Sunday, November 5, 2017

Halloween Scrooge

I’m relieved to have survived another Halloween. I’m a Halloween scrooge and I don’t care who knows it. Surely my quarrel with Halloween has roots in trauma I experienced as a child from this holiday; trauma that has nothing to do with the undead and everything to do with myopia. I am comically nearsighted and, as a child, wore glasses with lenses thick enough to burn bugs. I have had contact lenses since the age of 16, but during my trick-or-treating years, I wore glasses. It doesn’t require rocket science to understand that when you put a plastic Halloween mask over a pair of glasses, they fog up. For this reason, I spent many a Halloween night stumbling over lawn furniture, falling in birdbaths, arguing with garden gnomes, and attempting to hack my way out of labyrinthine hedges and shrubbery with a plastic fairy wand. As my friends with 20/20 vision leapt joyously down the street, I was left in the dust extricating myself from the obstacle course of yard accoutrements and crawling through petunia beds retrieving my candy, which had spilled.

It took me years to wise up and wear costumes that did not require a mask. I’m not sure why I bothered to trick-or-treat anyway because I got to keep very little of my candy. One of my brothers has Celiac, and in order not to traumatize him alone with the unfairness of not being able to eat most of the loot we hauled in, my mother traumatized all three of us by restricting us to the same candy that my brother could eat, namely pure chocolate. So when we got home with our bulging bags, we poured the full colorful array of candy out on the kitchen table, separated the paltry few pure chocolate items from every other blessed treat, and got to keep that and that alone. My mother took our discarded candy to the local children’s rehabilitation center and gave it to the bedridden children who couldn’t go trick-or-treating. Now, all these years later, I appreciate my mother’s beautiful altruism and her brilliant system for preventing her own children from ingesting pounds of toxic junk. But as a child, I could not get on board with the good deed of treating all the little children at the rehab center to my hard-earned candy. I wonder how the nurses felt about Mom’s kindness since they had to deal with all those children jacked up on sugar who were stuck in bed. You can only play so many games of Parcheesi.

These days, as a nutritionist, I know that sugar is the devil’s brew, one of the most toxic substances in the universe, in the same league with radioactive waste and tweets from the Tyrannosaurus in the White House. Halloween is my personal nightmare on Elm St. When my children came home with their candy, I told them to throw out everything they didn’t like. “It’s not food,” I told them. “It’s garbage, so if you don’t like that kind of candy throw it away.” They sat at the kitchen table with a trash can and discarded at least half the loot because it was stuff they didn’t like. For a few years, when they were very little, I got away with telling them to choose a small selection to keep and that the rest was going to disappear to appease the candy ghost who would come during the night and look for candy to snatch instead of snatching little children. I managed to pare the stash down to a dull roar that way. But that didn’t last long because my children quickly figured out there’s no such thing as a candy ghost. They each had a bag of goodies and every evening after dinner for weeks they chose something for dessert. I couldn’t wait for those bags to dwindle. Unfortunately nothing keeps like sugar. That’s probably why dinosaurs had such bad teeth. Thousands of years from now, when humans have become extinct, candy will rule the Earth.

For a few years I handed out toothbrushes to trick-or-treaters. They looked somewhat confused. Only I could turn Halloween into a dental holiday. One year I gave out tangerines. I have a friend who worked as a doctor in a low-income community and she told me that she gave out condoms to all the teenagers who came trick-or-treating at her house. (I hope the teens didn’t try to eat them.)

The fact that I don’t like dressing up in a costume definitely poses a serious stumbling block for me when it comes to surviving Halloween. Weird and unfamiliar clothing makes me uncomfortable and self-conscious. I can never come up with good costume ideas anyway. My costuming efforts are too obscure for others to understand. One year I dressed in green and went as chlorophyll. When I told people what I was, they looked perplexed. One guy asked me if that’s an energy drink. I told him plants use it to conduct photosynthesis. He excused himself to talk to a woman in a revealing bodice about their favorite King Kong movies. It creeps me out to see other people looking strange in their get-ups. Too hallucinogenic.

The final nail in the Halloween coffin for me is that scary things actually scare me. I can’t watch horror movies because they give me nightmares. I can’t even watch normal movies with violence and torture in them. I hid under the table whenever the Wicked Witch of the West appeared in The Wizard of Oz, until I was eleven years old. My daughter watched every minute of that film at the age of two and laughed her head off (not literally). She couldn’t figure out why her mom cowered behind the couch whenever the flying monkeys appeared. I went to see the 1978 remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers because it was filmed in San Francisco and a lot of people I knew in the tech theater biz worked on the sets. Big mistake. I spent almost the entire film hiding my face in my husband’s shoulder and asking him what was happening. Some guy behind us finally told me in exasperation, “Just look at it, lady.” I had nightmares for weeks from listening to the soundtrack.

I don’t see the humor in fake blood and gore. It looks real to me. Zombies terrify me and I can’t understand what everyone else thinks is so funny about beyond-dead creatures. Space aliens better look benign because if they look like inside-out people then I am so not watching. When someone comes to my door with a pretend axe in their skull and fake blood dripping down, I run screaming to hide under the bed, even if it’s a fourth-grader and the fake blood looks like congealed BBQ sauce. Even if it actually is BBQ sauce. Even if it’s organic BBQ sauce. I don’t mind the fairy princesses and bumblebees, but the ghouls and serial killers terrify me. Masks creep me out. So if you come to my house on Halloween, you will find all the lights out. Perhaps a small pumpkin will grace my front porch; uncarved and still edible, later to be made into a pie sweetened with honey (not the evil-demon sugar). I will be nowhere in sight. Life is already scary enough, and getting scarier by the minute, without purposely finding more ways for us to scare ourselves. My costume for this year? Bacteria. Invisible to the naked eye. (Not an energy drink FYI.)

Benign picture. Not scary.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Techno Geeky Old Lady

It happened again a few days ago. I was in the bookstore perusing the sci-fi section and a young man (about 30 years old) wearing hip young-man clothes and a fashionable super-cool young-man hairdo (long down the back and almost shaved off on the sides) with a tattoo sleeve up one arm initiated a conversation with me. Why is it that young men who read sci-fi can’t resist the urge to “school” an old lady who is into this stuff? Can they see my bionic gamma-gooble forcefield aura of sapphire? I thought that was invisible. According to Tor it is, but maybe Tor is wrong.

The hip young man asked me what I was looking for and I told him The Fifth Season (first book in N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo-award-winning Broken Earth Trilogy). The store was out of it. The man went into raptures about how great that series is. We speculated about whether or not Ursum from Planet Bigarthia had bought up all the copies to prevent me from reading it. (He has been known to engage in malicious activity like that.) Then he said he was thinking of reading Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and asked me if I had read it. I told him I read that book probably about fifteen years before he was born and that I don’t remember it but I remember loving it. I guess I should read it again. But the thought of rereading all the books I have read, enjoyed, and forgotten gets a bit overwhelming. At some point one has to move on. Now I am considering talking to Professor Semi-quark about inventing a memory quasar ray that can blast a reread into consciousness in under fifteen seconds. How cool would that be?

Not long ago I was at the library picking up a sci-fi novel and a young man saw the book I was holding and approached me to ask if I had read anything else by that author. Before I knew it he was writing down titles for me. He asked if I had read Neuromancer by William Gibson. I gave him the look. “That’s a classic, of course I have read it,” I said. He apologized for assuming I am a neophyte. I almost called him “sonny” but caught myself in time. He showed me his transmogrificator ring and whispered that he has a friend who is secretly an animorph.

In a conversation with another kindred spirit (young man) recently I mentioned that I read Ready Player One a few weeks ago and had a blast. That book is written to make the reader feel as though inside a video game called the OASIS (no camels involved). It’s a read you can’t put down if you are a young geeky gamer or an old lady into sci-fi. So anyway this guy told me that Spielberg just made the book into a movie that’s coming out next year. I got so excited I nearly grabbed the guy in a grandma-hug and danced around with him. My kinetic intraverse wristband started glowing purple and I tried to cover it up with my sleeve, but he saw it and gave me a knowing smile. I confessed that I have never actually been abducted by aliens, but it’s not for lack of trying.

Totally the best sci-fi I have read this year so far was Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway, and that was recommended to me by a young guy at the library who saw me returning Ready Player One. I find it endearing that these young guys want to guide my sci-fi education. They seem thrilled to find an old lady who gets into even the most techno-geeky kinds of sci-fi, like Red Mars (about terraforming). Once upon a time I was not an old lady reading this stuff but a bookworm child and then teenager, trying to make sense of the world through the lens of extreme imagination. Young sci-fi enthusiasts don’t reform, they just turn into old sci-fi enthusiasts. (Hi, my name is Amy, and I read sci-fi.) It all started with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (which has also been made into a move to be released in a few months) when I was a little girl. That one was truly special because it was the first time really that a girl was a heroine in a sci-fi fantasy adventure of this sort. It broke the mold. Meg Murry O’Keefe was me.

I do read other kinds of books. I read nonfiction, memoir, serious novels by winners of the Man Booker and National Book Award. I learn a lot from them. They help me make sense of things. They are often beautiful and moving. But nothing compares to leaving the planet and stepping into an alternative universe that informs the one where we live. So open the pod hatch doors, Hal, I’m always ready to leap.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Recovering from Post-Traumatic Election Disorder

On Election Night 2016, once I realized it was all over except the crying, I figuratively slumped to the floor, and I couldn’t manage to rise until the birth of my first grandchild seven months later. That momentous event in my own little life lifted me up, even though I now fear for my baby-boy’s future in a world where Tyrannosaurus T (i.e., the nefarious dotard-in-chief of the USA) and his buddies soil the nest daily and then proudly crow about their latest poo-poo as if it deserves enshrinement in a trophy case for worship. Like so many others, I suffer from Post-Traumatic Election Disorder.

After the election, I worked my way through the usual stages of grief, and I added new stages not previously invented, such as the stage of avoiding any discussion analyzing how this catastrophe happened, the stage of listening to fifty different artists perform their version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, the stage of the recurring dream that the Obamas still inhabited the White House (and that they invited me to a dinner featuring organic vegetables from Michelle’s healthy-eating garden), the stage of imagining moving to Canada, the stage of fantasizing a different election outcome over and over and over as if in Groundhog’s Day, the stage of refusing to look at media images of (or listen to) Tyrannosaurus T, the development of a survival plan stage, the media diet stage, the find new kinds of organic dark chocolate and consume large quantities stage, the fear of traveling anywhere in the U.S. outside California stage, the despair about the failure of those in power to recognize and address climate change stage, the visit the ocean stage, and the reading sci-fi escape novels stage. (To name a few.) The stages continue. I will never completely shake this grief. I continue to seek new ways to cope, to shake this pervasive sadness, to resist, to deflect the onslaught. I write postcards, call, and email congressional reps every day. I have contacted McCain, Murkowski, Collins, and other senators so often about healthcare that they probably confuse me with their health insurance provider.

Lately, with Tyrannosaurus T shouting “YOU MAMA” at the deranged Korean kid next door who got nuclear weapons for Christmas, I’m having Bay of Pigs imminent nuclear annihilation flashbacks. I feel tempted to practice the 1960s duck-and-cover safety position under my desk. But at my age, with these knees, I can’t risk it. I would get stuck under there. (I should probably stash some chocolate under my desk just in case.) If things weren’t so dire, it might make a good joke. What’s the first thing to go in a nuclear holocaust? Your knees. Last month, scientists warned not to use conditioner in our hair after a nuclear bomb detonates because it will cause radioactive particles to bond with our hair follicles. This begs the question, what hair? But apparently a lot of people in Kentucky have stopped using conditioner as a precautionary measure, even though Tom Price has debunked the warning as fake science. Although Price would not recognize a scientific fact if it sat on his face.

My children humored me when I insisted that they renew their passports in case we need to flee the country. A Jewish phobia, they said. Then Charlottesville happened. We have secured current passports. A few weeks ago, my daughter, who lives in SoCal at the other end of the state from me, said, “Mom, if the world collapses, I’ll try to make it home to you.” I replied that she should do that, and that I would find something for us to eat, adding that I know how to process acorns to make them edible. (Edible, yes. Tasty, no. I think tasty requires assistance from authentic indigenous people.)

This is the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For Jews like myself, this is a time of reflection, revelation, resolve, renewal, and rededication to the work at hand. We contemplate how to turn things around to improve our lives and do a better job. During this time of teshuvah (turning), I am making a concerted effort to get past the election and to really move forward. I will always grieve for how much potential we lost in that election. How much progress we lost. So much loss. But I do not want it to prevent me from forging a hopeful and meaningful life; a continuing joyous life. Especially so if we have limited time left on this glorious planet with the miracle of our loved ones. I will join the hopeful, those who believe in the future and will work to make it become. Fundamentally evolution does not happen in the realm of politics, anyway, but in the life of the spirit.

During two months this past summer, four grandbabies arrived for me and three of my peers. These dazzlingly miraculous babies deserve to have beautiful lives in a beautiful world. Visualization to manifest such a future is not enough. Resistance during this perilous time in our nation’s history is not enough. There is no alternative planet. Mars remains incapable of supporting human life. You can’t make chocolate there. But despair is not an option. So I have talked my figurative knees to getting me up off the floor. It’s much easier to coax the figurative knees to work than to coax the real knees to work. (Because they are fake knees. Wow, the art of humor is coming back to me.) I must get to work to build a future for my children and their generation, for my grandson and these other new arrivals and their generation, and for those yet to come whom I will never know but whose lives depend on my ability to recover from my election trauma and get back on the job. I have to say that I agree with Groucho Marx:  “I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.”

Sunday, August 20, 2017


How delightful, this shared passion for a galactic alignment during a time when my country rates an “F” in shared alignments. Tomorrow’s rare solar eclipse, with totality over a large swathe of America, will give our torn country a brief respite from manifesting our uniquely rich tapestry of dysfunction, aesthetic deficit, limited vocabulary, and preponderance of bad food. While I love the kumbaya togetherness this event inspires, I can’t help but notice the more ridiculous aspects of the obsession people have developed for this upcoming two minutes of daytime complete disappearance of the sun, which, I might point out, people could also accomplish by hiding under the covers. However, I will (of course) participate in appreciating the eclipse, by standing in my own front yard and watching the light change.

Yesterday, friends driving deep into the wilds of northern Oregon to find their happy spot in the Band of Totality posted a photo on Facebook of the bumper-to-bumper traffic surrounding them on Highway 95 with the caption, “Why are we doing this, again?” Exactly. I’m glad I decided to stay at home, where we will experience an 80% eclipse. At my age, 80% works well. I’m skeptical about 100% of anything these days, since moderation seems fundamental to longevity. Except when it comes to dark chocolate, which one can never get enough of. (Did I just end that sentence in a preposition? I might have a mild case of pre-eclipsia.)

Apparently people living in the Band of Totality have publicized rental space in their homes, yards, and fields for eclipse-followers to use when they travel to the 100% region. For $1000, an eclipse-follower can obtain a place to pitch a tent in a field in the Band of Totality in Nebraska. Access to a restroom costs $2000. Prices are higher in the Band of Totality in South Carolina, where enterprising people know more about how to make a buck. Every outhouse in the Band of Totality in Kentucky (the outhouse capital of the country) has been rented. I predict that the next up-and-coming musical group of the year will call themselves The Band of Totality. They will wear eclipse glasses to perform, and their first album will have a completely black cover (kind of like the Beatles’ White Album only in reverse).

I worry about dogs. I hope that people with dogs know how to prevent their dogs from looking straight-on at the sun. Dogs in the wild probably know how to act in an eclipse, but perhaps not domesticated dogs. I especially worry about people protecting service dogs, since it would be a catastrophe if service dogs lost their eyesight. Then we would have the blind leading the blind, which seems particularly dangerous in the kitchen. The best plan is probably to lock all dogs in the laundry room. I hope people with dogs think of that and have a laundry room. I have cats, and a cat could beat a dog at chess on any given day, so I figure that with their super-intelligence, cats will know not to look directly at the sun. But what if the eclipse creates an animal-impact force-field that causes cats to forget themselves and act like dogs? It would distress me if my cats suffered negative effects from the eclipse and began to drop sticks at my feet for me to throw for them to fetch, roll in every mound of stinky goo they can find, meow loudly at the UPS driver, and ask for a Frisbee for Christmas.

I wouldn’t complain if wild turkeys and opossums looked at the eclipsed sun and lost their eyesight. I retract that wish. It’s cruel for me to wish blindness on innocent wild creatures. Maybe the eclipse could cause them to develop a selective form of impairment that causes them to lack the ability to see or recognize grapes. Then they would stop eating mine on the vine even before they ripen. (Dream on, right?) I wonder if the flowers will close up as if at night. Will hummingbirds fly backwards? Will my dishwasher spontaneously turn itself on? Just in case, I’ll fill it with dirty dishes and soap beforehand. I hope everything metal in my house doesn’t get sucked to the refrigerator door.

Barring any bizarre unexpected occurrences, we have thought things through and are well-prepared. My husband even obtained a pair of eclipse glasses so that we can watch the event without burning our eyes. I hope he got 3D eclipse glasses. Wait, real life is always 3D, isn’t it? I saw a sign on the door at the public library stating that they have no more eclipse glasses. I didn’t realize that there had been a run on eclipse glasses at the library. Fortunately I missed that. I don’t know how my husband would have explained it to my children if I had died in an eclipse-glasses stampede at the library.

If you failed to obtain eclipse glasses (what were you waiting for? next time think ahead), you can make a device that will allow you (and your dog) to watch the eclipse safely. I have seen many schematics and architectural drawings of eclipse-viewing devices online. Just google the name “Rube Goldberg.” You can make a simple eclipse-viewing device using a paperclip, cardboard box, four safety pins, tennis racket, silly putty, two coconuts, baseball cap, standard box of Legos, floor fan, and three feathers from the Indonesian yellow short-beaked Doody-bird. A picture of a viewing contraption that you can put together handily in your basement appears below. If you correctly assemble this device, you should seriously consider applying for a job at NASA.

Well, bring it on. Our love and awe, as humans, for this wondrous planet, lifts my spirit and fills me with gratitude for the beauty and magnificence of the natural world. The excitement about the total solar eclipse allows us to collectively transcend our differences and ongoing strife in this country for just a moment as we step back, take a breath, and join in our shared appreciation of this amazing galaxy that surrounds us, with forces beyond our comprehension. I have not lost sight of that. Pass the eclipse glasses.

Here is a picture of a device you can make at home to view the solar eclipse safely.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Teens Still Having Sex

A couple of weeks ago, I laughed when I saw the headline on an online news article that read Teens Still Having Sex. Seriously? It makes for a good blog heading, but this does not qualify as news. They call it “news” for a reason. The teen sex headline could have appeared carved into a rock in the Stone Age, and it would not have even been news then. I suppose this just goes with the territory nowadays as we wander through the wonderland of fake news, fact checking, biased information, distortions of research findings for monetary gain, and obfuscation of truth. News has lost its identity. These days, people define true and false according to their own personal and often fairly random belief system. If someone doesn’t like a “fact,” they will google around until they find information supporting their desire to un-fact that fact. So I’m not surprised that journalists are grasping at straws to provide news that is absolutely 100% true. You can always depend on teens having sex to be an indisputable fact.

These days, we have to track down the source of news and information, and then decide if we consider it a trustworthy and real source of true information or not. For instance, it drives me crazy when I see articles touting “research” about how wonderful statin drugs are, and that everyone should be taking them because they effectively lower cholesterol. Studies cited are generally those commissioned by the drug companies that make and sell statins. (Surprise.) Meanwhile, the truth, and this is real news, is that cholesterol has nothing to do with heart disease. In fact, statins interfere with our ability to process cholesterol effectively, and they have serious health consequences despite the fact that Big Pharma has brainwashed doctors into thinking statins are benign. Follow the money, as they say. Research promoting statins is brought to you by the folks who profit from you buying statins.  Rant over. Where were we? Oh, right, teen sex. It’s safe to say that teens really are still having sex. The lucky ones anyway. So that qualifies as true information, albeit old news. Let’s call it olds.

Over the years, as a grant writer, I have occasionally been offered work writing federally funded grants to promote teen abstinence. I always turn these projects down since I subscribe to the research that indicates that a fundamental developmental purpose of adolescence is to explore sex. Teaching safe sex makes more sense to me than trying to convince a creature pumped full of exploding hormones that they don’t want to have sex. Preaching abstinence does not end well. Look what happened to Warren Beatty and Natalie Wood in “Splendor in the Grass.” If you look up the antonym for sexual abstinence in the dictionary, it says “teenage boys.” Trying to convince a teenage boy that it’s not a good idea to have sex is like trying to dissuade a cat from eating tuna. Hardwired.

I read an article by novelist Daniel Handler (A.K.A. Lemony Snicket) in which he discusses how his most recent teen novel was classified as an adult novel because it has so much sex in it. He says he purposely put a lot of sex in it to encourage teen boys, who make up a large proportion of “reluctant readers,” to engage in the activity of reading. Handler argues, and he has a good point, that teen boys are far more likely to read books with plenty of sex in them. I think this is largely the case with the majority of males of any age. I abandoned Oscar Hijuelos’s Pulitzer-prize-winning The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love in mid-sentence because I got bored with the continuous boinking on every page, and began to yearn for a story about something more thought-provoking than the feel of a woman in nylons. When I mentioned this to my husband, he immediately dropped the nonfiction tome that he had been reading and snatched up my copy of Mambo Kings. They never really outgrow it, these guys. The fact that Mambo Kings won the Pulitzer prize only cements my contention that men dominate the Pulitzer prize selection committee. Which is why a book in which a man converses with his penis is a surefire candidate to win the Pulitzer. It worked for Phillip Roth and Junot Diaz. (I just googled “Pulitzer Prize winning novels in which men talk to their penis” and I got over one million hits.) I just realized that if I write a book in which a woman talks to a penis I may finally have a fighting chance of getting a book published. Does this qualify as news?

I seem to have wandered pretty far astray from where I started. My point is that teenagers having sex will never be news. Wake me up if they stop.

Why the picture of the daisies? What picture do you suggest for this blog post? 
In the movies they always cut to a field of daisies during the sex scenes, right? So here you go.