Archive | October 2011

Entropy Part II – the lure of laziness

Nia class with Lisa Geddings

It’s high noon, and my Nia* class at the YMCA is just ending. Over a dozen women sit cross-legged on the floor as Richele says a prayer of gratitude. Unfortunately, I’m not there – I’m just getting out of bed.

No, I’m not sick. I’m just lazy. When 10:30 rolled around, time to don my workout clothes and leave for class, I made the conscious decision to stay tucked in bed under a down comforter, sipping coffee and reading the paper. This is by no means the first time I’ve made this choice. My goal is to hit the Y three times a week for Nia class followed by a weight-lifting session on the Fit-Linx circuit. I love the Nia class, and I always feel better afterwards – happier and more energized.

I’m not crazy about the workout on the weight machines, but I like the feedback from the people following me who are amazed at the amount of weight I lift, and I enjoy ogling the men working their muscles with the free weights.

Recently I skipped two full weeks, for the most part with the flimsiest of excuses – for example, the fact that this summer’s purple polish had flaked raggedly off my toenails. I couldn’t find the polish remover, and I was afraid the other women would look at my toes and judge them scruffy (we dance barefoot in class.) Finally back at the Y Monday, I found the class much more strenuously aerobic than it seemed before, and I couldn’t do as many reps on the weight machines as I usually do.

It’s scary how falling out of shape comes so quickly and easily when I cocoon myself in bed instead of making the healthy choice and hauling my tush off that comfy mattress. It reminds me of the description of entropy from my last post: “a measure of the unavailability of energy in a closed system.” Yielding to the lure of lassitude gives entropy a greater hold on our bodies, and there’s strong evidence it shortens our lives.

There’s a saying that Zen monks recite at the close of each day:

Let me respectfully remind you – Life and death are of supreme importance. Time swiftly passes by and opportunity is lost. This moment is an opportunity to awaken. Take heed. Do not squander this moment.*

Biologically, as we age, our bodies yield to entropy. Inevitably, if we live long enough, things begin to break down. Our sight and hearing become less acute, our arteries begin to clog and our cells to break down. By making healthy choices, we can forestall the process to some extent, but in the end, our aging bodies fail us. But do succumbing to inertia and squandering the moment speed the journey toward death? There’s evidence they do. So do genetics, poor choices in diet, and lack of a social support network.

I’m getting a tad gloomy here. That’s one reason I took such a prolonged break from blogging – I didn’t want to play Debbie Downer and depress people with my negative thoughts. But I’ve finally found a way to channel my shadow side: my next novel will feature a character who magnifies the worst features of my depressive side. She’ll wallow in clutter, eat and drink too much and spend most of her waking hours in her Lazy-Boy recliner watching TV – when she’s not playing computer solitaire, that is. On the plus side, she’ll have a wicked sense of humor. I look forward to meeting her when I begin the NaNoWriMo novel-writing challenge next week.

How often do you succumb to lassitude and entropy? Do you have any remedies? I’d love to hear from you.

* Nia’s a movement practice that combines dance, martial arts and healing disciplines. For more information, visit www.nianow.com. In New York’s Albany area, Richele Corbo and Laura Bulatao are the Nia teachers who’ve inspired me over the years. The photo is of a class in Bethesda, led by Lisa Geddings.

**I’m indebted to Reverend Sam Trumbore, minister for the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, for this quote. It’s from a sermon he gave in 2004 titled “Praising Percipiency.” You can find it by going to the FUUSA website and clicking on “sermons,” which are archived by date.

Entropeia – Goddess of Disorder

Kali

I’ve long been fascinated by the concept of entropy, the idea that chaos and disorder tend to increase in a closed system. I’m not talking about the scientific explanations – the second law of thermodynamics and all the inscrutable equations that remind me of why science courses terrified me in college. Rather, I’m using the term the way sociologists do, as a measure of what Merriam-Webster describes as “chaos, disorganization, randomness.”

 As a description of my life, sometimes those words seem all too apt. Another definition I like describes entropy as “a measure of the unavailability of energy in a closed system” – not a bad description of clinical depression, when life closes in claustrophobically and it’s hard even to get out of bed. I’ve only recently emerged from over a year of living in this sorry state, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

A year ago, in the depths of my doldrums, I summoned the energy to write a poem in which entropy takes on the guise of a goddess. Here it is:

Entropeia

I’m Entropeia, Goddess of Disorder

Shape shifter, seductress

Enticing as your cat Lunesta

Purring and writhing on your desk

Unsheathed claws swatting the mouse

Knocking your pens and papers to the floor

Where they remain untouched for days on end

 

Over the years I’ve worn away

The letters at the center of your keyboard

A dozen keys, blank as an erased blackboard

Your fingers blindly grope for vanished symbols

You used to know by heart

 

Words become maddeningly elusive

Refuse to reveal themselves

Hide in the plaques and tangles

Of your aging brain

I wield Time’s Arrow

Wound you with panicked fear

Of irreversible dementia

 

I lure you with endless hours

Of Spider solitaire

Clawed hand cramping the mouse

You bargain with time for one more game

And throw away another day

Blundering on with stinging eyes

Till darkness falls

 

Nature tends from order to disorder

In isolated systems

That’s the entropic law that guides my every move

Your every lonely act or lazy lack of action

Under my ruthless reign

You fall apart

 

Athena

I’m delighted to report I no longer feel I’m falling apart, and I’ve managed to transcend my writer’s block and fear of dementia. But the other manifestations of disorder and chaos remain major issues. Lunesta still writhes around on my desk and tries to swat the mouse to the floor, and yes, she’s named for the sleeping pill I still take every night.

And I’m still using the same keyboard with the rubbed-away letters. The year of nonproductivity impacted on my touch typing ability, and I make more typos than I used to. Still, on the whole, life is good.

 

 

 

 

True crime in vivid color – Gadhafi’s death caught on video

Logging onto Facebook early this afternoon, I saw a post saying that Gadhafi had been shot and killed in Libya today. Thinking it might merely be a rumor, I checked the Drudge Report and learned from a New York Times story that it was true. My shadow side rejoiced, while the more ethical side I habitually show the world was troubled by the brutality of the murder without trial.

I was even more troubled when I clicked onto Drudge’s link for a “graphic video” on YouTube and came upon the grisly image of Gadhafi being dragged along the street by his attackers. Perhaps he was still alive at that point, because as reported by the AP, he was killed by two bullets, one to the heart and one to the head, and it took about 30 minutes for him to bleed to death.

That horrific video, brought to us in vivid color by the Al Jazeera news service, elicited a visceral reaction in a way that more matter-of-fact reporting never does. My heart pounded harder and my stomach lurched. Like all too many of us, I’ve become blasé about the incessant violence on TV and in the movies, but this was obviously the real thing.

Even more distressing than the images were the comments that poured into You Tube. There was a great deal of intense anger and venom. One viewer wrote that he wished it had been Obama being dragged dying through the streets; another thought the same fate should befall “Jews everywhere.” Few comments reached such toxic extremes, but there was plenty of profanity on all sides of the issue, and people hurled insults and epithets at each other. Others, less caught up in the issues, critiqued the amateurish quality of the camera work as if they were reviewing a movie.

I turned on CNN, and they aired a few seconds of the Al Jazeera footage. The glamorous, impeccably groomed reporter came close to apologizing, saying they were showing the video only to establish that it was indeed Gadhafi being dragged through the streets. When I got back to my computer, the Drudge Report had removed the link to that video, but it’s easy to find on YouTube.

Tonight, somewhat to my surprise, ABC and CBS aired slightly less gruesome footage of Kadhafi being roughly dragged by the rebels just prior to the shooting, followed by still shots of his dead body in the ambulance and wrapped in plastic sheeting, and close-ups of his fractured face in death. Neither network prefaced the video by warning viewers of the graphic nature of what they were about to see.

Is this form of reality TV getting more intense? When I think back to the tumultuous events of the 1960’s, black and white still photos come to mind. Many have become an iconic part of our collective memory – the Vietnamese child burned by napalm and running naked in the road, the girl kneeling with upraised arms next to the body of one of the victims at Kent State, Robert Kennedy dying on a California floor. I don’t recall seeing any movie or video footage, but in those days I considered myself too hip to own a television.

My husband tells me that the vivid filmed footage of the war in Vietnam heightened antiwar sentiment, and that after the war, the government tightened control of the images the public was allowed to see. Even the sight of coffins being airlifted back from Iraq became taboo.

I’m not advocating for that kind of censorship, however. On the contrary, in-your-face close-up coverage like today’s videos of Gadhafi’s assassination drives home the stark reality of the events playing out on the world stage. However painful the images may be, we can’t afford to look away.

What do you think? Is news coverage more graphic than it used to be? And is that good or bad? I’d love to hear from you.

Everybody look what’s going down – Stills song still rings true

 There’s something happening here – what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Stephen Stills

Last week at The Egg, the crowd cheered when Stephen Stills sang the opening words to his classic song, “For What It’s Worth,” as his final encore. The lyrics ring as true today as they did 45 years ago when he wrote them for Buffalo Springfield, and he sang them with a gutsy sense of urgency.

You can find the lyrics in full at the end of this post, along with a surprising twist on the events that inspired them. But what motivated me to write about the concert was the vivid  memory of my encounter with Stills in1972. He was playing with his band Manassas at the Academy of Music on 14th Street in New York City, the same venue where I first heard the Rolling Stones. A man I can’t recall had scored tickets to the Manassas concert and a coveted invitation to the party that followed, and he invited me along.

The concert was excellent, but Stephen thought otherwise. At the party, in a high-rise apartment on the East Side, I found myself in a bedroom with him and numerous others. Various drugs were there in abundance – even opium – but for the most part, I wasn’t partial to those kinds of substances. Perhaps I’d had a bit too much to drink, though. Stephen was critiquing the concert, saying that the band had sounded shitty and the whole performance was crap. 

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I remember saying. “You shouldn’t put yourself down like that; you sounded great.”  He mumbled something in reply, and we went back to partying. So much for that fleeting brush with fame. 

At The Egg 39 years later, he still had that same self-deprecating quality. He joked about his failing memory for lyrics, attributing it to drugs as well as aging. Mentioning Aspen, he said “I spent most of the time face down in the snow – no, wait, that was Miami.”  The 1980’s went by in a blur, apparently, but his recall of lyrics was just fine, and his guitar playing was excellent. 

His voice is beginning to fail, and he actually sang off-key at times, especially in the first set. Remembering the elegant harmonies of Crosby, Stills & Nash, I could barely believe it was the same singer. Even so, his raggedy voice has a lived-in quality that’s still compelling. Yesterday I heard the original Buffalo Springfield version of “For What It’s Worth” while I was driving to the YMCA, and his voice was much less expressive than it is today.

Researching Stills and the song online, I learned that although people consider it a protest song about the war in Vietnam and our society in general, in fact he wrote it about a riot on the Sunset Strip in 1966, protesting early curfews for the clubs. The title, “For what it’s worth,” comes from a conversation he had with Ahmet Ertugun of Atlantic Records – “Here’s a new song, for what it’s worth.” 

Even so, the song packs a powerful message today, especially as we approach the tenth anniversary of the Patriot Act:

For What It’s Worth

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, hooray for our side

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
You better Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
You better Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down 

The Sixties were a tumultuous decade. Fifty years later, as the gulf between the haves and the have-nots grows ever wider and our Big Brother government has the wherewithal to track our every move, we’re on the verge of another seismic shift in our society. Stephen Stills is right: everybody look what’s going down. It may well be the country we used to call the land of the free.

So what can we do about it? As they used to say, “think globally, act locally.” Or, with an election year coming up, act nationally. Too bad it’s probably too late for a viable third-party candidate to come along, but let’s make ourselves heard.

Paul Simon – How terribly strange to be seventy

Paul Simon

Yesterday was Paul Simon’s seventieth birthday, and he’s still going strong. Nonetheless, I can’t help remembering his lyrics from “Old Men,” released on the Simon & Garfunkel album “Bookends” in 1968:
Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly.
How terribly strange to be seventy.
These days, he’s not sitting sedately on a park bench – this year he released a beautiful new album, “So Beautiful or So What,” and he’s about to embark on a fall tour.

Bob Dylan turned 70 last May 14, and John Lennon would have been 71 this past Sunday, October 9. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Sir Paul McCartney chose to marry his third wife, Nancy Shevell, that same day. At 69, he doesn’t fit the “When I get old and losing my hair” image of “When I’m Sixty-Four,” and

Paul McCartney

he’s still taking on new challenges, like writing a musical score for a new ballet, “Ocean’s Kingdom,” for the New York City Ballet. This maiden voyage was almost unanimously panned – critic Tobi Tobias said the score “runs the gamut from movie music to faux-Broadway” – but you’ve got to give the “cute Beatle” credit for trying, even though he’s not as cute as he used to be. I can’t help wondering what marvelous music John and George would have created had they lived this long. I’ve heard all these artists live in concert more than once, including the Beatles’ famed Shea Stadium concerts in the Sixties.

Then there are the Rolling Stones, arguably the world’s greatest rock band. Their peerless drummer Charlie Watts turned 70 this past June 2nd, and Mick and Keith will hit that milestone in 2013. Despite all the hard-won wrinkles in their faces and the ribbing they’ve taken from late-night comedians who claim they’re geriatric, they still put on a fabulous show, or at least they did when I caught their “Bigger Bang” tour in Albany in 2005. The music sounded better than ever.

Why all this concern over a mere number? It’s because I turned 70 on July 31 – a milestone I’d been dreading. But when I woke that morning, I felt strangely relieved. I took a stab at blogging about it, but I was still suffering from depression and writer’s block, and the words refused to come. Perhaps I was still ambivalent about revealing my true age, but if rock superstars come clean about their advancing years, why shouldn’t I? Maybe because I’m a woman, and when it comes to looks, the sexist double standard still reigns supreme.

Physically I’m feeling as healthy as ever, though no doubt I’m losing a fair number of brain cells every day. I’ve been calling myself a crone for about a decade now, ever since I turned 60. I’ve used the term in various computer passwords. (One of them, long obsolete now, was NorseKrone. I changed the spelling in honor of the famous woman jockey, Julie Krone.) But I’m still taken aback when I tell people my age and they don’t seem surprised. Part of me longs to hear those unbelieving protests, along the lines of “I don’t believe it – you don’t look a day over 60.”

More and more people are calling me “Ma’am” and offering to carry my luggage or help me up from an awkward seated position. I’m okay with that, but less okay with looking in mirrors. Currently we’re remodeling our bathroom, which for years has been forgivingly dim, and I cringe at the idea of installing those theatrical strips of multiple bulbs, but I suppose I’ll adapt in time.

Maybe eventually I’ll learn to joke about my age. Stephen Stills managed to pull that off at a concert on Tuesday night, making cracks about his less than acute hearing and the gaps in his memory, but he’s still only 66. And he has some valid explanations – all those years of playing rock and roll in front of banks of amplifiers and blunting his brain with drugs.

That reminds me of the wild party where I met Stephen Stills and gave him some unsolicited advice – hard to believe that was 40 years ago! But I’ll save that for the next blog post. In the meantime, rock on, all you oldies but goodies!

Charlie, Mick and Keith

Hallelujah – Discovering e-books, finally!

I’m declaring it official – I’m finally free of depression. After fifteen full months of wallowing in the doldrums, at last I’m genuinely happy. The reason? I’ve decided to write a new novel.

During my long dark night of the soul, I wasn’t at all sure I’d ever write again. If anything, I thought I might try my hand at nonfiction, maybe memoir, but it seemed my muse had deserted me, maybe for good. Turning 70 didn’t help. On the contrary, it confirmed the fact that I was finally a bona fide elder, and therefore absolved of the responsibility to do very much of anything. I confronted the years ahead with dread, because I couldn’t envision anything but irreversible decline.

So what happened? Last Sunday afternoon I attended a panel discussion and workshop sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, and organized by my good friend Marilyn Rothstein, who writes historical mysteries under the name M.E. Kemp. I hadn’t attended a writers’ conference for well over a year, and Sunday reminded me how essential the inspiration from other writers can be.

In particular, the panel discussion on e-books was exciting. Technophobe that I am, I’d steered clear of confronting this strange new world of publishing, but Gloria Waldron Hukle summarized the basics and made the process seem far less intimidating. (She admitted that her husband helped enormously with the technical aspects, and I’m hoping mine will do so as well.) Susanne Alleyn described her own positive experiences with Kindle. After being dropped by a major publisher, she got back the rights for her out-of-print books, and her agent helped get them on Kindle. The monthly royalty checks were especially satisfying, she said.

The royalty rates are great on Kindle: 70 percent on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35 percent on books under or over those amounts. There’s no upfront expenditure. I love the idea of pricing my books so that people can actually afford them. At panel discussions and signings, people have often told me they’d love to buy my books, but they simply don’t have the money. At $4.99 a pop, maybe they can take a chance. (Personally, I think long and hard before shelling out $15.00 for a trade paperback, and I very rarely buy hardcover books – practically the only one I sprung for this year was Keith Richards’s autobiography, since he’s always been my favorite Stone.)

After the break, Hallie Ephron gave a mini-workshop on “Crafting a Page Turner.” I found that inspiring as well, but I’ll save the details for a later post.

Back home that evening, I logged onto Kindle and studied their guide to online publishing. There are lots of technical steps involved, and I found it somewhat intimidating, but I could actually picture myself doing it!

On a three-hour road trip to the New York State Convention of Universalists this weekend, I dug through my black leather Fossil bag, the one I use when I want to look professionally upscale, and realized to my dismay that when I switched handbags, I’d forgotten my reading glasses. I can read without them, but just barely, and before long my eyes begin to smart and sting. I was in a mild panic till my husband handed me the Nook reader he’d recently bought at Barnes & Noble. He showed me how to enlarge the type size, and to my amazement, I was able to read easily for hours without glasses and without eyestrain, more comfortably than I can read a traditional book. And I found I could easily and discretely read while appearing reasonably attentive during boring workshop presentations. So I’m definitely going to buy myself a Kindle as soon as the newest model comes out next month. Then we’ll be able to compare and contrast the relative merits of each e-reader.

Back home last night, I resumed the search for my glasses. I was sure I’d left them in the depths of the purse I’d left behind, but they weren’t there. After a frantic half-hour search of the house and car, I finally found them in an unexplored side pocket of the black bag. So I’d had them all along, but I’m glad I didn’t know it – the weekend gave me a crash course in the virtues of e-reading, and proof positive that I need to convert my novels to e-books ASAP.

It’s great to feel myself tapping into the wellspring of my creativity after a prolonged period of drought. I hope you’ll visit my blog again, and leave comments – this time I truly plan to post more frequently.