Friday, September 21, 2007


Today I realized that on October 8, and on every Tuesday thereafter, I will be able to get 10% off my purchases at Ross Dress for Less. Not that I typically shop there -- but Ross is wedged in between my two preferred discount stores, TJMaxx and Filene's Basement, in a local strip mall and, walking from one to the other, I couldn't help but notice the huge poster in their window that might as well have had Uncle Sam pointing his finger straight at my graying head. Speaking of hair, as usual at this time of year I've been thinking about coloring mine, which, to be perfectly honest, has stopped graying and is now shedding even that last little bit of pigment in favor of silver and white. The only thing that prevents me is the awareness that even the tiniest bit of root growth flashes like a lighthouse beam when it's silvery-white and nothing makes a woman of a certain age look even older than gray/silver/white roots.

Yes, it's almost my birthday and this year I complete my 55th year. I am officially on my way to 60. If I were not part of the Baby Boom generation, I would be leaving middle age and creeping up on elderly. Fortunately, that won't happen. Having more or less come to terms with the ugly realization that the only alternative to middle age is death, we Boomers don't intend to let it go that easily. None of us will ever be elderly, aged, senior, or geriatric, not even in our 90s. It may not be pretty, but we will be middled-aged for the rest of our lives. Middle-aged R Us.

So far my body is helping me out with this fiction, in spite of my total failure to get on the physical fitness bandwagon. My anti-bandwagon stance started early: as a child, the only thing I didn't like about JFK was that he made us do sit-ups. Seriously, there was some kind of presidential physical fitness initiative when I was in elementary school and all of a sudden instead of hanging out on the swings at recess, I had to do sit-ups and chin-ups and, most humiliating of all, girl push-ups. When this happened, in the second or third grade, I was already committed to a fully sedentary life of the mind and typically spent recess trying to sneak back into the classroom to read. (The swings were my back-up activity if the sneaking failed, since swinging was something you could do sitting down.)

I have, however, been feeling extremely achy and creaky, which is probably why the age thing is on my mind. The reason is that on Tuesday I fell. I was walking to a meeting on a long up-hill sidewalk that's broken every 15 feet or so by a set of 4 steps. On one of those sets of steps I somehow managed to get both feet off the ground at the same time. I don't mean that I jumped. Both my feet were just no longer on the ground. Since I was moving forward when this happened, I continued to move forward, but also down. My knees hit first, then my right hand and then my right cheek. I was flat out on the sidewalk with little stars and birds circling my head. I sat up and waited for the spots to stop swirling in front of my eyes, then gathered my scattered belongings and continued up campus to the meeting, where I received much sympathy and a bag of ice for my cheek.

The worst thing about the fall was that four young men were walking towards me when it happened. They saw me fall. They saw my belongings scatter. They saw me sit, dazed, with my hand on my cheek. They walked right past me and said not one word. It's true, I thought - the basis of every cozy British house mystery, that gray-haired women are invisible, is true. I ranted about this to my colleagues at the meeting, who were shocked. When I got home, I ranted about it to K, who was shocked. I've been ranting about it ever since and everyone is shocked. The experience has upset me tremendously, and not because today's youth are louts or because civil society is in decline or because it's the end of the world as we know it. No. I'm upset because I am now old enough to be well and truly invisible. If a gray-haired lady falls on the steps and no one over 30 sees her, has she actually fallen? Apparently not.

Now playing: The Ramones - I Wanna Be Sedated
via FoxyTunes

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Silver Orchid redux

A couple of months ago I finished (or thought I had finished) this pendant. Its organic look arose from a thoroughly organic process, involving as much accident as intent. You can read about its early life here and here. In the second post I noted K's opinion that it needed to be hung from a chain, not a rubber cord, "because the pendant needed to be seen as being worthy of a beautiful chain. Because it's so weird. And ugly." As you can see from the photo, I did put it on quite a nice oxidized chain. And the pendant has been hanging around waiting for a buyer ever since.

I knew it wasn't going to be an easy sell. This isn't a pendant for everyone and maybe it's a pendant for no one but me, but that's ok - I like it. Still, I've never been completely happy with how it hung on the chain and so I fiddled around with some other options, including a beautiful dark grey silk cord which I'll definitely use for something else.

The other day I decided to make a chain, just because it's something I haven't done. Now that was fun - and that statement certainly qualifies me as a full on metal nerd. It took a couple of hours of snipping wire, balling the ends, pickling, curling, twining, tumbling, oxidizing, and polishing, but at the end I had a lovely long chain, a bracelet and a couple of dangles for earrings. About half way through the process I realized the chain was meant for the Silver Orchid pendant. "Meant for" as in, they'd look great together, but also "meant for" as in intended for. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a hunch that what the pendant needed was a longer, more substantial chain that could match its organicness. (What? you'd prefer organicity?) And over the past week or two, as I've been working at work and wishing I had time to make jewelry, what I kept wanting to make was a chain, which I thought was a little odd, but who am I to question my unconscious mind?

Here's the result. There's no clasp - the chain is maybe 24" long and just slips over the head. Notice that the alignment of the pendant has changed as well. I also attached the cluster of pearls to the end of the chain rather than to the pendant itself - much neater.

Here's another picture showing how the pearls and pendant relate. I think this necklace might just be finished.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Thwack, thwack, thwack...

I'd say that the beginning of the fall semester is like a black hole that sucks up all available time and energy, except that "black hole" sounds way too peaceful for what's happening around here. "Whirling vortex" is more like it. Picture me as Dorothy with the tornado bearing down crying "Auntie Em! Auntie Em!" Toto and I are huddled in the house watching scary people fly by the windows. Are they the Wicked Witches of the East and West? No, they are the dread helicopter parents.

The phrase has been all over the media: ABC News, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the NYTimes, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and loads of other places. There's even been some research done on the phenomenon. Talk about helicopter parents in mixed company (i.e., faculty and administrators) engenders lots of rolled eyes and laughter. Let me tell you, the reality is scarier than any wicked witch and nothing to laugh about. I know the justifications: they're paying obscenely large amounts of money and have a consumer's right to be involved; they just want what's best for their children; their child is unusually talented/phenomenally gifted/psychologically fragile and needs special care; they've always been this involved in their kids lives, etc., etc., etc. I don't buy any of it. This kind of behavior is all about the parents.

Yesterday I spent several hours dealing with a roommate situation: a bunch of girls (that's what they call themselves) having trouble negotiating who gets which room in a suite. This kind of thing is standard at the beginning of the academic year. (Typically, the drama in sorting out suites comes from groups of girls. Guys move in without much fuss - "sure, I'll take this room, whatever." Roommate issues among groups of boys tend to arise later from what we like to call "behavioral issues": a guy comes home drunk, passes out, gets up in the middle of the night and urinates on his roommate's backpack or desk or computer. Seriously - this is a common occurrence.) So back to the girls. Everyone attempting to resolve the situation (six administrators and one RA) thinks the argument would have been over in an hour if parents hadn't become involved. Sadly, three sets of parents did become involved and two days later there is still no agreement. We've had parents screaming at each other and at girls who aren't their kids, mothers sobbing hysterically, two threatened lawsuits, and more public bad behavior by alleged grown-ups than I've ever seen. At this point all the girls are desperate to work things out themselves and the parents might just have gotten the message that they need to step back, but I doubt that this is the last we'll hear from these folks.

And it's not like these particular parents are unique. Two years ago, a mother who lives nearby came to clean her son's room every week until his roommates rebelled and asked us to intervene. Last year an irate father insisted that his son needed to be moved into the room he had had as a freshman. We get calls weekly from parents who say, "Don't tell my son/daughter I called, but...". They even call us to complain that their kids aren't going to bed early enough. One father wanted us to make sure his son was properly nourished while he was attempting to lose 30 pounds in a month to qualify for a sport. Another called because two courses his son wanted to take were scheduled at the same time and he insisted that we reschedule one of them. Every year students are disciplined because their parents were inappropriately involved in their academic work - I suspect the number of papers that are essentially co-authored by parents and students is shockingly high. Usually only a handful come to light each year.

These sorts of interventions are infuriating to deal with and they cost universities and colleges ridiculous amounts of money. They also don't help the kids. About 2/3 of the time these interventions are followed by a visit from a thoroughly humiliated student who doesn't want the parent involved but doesn't know how to get that across. And the kids who actually want their parents involved in every decision they make every day - those are the ones I really worry about. Parents, do your kids a big favor: take your separation issues, your identity issues, your need to feel needed, whatever it is that motivates you to be over-involved and work it out somewhere other than in your kid's life in college. You're probably paying a lot of money for this college education. Stand back and let it work. It's the only way you'll get your money's worth.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


  • My new favorite painting tools are plastic scrapers (the kind you can buy in the hardware store for spackling) and kitchen sponges, preferably the kind with scrubber stuff on one side.
  • Painting in the garage does not work when the garage has no light except what comes in the open garage door. It can also lead to pain in the knees from crawling over the concrete floor.
  • Painting on a picnic table outside is nice, but can lead to stripes in the paint and pain in the lower back.
  • Buy stretchers when you buy the canvas because waiting for them to arrive so you can stretch the finished painting is really frustrating. Especially when it's Labor Day weekend and you know the order won't even be processed till Tuesday! (remember 'Til Tuesday?)
  • Showing incomplete paintings to people is risky. Sometimes they can say helpful things. Other times their likes and dislikes can distract you from whatever it is you're trying to work out.
  • I used to think my painting was all about color and texture. Now I know it's also about gesture.
  • There's a really interesting Flickr group where people post photos of paintings in progress. I thought I'd post photos of the second painting there, until I looked at what's already up. Those folks are amazing painters!
  • Like Kenny Rogers said, "You got to ... know when to walk away and know when to run." Sometimes you just need to put the sponge down and step away from the canvas. You can always come back later. And if you don't like it, there's always gesso.
  • Isn't it annoying that using a bulleted list in Blogger messes up the spacing? It also happens with blockquoted text and sometimes after inserting pictures. There are several hacks out there to fix it, but, really, this just shouldn't happen!!