Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Heppy New Year (which is better than Hippy New Year)

Everyone I've read today is doing retrospective posts. They are fine pieces of writing, florid at times (and at times, not) that offer substantial summing up of 2008 (and at times, don't).

Don't worry: I have no such offering here.

I'm not one for looking back--or for that matter, forward. It's enough for me to concentrate on just what is right now. How absolutely, awfully, disgustingly Zen of me. Not to mention only true for this precise moment.

So at this precise moment, I'm feeling quite content with my lot in life, such as is it, ta dum ta dum. Here's what I'm liking, at this precise moment:

1. I FINALLY found the absolutely perfect template for MidLifeBloggers. It is installed--sort of. That means, that not all parts of it are operational, but they will be soon if not sooner.

2. This, the finding and installing of the template, is an excellent thing because until I did, I was ready to shitcan the entire site. IT WOULD NOT DO WHAT I WANTED IT TO. Not to mention that IT WAS STARTING TO BORE ME. And if it bored me, its mama, just imagine what it was doing to the rest of the world. But the thing was, I just didn't care. Because I COULD NOT GET THE SITE TO DO WHAT I WANTED IT TO. But now I can and, ergo, we're in business again. Sans orange...or as one of our regulars said, "so you've folded the orange tent." Yes, I have.

3. I'm feeling at peace with who I am, for the first time in I don't know when. How long this will last, I'm not sure. Just mark that on December 31st, 2008, I liked me.

4. Here's a pitcher of Julie, Max, and Brit on the boat fishing. Notice the life jackets, please. Julie and Mark (the photographer) are nothing if not perfect parents.

Friday, December 26, 2008

It's Boxing Day in Britain

You may believe the folklore that that's the day the Brits give their help their Christmas presents. That may have been true, oh a million years ago, or maybe even now for a Very Small Number of Brits who have 'help.' For the rest of the country, though, Boxing Day is when you have a hangover from the excesses of Christmas Day. Here's what I recall of Christmas Days when I lived in England.*

Hamish and I were visiting our friends, Bunny and Ray, somewhere in the northern reaches of England. I can't remember the actual city, but it had to be one where there was a rep company, because Ray, like Hamish, was an actor. And Bunny, like me, was a wife who worked. I've arrived on Christmas Eve, because I had to ply my secretarial trade that day. My boss, the porcine Mr. Platt, in his best fatherly fashion, had dragged me and my huge sacks full of Christmas gifts in a taxi to the train station. Mr. Platt was porky; he was also a Republican; and he was also very kind.

When the train chugged it's way north, I drank coffee and ate a stale British Rail cheese sandwich. The former was poured from two pots, one containing coffee and the other hot milk, at a great height, say 2 feet or so, by the porter. Without spilling a drop--quite a feat. The latter was, as were all British sandwiches then (and now?) composed of a single slice of cheese between two buttered slices of white bread. Yum. If you were lucky, there wasn't any green on the bread.

When the train pulled into the station, Hamish and Ray and Bunny were waiting for me. Or maybe it was just Hamish and Ray. Or perhaps just Hamish. I can't remember because, frankly, the coffee was the last non-alcoholic beverage I drank for the next 36 hours. Each of us had laid in a store of our Christmas drink. I don't remember what the others had, but mine was a pitcher of gin martinis, light on the vermouth, kept chilling the refrigerator. We drank. We ate. We watched endless variety shows on TV. And we drank some more, and the next day, Boxing Day, we had to drink again, because without Hair of the Dog, none of us could put one foot in front of the other.

The cast of characters changed over the six or so Christmases I spent in England, but the activities never did. We drank, we ate, we watched bad TV, and on Boxing Day we recovered.

*Which was, admittedly, some time ago, so maybe they have become more civilized since then.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Happy Anniversary to Me

Actually I'm a day late--and some might say, a dollar short--because yesterday, December 13, was the fourth anniversary of ByJane. That first post was on LiveJournal and my avatar was a photo of Molly that I can't even find now. I had great expectations for the blog; two years later, I was somewhat chastened. Not to mention disappointed. And at times pissed off. But I persevered and here's what I was promising on December 13, 2006. I was a tad ambitious, perhaps, and--as has been my wont before--promised more than I provided. Still, some 645+ published posts down the road, I'm proud of what I've wrought: it's been me up-close, sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes goofy. But that's Jane.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Still Futzing with the Template

Can you tell? Probably not, unless you're refreshing frequently. Or were hovering over ByJane about 6:30 this morning. But that would be 9:30 East coast time, so maybe you were. Or maybe I'm delusional.

Yes, I got out of bed in what is to me the wee small hours to futz with my template. I cannot help myself. It makes me feel like I'm achieving things. It gives me a purpose in life, a something to do NOW, IMMEDIATELY. Because I know that the reason my stats are so puny is that my blog is more than relatively unattractive. It has nothing to do with what or when I post, I'm sure of that, because my words--they're always pearls, right? So I'm convinced that there is a blog design that will suddenly--hail all and eureka!--cause the heavens to part and the multitudes to reign (or is that rain?) down on ByJane. Complete with winning comments.



Oh yes, you wanted to see my hair. Okay:Here I am shorn.

And off I go, to futz again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Merry Ho Ho Ho--and a Bah to you too...

Don't know what you get your honey for Christmas? Don't be looking here for any ideas.

It's not that I don't love the holidays. I do I do! I love tinsel and glitter and the smell of [real] pine (the fake stuff, not so much). I just got back from the supermarket and my nose is twitching because I spent a full five minutes with it buried in the evergreen wreath display. I didn't buy anything; I just soaked up smells.

I love wrapping gifts, making like Martha with the matching paper and ribbon. See--this is from a couple of years ago:
This year, though, I'm eschewing all attempts at gift-giving jollity. I refuse to participate in that Times are Tough so Look Happy That I Bought You Toilet Paper--and stuck a fuckin' bow on it. I will not indulge in an orgy of fake bling exchanges. If I can't trade the real stuff with my nearest and dearest--well, then I won't.

I come from a family mired in giftgiving bullshit. Did I say that nicely enough? My sister, bless her little heart, loves to give presents and she will give them to you whether you want them or not. I'm not sure why she loves to give presents. What's the exchange there for her? It's not that she treasures hunting for the perfect gift, because more often than not, unless she's been given a list (which her kids learned to do when they could barely write), she will give something that she likes without a thought that you would not be caught dead in it. And it's not that she's found that perfect something for you on vacation last year and tucked it away till the holidays. If she did, she can't find it. And if she can find it, she is pleased to tell you she can't remember what it is. This is, one might say, passive-aggressive gift giving honed to a fine art.

Consequently and as a result as well--I tend to view gift giving as a chore that causeth me to break out in hives. If I were, that is, a hive-y sort of person; which I'm not (although I do have a few sneezing type allergies). Thus, this year I am declaring that The Economy Is Too Bad for me to even consider gifting others (you like gifting as a verb? how about toileting as a verb?). And next year? Perhaps I'll still be recovering from this year.

News bulletin: I had just about put the period on that last sentence when my doorbell did ring and who should appear but a friend bearing a frothy golden beribboned package. Well, shit--.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Win A Book To Curl Up With on Christmas Eve

Here's the bookand here's part of the back jacket copy:

Gracefully capturing the strange alchemy of people and places, Kaya McLaren's story of redemption and rediscovery will inspire readers to find the magic and power in every day shared with the people they love.

Here's what you have to do to win it:

1. Write in a comment why you want to win it. Why should you, of all my millions of readers, be the one to curl up with Church of the Dog? Make me laugh; make me cry; make me want to spend the postage to send it to you in time for Christmas Eve.

That's all. Nothing magical. Just a comment. From you--to me....

Saturday, December 06, 2008

I'm Housecleaning, dum de dum

Not in my house, dummy. Here, on my blog. It's coming up to the anniversary of ByJane and I thought--ya know, Jane, this blog looks like shit. So I'm sweeping with new brooms and swabbing the decks and whatever else I get the notion to do.

Meanwhile, Liz over at Inventing My Life tapped me for a meme. At first I thought--oooooooooooooohhh nooooooooooo. But when I read her responses, they were so interesting, I got inspired (I think there are too many clauses for one sentence there, but whatever...). So, here's the program:
1) Link to your tagger and list all these rules in your blog.
2) Share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.

3) Tag 7 people at the end of your post by including links to their blogs.

4) Let them know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Random Weird Facts:
1. I invest all objects, living and not, with feelings. Today at the drugstore, I picked up a small poinsettia that had been knocked over. I had the same feeling doing it as I would have picking up a small child that had been knocked over. More, maybe, because the small child would probably have others to care about it, but the small poinsettia? Who does it have but me?

2. I stay up late and I sleep late. That embarrasses me because I know I live in a world of early risers. I'm working on accepting that these are my natural rhythms. So shut up if you're judgmental.

3. I DO NOT LIKE TO CLEAN. Have I mentioned this before? Only ninety million times. I just never got the cleaning gene...what can I say? So shut up if you're judgmental--or don't come over...or prepare to listen to my endless excuses.

4. I would give up my talent at writing if I had an equally good singing voice. I don't. But I do so love to sing. But you would not love to listen to me.

5. I am lactose-intolerant but every night I have a glass of milk when I'm reading in bed. I can, because I live alone. Maybe I live alone because I can and do. Ya think?

6. My feelings get hurt so fast it would make your head spin. My mother kept trying to get me to get a "thicker skin." All I got was an ability to look and sound like I don't give a shit, when inside I'm dying.

7. I'd rather laugh than anything else. The most important A#1 thing about a friend to me is--sense of humor. If you ain't got one, we're not gonna get along.

Seven People I've Tagged:
1. Margaret at Nanny Goats In Panties
2. Fran at Merlot Mom
3. Shani at Rat Phooey
4. Karen at MidLife's A Trip
5. Susan at StonyRiver Farm
6. KJ at Nana Diaries
7. Ellen at Girl's Garden of Menopause

Whew! Am I done yet?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Hurry Down Sunshine" - Making Sense of Senselessness

There is no hard and fast test for mental illness. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), which is the bible of the mental health field, can do no more than categorize the propensity for certain symptoms as being probably indicative of certain conditions. If the fellow down the street has at least two of the following—delusions, hallucinations, odd speech, odd behavior, or seems emotionless—chances are he may be schizophrenic. Or maybe not.

This is what makes mental illness such a will ‘o’ the wisp within the medical profession. And what makes it so frightening to those of us who view it from near or from afar. Michael Greenberg, a widely published writer who lives in New York, has had the near and up front view. When his daughter, Sally, was fifteen, she, seemingly without warning, suffered a psychotic break, or as Greenberg puts it, she was “struck mad.” The official diagnosis ultimately was bipolar disorder, manic depression as it used to be known. Hurry Down Sunshine is Greenberg’s retelling of that break. It is unique in that it focuses not on Sally so much as on her family, on what mental illness looks like from the other side of the dinner table.

That this memoir is well-written goes without saying; Greenberg’s publications include the Times Literary Supplement, The Village Voice, and The Threepenny Review. What fascinated me about it, however, were not the stylistic qualities nor the psychiatric specifics. Rather, this memoir brought front and center the ways and means in which we all will go to avoid reality. Even when mania is blaring in our faces, there is a human propensity for explaining it away.

How we do that is, it seems to me, a function of our cultural biases. One of the courses I had to take when I was doing my Master’s in Psychology was called “Human Diversity.” There I learned that our ideas of what psychological health and illness are vary from community to community. This is fascinating when we’re talking about the ways in which non-Western cultures name mental illness. In Southeast Asia, for example, there is a condition called koro, in which the sufferer believes his penis is shrinking and disappearing into his stomach. In Mexico, they have susto, a soul loss disorder caused by a sudden shock. So crucial is understanding the cultural vagaries of mental illness that the DSM-IV lists these other such culturally specific mental illnesses as diagnostically important.

However, what Hurry Down Sunshine reveals is the cultural biases within the Western world. How we approach—and deny—mental illness is a function of our particular world view. How important is it to us that behavior be consistent and explainable? Is there a god or a spirit or a something-else-inside that guides us? What guilts follow us through our life and how do we assuage them? These are all things that affect how we—and Sally’s family—view her breakdown.

The Greenbergs are, in the main, of that particular genre of New Yorkers who are intellectual, spiritual, and burdened with questions about the meaning of meaning. Woody Allen has done the type very well, but Hurry Down Sunshine is real life, not film script and as such, it begs to be taken seriously. Thus Sally’s mother smuggling a homeopathic remedy called “Skullcap” into the locked psych ward and measuring drops of it into her daughter’s mouth is not some out-of-touch New Age weirdo, no matter how easy it would be to explain her away as such. Rather, she is a tortured mother who only has her own belief systems to draw on to help her daughter. And Greenberg himself, who has, by his own admission, “a high intolerance for aberrance”—was this what enabled him to miss his daughter’s impending psychosis, or is it what gave him the grit to remain with her throughout her ordeal?

That I had these and other such thoughts as I was reading Hurry Down Sunshine is testament to how adept Greenberg is at drawing the reader into the their world. We all, characters in the memoir and reader, are constantly asking: why did this happen? Who was at fault? How can we avoid it in the future? What Greenberg has so ably portrayed and evoked is our intense discomfort with mental illness. When faced with it, we are driven to explain, to blame, to conjure cures and might-have-beens. What we’re driven to do, actually, is to make sense of senselessness. An impossible task, that, but one we all face at one time or another, even if it’s just with the babbling fellow we see down the street.

Hurry Down Sunshine
A Memoir
By Michael Greenberg
Published by Other Press
September 2008;$22.00US; 978-1-59051-191-6