2015/04/10

Wild things

Since I have been writing more, I thought I would be publishing more blog posts. Unsurprisingly, however, a lot of what I'm writing is just working stuff out, a way of thinking out loud. Not for publication. Either I don't want to share it or it's interesting only to me or both.

It feels good to have some of the time back that I was spending, especially on Facebook. It feels bad to be in so little touch with what is happening in the lives of people I care about. I had expected both of those feelings. But I have to keep my time reduced indefinitely.

I seem to be in a shell. I don't like it much, but I hope it's part of the healing and growing process and not a deep hole that I won't get out of. I haven't been reaching out, which is what I am normally wont to do. No one is reaching in. Maybe everyone is used to me being the instigator. Maybe they think I need alone time.

Not really. It's my online social networking that I have to curtail while I find the right balance, not actual social networking. I always want personal connections, perhaps more than others want from me. I know I can be kind of intense sometimes.

The beneficiary of my solitude has been my native perennial garden. Thanks to the amazing weather stretching back into winter and many doses of herbal tolerance for tediousness, I have removed most of the early crop of weeds. The insidious ground cover that crawls between other plants and makes huge mats where it has no competition, the creeping buttercup (not doing well this year due to dryness), and dandelions galore, as well as plantain, clover, old turf grass, and all that stuff with no name. And the ubiquitous and relentless maple tree sprouts. I've done this by getting down and dirty, on my knees or butt or whatever position is not too painful for the time it takes to clear all the weeds within reach.

Being up close and personal with my plants and with the soil has taught me a lot about the pico-ecosystems we have around this house, the drier areas and the ones with more moisture, the sunny spots (more of them since we had to have a large red cedar removed).

I'm also learning about what makes these plants happy. I started this garden 12 years ago, and most of the perennials have been in for at least eight years. I sited them according to advice from native plant guides, watered them until they were established (2-3 years), and then mostly left them alone. If they are sited correctly, they should do well, without any water other than rain (look up xeriscaping).

Some species didn't make it. Some struggled, and some still do. Some thrived and even expanded their range. Some died in the spot in which they were planted but sprang up elsewhere. Some thrived, withered, and are coming back, which could be a natural cycle.

I never intended to have anything even close to a formal garden. But I always made sure it was fairly domesticated. I liked my paths and rock borders, the neat beds with mulch between, and each plant where I could see and identify it. You wouldn't know it by looking at my desk, but I am an orderly person, sometimes to a fault.

Imposed order is not how these plants grow in the wild. And I wondered if I could let things go more wild without the garden becoming too messy--this is a house lot in a city, after all, not an actual sanctuary. But maybe it was time to see where the plants, the successful ones, wanted to go. I tried to give them a good start, but they know best how to thrive.

So I have started to let the herbaceous perennials become an experiment in evolutionary fitness. I'm watching various species share space with other species. I'm watching some move into areas where they weren't planted but that could use some foliage. I'm seeing some take leaps into new areas.

I'm not letting nature take its course entirely. I have a suspicion that wild strawberry might run the world if given the chance. That's certainly true for Nootka rose. That guy has serious roots. Its job is to pop up in places near and far, and my job is to keep it in check. As well, I prune the smaller trees and shrubs, sometimes quite hard, thus treating them more like domesticated garden plants. But in most parts of the garden I am now letting things happen. I shall watch closely to see what actually does happen.

Is this some kind of metaphor for my life? I sweah ta gawd, even though I started by writing that prologue, I did not expect to write an epilogue as well. I have no idea if it's a metaphor. But a tarot reading gave me lots to think about. Why shouldn't the plants in my care and the place where they live do so as well? I have always been mostly a "bloom where you're planted" kind of person, but maybe I'm getting fussier in my old age. Or maybe it's just that I have less time left and want to spend it in a way that's good for me. Some places, some situations, some fellow human beings will help me to grow and thrive more than others. Maybe I've tried to grow where I might do okay but will never thrive. Maybe I resist shifting to better soil, or maybe there is a barrier. Maybe if I find soil and fellow plants that are good for me, I'll make the best foliage and flowers ever.

2015/03/31

All the feels

I read a ton of stuff on the interwebs. But I usually avoid anything with even a whiff of click bait. And that's a ton of avoiding. Trying to make money by creating nothing is a practice as old as humanity, but I have my own tradition of letting them get their clicks elsewhere.

So either I had ignored links about Highly Sensitive People or just hadn't paid much attention. It's not that I'm against labels and categories. They're just words, and words are how we communicate and distinguish different things in the world. If a label fits, then there's nothing wrong with it. But I'm also not big on saying "I'm a Capricorn" or "I'm ENFP" the way some people do so that others can know how they define themselves. Too facile.

As well, I have never thought of myself as being exceptional. I'm part of a sexual minority, but I'm also white, middle-ish class, able-bodied, and a whole slew of other "normal" categories. Even my blood type is as normal as can be. So I belong to a lot of majorities, and I have always been reluctant to claim any kind of "special" status. And saying that you're more sensitive than most seems special to the point of bragging.

A while ago, however, a friend posted something about Highly Sensitive People, and I decided to look into it. I found a test. Unsure whether the test was legitimate or not, I checked off the boxes that applied to me, and I found that according to that test, I was just inside the category of Highly Sensitive People, which describes about one in five people. When I told Sweetie, with some surprise, that I seemed to be a Highly Sensitive Person, her response was "Duh!" She said she had always known that. How did I not know? It's really just that I never thought of myself that way and never knew that it was an actual classification of human beings. And that it wasn't bragging. It was just reality.

I did some more research and found an article on the Huffington Post. As I read through the list, I teared up. In item after item, I saw myself. And of course I teared up, right? Duh indeed.

I have long wondered why things like art, music, drama, stories, and sometimes just life in general affect me so strongly. I thought it was odd that people seemed not to be affected by things that brought me to tears or shook me to the core. Sweetie is like me in that aspect as well. But as it turns out, it's not so odd for people to feel things less strongly than I do. I'm in the minority.

I don't think HSP is an explanation for everything about me. I'm neither that simple nor a stereotype. But it has certainly informed how I look at myself in relation to the world. It is always my goal to evaluate things critically, but it's hard to ignore the thrill of recognition.

The ability to feel more strongly and deeply must be a good thing, right? A meter that is more sensitive is usually better than one that is less so. But people are not meters. Being HSP feels fine to me, probably because it's just part of who I am and I accept it, but it's not easy dealing with it. Psychic pain is still pain. It's hard for me to be resilient. It's hard for me not to have fear. And it's far too easy for me to self-medicate as a way of building a cushion around myself.

Understanding about HSP doesn't automatically mean I will deal with it more effectively, but I think understanding can help. When you're trying to live mindfully, awareness is a definite plus.

2015/03/29

Holiday in the sun

One relaxed chica
The therapy of spending a week on Kauai did not work miracles. I didn't expect it to. But I think it was a helpful part of a process that is turning out to be a bit more involved than I had thought it would be at first.

I want to say, even though this re-evaluation process is sometimes scary, I am doing my best to embrace it. It seems that I spent last year thinking I had myself all sussed out. Getting a bit smug and complacent. But the deities are sensitive about hubris. And complacency is not good for my character. So, bring it on.

I feel awkward posting a link to this blog post on my Facebook wall, because one thing I decided was to give myself a bigger Facebook break. Not a total one, but I'm letting myself forget to go check it rather than making sure to check it every mumble minutes. I'm sorry not to engage very often with postings, as was my wont (and might be again), but self-care right now demands a Facebook footprint reduction.

There were so many more things I thought and felt about as I listened to the earth and water and sky. As I breathed the tropical air, basked in the sun, got splashed by the rain, and looked at the stars (when the clouds would let me).

One thing I changed just by being there was to increase my activity level. I haven't gone to the gym in longer than I care to think about. I walk a fair amount, but not enough, and at my age I need strength training as well. But on Kauai I swam every day, sometimes twice, and took some long walks. And all of that felt very good, both physically and mentally.

Celebrating the birthday of Prince Kuhi'o
You know what is good therapy? Snorkeling while swimming. At least snorkeling at Beach House Beach, a somewhat sheltered cove next to the Beach House restaurant. Pretty much as soon as you put your face in the water you see fish, all kinds of fish, as well as a few invertebrates such as sea urchins. Best snorkeling ever! Better even than boat tours specifically for snorkeling. It was wonderful to drive down the road, swim out not very far, and see all of that beauty. I find snorkeling to be both exhilarating and calming.

Swimming is such a good exercise for me that I ought to keep doing it. But here at home, swimming involves going to the pool at the right time (on a fairly restrictive schedule) and the overhead of the before and after. And all of that for the dubious privilege of swimming laps in a chlorinated pool, not even close to the joy of frolicking in rolling, tepid salt water until my body says "Okay, enough for now."

So maybe not swimming, but I know very well that no one can improve their mental state without the holy trinity: nutrition, sleep, and exercise. In this case, two out of three ain't bad but ain't good enough.

Sweetie and I did well on the nutrition part, with some indulgence (cough, gelato, cough). We had light breakfasts mostly at home, often the same for lunch, and three times I made supper of grilled fish with papaya salsa and veggies. We had our foraging down this time! We bought enough to have some variety in our meals, but we ended up with very little unused food at the end of our stay. We shopped locally and also at the Hanapepe farmers market, which is not just farmers but sometimes people who are basically gardeners who work small plots and sell some of what they pick. It was such a treat to have fresh papaya and apple bananas and a variety of fresh, local vegetables. I learned to use calamansi (great in the salsa as well as in fish marinade). I grilled not only ahi and ono (my new favourite fish, also called wahoo) but also Japanese eggplant, green onions, and blanched broccoli and green beans. Grill marks on everything!

We found great restaurants in Po'ipu and Koloa, some that hadn't come up in our research. La Spezia in Koloa was a delightful discovery, with distinctive Italian food and excellent service. We had a lovely dinner at Red Salt in the Koa Kea Resort that included seared scallops in four different sauces and a wagyu filet mignon (we split it). We had one breakfast out at a place called Joe's on the Green, which is at the edge of a golf course. It's a lovely covered, open-air restaurant and bar that looks out on the golf course (where we saw nene, the state bird) but also the ocean and the mountains. And the breakfast was great: Kalua pork with rice, eggs, and toast (and hot sauce, of course), a local favourite.

The best meal of all came via a casual suggestion. Sweetie and I were getting manicures in Kapa'a. I was chatting with the woman doing my manicure. At some point she mentioned a couple of her favourite restaurants, one of which was Josselin's in Koloa. We went on our last night. Oh mah effin ever-loving lawd. Tapas, Pacific Rim fusion, and even sangria all done so well. Normally I'm not interested in sangria, but the lychee white sangria was delicious and refreshing. Tempura green beans, ahi poke, rock shrimp tempura, pork dumplings, and especially the kabocha pumpkin ravioli made our mouths very happy. The ewer of warm dark chocolate that we drizzled over pistachio ice cream profiteroles was killer. And the service was excellent. This was a Tuesday night, and I've read in reviews that the place is noisy when full, but at least on the night we went we had an outstanding experience.

Three paragraphs on food. You can tell where our priorities lie, eh? Cooking is always good for me, which is why I wanted to do that even when on vacation. And having other people make and serve great food to us is pretty darned therapeutic as well.

After watching an episode or two of season one of Game of Thrones (can't wait for the new season), I had some nice quiet time at night before bed. I would sit on the lanai, feel the breeze, look at the ocean and the sky and the huge monkey pod tree and sometimes the feral kitties that would come around (but never too close). I let the spirit of the island into me. As always, I expressed gratitude, and I wished blessings, but being in those surroundings made my ritual extra special.

Oh yeah, about that dinner at Red Salt. It was a celebratory dinner after a special event. Sweetie and I renewed our marriage vows on Shipwreck Beach with a lovely woman named KatRama who created a beautiful ceremony for us. I was looking forward to that evening for the whole vacation, and it was even more wonderful than I had thought it would be.

The best part a day among a week of wonderful days. Now it's important that I hang onto and build on things I gained from spending time in paradise.

2015/03/16

À bientôt

Time for a break. A vacation and a little more.

I've already dialled way down on Facebook. It doesn't feel great to be less in touch with people, but right now I need to keep my Facebook minimal. I still hope you have a really good day on the anniversary of your birth. I still "like" your cute kid pictures, cute kitty pictures, vacation pictures, links to good posts, and especially personal posts from your heart. I still want to know what's going on. But the FOMO—fear of missing out—is reduced.

I have even become lax with Twitter. I still love to tweet and to read good tweets, but I know I'm going to miss things, and that's okay. And I'm getting closer to deleting my annoying LinkedIn account.

(I would mention that I already deleted my Ello account, but no one would care. Not even me.)

I've been taking more time to practise guitar, to work in my garden (thanks to this alarmingly beautiful spring), to watch the birds at the feeder, to get out for walks. To have quiet time. I love how my tattoo is coming along and can't wait for it to be finished. I love my new haircut. Stretching more and doing some yoga feel good. I've made a few small but beneficial changes.

Now, time to pull myself away from my laptop. In a couple of days, my only online connection for a week will be via my phone, and I am unlikely to do much if any extensive (mis)typing, or perhaps even much looking.

Time for swimming, walking, snorkeling, even cycling. Time for sun and warmth. Time for reading. Time for writing. By hand. On paper. Time for sitting outside under the stars. Time for listening to the island spirits. Time for doing anything or nothing.

Time to knock the meds back to some chilled pink girly wine and the occasional beer. This is vacation, not a retreat!

Time for thinking. Time for reflecting. I seem to need some time to reflect. I didn't realize that until very recently. As usual, I was slow to understand that something needed attention, and probably several things.

Not the basics. At least not most of them. Sweetie is still my dearest love—together for 34 years this month. I never tire of spending time with her. I'm probably going to work at my job until they let me go or I retire, whichever comes first. I don't think I'm heading toward any great upheaval in my life, although upheavals are notoriously difficult to predict.

Mostly I have my focus on the question, What do I really want in my life? What is good for me? What is not and should be left behind? What is bad in some ways and good in others and how do I sort that out?

I don't know how many years I have left. I don't know how many good years I have left. I need to take time now to understand better what to do with the rest of my time.

Even though I'm feeling okay about disconnecting, there is still some fear. It's not so much FOMO as it is FOLC: fear of losing connections. Connections with people, from family to besties to friends to acquaintances, are important to me. If I have to be less active about staying in touch with people for a while, will they go away? That needs a post of its own.

But not now.

Time for a break. Sending love!

2015/01/22

Reproach

I want to be a better human being and do what I can make a better world. I imagine many if not most of us do. I have learned, but there is a lot more to learn, so I continue to learn. I learn in all kinds of ways. But by being scolded? Not so much.

For an old-ish, mostly able-bodied white woman, a descendent of settlers, I think I do pretty well at things like acknowledging my privilege and being aware of the effect of words. Being surrounded by social justice advocates and proponents definitely rubs off, and I appreciate it. As a thoughtful person who came through radical movements more than 30 years ago, I have done a lot of learning and relearning. Back then our mostly white, mostly male radicalism was impoverished and inadequate.

So I don't necessarily feel myself to be the target of much of what I read. But I read it anyway, because there's always something more to learn, a way of looking at things that is new and different, some insight. And of the things I read, I usually (not always, but that's a different post) agree with the presented ideas on principle. But too often I am put off by the method with which information is delivered. "Eight things you had better do unless you're a total dirtball." Really, who likes to be scolded? A child is scolded by its parents, by a teacher, by someone in authority. But I know I am not a child. Once I grew up, I hoped never to be scolded again.

You know who scolds? Not so much someone authoritative as someone who wants to impose their morality, ethics, or sensibilities on you. You're scolded because you transgress. You don't measure up to expectations. You're stupid or lazy or both. You mess up again and again, and the scolder is fed up with your inability or unwillingness to come into line with their moral code.

I don't need that. I checked. Teach me. I'm an eager learner, and I know how to shut up and listen. But don't be a scold, because very likely you will get the result opposite the one you want.

2015/01/13

A new trip down Sleater-Kinney Road

Bands reunite for all kinds of reasons. Often you know it's because there is money to be made, and since we all need to make at least some money, who can blame them—unless they crank out swill, which they won't for long. Sometimes it's because the band was the best thing the members had. Sometimes it's because they never actually broke up but just went on indefinite hiatus. Sometimes it's just because playing together is incredibly fun.

If anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt as to why they reunited, it's Sleater-Kinney. They've earned it. Over the course of seven albums and a few smaller releases, Sleater-Kinney established themselves as one of the Important Bands—bands we knew would always matter, bands other bands wish they were. Like the Beatles, the Velvet Underground, the Clash, the Pixies, PJ Harvey. Like Nirvana.

No Cities to Love, Sleater-Kinney's first album of new material in 10 years, kicks off with "Price Tag." It's not exactly an explosive beginning. The song is forceful but more full of bluster than power. Toward the end, it feels long. The lyrics aren't especially clever. "Fangless" starts more promising with a great intro beat from drummer Janet Weiss. This song reminds me of Corin Tucker's solo work, which is good but not nearly as distinctive as the best Sleater-Kinney. I do like Tucker's singing on this one, as I usually do. I often do not like Carrie Brownstein's singing, and this song is no exception. After two songs, this album is feeling too conventional.

"Surface Envy" catches my ear immediately. Great chorus! An enthusiastic thumb up for this one. "No Cities to Love" starts like it might be another strong one. It's catchy and has a good chorus, but it's not nearly as engaging as "Surface Envy." "A New Wave" feels like all the parts are there but somehow it doesn't create a great song. I do want to allow Sleater-Kinney room to be different. I wouldn't want them to reunite only to do what they had done already. The question is whether their current direction is great or not.

"No Anthems" gets me more excited. Glad we're back to Tucker singing. It's not just that she has a better voice than Brownstein. She also uses it better to express herself. This is kind of a deep cut, but it's a good one, and it has a strong chorus. "Gimme Love" is more of Tucker stretching in new directions, and I like what I hear.

"Bury Our Friends" got me moving right away. Points to Brownstein for this song! The bridge is a bit unimaginative, but does provide a texture change. "Hey Darling" makes me think of "A New Wave." Again, nothing wrong with it, but it doesn't thrill me. Maybe I'm not on board with all of this direction change. Or maybe this was just the throwaway ninth song that Kim Shattuck of the Muffs warns about.

"Face" ends the album in an interesting way. It starts slow and powerful, then picks up. I like this ending. I also noticed when this song started that it came up quickly on me, as in, "Oh, we're almost done already?" So even though I have some whines, the album does keep me engaged.

I want to listen to some reference material. I do not queue up Dig Me Out. We all know that's a classic, and I don't want to set the bar too high. Instead I listen to All Hands on the Bad One and The Hot Rock. I notice that both of the albums feel more urgent. They both grab me right away, especially All Hands. Killer chorus after killer chorus, great duets, great guitar interplay, and an undeniable edge.

If No Cities to Love feels less urgent, maybe that's to be expected. You can keep making music as long as you live, but you can't keep being young, at least not chronologically. As you get older, you have experiences, you change. Whatever else is going on in your life, you're no longer touring and living with each other for many months of a year.

I do not, however, think that it's inevitable for a band to make less urgent music. It depends on how urgent the band members feel. As someone for whom playing music is vital, I think all rock music should be urgent, that you should play it as though your life depended on it. That's what the best theatre is like. It thrills you and makes you shout "Brava!" I would love it if someone would make music as though it mattered, because to me, it fucking well does and always shall. Sleater-Kinney used to make music like that. I shouldn't be too hard on them if they're not now. I'm not sure that anyone can any longer.

(If you don't know...there is an actual Sleater-Kinney Road in (or near) Olympia, Washington. On it the band had a practice space. From it they took their name.)

2015/01/08

Quarantine

I am very fortunate. Even though I'm starting to feel the gradual deterioration of my body as it ages, for the most part I have been blessed with good health for most of my life.

Even the healthiest person can't avoid the occasional cold, however. I'm reasonably sure this is a cold. I don't have a fever. It did not have a sudden onset characteristic of influenza. But as seems to be the case these days, it doesn't feel like a "normal" cold, the kind with symptoms that match what's on the bottle of Benylin Formula. My nose is a bit stuffed, but not badly. I have a cough, not persistent, mostly but not always dry. My body feels generally bad overall, I'm having a hard time focusing, and I'm tired all the time. And then there's the way I really know that I'm sick: my appetite is off.

They don't make rhinoviruses like they used to. Literally. Viruses mutate all the time, and I have a feeling we're now dealing with a lot of variants of what used to be run-of-the-mill rhinovirus. Maybe it's a North American thing. The last time I had a "normal" cold, it was right after having returned from a week and a half in Europe.

I'm glad that nothing struck during my recent holiday time off. During New Year Week, Sweetie and I had a wonderful time in Portland (Oregon), full of friends, food, shopping, and lots of laughing. This cold hit on my first day back at work, and no, there is no link there. Just coincidence, but it's certainly inconvenient. I was okay for a few days, but today is a bad day. So maybe that means things will get better from here.

I started thinking about how even a brief illness can be socially isolating. Your condition is communicable, and you don't want anyone else to catch it. With no energy, you don't leave the house much if at all. You can't go to events you might want to go to. You can't see people. I stayed home from my choir sectional rehearsal last night, which was a loss both of practice time and of fun hanging out with others in my section. I'm not sure whether I should go to full choir rehearsal tonight. Much as I need to after two weeks off, there is little worse than sending a communicable disease, even a minor one, through a choir that is less than a month away from a performance.

My cold will end soon. So will my social isolation. I still have dinner plans with a friend tomorrow night because I bet by then I will feel better and hopefully not be contagious. In a few more days, I will be back to my normal healthy self.

For some, "normal" is nothing like what I have, and I was reminded of that shortly before I started to feel my own isolation. I know people who deal with chronic illness, people who can't socialize as much as they want, people who sometimes can't leave their houses. And that can be especially isolating. For an outgoing person like me, isolation would definitely make illness worse. But even for an introvert, too much isolation will have a negative impact.

Someone I know who lives with chronic illness shared a blog post the other day. Food for thought, especially since I am usually the healthy one.