Monday, August 25, 2014

Life's Been Good to Me So Far

At a party this past weekend, a friend was talking about aging."My friend is a doctor, and he's this Ironman kind of guy. But still, he says the human body is built to last until age 45, and then we're pretty much wired to break down. It's possible, though, that modern medicine can keep us alive until a hundred."

We were gathered to celebrate the End of Summer, which in Texas means it's still another kind of hundred (degrees to be precise) but still, the kids are going back to school. For most of the crowd, it's the start of senior year of high school for at least one of our children. though three of us, including me, were talking about our first born children heading off to college. Another friend was absent, having just lost her mother.

The friend with the depressing news about the whole group living on borrowed time is facing down her own parents growing older. Her father is still active in his profession, but her mom is battling dementia.  At these times, people in marriages seem to close ranks--after all, what do we children understand about spending over half a century together? My friend lives 1,500 miles away and wants to find help to assist her father while he is at work, but he insists there is no problem. The worry is overwhelming. What if she fails to head off a serious issue at the pass? Yet, her parents want to manage things themselves.

Lately, parties seem less about having a great time than a kind of therapy session for all included. We talk about teenagers and parents, and who's had a health issue. Eventually we get around to books and movies, thank God, and there is actually something fun to discuss. I even found talking about what I do for a living turned out to be a respite from the general conversation.

It's not that my friends are boring: quite the contrary. We've all traveled and read and eaten well. It's just that we're squished by the demands of our current demographic. Our kids and parents need us to varying degrees, but they don't think so. Until they do.  At the same time, we're trying to figure out how to pay for everything and maybe retire before we are quite old ourselves.

T is a bit older than me, and I see he and his sister and her friends in a different place. They've lost parents and in some cases spouses, but have hung together and watched it all. Now they are heading into weddings and grandchildren, the sweet stuff. It's time to celebrate together and really appreciate these happy moments, knowing how to savor them with the awareness that we never stop worrying about our loved ones. Like my friends and I, we are there for each other, which is as much as we can do.

As for me, I am still skeptical that eating well and exercising every day won't help me live longer. But I'll concede that this attitude has its limits, because just going hard every day at work and beating myself up if I don't drink my 3.5 liters of water or do my planks or floss isn't really going to help me have more years, let alone happier ones. This weekend, I saw friends at the party and had real, relaxed visits with two others. Maybe the gift of middle age, if there is one at all, is the realization that making time for supporting our friends and sharing their happiness is what we'll remember when we're old. Let's hope we get that privilege.


Monday, August 18, 2014

What Your Fridge Magnets Say

A year ago we renovated the kitchen and everything stuck to the old fridge got thrown in a box for nine weeks.  Just as I had agonized over the paint colors and the backsplash, what got pinned back up on the new stainless number had to be carefully thought through. It gave me a chance to get rid of the twenty outdated coupons I'd saved for a rainy day that never arrived. While waiting on some asparagus to grill for lunch over the weekend, I took a considered look at my haphazard curation. 

First, a Texas Christian University magnet I was gifted for giving a lecture to an undergraduate marketing class there on my work on that front in the legal field. This was at least ten years ago, before I had any business telling anyone how to emulate what I do for a living. It holds up a sticker I picked up about four years ago at Avoca Coffee  on Magnolia. It reads: Make Fort Worth Weird. I may still have had an Austin crush back then, but have since dismissed it and now know I live in the superior city.  As my friend L once said, the original t-shirt should read, Keep Austin Pretentious. Fort Worth is plenty weird, but instead of it walking down the street, one must be admitted to the dining rooms on the West Side to get the full picture. Working on that still.

Andy Warhol covers his face on another magnet. I got this after the kids and I saw an exhibit of his work at the Modern--where else can one look at world-class art and be home in fifteen minutes? It secures an image from Tuscany's Hotel Monteverdi, as well as a New Yorker cartoon with a man crying at a bar and saying to his companion, "I suffer from accurate self-esteem."

I plan to live here at some point. Until then, I'll just gaze at it and dream.

Behind a pirate magnet is a picture of my daughter at three, grinning in a sundress and diaper, holding a cob of corn. Another with a soccer motif--my mom gave both to my kids when they were in elementary school, though it appears I've mixed up the child who matches which--holds one Chinese Yuan, Chairman Mao front and center. My trip to China almost three years back was such an experience and let me meet T

Life is what happens when we are making other plans, beneath which is photo of my beautiful children with in me my little black dress at our friends' wedding, a melding of lives of two strong and loving people with five teenagers between them. My son in black and white at three years of age is in profile beneath that shot.

A thank you from the North Texas Food Bank secures a postcard from Wendy Davis thanking me for a donation to her campaign. Proud of both.

In the midst of my divorce, I bought a magnet that reads, It's All About Me.  It seemed then that it wasn't about me at all, but I'd heard enough details of my selfishness that it seemed like a good way to flip off the Universe. Behind this lie cards from memorable San Francisco restaurants: State Bird Provisions (don't bother); Wayfare Tavern (if you are a Tyler Florence fan, you'll love it); and Chaya, the sushi bar on the Embarcadero where it all began. 

Finally I have a postcard with Rothko's Light Cloud, Dark Cloud. It is tethered by yet another cheesy note which reads, Leap, and the net will appear.

Once I was told that bookcases are a form of intellectual vanity. The person who said it avoids social media, no surprise and maybe he's found the easier path on that front. Still, my bookshelves and my fridge remain are things to which I pay occasional attention, though few people see them these days. Who knows why we choose what we do?  Send me your fridge gallery and tell me all about it.   

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

True North

The travel bug, once caught, may be impossible to shake. I've had the opportunity in the past five years, through work and love, to move about the civilized US and to Asia. It's been wonderous, and much of it has been done with T. We pinch ourselves on these trips, and yet have found the biggest capitals are growing more and more homogeneous.  Sparkling clean hotels and shopping areas dominate the downtown areas, and unless one knows the place, it's hard to find the there there.

Last week, we headed to Canada to visit my earlier life, in reverse. Toronto was where I spent seven years before leaving the nest for Texas.  When I first landed there in 1988 as a university student on summer leave, I knew for sure I'd made it, after a life in rural Ontario. Back then, it was struggling with an inferiority complex (God knows, so was I) but from what we saw, no more. With eyes that have seen Hong Kong, New York, Chicago, Singapore and San Francisco, it impressed me anew. It's a crazy mess of traffic and people, but the food (if you go, try Buca, and prepare to swoon) and the dizzying number of languages spoken in the street have made it an even more exciting place.

An amazing dinner at home with good friends, who always entertain with panache, and a lunch with others in the Distillery District and a walkabout by Lake Ontario rounded it out. Seeing people who've been dear to me for more than two decades moved me enormously. Being so far away means I remember my friends as perpetually young, and I suppose I expected to suddenly be twenty again when we met once more. But what we had was much sweeter than eternal youth: I heard of great strides in careers and places to travel, and got to see children who I met as little kids, now coming into their own. They got to meet T, and he them, and luckily no embarassing stories from my undergraduate career emerged, at least this time. 

Our next stops were smaller cities with my own personal history, and here we found authenticity. All those years of wanting to see the great metropoles, and now I find the littler places drawing me in. We went to Kingston, Ontario, and toured the campus of Queen's University, a place I had the great good fortune to gain admission to, and from which unbelievably (to me) graduate. When I arrived, and when we visited, it was a glorious place, with limestone, ivy-covered buildings. T was charmed by it and the gorgeous lake-front walks. I was thrilled that he was on for the trip I called "Sue, the Formative Years" and felt like a little girl showing him where I came of age.
Ontario Hall in early fall

I also tried to impress upon him that it isn't always that lovely. The man has spent many years in California, so he had a tendency to block out what it looks like for four months a year. And after 17 years in Texas, I don't know that I could bear it myself. All I remember from my winters there is that everything is gray--the sky, the streets, the buildings.

photo of University Ave during snowfall

Still, at an outdoor lunch one afternoon, we heard a strike on a drum and then a firing up of bagpipes. Through the crowd that gathered, it was hard to see who the bearer of those pipes was. Turned out the drummer, a sober wee lad, was around eight years old, the piper perhaps ten or eleven. These little buskers were cleaning up, with what I estimated at a couple of hundred bucks in their case. In deep United Empire Loyalist country (where I came up, the Red Coats were the good guys) this was an Upper Canada moment.

We headed to the nation's capital, Ottawa, to see my parents for a few days. We did the major stuff, Parliament Hill and the farmer's market downtown.  The beauty never fails to thrill me. The next day, we went to Almonte, a pretty town in the Valley, as my parents call it. We all had lunch by the river and looked up at the bridge where my dad had, at age seven, jumped off more than once when he was farmed out from a neighboring town to his grandparents over the summer. I grew up several hours away and moved due to my father's policing career, but this is the land of my people.

The next day, T and I were out for a walk, talking about how we have landed in a long-distance relationship and how far both of us are from our roots. The great part about leaving home is the tremendous adventure that lies in the broader world.  But striving to be a citizen of the world means one never truly embraces any single place. Where do you feel like you're from, I asked him.

Like me, the place where he feels most at home is not where he grew up,  nor where he lives. Much of his family lives in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and the man does love to fish. Mine is the Ottawa Valley. These places represent the true north on our emotional compasses. Neither of us can imagine living full-time in our spiritual comfort zone, but knowing it is there brings us great comfort.  Things there may change, but so do we. Like reading a favorite novel, re-visiting these places tells us much more about ourselves than it does about the place.