Friday, March 25, 2016

Ramblings in the Wake of a Taxing Winter

Four short months ago (they are all short these days...) I was happily looking forward to winter, with its slower pace, with its blessings more visible through bare trees.  Now that we have left winter behind and spring has arrived--at least, on the calendar--I am looking back not at all wistfully upon the season past.  What I thought would be a time of relaxing pace and beneficial reflection  turned out to be weeks of boredom,  frustration and mild physical affliction accompanied by one of the worst bouts of anxiety I have experienced in more than a decade.

I've lived with anxiety all my life, though it's only in recent years that the malady has been given a name.   Some of my earliest memories are of me quaking in fear at the slightest change in my physical condition.  I grew up petrified of illness, injury and death.  And as far as I know, I was born that way.  There was no trauma in my early life, that I can recall, that brought this on.  I've always wondered if I had met such a catastrophic demise in my last life that the psychic impression carried over to this one.  That's the best explanation I've come up with, so far.

But only those closest to me have any inkling of this...THING...that's such a huge part of my life inside my head.  Because I learned early on to bury it deep, deep inside.  It only takes a couple of instances of family members, friends, and even health professionals looking down their noses at you and telling you to calm down and quit being such an idiot, to make you realize this kind of anxiety is not a thing you share with others.  Or inflict upon others. 

So you go through life only betraying your "insanity" at its worst when you wake up in the middle of the night, so convinced you're having a heart attack that you forget to slip quietly out of bed before the panic overtakes you, and you wake your partner.  And then the shame and embarrassment combine with the panic...  You'd pretty much do anything not to go through that very often.  So you swallow it.  You stuff it.  You adopt the appearance of the duck sailing smoothly across the surface of the pond; beneath the surface, your feet are paddling like crazy.

People who know me DO know, however, that I'm not very good at sitting still.  At doing nothing.  At just being...zen.  Sitting quietly is no good for me.  And, as time goes on, it becomes a greater and greater enemy.  Only by keeping my body moving, my hands occupied, my brain focused, can I keep that crippling anxiety at bay.  Too many hours of nothing in particular to do, and it grabs my feet and pulls me under.  "Busy-ness" has been my defense mechanism, all these years.  Unfortunately, the past few months have not offered enough of that commodity to keep me sane...or at least, to give me the appearance thereof.

In years past, when I reached this point of being nearly overwhelmed by my affliction, I've been able to pour myself into some kind of project, or...get a job.  And it's been very unsettling that the "job" option is no longer open to me.  Let's face it:  I'm a sixty-year old woman who spent forty years in a "career" that is absolutely for the young.  By running my own restaurant, I probably got five more years out of it than I should have.  That was, in fact, the ONLY way I was going to translate my experience into a livelihood that would provide income in my dotage; and, as we all know, that...didn't work out. 

So, here I am...a senior citizen who could use an income but, more importantly NEEDS something to DO; and the line of work into which I sank my formative years has no place for me.  Oh, I suppose if I looked hard enough, I could probably find some place that would pay me minimum wage to flip burgers or bake cookies...  But I just find that too...insulting.  All my years of experience, all the things I've learned, mean N.O.T.H.I.N.G.  No one in the industry will hire anyone who has any concept of her actual worth.  Plus, let's face it...I don't know if I would be capable of putting in the (minimum) fifty-hour weeks required of food service management; and, capable or not, I just don't WANT to do that anymore.

Why did I let myself be indentured into the world of food service, basically following in my mother's footsteps as a lifelong "second income," capitulating to my husband's ability to command the higher wage?  There are times when I have sat and wondered...what would my life be like now, if I had actually gone to college and got that journalism degree I had coveted so many years ago? 

There were all sorts of reasons, in the end, why my personality wasn't suited to the world of journalism, not the least of which was that I was too much of an introvert to get out there and get the stories, to actually talk to people, do the research.  And with my high-pitched nasal voice and stunningly average looks, broadcast journalism was never on my radar.  Still, I regret never shaping my god-given talent into a...LIFE.  I wonder, though, would it have provided me with the busy-ness--the physical hard work--so essential to keeping my demons at bay?    

I came upon an article a couple of weeks ago that gave me a tiny shred of satisfaction.  It was titled "What Happens To Journalists When No One Wants To Print Their Words Anymore?" and it went into detail about how print journalists of my generation have been devastated by the shrinking of the market for their talent.  Full-time jobs in print journalism have declined by 40% since 2007, with most of the jobs eliminated belonging to writers over 50.  When a paper closes and the staff is turned loose, those older folks fare poorly in what is left of the job market in their field.  They leave the field, become entrepreneurs, attempt late-life career changes, or reluctantly retire.  It all sounds way too familiar to me.

It's somewhat of a back-assed comfort to me that, if I had followed my dream decades ago, I might just be in the same boat I'm in now.  Would I be any more or less frustrated and at loose ends than I am now?  Would I be looking at a rosier retirement picture?  Would the demon of my anxiety be any less inclined to overwhelm me than it is now? 

I don't know.  But I DO know that perhaps I didn't make the worst mistake of my life when I chose the path I chose forty years ago...and that's something.   

Friday, March 11, 2016

Kicking and Screaming

The sad news came in an email.  My cellular service carrier took it upon itself to send out a notice that 2G service was on the chopping block--it would be discontinued after 1/1/17, but it could crap out in any given area between now and then, as the cell companies were not going to be required to repair any 2G networks that failed early.    Those of us who had old phones that relied on this archaic bandwidth were going to have to get with the program and get our hands on more “modern” hardware, or lose the ability to make or receive calls when the 2G service in our area crapped out.

I am not exactly a techno-phobe.  I have been laptop literate since 2003, and three years ago, I got my first tablet.  So, you know…I take advantage of technological advances when they are useful to my needs, but I draw the line at CREATING a need for each advance in technology.  I got my telephone in 2010 when we first signed up with our current carrier.  I picked it out specifically because texting is my preferred method of communication, and it has a QWERTY keyboard.  It also has a great keyboard lock so butt-dials are kept to a minimum.   The cameral sucks, but I have plenty of cameras.  It does not have a touch screen and it does not accept “apps,” but my iPad has these things…I don’t need them on my phone.  Consequently, the battery charge lasts forever, so I am not tethered to a power source, which is way more important to me than all that “stuff.”  

I love my phone.  It does everything I need a phone to do, it’s compact, it’s nearly indestructible—it once took a two-hour ride in the bottom of a sink full of dishwater, and lived to tell about it.  I have dropped it a million times, smashed innumerable protective plastic cases, but the phone has survived unscathed.  In six years, I’ve never replaced the battery, and it still holds a charge for a week.  This little chunk of high tech is better engineered than 99% of the stuff that is out there.  When they built this little guy, they left out the “planned obsolescence” that is routinely built into these things…much to some manufacturer’s chagrin, I’m sure.  What is not to love about this phone? 

But now…now the gun is firmly placed against my temple.  My fantastic, reliable, everything-I-want phone is going to become a paperweight sometime within the next 9 months, due to circumstances beyond its—or my—control. 

Now, we have a great cellular carrier that is cheap and offers packages designed to appeal to older farts like us who do not live with our phones surgically connected to the palms of our hands.  And, bless their hearts, they have offered to ease the transition a bit by offering $35 toward the purchase of a new phone from the assortment that they offer.  Unfortunately, their assortment SUCKS.  They offer two ancient-styled flip-phone models with no keyboard at all—I imagine these are for REALLY old farts for whom merely owning a mobile phone was as technologically advanced as they could ever manage.  And from there, we jump into smart technology—androids and iPhones and tablets, oh my!

I do not want a smart phone.  I do not need apps.  I absolutely LOATHE touch-screen keyboards, and I will go to great lengths to get the QWERTY keyboard I want on my new phone.  But my carrier does not offer one.  And now I find I am cast adrift into the swirling maze of Amazon and Ebay and big box tech stores, trying to puzzle out how I might get the phone I want and connect it up to my nice, comfy, cheap, old fart cel service.  For less than $800. 


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Free Again

Last October, we took our last vacation in our fifth-wheel trailer, the one we traded our deteriorating toy-hauler for in the late summer of 2012.  It was a comfortable tiny house...  For three years, I did my best to fill it with good memories of me and my faithful dog, spitting in the face of fear and shadows of Criminal Minds (I have since stopped watching that show) in our portable outpost under the stars. 

But that trailer just never did work.  For us.  For me.  In the end, it wasn't nearly portable enough.  All the prep involved in getting it on the road--taking the insanely heavy canopy off the pick-up and installing the insanely heavy fifth-wheel hitch in the truck bed,  even driving and maneuvering the thing, getting it off the truck and setting up all the jacks once in camp, was simply beyond my ability to do alone. 

Which I had originally thought would not be a problem.  The whole idea of the fifth-wheel had been an exercise in getting the husband involved in the camping thing..  I deferred to his choice when we bought the trailer (I wanted one that was smaller and theoretically more within my capacity to deal with alone.)  I imagined that the Universe was telling me it was time to curtail solitary activities and cast my lot back in with my life's partner. 

Unfortunately that's exactly what it turned out to be:  my imagination (or wishful thinking) creating a mandate from the Spirit.  It turned out that the trailer mostly sat in the driveway, because the husband didn't have or couldn't get enough time off from  work to be able to use the trailer more than once a year, if that.  We fell into this habit of having him drive the rig out to wherever on the weekend, then come back for me the following weekend...which sucked.  I felt like an incompetent idiot; I couldn't just hook it up and drag it out to a campground when I wanted to, which I could do (and did) with the old toy hauler.

So last fall, we gave up and put the trailer on Craig's list.  On a soggy day in early November, husband pocketed $2200 and towed our tiny home out to its new owners over on Sauvie Island.  For the first time in twelve years--and one of the few times in our entire married life--we were without some vehicle in which to camp.  I was sad, but I thought, "What the hell.  We weren't using it anyway.  Maybe we just don't camp anymore." 

And yet, we have haunted Craiglist ever since, searching for the right replacement, one that would meet our needs much better than the fifth wheel.  We've driven all over hell's half acre, from Eugene to Lorraine to Vancouver to Troutdale to Gresham to Oregon City, all the months of fall and winter.  Alternately deciding to bag the whole idea and just staying home for a couple of weeks, and then finding what could be the "perfect" answer to our needs, digging out the Garmin and taking off on another of what turned out to be multiple wild goose chases.   We looked at trailers, motor homes, pick-up campers, even second-hand busses.  We drove away from what seemed like a thousand different obscure properties within a 200-mile radius, disappointed, disgusted, grossed out, frustrated.  What we wanted just was not out there, and we seemed unable to "make do" with what was. 

And the longer we went without that trusty means of escape sitting in the driveway, the more melancholy I became.  I never would have thought that I would feel so trapped, so buried under my troubles with no much as if I had my wings clipped and could now only wander sadly around the barnyard staring up at the sky with longing.  It's not like I was likely to be heading out in the trailer in the middle of winter, anyway.  But just the knowledge that I couldn't put me on an amazing bummer. 

Finally, last Friday night, I came upon what looked like a promising ad on Craigslist, and practically held a gun to the husband's head to get an appointment to see the thing almost at sunrise the next day.  The minute I walked in the door, I knew this was it.  It was clean.  It was fairly solid (for a 17-year-old trailer.)  We had enough money to buy it.

It was mine. 

We drove it home that same day.

It's been a pretty miserable winter, full of weird little bouts of illness and days-long anxiety attacks (fodder for another post.)

But now...

For at least a little while...

I'm happy.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

What Darkness and Ugliness Have Begot

I googled "negative campaigning," with an eye toward determining exactly when this became de rigueur  in the American political process.  I could have sworn that elections were much more civilized in the "good old days" when I was a youngster.  I don't recall being compelled to turn off the radio or television in order to get some blessed respite from the constant sniping during election years, thirty or forty years ago.  We must have been more civilized, back then.   But what my search turned up, and I suppose it really was no surprise, was that negative campaigning has been an American political tactic almost since the birth of the Republic. 
Early on, there was respect bordering on awe for the founders of our independence who eventually took their places as heads of state:  Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe--"founders" all--managed to make it through the election process relatively unscathed by personal attacks.  But by the election of  1824, when the baton of leadership was to be handed to the generation succeeding the founders',  the Pandora's box of negative campaigning was gleefully dragged out and opened;  the cyclone of ugliness and smear burst out.  And it has swirled about our political process ever since.
So why does it seem that things are exponentially nastier and dirtier now than they ever have been?  Perhaps it's because of the copious numbers of outlets from which the ugliness can bombard us, here in the media-saturated 21st-century.  The political process has been turned on its ear by the  preponderance of media voices clamoring for attention.
One would think that all-pervasive media would be a good thing.  That the end product of the ceaseless barrage of information would be a better informed electorate.  Of course, we know that hasn't happened.    In order to multiply as speedily as they have, on-air media have shed the cumbersome trappings of factuality and civic responsibility that had been applied to their forebears.  These thousands of media outlets which have sprung up in the past three decades adhere to no standard of truth, acknowledge no responsibility to educate, uplift, or even accurately inform the people for whose attention they compete.  Early on, it became obvious that shock, shame, innuendo and the naked portrayal of the basest of human emotions were the easiest,  cheapest routes to popularity among the masses.  And so those things have been provided in sickening abundance.  Quite the fertile environment for those exponentially nastier and dirtier political campaigns.'s the thing:  In this 21st-century reality that has indeed been taken over by the Dark Side, negative campaigning is no longer least not in that it can create a firestorm of moral outrage against a candidate.  We no longer possess, as a society,  a code of morality to outrage.  In a world where everything is about instant gratification, gratuitous sex, uncontrolled violence and rewarding of the most obnoxious behavior, what could a public figure possibly be accused of that would offend the one or two remaining molecules of our moral sensibilities?
I would further posit that, given the preponderance of spin, twisted facts and outright lies vomited forth by our trusty media 24/7/365, people have been invited to create their own realities and then only acknowledge information that fits within those realities.   No...perhaps not "invited."  Forced.  With so much noise out there, and with such a huge percentage of it either cleverly presented misinformation, thinly disguised untruth, or exaggerated hype, what else can people do but simply...pick?  "This must be true!  It proves what I have believed all along!"  If  "what I have believed all along" is that black men are thugs, or that poor people are lazy, or that owning a stockpile of machine guns will keep me safe, why shouldn't I absorb only the information that reinforces those opinions, and label anything that doesn't, a lie?
Nowhere is this hypothesis better borne out than among the rabid mob that backs Donald Trump.  Here is this unscrupulous, bombastic, unprincipled obscenely wealthy publicity hound who will do or say anything--A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G.--to get the crowds pumping their fists and foaming at the mouth, and to get the cameras focused in his direction.  A daily torrent of filth, stupidity, adolescent antics and snake-oil pandering pours forth from this incredibly media-savvy imbecile.  People scoop it up in five gallon buckets and pour it down their gullets.
And if they should pause long enough to notice a negative story about their Idol circulating through the media, they merely shrug and say things like, "Trump only says things that everyone is thinking;" or "The press hates Trump so they make up all these lies!"
These folks have chosen their reality, and Donald Trump is it.  And there is nothing anyone can say that is going to shake them from their white-knuckled grasp on this man and what they have decided he stands for--whatever that is.
He is the Dark Lord.  Created of and by the darkness, ugliness and violence that has gripped our country.  And no amount of negative campaigning is going to cancel him out.  Rather, it will only increase his power.
I think we had better come up with a new tactic.