Monthly Archives: December 2008

Oh, Life!

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I have been having a wonderful holiday, with my daughters around me and the house full of colored lights. Last weekend we gathered with so many friends in San Francisco and celebrated the Solstice in style. Two days later Jojo turned 16, the next night my family came up for a lovely Christmas Eve dinner, and of course yesterday was Christmas.

For the record, I don’t believe that being Pagan means we can’t celebrate whatever other holidays we please. In fact, one of the blog posts I started but never completed this year introduced my new rule of thumb: you should claim as yours the religion that you swear the most in. Which means I must have at least three religions, because who can resist an occasional “oy gevalt!” and a “Jesus f*@k!” along with the “oh my Gods!” and all the secular ones, too?

But I digress. The strange thing about this holiday is how the highs and lows have all been mixed in with each other. Usually there is a big high followed by a day or two of lows, and the season progresses on its teeter-totter until January comes and we’re onto the next thing. But this year the highs and lows have been both extreme and simultaneous.

For example, I was in the living room watching Lyra and Jojo decorate a fabulous birthday cake on Tuesday. They were being hilarious together as usual, and I was enjoying their banter, the music they’d chosen for the occasion (Nina Simone), and the opportunity to just sit and read email after a day of running around. In my email was an update about the mother of a dear friend who had just been diagnosed with stage four cancer. The update was that chemo was not going to work and her prognosis was for weeks, not years or even months.

The last time I had seen her was when I went to Grass Valley a year ago for my friend Darcy’s memorial. So then I had both of those sorrows floating around in my heart as I watched the cake take shape in the kitchen and my daughters, so full of life, taking pleasure in each other’s company.

Today is the anniversary of Darcy’s death. I have held her family in my heart all day, as Lyra and Jojo helped me prep two rooms for painting tomorrow. It is a project I have been wanting to do for months, yet another step in making this house my home and embracing my new life. I don’t think the girls fully understand how much it means to me to have their help with this. It has been such an exhausting year and I have reached my limit of what I can do alone. But by the end of the day tomorrow Jojo’s bedroom and bathroom will be painted new, vibrant colors, and a load will be lifted from my shoulders.

Is it just middle age, this cacaphony of good and bad all mixed in together? Is it the times we’re living in? Not enough fiber in our diet? Or just the inevitable counterpoint of our myriad life experiences, of which there is surely more to come?

I am ending this year with more questions than answers. I am genuinely curious and hesitantly optimistic about the year to come, and ready to greet it with hard work, determination, humor and a little grace. Especially if it is as full of great friends and loving family as this one has been. If anything, this crazy life has made me more committed to living every day as fully as I can. And here to remind us just how good that can feel, and sound, is the late, great Eartha Kitt. (This is not the best video quality, but just listen to that voice!)

Mercy Mercy Me (The Economy)

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I have never actually seen a ghost—at least, not the kind that leaves you shaking in your shoes, white as a sheet, with eyes as big as saucers in a face that looks permanently stricken. But yesterday I spent about 45 minutes watching someone who obviously had.

I thought I would try to learn something about economics, so I watched the video of Paul Krugman giving his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Stockholm. I learned more in that one video than I ever learned in economics classes at school. Still, I would have to watch it twice more to really understand what he is saying. I was riveted by his facial expressions throughout, though. He looked absolutely exhausted, and not just from jet lag.

You can see it even more clearly in the 30 minute interview he gave beforehand. He’s trying to keep his game face on, and be gracious about being presented with the Nobel Prize for Economics. But he looks haunted with worry about the economy, wary of any conversation for fear of more bad news, and seemingly itching to get the hell back across the pond so he can keep consulting on various bailouts.

So here’s the dilemma: any serious reading of the day’s financial news—just pick a day, it doesn’t really matter which—can make the average person feel the same way. But when I do that, when I lift my gaze and really study the situation, I become practically incapacitated with fear and am no good for anything, least of all working to improve my financial situation. 

Staying lucid in this dream—or nightmare, really—for any length of time is beyond my skill level. I can manage it for a little while, calming myself down from the shock of what is happening long enough to write more, and work more. But this is big and getting worse, and it’s only a matter of time before I slip back into shock about what is going on in the world.

Magically speaking, this is a tremendous opportunity to increase our ability to stay present in both worlds simultaneously. When I get seriously off-center, I have a few tried-and-true ways to re-center myself and carry on. What I would love to hear are all the ways the rest of you have for doing this. Because surely there are some great techniques I don’t know about, and this is the sort of time when we can all use as many good suggestions as possible.

And while you’re thinking about what to post in the comments section, here’s a snip of the great Marvin Gaye, live at Montreaux in about 1980. Enjoy.

American Tune

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When I was in grade school we learned all the old patriotic songs. The Star Spangled Banner of course (which came in handy during the 1970s Oakland A’s winning streak). But we also learned America the Beautiful, the Irving Berlin tune God Bless America, Woody Guthrie’s great This Land Is Your Land, and a whole raft of other stuff. 

It’s one of those weird things, the hymns of your youth still live in your heart somewhere, despite all the things you learn in the meantime. Or rather, the feelings those anthems evoke live on. Of course, as Deborah pointed out recently there were really two Americas all along, and we only learned about the melodious one in those early years. When I became an adolescent and started to get cynical, I found a whole new crew of friends who shared my basic condition: being a shattered idealist in search of a new ideal to latch onto. But that’s another story.

I still sing the national anthem at baseball games, and when my kids were young I made sure they could sing it, too. Most of the other songs have faded into comfortable obscurity in my memory, getting hauled out occasionally for trivia games and ironic renditions. Yet there is one patriotic song that chokes me up still, every time I hear it.

It captures perfectly all the complexity of an idealism that died but still lives; the bitter disappointment and deeper hope which are intertwined in the soul of this country. When this tune comes on the radio, all activity must cease as I sing along. Paul Simon wrote it after Nixon’s re-election in 1972, and performed it again last month on the Colbert Report. If you missed the show, here is his performance. See if you can watch it without getting a little misty-eyed.