A mellow high school reunion

bannerMy high school reunion was last Saturday and at first I was skeptical about attending. I haven’t kept in touch with anyone, so at earlier reunions it had been easy to drop in, say hello to a few friends, and leave early.  This time, it helped that for months before the event, classmates posted photos on Facebook from school, summer camps, slumber parties, birthday parties and other events to whet the appetites of the wary.

This reunion was different.

I loved hearing about my classmates’ lives and the many directions they’ve taken.  Few conversations dwelled on people’s work. We shared memories of teachers, school principals, and being trounced in the annual Turkey Day football championship game. Grandchildren were a hot topic. The rock and roll band from high school days, “The Gents,” is still playing and, as everyone at the reunion will testify, still playing well.

The Gents  Jim Starkey, Jerry Carter(3 of the band members)

The Gents:  Jim Starkey, Jerry Carter (photo only caught 3 of the 5 band members)

One close friend, a Montessori teacher when I last saw her, now owns two restaurants. Even though they’re in another town, I realized I had eaten in one of them. She and another female friend learned to fly under their dads’ guidance and once owned their own airplanes, unheard of for women in the past — except, of course, for Amelia Earhart.

Why was this different from the 10th and the 30th? Over the years, everyone had mellowed. No one boasted about their feats in life. We weren’t going to change and we’d accepted our places in the world. Even though a few intended to diet ahead of time, I don’t think anyone really did. At a certain age, what you’ve done and where you’ve been matters less. Who you are now — on the inside — counts for more.

The reunion was also a time for true confessions.  One guy told me he had a crush on me in sixth grade, called my house and played music over the phone.  Now that’s a memory I wish I had retained. Memories are tricky. Another grade school classmate shared one about my mom that he had held on to for all these years. It was a nice one; regrettably, it was of someone else’s mom.

I had a great time talking to grade school friends, kids who lived in the same neighborhood, many of whom I played with.  I can still picture their houses.  I missed seeing those who didn’t come, who’d dropped from everyone’s radar or dropped from the world in a more permanent way.

The feedback we received suggests we should do it again, but sooner than ten years.  It must be our age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Planning a trip with help from Hemingway

Luxembourg Garden

Luxembourg Palace in Luxembourg Garden

Planning a trip is nearly as exciting as traveling. Your anticipation builds, and you become immersed in your destination. All in the comfort of your home, before you spend hours pancaked in an airplane seat or diverted to the wrong airport because passengers are brawling over the matchbook-sized spaces beside, in front and behind them.

In advance of a trip to Paris I’m doing my planning via three books — “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain, “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway, and “Old-fashioned Corners of Paris” by Christophe Destournelles — with a little Rick Steves thrown in for good measure.

Paris was a mecca for artists and writers in the 1920’s. The 2011 movie, “Midnight in Paris,” allowed us to experience that era in the main character’s fantasies. Ernest Hemingway figured large in the movie, as he did in life.

“The Paris Wife” imagines his years in Paris with first wife Hadley and is told from her point of view.

Shakespeare and Company, Left Bank

Shakespeare and Company, Left Bank

“A Moveable Feast” — which my husband bought at Shakespeare and Company — is Hemingway’s memoir of those early years in which he attempted to launch his career as a writer with the help of other expatriate writers living in Paris at the time. “Moveable feast” is a reference to Christian Holy Days, such as Easter, which are not set on the same date every year. But for Hemingway it also points to something deeper. He is quoted as saying, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

These two books present her side and his in their deteriorating relationship. Both tell measured storiescir, though she is clear about how she suffered when he became involved with another woman. He’s more circumspect, but subtly acknowledges his role in the failure of the marriage.

“We’re lucky that you found the place,” [said Hadley, referring to their apartment].

“We’re always lucky I said, and like a fool I did not knock on wood. There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on, too.”

Both books do a wonderful job of putting the reader in Paris during that era and they tantalize us with references to streets, buildings, parks and other landmarks that still exist. Initially I planned to find these on the Paris map and create a walking tour. But someone else has done it for me. The blog, “easy hiker” has mapped out “Themed Paris Urban Walk: Hemingway’s Latin Quarter.” It turns out that we did much of the walk last year, but without awareness of any of the landmarks. “Easy hiker” has photos of streets, buildings and cafés, which will make our next stroll all the more interesting.

“Old-fashioned Corners” also takes us back in time to a clock maker, an old restaurant, a tripe butcher shop, a button store, the last phone booth. You’d find most of these sites away from the city center. The few remaining Parisian photo booths appeal to me the most. Remember the movie “Amélie”? The book describes the output of these machines. “A faintly grainy, coarse black and white picture taken in an unflattering light that vaguely distorts our features.” Finally an excuse to blame the equipment.

 

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Fitbit: great exercise motivator

One adage I’d love to disprove is that the older you get the longer it takes for your body to heal from an injury.  But so far experience has done nothing to persuade me that it isn’t true.

I’ve devoted my summer to not exercising and gaining weight. Not by choice, but because it’s taking forever to recover from back problems caused by my decision in June that this would be a good year to learn to ride an unpredictable, fourteen-hands-tall pony.

Between June and the present, I’ve been using my cat as a source of inspiration for how best to spend my time. You can see the depression left on our couch by my supine body.

Recently, I have felt encouraging signs. A short ride on the traction machine at Group Health gave me a few days of near bliss. Physical therapy has eliminated a need to drag one leg behind as I walk. Still, my challenging exercise routine of yore exists only in memories of fitness past.
photo

This explains, sort of, why I invested in a Fitbit, a black rubber bracelet that uses wireless technology to help you keep track of your steps.

I wanted to test whether Fitbit would encourage a gradual increase in my activity level during my recovery.  The first day after I got everything set up — charging the battery, making it sync with my computer and phone, inserting the electronic element into the bracelet — I took a nap. My baseline for that day? Just above zero, a good starting point if you’re looking for progress.

The second day I learned that living in a house with stairs helps my step count without any extra effort. The third day I discovered that I don’t have to go out of my way to accumulate nearly three miles of steps. On day four I’m collecting extra steps by running to check the Fitbit dashboard on my computer every few minutes to see how many more I’ve taken since the last time I looked.

Today my husband and I were rummaging through a cupboard jammed with cables, old cameras and phones. I’m sure that one day I’ll find my Fitbit there. But for now I’m enjoying my new toy and excited to see my step count grow as my back heals.

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Talking to strangers may be good for your health

Chicago train: good place to talk to strangers. Douglas Rahden photo, Wikimedia Commons

Do you ever talk to strangers?

My answer would be, “It depends on where I am and on my mood at the time.”

My mother, however, would have said, “Always.” She considered the woman selling hot dogs at the Target store, the neighborhood school crossing guard, and people she passed by working in their gardens her friends. When she and I met in downtown Seattle, I would walk her to her bus stop. But first, we would have to go to the Pike Place Market to buy doughnut holes for her bus driver. After my father died my mom lived alone. She mapped out her daily walks to increase the likelihood that she would run into more than one acquaintance.

Mom was on to something good. From a “New York Times” blog by Jane Brody, (May 13, 2013) “People are fundamentally social beings who require meaningful connections with others to maximize health and well-being.” Loneliness has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, increased stress and inflammation. Yet we often work hard to ignore other people, whether we’re in a rush, fearful of taking the first step, or lost in the imaginary conversations we’re carrying on in our heads.

A more recent piece (“Hello, Stranger,” New York Times, April 25, 2014) reported on a study in which researchers encouraged people to interact with strangers. The subjects were passengers in Chicago’s commuter rail system.  Five dollar Starbucks’ cards were the reward for some to strike up a conversation with a seatmate and for others to remember their parents’ advice not to talk to strangers. Before becoming involved in the research, train riders who were asked to engage in a conversation predicted their rides would be less enjoyable than if they had ridden in silence. The result? No one experienced a snub and people said their conversations were pleasant.

From another study reported in the same article, people who might have been snarky with their spouses were more friendly with strangers and appreciated these encounters. “…Introverts and extroverts alike felt happier on days when they had more social interactions.” And they were as pleased after talking with strangers, as they were with people they knew well.

The next study should ask how people handle conversations with friends who can’t look away from their cell phones. This can be more challenging than talking to strangers. I’m sure my mother would have had an answer to that.

 

 

 

 

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Too much information or not nearly enough?

My new Spanish friend

My new Spanish friend

There are people who record and share a few life events and others who register everything they’ve ever done and pour it out by the bucket to the entire world. Although blogging pushes me closer to the bucket brigade, most of the time life events — birthdays and anniversaries for example — come and go without my noticing.

Recently, I read a news article about couples who provided their wedding guests with a hashtag they could use during the ceremony to post on Facebook, upload photos to Instagram, and tweet. The article said that often the guests missed much of the event because they were busy checking for likes on their postings.

My problem is that I might want to share memorable events with a wider audience, but I forget to do it. Take our wedding forty-some years ago. I don’t think people hire a photographer when they’re married by a judge, and we didn’t own a camera in those days. Still, we had several parties and not one picture to even remind us who was there.

Last week, five friends from grade school — we played together, formed secret clubs, and graduated from Brownies to Girls Scouts — came to my house. During lunch each of us shared a CliffsNotes synopsis of our lives over the intervening fifty years between high school and the present. Guess what? I had my phone at the ready and forgot to take a single photo.

Two years ago I was sitting at Starbucks with my Spanish friend, Ana. (She passed away in June). I remember Ana pausing in our conversation to say, “Those girls at the next table are from Spain.” She got their attention and introduced both of us, found out they were au pairs and gave them her phone number. Ana and the young women kept in touch. Last week, one of them tracked me down, saying that her mother was in town and wanted to have a Spanish/English conversation with an American. “It would be a nice connection with Ana,” the girl said, “since she didn’t have the pleasure to meet my mom in person.”

We had that conversation this morning, and it was a nice connection. Ana’s spirit was with us. Best of all, this time I remembered my iPhone.

 

 

 

 

 

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“The long and winding road”

Great Wall from top

long and winding road from Great Wall

By now everyone on the planet must have heard the cliché, “It’s the journey that’s most important, not the destination.”

A friend who writes a travel blog (see story here)  and who traveled with her husband to Greece to buy a house only to have the deal they thought was firm fall through, buys into this idea wholeheartedly for this and other reasons. But I hadn’t thought about it much until recently.

I’ve had to slow down this summer, thanks to a spooked pony who caused a fender-bender of sorts involving my lower back and tailbone.  I can’t write when I hurt. It hasn’t been all bad. I’ve enjoyed many lazy afternoons napping on the patio in the company of my always-sleepy cat.  But slowing down wasn’t enough to force me to ask why I’ve put such pressure on myself to get published in a short time.  That came after hearing the stories of writers who had gone before me.

I attended the annual Pacific Northwest Writers’ Conference, primarily to pitch my story to agents and editors. I’d been working on a novel for three years and never once did I ask myself why I kept setting the goal of publication ASAP. Age I guess. It engenders a sense of urgency.

While at the conference I talked to a writing instructor whose first book was published in 2013. I’m paraphrasing what he said: “I wrote for two years before an agent told me I needed to start over. I listened and began researching my story from a different angle. It took me twelve years, but I did it.”

Twelve years?  I’m comforted by having a ninety-three-year-old friend who’s working hard to get her memoir in shape for publication.  If she can hang on so can I.

One morning I sat next to a woman who handed out bookmarks with testimonials about her latest novel. She asked what stage of the process I was in.

“I’m on my third draft.”

“I wrote fourteen,” she said.

Fourteen? I should have started sooner, maybe in kindergarten.

Nearly all the speakers, including many of the agents and editors, repeated the same mantra.  Having a first book published isn’t magical. It doesn’t change your life, except that now you have to spend time marketing it as you work on a second.

Darn. I was expecting magic.

Do it because you love it, the experts said. Write because you are passionate about writing. Good writing always sells.

The moral of the story is that I haven’t given up wanting to be published, but I have let go of the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to work fast.  A huge weight has lifted.  I am now focused on the writing itself. I guess it’s the journey after all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Confused? There must be an app for that

My lady bug timer

My lady bug timer

In the past week I read about three free apps that help people who want to stay focused on one project for an hour or two, and avoid checking email or Facebook or Twitter or their bank account or “breaking news” every few minutes.

I’ve been thinking about apps in general and the desire of many people to carry out more actions faster and better. Of the zillion apps out there how many address this need? In checking out the App Store, under the subject of “productivity” I found a few that could save seconds in a day and others that require extensive record-keeping. No thanks. Under “health and fitness,” I found one in which you could log daily walking time, pace and distance. The app converts your data into a bar graph and identifies your top walks. Useful? You be the judge. I count the minutes I exercise weekly. Once I’ve hit 150 I’m happy. No bar graph needed. Under “lifestyle” I found horoscopes, recipes and a way to keep track of goals in eight different categories. I have one goal: finish the third draft of my novel. By not purchasing that app, I save $19.99.

I limit my social media apps to email and Facebook. I subscribe to half a dozen blogs, but even those can distract.

A few years back, I had to close my Twitter account, partly because I couldn’t think of anything to say, but also because what other people were saying wasn’t that compelling. I reached my limit after someone talked me into installing Tweet Deck on my desktop computer. This app made a bird sound every time someone I was following posted a tweet. Since I followed large organizations with full-time tweeters, such as “The Huntington Post,” if I didn’t turn off the volume on my computer my study sounded like an aviary.

As I age I have to face that there is a limit to my time on earth and there are things I have yet to accomplish, and balance this with the wish to slow down, take my time and enjoy my surroundings, my friends, my life. I don’t think any app is going to help me here. It’s something I’ll have to figure out on my own.

 

 

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