Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Whizzing Chunks of Time

May 29, 2007

Okay, so I had a birthday. If you are a regular occupant of the Internet, which I assume you are or you wouldn’t be reading this, you’d realize I’m getting pretty old. Not yet 70, but pushing it pretty hard.

I can tell you that at this point life is experienced as whizzing chunks of time – a projected future that keeps coming at you and then disappearing. You spend a lot of time dwelling in places and time zones in which you used to be. The past, I mean. Other voices, other rooms, another place and time. And sometimes it's instructive.

Then again, you anticipate what's coming next. I decided to give myself a party on the weekend before the birthday. This would make it not quite a birthday party, and the less said about age the better. This would give me something to do for a rather manic two weeks as I got ready, including cooking, straightening up, getting the right dishes and glassware out, selecting appropriate attire, etc. Now that's over. The guests have come and gone, the food has been consumed, and the dishes washed and put away. It was an excellent party, actually, with little mini-events and minor scenes, a lot of laughs, and the chance to see beloved friends all in the same place. I drank champagne, but with the adrenaline level I never felt it. I have to keep reminding myself why I bother with champagne at all.

Now comes the next chunk of time: planning a vacation in New York beginning a week from Thursday. All of us in the know are aware it's not really a vacation, but a business trip in which I'll explore the underpinnings for my next life-phase, yet it will be a vacation as well. I need to know my way around the residential areas surrounding the city so as to help with my big decision. I need to eliminate certain neighborhoods and concentrate on those that hold the most appeal for me.

You'll hear more about this whizzing chunk as the time draws closer. I will not make any firm decision until after the big Marietta Johnson School Reunion in early October. Planning and preparing for that big party will occupy most of the next timechunk.

Any birthday makes me aware of all those things that have changed within -- and without -- myself. A look in the mirror almost always causes a pang of regret and grief for a loss of something I didn't even know I had. But I also know that, as the chunks of time whiz by with greater alacrity, almost all the old feelings are still under the surface, that inner child and former nymphet are ready to appear in the older, wiser and flabbier person's body.

Sometimes I forget what's in the mirror and react as the adolescent. In spite of the wisdom of the years, I drop everything I've learned and succumb to the call of my former, reckless and carefree self. I make a decision to change my whole life once again.

When you get to be my age, if you're lucky, you may learn a lesson that transcends the reflection from the mirror and the preoccupation with things you cannot change.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Another Look at Memorial Day

May 28, 2007

Memorial Day, I was taught, was started in the South after the Civil War. Widows, mothers, and others who loved men who had lost their lives in the defense of the South in that tragic war went to cemeteries often and put flowers on the graves of their beloved men. It became institutionalized as Confederate Memorial Day, in a few years co-opted by the bereaved on both sides. At first the women of the North had their day for decorating graves, and they called it Decoration Day; but over time the two sides came together to honor all who died in the Civil War under the appellation of Memorial Day, and one day was set aside.

In the South, where many diehards still reside, there are pockets where Confederate Memorial Day is observed on various days in the year, but let us face it, there have been many more men lost in many other wars, and the memories of the Southern cause have been blurred by so many re-inventions that there is absolutely no point in defending anything about that particular war.

Imagine my surprise in reading this in an article by Adam Cohen in today's New York Times:

Memorial Day got its start after the Civil War, when freed slaves and abolitionists gathered in Charleston, S.C., to honor Union soldiers who gave their lives to battle slavery. The holiday was so closely associated with the Union side, and with the fight for emancipation, that Southern states quickly established their own rival Confederate Memorial Day.

He gets his information from an impeccable source, Dr. David Blight of Yale University, who has written several award-winning histories espousing this theory. In fact, Dr. Blight's take on that particular war has helped shape our perceptions of our wars, our history, and our racism.

Well and good, and I hope I'm not considered a racist (but I feel certain I would be by Dr. Blight) because of what Memorial Day means to me. I don't love the holiday (except that it usually falls, as it does this year, on my birthday), and I certainly don't love the Civil War or the Southern cause. I Googled Memorial Day and found many an entry, not all of which support the idea that the day itself has helped the country to proceed with ignoring civil rights. This one I found quite fair and balanced, partly because it re-tells the old old story I grew up with, true or false. Don't miss the page on Mrs. Logan.

Let us observe the day with not receiving mail, finding the bank closed, thinking of the real meaning of each and every war, and also not forgetting that it's my birthday.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Graduates Aplenty

May 26, 2007

This time of year we all seem to be thinking of graduation...getting dressed for somebody's and/or remembering our own. At the Organic School (aka Marietta Johnson School), we've been honoring special people who graduated in past years since January. We send a picture to the paper and a few paragraphs about the honoree. And then they don't run them. Never mind, these are people dear to our hearts and important to the life of the school.

Above we have the very colorful Mordecai Arnold, USMC Ret., retired educator, and leader of many cake walks; looking at the award given to Helen Porter Dyson, Class of 1926,and his former kindergarten teacher. He himself will be Graduate of the Month of June. The next picture shows State Representative T.Joe Faust, class of 1959, receiving his award as Graduate of the Month of May from yours truly, President of the Board of Managers, and not incidentally Class of 1958.

For more information about the previous Graduates of the Month, just click on this. This site gives info on each of the graduates of the month, and lots more. You'll love it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Time To Love

May 23, 2007

A few months ago, maybe as much as a year, there was a lot of activity on this blog concerning questions of love and what it is. There still appears to be interest in the topic.

At that point we had a regular reader (“benedict s.”) who was always suggesting that we all read Spinoza, because he believed the philosopher had as many answers as we had questions. I believe he’s not blogging himself any more – and he seldom visits here, because, he tells me, he’s completing his book on Spinoza.

While I attempted to define love, or at least to confine it, isolate it and break it down, he gave us Spinoza’s simple and felicitous definition “Love is joy attached to an object.”

Being sometimes a contrarian, I thought I could do better. It never seemed to me that joy was synonomous with love, although joy could at times be a component of the complex emotion.

I reminded him of something I’d written several years before:

Love is a word that has baffled those of us whose mother tongue is English ever since there was such a language. For one word to encompass all the meanings of love is probably as limiting to the emotion itself as it is to the attempt to define it. This impoverished vocabulary may actually have contributed to the emotional restraint of the English. Mother love, romantic love, love from a grandchild, love of life, love of God – are these things the same?

Love is not necessarily an emotion. It is more likely the substance of the heart, the source, the sustenance of the spirit, the food behind all that is positive in human existence. It is unquestioning sacrifice, unrequited mercy, unsolicited grace.

In later discussions, the reader calling himself “Officious Oaf” asked what homosexuality was all about, and did it fall in the realm of the “normal” or was it an illness, aberration, or what.

I responded that to my way of thinking it was all about love.

Love itself is hardly usual, but it is normal. Normal madness, perhaps, that eventually evolves into comfort, support and well-being in the presence of a particular other person. I wouldn’t agree with Spinoza here, that it could be defined as “joy attached to an object,” since there is so much conflict within love that “joy” is only one facet of it. How about “madness attached to an object”? Clever, but hardly sufficient. Such a definition would have to incorporate the reality that, with time, the madness of true love abates to a dull roar and then spirals into acceptance.

The Spinoza disciple wrote this comment:

On a less serious note, what's this business with love being madness? I've heard poets say that, but just put it down to license. Love always seemed a joy to me. Still does. But there are sometimes confusions that attach themselves to particular loves.

I know a guy who has had three wives -- not at the same time -- and still loves them all. Same guy has had several other loves that he still loves. And I can tell you for a fact, all his loves still give him joy. Madness? Maybe. But in his private madhouse, they feed well.

To which I wrote this comment:

Love is passion, conflict, chaos, pathos, cosmos, peace, hope, sanity, madness, sorrow, and joy too. It engages and confronts every emotion possible, including desperation and pain. Not all love, of course, is any one of these things, and seldom is it all -- and probably never all at the same time unless it is really madness. Shall we say it is a complex emotion and leave it at that?

I have one more tangent to go onto here before I leave love behind this time, however – the concept of obsession. A sometime addict of the Dr. Phil show, I was intrigued at the mentally unbalanced man stalking his own wife as shown on the program over the past few weeks. His possessiveness and paranoia had driven her away from him, and yet he persisted in deception of himself and everybody surrounding him, in and outside the rehab facility Dr. Phil sent him to, all the while calling it “love.” I am reminded how often real madness is attributed to love, and how seldom, in our rush to allow everybody one love for his or her own life, we have screened the use of the very word love. There are those of us who are tied to people for a lifetime through obligation, dependency, or need – at times theirs rather than our own. Sometimes when we say “I love you,” we actually mean something else entirely, but we are more comfortable normalizing ourselves with the one emotion everybody is expected to understand.

Few of us really do understand it. I had an emotional crisis myself about 15 years ago. I had been “in love” many times in my life but had never quite gotten my mind around what was happening in my heart. I was attracted to people who had no love to give, yet I assumed what I was getting was enough. Worse, I assumed it was the best I could have. In my therapy and support groups, I tried to understand and recapture the feeling of love, to identify it. My heart’s search kept taking me back to the same time, place and people – my grandpa and my auntee (great aunt), and myself the toddler on their knee. Then I thought of my own daughter. I knew the closest I had ever had to love came from these sources and I cherished that reality. That would always be love for me.

Now I have two grandsons, and when I think of them I am overwhelmed with how much love there is in the world. They show me love with every movement, and I love the opportunity of loving them. The love that goes back and forth between us has a great deal of joy in it, but it is enriched by concern, tenderness, and commitment.

As a single person, I admit there is always the possibility of romantic love around some corner -- the hope of ending my days with the love of my life. Ah, come on, I say to myself. The days you have left are few and the possibility of a certain relationship – a one and only – ever coming on the horizon lessens with every passing year. And what on earth would you want that for now? All the questions keep coming back.

In all the previous discussions, I seem in all too big a hurry to drop the subject. If someone cares to elucidate the topic for the rest of us, I’ll keep it afloat as best I can.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Story That Fairhope Isn't

May 21, 2007

Browsing on my blog I find the following post which bears repeating:

It has come to my attention that Fairhope is billed in the promotional literature as a “Storybook Town.” It has also been called such things as a “little Norman Rockwell town,” and a “Disneyland town.”

Aargh. I am doing what I can, by harping on the subject of Fairhope history on this blog, to keep it from becoming any of those things.

When I first moved back in 1988, there actually were some remnants of Norman Rockwell cottages, little houses that had been built between the two World Wars -- modest houses that looked as if nice families lived there. Fairhope had an undiscovered quality that I would hardly have called “storybook” in the sense of the charming little Tudor homes of California or the New England farm houses, or the Midwestern carpenter gothics of the 1800’s. It was almost unreal in its quietness. The last of the fabled hotels of the town, The Colonial Inn, stood decrepit in its prime spot overlooking the bay, all but abandoned, awaiting the wrecker's ball.

There was very little to do on a Saturday night. There were a few eateries, but only one really nice one, a remodeled old farmhouse out behind the new shopping center, known as Dusty's. It was owned by a local character who had had a career as a cocktail pianist and had a young, creative wife who put the restaurant on the map, thereby giving parched little Fairhope a first-class place to take visitors or a special date.

A novel had been published in 1959, written by a young man named Robert E. Bell, who had been so entranced by what he called the magic of Fairhope, that he set his story in a fictionized version of the town, renaming it Moss Bayou, and smothering the setting with such phrases as "Somewhere after a turn down the street, he saw a glimmer of water, gold-flaked through the trees; the frond-dragging palms bent with the curve of the road which heat-danced ahead of him, charging the sky with its electrical glare." The title of the book was The Butterfly Tree, and it was not the last book to drench Fairhope in the mysteries of the imagination of an outsider.

An insider, I worked with Bob many years later on a book that I hoped would present a more realistic picture of the Fairhope I knew, incorporating his lyrical prose describing a town projected from his memories with my own workaday knowledge of what it was like to grow up in the little enclave that I found neither magical nor romantic. The book we collaborated on reflected two sensibilities and embraced Fairhope from two sides. Its title was Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, and if you've read much of this blog or if you click on the link, you'll know almost all there is to know about it short of actually reading it.

Both those books may have contributed to the myth that Fairhope was some kind of ethereal, enchanted locale, a Brigadoon that only appeared in the line of vision of the fortunate few. Charming as that image might be, it simply isn't true.

Fairhope was a very real town, founded on the principle of providing economic parity, especially in housing. Land was available on a 99-year lease basis, with a low “rent” or tax, to be paid to the Colony yearly, to be determined by what would be considered fair market value. Each family could build what it could afford on the land leased from the Colony. Little houses were built by the impecunious couples who wanted to participate in the Utopian experiment known as the Single Tax Colony, and these houses were expanded room by room as the families grew. That is why so many of the early cottages had small rooms and lots of them. Those little affordable abodes grew with the families that inhabited them.

The Single Tax experiment could hardly be called a rousing success, especially after the Federal Government established an income tax on all citizens in 1913. It was a sound principle that eventually was proved wildly impractical, perhaps especially in Fairhope, the town that was created in order to prove the opposite. Apparently greed is human nature, and the selflessness required to ensure collective individualism -- the term used by E.B. Gaston, Fairhope's founder to describe his ideal economy -- was soon overshadowed by the wave of opportunists who learned how to exploit the very land he fought to preserve.

If Fairhope is a storybook town, the story has been rewritten too many times to be of much consequence. Even the historical cottages, for the most part, have been demolished and replaced by monuments to the prosperity of their owners -- huge, ostentatious houses that compete with each other for attention and blur the landscape that was once authentic, meaningful and charming in spite of itself. That it is still a storybook town is the greatest fiction of all.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Three Little Words

May 19, 2007

In the new movie Georgia Rule, the stern mother played by Jane Fonda is confronted by her dysfunctional daughter (Felicity Hoffman).

"You never said you loved me."

Fonda's retort, "Well, my parents never said it."

"And you knew they did how?"

"I didn't."

This must be as unfathomable to a person in his or her 40's as it would have been unfathomable to our parents that they should constantly reassure us with those three little words. I couldn't help but think Ms. Fonda connected with the line through experiences with her own father, whom she almost seemed to be channeling in her performance in this wonderful little film.

I have always been astonished to hear grown women choked up because their fathers never told them they loved them. My father never did. My mother never did either -- although I know she took it upon herself to reassure my little brother, and often, that my father loved him. I suppose he had confided in her that he suspected that our father didn't love him -- but I wonder how he could possibly have believed it, coming from her. Why didn't she tell Daddy to say it? Did she? Did he actually refuse? All those scenarios are possible.

The most loving person in my family, our surrogate grandmother (actually our mother's aunt), clearly loved all us children deeply. But I never heard her say it.

How did we know it, then?

When I remember that little lady with her long white hair wrapped neatly in a bun at the nape of her neck, when I remember the sparkle in her brown eyes and the sound of her solicitous and gentle voice, when I cherish the memory of her bringing stacks of comic books to us, those cast off by her younger brothers -- in their 70's -- her wicked smile when she said things like "I like Buck Jones, don't you?" -- even the minor memories of her make me feel enveloped in warmth. I remember her cooking, her generosity, her pleasant and optimistic way of embracing life, her old-fashioned, churchgoing ways, and I know the love I felt was going both ways.

I think you "know" love through other means than auditory. Saying "I love you" doesn't mean you never have to say you're sorry. It doesn't even mean you love. Hearing someone say it when it's clearly felt at the moment -- and it's the moment you want to hear it -- is a high point in life, unforgettable and even cataclysmic. It cannot be beckoned or begged into existence. But I have lived through enough relationships to promise you this: It does happen.

Parents today seem to tell their children they love them all the time. Maybe they overdo it; maybe they are right and our parents were wrong. I really don't know. But I do know that it's different.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Forgeries, Fakes, Hoaxes and Hope

May 15, 2007

I went with a couple of old friends to a movie called Hoax a couple of weeks ago. There was only one other couple in the Cineplex compartment with us, and the movie disappeared within the next week. Never mind, I promise it'll surface again at Oscar time, and probably garner Richard Gere his first statuette, most deservedly.

The picture outlines an adventure in the life of writer Clifford Irving, who had minor success with a book about art forgery, and himself went on to perpetrate one of the biggest hoaxes in the 20th Century, one which involved a fiction he wrote claiming it to be the authorized autobiography of mysterious recluse Howard Hughes. The caper was bold to the point of being outrageous, and the risks Irving took were almost pathological. In the bargain, he lost everything. Now it's a major motion picture and will probably keep him afloat for the rest of his life.

The scam depended upon the very reclusiveness of Hughes. Irving had banked on the old man staying hermetically sealed in his Las Vegas apartment as he -- Irving -- wove more and more complex tales of phone calls and correspondence, involving his wife and a friend to participate in the cover-up. When the publishers, agents, and the phalanx of journalists became suspicious, Irving made the audacious claim that Hughes now wanted a $1 million advance before he would release the material.

Irving's tale ended with his own confession and jail time for himself and his wife. The man who had always been fascinated by hoaxes and forgeries finally got caught after Howard Hughes emerged from his self-imposed darkness to announce in a conference call to the editors that he had never met Clifford Irving -- had not, until this episode, even heard of the man.

The episode fascinated another expert in sleight-of-hand and forgery, filmmaker Orson Welles, who had known Elmyr de Hory, the art forger Clifford Irving had written his first book about. Welles created a wonderful documentary about both de Hory and Clifford Irving, called "F" for Fake which I caught in an insomniac evening on Turner Classic Movies in the wee hours this morning. This one contends that there would be no art forgeries if there were no art experts, and that more often than not, the so-called experts can't even spot a fake anyway.

There is a moment when Welles quotes a few lines from Rudyard Kipling's "The Conundrum of the Workshops." Granted, Orson Welles reading the telephone book sounds like the most profound poetry ever written, but this one bears considering:

When the flush of a new-born sun fell first on Eden's green and gold,
Our father Adam sat under the Tree and scratched with a stick in the mould;
And the first rude sketch that the world had seen was joy to his mighty heart,
Till the Devil whispered behind the leaves, "It's pretty, but is it Art?"

We have often pondered the question here, but not, I hope with the Devil at our backs. Welles' point is that the concept of Art being something grander than it appears is the work of art experts, and that art experts are responsible for the art market, and that the art market is responsible for the inflated prices that made art forgery lucrative and illegal.

I wish Welles had lived to see Hoax. In "F" for Fake, he says that when he was developing ideas for the movie that became Citizen Kane, he considered several powerful men as the model. For some reason, he chose William Randolph Hearst -- but his second choice would have been Howard Hughes.

With my title, I suggest that I'm somehow going to tie the concept of hope, or at least a fair version of it, into this post. I can't think of any way to do that. I was faking it. I just thought the addition of that word made a better title.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tents Packed

May 14, 2007

Maybe it's a sign of the times, this longtime Fairhope car repair place, formerly known as Melton's Garage but operated by Mr. Melton's nephew for many years...relocating to Arab (pronounced Ay-Rabb to you who are not from L.A.) up north somewhere near Huntsville.

He doesn't seem disenchanted with Fairhope, however. He's packed his tents for Arab because that's where his daughter lives and he and his wife want to get to know their grandchildren. At least, that's his story.

Oh, and you may have noticed the reflection of the photographer in the glass. That's me. That's your author.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day, Book Hatchings, and All That Jazz

May 13, 2007

I thought of telephoning my daughter on Mother's Day, because she's one of my favorite mothers, but, daunted by the possibility of overloaded phone lines as well as the incongruity of the idea, I've decided not to, at least for now. She tells me I always said that Mother's Day was a contrived, commercial holiday anyhow. Of all my motherly instructions, I don't remember saying that.

I'll visit my own mother in the nursing home this evening, as I do almost every evening, and help her get through her dinner. I plan to remind her of the Mother's Day when she requested plastic pipe for her garden as a present, and got it. She probably won't remember that, but I always liked the memory of it as a particularly unique and unsentimental request, and how very like her it was.

I am being urged from all quarters to consider writing a novel set in Fairhope, and I'm pretty sure I'll do it.

As a matter of fact, I do have a novel on a floppy disk, or 50 pages or so of one, with Fairhope characters in it and a backdrop of the town as it was in the 1950's when I was growing up. It deals with a relationship between two women who grew up together in a town that was begun as a Single Tax Colony. I started writing Trav'lin' Light in a desperate mode when my lifelong friend Jerry Newell died. She had been very ill for a year and I hadn't known. I had to find some way to pay tribute to this extraordinary woman, whom I had seen blossom from dirt-poor beginnings to a life of sophistication and polish, who was the wittiest and one of the most creative people I have ever known; who was complex and confounding, at times merry and fun-loving, and yet capable of the greatest depths of depression a person could know. I wanted her back, and I wrote her back as best I could.

I'll get back to that book, which has been hatching for ten years, after I write the novel set around the turn of the 20th Century in Fairhope, the novel that has Marietta Johnson as a principle character and deals with the unique aspects of the little village that Fairhope once was. This one is in and embryonic stage in my mind, but it has a premise and a galaxy of characters begging to be born. I feel sure they will beat their way out of my brain and that one day soon the book begin to take shape.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if my Fairhope novel turns out to be a trilogy, if only I could find a story I could love in today's Fairhope. Hmmm...does one set out to write a trilogy if one hasn't even completed a novel? No wonder it's hard to make a start!

Then there are my blogs. I don't contribute to them every day, but more often than this one, I find myself having a good time on my food blog. You really should visit it sometime.

When I added "all that jazz" to my title above, I was speaking literally. All that jazz music is surrounding me as I write this, the old vinyl records I am transferring song by song from album to hard drive. I have about 300 songs selected so far, ranging from Daddy's Duke Ellington bands of the 1930's -- themselves transferred from the old 78 rpm's in the 1950's, to a song by Doris Day accompanied by Andre Previn, a tune or two from the old Nat King Cole Trio, and one from Teddy Wilson, another from Count Basie, and on and on. I'll pick up an album and say, "Here's Sinatra doing 'Nice Work If You Can Get It,' I'll want that one," or "Got to have Carmen McRae one 'Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most,'" and pretty soon the day is gone.

The novel/trilogy project will have to wait. In the meantime, I've printed out a copy of When We Had the Sky and donated it to the Marietta Johnson Museum. The Museum promises to make it available to the public. In the meantime, Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree is getting dusty on shelves at Page & Palette and Martin Lanaux Bookseller. Check out the link to Finding Fairhope on this page.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Other Side of Sixty

May 9, 2007

I've written two books that have not seen the light of day in a publisher's office. One of them is an account of Fairhope life going a little beyond the nostalgia of the one that did get published called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree . I've mentioned it here many a time: When We Had the Sky. Last week I printed an extra copy and donated it to the Marietta Johnson Museum in Fairhope, where it will be available for visitors to read. The other copy lies in the office (maybe I should say languishes) of Alabama publisher Randall Williams, as yet unreturned as as far as I know unread. It was rejected by both the University of Alabama Press and River City Publishing as being too parochial to market outside Fairhope.

The second unpublished book is not about Fairhope at all. Not the least little bit. It's about how to have a good life after the age of 60, which I thought would be of interest to all those baby-boomers who dread the passage of time.

Apparently I was mistaken, or I hadn't noted how many many books exist for that particular market, some by far better known (and perhaps far more adept) writers than I. The manuscript lies in the office of a New York writers' agent. I sent it there three months ago and have not heard a peep. I think it too will lie in what is known as the slush pile indefinitely. But I've decided that you might like to read parts of it, beginning with the introduction, so here it is:

I noticed it about five years ago. I began saying it pretty often. Every time I said it it seemed everybody agreed -- I was onto something.

What I said was, "70 isn't old any more."

I'm not exaggerating -- the positive response was universal, and anyone can see why -- just look around you. There are young people and old people, but 70 isn't the cut-off point, as we once supposed it to be.

At some point, when put on my $10.95 glasses that I bought at the local supermarket, I noticed that the faces of my friends were covered with wrinkles. I couldn't help but wonder if they saw something similar when looking at me through theirs. Here’s the story behind those cheapo glasses – determined not to buy prescription glasses until I'm 70, I alternate between a low-voltage pair for viewing television and night driving and a high number pair for reading and seeing stuff up close. I don't wear them for lunch with friends, but I slip the high-number Ben Franklin pair onto my nose for reading the menu any time I’m in a restaurant.

A few years ago Oprah Winfree noted on her talk show that she admired how Diane Sawyer, a few years her senior, was handling being 50. Oprah vowed before her viewers to do it as well. With characteristic determination and focus, she managed to look better at 50 than she had ten years earlier. If she maintains her commitment to staying young and attractive at the rate she's going,, when she gets to her 70’s, she'll probably look about 20.

This book is for those who would like to think and feel differently about the coming of the once-dreaded decade.

It is a book of personal experiences by someone who has done all she can to ward off oldness, and intends to continue even if she dies trying. Don't remind me that I probably will; that's beside the point. The point is, although life is full of land mines and booby traps, its very complexity promises that it can be rewarding at any age.

This is not a book of advice or rules of good living. It will reveal some situations you might encounter and some stories from which you might learn, but its main purpose is to explore, from the vantage point of one who is there and enjoying herself, how the other side of sixty is different and how it may be the same,. Approaching 70, we are old enough to have amassed a backlog of prejudices and preconceived notions, some of which we'd be better off without; this book may well help in determining which you should keep and which you'd be better off without.

I am well aware that at my age most people are half of a couple. Their decisions are made as a committee of two. Their investments (in time, energy and money) are also made jointly. I have been part of a couple – three times – but have been a widow for over six years now, and am by now beginning to enjoy my autonomy and freedom. Learning to live alone, however, is a lot like learning to live with somebody. For one thing, it's not as easy as it looks.

I had a perfectly wonderful year when I was 61. Because my birthday is in May, this spanned two calendar years – 2001 and 2002. The shattering horror that occurred during that period, said horror being when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed on 9/11/01 was made bearable by the fact that personally, good things were happening to me that year. Up until that time I had always said that my favorite year was the one when I turned 11. My second favorite year -- at least as good and probably better -- was the one that came 50 years later. There is something astonishing in that.

There is much that is hopeful in this book. Maybe it's because 50 is the new 30. Maybe 100 is the new 90. But very few people of normal good health seem really old at 70. It may be said that those of us pushing 70 are trying too hard, but it seems to work. I will try to tell, not necessarily how you might cope, but how I have. I wouldn't say my style would work for everyone – I tend to err on the side of risk, as you will see.

However it is, it's been a good life, and it's getting better. If you stick with me I just bet you’ll enjoy the trip.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Lust in Translation

May 6, 2007

Okay, the title is stolen, but it was such a grabber I couldn't resist. It's a new book by a woman named Pamela Druckerman, and, although I haven't read it, I've read a couple of reviews and feel qualified to discuss the topic.

The book is about adultery around the world. It's about attitudes, practices, and national character. In it, we find -- no surprise -- that the most puritanical country in regard to extramarital sex is the United States. No other even comes close, although our national attitude toward premarital coupling (and pregnancy), and homosexual alliances, and just about every other sexual possibility are on a par with the rest of the world. Where most other cultures take a little dabbling for granted, with us it's the one sin for which we'll be expected to beg forgiveness for the rest of our married lives, and probably never receive it.

From the description of the book, it's based on broad research and is an entertaining read. A survey Druckerman cites reveals that while only six per cent of Americans find the idea of a spouse's one-time fling permissible (after due penance), 40 per cent of Russians would be willing to accept such a situation. The French, I hardly have to tell you, consider an outside dalliance little more than a rite of passage.

What it makes me wonder is why we are so strict on this topic. On Oprah's show, I have seen many wronged wives weeping that finding out about a husband straying absolutely ruined their marriage and their lives -- and from Winfrey and her psychologist-in-residence the wife received only sympathy and the husband was regarded as depraved. This appears to be the norm in American culture, although I suspect that there are a number of American men who occasionally seek an adventure and are just as circumspect and cautious as their French counterparts. Who are these guys having sex with anyway, if not women -- some of whom are likely to be married too? It seems a bit hypocritical to me, and you know how I hate that.

Let's just say I'm a reasonably happily married woman in my 20's, and I find myself in a position to receive the advances of a reasonably happily married man of roughly the same age. We have an exciting lunch date, say, talking of many things, all completely intellectual, none sexual, none what we or either of our spouses would consider dangerous. We have such a good time that we decide to do it again. We have lunch once a week for several years, and lunch is all we ever have, except a great regard for each other, and a nagging what-if that we don't even discuss.

My hypothetical husband and my friend's hypothetical wife would not begrudge us this relationship, apparently. They might be a little jealous, but since "nothing happened," they allow it. However, if we crossed a line into a physical relationship once or twice, that wife would be in a shrink's office, or on the Oprah show, awash in tears and heartbroken. (That is, if she found out. The advice in Russian Cosmopolitan Magazine for those enjoying extramarital relations is "Try not to look too happy. If you never sing the the shower, don't start now.")

According to Druckerman, the culture dictates attitude. You do what your friends do (or what you assume they do). While I do not advocate being overtly promiscious and ignoring what is known as family values, I'm certain that a little leniency in this area is overdue. With great regard to others' feelings, even if it were to mean to keep a secret, adults sometimes deviate from what is expected of them. It's their own responsibility to deal with it.

Even in America.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Not-So-Great Debates

May 4, 2007

I didn't watch the Republican debate last night. There was nobody on there I wanted to see or learn any more about at the moment, and, if it went like the one the Democrats had a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn't have learned anything anyway. It was designed to give us a glance at the whole field, so that the parties could decide who came over best at a glance. The viewing audience was sort of a focus group for the system. Now they can get seriously behind one candidate or another and force their choice on the rest of us.

If this new system is to be believed, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination just because she didn't lose it -- and because Barack Obama didn't snatch it in that one glancing moment. And by all accounts I can get my hands on this morning, Mitt Romney won the Republican nod.

Never mind that Obama goes on coining money, and received an endorsement the other night from Oprah Winfrey, and that Al Gore and Fred Thompson have not announced yet. Never mind that Republicans don't really like the cut of Mitt Romney's jib; they think he looks too young and too happy (as Democrats regard John Edwards). Not enough gravitas for the office. I guess they don't recall Reagan's glib glitter from his early days, or George Bush's slick sophomoric appearance on the day he moved into the White House. (He looks old and grave enough after eight years of failure.)

These initial debates don't amount to much. In my heart I believe that Hillary Clinton will actually win the Democratic death-wish nomination. And it may be that Romney will be her opponent. Nobody can call it yet.

But something tells me that the next President was not on that stage last night, or the other night in South Carolina. It's interesting, but most of us are not paying much attention yet.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Imus Is Back, Somewhat

May 3, 2007

Last night someone alerted me via email that there was news on the Imus case, and just as I read that Anderson Cooper announced that he would be giving the story so far on his broadcast, just minutes away. Interesting that it has not been folded into the morning newscasts of CBS, NBC, MSNBC, or even ABC as of yet.

Not many are on the edge of their seats for this, but I was heartened to hear that the guy has not crawled into the cave his foes -- and many of his once-friends -- had dug for him. Not yet. He had a six-year contract with CBS, and he's suing them for $40 million. According to the CNN story, the contract reads:

"Company (CBS Radio) acknowledges that Artist's (Imus') services to be rendered hereunder are of a unique, extraordinary, irreverent, intellectual, topical, controversial and personal character and that programs of the same general type and nature containing these components are desired by Company and are consistent with Company rules and policies."

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the legal issues in the Imus case are simple: "Did Imus breach his contract by saying what he did about the Rutgers basketball team?"

"What stands out in the contract is he is supposed to be controversial and irreverent. That's what his statement about the Rutgers basketball team was," Toobin said.

"How is CBS going to argue that what he said was so controversial and so offensive that it isn't what they asked for in the contract?"

Let's face it. CBS and MSNBC should have stuck it out for the two-week suspension and then seen what happened. Events escalated under the hands of Sharpton and Jackson, but after Imus apologized over and over, and met with the Rutgers team for hours (after which they said they forgave him and did not see why he was fired), the public flogging would have stopped and everyone would have had time to ponder the real news, which by then was the situation at Virginia Tech. The two networks bailed as soon as sponsors began pulling out, as if they couldn't weather the heat and as if new or even the same sponsors wouldn't want in when Imus came back on the air. Why Al Roker has kept his job all these years, and prevailed over someone with an on-air personality that does not rely on constant laughter and bad puns, I don't quite understand.

What Imus really wants is at least a little piece of his reputation back. He was hired to be obnoxious and "irreverent," and he was living up to that in spades. He's not stupid -- he would avoid such unacceptably overt sexism/racism in the future, and he could go back to being one of the best interviewers in the business with a show that garnered the brightest guests and consistently put them on the spot to show their hearts and minds instead of their P.R. teams' script-writing talent.

Oh, and I guess he could use some of the $40 million that CBS is legally bound to pay him. He's got a ranch for children with cancer to run.