Monday, September 27, 2010

Seeking the Beauty in Imperfection

I had this in my head to write about for days and then I saw an article written up in Whole Living magazine, which used to be called body+soul. I suppose in these times, the aesthetic is a timely one...

Even before I knew there was a name for it, I've preferred my things a little wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is the Japanese term for things a little off-kilter. It's a way of seeing beauty in the simple, the transient, the imperfect and the modest. Not in shabby or dirty things, but perhaps seeing it in a beautiful burnished bowl that is a bit misshapen or has a subtle crack in it. We mix our contemporary pieces with family antiques that show their age and wear. Our silver curios are apt to be dulled. I don't mind a beautiful piece that's slightly dinged. Perfection in life isn't real or possible. To me, things are more interesting when you aren't striving to achieve perfection but allow for life's imperfections. I think Leonard Cohen had a line in a song about not minding a crack, that was how light shone through, but I'm paraphrasing.

One reason I quit writing for design magazines was because I hated writing up McMansions. It was difficult to write with glowing enthusiasm about big obnoxious houses with cheap building materials you knew wouldn't wear well, with rooms obviously staged and seldom used by the inhabitants. You could almost see the velvet rope strung across the threshold to keep the kids off-limits. One white elephant gave pride-of-place to a vast collection of Franklin Mint items -- those pricy reproductions. Why not invest in real artwork, not a reproduction of Merlin's wand?

Once I complimented an interviewee on her vast and charming display of framed ancestors scattered among her library shelves. She shrugged and said she didn't know any of them; her interior designer had gone to a flea market and then framed interesting photos. The leather-bound books were chosen to compliment the colors in the room. Brrrrrrr.

I guess we all have stories about people who chose their artwork like the rock star in Hannah and Her Sisters, who wanted "a picture to go with the couch in his living room." It's hard not to see them as philistines.

It's so much more interesting to write up a house that has been thoughtfully and personally decorated -- rather, a home, not a house -- where every piece is selected personally, and the artwork is chosen for a reason, definitely not just for its color or how it enhances a room.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Real Burning Bed

A dear friend confided to me -- thirty years after the fact -- that her long-time steady BF all through high school and into their 20s had been physically abusive, finally getting to the point he actually attempted to choke her to death. Her 'crime' was dancing with a group of their friends at a wedding party. She was saved by his room mate unexpectedly returning home, and she ran into the night, walking several miles home until being picked up by a Good Samaritan who turned out to be a counselor who sat in the car for hours and persuaded her she could not return to her BF no matter what remorse he showed later. She never did. He did go on to marry -- and no doubt abuse -- his wife before dying young.

Another friend from high school told me she had been raped at a party by a 'BMOC.' She told him to stop and he refused, telling her afterwards he "didn't believe her," "she got what she wanted," and "no one would believe her."

Yet another confided she was sexually abused as a teen by the adult manager of the store she worked in through her school years. He told her that her job and benefits were at risk if she told anyone, and he would tell everyone she was a "slut."

During my college years, I saw crazed behavior at a frat party that was getting into scary territory to the point my intuition screamed for me to get out. During a blind date that turned very sour, I was able to bluff my way out of danger by being deliberately calm and doing things I knew would turn a narcissist off; in the other circumstance, someone literally stepped in and stopped the frenzied pack mentality.

I knew girls in college who hadn't been so lucky.

Unfortunately, misogyny and abuse abounds, and I know more stories from young women through the years. What every girl shared from these incidents was the fact they were young, sexually inexperienced, and naive - and preyed upon by loathsome teens and men. They were impressionable and made to feel embarrassed and culpable - like it had been their fault the abuse occurred in the first place.

I know for a fact two who have really never gotten over it. They stuffed it inside, tried to forget about it, or it was the catalyst for some wild behavior they now regret. One woman has never gotten close enough to another man to enjoy a long-time relationship, let alone get married.

I know this kind of abuse occurs every day. I am thankful it is being exposed more and more, and as people are educated to the dark horrors of this behavior, more laws and help is offered to innocent women, children, animals, and yes, men, who are ensnared in an insidious web of domestic abuse.

If you suspect anyone of living with this horror, reach out and offer your help. You may be saving a life, or a lifetime of a bad memory or regret. Many are so emotionally downtrodden they're no longer aware they don't have to live that way.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness

If you're wondering how to be of help to someone who has had a death in the family...

maybe you can be a point person -- writing emails, and calling people, so they don't have to discuss the same story over and over...maybe you can pick up stationery for notes or even help write the notes...I wrote an obit column for a magazine, so I have written 7 obits for friends over the years so their family didn't have that to deal with.

Think of how you would feel someone could be useful to you -- then you will have your answer of how you can help. Think outside the box. It also could be as simple as a bouquet of flowers or a plant they can keep to remind them of the beauty of life and how it continues, or a really great bag of coffee or chocolates to pamper them a bit, nice massage oil or bath salts, or something unique to you or your friend you share between each other.

Don't write or tell someone 'if there's anything I can do, please let me know.' That is well-meaning, but frankly, it's pretty useless. It's not up to the person to tell you -- even the closest of friends can hesitate to ask for something. Asking for things is difficult.

If you are afraid of writing for fear of saying something wrong, simply write how sorry you are for their loss, and how they are in your thoughts and/or prayers, and that you'll call and email soon to see what you can do - and for them to be thinking of how you can help.

Remember, nothing's more important than knowing their loved one was important to others. Hearing how their loved one had a positive impact or recalling a funny story or piece of advice is something they will treasure, and keep or remember.

What's painful is when they can't mention their loved one. People fear bringing up their name or memory will be painful and they try not to mention them, but what can make them sadder is having people not mention the huge void in their life. They crave talking about their loved one, and want to keep their memories alive as time goes by.

There are many ways to create 'living legacies' -- donate in their name to a charity or something they were invested in or loved. Plant a tree. Or just live in a way that honors their life or way of living. You don't have to go "Newman's Own" big -- you could change a habit for the better and tell the family how their loved one inspired you to make the change. Or tell them you had a medical test because of their experience.

Any act of consideration and kindness is appreciated and makes the world a little kinder than before...we are all connected.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Helping Out

Caretaking, particularly when it's long-term, can be tiring. But it's important to take time off for yourself to recharge. It's trite but true that if you're worn down, you won't be any good for your patient. That's where family and friends come in. Some suggestions and ways to show your support:

Volunteer an hour or so of your time and sit with the patient while the caregiver gets out for a walk, a massage, or trip to the salon, or movie. It's important for them to get out of the house and into the 'real world' to feel grounded.

Drop off a meal. Be sure to call ahead to discuss any dietary restrictons. After surgery, most patients don't have their appetite or taste buds back to normal, so simple meals of soups, fruit salads, etc. are great. It's not necessary to cook - there are plenty of catered options and ready-made meals to pick up at the store. Don't forget one of my most important rules--use disposable containers or containers you don't want returned, and make sure to tell them that. As great as it is to have meals given to us, we now have a bench full of pots, pans, and containers to return, which is just another thing that now needs to be done. I know I'm looking a gift horse in the mouth but still, avoid this problem and you'll doubly appreciated.

Running errands while you're already out and about is easy for you and helpful for them. Tell them when you have to run to the grocery or drugstore, or post office or cleaners, and see what you can pick up...

Drop off some books or magazines. Or a plant or flowers -- nice to see some natural beauty.

Walk the dog, vaccume the rug, rake their leaves, take the kids for get the idea...

part two-if there is a death

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Show One Loves to Hate (Or, My Guilty Pleasure)

In case you don't read Vanity Fair, with apologizes to those who do, I am going to reprint something James Wolcott wrote about The Real Housewives of New Jersey. He wrote about all the NJ shows - including the upcoming Boardwalk Empire (dang, I wish we got HBO). His column is hysterical -- I recommend it highly for the laughs.

Excy has been dismayed by my attraction to the Real Housewives series, with the exceptions of Atlanta (too ghetto) and DC (too boring). I've struggled to explain it. Frankly, it's difficult to justify loving trash when you know the glitter and tin-foil is cheap and a time-suck, and there are so many worthwhile things I could/should be doing otherwise -- or at least watching or reading...But it occupies my attention, and like a bad drug, I am hooked and keep going back for a fix every week. And I relish the lameness. I've even reasoned that if this is my biggest vice, I'm doing okay. Whatever, Amy.

NJ debuted in 2009 and was an immediate success. These girls don't play. These drama queens/big spenders live in Franklin Heights, NJ, which is apparently the mecca of big-hair, skin-tight leggings, anything animal print, and bat-wing eyeliner. You must wear flash, and sport false-tipped square nails, like the Orange County crowd. Your 'girls' (called bubbies here) must be hiked-up and over-the-top, and if you're lacking in that dept., you must have augmentation. (However, if yours are real, you must tout this fact loudly to all). I'll go into the home decor after re-printing Wolcott here:

Barbarians at The Shore (0ct. 2010)
...Residing in the palatial estates of Franklin Heights, NJ, these housewives with no housework but high-maintenance requirements take luxury living to its hideous extreme. 'Money doesn't talk, it swears,' Bob Dylan famously sang, and the money here screeches. The message of The Real Housewives is assuring to snobs and voyeurs: All the expenditure in the world can't buy you a genuine ounce of class. A recent episode featured a baby christening which may have been the most horrific since the multiple-homicide christening that climaxed The Godfather, this one staged on the scale of a royal wedding or a Steve Schwartzman Bar Mitzvah. At the after-party (christenings have after parties?) a young, ivory-wigged woman dolled up as Marie Antoinette served sushi * -- the perfect image for the Versailles excess and vanity of America's McAristocracy; we got so much money to blow** on ourselves we can hire Marie Antoinette as a serving wench!***** But where the lack of class makes its greatest cymbal crash is in the staged Dynasty cat-fights between rival divas. Danielle Staub (who is like a Witches of Eastwick co-sister to Mercedes Ruhl's jealousy-crazed wife in Married to the Mob).*** Season one thrilled the YouTube nation with Teresa Guidice's ****She-Hulk table flip, and season two graced us with the profane projectile cursing of Kim G., who tore off her disguise as a Lady of Leisure Who Lunches to go full-metal viper, calling Danielle "Franken-square tits" and telling Jacqueline, who was holding her baby at the time, that Danielle could go "f-ing scratch my ass." I grew up next to a military base, and I never heard the sort of language that makes for spirited repartee among these gentry. With its choreographed showdowns and f-bomb brio, The Real...NJ suggests a Quentin Tarantino film flying like a bat out of hell from the day spa....allowing audiences to spend quality time with the demonically possessed...

I don't watch Jersey Shore, (I can't bring myself to sink that low -- you can't avoid 'The Situation' or 'Snooky,' but God, I try)...but I have seen The Sopranos, Married to the Mob, Good Fellas, and the Godfather movies, and it seems they hit every cliche with the NJ girls. Excy's off the hook for awhile (he doesn't stay in the room but it's hard not to listen to the hysteria and caustic voices), until season three. I know he's hoping my interest will wane but like a train wreck, I know I will want to look. Oh, and their 'decorating' prowness? These ladies - I use the term very loosely -- reside in a world where everything is so eye-poppingly over the top and lurid it's as if John Waters sneaked in their house overnight for some interior desecration...

*on the tiers of her dress, no less
** this couple filed bankruptcy for $11 million in debt 2 weeks later
***really giving her too much credit -- she dresses and acts like walking the streets is her profession
****a gorilla is more evolved
*****and those dresses Theresa tricked her little girls out in (that were custom-designed and no doubt horrifically expensive) were beyond repulsive Bo-Beep type numbers...I expected to see the hats and staffs...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

thought for the day

It's Ripley's, I tell ya...

Gentle readers if you get the heebee- jeebies just thinking about blood-sucking bugs, avert your eyes quickly and move on to another post. The tale I tell here is so horrific and bizarre, I swear it's Ripley's weird...

Five days ago, driving Excy to town to yet another dr appt for blood work, I noticed two ticks on the dash (the smallest ones). That night while undressing for bed, he found four on him and I picked off two (in places believe me, you don't want ticks, not that you want them anyway).

Excy had been complaining earlier that week that he kept finding ticks on him and all he did was walk around the circular driveway. And one day he found one, and hadn't even been outside. The cats never go outside. We suspected Corey was bringing them in from his outside errands, despite going straight to the shower when he came in.

Three days later, Corey and I found and killed TEN in the car as I drove us to my nephew's BD party and back. By this time, I was pretty friggen' wigged out. If you want me to lose it, just close me in a closet with ticks. I can handle snakes, spiders, and even scorpions better than ticks...So that evening, Corey drove his truck to Wal-mart to pick up a 'bug bomb' for the car. We set it up overnight. The next morning Excy vacuumed out the car, noting he didn't find any dead (or alive for that matter) ticks as he did so...but when he came inside 30 minutes later -- we picked FORTY off his clothes and after he stripped down... read that right...FORTY...

turns out our driveway is infested...

did you scream yet??

I know you're at least thanking the lord it isn't your drive...

I haven't wanted to step foot outside since, but yesterday we had to drive back to town for another dr appt. When we got home, Excy found just one after our now-daily 'tick check,' but I had four on my feet and least they are on the floorboard, as we didn't see any in the car while we were in it...

So he sprayed it down again inside, and we have been spraying the drive...I think we have ticks because of the 'coons, and because Francis (the fox) has taken to sleeping underneath the car where it's cool.....

Ah...The hazards of the country.........yikes......

Monday, September 6, 2010

Friends in Need...

The past week I have read no less than two articles about friendship. Which is ironic, because I have been having a lot of inner back-and-forth about how to handle a relationship with an old friend that has grown uncomfortably confining.

One article says that people change their friends every seven years, and most of our friendships are matters of convenience and proximity - such as becoming friends with the parents that attend your kid's soccer games, or in your workplace -- when you become friendly because you're in similar circumstances and share common interests. I think the term was neighbor friends actually, or something like that.

We've all had those kinds of friendships. I hazard to guess most of our 'friendships' ARE these friendships of convenience, at whatever phase in your life you are in. And when you move on, chances are most of those friendships don't last. One job I had that lasted 12 years resulted in fast friendships, but years later, only four of us are still friends, and of those four, only two of us keep in close contact, and that's pretty good, I guess. The other job I had seven years yielded good friends while I worked there who I adore, and seldom ever see. But when we talk, we seem to pick up where we left off pretty easily. With email, it's easy not to actually see one another and keep in touch.

When should you cut someone loose? Or do you never? As a person who avoids conflict and confrontation until it is absolutely essential, I'm guilty more of just... fading away until the other person gets the idea or gets bored with never getting phone calls or email returned. As I grow older I find myself less and less tolerant of the 'roles' that once defined a relationship. If a friend isn't willing to share a little give and take -- if I find myself a constant sounding board where it's always about them, I am less inclined to continue to be their counselor or Rock.

During these awful months dealing with Excy's surgery and medical issues, and imminent inevitability of having to move, I've found myself more and more impatient with a long-time friend who never seems to have much time and energy to talk unless the conversation quickly steers to her situation, which, granted, is in crisis, but to be truthful, isn't as much a crisis as ours. Also to be truthful, for the past ten years, she always seems to be in one crisis or another. I feel I am having friendship/caregiver fatigue/ burn-out and am reaching the point I have nothing left to give. I think if some situation, or some person, has you feeling sapped of energy and snarky, there's a good reason to pull back and asking yourself if it's a friendship that has finally run its course.

But with old friends, maybe it's more apt to hang in there and take a breather and see what the future holds. Any relationship has its ebbs and flows, and maintaining them can occasionally mean hanging tough. I don't give up on people easily. I guess that's why my Chinese zodiac sign is the dog -- loyal to a fault. I wouldn't want to be responsible for ending a friendship because I'm feeling more fragile these days. I think I'll listen to my inner voice, though, and take a breather from emotional vampires, no matter how long we've been friends.