Saturday, January 02, 2010

I Resolve to Read the Calendar Better

I'm staying at my parents' house for a couple of weeks. They are off having sun and warmth in Mexico, but Jimmy's mom who is 90 and lives with them had a difficult time recovering from pneumonia recently, so I'm here to call 911 if I need to, to try to force her to accept my help with her breakfast and lunch, and to cook dinner for her and Ann (the other elderly housemate). I'm not used to having such regular meals, and if this weren't the lap of luxury, I'd be feeling all crowded and introverted. Since it's an enormous house, I'm on the third floor alone right now, typing away, while Ann naps and Dorothy knits in the sun room. We each have our own floor.

This morning, I got up early (to train myself for the inevitability of going back to school on Monday), walked the dog in the freezing, freezing cold, and headed off to Uptown to cross off my first New Year's resolution. I was going to my first belly dancing lesson in the dance studio above Birch's Pharmacy. Classes begin at the beginning of January and they are offered almost every day of the week, but I decided that Saturday was best for me. Otherwise it becomes a day of too much thinking, moping, and procrastinating.

Well, I got there only to discover that classes actually begin on Monday, so Saturday's first class isn't until next week. This was all very clearly spelled out on their website, which I checked three times before I headed off to a strange land, but despite my enormous brain, I have all kinds of trouble reading calendars, and so I misread the date.

Anyway, I made the best of it. An outing is never bad when you are younger than your housemates by over 50 years. I bought myself some Yak Tracks so I can walk Buddy through ice and snow. Then I got home, and crossed off another resolution by buying my train ticket to Portland.

Now, I'm at least 90 percent certain that my Portland ticket really does involve travel during the actual dates of my Spring Break, but it was all on a calendar so I can never be 100 percent certain until the date actually comes around.


Friday, January 01, 2010


In case you didn't receive this in the mail, here is my resolution list for 2010. Hope you're enjoying the day. Here in MN it's sunny and even colder than the thermometer says.

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve never written the holiday letter or Christmas card before because I don’t have any cute kids to share with you. Buddy doesn’t like having his picture taken, and although I am pretty vain, I draw the line at sending everyone I know of photo of myself for Christmas. However, I am the number one fan of your holiday cards and photos, and so, to encourage you not to drop me from your list, here is my first annual New Years Resolution letter.

Whereas, I have room to improve and grow in 2010, be it resolved that this year I vow to do the following.

  1. Smile more, especially in November and February.
  2. Say goodbye to everyone when I leave a party
  3. Go to graduate school (finally) starting in March
  4. Go to the gym twelve times a month, until such time as it is warm enough to allow my membership to lapse
  5. Be less cheap
  6. Take the train to Portland, OR for Spring Break
  7. Go to my 15-year reunion, and be proud of what I’ve done in the last 15-years, even though I’ve never yet been ambassador to the U.N. Nor have I cured cancer. At least I didn’t join a cult.
  8. Run another half marathon and beat my time from last year
  9. Have more dinner parties
  10. Take myself out to dinner more
  11. Finish painting the basement
  12. Go to the Dominican Republic in the summer
  13. Join a running club and go more than twice before I quit
  14. Visit the Black Hills
  15. Learn to dance or at least take lessons.
  16. Go to a weekly exercise class at least four weeks in a row
  17. Say yes more
  18. Say no more
  19. Stop procrastinating
  20. Ask for help when I need it
  21. Write more
  22. Read more books
  23. Join a book club that reads books
  24. Design knitting patterns and write them down

Furthermore, the following resolutions will happen in 2010, although they will most likely not result in much growth or improvement.

  1. Watch the rest of West Wing, even though the walk-and-talk is starting to annoy me
  2. Forget to wash the dishes sometimes before I go to bed
  3. Hope that Buddy can survive the night without a third walk
  4. Laugh with my nephews and nieces and my pseudo nieces and nephews
  5. Eat many dinners at Jimmy and Judy’s house
  6. Knit in front of the TV
  7. Play Wii at Perley and Jill’s
  8. Watch So You Think You Can Dance with Sarah
  9. Eat at least one Jucy Lucy
  10. Eat too many croissants at A Baker’s Wife

Finally, the following resolutions will continue from last year (and the year before).

  1. Volunteer every other week at the library
  2. Donate blood sporadically
  3. Give everything I can to teaching, because it’s a job I love and do well
  4. Pay my mortgage close to on time
  5. Care deeply for my friends and family and the children of my friends and family.

I am grateful to have you in my life. Have a happy new year. Don’t forget to send any hot single guys you meet my way for a once over.

Love and kisses from Alex and Buddy

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Permanent Collection

The fourth floor of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts is a busy place this time of year. The period rooms are all done up for the holidays, and families and school groups wander through to see the glitter. Anyone who has ever had a doll house knows the fascination of the period rooms. We long to rearrange the furniture, we imagine dramatic domestic scenes around the fireplace, and we picture the people readying themselves for the night in that tiny colonial bed. I have a special fascination for the period rooms, because all the years I was a child I didn't even know they existed (did they exist then?), and it wasn't until one Christmas that my step-mother took me to see them in their full splendor that I discovered a whole wing of the MIA my usual tour guides (Jimmy, Claire, my dad) must have avoided on purpose. Still, as I've gotten older I've realized that the period rooms never change. Even the holiday dazzle is the same year after year. The sameness of the rooms makes them uninteresting. I've seen them. Done that.

Meanwhile, the rest of the art on the fourth floor is the same as it always was, but it just gets better every time I go. There's the stunning one of woman lying in the grass eating an apple with her baby (Cassatt, I think. I'm not very good at remembering to read the tags). There's a nude painted by a man who has never seen a naked woman. There's a baby painted by a man who has never seen a baby. And then stop! Here's that breathtaking scene of Lucretia with the knife. Rooms of angels and religious paintings lull me back into my museum stupor, and then she catches my eye again, the woman with the candle, the flame of it covered by some man's arm, but the glow of it perfectly reflected on each of the faces huddled urgently around her. There's the couple in the moonlight. I'm not sure I love Gauguin, with his bold swatches of color, but used to have a puzzle of one of his paintings, and so I spend some time reuniting with it in the museum. And of course, I have to pause each time at the bust of the Algerian, stark contrast of bronze and stone.

Around me, on the fourth floor of the museum, the ones who make it past the period rooms to look at the permanent collection gasp along with me. I think they must gasp each time at the same place in the room. I know I do. The best paintings are old friends that still catch me by the shirtsleeves each time I see them.

"Look!" says a man to his son, "If you stand close, it's just dots. If you back up you can see the picture. He did it all with dots. Can you believe it? Just dots."

"Oh no!" shouts a woman to her out-of-town companion. "They moved it. Where is it? Oh! Oh! Here it is. Isn't it breathtaking? Isn't it wonderful?"

"It's perfect," says the man of the elderly couple to his wife. She agrees, and they stand silently in front of the Carpet Vendor for a minute, just looking.

I wonder if the way we enjoy art is Minnesotan. If we lived in Manhattan, we'd have so many more paintings to see that it would take longer to make friends with our favorites. We'd have traveling shows come and visit us, and we'd be able to make new acquaintances so easily that we might not cling so steadfastly to what we know and like. We might not notice if they move one of our favorites to a different wall. We might go to the museum not to see the dozen paintings we already love, but to meet new ones and allow them to impress us. We might not spend our entire play-going budget each year on the same old "Christmas Carol" at the Guthrie.

I don't know, but I do know that I can't wait to go back again so I can see Lucretia without the tour of catholic school tenth graders blocking my view.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Those Crazy Japanese

I wasn't blogging, but that doesn't mean there hasn't been any action on this site.

I have mixed feelings about people reading this blog lately. Part of me wants to be famous with legions of fans. I want to use my blog fame to make friends and influence people. I want to flash my fame when I enter a restaurant so I can get a better table. But another, equally real, part of me, feels a little bit naked on the Internet, and I think about closing this site down so that I can get dressed and stop over-sharing with the whole wide world. That part of me kind of hopes that no one is reading these words, and figures that long periods of silence are a good thing because they drive down my readership.

So, I haven't written anything or checked this blog for comments for about a month. But that doesn't mean that there hasn't been any action on this site.

When I logged in recently, I noticed that one of my posts had eighty-four comments! Oh, the mixed feelings began to crowd out all other thoughts when I saw that number. Eighty-four people care what I have to say! I'm famous! Oh, crap. That means that eighty-four people read my post. Damn it. Did my students find me? What did I write? Crap. Crap. Crap.

So, I was filled with eagerness and dread when I clicked on this post to discover that in my absence, it has become some sort of Japanese sex chat room. At least, I assume it's Japanese. I use Firefox, and I've noticed before that Japanese characters display as a block of four numbers for Firefox users who don't bother to get the Japanese plug-in. I assume it's about sex because every once in while, embedded between the non-English characters, are words that hint at sex. Words like "sex", for example.

I deleted a ton of the comments, but there isn't an easy way to delete mass amounts of comments on Blogger, so I got lazy and decided to be content with zapping all of the ones that had English-character email addresses in them. I've also disallowed anonymous comments on this blog.

Anyway, I guess I got exactly what I wanted. I got legions of people to come to my blog. Fans, if you will. Chances are, they don't really read English, though, so I got the other thing I wanted: None of them is reading what I wrote. Perfect.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The One Without a Title

You know what, you guys? I cried. Pretty much all of November, I cried. You wouldn't know it to look at me, but I can make a lot of tears when I get going.

When you start crying like that, you don't really need a reason to keep crying. It just does itself. Tears upon tears. Thinking about all the people who saw you cry, or suspect you cried, or might just think you are crying without having seen you in years can be enough to bring more tears. Writing the words "I cried" was enough to bring some more, even though today's tears are stoppable, which is the difference.

All through November, it was a torrent of heart-crushing grief. There were phone messages from my mother I couldn't play, because they were going to make it start again. There was incredible guilt whenever I did talk to her, because every conversation ended with me unable to speak past the lump in my throat and the ache in my heart, and I know that she worries and it's not fair to still do that to her after thirty-six years. There were car rides to and from the Suburb throughout which I was so wracked by sobs, I could barely see the road.

Some of it was logical. I got dumped in November, twice, including once by a guy so unworthy of me, he ignored me for a week, and then finally (and only after I asked him to explain himself) wrote me an email explaining that he wasn't ready for a relationship. I gave him three months of precious teacher-weekends, and he couldn't take the time to dial the phone to say "no thank you" in person or at least in voice.

You know it's a bad month when you end it by thanking a guy for taking the time to dump you in person. I thought I met someone really, really good in November. His emails said all of the right things. He was charming and cute in person. Our one and only date went so well I felt something I haven't felt in a long time (something like lust. Desire maybe.). Maybe if I weren't so very ready to find someone charming and cute, and if he weren't so very not, this story would have ended happily. It didn't. It ended familiarly, at least. One good date, followed by silence. And then that final conversation.

The problem is that logical or not, crying over break-ups does you no good. No one wants to hear about it when you're 36 anyway. They would have been more sympathetic when you were seventeen (not that you dated, then, because of the whole thing where you never talked in high school). Nowadays, the world likes to tell you that you can be happy by yourself. The world likes to tell you that you'll find your match when you're least looking for it (Is this the advice you give to your unemployed friends? You'll find your job when you stop wanting a job?), and you should get busy living your life alone. I do live alone. Every day. I've lived alone for more years than most of the world ever does.

So, you have a choice, ultimately. You can choose to think about how much you hurt or you can choose to not. It ends when you find the strength to choose the latter. Then the tears stop. You find your humor again. You can talk to your mother and neither of you has to end up in tears. You can go to school and you can even come home and grade homework. It doesn't hurt so very much because you decided not to let it hurt so much.

Thank you, you say, with real grace. Thank you, for taking the time to meet with me in person, to have this real conversation with me. Thank you for saying what you think will help me. Thank you for being my sweet mother who doesn't deserve to have to worry. Thank you for being my friend with an extra N who will feed me soup and listen to me cry. I live alone. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me in person. I'm worth it.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


When I have a ton of work to do, often I'll get overwhelmed. I'll stew on it, worrying about it. I'll put off friends who want to have fun, because I have all this work to do, and then I'll feel sad about missing the fun that I'll procrastinate for so long that I might as well have just gone out and had the fun.

So, today, I finally just decided. "Crap," I decided. "I have a lot of work to do. I'm going to have to pull an all-dayer." So I got in my car, and I drove to the suburb, and I sat myself down and I graded paper after paper. I didn't let myself relax until I had graded every last test - all 80 of them, two pages, double-sided, crammed with tiny little numbers, written in haste and not-tidily by 80 stressed-out high-school students. "I don't understand how to do any of this," they said on Friday, the first hint of a whine I've had all year (it's been a good year). They had five tests yesterday. I'm thinking they'd know if they hadn't had to study for four different tests (and what are they doing putting other subjects ahead of Calculus, anyway?). Test results do not back up their claims. They know how to do some of it. One of them even knows how to do all of it, plus the bonus.

I still have work to do, but after my all-dayer I know that I can do it in the 24-hours before I have to be back at school. Enough with the whining. Just do it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Something Small

The reason you haven't heard from me: I was thinking about me and dating, and I decided that I'm not going to let myself think that it's my fault that I'm single, anymore. It's just plain, dumb luck, and while there are lots of ways you make your own luck, there are also lots of ways in which your plain, dumb luck is Not Your Fault.

Like, for example this: You meet a guy. He's attractive and he seems to be into you. You're into him. Then, bam, he stops calling. What happened?

Correct answer: God only knows. Do yourself a favor. Stop thinking about it.

Or this: You meet a guy. You like him. He likes you. Then, bam, everything he does annoys the crap out of you. You can't even stand to be in the same room with him. What happened?

Correct answer: Who cares? Stop thinking about it. Just get out of the room as fast as you can.

Advice by Al. Free. And worth every penny.