Clothes hoarse

Well, here I am yakking about anything but serious issues (per last week) – no more pointy headed intellectual blather.  Turning a page, let’s start off with, what else, yet another post on clothes. Now that all my causes are on ice, I am going to talk the ears off the internet about stuff, like this stuff. Since I have always been a girlie girl, like every other female in that category I have a stupefying amount of clothes.  I have said it before: name the item, I don’t care what it is, I have at least a hundred of ‘em.

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This topic has come up over the past however many months of blogging in various anecdotes. My first week of school when I expected to have five new outfits for the second week;  being forced to start making my own clothes in high school when my dad saw my outfits chart on my closet door and was horrified that I could wear a different combo every single school day for four years; and one of my faves, walking around the stores on Rodeo Drive with my then sister-in-law, the knockout Vanessa (think Melania Trump crossed with Ava Gardner). Dressed in a fur coat that her mother bought in Eastern Europe (heaven only knows the animal sacrificed for that thing)  sales people were literally throwing themselves at Van hoping to be noticed, let alone sell her something.

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Another good one was the wake-up call I got when I got to college.  In my HS (5,000 kids) there were three or four girls who had stunning wardrobes.  One was a pair of gorgeous sisters who shared their clothes and made some as well, far more expertly than I did.  Those two were at the top and they came in looking like models every single day.  I was somewhere down the line a bit, but still considered well turned out with shoes of more colors than anyone else in our crowd, etc., etc.  But when I got to school Upstate, well, I finally found out what real money could buy.  The kids on my freshman dorm floor were all from, let’s say, a different economic category than even I was and they dressed right out of Vogue.  I cannot describe sufficiently the impact on me of seeing outfits on 18 year olds that I only imagined on European royalty (in fact, some of these girls actually were royals).  My roommate’s dad, senior year as we were packing up, was embarrassed to take a stack of boxes to the car that she had in our closet, which were labeled: PEWTER SHOES. Yup, it was the Davos and Gstaad crowd. It was like discovering a new color in the rainbow. I saw it: I was a bumpkin.  Suddenly, my HS duds seemed exactly that: duds.

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By the time I was living in the sorority my sophomore year, I was now looking at clothing in a whole new way.  You had to be dressed at least two seasons in advance of whatever you saw around and especially in American (horror) department stores.  Your stuff had to be from Europe, Paris, preferably in order to stay ahead of the crowd and look hip, chic, but unstudied. And, that reminds me of that other anecdote I have already shared here somewhere about the French girl who was always perfectly dressed because she had like eight items, all in black, all super well made and costly. And that was all she wore, so she always looked flawless.  I was the opposite, I have always been a clothes horse.  It just took me a while to amp things up from high school and then in no time, I was buying imported clothes, getting them on shopping trips to France and Italy and Britain.  Scarves and other knits and silks from Venice, Rome and Milan.  Shoes from Britain, Spain and Switzerland.  Wool dresses and suits from Paris.  Somehow, my dad let me do that. Bless him! What a colossal waste of money.

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Going to grad school in Manhattan was almost deadly for his budget and then Geoffrey’s. Right at my elbow were Bendels, Bergdorfs and Bloomies.  It was nothing for me to buy a pair of thousand-dollar champagne suede boots to go with my champagne suede jumper and ivory cashmere sweater.  The shops on Fifth and Madison Avenue were like drugs for me. Talk about getting your fix.  I once went into Ralph Lauren to get my FIL a belt and came out with — forgive me for admitting this — alligator ballet flats for a price I am too embarrassed to write out loud. This happens to me all the time because my feet are small.  I am either a 5 1/2 B or a 6B shoe, which is the display shoe.  So, of course, I try them on.  Once I see something I like, it is very hard for me to pass it up.  Well, it was, since in those days not only was I young and dumb, I had the budget.

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At some point, the absurdity of the cost of keeping this up dawned on me and I began to realize — not until I had given away wardrobes of beautiful clothes in my 20s simply because they were so last year — that I had everything and didn’t need to get more, and sure didn’t need to get more at those prices.

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I still have a lot of those clothes that I bought in that era, as well as everything I got when I moved out here and was working in the In-Firm alongside King G. Those were mostly Ann Taylor or Neiman Marcus suits and heels, that kind of stuff.  They are all hanging in the closet neatly — rarely worn now that I work from home.

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Then I went through my Betsey Johnson-Anthropologie-bcbg max azria-bebe phase and now own a whole lot of overpriced, very distinctive (as in you can’t wear it anywhere twice because everyone will recognize it) sort of hipster chic boho items that are neatly folded (since so much of it is either wrinkle-resistant or oh-so-wrinkled) on shelves in one of the closets I dominate. Everything else is in huge wardrobe boxes, catalogued and stored in every available space in our garage and attic.

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At some point over the past few years — maybe as a result of the Depression that began in 2008 (nope! I will not go there, promise) — I started re-thinking my clothing budget.  I decided that it was no challenge at all to go to Beverly Hills or the malls here or the upscale boutiques that the affluente who populate Valencia have spawned nearby and drop a wad on yet another pair of black shoes or faux fur coat or Judith Leiber belt or purse.  No!  I was going to make it my business to go to — discount stores — and find hip outfits that, I was sure, once you got them away from their sisteren, could fool anyone.  I will not tell you where I managed this, but it was not Ross, Marshalls or Payless.  A girl does have to put a floor on things!

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Ok, so I will tell you a few places: Loft, Forever 21, NY Company, Aldos, Francesca — I manage to find really cute things.  No more shopping at Cartier and Bucherer or even Fortunoff for jewelry, no Fendi and Vuitton and Celine, no more Barneys and Gucci.  Uh-uh. But soon enough there were stacks of these things into which I slipped a few Banana Republics and J. Crews, for good measure. I was spending the same amount of money, just accumulating a larger number.

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So! I decided, no more shopping trips (I mentioned this in a post last year).  I just don’t go to the store or, if I go to the mall, I don’t go into the shops.  Geoffrey does our weekly marketing because I can manage to find clothes I don’t need, everywhere. I once casually strolled into the Walgreens in Oakland to pick up sun block and came out with beach wear! If I even go to Target, I come out with  socks or slippers or PJs — something always finds its way into my closet. No! Finito! Enough!  Oh and some day I will have to tell you the funny story of how I even managed to put together a pretty cool outfit at my Dad’s pro shop at the club.  Now THAT is a feat, trust me.

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I am on the wagon. Well, I was.  Because, you see, these days everything that I could get out in the big bad dangerous world of merchandising, I can now order at the click of a button — as all we addicts know.  There isn’t a store anywhere on this planet that doesn’t offer online shopping so easy and good that I don’t even have to clear my head in the morning to do it and can be seen late into the evening getting my fix.  Not that I love everything that arrives, but I have had an amazing amount of good luck with this.

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Can you believe I have already talked myself raw in minutes on just this one topic?  I am not done, believe me. This is just the beginning. By the time I have exhausted this topic you will be begging me for my opinion on hog-hacking farm femmes corralling Congress.  :-D

(To be continued, def!)

Images: Beth Byrnes archives, I am ashamed to admit.  You can click on these terrible pictures to enlarge them.

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Whelmed

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Last week I was looking up at the very early morning sky while I sat on my front steps, waiting for the sun to rise high enough so I could sweep all the walkways and driveway without disturbing the birds that roost in our trees overnight.  I happened to spy the crescent moon and a planet twinkling right next to it.  That moon cast a soft glow on the roofs of the houses along our street and offset the deep indigo sky and I thought sheepishly about my many unreasonable gripes. Then I read my friend Susan’s lovely poem and felt these reflections were coming together at just the right time. As November approaches, I think of more interior things.

It must be the season for pulling in one’s energy to conserve it and let it hibernate for renewal next March. I have had one of those meh years. So many things going well and yet an equal number of problems to juggle.  I have shared some of them in past posts so I won’t belabor them here. Why oh why can’t I just find contentment in the things I have rather than constantly compare them to what I once had or think I should have?

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A couple of weeks ago I mentioned in my post that we would love to move to Big Bear.  One of the obstacles to doing that, apart from Geoffrey’s need to work in Los Angeles — it would be hard to do it from the SB Mountains — is the huge house full of belongings that I drag around with me wherever I go, getting more numerous every year.

So many people tell me they get rid of things.  I know, I know — lots of people are good at that. I am not one of them.  I have said it before here, I am an accumulator.  Not of junk, either, these are good, lovely things.   I honestly don’t know how I managed to get them all.   But I am their steward(ess?). So, I feel an obligation to take good care of them and pass them along some day.  Meanwhile, I have to keep them organized, clean, in usable good repair and accessible. I become attached to the things I get.  Like my camera.  Geoffrey wants to get me the camera I have decided on next, a Nikon D600.  I picked that one so I can keep the three fabulous lenses I have bought for my current Nikon, each of which was chosen very carefully. If I switch to the D800, I will have to get all new lenses.  But he also thinks I should sell the D5200. What? Sell something? I have never done that in my life! Sell my little friend, who has been so good and has trusted me? You see my problem now, don’t you, LOL?

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Yet, that doesn’t keep me from being anxious that somehow it will all slip away due to who knows what. Are these are irrational worries? I have no clue.  There is plenty “out there” to disturb the peace.  Will it be a cyber attack that takes out my ability to work from home? Will Geoffrey not win enough contracts? Will one of us or the animals get sick? Which one of my extended family will have a crisis that I must somehow handle? So I am nervous all the time. And annoyed at being anxious and high-strung.  If I lived in the 19th century, I would be pronounced “delicate” and could retire to write a novel. No vitamin, no aphorism, no book, video, therapy group is going to change that. Pills might, but then, what if I were to become addicted to them? After all, this is a habit-driven, self-inflicted psychological anomaly with no likely physical underlying cause, like a chemical imbalance, for example.  So I don’t want to nuke it out just yet.

As a ridiculous aside, this weekend as we were renovating the guest room in time for the holidays, we came across a set of CDs someone had apparently given us back in the early 2000’s, called Pet Music  – “Inspired by Veterinarians”, “Reduce your Pet’s stress and Separation Anxiety”.  Three different discs, one called “Natural Rhythms”, another, “Peaceful Playground”, and “Sunday in the Park”, hee hee.  We popped one into the sound system near our Lab — it sounded rather like a dirge but he was snoozing in no time.  I should try the human equivalent!

The only thing left is prayer and gratitude.  Prayer is something I resisted just because I was raised Catholic and forced to go to Mass every week, Catechism on Saturdays and to observe a bunch of holy days.  All without my having a say in it. The minute I could, I let it go and then went out searching.  Only to come right back to Christianity because there was nothing any better out there than the example and teachings of Christ.  Dare I reveal that I am not much interested in the Old Testament? It just seems like lore and the chronicles from our Aramaic history in the Fertile Crescent, a harsh and unforgiving saga of turmoil.  The New Testament however is a deeply esoteric and robust set of principles that I could probably spend the rest of my life studying, meditating on and disciplining myself to follow.  And I intend to.  I may not devote as much time to it as I should, but it is part of my commitment to myself that if I want to calm down and enjoy all the riches that surround me, I had better spend more time on that and less time worrying that it will all evaporate because I wasn’t sufficiently appreciative of the blessings bestowed on me continually in this lifetime.

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Why can’t I just feel lucky and serene? I have had every possible advantage, physically, financially, intellectually.  The only place I am failing is emotionally.  I am a slowly simmering vessel of trepidation.  If I watch the news, which I feel I have to do to know what is happening and be prepared for it, to keep up with life and its breakneck race forward, I get angry and discouraged both. Another shooting, another incompetent crook ahead in the election polls, Islamists releasing toxic gases, more girls kidnapped for sale as child brides or worse.  I want to understand how anyone could be callous, cruel or selfish? These are things that upset me. There is even a vocal group that doesn’t like science. What? When did that happen! Science is just orderly evidence-seeking. How can anyone object to seeking evidence? I have devoted my life to studying and applying science, so this development baffles me.

When I look around me, I see an increasingly hot climate that is decimating all the little things I love the most: birds, butterflies, bees, frogs, wildflowers — they are all disappearing in extremes: floods and fires and droughts and raging storms. It is hard not to be sad about this. When I read Stand Up This Mountain, I became utterly dejected thinking about people who would destroy the Appalachian wilderness, a treasure of unparalleled beauty and importance, just to rip coal from the earth, a toxic poisonous product. Even John Maynard Keynes talked about those who are blind to the value of our natural resources being preserved for, if nothing else, their aesthetic worth.

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I think I have come to the end of talking about this anywhere.  I stopped discussing it on Facebook because of the blow-back from “friends” and family, who literally became trolls.  I can barely read and view the heart-wrenching posts that fellow animal-lovers post on Twitter. To me it comes down to what Jeremy Bentham said, “It is not a matter of can they reason, or can they talk.  It is a matter of can they suffer?”.  The answer is, yes, of course.  I cannot picture Christ standing by knowing this, so how do people reconcile their indifference?

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No, I have to put this all aside, pivot away from it, replacing these with cheerful thoughts, as we teach children to do who are disturbed, and simply live my life quietly and gratefully.  I can’t talk anyone into being kind and generous, you either are or you aren’t.  If we want to vote into office greedy, callous, selfish, ignorant people, well, that is what we will get and our reward will be as Dr. Stanley says every Sunday, “we will reap what we sow, more than we sow, later than we sow”.

There is a lot of beauty and wonder that I can appreciate and be thankful for.  I thought it would also be good to point to the injustices and ugliness that I and some other people so clearly see, in the hopes that just pointing would be enough.  But, I have to spend more time opening my own eyes, waking up myself, and less time trying to sound the call to anyone else. Rajneesh used to say that seeking material goods or fame or power or even knowledge was a fool’s errand.  He likened it to being on a ladder.  There is always someone above  you on the next rung and someone below you. You will never get to the top.

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I happened to be channel surfing and came across a CNN special report commemorating the 25 year anniversary of the big San Francisco earthquake.  It was remarkable how some people escaped unharmed and others succumbed.  One guy who had fallen in his car 25 feet on the collapsing Bay Bridge, dangling precariously and rescued miraculously by a truck driver, moved to NY only to be in the World Trade Center when 9/11 hit.  He got out safely then too. The show ended with him emotionally reminding me that life is a gift, every moment, that it is a short stay and can be snatched away from us in a second.

Pivoting :-D , I notice that I get the most positive attention here when I take pictures of California. What irony. Since one of my goals (and I admit, I have not achieved it yet) has been to embrace this sunny, hot, dry, youth-obsessed, barbecue-feasting Pacific rim culture, I am attempting to find things to celebrate and relish here.  I will try to just concentrate more on the urban sojourns of a photography enthusiast and less on the behaviorist observer of the human condition.

So, those of you who don’t want to read my screeds, can just tell me what you think of my pictures. <3 And  you who cringe at amateur photographers, can wade through my streams of unconsciousness on various and sundry topics. What shall I feature? Baking? Gardening? Child development? Knitting? I am also less and less interested in devoting my life to the vocational work I do (even though it helps support the overhead I am largely responsible for creating), and more committed to just filling my time with the lovely and uplifting in the world. Maybe that will help me relax, who knows.

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We will see how long the discipline lasts but … here we go!

Images: Beth Byrnes archives: From my next Flickr set, Halloween at the Lake in our Valencia neighborhood; click on pictures to enlarge them.

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Spinning Fall tails

Vince Lombardi famously called football “controlled pain”. Given everything that has been going on over the past year here, I don’t think any of us would disagree with that. Clearly Lombardi meant that in a very positive way.  I agree with control as an aim, pain, not so much.

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A couple of weekends ago, Geoff and I headed off on a photographic safari to continue a series I am working on for my Flickr photostream.  Completely without thinking, I planned it for a Saturday on which a USC home game was scheduled.  Also, ironically, there was a Dodger baseball game that day.  That meant nightmarish traffic going and coming, parking problems and crowds that I hadn’t bargained on when I decided we should hit this particular venue, in Downtown Los Angeles.

From serious concussions leading to deteriorating cognitive functioning, to children dying on the field from injuries to developing bodies, to domestic violence in the NFL, we all know that American football is a controversial “sport”.

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Still, while I don’t subscribe to competitions for the most part (see my earlier posts on this topic) and while I feel football should not be a program for anyone younger than 21 (and should be separated from higher education), it does foster two things I endorse: self-discipline and perseverance.

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Probably because I like both those traits and think they should and can be developed starting at a fairly young age, in a developmentally-appropriate manner, I have recently read a couple of books that dovetail both with this season, the return of Fall meaning Football in the US, and with my interest in continually improving and upgrading my own modus operandi. [When Pride Still Mattered: A Life Of Vince Lombardi and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life].

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Those things may seem completely unrelated but they both involve the principles that guided Lombardi, Jesuit-educated in High School and at Fordham, and the Order of the Society of Jesus, whom I have admired for years.

For one thing, I grew up Catholic and as all Catholics know, the Jesuits are teachers who are reputed for excellence. People familiar with the history of South America, know that the Jesuits have played a key role in the development and progress of the masses on that continent.  They have been the good guys in the long and tortured story of the Conquest and colonization of that continent.

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I was raised by a Jesuit-educated parent.  My dad is a stickler for discipline, sucking it up, never allowing a tear to escape one’s eye, even when no one is around. He would make Patton look like a slacker.  And, of course, he took it too far. Curiously, he was an amateur boxer and later a golfer, and now a tennis fanatic, played some baseball, but never played football.  But, if pain was involved, my dad believed it was good for you.  He and I are worlds apart on this topic.  I do not believe in inflicting deliberate pain on anyone or thing, including oneself, and above all children and animals — for any reason.

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While we were in the process of rolling out our photographic plan for my upcoming series, we could not help being sidelined for part of the day by the USC game.  To be honest, I have paid as little attention as possible to USC and anything to do with it.  I am a huge UCLA and Cal (UC Berkeley) supporter and fan. Both are top science schools, for one thing — with gorgeous campuses.  For those people who don’t know the way these things fall out here socio-politically, I am a supporter of the excellent public university system in California. The UC System is on the whole superior to the private schools.

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USC also has a reputation for attracting privileged, partying kids. [Forgive me USC-lovers, hence its nickname: University of Spoiled Children. OK, we can debate that some time, but  I have direct experience of this with a key family member.]

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As I battled to find parking and then had to make the long and circuitous walk to the place where I wanted to take my photos, I was forced to take a good, long, slow look at what transpires at tailgating parties all over this country. It is elevated to an almost maniacal obsession in Los Angeles by dyed-in-the-wool USC fans.

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The USC campus and stadium abut the venue we were headed for.  In every direction, as far as the eye could see, were the scenes in these pictures.  Everything and everybody for blocks in every direction were festooned with and clad in Trojan (a fitting moniker) Cardinal and Gold.

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Now, I went to a big football college back East, with a long and fierce game history.  But, I will confess it now, I went to one and one only game, my freshman year, because we were forced to do it and to engage in placard cheering.  I could probably write a whole post just about my mishaps with that one, seemingly simple, but deceptively annoying task.  I will spare you for now — just remind me if you ever want to hear it.  I should be used to what goes with the football season, boosters, fanatics and of course the licensing explosion that has occurred in the I-won’t-tell-you-how-long since I said goodbye as an undergrad to that whole world.  I couldn’t even tell you what my graduate school team was called, that is how little interest I took in it.

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Geoffrey loves football and played in high school, but not in college.  He still watches it and, even though we have discussed the drawbacks of the sport along the lines that I mentioned at the top of this post — with which he largely concurs — he still has a steel trap mind for every minute detail of scores, records, seasons, coaches, assistant coaches, scouts, training camps, plays and secret strategies all the way back to the Stone Age (there was probably football when Cro Magnon man fought Homo Sapiens).  But, even he was overwhelmed with the scene that apparently unfolds at USC every time there is a home game.

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So I don’t turn this post into too much of a long read, let me sum it up by describing: thousands of parked cars with elaborate equipment and furnishings — largely in the school’s colors — making a vibrating sea of red and gold; fully tricked-out barbecues and propane-fired stoves with chefs and chefesses whipping up feasts that were spread on red and yellow tablecloths, laden with, natch, red ketchup and gold mustard bottles; plumes of blue smoke and the steamy fumes of corn dogs, pork ribs, burgers, fries and chicken “parts” (!!!) floating on the hot, humid air like a low-slung fog; satellite dishes (yup, in red and yellow) and big-screen TVs operated by generators behind each group of cars; folding chairs, loungers, hammocks, tents, recumbent bicycles, buses, trucks, SUVS, every kind of transportation, often in team colors were in front, beside, behind every group of celebrants.  Even the row of Port-O-Sans behind the adjacent stadium were in: Cardinal and Gold.

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Talk about control, pain, discipline and perseverance.  I would say it applies to the tailgaters as much as to the team.

This was at 10 am, when we were just getting to our destination.  The game was not until 4 pm!  So, they make a full day of it and many if not most of the people there were not even going to the game!  The din was audible from blocks away where we were forced to park our car.  As we approached, to attempt snaking our way through the crowds to the photo-site, it became a rising and falling roar. USC fans take this stuff dead-seriously.

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Meanwhile, at least a couple of photos here will give you a hint of what the real goal was for me that day. I don’t know which was more fascinating, the subject of my next photo series or the tailgating before that game.

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By the way, USC won — no surprise there — 35/10 over Oregon State.

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Stay tuned for more on my new photo series, upcoming.

Oh, and Go Bruins! Go Bears! :-D

Images: Beth Byrnes archives; click on them to enlarge, if you care to.

paw2014-s

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Bearly Oktoberfest

Despite any appearances to the contrary, this is not primarily about photography. Oh, photographs will be involved because they figured heavily into the plan I dreamed up last weekend to catch an early Oktoberfest somewhere here in the Southland.  How can it feel like a Bavarian alpine autumn celebration, complete with dark, warm beer, when it is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside as it had been for months and was last weekend, too?

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Well, the answer was to find an Oktoberfest far enough away from LA that it might change the thermometer and close enough to drive in one day so we wouldn’t have to schlep the animals or get them a sitter. There were several choices: Pine Mountain Lake, up the 5 Freeway, just an hour north from our house; Wrightwood, our closest ski resort, 90 minutes away to the east; or Big Bear Lake/Lake Arrowhead (which are just minutes apart), 2 hours and change east as well.  Big Bear won.

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I should mention at this point that Geoffrey and I have spent a lot of time in the past in Big Bear.  When we were first living in LA,  right after we were married and babysitting  their house at the beach while my parents-in-law were back East, we endured a bout of sand flea infestation in all the plush carpeting. It was hideous — we were being eaten alive, especially Snowflake, our Westie.  I did a bit of sleuthing and decided we would rent a cabin for a month (while the house was de-flea-ed) at one end of Big Bear at a resort near Snow Summit, one of the ski areas, called Escape for all Seasons.

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The cabins were literally at the ski complex, in the woods, multiple level chalets, brand new at the time, individually owned and rented out.  We had a ball.  It was the early winter and there was snow almost all the time, as well as those famous bright, sunny California days when snow does not mean you have to bundle up during the day. I came back absolutely in love with Big Bear.  So much so, that my MIL decided to buy a chalet and take people up there in groups for various holidays.  We got to know the area really well and it just got better all the time.

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While I am at it, I should also point out that all these mountain communities in California are very similar.  When you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all.  Geoff’s family used to own a cabin in Mammoth Lakes, so I got to see that beautiful town and ski resort — bigger and maybe a bit grander than Big Bear but far to the north and east of us, an eight-hour drive on a good day.  We also spent time, he and I, in Lake Tahoe where he has work periodically, so I got to know Tahoe and the charming Donner Pass town of Truckee, as well as Reno.  Tahoe may have wealthier residents but the town itself is not as nice as Big Bear. And, of course, I have been to ski resorts in other parts of the country as well as abroad.  So I think I can say with some confidence that Big Bear holds its own with many of the prettiest, cleanest, and most versatile resorts around.

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Anyway, we are up very early every day of the week, so it was easy to hit the road by 7 am. I was a bit nervous about leaving Ricky and Psyche alone all day, but they each have their own entertainment (classical radio for Ricky, smooth jazz on DTV for Psyche) and toys to play with.

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It was beautiful at that time in the morning.  No one was on the road.  From our house, we cut across Santa Clarita and hopped on the 14 north that heads up to Palmdale and Lancaster, then turned off on Pear Blossom Highway, a two to four laner that heads east to the California 138, which loops its way back and forth, high up into the San Bernardino Mountains.  On the way, we passed the turnoff up to Wrightwood where we go every winter to be in the snow, do a little snowboarding (very little, for me) — Geoffrey getting a bit of skiing in when Deanna and Al are in town — and basically get my northern climate fix. That keeps me from going off the deep end when the winters here are too mild for my taste as they have been, increasingly.

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It would be hard to describe the terrain between Valencia and Big Bear.  Valencia is about 1700 feet above sea level.  Big Bear comes just shy of 8000 feet, with the town and the lake closer to 7000.  Once you leave the Palmdale area, you are in the high desert for the rest of the journey.  That means stark, wild and haunting landscapes with flinty tundras that harbor the unusual twisting Joshua trees (none of my pictures of them came out well, so I will take a better set of them for another post on Big Bear in the winter, as we plan to go back as I will explain below) and mountains of boulders and weird rock formations. It was also 90 minutes of virtual silence.  The eerie quiet of wind-scrubbed sands.

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We passed through the town of Little Rock, California with its landmark roadside shack complex, Charlie Brown’s. I will be posting a few of the pictures I took there, on Flickr.  There isn’t room to do it justice here. Actually Charlie Brown’s deserves a post of its own.  I have never seen anything else like it anywhere. But, as an aside, when you are in Little Rock, you might as well be in Appalachia (given the environment and the accents), where I have been. More on all this in the future.  Then you hit Victorville.  For anyone reading this who knows Southern California, and haven’t been to Victorville in a while, you will be shocked.  In the middle of nowhere, literally, popping up out of the desert without warning, Victorville is now a sprawling suburbia with thousands upon thousands of big, new single family and condo dwellings, buttressed by strip mall after strip mall. Every major chain of every type is there. Name a store? Victorville now has two of them or more.  We were stupefied. Good!

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But, once you climb up the mountains to Big Bear Lake and its surrounding communities, you are in my idea of heaven: tall old pines scraping against a perfectly clear, deep blue sky, flocked with white clouds.  Sea birds flying overhead, deep shadows spreading across the country roads. And, best of all, crisp, cool air, even in early October.  The minute I get there, I feel like I am myself again, like I am home. The stress just melts off me with the first crisp breeze.

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You may recall if you have read my blog for a while, that I choose places like Big Bear deliberately.  I chose to go to school in Upstate New York, which resembles Switzerland and Austria more closely than anywhere else. February Vermont is where I picked for one of my two Un-y-Moons.  Once when I was taking a course on relaxation for troubled children, we had an exercise that directed us to create a safe haven in our minds (which we would presumably teach the children to do later on).  Everyone else described a warm water lagoon in a beachy island somewhere in the Pacific or Caribbean.  People were shocked to hear my emotional hideaway: a cozy log cabin deep in a snowy forest, with a roaring fire and mugs of hot cider.

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That is why I love Big Bear. That environment dominates the town and the people who live there year round have created a little fantasy world.  Something that Thomas Kincaid himself would depict in his idyllic and nurturing paintings.  As Kincaid said before he died, he wasn’t sorry if people found his paintings to be quaint or smarmy, he just wanted to make people feel happy. And he knew what kind of scene would do just that.  Big Bear is comfort food for the city-weary soul.  Especially in very hot, very dry California.

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Everywhere you go in town, you will see the evidences that it attracts tourists.  Only about 5000 people live in Big Bear full-time, year ’round, but as many as 100,000 people can be there on any given weekend.  There is something to do all year long.  Skiing and all the snow sports are fostered and promoted in the winter.  The rest of the year, the lake is the big attraction.  Two lakes had dried up, we were astonished and saddened to see on our ride up, including the once huge and deep Baldwin Lake.  I took pictures of it to share some time.  But the biggest of the Big Bear Lakes was just below normal and seemed to be surviving our horrible dry spell, largely intact.

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We had planned to go to the Oktoberfest there, but when we arrived, we decided to spend our time instead in the center of town. There are dozens of shops and restaurants — even one specializing in Himalayan food — and quite upscale.  I was planning to do some Christmas shopping for various people there but ended up buying the two of us armloads of clothes and accessories.  I think the relief and happiness I felt being there in such a congenial, safe, lovely, beautiful place again, just went to my head.  Luckily for me, the man I married didn’t say one discouraging thing.  He just walked around getting us snacks and running the bags to the car.

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The best outcome of this trip was that we resolved to get a house in Big Bear as soon as we can manage it.  We both agreed, we don’t want to spend the rest of our lives in an inferno that is only going to get hotter and drier with the warming climate. So, that is something for me to look forward to.

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In order to get that ball rolling, we agreed to make more frequent trips up there and to find a place we like, either in Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead, nearby and still at a fairly high elevation. So, stay tuned for more pictures and posts on all of this. Much as I would prefer Northern California, staying here close-by would be more practical and still give me that back-home feeling that I miss.

As for Oktoberfest, we are going to try it again this weekend, a bit closer to home, so look for an upcoming post to see if we pull it off at last.  We still have some time in the month for that and to report on Halloween in our neighborhood.

Images: Beth Byrnes archives – roll over to enlarge; all images edited in Lightroom – some with the same double-vision watermark, inexplicably, Grrrrrr …

 paw2014-s

 

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Oblivio Oblivias Obliviat

I am no Latin scholar, despite having studied it for four years in high school.  I took Latin because I planned to be a psychologist or psychiatrist and as such it was recommended that one of our two required languages be either Latin or German.  One of my quirks is that I have to love the culture of the language I am studying, so I picked French and Latin. To this day, I think French is the most beautiful language on the globe and I love Paris and France and almost everything French. Especially their pastries and other baked products.  All of our baking originates from France, where it was raised to a high art centuries ago.

As for Latin and the cultures that derive from it, well, we know what they are and most of us, even in the US, are familiar with the languages all Roman descendants speak.  So, in my opinion, while it is a difficult language to learn and perhaps to speak, Latina hodie vivit, Latin does live today in the many roots, prefices and suffices in modern English language. Learning Latin (and I would add, Greek, ideally) is an excellent way to understand English.  It would help us with spelling and it would enable us to be more precise when expressing ourselves. There is no other foreign language that would help us more. It lent me a handy word here, which will make more sense later.

Right now, I would guess every one of us is dealing with end of life decisions in one form or another, mostly having to do with the care and management of elderly relatives.  In my case, I just finished overseeing the transfer of a grand uncle to a living facility that seems to be well equipped to make the last years of his life safe and happy.  In a more difficult circumstance, I am grappling with how to care for my Aunt Kate, who is not only being manipulated to some degree by relatives who live in her immediate vicinity, whose motives are unclear to me, but whose surprising mental deterioration has prompted her to obsess about my coming to live with her in her NYC apartment.  She has planned me to spend a month with her in February and I am trying to figure out how to avoid it, as much as I would welcome time in the City.

Dean Keith Simonton, at the University of California at Davis, a luminary among researchers on age and creativity, synthesized numerous studies to demonstrate a typical age-creativity curve: creativity rises rapidly as a career commences, peaks about 20 years into the career, at about age 40 or 45, and then enters a slow, age-related decline.

Taking a sharp right turn, what has all this to do with oblivion.  The root of this word is the Latin “ob”, which means about or toward.  And, ‘livion’ refers to forgetting.  Extrapolating (and believe me, I am no linguistics expert), the word “oblivion” refers to being forgetful, unaware, and I would say, unconscious.

None of us think we are oblivious.  But, we all are, no matter how sensitized and “awake” we are at birth, we quickly shut out most of the world’s input and narrowly focus on what helps us survive in our immediate environment. We rapidly build an ego around our emotional core. As highly intelligent animals, this is a vital defense mechanism.  The smarter the animal, the higher the nervous system is tuned. This is why birds are so skittish, certain species of birds (parrots) are among the five smartest creatures on the planet [along with marine mammals (dolphins/porpoises,whales), great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans), and us].

 

That we will become oblivious in short order is a given and a good thing to get you through childhood.  This process of building a shield against the world continues on a normal and healthy schedule up to the age of about 7 and stops enabling new input.  Thereafter it becomes solidified, rigid and atrophying. The ego is fully formed by seven and then becomes more or less vestigial.  It stops us from being open to new ideas, to growth, flexibility and awareness, and I would also argue, highly developed sensitivity.  As such, post age seven, it is an albatross.  We become largely oblivious and spend the rest of our lives in various forms of that state.

Unless we interfere with that process.

What prompted me to put up this post was an article I just read that I think should stimulate a fair amount of discussion and controversy, in a rather public way, given who wrote it. Zeke Emanuel, “scholar”, according to the Washington Post and Lawrence O’Donnell on whose show I saw him last night, wants to die when he is 75.  He theorizes that those of us who work hard to keep our minds and bodies sharp and to calm our nerves so we can live as stress-free as possible in this frenetic, demanding, mysterious, and sometimes frightening world are misguided in doing so.

I would ask him if he is sure that he has spent the past 50 years working on molting off his crusty old ego? I doubt it. If anything, from his lofty perch as a physician (a body mechanic, essentially) his ego is flourishing and I would argue, he will have a hard time seeing anything clearly, encased in the hard shell of unawareness, unconsciousness, obliviousness. I doubt that he would agree with me, because he is sound asleep.

This unconsciousness, oblivion, in my opinion, is the reason so many people get so much wrong, follow a retrograde philosophy or world view that cannot be used successfully as we evolve as a species. This is why people are still polluting, or voting for corporate raiders who will plunder our resources, or slaughtering each other, abusing living things, especially and above all, human beings.  When we look at depravity, whether it is ISIS or mass murderers gunning down kindergartners, it is based largely on being oblivious to others and the world around them.  Inured to suffering that cannot occur when people are truly awake and aware.

Can someone walking around and talking and studying and living be asleep? I will refer you to two easy places to decide for yourself, depending on which you prefer: Plato’s Allegory of the Cave or The Matrix.  If you like, you can consult the work of Georges I. Gurdjieff (not an easy read) or to simplify things, his student, P. D. Ouspensky.  If those works don’t impress you or seem a bit abstruse, then there is an abundance of literature originating in the teachings of Buddha. If you prefer more right brained material, you can read the poetry of Rumi every day and I am sure eventually (or immediately), you will grasp the fact that we are all, for most if not all of our adult lives, slumbering nicely while going through all the rites of passage from our long, 3 million year old human social culture.

Although brain plasticity persists throughout life, we do not get totally rewired. As we age, we forge a very extensive network of connections established through a lifetime of experiences, thoughts, feelings, actions, and memories. We are subject to who we have been. It is difficult, if not impossible, to generate new, creative thoughts, because we don’t develop a new set of neural connections that can supersede the existing network.

Are there people who take physical health to its logical absurdity? Yes! I may be one of them.  I have, since I was 15 years old, been dedicated to personal health.  That is when I became a vegetarian in a very non-vegetarian household, time, and social environment. For the past 30+ years I have been studying the human animal and among all its social, cultural, emotional, and mental attributes, its physical makeup and needs.  Nutrition is one of my hobbies. I do not base being a vegetarian/vegan on purely moral and social grounds (although these aspects of this practice are important too), but on studying the physiology of our hominid bodies.

Beyond that, I want to be fit.  If I am going to live XX more seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years I am determined to feel and look and be as good as I can for every single one of them.  That includes physical health, i.e., endurance, flexibility, strength, and hygiene. You cannot do that if your attitude is that it doesn’t matter, that we are “omnivores” (false), or that you can sit in a chair, be 30 pounds overweight (BMI>25), smoke, take medicinal pharmaceuticals, consume processed junk, imbibe alcohol, breathe anything but clean air, and thrive.

But more important than physical health, is being awake, aware and working on our psychological, mental, emotional and behavioral well being.  We need to wake up. It won’t be easy and it will take a lifetime of deliberate, repeated, hard work.  But I would contend that there is almost nothing more important that we as individual human beings can do than to work on that project.  We can choose any profession to which we are suited and enjoy, but that work will always be secondary. Tertiary, if we believe that knowing God is first.

And that takes us back to this word: oblivion.  Forgetting, being forgetful, forgetting ourselves. Knowing ourselves should be our first or second priority, then.  Jesus spoke of this when he admonished “know thyself”. If I don’t know myself, I will never be centered, never be in control of my actions, let alone the path my life takes. Anyone can pull my strings and manipulate me. Those levers and buttons that other people push are obvious to them and we are largely oblivious to those mechanisms in ourselves at the same time.

At age 75 we reach that unique, albeit somewhat arbitrarily chosen, moment when we have lived a rich and complete life, and have hopefully imparted the right memories to our children. Living the American immortal’s dream dramatically increases the chances that we will not get our wish—that memories of vitality will be crowded out by the agonies of decline.

Gurdjieff said you can test it and see how poor you are at “remembering” yourself.  Just try to do it, look at your watch, and try to remember yourself (be self-aware) for even one minute. Your mind will wander, the monkey in your head will start chattering, stray thoughts will seize your attention, usually within 15 seconds.  It is a sobering experiment.

The idea that we “forget” also implies, logically, that we once “remembered”.  We did! At birth, that potential, that ability to remember was there, fresh, muscular, poised for action. That is why, unless we squelch it out prematurely, children are so good at recall, memorizing, pointing out little details.  They are also hyper-aware of us and our shortcomings.  If we are lucky, we can encourage them to draw the world around them.  See if Mom  and Dad are in the picture. The house? The yard? The sibling? Pets? And, what do they look like.  There is a world of information in the drawings of children, pre-seven years of age.

I don’t agree with Dr. Emanuel on this topic at all.  Like many physicians, he believes in our sick-care system.  The one where you report to the doctor on a regular basis to have needless tests and procedures and have him or her fix you with our Western slash and burn technology (which is highly developed and expert) so you don’t need to take care of yourself. He endorses using that medical system up to the age of 75 and then simply stopping all remedies. No wonder people fall apart around that age! They’ve handed their personal management responsibility over to a third party.

Should we accept our ultimate demise as gracefully and realistically as possible? Of course! But I don’t intend to drift toward it aimlessly.  I want to remember who I am, even if it is a struggle.  Even if I am beset by phobias, hang-ups, appetites, blind spots, weaknesses that could derail my being awake and aware and taking good care of myself. In this I am a true conservative — no one has more responsibility to set my life on a sound and productive, even joyous course than I do.  And if I work continually, keep on getting back on whatever wagon I tumbled off, relentlessly, I should be thriving right up to the very last minute, having few conscious regrets that I coulda, shoulda, woulda, and didn’t live vigorously in every aspect of human existence.

We avoid constantly thinking about the purpose of our lives and the mark we will leave. Is making money, chasing the dream, all worth it?

I want to be, well, truly alive.  There is no particular age at which I would choose to end that process, nor to extend it.  Based on extensive research, longitudinal, clinical, global, and experimental, human beings as we are now structured at this point in our long evolution, could live to be 120 years of age.  Without major interference.  Do you know a fit centenarian? I do!  There are three people in my father’s family who are in their late 90s, are slender, active, mobile and thus far, mentally alert and fairly independent.  My Uncle Harry is headed to being 101.  He can still walk, sing, play a little golf, argue about politics and he may do so for years more, according to his primary care givers.

 

So, whatever Emanuel is talking about, it fails to address self-awareness, spirituality, and responsibility for our own destinies — all of which, in my considered opinion, are mitigating factors in longevity and quality of life.

And it fails to overcome the simple fact that life is magnificent in almost any condition. Do we think Stephen Hawking would prefer to be fully functioning and mobile? Of course he would. But would he or we be better off if his impaired condition meant ending his life? Or just giving up and doing nothing to improve it? From where I sit, I don’t think so.

There is one thing with which I agree regarding Emanuel’s point of view.  That this is personal, this is an individual choice.  But you are unlikely to make an informed and enlightened decision or choice if you are sound asleep.  To live, to be ‘ablivious’, requires being awake and that is what I plan to work on for the next however many years of my existence in my tiny spot on this planet.

Right now, I am struggling with my own dilemma, trying to step outside myself and my comfort zone especially when it comes to obligations to other people, like my in-laws and my Aunt. The objectivity I am seeking is to offset my blindness, my oblivion and myopia when it comes to making major decisions. Clearly I am not going to live with Kate. But, do I want to spend a month there with her, neglecting everything else I am responsible for and enduring a peppery relationship as Kate is an emotional Centurion.  To what extent do we owe one another this kind of empathy and “sacrifice”? That is where I am stuck and obviously becoming enlightened in this area, would shed more awareness on everything else with which I am grappling.  It is not all about being steeped or absorbed in ourselves, as Emanuel is doing — who is thinking selfishly in my view — that is the missing factor, along with our goal of ‘waking up’, in his calculus on end-of-life decisions.

Images: innerselfasia.com, en.wikipedia.org, bmswc.com, livehappy.com, greenprophet.com

All quotations are from Dr. Ezekiel J. Emanuel

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