December 31, 2004

To your health

As the nation prepares for a night of revelry, I will ponder what I read in the Wall Street Journal: the Southern Medical Journal (July 2004) reported that one "benefit of moderate drinking" is that the health risk of dementia is "42% lower with consumption of one to three drinks daily."

What I want to know is, how can they distinguish between dementia and the repetitive nature of the speech of an alcoholic black out? Should I take my mother's advice and settle on a drink I can call my own? She favors Dewars and water; I am not so committed to any one bottle or brand or frequency of beverage consumption. At mom's, cocktail hour starts promptly at 7 pm. I keep a bottle of Dewars at my house for her, but there is no corresponding bottle of mine at hers.

We may be a family with a genetic history of what is now called "substance abuse," but only two of four members of my immediate family (father and brother) have done time (without success) in rehab, and the other two, mom and I, have managed to steer clear of such institutions. We cope on our own terms -- she with drink; I with pharmaceuticals.

It took my not-so-perceptive aunt and uncle until after the age of 70 to realize perhaps three martinis a day wasn't the wisest course of consumption. It took my middle cousin, their unmarried daughter, until the age of 40 to realize her parents drank too much. I wondered why she had only gawked, when I had to fish my mom out of the ladies' room where she had decided to nap, and I was barely 25.

Celebrating New Year's Eve is amateur hour. After the age of 21, I started sticking close to home, with the exception of one New Year's party where I met a girlfriend nine years my junior and then became her trophy lover -- or so I perceived it at the time. I did give the first domestic partnership shower for friends of hers as soon as New York City passed its DP law circa 1992.

Tonight, I stay home, and cook dinner for a few friends. My application of heat to food is considered celebration enough.

As far as resolutions are concerned, I still consider the official New Year to occur in September, at back-to-school time. It's not because the Jewish High Holidays take place in that month, but because the weather changes noticeably, whereas winter goes on and on, with its short days and cold nights. Only one out of four people over the age of 35 make resolutions, so I am in good company in my refusal to make promises I can't or don't intend to keep.

The one resolution I do have is technical -- I'd like to get the Galapagos pictures printed before I leave for Africa. I took a digital camera to the Galapagos, but I'm reverting to film for Africa. Digital requires too much do-it-yourself work. While I know my way around a darkroom, cropping photos on computer and finding where and how to send them to be printed is above and beyond my technological interest.

Oh, and one more: I will learn how to link to other blogs, since I read so many and want to let you know what amuses or otherwise hits an emotional chord with me.

For the new year, I wonder if my off-white rabbit, Bunny Boo Bear, has any plans beyond some extra carrots, or a lengthy romp, offered at my discretion, around the living room rug?

When you work at home and set your own schedule, the calendar takes on an entirely different meaning: days blur together, and the main ways federal holidays make themselves known is when the mail fails to appeal and TV stations don't run their regularly scheduled programming.

The only way I really take a day off is to leave town -- for 2005 thus far I've planned a week in Tuscon visiting friends, two weeks in Africa -- the year's Big Trip -- and a long weekend (business related) in Palm Springs. That should take me through May; then other friends' houses await for summer.

I am, most of the time, a good houseguest. As Laurie Colwin wrote in The Lone Pilgrim, "A good houseguest is like an entertainer....You know what a specific public wants -- in my case, groups of two, with children....You cannot be a good houseguest and be married. Single, you carry only the uncluttered luggage of your own personality, selected and packed by only one pair of hands."

Granted, at 44 the luggage I carry consists not only of my own but of my history. Yet I find it a welcome diversion to visit other people's domestic lives, to reassure myself that the choices I have made are right for me.

December 29, 2004

Home from the holidays

Round two of the trifecta has officially ended, on as cheery a note as this season offers me.

When I'm going to spend time around a tree, my cousins -- first cousins once removed? second cousins? whatever you call the offspring of my favorite first cousin and his wife -- are the children I want to watch opening their presents. They make the holiday worth celebrating. The seven-year-old still believes in Santa Claus.

In Maine, presents from Santa come wrapped in different paper from any other gifts, which helps foster the illusion. Also in Maine, all of the dressed houses are decorated with white lights. (I could ponder why, but I won''s too easy.) It's a far cry from the part of Florida where my brother used to live, an area where my favorite decorated house featured a front lawn with eight dolphins outlined by multicolored flashing lights.

Given that the entire population of Maine is less than that of the island on which I live, it amazes me that the supermarkets are the size of city blocks, jammed with a year's worth of food and wine and all manner of goods not found in similarly named establishments in my metropolis.

Still, while chez mes cousins is a lovely place to vacation, I wouldn't want to live there. For one thing I would need an automobile, an item I have never purchased and rarely rent. For another, I would have to drive the damn thing, and snow-covered roads and I are barely on nodding terms. Here, the roads don't stay covered for more than a couple of hours at most, depending on traffic. While I have no trouble navigating on foot, according to my friends -- and I must concur -- everyone is better off when I am not at the wheel.

Staying out of the driver's seat is one of my gifts to the public at large, along with my having quit smoking -- for which I do not think I have been justly compensated. These facts alone assure me that Santa Claus, alas, left the building before my age hit double digits, his annual float at the Macy's Day (trifecta holiday 1) parade not withstanding.

December 22, 2004

Happy Chris-mukkah, from Rachael's bat mitzvah

I was right. (See "A family affair," 31 October.)

My cousins' parents sent the three generation "Happy Holidays" photo card, complete with a Christmas tree -- and five-point star -- drawn above the greeting. Below Happy Holidays came:

Best Wishes
Aunt & Uncle [names]

Rachael's bat mitzvah

Merry Chris-mukkah, indeed. Duly noted along with lack of any personal greeting and proper punctuation. If I hadn't been there, I might not have been able to identify all the relatives and how each was attached to the next.

This is better than the year that they photoshopped one missing cousin onto/into their photo. (She was very tanned; they were pale, and no attempt was made to adjust skin tones.) If I knew how to scan this photo into the text, I would certainly share it with you.

The family posed for the grandparents' "holiday" card at their grandchild's bat mitvah, as I'd predicted. It would be polite to say they have "identity issues," but, in truth, they are just plain tacky. Has it always been this way, or is it the wanting to show off grandchildren that brought this on?

If my mother were to insist on a three generational photograph, she would want the third generation to consist of Bunny-Boo-Bear (my rabbit) and Rebel and Rosie (my brother's dogs). She probably wouldn't even think of my brother's wife (his third) and her children as part of the package.

I like this wife, but since she is number 3, and my brother is just 40, I hesitate to get overly involved with her emotionally. Seems like, everytime I got used to a wife, the marriage would split up. Not that that was necessarily a bad thing: I said get used to; like was another story.

I make no claims to my own romantic history having a lovely narrative to it; it's just that I didn't marry, or commit to (depending on the gender) any of the players.

The Croquet Player went through our 30s reminding me that he would never marry me. My response was, who's asking? By age 30, I knew a great many more things about myself, my boyfriend/lover and the world than I did at 19, when I fell for him. By age 30, I could recognize what would have been a mistake, while my hormone-tortured, emotionally virginal, 19-year-old self might (?!) have been less observant.

Still, I didn't see that The End was coming with TCP, not until well after it did. I have yet to figure out, how do you say good-bye, when your history demonstrated that you could never really be sure he was going to leave -- until long after he was gone?

With Clover's Companion, the signs were much more distinct. Being the bridesmaid at the wedding should have been the giveaway, but I waited until CC made it clear that she couldn't keep any of the prenuptial promises she had made to me, the ones about friendship and how much she valued my place in her life. I do value having had the chance to say good-bye to her.

Nearly every year the list, "people whom I have loved but can no longer be friends with" grows. Yet almost as often, there are other people whom I love to add. And love changes.

As TCP wrote long ago:

"what is love?
but a wish not to know
but to know well enough to remember."

December 19, 2004

Tales out of school, redux

My college classmate, according to the British-- and even U.S. -- newspapers, has managed to get the government official to resign from office. Within 48 hours of the resignation, she was out of the hospital, where she'd been for "stress." I would like to think that in her heart of hearts she is a U.S. Democrat, wanting to pressure the British Prime Minster into looking bad (he, like her ex-lover, is politically conservative to the nth degree), but I think that may be too much to ask. I find it difficult to credit one of the most opportunistic people I know with the idea that s/he acted for, what is to my mind, the public good.

In any event, it was a fun soap opera to watch from this side of the pond, hard as it is to grasp that it's not just in New York that I know the inmates are running the media asylum, as well as the political one. I suppose I could have been one of them -- certainly according to how my prep school taught me -- but I lack that driving ambition. I'm not sure I'm missing anything without it, except the urge to be governor or dictate from the top of a newspaper or magazine masthead.

What amazes me about my prep school (a private school named for the founder of free public education in Massachusetts, as I remember every time they ask me -- ha! -- for money), is this year's "holiday card." It features a recipe for muffins. This, from an institution that barely had a shop class, and certainly nothing resembling home ec. Why do they think we'll be baking now? When I attended, I was in the second class that had girls admitted to its previous all-male bastion.

It was the 1970s, and I will admit, I didn't care that none of the teachers had seen an adolescent girl since they were that age. When asked why I didn't attend a particular class, the line, "Sir, I had cramps," made the strongest of them drop the question, as I stepped over their bodies in the corridor. If my 16-year-old feminist mind considered using what I had to embarrass "men" who would so easily fall, I think it was well worth it. In those days, the school wouldn't have had sensitivity sessions or equal-opportunity/equal respect workshops, or even sent a memo, "the girls are coming! the girls are coming! Be prepared."

The school wasn't. To this day, if they want to get money from me -- and tis the season for annual nonprofit beg-a-thons -- they would have to offer me something more than a muffin receipe. Say, let me use the facilities like the gym and library, or spend time at their nature lab in rural Connecticut. My college is happy to do so, as long as you get an alumna/i ID card. And its campus, while farther from my house, has far greater resources.

The prep school asks, not what can we do for you to make you want to donate as an alumna, but as an alumna, what can you do for us? Actually, they consider me an "alumnus," which would only be true if I had had a sex-change operation along the way. One thing I did learn there was proper Latin endings for female and mail, singular and plural. My mother paid full tuition for my brother and me, and he didn't even attend half of his classes in ninth grade. So I'd say we're paid in full, and if anything, they should have been responsible enough to keep track of their wandering students like my brother.

December 14, 2004

Where would Santa be without cable?

While I have a limited interest in Christmas on TV, it seems there isn't a network or two-tin-cans-strung-together-with-rope connection that isn't offering far more heartwarming, festive cheer than I can stomach. Plus, interference with my regularly scheduled programming doesn't add to my spirits.

I've actually finished exercising the demands on my disposable income, wrapped them up and sent them on their way, with the exception of gifts that will arrive where I will be spending the holiday. I'll be wrapping them in Maine and hoping for snow (not here, there). Fortunately, most of the purchasing was done from the comfort of my own ergonomic chair.

We may be cursed with Santa's having an identity crisis, seeing himself coming and going every ten minutes on commercials or TV programs, movies, the sidewalk, stores, etc., but one thing I will say for technology: the old Yellow Pages slogan, "let your fingers do the walking" has never been more apt. One click, and your gift is on its way.

When holiday cards start signing and addressing themselves, I will really celebrate. As an independent consultant, I need to send cards to everyone with whom I do business. My friends know me better -- I don't get many of those once-a-year keep-in-touch cards. If I care about someone, I care about them year-round.

Christmas used to be fun. Then again, I used to be ten years old.

December 08, 2004

Tales out of school: Britain's Nannygate

Judging from newspapers on four continents -- Europe, Africa, Australia, and North America, one of my college classmates -- who once asked me for information to help her get a job, which I gave her, and for which I was never thanked -- has managed to make not only the tabloids but also the respectable U.K. newspapers.*

Why? She was sleeping with an influential government official who may have fast-tracked her nanny's application for a permanent visa. And the British love a good sex scandal. The same official is claiming to be the biological father of her two-year-old, and wants DNA testing. (Given that her first husband has said she had affairs with many rich, powerful men, and her current husband had his vascetomy reversed, I think it not unreasonable of him to believe he may have been the sperm donor.)

While I find British politicians (think Tony Blair) as reprehensible in their actions as I do our own, apparently this man -- with whom she launched an affair within three months of her second marriage -- wants to be a Daddy again -- his political career, my classmate's breaking up with him be damned, and her second husband's willingness to suspend disbelief not to be fathomed. Perhaps it is a cultural difference across the pond.

Since this man wants to make U.K. citizens carry an ID card with all manner of personal information encrypted on it, evidentally civil liberties have gone by the wayside there even more so than here. They say power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and here is an example, in the flesh, as it were.

If my classmate is remotely representative, this is what comes of receiving a degree from a prestigious American college whose name has appeared linked to her in the press in many articles. So, next time I go to London, not only will I be I disliked for being an American, but more specifically, for having gone to that college, were I to mention it in passing. It makes us sound like Sluts R Us,** eager to fuck the rich and powerful just because we can.

I should have had such luck. My life is pale and middle-class banal by contrast. Then again, I will never have to answer the question, for a child, who is my Daddy?

It frightens me to know I am of an age where the people I went to school with -- high school and college -- are now having major political influences, good and bad, across more than one continent. The inmates I know are now the ones running the asylum.
* None of this is gossip; the facts are all attributable from with one search on Google. If I were more tech-savvy, I could provide you with links, but HTML and I are on only the most cursory of acquaintances.

**It was the late 1970s, pre-AIDS, and I am far from condemming the Sluts R Us multitudes, for I probably do count among them, and I don't intrinsically have a problem with the term "slut." I think it is one feminists should claim as an act of power, an act of choice. After all, the men (and/or women) we slept with played their part in this situation as well, but still, "stud" has more positive connotations on American society's sexual scoreboard.

It is 2004, but boys will be boys is still more palatable for many than its correlary, girls will be girls. It's hormones, regardless of gender, so far as I can tell. Or, as it's been said, power is a strong aphrodisiac.

December 03, 2004

One pill makes you larger...

What about nine prescriptions a day? Your size and mileage may vary.

According to The New York Times, the National Center for Health Statistics found that "more than 40 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug, and 17 percent take three or more...."

Finally, a field in which I can be an overachiever without any major effort on my part.

It also said: "Use of prescription drugs in the United States is rising among people of all ages, and the nation's medicine chests are more crowded than ever." Not exactly a profound observation. Come to my house and check out my nightstand.

Note to consumers: medicine chests are a lousy place to store drugs. They need to be kept in a cool, dry environment, which does not exactly describe your average bathroom.

The article wasn't particularly analytical. It said that "adults' use of antidepressants almost tripled from 1988 to 2000," without making the obvious connection: Prozac, the first SSRI, came off the assembly line for the public in 1988. I was among its early recipients, way before it became front-page news.

I have many tales about the previous generations of antidepressants, starting with my 1980 introduction to an MAO inhibitor, the first generation of antidepressants that began with the release of an MAOI in 1956. Its side effects were potentially lethal: if you ate aged cheese and drank chianti or other red wines, you might just keel over and die. But, hey, you might not be depressed.

Then came the tricyclics -- Tofranil, Elavil, Pamelor, and their relatives. No lethal interactions, but side effects galore. In my case, they didn't help. I couldn't stop crying. Finally, the third generation emerged, and I became the Prozac poster adult, a title I retain to this day.

Of course, many other drugs have been added and deleted over the years, including Effexor and Welbutrin, the latter of which has TV commercials on a par with the Zoloft and Imitrex (for migraine). One pill just doesn't do it all, and certainly not in the time frame depicted in the commercials.

I get migraines. I use Imitrex and its cousins for wallpaper. Give me the old-time, proven, cheap, effective narcotics any day. Don't bother me with your worries that I'll become addicted. After 25 years, it's a little late for that memo to go anywhere but the circular file.

I'm waiting for the lithium commercial that shows how it calms down manic-depressive (bipolar, as its been rechristened) activity. Ever watch a manic friend go shopping, and make a five-figure addition to her credit card bill? (Yes, Bergdorf will let you return stuff.) Or visit me during a week in which I barely get out of bed except to feed Bunny?

Life can be such a joy. You will note that the antidepressant consumption study stopped in 2000, the year Bush junior was elected. I'd bet that number has skyrocketed since.

In the interest of full disclosure, I used to be a freelance editor, at magazines and newspapers throughout Manhattan, including the Times. I know how these stories are put together, and how many layers of people read them before deeming them fit to print. The old saying that you don't want to watch how newspapers and sausages are made is true. What you know may turn you away from ever reading or eating again.

If you know anything about a given topic, you will know that 90% of what any reporter writes is incorrect, but since no one at the publication knows the subject, any logical questions or corrections can and will fly right out the door.

December 02, 2004

Home again, home again

The long-awaited paint job took exactly 2 days. Preparation for it took close to a month. The walls are very, very white, now, and I hope they stay that way a long, long time. It is going to take ages to figure out where I hid everything so the painters would have a clean workspace. They got theirs, but I don't think a clean workspace is in my future, not based on my past.

Bunny seems happy to be home -- I slept in the same room with him at my mom's, and he thudded against his hay pan so loudly that it woke me up from a perfectly sound sleep. From now on, we book separate rooms. He was, apart from awakening me at 5 am, better behaved in unfamiliar surroundings than he is here. He seemed to realize he was at his grandma's, and she wouldn't have appreciated bunny poop on her rug. On the other hand, he tried to hump grandma -- she and I laughed so much that we started crying.

While my mom actually has two step-granddaughters, they don't count nearly as much as Bunny and my brother's dogs in her affections. When I was in my early 20s, my mother informed me that if I had a child, she was not signing up to babysit. I don't know how much that influenced my decision that having a child would indicate incredibly poor judgment on my part, especially given my pharmaceutical history, but it does say something about my family and how little pressure there was to reproduce.

The way I saw it, growing up, mommy definitely got the short end of the stick. She got elected bad cop, and my dad, good cop. Not to mention that in those pre-feminist days, my dad didn't change a single diaper, so far as anyone can remember. Her role didn't seem particularly rewarding from my vantage point. On the other side, my dad did teach me to cook and sew, talents my mother had no training in, so there was no mother-daughter competition on the domestic front. Delegation is our middle name.

As for my being home, there is still a faint residue of paint odor, which doesn't do much for my migraines, and my brain seems as white and empty as my walls. I don't know where anything is. Tomorrow, the search begins in earnest.