in the pictures, their lives now at the point where mine was all those years ago, sitting there listening to nighttime rock on KBOZ.  How have their lives been impacted by what happened?  Marissa's life has been violently interrupted by the death of her sister, and the path she will now take is certainly far different than it would have been before.  For the cousins, I'm less certain.  They will miss her, but - and I hope this is true - they will be able to move forward with their dreams and aspirations in much the same way as they would have before.  This gets me thinking about how Kelsey's death changed the course of our lives dramatically.  Like the Butterfly Effect, only the butterfly is the size of a Pterodactyl.  I doubt I would have become involved with the Austin Foundation for Eating Disorders and not met the people I have through it.  Jenn B and I might not have reconnected, particularly now that she lives in BFE small town America.  Greg would not have left his job, in all likelihood, and we would not have been contemplating a drastic move, which I'm increasingly thinking is the dumbest thing financially I'll ever do (but I'm still doing it).  That means that the individual who took his position with his ever changing hair color (it's brown, it's blonde, now it's brown again) would have remained in Louisiana, one of Greg's assistants would likely still be employed as opposed to sitting at home at this moment reeling from her unexpected firing.  I don't know if I would have gone back to work for the company - that's harder to say.  But, my experiences there and people's reactions to me are definitely colored by the event.  (I am, as I have often said, the greatest Buzz Kill of all time.  I still definitely do not get invited to many happy hours with my co-workers.)  I've been picked up and plopped down on a completely different road.  Thinking more about Fate and Free Will as I scoop baked cookies onto the cooling racks, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg settling around me, I wonder if this was meant to happen all along.  If there was nothing I could have done to save her because I was meant to be put on the path I am on, and it'll serve a greater purpose.  I look back at the smiling face of my daughter in the Christmas photo and tell myself that's too great a price to pay to give my life meaning.  I would not have agreed to play that hand.  But, since it's been dealt, I'll try and find some greater good.  Really, what option do I have?

In the end, I've decided the next time I bake, I'm making chocolate chip cookies, there is much less time to ponder.