Friday, October 19, 2007

Birthdays, burlesque, and Belgian circus tents...

So, now I am officially old…

They say that 30 is the new 20, meaning that it is an age women no longer dread to reach for fear their youth is behind them. It used to be that life…and middle age…began at 40, but the end of middle age has always been a bit blurred. At what age do you become a Senior Citizen? Can you be a Senior if you look like you are in your early 40s? Must you accept the label of Senior even when others refuse to believe you’ve even cracked the half century mark, let alone crossed over into that sixth decade or beyond?

This is particularly pertinent to me since earlier this year I had my 60th birthday. That morning Hubby rose at his accustomed time, but before he left for work, he gave me a tiny jeweller’s box and inside was a beautiful, dainty little gold band flush set with three tiny diamonds so that they looked like little twinkling stars…a ring I had been admiring at a jeweller’s more than a month ago. Before he went out the door he admonished me to be ready to go out, no later than seven, and I should dress up. Sneaky man that he is, he refused to tell me where we were going.

I spent a few hours at the salon…it was time for a haircut and a touch-up. Yes, I am a natural blonde (Swedish and German ancestry), just not naturally this blonde…well, at least not since I was a kid. My stylist informed me that there was no grey to report, which I thought was pretty good until I thought of my maternal grandfather…no more than 30% grey when he died at the age of 79. Some of us just get lucky in the gene pool, ya know?

So I came back home, played around on the computer for a while, and then he was home and it was time to get ready to go. Freshly coiffed, painted and polished, I pulled out a gold tone-on-tone, embroidered and sequinned sheer silk overblouse, some black linen pants, an understated black lace-trimmed camisole, and some prettily sequinned and beaded black sandals. In a matter minutes I was dressed and we were out the door.

Well, almost out the door…when I got to the dining room I was faced with a HUGE gift wrapped box on the dining room table. Covered in red and gold paper and tied with red and gold organza ribbon, it took up half the table (which easily seats eight!). I had to get Hubby to take the tape off the box…I was reluctant to risk breaking a fingernail just before we went out to dinner…but once I got a look inside, I was just breathless…a pair of tall crystal and silver lamps I had been eyeing in a local interior décor shop, topped with the most beautiful hand-made shades of cream-coloured silk shantung and trimmed with ribbon embroidery, hand-made ribbon roses, pearls, and crystal fringe, all in the same creamy hue. Very tony, very feminine, very Art Nouveau. I was speechless!

Finally we were out the door and in the car, but he still wouldn’t tell me where we were going. It wasn’t until I actually guessed it that Hubby confirmed we were en route toMadame Zingara’s Theatre of Dreams. For those of you who’ve never heard of this venue, let alone experienced it, please go to this website for a quick promo and some pics: .

It is even better in person! The tent is huge and easily seats more than 400 people. And it was sold out…a full house. Unlike your basic circus tent, however, this thing was sumptuous. The ceiling panels were a deep claret velour, the seams dressed with gold bullion fringe, the walls covered with an array of bevel-edged mirrors that reflected light in such a way that it felt like being inside a jewel. Stained glass windows encircled the tent at the junction of the walls and the top, just above the booths, and tables with crisp white linen filled the room.

In the centre of the space was a raised circular dais and above it a hook hanging from the peak of the tent from which dangled a mass of flowers. Throughout the night this hook was lowered, something new attached to the hook, and then put into use. You see, this is Dinner Theatre and all manner of Cirque du Soleil type acts go on during the course of the evening. They range from a quartet of quite excellent Doo-Wop singers to acrobats, belly dancers, and even a guy who juggles a running chainsaw!

The food was excellent. They serve banquet style…all courses are delivered to all of the tables at the same time…and you have limited entrée choices, but it was lovely, just the same. Chilli and chocolate are among the ingredients in Sonoran molé sauces, which I love, so the chilli and Belgian chocolate sauce on the fillet of beef was much better than one might have expected.

The tent, the excellent food, the fun entertainment, however, was a bit spoiled by a wholly inattentive waitress. She basically ignored us (and her other tables nearby) except at serving time and at the end of the evening when she stopped by between the entree and dessert to ask if everything was OK. She didn’t even notice that the busperson who had set the tables up for the final course had skipped our table and the one behind us. So, as everyone else sat sipping their coffee and sampling the tiny crème brulee, Hubby and I (and the poor sots at the table behind us) craned our necks to see if we could find our waitress. When Hubby finally spotted her, caught her eye, and motioned her over, she was rather irritable when he pointed out the lack of table accoutrements.

When the evening came to a close we looked around for our waitress to get our bill. She had disappeared from the floor. After asking two other servers to find a way to get our bill (to which they agreed but did not comply) I finally lost my patience (we had been sitting there with a table full of dirty dishes and no bill for more than half an hour). I stood up, intending to walk up to the front of the tent and find a management person to get our bill for us. As I shouldered my handbag and waited for Hubby to shuck his chair, who should arrive with a chipper smile pasted across her face? Our missing server. Without our bill.

Needless to say, her tip was much, much smaller than it might have otherwise been and her abandonment of her station put rather a damper on the evening, seeing that it was 23h00, we had been up since 6 and had to get up at 6 yet again.

All things considered though, it was a fabulous evening, the food was good and the entertainment first rate. It was a lovely...and quite memorable...way to begin the segue from middle age to senior citizenship!

What is it with men and technology?

As women go, I'm a bit of a nerd. I like computers, have long been the "alpha geek" in my peer group of PAs (even to the point of teaching my engineer bosses the finer points of their MicroSoft Office software), and am ever ready to nod benignly when my engineer-hubby wants to buy some new techno-gadget, like a 4gig jump drive.

I'm somewhat less enthusiastic about adopting new audio-visual stuff, but if he tells me we need it and we can afford it, as long as I don't have to give up something sparkly that I've been drooling over, it's OK with me. We generally don't quibble over the remote since there are only four channels to choose from and we are pretty much of one mind as to which of the offerings are the lesser of the evils.

Enter the PVR.

Yep, the serpent entered Paradise last month through the auspices of DSTV. In California I had cable TV...300 channels and nothing to watch...DSTV is remarkably similar, just with fewer offerings. I swear, fully 2/3 of the channels available are just dreck. But the bone of contention isn't the remote, it's the PVR itself.

This is a handy little gadget that allows you to pause live TV...even do instant replays! And, I discovered several days after the beast was installed, it will actually let you record one program while you are watching another or it can be programmed (fairly easily) to record programs in the future. Handy-dandy for recording my soapies when I have to be out or when Hubby decides we're going to eat out and we leave before 7de laan comes on. In the US we have a product called TIVO that does pretty much the same, but it was something you subscribed to in addition to the cable TV service, and apparently it's pretty popular there (it was out of my financial reach at that time so I have no first-hand experience with it).

So, the day comes that I have several appointments one morning and they are smack dab in the middle of my morning soapies. Ordinarily I would just shrug my shoulders, say "oh, well," and go on to my appointment, but this PVR thing beckoned me seductively..."record All My Children," it whispered in sultry tones. "C'mon, it's easy..." Weak-willed as I am when it comes to new technology, I succumbed and in a moment I was rooting through the "instruction manual drawer," hunting up the PVR booklet. It really was easy! I scrolled through this and paged through that and pressed a button or two and...lo! and behold!...I had All My Children scheduled for recording in my absence! But my joy was short lived.

As soon as I returned to regular programming, a banner superimposed itself over my program, announcing that there were fewer than 10 hours available on the hard disk for recording. How was that possible? Didn't this thing have like an 80gig hard drive? We'd only had it for a couple of days and this was my first program scheduled...what the heck was going on?

A quick peek at the manual informed me how to check the recording schedule and in a moment I was there, staring incredulously at screen after screen...five pages in all...set to record. Nearly 50 programs were tagged for recording...Girls of the Playboy Mansion...Top Gear...Smallville...Rides...American Chopper...and movie after movie after Grade B schlock horror or low-rent "adventure" movie. There was barely any room on the disk for a decent couple of days worth of soapies, never mind a romcom or two!

We had a discussion about it and we agreed that perhaps a bit more free space on the disk should be left available for my use. We also discussed the ingeniousness of the PVR, allowing us to watch something we both enjoy, like CSI, while recording something only one of us Playboy Airheads. Since we have two TVs and they are both on the PVR, he hied himself upstairs to watch his recordings on the big TV so he could delete them from the disk and give me a little more space.

Well, the Serpent reared its ugly head tonight. I made the mistake of assuming an agreement that it was ingenious to be able to watch a mutually-enjoyed program while recording something objectionable for later viewing was the same as agreeing to actually do it. I'm a lot pickier about what I watch on TV than he is, and now with a broader range of choices, there's more kak on the tube for me to avoid. Like most men I've known, however, Hubby is mesmerized by almost anything that has colour, sound and action. If it has wheels or boobs, so much the better. If it has wheels and boobs...well, that's just hitting the jackpot. For the most part, I ignore his choices and futz with my laptop. But there are those occasions...

Tonight CSI was on MNet and Boston Legal was on another channel. Now, considering that we both like CSI and I don't care for Boston Legal, it seemed reasonable for BL to be recorded while we watched CSI. So why was Boston Legal on? I checked the TV guide and found that CSI was playing on another channel. "Why," I asked, "Are we watching this when CSI is on another channel?"

"I'm recording CSI," he responded.

"Why?" I asked again. "I don't like this show and we both like CSI."

Our arguments are rare and when they happen they are brief, quiet, and intense. It ended when I asked if the PVR was his or ours, why I didn't have more input into the decisions as to what to record and what to watch, and why he got 90% of the recording space, leaving me barely enough to record a movie and a couple of episodes of my favourite soapies.

That was about an hour ago. The TV is off. He's asleep. I'm on the computer. Knowing him the way I do, over the next week he'll reduce his backlog of recordings to give me some space on the disk, and he will be more considerate about which of our favourite shows end up being recorded in favour other things. He's really a sweet guy, but he is a guy, after all. What is it about men and technology, anyway?


My father is a man of many talents. He can make beautiful furniture in his workshop, he’s built .50 cal black powder rifles and designed and built miniature black powder cannons. He’s a deft hand in the kitchen and was the person who taught me an easy way to knot thread and sew on buttons. When I was a toddler he was a lumberjack and, for extra money, he gave flying lessons. He can fix just about anything that is broken, can read people like a book, and is the person whom the farmers for miles around call on when they need a helping hand. He is the person who used to tell me “Think!! Use your head for something other than a hat rack!” He has had two wives, seven children, twelve grandchildren, and his fourth great grandchild arrived earlier this year.

My father is a deeply religious man. This was not always the case, but as the years have grown on him, so has his faith. Fortunately my stepmother, to whom he has been married for 49 years, shares his devotion, so the two of them do just fine. There is one little thing, though…one little bone of contention. The Catholic Church frowns pretty strongly on anything supernatural that doesn’t directly involve the Holy Trinity or the Saints, and my father is a dowser...a "water witch."

Now, before you click on that “comment” button and read me the riot act about superstition and such, bear in mind that I am a natural-born sceptic. That, coupled with my father’s regular admonition to exercise my brain, led me long ago to dismiss the idea of dowsing as being little more than illogical nonsense. My maternal grandfather owned a tractor and farm equipment store and sold submersible pumps and irrigation systems. He had close friends who owned a drilling truck and probably sank half the wells in the county. I was regularly around people who made rural water happen…it just never occurred to me to ask how they knew where to drill.

We moved into town when I was a kid, but I spent considerable time with my grandparents. When my grandfather died, the family moved back to the farm and Dad built his own house about a quarter mile up the road from Grandma Violet. On the ridge behind the house was an artesian spring which gave the loveliest, silkiest water you would ever want to taste, but, unfortunately, it ran dry in the summer so they had to sink a well. I was an adult by this time, living on my own, and it wasn’t until I came up to visit, several years after the house was finished, that I found out about my father’s avocation.

In addition to being taught how to use my brain, my father ensured that I, along with my six siblings, learned manners and respect for our elders. Far be it from me to scoff at his claim to having dowsed the well…and the wells of several of his neighbours. I smiled and nodded and made polite noises, but remained sceptical. He could tell.

“This sorta thing runs in families, ya know,” he said to me, rubbing the knuckle of his right forefinger against his chin in a familiar thinking gesture. “Mebbe you should try it,” he said.

“No, Dad, that’s ok,” I told him. “One dowser in the family is enough.”

“No, no,” he said thoughtfully and turned towards his truck. Shaking his head, feet crunching in the gravel, made his way over to the big Chevy 4x4, pulled open the driver’s door, and reached behind the front seat. Instead of the hokey old forked stick of peeled willow that I expected, he withdrew two long, slender metal rods…they looked like welding rod…and held them out for me to see. The last six inches or so of the rods were bent at a 90 degree angle, giving them an “L” shape, with the ascender of the “L” disproportionately long.

“Interesting…” I said, trying to think of a way to change the subject. This was making me strangely uncomfortable.

“Come stand over here,” he said and when I did, he stepped up behind me. “Put your hands up like this,” he said, demonstrating a pair of fists with the hands positioned like he was carrying a couple of bouquets of flowers. I put my hands up.

He stepped in front of me and placed the short end of his “dowsing rods” in each hand, inserting them into the top of my closed fists. “Don’t clutch them,” he instructed. “Apply just enough pressure to keep them from falling out of your hands, no more.” I complied.

He straightened the rods so they were parallel and pointing straight out in front of me. “Now, start walking straight ahead,” he said. “Slowly and steadily.”

“Dad,’ I started to protest. “This is silly…”

“Just keep walking straight ahead,” he said encouragingly. I walked. Slowly. Straight ahead.

And then it happened. Before my own very sceptical eyes, the two rods began to move toward each other. I am sure my eyes were as big as saucers, and I could feel the gooseflesh rise on my arms as my stomach began a sickly quiver. “Stop right there!” my father called as the rods crossed over each other in an unmistakeable “X” shape. I stopped.

When he reached my side I tried to give the rods back to him, but he just said “We ain’t done yet.” Four times he pointed me in a direction and told me to start walking. Four times the rods inexplicably moved towards each other and crossed. And four times, my father called out “Stop right there,” as they did.

When he finally let me give back those rods, I nearly collapsed with relief. They were giving me the creeps! Then Dad walked me back to each of the spots where I stopped and told me what he was up to. It seems that there are a couple of underground streams in the back garden and two water pipes that run from the well to the house. He said that when he located water the rods crossed and the place to drill was right below his fists…for me it was under my heels. I had found all four of the water sources in the back garden!

My skin crawled. I felt queasy and light-headed. This was creepy and it flew in the face of everything I believed…and still believe…to be possible. But the truth is, Dad dowsed the property before they built the house, and called out my grandfather's well-drilling friends. They drilled at the spot Dad gave them and when their rig hit water they dropped a submersible pump and Dad had water. Apparently none of them thought it was the least bit strange.

So now I am of two minds. The sceptic in me says it was just a wild coincidence that I found the water sources and my tension caused minute changes in how I held the rods, causing them to move. On the other hand, Dad’s got a pretty good well…

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Deconstructing rage

I don’t get mad much anymore. Some years ago I had this epiphany in which I realized that when I was angry, that anger was actually hiding…masking…what I was really feeling, which was mostly hurt, fear, and/or disappointment. After some heavy thinking I came to realize that my anger was actually a reaction to one of those feelings, anger being more powerful and empowering than allowing myself to experience, yet again, those emotions I had come to equate with being a victim.

What brought me to that epiphany was a think-session in which I tried to figure out why I cried when I was mad. Talk about dis-empowering! I used to be able to work up a good head of steam…a really intimidating rage…only to have its intended effect completely neutralized by the telltale red nose, watery eyes, and streams of water coursing down my cheeks. Anger…the towering rage kind of anger…used to be the “big gun” in my emotional arsenal. It was effective, it was intimidating, it got me what I wanted, right up to the moment I started to tear up. I knew the tears to be a sign of an escalation of emotion…an expression of a rage so profound I felt like I was going to explode with it, but my victims took quite an opposite view. Instead of the power of my fury, they saw a weeping woman, ineffectually spitting out blunted barbs.

Eventually I would withdraw to a place of privacy and dissolve into a storm of noisy sobs. When that was over, I would emerge and if the situation had not been resolved to my satisfaction, a cold fury would set in. This was the dangerous one, because it fuelled retaliation, rejection, or worse. There were no tears in this determined, steely-eyed rage. It was cold, calculating, and bent on getting what I wanted at all costs. It took me years to untangle this and ultimately discover that this was not my process, it actually belonged to someone else, and the tears were my own personal contribution to it…and my only clue.

By the time I reached my mid-thirties, the cumulative dramas and traumas of my life were beginning to take their toll. I fell into a deep depression and began having suicidal thoughts. When things that would formerly enrage me occurred, I would go to bed, curl into a foetal position, and wish for the dark oblivion of death. During this period I found a therapy group and began to participate twice weekly. In the group sessions, the women would expiate their rages by beating huge pillows with tennis racquets, but I simply observed, clenched and rigid, my rage returned and barely controlled. But by the time I returned home, it had returned to its hiding place beneath my depression where it lay dormant, coiled and ready for its next summons.

I’d like to say that the rage slowly seeped away, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I just got better and better at keeping it under control. A divorce and remarriage later, it still lurked beneath my surface, popping out occasionally for a snack on someone’s ego, never diminishing in strength or potency, but remaining increasingly closeted. And then my husband died.

For the next nine days I was nearly in a fugue. I was unable to eat anything, and slept only when I was falling-down exhausted…and then for only a few hours. My mind, always alert and active, seemed to be a blank. And I couldn’t cry. Finally he was buried and I skipped the family lunch, hosted by the brother-in-law who had spent his life ridiculing and belittling his now-dead brother. I just went home, took off my widow’s weeds and went to sleep. For 20 hours.

I woke up alone and suddenly realized that this was to be my new life. Oh, I had been alone before…I had been divorced, after all, and had been in a more than a few broken relationships in my life, but this time it was different. This time there was no fights and furies and break-ups and make-ups en route to my single status. No indignant “how dare he?” or “what was I thinking?” moments, no grand emotional production leading up to the apocalyptic moment of dumping or being dumped. This time there was a fragile kind of peace around me, a serenity that was not disturbed even by my numbness or sudden, unexpected moments of tears. I was alone, my heart was rent into ragged little bits, but I felt purged of rage. There was no one to be angry with, nothing to be angry about. He was gone, it was nobody’s fault, and he wasn’t coming back.

The next months of being alone were not, surprisingly, lonely. I spent a lot of time fiddling with the computer…something I do to keep my “upper” consciousness occupied with trivialities so my deeper consciousness can work things out and, eventually, kick them upstairs where I can ponder them. About five weeks after he died, my husband came to me while I slept and told me that it was all going to be okay and when I woke up, I knew.

I had a rather grim childhood and adolescence. To speak except when spoken to was to invite a backhand. Despite being a compliant and willing child, I was inept…as children are, until they have sufficient practice to master something…and so I received daily beatings from an unforgiving perfectionist of a mother. In so many ways I was a disappointment to her, and in so many brutal ways she let me know it. And yet, unlike so many children who buy the abuse and come away feeling at fault and therefore deserving of their victimization, I knew, every time that strap bit into my bare flesh, that what she was doing was wrong, that I was being unjustly assaulted…and I would get mad. By the time I was eight years old, I hated my mother with all the fervour an eight-year-old can muster. But to express that hatred was to invite further abuse, so I learned to be silent and nurture the rage, add to it with each new injustice, and eventually allow it to burst forth and defend me.

It took more than half my lifetime to learn that the rage was the mask that protected me from feeling the pain of my mother’s brutality. If I could focus myself on a rage, I would not feel the hurt. I learned to feel angry the moment I perceived any threat, for rage would not only keep me from feeling my fear, if it was big enough, it could actually drive off the threat. I soon came to realize that disappointment also provoked an angry response, too. We all have expectations of others, as well as ourselves, and I discovered that to keep myself from having to experience the pain of disappointment…or the guilt, if I was disappointing myself…all I had to do was stir up a fine rage and its fury would consume all those hurtful feelings so I would not have to experience them.

Once I had synthesized this in my head, I gave the idea to a few of my friends to see what they thought. Without exception, after some reflection on the matter, they agreed. In the throes of a break-up, if you get mad, it doesn’t hurt so much. Facing fearful situations, anger gives you strength, empowerment. And when someone tramples on your expectations, whether it is the third time the plumber has blown you off or it is some idiot who cut you off on the highway, the anger you feel is actually preventing you from feeling the disappointment of having your expectation unfulfilled: that the plumber would come at the appointed time or that the other driver would respect your right of way.

I have come to think of anger as a secondary emotion, an emotion that cannot exist in a pure state, as can fear, for example. Anger is a reaction or mask for certain primary emotions like fear or pain…disappointment being a form of emotional pain, after all. What all of these emotions have in common is that when we feel them, we feel vulnerable, victimized, powerless, at risk. Anger, however, is an empowering, pro-active emotion and the moment we shift from fear to anger, we no longer feel vulnerable, but powered by the adrenaline surge that comes with the advent of rage.

For me, crying through my rages was always a curious thing that neutralized the power of my anger. One cries when hurt or frightened, and it was those tears that eventually put me onto the track that lead me to figuring it out. Today, when I feel anger welling up inside me, I immediately analyze it…fear? pain? disappointment? Did that reckless BMW driver scare me when he passed on a blind curve? Did a person’s remark hurt my feelings? Did I really expect that woman to control her child?

I find that I am more prone to mild annoyance today than anything that approaches anger. I have found I can be outraged by something without being angry about it. I have discovered that there is very little worth working myself into a lather about anymore, not even in my marriage. Hubby and I have a very peaceful life…we hardly ever fight…I just state my case and then shut up until he comes around. Even if it takes him days…

The Unwilling Father

In America it is called "child support" and, according to American law, every child is entitled to support from both of its parents, regardless of whether or not the man wanted to become a father. Now this may sound like a no-brainer, but in the States, it is a bone of great contention.

The issue seems to be that in an age when contraception is pretty much perfected and abortion-on-demand is a woman's right, there need be no unplanned babies born. Therefore, any unplanned pregnancy that results in the birth of a child is done so at the sole behest of the mother, and a man should not be held financially responsible for 18 years for her unilateral decision to give birth.

On the surface that may seem logical, but it seems to me that there are contraceptive devices available to men and a man's failure to use them makes him just as responsible for the resultant pregnancy as the woman. Given, then, that both are equally responsible for creating an unplanned pregnancy, should the man be able to demand the woman have an abortion and, if she refuses, be excused of all paternal responsibility, including the responsibility to support his resulting offspring? The de facto choice to become pregnant was both of theirs, but the choice to remain pregnant is solely hers, after all.

It's a thorny issue...I certainly would not want to have a huge chunk of money sucked out of my wallet every month for the next 18 years as the result of a decision made by someone else, a decision with which I emphatically disagreed. On the other hand, I find the entire concept of forced abortion to be absolutely repugnant. So, should the women who choose to take an unintended pregnancy to term be entitled to support from the baby's father? Or should their unilateral decision be one that leaves them solely responsible for the support of the child?

Personally, I favour the child support. If Dude didn't want to be a daddy, then Dude needed to think ahead and wear a raincoat for the upcoming storm. Failing to use a condom is, in my book, choosing the possibility of fatherhood and all of the responsibilities that go along with it. The fact that abortion is available is, in my opinion, outside the issue...sort of like those word questions in your math exams that threw in extraneous numbers and information to make you think you had more to consider than you really did. If a man can demand that a woman have an abortion or he skates out on child maintenance, then she should be able to make an equally private and repugnant surgical demand on his an infibulation, perhaps, as a reminder of his folly.

There is, I think, no clear or equitable answer for the parents...what seems just to one seems unjust to the other. So I'm going to have to side with the courts...they basically don't care about the adults in the equation, just the best interests of the child, which are obviously served best by more income than less. Papa pays...