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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Reaching: a Human Endeavor or Still Crazy

Still in post-moving mode, we’re happy with our new home, well, it’s new to us. And happily putting away all the stuff we schlepped over here. Well, maybe not so happily. All those boxes get pretty tiresome, pretty quickly. But we are trying to find a "home" for all our stuff. As in a cabinet or closet or somewhere out of sight. 

Isn’t that what all the organization and de-cluttering guides tell you to do? No, some of the guides suggest you form a loving relationship which each item you own and then have a conversation about whether it stays or goes. My approach is just to get it out of my sight, at least for long enough that I can unpack the stuff I actually want.

The house we’ve moved to has tall ceilings, tall windows and tall cabinets everywhere. Perfect, you would think. But also that’s why, now, that I’m way past growing any taller, I wish I could reach just a couple of inches farther.

I reached my adult height early--as a pre-teen. About 5’7” at age twelve, I was taller than most of my classmates and a lot of the teachers.  And I lived in fear I would just keep growing. I had reason to expect I’d continue to grow. Both of my parents were tall and my older brother at fourteen was well over 6’ and still growing.

I think my fear of being “too tall” had to do with the preconceptions of the era: girls should be shorter than the boys they dated and eventually married.

And it may have had a tiny bit to do with the crush I had on a boy in homeroom, over whom I towered. And then there were the famous TV and movie actors and musicians who were reputed to be about the height I already was. Think David McCallum of “Man from Uncle” and Robert Redford. Both are still pretty hunky even if they likely can’t reach any farther than I. And lack of height seems to have made no difference for Paul Simon and his creative genius nor in his love life.

A smidge over 5’7” was all the taller I was meant to be. I stopped growing at age 12. I think with girls it has to do with puberty and female hormones. With boys it’s just the opposite, male hormones spur that growth spurt. My brother’s growth spurt kicked in big time and suddenly I barely reached his shoulder. He stopped at almost 6’5”.

Now at the other end of the age spectrum, I’m shrinking. And what I’d give to have a just slightly longer reach. The cabinet over the refrigerator, the top shelf of the pantry, the top shelf of everything is at least two inches out of my reach.

I know there are those who say, incorrectly, the use of tools is what distinguishes humans from other animals. All those smart crows, parrots, chimps, elephants—not only use tools but some also make them. Well, I’ve not made any tools but I do use them and my wits to try to reach those tall locations.  I’ve positioned stepstools and nifty nabbers, or whatever they are called, in most rooms of the house so I won’t have to constantly ask my husband to reach the top shelves. Using a stepladder, I even stood on top of the kitchen counters to position decorative flowers, plates and bowls on the very top of the cabinets. 

But it would be nice to be able to just reach the tops of cabinets without standing on something or using a tool. Now I think function is more important than appearance.

Heck, if I can’t be taller, I’d settle for arms two inches longer. At my age I don’t even care if that would make me look like an orangutan. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Existential Mover

We are moving from one house to another in the same city. Now that we have spent the better part of a month moving (We opted for prolonging the misery by doing it over several weekends rather than in one fell swoop.) we've decided we're really too old for this whole moving thing. 
But we recognize it is a process—and one that makes you think about the important things in life. Like who really needs to live in a house? Couldn’t we just put a few things in the trunk and live out of our car?

The process of moving also requires you to come face to face with your fundamental humanity and all the important things in life: possessions from long ago, possessions left to you by your parents; left-behind possessions of your offspring; and all the stuff you’ve accumulated over the years. All of those things that seemed so much more valuable and useful, and well, charming and worthwhile in some way, until you had to pack and move them. And then unpack and find a place for them.

Luckily, I studied the existential philosophers in college. So now I can draw on that knowledge and see the bigger picture of what things are useful, what should be donated to others, and what is trash to be discarded. 

Or not. After all, we can just pack all this stuff and make those decisions some other time. But I did take the existential philosophy college books to the used book store to sell. They definitely are too heavy to lug around any longer. So they did teach me something useful: consider the weight of an item when deciding whether it’s sufficiently useful to merit keeping.

We last moved almost twenty-five years ago. So many years of not moving. At least we have that to be grateful for.

That last move was from one city to another. Why is this time so much more difficult than I remember the last move to be? Is moving like childbirth? Once it’s over you forget the pain? Or are we just so much older that it is more painful this time?

The truth, in this case, as in most cases where you are faced with an arbitrary choice between two alternatives, is it’s a bit of both. We are older. And we have a lot more stuff accumulated in those two plus decades.

Both sets of our parents have now passed on. Instead of getting rid of all of their possessions we kept some items, primarily for sentimental value. And in those two plus decades our sons grew up and moved on. But they didn’t take all of their accumulations with them. Our mistake for letting them go without all their stuff. But there you have it. Or rather, there we have it. A lot of its.

Moving is a reminder of many of life processes. Watching three movers bring a piano up from the basement reminds me of what it was like delivering each of our sons using the method known by the popular euphemism of the day: natural, un-medicated childbirth. Actually, I haven’t completely forgotten the experience. It was very painful, much like moving. At least this time I am not the one doing the pushing.

As I said, moving forces you to consider some of the essential questions. Why is it that when packing boxes you carefully mark the contents and proper room location, then when you open the boxes you encounter all sorts of strange items you don’t recall ever seeing before?

The objects on the top layer of every box contain items that are just barely useful enough you don’t want to throw them out. But they defy all logic of where they should go in the new house. Large, unwieldy things to be placed on some flat surface until you find a place to put those particular things.

Opening boxes is a lot like archaeology, there are layers of civilization. You would expect the top layer to be the newest. But in the packing the newest, most useful stuff got packed first so it’s on the bottom now. The top layer is the oldest or least useful stuff or the most difficult things to put away. Each layer needs to be cleaned or laundered. And only after you have unearthed multiple layers of stuff collected over the last five decades do you find something in the bottom of each box which might actually be useful.

The things you actually want are always in that bottom layer. Right now I have my computer and monitor because they weren't packed into huge boxes. But I have no idea where the high-intensity lamp that I use to see the keyboard is. So please pardon my typos. Sometime this year I may find that lamp and once again be able to see the keyboard. Right now it’s the touch method only, a skill I never quite perfected.

The movers still haven't gotten everything to our new place. Every day they promise to finish. Then they announce around 3 or 4 in the afternoon they have to quit. Reminds me of scheduling a meeting or planning things when we were on the islands. Everything is on island time. Here we are on moving time.

We're always in moving mode, either packing, unpacking or doing moving-related stuff. I have finally reached the point where I'm more than ready to abandon all our stuff and run off. I even can understand why people change identities and start a new life. It’s not to get away from family and friends. It’s their stuff they likely are abandoning. But a commitment is a commitment so I plan to stay with it to the brutal end.

Tomorrow at 8 am we are meeting at the old house: 1) carpet guys who will be installing new carpet throughout; 2) window washers who will be washing all the windows; 3) and, the movers who are supposed to move all of our remaining possessions. It should be at least a 3 ring circus.

This circus of misery should be over soon.

Meanwhile, our high-strung dog seems to be handling the chaos very well. He also is adjusting to his new home. All we’ve had to do is show him where his food and water bowls are. He selects where he wants to sleep in the new house on his own without regard to where we put his bedding. His people, on the other hand, are just hanging on by the skin of their teeth. And falling into a deep sleep wherever they are.

I'll let you know if this ever ends or if I'm actually in a Kafka story. But those existential books are gone so I’ll have to finish my own story now.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Book Event

I thought I’d mention this book signing by Tony Press, a friend from the Iowa writers’ workshop. His book has been published and he’s having book signings at a number of places. The tour starts off in Columbia, Mo on this Tuesday. If you know anyone who might be interested in this book or any of these signings please pass this along.

I liked his book a lot. 

On Tue, Aug 18, 2015 at 2:41 PM, Tony Press <> wrote:
This Press Release announces, with delight:
Big Table Publishing will be publishing my short story collection - the estimated release date is sometime early 2016. It's a small operation based near Boston.
 The title is Crossing the Lines 
Tuesday, April 5th, 7pm, at Yellow Dog Bookshop in Columbia, Missouri.
Saturday, April 9th, 11am, at Burlington by the Book in Burlington, Iowa.

If you know anyone -- anyone at all! -- in/near these places, please let them know! 

Sunday, April 17th, Berkeley, CA
Saturday, April 23rd, San Francisco, CA