Beach Bodies

131210-prager_lvwgba-1We took a jaunt up Route 128 this afternoon to visit Wingaersheek Beach, followed by dinner at a tiny restaurant on the water in Annisquam, a quirky oceanfront village just around the coast from Gloucester.  Being on a vacation, John had it in his head that the beach would have emptied out by five o’clock, but of course, on a beautiful summer Sunday in July, there were still hundreds of people enjoying the afternoon when we arrived.

We walked the length of the beach (which is not far), awed by a flotilla of “party boats” lashed together and anchored on the shore across the inlet from Annisquam, power vessels with solid Boston names like “Mahtini,” “Weekendah,” and “The Codfather.”  The boats must have arrived at high tide and moored near shore; a few had misjudged the waterline and were now beached, waiting for the tide to come in again. 80’s and 90’s rock tunes blared from boat speakers, kids paddled in the water, and sunburnt parents draped themselves on deck, enjoying another beer.  My friend Cathy and I brought our kids up to Wingaersheek often when they were young; they loved to climb on the mountainous rocks and collect treasures in the tidal pools.  I had never before seen this side of the beach’s culture:  weekend party central, a parade of summer bodies, tanned, or blotched with uneven burns where the sunblock hadn’t reached, bald, or hairy-backed, the women’s hair wiry from salt, their skin freckled, white lines in the creases of their bronze bellies.

As we walked back to our blanket, I couldn’t help but notice the vast range of shapes and sizes adopted by the human body.  We are daily bombarded with images suggesting there is really one acceptable body type:  lean, balanced proportions, white or light-skinned. But such “paragons” are in the minority, although we did spy one young couple over in party-boat-land who must have been personal trainers, their abs rippling, arms and legs muscular and perfectly chiseled. John went for a swim, but I didn’t want to eat dinner in a wet suit, so I sat on our towel and admired the cavalcade of physiques: a stout toddler splashed in a nearby tidal pool, while his leggy older sister, about eight or nine years old, chased seagulls.  A hunched Asian gentleman in socks and Birkenstocks paced back and forth in front of me, his head extended forward and up like a turtle’s; nubile teenage girls strutted by self-consciously.  Many of the dads today sported big bellies and tattoos, with strong legs and thick necks.  A brown-and-black family paused in front of me, speaking Spanish. The mom was short, heavyset in a shapely way, and toffee brown; her husband was tall and bald, with bony legs, a tight, round tummy, and beautiful black skin.  Their scrawny, long-limbed son resembled his dad, angular and dark.  A full-figured teenage daughter was lush and heavy-bottomed in a Kardashian-y way, with thick, wavy hair pulled back in a pony-tail, her skin a warm tone of creamed coffee.  Elderly people amazed me particularly, years of wear reshaping their bodies into angles, folds, wrinkles and lumps, so many hours in motion across the span of a life creating shapes and whorls like the patterns on seashells.

It was quite a magnificent display of human anatomy.

Gratitude #28

 

Good for it: Trust & Rom Coms

As promised (not that you care, but I’m meeting the bar I set for myself at the beginning of July, a post a day of gratitude), I am working off yesterday’s debt with a two-post day.

Trust

1*B-qByqXbJ_5JH1EwxpzwegI’ve always had a basic trust in authorities and in the fundamental goodness of most people.  I don’t spend a lot of time arguing with police officers about whether I was going the speed limit when pulled over.  I have yet to challenge a medical professional on their diagnosis, or blow off their treatment plan.  I even do the PT recommended by my massage therapist.  I never once, in my eighteen years of schooling, undergraduate and graduate, mixed it up with a professor about a grade I didn’t like—I just thought I’d have to work harder next time.  To be honest, such compliance has served me really well.  I don’t create dramas, not that you do, but we all know those types, amiright?  My temperament: sensitive, creative, emotionally reactive, is drama enough for me. My orientation is to try and learn from setbacks and to respect the experience of others.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blindly trusting.  If the financial planner proposes investing in hog futures, or a friend suggests it’s quicker to New York by ferry, I’m not going to just jump to it without doing my homework.  But my bias is to assume others are like me:  basically well-intended, or at the very least, not out to screw anyone.  My life circumstances have allowed me to continue with this orientation, it’s true.

Important caveat:  I am not speaking here of those authorities who demonstrably do not deserve respect, for example, elected officials who routinely lie, or hypocrites who abuse their power.  That is grist for a post having nothing to do with gratitude.

Because I’m trusting (Nate would say naïve; he may be right there), I can get played.  I have definitely over-extended myself on behalf of people who didn’t deserve it, or perhaps I should say, couldn’t live up to their end of the bargain, for whatever reason.  It’s always a bad feeling, a sucker punch, when I realize I may have been too optimistic or trusting in someone or something.  But you know what:  I guess I’d rather that, than protect myself in a carapace of cynicism. Maybe I’m being a Pollyanna here, but lioking for the good in people has drawn more good people into my life.

Gratitude #26

Rom Coms

tenor

There’s so much good binge-watchable storytelling on streaming video these days. But after biting my nails all spring with Offred on The Handmaid’s Tale, and feeling increasingly disgusted by the body count (host and human) on Westworld, I was ready for a summer hiatus from the dark and dystopian.  So when John suggested we watch The Proposal together last weekend, I was up for it.  It’s got eye candy for everyone in Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds, plus they have nice chemistry and great comic timing. Does it get any better than these two?  Their unlikely romance is set against a backdrop of gorgeous Alaskan mountains, with a hilarious scene in which an eagle swoops down and steals Manhattanite Bullock’s cellphone (to which she is addicted).  She grabs a nearby puppy and races after the eagle offering a trade, as Mary Steenburgen and Betty White look on from the kitchen window: “Oh, look, how cute!  She’s playing with the dog!”  It’s low-brow physical comedy, and laugh-out-loud funny.  The movie hits all the boxes:  Gorgeous leads: Check.  Initial hostility giving way to slow-dawning affection and attraction: Check. Fabulous wardrobe and unrealistically beautiful settings?  Check. Comic sidekicks?  Times two, Betty White, and The Office’s Oscar Nunez.  Improvised wedding of uncommon rustic charm:  You bet.  “Does anyone here object to this marriage” style obstacle?  Yup.  Off-puttingly low score on Rotten Tomatoes:  Definitely. (44% approval rating).  Unrealistic airport runway chase scene and equally fantastic conflict resolution wherein hunky Ryan finally takes charge of super-uptight Sandra, while the entire office staff looks on, thereby avoiding her imminent deportation back to (gasp) Canada?  Check and check.

Sure, we could have watched The Wire, or Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos, all classic long-form cable series that cause people to tch-tch when we admit we’ve never seen them.  But last night, after a stressful day driving to a New Hampshire and back for me, and continued de-cluttering of our furnace room for John, who needed such fare?  After dinner, we hunkered down with Roku and dialed up a nice serving of Wimbledon, the perfectly mediocre romance starring Paul Bettany, Kirsten Dunst, and the game of tennis. Just good enough to delight, just middling enough not to tax our tired brains.  Plus: English accents, a young James McAvoy in the comic relief role, and a hunky, younger Nicolaj Coster-Waldau (look ma, TWO hands!), looking fine in tennis shorts rather than his usual Game of Thrones armor.

What a confection.

I’m thinking maybe it’s time for a re-watch of Crazy, Stupid Love tonight.  Unless you have a better suggestion.

Gratitude #27

I Owe You

keep-calm-and-take-a-rain-checkFeeling grateful today for the concept that we can make up the difference later when we come up short, that good intentions and good faith promises have some capital.  I haven’t let you down for these past twenty-five days; I’ve faithfully produced a blog a day, as promised.  But this one got away from me.  So I’m giving you a rain check, taking a mulligan, putting you on hold.  I promise two-ish posts tomorrow.

Ya’ll know I’m good for it.

In the meantime, cut yourself some slack for any little failings today.  You’re only human.

As am I.

Gratitude #26

Good Genes

5b1f18b91fc27751f88f4d53be54d2cf--young-at-heart-racingJohn is in Connecticut today.  He drove down this morning to visit his parents, who live in a congenial, attractive assisted living community in the town of Cheshire, where John grew up. His dad will turn 92 in early September; his mom just celebrated her 87th birthday on the fourth of July, in defiance of a late-stage cancer diagnosis she received close to two years ago.  She opted not to pursue treatment; it made her feel too awful. She’s been in hospice care ever since. Although she spends most of her time in bed, and much of that sleeping, she sparks right up for visits and meals, her mind keen as ever, which is saying something.  She presides over her bed kingdom with regal command, her minions a succession of cheerful health aides and hospice personnel, along with her loyal, royal consort, my father-in-law.  They appear to be squeezing every possible drop of affection and connection out of their marriage of sixty plus years, despite the pain of her disease and the shadow of inevitable loss.

On my side, the Hacketts, my dad is 83 and in excellent health…a little prostate scare here and a pinched nerve there, but like my mother-in-law, his mind is sharper than a German butcher’s meat cleaver.  His mother lived to 106 years old, dying of natural causes, her intellect relentlessly sound right up until the last day of her life. She once apologized when we were on the phone for repeating a story she had told me the last time we spoke. I had completely forgotten. She was 103 at the time; I was at the beginning of perimenopause and constantly whiffing on stuff, students’ names, my cellphone number, birthdays of people important to me.  I laughed, “Mimsy, you are more cognitively together than Harvard’s entire neuroscience department.”  Given this provenance, I’m hoping my dad has a long runway before taking off for the next dimension.

Mom turns 83 in September and has, like Dad, been mercifully free of major glitches for most her life.  She has a pacemaker, but that’s just maintenance.  In the past few years, she has felt more vulnerable to the quirks of her aging body: ocular migraine headaches, some swelling near one of her optic nerves, cataracts. She falls more than we’d like, but that’s largely because she’s so preoccupied with her busy thoughts.  These reductions in function are disconcerting, but not the knell of doom she sometimes feels them to be, at least I hope not.  I coach her to stop measuring her well-being by the yardstick of her first seventy to eighty years, the near-perfect health of her youth.  It must be hard, not to mark every new deficit with some apprehension. Yet she still has so much good material to work with.

So between them, our four parents have racked up a combined 345 years in longevity, all of those years in full possession of their faculties, relatively speaking. We get to enjoy their company awhile longer, looks like.

Gratitude #25

Compliments

complimentWhen Lucy was at Tufts, some students started an organization called “Tufts Free Compliments.” The members went around campus scattering compliments like dandelion seeds:  “you look great!,”  “I really like your hair,” “What you said in class was so smart,” the idea being that we all can benefit from some unsolicited positivity.  Fox News would likely decry such sweetness as another example of snowflake-y delicacy on the part of today’s pampered elite youth.  Mia and her friends had a similar impulse in middle school.  They would sit in a circle, and each person would say something they liked about Rachel, then Caleb, then Emmy, and so forth.  They’d work their way around the circle until each one of them had collected a bouquet of compliments from their friends.  I always thought it was such a healthy and wise practice, to build each other up this way.

The universe has been generous with me these past few days, offering me compliments that I didn’t see coming, but appreciated very much.  Free support from the collective unconscious is a boon, so I’ve always tried to be a generous giver of genuine compliments myself; I believe in the healing power of words when spoken from the heart.  Paying someone a sincere compliment seems to me the simplest random act of human kindness I can make.  Yet I am not adept at receiving praise graciously, without a reflex of WASPy deferral that holds someone’s gift to me at a distance.  It’s a defense mechanism I have when I’m touched: I minimize.

Paying someone an authentic compliment is a vulnerable thing to do. In essence, you are saying “I love you, I love this thing about you.”  There’s an intimacy that’s quite precious.  And also risky, in a world where appearance is everything and genuine moments of connection are hard to come by.  I so often want to float under the radar, to go unseen, to stay out of the fray.  And yet, I have an intense desire to be seen for who I truly am—a yearning I believe lies at the heart of much of human striving, at least after your basic needs for food, water, shelter, safety have been met.  John and I were talking about it a few weeks ago:  there’s the fear of being seen at your most vulnerable, and also the thrill of being seen and known for who you truly are, warts and all.

So if you are one of those folks who in the past few days said something really nice to me about my class, or my writing, my blog images, or my general-all-round wonderfulness (thanks Dad and Mom), I will try to stand tall and receive it without self-consciousness.  Thank you for being brave and kind enough to show me your appreciation.  Your open heart has lifted me up.

I promise I’ll pay it forward.

Gratitude #24

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Wireless Mouse

mouse-3194768__340We would not be conversing at all today, dear readers, were it not for the humble wireless mouse.  The trackpad on my Mac laptop suffered an inexplicable and sudden nervous breakdown yesterday afternoon, whether through a software conflict (I had just cried “Uncle!” in the face of OS High Sierra’s incessant reminders that I install updates) or hardware exhaustion (my MacBook pro is six years old and well-loved), I cannot say.  But the curser decided either to skitter around my desktop willy-nilly, like kids playing tag, or to disappear from the desktop entirely.  Either way, the trackpad flatly refused to respond.

You know what this means, right?  A trip down the black hole of tech support.  Online chats and discussion forums directed me to restart in safe boot, in recovery mode, to reset something called PRAM, which has nothing to do with British babies.  All to no avail. Aubrianna was the name of the virtual assistant who chatted with me online late last night, coaching me through an SMC reset.  This achieved precisely nothing.  She said she wouldn’t leave me without making sure her proposed solution worked for me, but the girl was COLD.  She was on to the next complainant before the beachball even began spinning on my desktop.  My Apple case number lead only to an error message.  It used to be a matter of a click or two to book an appointment at the nearby Genius bar, but now you have to claw through about seven screens to get to the list of available times.  It’s like the obstacle course at bootcamp; one false move and you’re off the wall and down in the mud.  The earliest appointment I could find is Thursday at 5:00 p.m., which when you are a writer, designer and web solutions consultant, is basically as a good as “never.”

Thankfully, for just $12.99 and a ten-minute drive to my local Staples, I was able to pick up this adorable little pink wireless mouse gizmo.  It’s been years since I’ve used a mouse.  We have a picture of Mia at age three sitting by the old desktop tower, holding the cabled mouse up to her ear as if it were a phone.  That mouse was replaced by a snappy-looking red wireless version, but this was years ago, and with all our de-cluttering over the past few days, we couldn’t find it anywhere. Reacquainting myself with mouse technique was a little irritating at first. I kept swiping two fingers around the trackpad, looking in vain for the cursor, or wondering why the screen wouldn’t scroll.  But it’s like riding a bike, the muscle memory comes right back. Using a mouse is like driving a little sports car.  No more slouching in overstuffed, upholstered chairs while I write, or fanning myself outside on the patio. Until I meet my Genius, I am writing properly, at the kitchen desk, back straight and feet on the floor.  It feels very businesslike.  I like it.

Everything old is new again.

Gratitude #23

 

 

De-cluttering

690358116-612x612Ok, so I don’t actually believe that my life will change just because yesterday John and I KonMaried all the books in the house, packing 14 boxes of tomes that once captivated us, but through the years have lost their luster in our hearts.  Using the Japanese de-cluttering principles set forth in Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” we went room by room through all the bookshelves (and stacks, piles, bins, and baskets–also a few boxes of books we had previously packed to give away, but forgot to drop off at the library book sale.)  We held each book in our hands and tried to observe whether it brought us a sensation of joy.  The results surprised me, in some cases:  all the Irish poetry collections from my year at Trinity College in Dublin, Patrick Kavanaugh and Seamus Heaney, those loamy, boozy, sainted laureates:  gone, without a backward glance.  Yeats’ poetry stayed, but his dramas, which were the subject of my senior thesis?  Slán leat, which is gaelic for goodbye.  Billy Collins, Adrienne Rich, Mary Oliver and Rilke got to stay, but poor Wallace Stevens got thrown in the give-away box in duplicate, once by me from the poetry section in the bookcase next to the bed, and once by John, who had a different edition on his bedside table. I may never again read To Kill A Mockingbird, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Beloved, but they made the cut without a second thought. Among my books about writing, I kept Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Robert McKee’s Story, Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones — I stole some of Goldberg’s prompts when I taught high school essay writing; I still use Berg’s thought-starters when I’m stuck.  I couldn’t do without Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful Big Magic, about the divinity that feeds all creative endeavors, but easily parted ways with her novels and the memoir Eat, Pray, Love, even though I loved it when I read it.  I’ll admit that I gave away Anna Karenina, but kept every single volume of Harry Potter.

Today, we took on closets and clothes. I thought I’d be relieved to donate my grandmother’s Galliano mink coat:  It’s too small for me; it used to be alive; I don’t have the right lifestyle for mink; it’s supposed to be cold-stored in summer (oops). But then I touched it, my heart opening like a camera shutter, letting in light.  We weren’t super close, but she gave it to me. It still smells of her New York apartment, dusty, airless, a hint of her perfume, Shalimar.

“When are you ever going to wear it,” asked John, when I rescued it from the give-away pile.

“Never,” I said. “Not in a million years.”

“Then why are you keeping it?”

I had no explanation, except that, just like Kondo says in her book, it sparked joy.  So back in the closet it went.

We are now leaner by dozens of cubic feet of books, coats, sweaters, boots and bed linens.  Tomorrow we move on to miscellaneous cabinets: the CD, VHS and DVD collections, knitting and needlepoint yarn from unfinished projects, the basement closet chockful of board games.

It feels good to pare down to the essentials.  We are realizing that having so much random stuff distracts us from the good stuff, how easy it is to excise things that don’t matter to us.  The extra space is lovely.

Gratitude #22