Saturday, March 29, 2008

HC: Blah Blah Blog...

I keep waiting for something to hit me, something to grab me and drag me to the computer to put into a well-worded, important, worth-writing and, for others, worth-reading blog entry. Well, maybe that will never happen!

The biggest thing on my mind these days is Spring. Technically it's here, but where? It's sunny but cold. I'm tired of being cold. I feel like I've been cold for months and months and months. I'm hardly a sun worshipper as I prefer my skin pale and Victorian, but I do want the sun baking on my back, through my clothes, for very short periods of time. I want to see buds on the trees, and flowers blooming. I want to smell flowers as I walk outside. I want to find it difficult to work because I have spring fever and can't think straight...wait. That I do have. Spring seems to be the very short window between complaining about the cold to complaining about the heat. But it's also delightful, no matter how short.

I've been watching a lot of movies recently, very varied. Recent films such as La Vie En Rose and Atonement, old films like Love Affair and Easter Parade. Comedy favorites such as Zoolander and First Wives Club. I love watching movies. The first two I mentioned, La Vie and Atonement, were good and depressing. If even half of what happened in the film actually happened to Edith Piaf, she was one unlucky but strong woman. Disaster after disaster after disappointment after pain after heartbreak...I kept waiting for her to board the Titanic or the Hindenberg. I loved the music, but the movie was just too dark. Piaf's life made Frida Kahlo's film bio life look comfy and easy.

Atonement was slow and artsy, but righted itself for me as a whole. I ended up liking and respecting it very much. For those who know me, my one obvious complaint was Brenda Blethyn's lack of screen time. Love Affair is the movie that was remade as An Affair to Remember and the semi-recent Warren Beatty/Annette Bening Love Affair. I guess if a story works it works? But then, I'm one of maybe five people on earth who don't like An Affair to Remember. I've never been able to sit through more than 20 minutes of it. I love Cary Grant and like Deborah Kerr, but, oy, they are unbearable in that film. Contrarywise, I really liked Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in Love Affair. They were charming, likeable, warm, funny, real, and special. For you old movie fans, Maria Ouspenskaya appears as Boyer's grandmother and, GASP, smiles a lot!! I didn't know she could. She was lovely. I recommend the film, despite the bad Netflix print, and one too many songs by Irene Dunne. I like her singing, but the combo of the bad sound and her high notes gets painful. Still, the movie is a perfect example of what Hollywood in 1939 could do really well.

Easter Parade? Eh. Oh, the talent involved on that screen, though! Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Ann Miller, Peter Lawford. Fred's character was unlikeable, and I saw no reason given why Judy (SPOILER) would fall in love with him. I can understand, however, why anyone on earth would love Judy. She seems to burst with energy, enthusiasm, humor, talent, cuteness...just overflowing out of her pores. She has to be one of the most amazing performers ever.

Perhaps it's strange that of all the movies I mentioned I probably like Zoolander the most. What a funny, clever film, and an on-target slap in the face to modeling. It's so funny, with great little bits by Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, and Jon Voight as Zoolander's coal-mining dad, who is unimpressed with his son's new mer-man commercial, "Moisture is the essence of wetness." I do like movies that have an important lesson in them: that "there's more to life than being really really good looking." Speaking of good looking, what a treat to see three 'older' actresses (in Hollywood, that's anyone over 25) in First Wives Club. Actually, there's more than leads Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bette Midler, there's Maggie Smith, Eileen Heckart, Stockard Channing, Marcia Gay Harden, and youngsters Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Dundas, and Elizabeth Berkley. Very different from the book, and very funny and well-done. I've read the book numerous times; I've seen the movie numerous times. Love 'em both.

What else can I ramble on about. Cell phones. I checked my bill and discovered I was being charged approximately $10 a month for something I didn't even know I had: games. One of my kids apparently signed on for some game on my phone that I didn't want (High School Shoot Out, anyone? How's about Texas Hold 'em? No thanks.) I'm not a cheap person. Just look at my theater-going expenses! But I hate wasting little bits of money on nothing. The games are gone, the kids are warned. The lesson? There's more to life than being really really, sorry. The lesson is, check over those bills before you pay them!

Tonight I will introduce my son to the original The Planet of the Apes, which I haven't seen in many years. I don't much like science fiction. I can't stand Charlton Heston. The monkey masks are less than great, but there's something about that film I find very interesting and upsetting. It scared me so much when I was a kid! I wonder how it will affect me tonight. It's fine with me if monkeys and gorillas take over. I love animals, and if it's their turn that's fair, but I seem to remember the Human Dioramas, and that really scared me. We'll see.

On Wednesday my husband and I are going to see South Pacific on broadway! I've never seen it live, and I'm very excited. It's at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center, where I spent many, many, many an hour seeing The Light in the Piazza. Piazza's Kelli O'Hara is playing Nellie Forebush, although I secretly (okay, not so secretly) wish it were Piazza's Victoria Clark instead. Okay, okay, Vicki is 'too old.' I DON'T CARE. She would've been a perfect Nellie, I'm positive. But Kelli O'Hara is hardly chopped liver (I don't really know what that expression means). O'Hara is beautiful, talented, and sings like an angel, so I'm sure she'll be great. (But she's no Victoria Clark.) Oops, did I say that?

On Wednesday I'll have dinner with my sister and our best friend Susan (who is our sister, too), and my husband. A date out. I am so thankful I live so close to New York and its theater and museums. I don't much treasure anything else in NYC, but it does have the best of two things I Wendy and Susan, so that makes four things.

Time for my afternoon coffee.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

RS: The Tangled Web

Ok, I did it. I googled myself. (Equally disturbing, I just used the word google as a verb.) So, it didn't seem so bizarre and arrogant at the time; but typing out the offense, it seems, well, offensive. Or at the very least, self-centered. I have friends who self google, but they've actually got things to search. One friend is an author and checks on book sales and rankings. That seems perfectly legitimate.

But what makes me think that I might be interesting enough to warrant any significance on the world wide web? To be fair, I've done shit--good shit--impressive shit. And with all the frickin minutiae on the web, surely a few of my little achievements are worthy of permanent record, right? Truth be told, I've looked before and I got a couple of mentions. At the time I remember thinking, "Ain't I the poo!"I don't go looking every day. It's been years. Honestly, most of the time I bore myself to tears so static trips down memory lane are far less interesting than myriad options just a click away.

I'm not sure what I expected to find, I haven't really accomplished much since my last perusal. But it would be nice to be reminded what the powers that post think of me. Turns out, the web doesn't think that much of me. Or more accurately, it turns out that the web doesn't think of me that much.

I always hated my name growing up. Never ran into a lot of Rodneys. Never met another white Rodney Leon in my life. And while the Sexton part has always proved memorable and titillating (although I never need to be called Rodney Sexy or Rod Ton-of-Sex or be asked if I've ever done porn again), once Mark Gann called me Rhonda Sexchange in 5th grade, any love for the name was permanently compromised.

Apparently, more parents than I imagined named their sons Rodney Sexton. Dumbasses. There were 90 different Rodney Sexton's on none of them were me. Two of them were my same age. There was pretty good coverage across the US, and we do seem to be a fairly religious lot. There was a minister, a facilities manager at the Rock Family Worship Center, and a Rodney who posted a prayer request for his father in the Marion Baptist Church bulletin. Were my 1980 Bible Quizzing season at the Highway Church of the Nazarene and subsequent district contest performance (not to mention the vocal group performance of "He's Still Working on Me") to have made the web, I would have appeared in good company here. We are also accomplished. There was a nationally recognized American Sign Language instructor at a deaf college, a professional race car fuel runner (whatever that is), and a Rodney Sexton named the "New Face in Coal". Against those, I cannot compete. I speak no foreign language other than four phrases of German--two of which would get my face slapped, just figured out about three months ago how to determine where the gas tank on a car is without getting out and circling like a fool--generally having gotten it wrong and having to turn the car around, and don't have a damn clue what title I could achieve (or what contest to enter) to compare to "New Face in Coal".

Five years ago around Christmastime, about an hour from my parents' house, a Rodney Sexton died. He was about my age so the number of condolences my parents received was heartwarming, if a little disturbing in a couple of cases given that I was standing in the room and the people huggin and kissin up on my mama had no idea her little Rodney was alive and kickin and standing 3 feet away. Finally, my search uncovered a Rodney Sexton who had committed a Class D Felony whose arrest record was posted. Whatever my legacy so far, I have that Rodney Sexton beat. My moving violation for careless and imprudent driving in 12th grade pales in comparison? Eventually, the charge was dismissed.

I didn't make it through all the pages. Within the first 5, I appeared twice. Once on a website called A profile appeared that I never posted. There was no picture but it was clearly me. (New York City, Group Product Director, it was me--4 years ago). The strange thing was 9 people had read the profile but I couldn't get it open to see who I had been portrayed to be. The second was a listing on the American Legion website listing my name as the 1983 winner of the Missouri State Oratorical Contest. I had wowed the state with my original commentary, "The US Constitution, Our Beacon of Freedom". They won't let me join the Army, but those vets will celebrate my sophomore ramblings, preferring sagacity to fagacity. I'll be honest, every single vet I met during the time I was competing was a genuinely kind, accepting, and wonderful person--and I'd rather scrub a cat's ass with my tooth brush than join the Army, so I feel completely at peace with the good men and women of the Missouri State American Legion.

There was no mention of our precious blog associated with my name--I guess I can stop worrying about stepping over the line with my gentle opinions.

So, this whole exercise got me to thinking about what I have accomplished. Like a tree falling in the woods, have I accomplished anything if it doesn't appear on the web? Well, it doesn't matter so much to me what my e-biography might reveal. I don't expect anyone to think that my life is as fascinating as I do--though I do keep repeating the same fucking stories as if I am the living incarnation of Aesop and that the words will alter the substance of the listener's very being.

But for my own sake, I did start thinking about the things I've done, things I've accomplished that matter most to me. There were some surprises. First, there were far more than I'd have guessed. Second, many of my proudest moments aren't actually about me. Third, even as I reflected on the moments least proud-making, by and large, I wouldn't change a thing.

So, whether compelled by arrogance or curiosity, I am pleased I went looking for myself. There are a lot of interesting namesakes out there in the world. They've probably accomplished far more than the www portends. And it isn't such a surprise my proudest moments didn't make the Intel inside. Doesn't matter, I was there.

There were moments as recently as this week that probably won't be HTML'd that made me very proud. Greatest among them was the New York City debut of my good friend Sheila at Cleopatra's Needle. We sat there for four hours and didn't have any idea that there was a real chance time might run out before she could perform. She made it just under the wire--the penultimate performance. She rocked. Actually, she jazzed. More importantly, I was there, like the father celebrating the return of the prodigal son, when she came home. I was there, right in the front row. A little jealous, a little nervous, proud to busting. A tree fell in the forest, and by web standards, there was no one there to hear it. I heard it, backed up by a jazz trio, punctuated by applause. Did it make a noise? No, it made music.

And now there is a permanent record on the world wide web.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

DW: The Book

I've just read the most important book I've ever read, "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose" by Eckhart Tolle.  A few pearls to chew on over bagels: 

“When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life. It means that fear is no longer a dominant factor in what you do and no longer prevents you from taking action to initiate change. The Roman philosopher Tacitus rightly observed that ‘desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise.' If uncertainty is unacceptable to you, it turns into fear. If it is perfectly acceptable, it turns into increased aliveness, alertness, and creativity."

Uncertainty is the zip code I've been living in for the last 6 years and it has produced a great deal of creativity (among other things).

"Worry pretends to be necessary, when all it does is contribute to turmoil. Worry can never be an agent of change."

I'll write more later, but was inspired to share this after reading Rodney's post--bravo Rodney!!!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

RS: Kudos Me

The reading from the astrologer was not to be believed. All aspects moving full steam ahead toward bliss. She said, "For the next two years, the universe says, 'YES'."

The universe had already begun encouraging over the course of the year. First 10 months post-40 have been better than any 12 month period in the first 39. Behind me now, a divorce cycle, a 7 year square in my house of health, Saturn fucking with everything except my career, and a steady echo of the universe saying not just NO but, "HELL NO".

At the end of the call, she told me she had never given a reading with so much promise and possibility. We were both speechless.

There are potential blips on the map. Every upside has a counter-point. And every opportunity requires action—I have to reverse my instinct to carpe remote control if I am to carpe diem.

First of all, this confluence of rivers majestic could release a flood of emotion. Ten years of competitive swimming notwithstanding, I'd better keep a floatation device handy, she warned. Second of all, without a navigation system, one is left to the whimsy of the current. While she promised fertile ground at any shore, I've spent many an exhausting year making the best of any port in a storm. I might want a plan.

She asked what my goals were. I was dumbstruck. Felt a little foolish that I didn't have a single one to quote. No mantra. No rally cry. No raison d'etre.

Then, it occurred to me. For the first time in my life, my goal was simply to enjoy the moment. Not compare the promise of possibility to the pain of the present. Might that be what has made this 10 months so joyous? God knows, there has been a bountiful supply of delight over the years, but I've not wallowed in it. Didn't want to get any on me. Didn't dare to hope it might last any length of time. More comfortable to languish in anguish.

Without belittling the power of Prozac or the punch of planets aligned, this staying in the moment seems a healthy dose of true self medication. Who knew I could be my own best medicine? Certainly, I can't take all the credit. As she promised last year, there was that moment something clicked in my head or my heart or my biorhythm. Perhaps the feeling good was nothing more than feeling good for the first time in a long time—health having been relentlessly hellacious. Perhaps the double fault lay in the absence of a competitive drive resurrected by tennis, just me and the ball. Perhaps not. Having been defeated humiliatingly by a pirate, a one-armed man, and two senior citizens in the short course of my brief court stint, it doesn't bode well for my ability but does not diminish my passion. Perhaps it is something I will never know. Perhaps, as they say in Texas, it is like the rain, and I should just lay back and enjoy it—especially since I can't control it.

I was speaking with someone the other day. He told me he was envious of the fact that I say flat out that I love my life. Found it refreshing. And unexpected. He wanted to be able to say it about his own life but, frustratingly, couldn't. I know the feeling all too well. Stuck feels safe. There is risk in making a move. But there is risk in staying still. Sometimes life comes barreling at you, and happiness is to be found in nothing less simple than getting the fuck out of the way. I've been rear-ended by life and suffered that whiplash with uncommon chronicity.

So, blips be damned, I'm barreling toward sustained happiness wrapped in joy. I don't have to worry about the other shoe dropping. It fell. I put it on. It fit perfectly. And to my surprise it had a Prada label. And a silver lining.

Monday, March 17, 2008

HC: My New Obsession

Okay, I admit it: I'm an obsessive human being. Luckily, my obsessions run to the nondangerous. I don't smoke or take drugs, or overdo alcohol. My new obsession is black and white and shiny. It's not overly intellectual; it only knows the alphabet up to G, but it's (one of) the coolest things ever invented. It is my piano.

I've lived with this piano for over 18 years. It was part of my husband's trousseau. He's played since he was 5. Both of my children took lessons and my daughter still does. She and my husband play really well, and I sort of figured we don't need another piano player in the house but...

I read a lot about Alzheimer's disease. I don't want it. One of the best ways to fend off AD is to exercise your brain by learning new things. So, after living with "the big black thing in the corner of the room" that I loved to listen to but didn't understand at all, I started taking lessons.

And I love it.

It helps tremendously that my teacher, Carole, is a great friend. She's been coming to my house for years now, to teach the kids. I usually sit and listen to the lesson, and I’ve heard Carole say "no" maybe once, I think. She all about the positive, about the love of learning, about learning to love the piano, and music. I don't think Carole understands the meaning of the word "strict." She's warm, embracing, inviting, encouraging, all good words blended together.

While I adore music, I've never been great playing it. I've toyed with harmonica, violin, recorder, and flute. I abused my love of music and innate sense of what the next notes probably were, so I could play things without actually learning what each those little black dots on those lines were. Not any more. I am learning the notes. I find it really hard and confusing, and that's good because the pain of learning means my brain is getting exercise.

It's SO confusing to me that an "A" for your right hand is a "C" for your left. I sometimes imagine the notes from the treble clef going into my eyes, through my brain and down my right arm to my right hand fingers while at the same time the notes from the bass clef are going into my eyes, through my brain and down my left arm to my left fingers! No wonder it hurts! But it's really interesting and exciting to become friends with the piano. I can even play two baby songs by heart, so I can show off on someone else's piano.

Carole, the wonderful piano teacher, is also my friend and spiritual advisor. She feels, and I’ve come to agree with her, that whatever is going on in your life is mirrored by how you play piano, and vice versa. She says it all much more eloquently than I can but, in essence, it works out to...the same way you can work through difficult parts of a piano piece, that’s the same way you work out problems in life. Go through the hard parts slowly, with love, without judging yourself. Understand that there are days when you won’t play well, but it’s still worthwhile to sit at the piano and try. I wish I could word things the way she does. It all comes down to letting go, enjoying the process, and being nice to yourself.

I was in a horrible mood the other day, and it was threatening to be a long, drawn out dip into depression. I didn’t feel like talking, watching a movie, doing anything. So I sat down at the piano and practiced the pieces I want to know by heart, and just practiced practiced practiced. I did this for about half an hour and when I stopped, I felt better. I had worked at something, which feels good, I had played the songs I enjoyed, and it makes me happy just to hear them, and just the physical act of pounding (gently) on something got out some of my tension.

Did I mention it’s just fun! I have a book of broadway show tunes, simplified. I can almost play Castle on a Cloud from Les Miserables, and Whistle a Happy Tune from The King and I. I’m not booked at Carnegie Hall yet, but I’m learning more every time I sit on the bench. The notes are less foreign, and I spend a little less time thinking “Every Good Boy Does Fine” and “All Cows Eat Grass.” Little by little, it gets clearer and clearer.

Taking an instrument as a grown up has its pluses and minuses. The minuses are obvious: learning when you’re older is just harder. Sometimes my hands feel arthritic and achy from playing. Sometimes if my hands feel tired and achy, the playing helps me feel better. I never know which will happen. The biggest plus is, I’m a grown up and have chosen to learn the piano. My mother doesn’t have to force me to practice. I practice because I enjoy it and want to get better at it.

With Carole’s guidance, and the help of the two piano players in my house who are always available to answer questions, my piano and I are destined for a long and happy life together.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

RS: Between Dates and Prunes

The whole dating thing certainly has its ups and downs. Not enough hours in the day is one of them. But I have met some wonderful people and had some wonderful experiences. There have been the occasional oddballs. One guy with the most beautiful skin I have ever seen also had an unavoidably distracting facial tic. I didn't actually mind that so much. I did catch myself staring from time to time and blinking my eyes in unison. From a distance, we must have looked like the the guy from The Bell and the Butterfly on speed. The guy in the book had more to say. Twitchy happened to be stunningly boring. Not entirely his fault. It takes two to be that dull. There was the bizarrely enthusiastic guy who was either a raging racist or had an extraordinarily misaligned sense of humor--or both. Don't get me wrong, I can find the humor in just about anything—I couldn't find the humor in some of his commentary that was laden with conspiracy theories and rambling diatribes balanced by a devotion to meditation that made me think that spending so much time alone with your thoughts may not actually be therapeutic. Then there was the guy who was just beige. Perfectly nice, perfectly normal, perfectly nothing. Nice hair.

There was the guy with the panic disorder who shook through dinner, like Katharine Hepburn in an earthquake. One guy sent me 14 e-mails in one day before asking that we talk on the phone. Seemed reasonable after such virtual discourse. Given the borderline stalking behavior, I said I'd call him. Problem was his "company owned his phone" and he could "only receive calls by appointment". When I tried, it was disconnected. I am pretty sure that he was contacting me from prison, but I can't prove it. When he professed that he was certain I was "the one", I knew we were destined for aggressive avoidance. Another professed his love for me and certainty that I was "the one" after several hours of phone conversation. He was very interesting, possibly a giant (I never got a chance to confirm), and verging on obnoxious. Not sure what makes me so appealing in the abstract, but apparently the reality is less definitive. I can't imagine what these guys are imagining, but it sounds loads hotter than I can ever hope to be. The worst date was dinner at a diner. He rattled on incessantly with breath control that defied belief. He acknowledged my existence exactly twice. Once to ask me a question about my family that was interrupted mid-sentence with one of those "oh, that reminds me of the time" tales that made The Iliad seem like O'Henry. The second tip of the hat was to ask what I was thinking about him. It's one of the oldest tales in the world, but I never believed it really happened outside of a stand-up comedy routine. It's not so funny that close up. Of course, I didn't want to be rude, so I told him I wasn't finished sniffing him yet. The guy at the next table laughed, giving me more attention than my date did all night. The guy at the next table was playing piano at Carnegie Hall the next night. I wished he would have asked me to go with him. It happened to be one of those times when the diner wasn't busy, so the waiter never came with the check. I kept hoping he would clear the dishes and I could signal that, no, we didn't need anything else, just the check. Finally, I waved my hand in the air like I was hailing a cab, making the universal "check PLEASE" sign big enough a waiter came over from New Jersey.

Evidence to the contrary, none of them was painful. It was just clear that there was no connection. It is simple, clean and easy.

There were unexpected delights. I got into a fight with one on the first date, basically told him the basis for a particular argument was not only bull shit but offensive bull shit. The second date was not nearly so contentious. It turns out he is charming and funny and incredibly sweet and I'll see him again. There was the one I talked with about death for more than half of our first date. He talked of his mother. I talked of my sister and grandmother. The five of us had one of the most wonderful conversations of my life. I left wanting to know a great deal more about the son of this amazing woman, and the more I get to know, the more I like. There were the two (separate dates, not Siamese twins) who didn't look a thing in the world like their pictures. Not better, not worse. I was attracted to both the pictures and the persons equally—they just were completely different. And I've already seen both (again, separately) again.

There have also been disappointments. One seemed a perfect fit who simply dropped off the face of the earth. Interestingly enough, he told me that he managed to stay friends with all the people he dated because he was upfront and honest with them. I got neither. Just a disappearing act. It stings a little, but dating a man who prances on stage dressed as a horse for a living, would probably have gotten old. I never got to find out if he was hung like one. The other wasn't as perfect a fit but a seemingly more promising possibility. He was far more selfless than I, far less self involved than I, a do-gooder. No one will ever confuse me with a do-gooder. And, as it turned out, he wasn't quite so selfless as I thought, actually fairly selfish, or perhaps thoughtless is a better word. Though I try to keep myself from getting lost too soon, I found myself getting lost in his eyes with particular ease. I saw something there. Something that made me want, I don't know, perhaps just to want. He disappeared too. Turned up eventually to tell me he'd chosen someone else. Well, not chosen so much, I hadn't been a choice. Well, timing is everything—or nothing.

Maybe that's the complication with this dating thing. What's the point at which it is okay to hurt? I mean, it hurts when it hurts; but what amount of time is realistic? We'd been on three dates. Perhaps it wasn't him so much as what he triggered. It took me a mighty long time to get over being left after 6+ years, left without honoring what our time had meant, that it mattered at all, that I was a consideration. This was three dates, and he'd been seeing this other person for some time before. I know the game, accept the rules, and play it myself. And it didn't hurt that he stopped seeing more or wanted to focus on someone else--I'm not sure that if things had played out further that I would have chosen him. It's the way he chose to tell me, or not tell me, or something. Perhaps it was that I was caught off guard again. Once again, I had seen something in someone's eyes that made me believe he was a certain person, a good person, a person good for me. Someone who would do the kind thing. Wrong again.

Linda Ellerbee recounted in her book, And So It Goes, that she advised her son the night of his first dance that he could address all questions about how to treat his date by doing "the right thing, you can never go wrong doing the right thing." I believed those words. Grieved over those words. And eventually abandoned them. When the process began for me, my very first date was a lovely young man who awoke things in me that had atrophied for nearly 5 years. He ushered me into possibility and embraced me kindly. He wanted me, wanted all of me, wanted more than I ever intended to give back. I knew immediately that it wouldn't work. He wasn't a good kisser. And I didn't know how to tell him. And I didn't know how to tell him I wanted to end it. And I didn't know how to tell him good-bye. Anyone of them a far kinder thing than I had courage for.

Perhaps this whole dating thing isn't just a collection of strangers parading through until you find the right one to join on a lifelong journey. Perhaps it is more a series of mirrors held up by strangers, offering a series of aching reflections until one comes along where you see the reflection of yourself being loved.

I've seen myself reflected in some toxic lenses before but the imperfections weren't detectable from this side of the glass.

The other one says he wants to see me again. I'm not sure. I've learned that sometimes people are just toxic. Not bad people, just toxic to you. And there is nothing to be gained from seeing them. I don't think he is one, but I didn't think the one who taught me that lesson was. Or is he just a victim of thalidomide kindness, like me. Maybe he will turn out to be a splendid friend. Maybe I should just close the chapter and turn the page, lesson learned. Maybe I'm just rationalizing because he held up a mirror and reflected back something I didn't want to see in myself, but it's there whether I look at it or not.

Maya Angelou says, "When you knew better, you did better." That hasn't always worked out for me. But maybe it is still possible. Maybe I can start to do the kind thing more often. It takes courage. It is frightening. It is far better than atrophy.

Well, gotta run, I have a date.

Monday, March 10, 2008

WC: Oy

It turns out that I have not one, but two seven-hour layovers. One in Nairobi and one in Amsterdam (okay, the Amsterdam one is only about 6 and a half hours). The latter will at least have climate control and probably nicer bathrooms.

I'm so glad to be coming home, but saying goodbye to the Indian Ocean will be sad. And last night was probably my last look at some of those gazillion stars.

But I won't miss the heat and humidity!!!! I'm in an air-conditioned room as I write this, sweat streaming down my face. And I'm not even having a hot flash (at the moment).

What an amazing experience this has all been. A+.

But I wanna be home!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

WC: Best Laid Plans

The company that put our tour together--EcoQuest--planned a low-key trip home for us that included an overnight stay in Amsterdam with enough time for an evening cab ride to see the sights.


Kenya Airways cancelled our flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam due to insufficient passengers. It seems that people don't want to visit Kenya while the cease fire has failed to make people cease firing. (I haven't read the news in weeks, so perhaps things have gotten better--or perhaps worse. I sure hope it's the former.)

So, here's our new itinerary home:
  • Tomorrow, we check out at 10, unless we can get later checkout times (we're trying).
  • We get picked up for our trip to the airport at about 12:30.
  • We then fly to Nairobi, where we wait 7 hours for our next flight.
Now, mind you, I'm pretty sanguine about long airport layovers. Give me a good book and access to unlimited fast food, and I'm okay. Throw in a wall to lean on while I stretch out my legs, and perhaps an Auntie Anne's with yummy fresh pretzels, and life is good.

I guess it won't surprise you that the Nairobi airport lacks those amenities. It has a main waiting room that consists of, if I remember accurately, maybe 100 chairs in rows filling the room wall to wall. It has two stores--one souvenir store and one duty-free store--and one small cafe. It is not air-conditioned. It is close to the equator.

After 7 hours, we shlep onto an 8.5-hour overnight flight to Amsterdam. I'm not sure how long our layover is there, but the flight from Amsterdam to New York is also about 8.5 hours. My guess is that it will be at least 30 hours door to door. So much for our lovely, albeit brief, stay in Amsterdam.

However, all is well. I found a bookstore in Zanzibar and bought some books. I have a few Trio bars left over for emergency sustainance. I should be exhausted enough to sleep on at least one flight. And I'm hoping to float my way to New York on a combo of afterglow from the Serengeti and happiness at going home.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

WC: I'm Coming Home Soon!


Everyone on the trip agrees that Zanzibar is an anticlimax after the Serengeti--though we did see a dolphin on our sunset cruise on an Arab dhow last night.

As I write this, most of the rest of the group are snorkeling. I didn't go. After all the prep and anxiety I expended planning for this part of the adventure, I just ran out of the psychic-physical energy to deal with it. But I have no regrets. I spent part of the morning reading over my screenplay on a balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean--not at all shabby. And in half an hour I'm going shopping with two other people in my group who decided not to snorkel. It will be strange venturing out into Zanzibar on foot, which I have not done yet. I suspect that to many people here we look like walking dollar signs, and while I do not blame them in the least, if it's anything like it was when we went on the spice tour, with needy people following us everywhere, it will not be pleasant.

We're all shocked at just how sad it is here--outside of our luxury digs, of course. We all understood that Zanzibar is part of Africa, but we also thought that parts of it wouldn't be quite so crowded and dirty and poor, poor, poor. And all those poor females in their head scarves--I'm surprised they don't all faint from the heat and humidity.

Our hostess on the dhow last night was a stunning young Italian woman who is here studying Swahilli. She is completely comfortable here--loves it, in fact--and has all sorts of plans for her future here. She was wearing a sleeveless top, which is a big deal in this Muslim city where bare shoulders are completely verboten. I can't imagine that she gets five feet without being either hit on or chastized, but that just isn't an issue for her. She's sure braver than I am, moving to Africa by herself!

I'm very much looking forward to coming home. This has been a glorious, wonderful, fantastic, unbelievable adventure, and I will miss all the animals of Tanzania, but I'm ready and eager to deal with the animals of New York instead. It's a bittersweet sort of thing--the Tanzania part of this trip was like living in another world, a bumpy, dusty miracle of another world. I'm sad to think that I'll probably never see it again, unless I win the lottery. (Should I ever save a chunk of money this big again, I'd probably opt to use it in some other way. Even if I chose to use it on travel, it would probably be to some other place.)

For many of the people I'm traveling with, this is far from a once-in-a-lifetime trip. They compare their adventures in Nambia and South Africa and the Caribbean and Brazil and Belize. A few are, I think, flat-out wealthy, a very pleasant thing to be.

In Zanzibar, however, I am one of the richest people around, so everything is relative.

There are geckos in my hotel--they're very cute.

And, by the way, I have had exactly three insect bites. African insects don't like me any better than American ones, which is very lucky for me. Andrea has gotten bitten quite a lot, and our tour leader Dave stepped on a fire ant hill, so he has really been bitten. He said that the ants were appropriately named.

Damn, I miss the cheetahs!

I hope all is well with you all. Wendy

Friday, March 7, 2008

SS: My Hubby and a Giant Fish

This is my husband James, and the brown-speckled trout he caught in Westchester County, of all places. My apologies to any vegetarians who see this. But hey, he's vowed to get one of his fish stuffed and mount it on a wall of our apartment. So you may feel sorry for me. It's official: I'm a fishing widow.

WC:The Adventure Continues


First, many thanks (asante sana) to Holly for your lovely blog. I remember that picture--I even remember that event. It felt so great to having you hanging on me. And it felt so good to come home! Camping was not for me.

Which is a perfect segue to my adventures in Africa. I said in my last post that this was one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life. No, it's the coolest. Flat out. At least the Tanzania, see-the-animals part of it.

Zanzibar, and the parts of Tanzania when we were in towns, is more problematic. The people here have so little, so very very little. Kids beg for candy, but they also beg for pens and paper for school. (I plan to collect money to buy pens and notebooks and send them to Lasikar--it turns out there's a "r" in his name--one of our divers, who will give them to the children in his village.)

When we took a tour of a spice plantation yesterday, we were shadowed by three teenaged boys who kept making things for us out of plants and grasses--very cool things to be sure, such as necklaces and really amazing frogs. It was a level up from begging but very guilt-inducing and uncomfortable. We gave them money, but it would be better if they had opportunities! How very very very very lucky we are in the U.S., particularly in New York, where opportunity is truly everywhere.

But, back to the roughing it part of the trip. Or, I should say, "roughing it." Our camp on the Serengeti was amazing. Andrea and I had a two-bed tent with a sink, a shower, and a nice chemical toilet. The toilet was built into a big dark-wood box, and you had to step up to it, so it really felt like a throne. For showers, one of the men working there would put 20 or 40 liters (I forget which) of hot water in a container and pull it up higher than the shower to allow gravity to do its thing. The shower head had chains hanging from it that you pulled to let the water out. First you get yourself wet, then you turn off the water and soap up, then you rinse off. It was plenty of water and felt miraculous after hours in an open car bumping along dusty roads and getting covered in a not-so-thin layer of dirt.

And our meals! The chef at this camp was pretty darn good, and for dinner we had wonderful soups (leek and potato, carrot and ginger), fresh rolls, and main dishes with a meat and vegetables. If anything, we had too much to eat. And we were served as though we were in a luxury hotel.

At one point, while we were waiting in line for a buffet, and Dave, one of the leaders, put his hand on my shoulder, with a very serious look, and said, "Wendy, I hate to break it to you, but this is not camping." He got a huge laugh.

In the Serengeti, I peed in the woods for the first time (and the second and third, etc.), and it was fine. It helps a great deal that the first place I went was in the shade, with a sweet breeze wafting by, next to beautiful plants and herbs that smelled just lovely. A few days later, a bunch of us were going along a long length of trees and plants. I hadn't situated myself correctly to allow the others privacy (hey, I'm new at this), so I had to keep my head turned not to see. But as I finished and went to pull up my pants, I did look in that direction, and I saw a wonderful spaced row of moons, little and big, going along for about 30 feet. It was pretty funny.

I've missed a couple of game drives. My body has held up pretty well, allowing me to go without enough sleep and run around all day for about 13 days in a row. At 14, however, it said, enough!, and I listened. I did miss seeing a leopard in a tree, but as I had practically been hanging out with lions and cheetahs, that didn't upset me as it might have.

And today I didn't go on a trip that would have included seeing Zanzibar Colobus Monkeys. That's a little sadder to me--I would have loved to see them--but since I was practically falling asleep on my feet yesterday, I had to listen to my body.

On one of our plane rides yesterday, from the mainland to Zanzibar, we rode on a 14 seater plane. The pilot was a tall, blonde, quite attractive woman, who also loaded our heavy bags onto the plane. (Our drivers tried to help her, but she made a joke about "helpful men" and waved them off so that she could fit everything into the hold her way.) She was, I think, South African. I got to sit next to her in the co-pilot seat, which was great fun. The view you get from up there is amazing--the sky is all around you, and you have a sense of flying that I've never had before. And to be up there next to a good-looking blonde in a uniform--life is good!

But, and this is an annoying but, I kept falling asleep! I was just so tired. I wanted to see every second of it, but I kept conking out. To give you an example, we flew over an active volcano spewing huge clouds of black smoke. The sides were like slate from all the hardened lava, and it was starkly beautiful. I couldn't wait until we were directly over it--I so wanted to look right into it. And I fell asleep! A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and there I was, getting Zs. Damn.

The only other person who has been taking breaks is the 68-year-old woman in the group. The 69-year-old, however, hasn't missed a thing. (She speed walks 7 miles a day and has a 57-year-old husband and has more energy than I had when I was 6.)

So much more to say. I've filled 50 pages in my journals. Small pages, granted, but still a fair number of words. My favorite memory as of this writing is a male lion's huge and magnificent face coming into focus in my binocs like he was a foot away (in reality, he was only about 40 feet away, I would guess). Animals look so much better out of cages.

I'll be home Tues. I imagine I'll gain consciousness by Thurs. (By the way, Krystal, I got what you asked for.) Bye all.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

HC: Much Ablog About Nothing

I haven't written a blog in some time. Life has been very busy lately. I have, however, read every blog posted.

So, what's new with me? MY SISTER IS IN AFRICA!!! This is such a turnaround for us. I was the happy traveler and she was the stay-at-home. I had to half drag her to Paris and London years ago. She doesn't like packing, she doesn't like flying, she's a die-hard New Yorker, etc...and yet now she's in Africa! I'm so impressed with her I can't even begin to tell you.

Wendy and I have been sisters a long time now...since I was born! My father loved to take slides when we were younger, and one of my favorite pictures of me and Wendy was when I went with my parents to pick her up from a weekend (or week?) away at Girl Scout camp. In the picture, Wendy is holding me (she's 7 years older), and I am hanging onto her in a way that would make even the most devout Christian admit that we are descended from primates.

When Wendy lived in San Diego for 13 years it was pretty horrible. We visited, we wrote, and we called, etc, but it was horrible being that far away from each other. Now, she's back where she belongs, in Manhattan. Of course right now SHE'S IN AFRICA!

Other big news for me: my first born child will turn 16 on Monday. I've been his mother a long time...since he was born! My son is about 6 feet 1 and a half inches, and very handsome inside and out. The funny thing about him is, he is exactly the same now as when he was 3 or 6 or 10. Same face, just more manly. Same way about him. Same personality. If I've done nothing else in my life, I've done okay giving birth to this wonderful human being. The world is in good hands if Charles is in it.

Charles is in dress rehearsals for his high school's production of The Phantom of the Opera, as Andre the opera house manager. The other day I sat in the darkened auditorium and watched a rehearsal. What a magical feeling you get inside a theater. I loved everything about it, especially watching the kids patiently waiting on stage for the director to direct or the stage manager to manage. It was 7pm and the kids had been at school since 7:15am. Where they get the energy I'll never know. So much JUST standing around. I saw a cheesy, phony, cheap looking piece of scenery in the school hall that, on stage, suddenly looked like a richly elegant stone partition. To me, that's amazingly cool.

Here are two documentaries that I recommend, both available through Netflix:

PBS's John and Abigail Adams: American Experience
No End in Sight

The 2-hour Adams show was very nicely produced, combining historian talking heads with portrayals of John and Abigail by Simon Russell Beale and Linda Emond, and the usual panning, tilting zooming camera shots of paintings and documents. These two people knew they were going to be a big part of history and discussed it in their letters. John encouraged Abigail to copy (by hand, of course!) her letters to him and file them away. She was an amazing woman, bringing up four children and running a farm, watching soldiers pass her door, hearing cannon fire from Lexington and Concord, all while John was in Pennsylvania trying to enact a separation from England. He was away so frequently, Abigail figured at one point that in their (then) 14 years of marriage they had spent 7 years together. For me, the most fascinating tidbit of the documentary was being reminded that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on July 4th of the same year. They died while fireworks were exploding in the sky for the holiday. As one of the historians said, if it happened in a movie you'd think it was ridiculous, but it was true.

No End in Sight is...fascinating, horrifying, infuriating, deeply sad. In short? George W. Bush and friends killed a country. If even half of the documentary is accurate, and I believe most of it is accurate, Bush should've been impeached years ago. When I was a kid, I was proud to be an American. Now? I feel like I should go around apologizing. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Will Iraq ever recover? I just don't see how. Do they all hate Americans? I don't see how they can't.

Watching these documentaries, both of which dealt with war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, made me very sad. Will things ever change? On 1010Wins this morning, there was a report about a ship built of some of the remains of the World Trade Towers. The ship cost $1,000,000,000. Imagine if that money was used to feed some needy families, or help some families not lose their homes in the foreclosure mess? There was another radio report about Turkey and fighting and hatred. Will there just always be a war going on somewhere? Hasn't history shown us that any "War to end all wars" doesn't? Doesn't there have to be a better way?

I wish I had answers. I have nothing but questions.

But things do change. Heck, my sister is in Africa!

WC: Another Day of Wonder


Got an email from my sister asking for more emotional info--am I having fun, is it awesome, etc. Since the email was sent 5 days ago and I just got it, I don't know if the question is still pertinent or if my blogs have answered it. Just in case:

This is one of the coolest things I have ever done in my entire life and I'm having a great, great, wonderful, great time.

I also feel like I got hit by a truck.

Today we got up at 4:30 am to go down into the Ngorongoro crater (pronounced Goro-goro but with an "n"ish sound before each "g"). We were on the road by 5:45. Our American tour guides told us not to get our hopes up for seeing a black rhino--there are only 25 left in the crater, which is hundreds of square kilometers big--but we would do our best to find one. Well, we must be pure of heart, because about 10, 15 minutes in, there was a black rhino right in the road waiting for us! (We ended up seeing a total of 5!)

The whole experience was glorious. The day was beautiful. It was so early in the morning that there were no other humans for miles and miles. We were surrounded by vast expanses of grasses dotted with various trees and here and there animals.

The rhino is an amazing beast, absolutely prehistoric in its look. It's small-eyed, like an elephant, and its skin looks like I imagine a dinosaur's skin would look.

And then, a bit later, a lion came by. A big male. It actually crossed the road between our two vehicles, then settled down on its back, paws in the air like Bert Lahr in the Wizard of Oz, and snoozed, only feet from us. We must be really, really pure of heart.

Today we also saw hyenas, jackals, and about a zillion flamingoes. I tried to get film of the flamingoes that gives a sense of how many there are, but I have no idea if I succeeded.

To be honest, much of today is a bit of a blur. I was exhausted, and I kept dozing off in the back of the vehicle. I am now able to bounce around as in an ill-maintained roller coaster, mostly without getting nauseous, and sleep! But I haven't really been falling asleep on this trip--I've been collapsing into unconsciousness. The trip is that intense.

About my video-filming: I suck at it. In my defense, when we stop to take pictures, if someone moves it shakes the vehicle. And I can't see particularly well through the eyepiece. Even with those excuses, however, I suspect my filming skills are unusually bad. I forget to press pause when I'm going from shot to shot. My hands are not steady. When I want to zoom, I nearly always go in the wrong direction first--and my zooming is far from steady. But I still think I got some really good footage. Time will tell. And the others jn my group are sharing their photos, and some of those should be amazing. I'm sure we have a ton of good pictures of lion belly from today.

Tomorrow's Olduvai Gorge, which I'm very pysched about. And a visit to Masai village. And a visit to Shifting Sands, which I take it is a really deserty desert. And then we end up at the Serengeti. Hey, no wonder I'm tired.

There's a sense of awe to this whole experience. Being on the other side of the world. Being surrounded by glorious expanses of nature. Seeing a zebra's erection (I kid you not, it was awesome). Being away from the world as I have always known it.

A vervet monkey stole Andrea's apple during lunch today. She had her box lunch open on the seat of one of the vehicles and she was standing outside next to it--the rest of us were eating off the hood. And suddenly we saw a vervet monkey scurrying out of the pop top with an apple in its mouth. No dummy, it was eating the apple as it was jumping back to its tree, just in case it lost it I guess.

I haven't had to go to the bathroom "in the woods" yet, but that'll probably come tomorrow or the next day on the Serengeti. I did go in a bathroom today that was impressively awful, but it did offer privacy.

This lodge is amazing. We have a view of the crater from our room. We don't have phones in the room (we haven't since the first few days), and we're about 2 and a half blocks (I paced it off) from the restaurant and reception area. At night, people walk you to the room to protect you from elephants, buffalo, monkeys, etc. The main building has grates in the ground--sort of like the ones in the sidewalks in NY but with the metal only going in one direction--to stop animals from coming in.

An elephant was right behind our rooms about an hour ago (I missed it--I took the afternoon off from a bird-watching trek and conked out).

Internet costs about $10 for half an hour here. I sprang for an hour tonight because I felt like writing without rushing.

This is my last post for at least a few days. No 'net on the Serengeti. This is when we move into tents that will be struck each night and re-assembled wherever we end up. Since we are following the wildebeest migration, we can't predict where that will be. Our African guides will keep in touch and figure things out. We'll be in two-room tents with bathrooms. As exhausting and challenging as this trip has been, it's definitely "An American White Girl in Africa."

I wish I could begin to do this trip justice. To be, for instance, in the crater surrounded by beauty and wonder--and some carnage too--is an amazing feeling. I find myself wondering about the meaning of life (though I tend to always come to the same conclusion: it has the meaning we give it). I ponder how humans live vs how animals live. In the Serengeti we're likely to see more "nature red in tooth and claw," but in the crater a lot of nature looks downright mellow. The animals are just, well, living.

On the other hand, the lion did have blood around his mouth. And we did see a hyena, surrounded by white feathers, trying to get a little bit more meat from the bird's bill with a tiny bit of bird left attached to it. And we've seen bee-eaters (tiny pretty birds) whack bees against branches to kill them.

Sometimes, when we're out there, it's hard to remember that NY exists. And I've carefully avoided getting any news, which has been a pleasure.

I think I'm going to read this over and go back to my room. I'm skipping dinner tonight--I've had a bunch of food today, and rest trumped food for the evening.

Lala salana. (The way I spelled it earlier was wrong.)