Tuesday, July 19, 2011

aaarrrggghhh as default

I want to complain.  But I can't do it without laughing or at the very least, just plain thinking that I've no right, no right at all.   My life is too good to complain. There are starving children in Africa. Kids still in refugee camps in Palestine.  Injustices and inequalities that matter absolutely everywhere.  I mean what right do I have to complain?

Watch this. And see how petty it is:

The guys came today to finish my deck. Or at least I thought that's why they came.  They had put the wrong stuff on it — um, about a year ago, when they started building it. So. The side railing is salvage from the old deck: stained and oiled, and beautifully aged.  The decking itself, for some reason, they slapped with brown latex.  Brown latex! Now what was that about? Oh. And the non-existant lights are nothing more than circlets of wire just hanging there under the deck.  The deck lights have been sitting in my living room for about the same duration — i.e. since last summer.

So.  The guys came today to refinish my deck.  Last week they power-washed it. This week they were supposed to sand it down, so that that latexy crap would disappear, and the whole thing can be stained and oiled and just be uniform like the beautiful old deck was (RIP).

I thought — great — and headed out to paradise to run Rosh through the trails and the dunes.  And stopped in at the market for groceries to fill the empty frig and cupboards.  And got some gas. And this. And that. So. We're talking maybe a solid 2-3 hours, right?

Come back, and find, what?

They redid the deck exactly as before.  More latex crap! A high decibel (internal) aaarrrggghhh — and then the pause. Pull yourself together, she said to self.

It's just a deck.

Does it really matter if it's dead yucky brown while the sides are vibrant oiled redwood with the grain happily winking through?  I mean, there's still warfare in Afghanistan. I mean, lookit Palestine! Arab Spring, important stuff — not to mention the Amazigh Spring (okay, that's wishful thinking — they tried that already and it did no good).  In other words, there are important things going on in the world. Even in my own life.  Why aaarrrggghhh over my deck's unfinished state?

I think the answer is redirection.  Maybe if I worry about my aaarrrggghhh deck, everything's really okay in the world.  Maybe it means that somewhere on earth there's a little spot of peace and quiet and petty concerns. Where someone's living high on the hog somewhere where nothing much is going on. Maybe it's a good model for how to be.  Maybe it gives hope for a possible future of backyard BBQs and sleeping on a chaise. Something to aspire to! Maybe it's important that somewhere in the world an aaarrrggghhy unfinished deck is the biggest problem at hand.  And that in this idyllic place on earth, the credit card gets paid off on time, and the house isn't foreclosed on, and the viruses aren't killers, and the dogs don't have rabies, and that the water is potable and plenty at the moment, and that the big one hasn't struck yet, and —

Maybe we really should sweat the small stuff.

Because when the big stuff hits, we really just need to focus, and we don't have the luxury to indulge our inner-aaarrrggghhh.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

in the throes of lust — aaarrrggghhh

I think it's lust.  Isn't that that uncontrollable desire that can't be sated until you act?  And the act has consequences. And you know it has consequences — and you just can't help yourself because, well — it's lust.  And around and around you go, trying to be rational about the whole thing — but your body's just aching, almost quaking with this desire you can't shake off. I know, that's way too many ache/quake/shakes for one sentence, but that's the trouble, see?  Complete loss of one's senses.

It's the adorable factor.

Michael Pollan wrote The Botany of Desire reminding us of what flowers can do to us.  Don't worry, this post is not about flowers.  I'm just using this as an example.  This post is about much worse than flowers, actually.  But it's not as bad as babies.

I guess there's a continuum of lusts.  Maybe put flowers (or hot cars) at one end of the continuum, and put babies at the other.  And sex, right smack between the two.  This lust is probably on the dial halfway between sex and babies.  And it's fucking killing me right now.

So. Michael Pollan.

Said that flowers are there to seduce us.  Their aroma, their look — they just go way overboard even in photographs to hook us and make us do their bidding. Even in a bulb catalog, those gorgeous combinations of wild colors and design just nail us. And we take out the old piece of plastic, make a phone call, or click our 'shopping cart' and a week later: bulbs to plant in the fall, and flowers that are not so picture perfect in the springtime.  But we do it. And then next year we do it again.

Puppies are more serious than flowers, in the lust department.  And I've been looking at puppy pictures now for two years, thinking it's time again.  Puppy love.  Not random pictures. Not random puppies.  Only Becky Bouchard's Best Shepherd puppies.  Puppies who are relatives of our  gorgeous long-haired German shepherd, Roshi.

Okay, stop.  I know it's vomit factor lust.  The too adorable for words lust. Might as well be babies kind of lust.  I swore up and down that I wouldn't 'do' another puppy until one of two things happened — neither of which have — and therefore I suppose I'm bound to that agreement.  But hell, sex and babies and puppies just don't happen by making rational well-timed decisions, do they?  They just happen.

They happen exactly because we're quaking with desire. Because we're in the throes of lust that cannot be denied.

And then you live with the consequences.  Michael Pollan's beautiful bulbs have it easy.   If that's 'desire' — it's desire lite.  The commitment to our springtime flowers is nothing compared to the commitment to those babies —

Phone call.

She says, "thank you for letting me be the voice of reason..."

Aaarrrggghhhh —

I hate the voice of reason.  Unless it's mine.  Talking someone else down from their irrational desire.  Telling someone else just how much this is going to cost.  Reminding someone else that this is a major long term commitment they're engaging in.  Think. Think about this.  It's not the right time...  blablabla...

But that's the thing with lust. It is not amused by rationality.

All rationality does is piss us off.

"Substitute sex for puppy lust..." she recommends. But no, it just won't work.  Or. Maybe it will work.  Okay, I'll have to try it.  Can you really substitute one lust for another just to come down off this terrible ache?

Drug lust.  That's what it feels like.  Insatiable. Undeniable. Irrational. Intense — and immediate. That's why God gave us evolution, right? We've evolved both rationality and irrationality — and it's the latter that drives us to action.

Think of the long-term consequences, the voice of reason says.  But that takes all the fun out of it.

For the first time in my life I am not making a unilateral decision.  The new girlfriend's "NOT NOW" is rational and reasonable, and right.  And somehow I'm going to try to manage to try to consider being considerate and somehow (maybe) get over this puppy ache.  And that's despite the fact that I've already started negotiating this pup.  I could list all the reasons why she (the pup) is exactly right, and why the timing (which is all wrong) is exactly right.  More blabla.  I do good bla.

Fact is, I'm still completely out of control.

So. This is me on the other side of my rationality.  On the side that actually takes unilateral action.  The side that brought home every stray or designer critter of my life so far. The side that ran off to Europe for three years with my boyfriend. That headed off overland to Afghanistan and ended up at the Nepalese border. The side that got married on the spur of the moment (rationality side says: okay, I needed a visa). The side that made each (glorious) child. The side that got divorced, that bought every house, painted every color. The side that starts blogs, has sex, falls in love.  The side I don't want to control at all.

I'm (somehow) letting the new girlfriend have veto power here.  Knowing how much the rest of the time I actually am in control, and can be the rational being I respect.  Why is it that my lust-side gets to have all the fun — and my rational side has to pay the vet bills for the following 18 years?  Some 'intelligent designer' somehow designed that one all wrong.

This is me, calming down.  Just a little.  Puppy lust is one of the most uncontrollable desires on planet earth.  The heart's still thumping, the extremities still quivering —  Those goddamned photos of the super-cute!  If this weren't happening to me, I'd be close to throwing up.  The vomit factor of gooey cute. I don't know how long I can hold out ... Rational side is saying: next summer.  Wait until those variables are all lined up.  Lust side, says — well, lust side is beyond words...

Antidote?  Dunno.

If it's not sex, I'm just hoping it's not Bud's French vanilla ice cream or designer dark dark chocolate.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

today I saw a ... a ...

Has it gotten to the point that I am such an urban creature that to know what I'm looking at in nature — I need to Google it to figure it out?  Sad. Very sad.  I'm not so different after all from the agrarian reform foreign aid workers in North Africa way back then who couldn't recognize the plants they were advocating — without looking them up in a field guide.  Problem was, the field guide only showed the plant in one season.  The fellahin complained that development workers would be looking for the crops they had advocated ... while standing right on them.  Well, ouch.

But this wasn't North Africa.  This was Fort Funston today.  The fog. The cliffs. The sand on the cliffs.  It was a perfect day.  Instead of my car reading 112 degrees F as it did leaving our BBQ in Sonoma yesterday, it was a perfect 58 degrees and cooling.  Breezy enough to make everyone smile, but not blowy enough to send missiles of sand up our eyeballs.  The fog was thick and moving fast.  Perfect, just perfect.

We started out at the furthest point by the hang gliders' hut, slogged through the deep sandy trail that the Forest Service now have labeled a 'horse trail' (which thank god, the horse morons haven't discovered yet), crossed over to the path by the doggie fountain, taking the left fork to the upper road and through the second WWII battery tunnel out to the cliffs. When —

But first — who is 'we'?  Which is important here.  The we is Rosh and me.  Just us. No other witnesses. And Rosh doesn't talk, although she speaks.

We'd just turned to follow the cliff through the fog.  The trail is surrounded by still green trees and thick brush.  And loping across the desolate trail was a —

Well, my first thought was a fox.

A grey fox. But it's body seemed too long.

For a moment, I thought dog. But it didn't act dog.  Still, I looked for a wayward human walker seeking the wanderer.  There was nobody at all.  Rosh started sniffing around...  The — whatever it was — crossed in front of us from the brush on our left to the brush on our right, just before the cliff drop.

Then I thought wolf.

It was larger than a fox, not a dog, and smaller than a wolf.  It's tail was long and bushy, almost raccoon like.  That tail was stunning, actually.  And it's body was uncannily long — just too long for anything that made sense to me.

Then I thought (okay, don't laugh) — power animal.

Rosh seemed unconcerned.  Clearly there was no threat.  Just a beautiful sight.  A wild creature minding its own business.  Someone on the trail I just couldn't put my finger on.  I'd seen a gray fox out there once before.

Maybe. Maybe this was the same thing.

So. Power animal.  Possible, right?  Well, was it giving me any power?  Did I earn it? Is there any such thing? What do I DO with this gift, anyway, if that's what it is?

I rejected 'power animal' first. Then dog. Then wolf. Then fox.  But we saw / sniffed something wild and free that was right at home on the cliffs.  We kept walking through a tunnel of tangled trees, and out onto the foggy coastal chaparral again. Hang gliders above. Three trails before us.  Roshi waited for me to decide.  I chose the middle path, of course. Rosh concurred, and took the lead.

We turned left at the tarmac path and there was a white Ranger truck, with a Ranger guy picking up trash from the can and collecting the large black plastic bags in the back of his pickup.  I walked right up to him. Rosh showed how law-abiding she is, and sat down on the iceplant to my left, very much off the service road.

I asked about the wild things that lived at Funston.

"I'm not a Ranger," the Ranger said.  "I'm not an authority —" he said, "I just pick up the trash."

"Of course you're an authority," I insisted.  "Here you are day after day — you know these trails, you see what you see. ... You've got the uniform!"

He sat there for a moment. Shuffled in the driver's seat and sat up straighter.

"Nobody's ever called me 'an authority' before.  Wow —"

He went speechless for a few heartbeats.

"The coyotes come out in the fog," he said. "They really like the fog..." and he began talking about which critters like which kind of weather.  He was much more knowledgeable than he thought he was.

"You're not just a trash man," I said. And he made it clear that I'd just made his day.

So. Today I saw a ...  a ... coyote (also known as the American jackal) cross in front of me and Rosh.  They're cousins of the gray wolf.  They love the fog. They're very shy. They pounce on their prey in a cat-like manner.  They hunt in pairs or in packs.  But the one we saw was alone.  And not very big.  Rosh was almost triple the coyote's size.

It wasn't a coyote.

It was a gray fox.  It had that long flexible body.  It was smaller than a coyote.  It was gracile.  It can make its way through tree tops just like a cat and ambush its prey.  Small things. Voles and moles and rats.  There aren't any coyotes at Fort Funston.  They all live more inland in the parks of the City.  The gray fox is a solitary hunter, usually nocturnal. And they thrive in the coastal chaparral — which is the biome we were walking through.

It wasn't a gray fox.

The truth is, I have no idea what we saw.  All I can say, is that it gave me another lesson in ignorance.  This comfortable creature of the coast made me glad I'd not fallen to having a tuna melt or Reuben for lunch today — having carefully opted for a veggie burger at Mel's instead.  That this graceful solitary hunter reminded me that it's worth paying attention. All of the time.

And that Rosh, my rather large, long haired German shepherd, has the right idea in just walking on by.

So.  Today I saw a ... a ...

I have no idea.

Friday, July 1, 2011

another awful day in berkeley: the happiness conundrum

Another awful day in Berkeley — with one exception.  Brunch with a friend.  One of those friends that you really talk to.  One of those friends who both listens and talks. We were talking about 'happiness.'  Did you see that?  I just put 'happiness' in quotes.  There. Now I've done it twice.  It was either going to be quotation marks, or it was going to be italics. I'm not sure which is worse.

Italicized happiness I think implies only emphasis intended.

'Happiness' in quotes means I think it's a crock.

That's what we were talking about.  Not happiness as a crock, but that I can't just let it be.

The problem at hand being that I'm happy.  Which is making me unhappy.  The problem isn't the happiness itself. It's a sustainability issue.  I'm actually happier with the pursuit of happiness — not the happiness itself.

My friend said those terrible words:

just enjoy it

And all I could think of was, well, you just don't understand.

Jewish here.

Can I blame that?  No probably not.  I do have a Jewish friend who's downright happy most of the time. She's got this fabulous authentic smile, a great life, she's smart, talented, bakes cakes. Belly dancer.  She's fun.  She's happy.

I think she's an exception to the rule.

What I was telling my friend is that through all the death and dying traumas of the last two years, I've just plain coped magnificently (or at least fairly well) under pressure (and with help) — and just taken one problem after another and been competent, efficient, and helpful.  I haven't fallen.  Haven't resorted to drinking. Haven't called a therapist (the Jewish equivalent to drinking).

But a month or two of happiness? Surely time for psychotherapy.

He didn't understand this at all.

just enjoy it

Unclear on the concept.  It's the sustainability thing that gets me.

The optimist expects more of the same. More happiness. And why not? If we can do it now, we can do it later.  If we're careful. If we pay attention. Right?

The pessimist (that would be me) expects nothing at all. And that nothing at all leads to great joy at the littlest thing — since it was so unexpected.  To expect happiness — well, first of all it's rude. Presumptuous. We need low expectations to be (accidentally) happy. We need happiness to sneak up on us and scare the shit out of us.

I think pessimist happiness is a happier sort of happy. If that makes any sense.  Because we're in such shock.

But tell us to expect more of the same?  Too much pressure.  Tell us to just enjoy it?  Not dissect it. Not analyze it. Actually, that's part of the problem.  It's so much easier to write about misery than happiness.  I mean, happiness.  What's there to say?

I think that's the problem: all the awful little stories that I love to write — they've all just flown my head.  I sit down to write, and — too happy to write.  Why would I want to sit down and write some dreary tale, when I'm too blissed out even to sit down.

Happiness.  It's ruining my writing.  Any more of this, and I'll be a complete illiterate blubbering in the corner spewing nothing more than 'vomit factor' dribble.  Definition of 'vomit factor' in case you missed it: the gooeyness that people in love spew out in public that nobody wants to be around.  It's just too sappy.  And that's where we've been heading: happy sappy brainless spew.

just enjoy it?
My brain is melting.

So. It was good, then, I suppose, that I had a really shitty day in Berkeley today.  Back at the Republic of Berkeley Parking Division. Turned out they returned all my applications and checks for Caregiver Parking Permits.  This time, I got parking right in front of the building.  Right at the door!  Paid my parking meter up full, expecting another long wait, but this time I was going to get-something-accomplished.

They were closed, of course. Thus the good parking spot.  Closed on Fridays.  I do believe the city just can't pay workers for more than four days work per week.  Every office except one is closed on Fridays. Monday's a holiday. Come back no sooner than Tuesday. I had a nice long chat with the doorman, however, about the woes of city employees in the Republic of Berkeley.

That's how the bad day started. And it went downhill from there.  I've actually promised myself that I wouldn't write about it. Wouldn't explain it. But without that, it just eats away my insides.  More to the point, is that I handled 'it' (the awfulness) with grace and even humor.  I did the troubleshooting. Ran interference. Apologized for the insulting rudeness of others.  Took-care-of-business...

I'm so good at it.  Gimme a good shitty day, and I can turn it around and save it.

What do you get to do with happiness?  I mean, really.  What are you supposed to do about it?

Oh. Right.

just enjoy it


Fine.  I'll do that.  But my writing's going clear to hell.