Adapting in the Other Direction

I’m beginning to realize that getting used to the idea that there’s less direct impact on my city of a pandemic is as gradual and intense a process as getting used to the idea that there was. Slowly figuring out how to be cautious without being panicked. Finding the reliable sources and techniques for managing risk. Finding the appropriate and sustainable level of attention my safety requires.

Some of it is unknown; how much additional protection my vaccinations gave me as an immunosuppressed person is still up in the air. But the science is getting clearer on how COVID-19 spreads and how to keep it from doing so. N95 mask and outdoors is very, very safe. Outdoor and unmasked with a vaccinated person who is reasonably careful (not going to bars or being unmasked around people who do, for example; 1% risk per year adherent using microCOVID.org specifically) may be safe if I haven’t taken on a lot of other risk that week.

Like everyone, I’m frustrated to have to figure it all out and nervous about getting it wrong. But I’m a lot less of either than I was a year ago.

I was able to carefully enjoy my first fine dining experience since March 2020, taking advantage of the nice parklet setup which Absinthe has. So good to have that French onion soup again!

On the home front, I’m consolidating my “cold storage” cupboards. Favorite old books and physical photos and souvenirs are now packed snugly in the least easy to access cube of my wall storage system, along with genealogy and the few required papers to save from old tax returns, etc.

Pulled out from that awkward cupboard were about four cubic feet of papers to be gone through to see if they merit saving, either digitally or physically. They’re now in smaller boxes and I’ll be working through them at least 30 minutes a week until they’re dealt with. Then the genealogy items, as a hobby I’m not engaging in and don’t really expect to return to, will get their turn under the Discardian microscope. That’s a little slower process because I want to make sure I don’t have any info or documents which my uncle, the family genealogist, doesn’t already have.

“Pick the low-hanging fruit” is a valuable Discardian lesson I’ve learned. Do the easiest stuff first and the energy of accomplishment will fuel the next step.

So, wait, a sec; I’m a Discardian. I’m the Discardian. How can I have clots of old stuff that need to be gone through? The answer is simple: I’m lucky and I’m following the other Discardian principle of not making myself suffer needlessly. I’ve never lost stuff in a disaster and I’ve always had somewhere to stick a few old boxes of papers and mementos. I’ve also been kind to myself about working on the stuff which will bring me the most immediate benefit. So though old boxes may have gotten slightly pruned down over time, the hard decisions or the least urgent space-saving moves haven’t had to happen.

Now I’m ready to really clean house of this stuff. My priorities are clearer after an eventful half decade and the experience of the pandemic. I’m old enough to know that at some point I’ll be helping my older relatives out with decisions about their stuff and that’ll be mentally so much easier if I’ve got my stuff figured out. Most significantly, I’ve pared my activities down to what really excites me and makes me happy, so it’s time to make what I have support what I do.

Also, I’ll be getting my Wildlands Kickstarter reward later in the year and I need a couple more shelves free. Might as well use that as a catalyst to overall improvements.

So, as I sit and my desk recovering from hefting things from cubby to cubby and shelf to box to closet, it’s time for the digital equivalent, a bit more closing out old retroblogged posts.

Here are my cousin and I and a relative in cute tropical print dresses (which maybe she made?) posing outside my house. I kind of think my dress might have ended up worn by a mannequin my grandmother gave me, but I’m not certain. Again, the posing suggests a fun occasion but not nearly as much fun as getting muddy in a pair of overalls.

Jump ahead from June to Christmas and here’s toddler me in red and white striped pyjamas of which I have no memory, standing next to a baby bassinet toy of which I have no memory, holding a big eared, stuffed animal tiger of which I have no memory. There’s the wreckage of opening packages around and a little tree, bigger than the Charlie Brown Christmas one, but not huge and maybe not real like the ones we got from the tree farm later in my childhood. Some lady with loads of dark hair, swirled around the top of her head and cascading down to her shoulders is looking at me as I stare at the photographer (probably Grandpa). I know from context and those familiar hands that it’s my mother, but neither of us looks really like the person we’d be in a couple more years. Ah, but in her hands is an old friend. A new doll, toddler-ish like me, but the rich color of dark chocolate in her skin where I am so pale and washed out in the picture you can’t even see my nose, only big eyes and a slightly open mouth matching the red stripes of my pyjamas. I do not remember the name of that doll, but it might have been Charlotte, after Laura’s doll in the Little House books. She stayed around in my toy collection until the end, though whether she was donated or left in the house my folks sold as-is with some boxes of stuff unwanted by us I don’t recall.

Another picture from that Christmas, back at home based on the big tree and the fluffy Keeshond dog Guenevere in the bottom of the picture, with my father and mother. Both in navy blue and I in a dress of the same blue with a white block-print or batik pattern suggesting pine trees. They’re young and nicely put together for holiday time, he with tidily trimmed beard and mustache, she with a neatly buttoned high-collar dress and a bit of eye makeup. He would become shaggier with time. She would gratefully drop the eyeshadow and mascara. My lashes are as big as hers—I had so much hair for my tiny size—and I’m looking down with delight at two Fisher Price peg people I’m holding. Many many many hours of play with those toys and their kin. Behind me the tree has a popcorn string and homemade decorative balls, silky fabric spheres adorned with braid trim and pearl beads held on with long straight pins. The happy magic of Christmas time. A lovely mood and one which echoes forward through many end of year holidays with my mother. She does Christmas right and I’m lucky for that.

Hop forward to the next year and here’s my parents in that same living room. My father has shaved his beard and kept long sides to his mustache and long sideburns. Mmhm. We are entering the 1970s for sure! They’re clearly hosting a party or some occasion is taking place. My mother has her arm through the crook of his arm and they both look at someone just off the left edge of the picture. Her expression is closed mouthed, polite but perhaps cautious. He is grinning. They are not in perfect sync, but they’re going through the right motions. They would divorce the next year, though I don’t know if they had yet begun to realize that was a possibility. I turn from the picture with loving thoughts toward those two young people—not yet 30—and admiration for their bravery in stepping away from the social script toward what they really wanted.

Time hopping to that year or the previous. A camping trip, perhaps at Yosemite. Here is a Dinah I begin to recognize. Long pants in a practical green or gray. Red flat sneakers—Keds or a knockoff, more likely since I grew through the toes so fast—and a pinkish long shirt, untucked. My hair comes down to the top of my butt and my shoulders only come up to the top of the log where my mother is sitting near me. Purple bellbottoms and a blousey green shirt and 2″ heels on her black shoes, with a black handbag nearby. Her hair only comes down to her shoulderblades, but both of us are wearing it straight now. A little bit hippie, but with a job. 😄

Contrasting my blowing straight hair in the next picture—a picnic in some windy spot—with my practical grandmother holding her hair down with a round wrap around her head, over her sunglasses, and my great aunt with a beehive do and shades. I’m bundled in some grownup’s windbreaker jacket and though it appears from the table that the picnic hasn’t even begun yet, I sure look done with this cold and windy nonsense. I guess I’ve always enjoyed being cozy.

About the same time, me at Magic Mountain, photos by my grandparents. Wearing red tights and a red, navy and blue striped dress my mother made, I ride in a yellow boat on an automated ride in actual water and flat-handedly feed grain to a black-faced and black-legged lamb in the petting zoo. Excellent good times for a little kid and no doubt joyful for my grandparents watching me have fun.

Transferring shared images to shared thoughts about images is like the formation of memory. Altering as it goes, distilling, but also sometimes releasing, diffusing, discarding.

Staying Flexible

Definitely facing the challenge of life on medication. I had a dosage increase of my immunosuppressant which left me feeling fatigued and unfocused. My doctor and I were able to figure out a smaller increase that should still help, but my body is still weathering the change. A bit better on energy and ability to do good writing and thinking yesterday and today, but I’ve made little headway on the Kabalor rules this week. Frustrating to have that come right after a very good playtest of the first part of character creation, but I have my notes and will continue to plug away when my creative and energetic stars align.

Fortunately very quickly after the dosage readjustment I got more physical energy back and could do less-intellectual exercises. Caught up on housework and laundry. Even washed a couple windows! And, on the even brighter side, my second HobbyZone order arrived and I’ve been able to plod away at the slow work of assembling these lovely craft organizers.

In July of 2020, realizing what a long journey through the pandemic it was going to be, I spent $135 to get my first seven pieces: three cubbies, two bottle shelves, a brush/tool holder, and a paper towel dispenser.

July 2020: Cubbies on the bottom, bottles and brushes in the middle, paper towels on the right, and a fancy wooden box (from a bottle of Chartreuse Joe got) acting as a bonus cubby. 😄

When I got my basically negative result for COVID antibodies (after vaccine shots, whee immunosuppressants work 😬) and was faced with further hurdles to returning to normal activities away from home, I treated myself to an expansion. Nine pieces this time ($222): four more cubbies, three 2-drawer units, and two 3-drawer units.

Here’s where I’ve gotten to so far in the setup. Much slower going when drawers are involved since they’re each not that much less work than building the piece they fit in.

So much more storage—and there are two more pieces to add in to the top left between the tissue box and the paint racks.

Plan is for work in progress to live in the two-drawer units right in front, with large pieces in the leftmost cubby or up on top, and stuff I will grab as I work in the second cubby. That’ll free up that part of the desk to be my main work surface again, which will free the long arm of my L shaped worktable (out of sight off the bottom of this picture) to be usable for other projects. Not having to choose between having a terrain painting table or being able to bring out my sewing machine for a quick job will be fantastic.

So, it’s been the smell of MDF and wood glue around here, which smells like…creativity.

A lovely gif (from Chowhound, iirc, or was it Eater? Gone from their site last I looked anyhow) of Michelle Polzine of 20th Century Cafe making a honey cake.

Focus on the good things, and appreciate them while you’ve got them. I’ve felt good about my adaptation to having multiple types of projects to support my selfcare. If all else is too much, I can do a Headspace meditation and feel I’ve helped my healing.

20th Century Cafe will be closing, and as I said to Michelle, it’s been a great show and I’m glad I got to see so many performances. Just like a great play, it can close and still have been a success. Gonna miss those pastries tho’. And the Reuben sandwiches!

Time marches on. Here we are into May and the year is 2021. We’re most of us feeling the damage. A hard set of years for us all, especially so for me with tough events here at home. My biodad died in 2016, I got my rare disease diagnosis in 2017, and went on heavy meds in January 2018. Further life changes in the intervening years made the generally alarming prior administration and the specifically terrifying pandemic even more of a burden. But with 2021 I have emerged from the wreckage. Not free from challenges, but more fully myself and more determined to make the most of the time and energy I have.

Overall, I really am doing better this year than I have since, uh, the Obama administration? oof. What a long strange trip it’s been. But it sure helped set my priorities! More play, more time with friends, more games, more caring, more joy.

As is my custom now, part of reflecting on the present is putting away some of the past. Looking at old pictures and seeing the long path that brought me here.

Here’s me and my cousin hanging out on the original deck of the house I grew up in. My parents (largely my mother to the degree that I still associate the sound of a radial arm saw and the smell of sawdust with her) would go on to cover many more areas with good decking around the house. I’m sitting in that boneless way of kids and cats, with one foot on the ground and the inner side of the other foot resting flat against the bench I’m sitting on, knee sticking out in front of me. No more short Easter dresses and baggy tights; I’ve got long pants, sneakers and a long-sleeved turtleneck. Ready to run and play. It being the era it was, the pants are a light plaid and the turtleneck is red.

We are with my mother’s… well, what? Foster sister? Whatever the term is for a goddaughter of your parents? Odd that I don’t remember this. Younger than her. Maybe didn’t live with my grandparents until after my mother was at college? An immigrant… or refugee?… from… somewhere in Asia, broadly? Why has this family history completely evaporated from my mind? I think she was only around in my life for a few years and I was quite young, but it is odd to have this void of memory. I remember someone full of energy. Big smiles and excitement.

She’s doing that thing that is always shocking/exciting/dubious to a little kid: acting like a kid. Feet safely on the floor so as not to damage it, she rides the spring-suspended rocking horse. A thrilling toy, from which an actual kid could take a mighty tumble. Pretty sure my cousin or I managed to upend the thing at some point rocking too hard. Tears and wailing. A bump on the head.

The house is new to my family here. I think we were only there a month. It’s a pale color, like an unpainted model. In another picture of the same visit, my cousin and I smile on the front porch. We sit on the big cement bottom step, our toddler legs just the length to use it as a comfortable bench. Behind us is wall where the new front door would get put in years later. An overexposure blur at the left of the picture says “This is film. This is the past. Technology has changed. Most things have changed.”

My cousin grins in excitement. I hold myself more cautiously. Another picture, my cousin looks to me, connecting. I hold something up to the photographer. A little card or something? I present information. She is relaxed, easy, and free in her body language. I am composed, contained, doing things correctly. Some things have perhaps not changed so much.

The last of these pictures, my cousin rides the horse. I stand watching. I appear to be eating a snack. My mother watches me affectionately and she is astonishing. Dressed in a short tunic with a white rope belt and with a shaggy bob haircut, she is like a French film star crossed with a Franciscan monk. Legs and charming features and modestly covered in between. Her hair was always longer in all the rest of the years of my childhood, but here she is. A free woman in a bold world, newly moved into a big house with her name on the deed.

I think of this bright young thing, only a few years out of college, and how she would bear the mantle of work and parenthood and relationship changes coming soon. A different person emerging, tougher but still fully herself. I think of another picture of her in the doorway of the house she lives in now, a house with her name on the deed, which she had a major hand in designing. In that picture she holds big rocks up by her shoulders and graying hair, off to build another rock wall in the garden. Her shirt has figures dancing and says, “Who cares who leads?”

I am drawing on all these energies now. This mostly forgotten semi-family-member with buoyant energy. This loving cousin, always more of a natural at everyday friendship than I. This free spirit my mother as she launches into the great adventure of that grand house.

We have all changed and we’re all made up of the parts we chose to keep (and some that are just sticking around, a stubborn part of our construction). Things begin and end and alter. Life goes on.

Looking back to when I was undefined, in the time when my personality just began to emerge

2020 has been such a strange year. So many changes personal and national and worldwide. That feeling of being out of time, in a holding pattern, sheltered in place. But that also breeds introspection and resolution and personal change. I’m leaning into my present and the future which I hope to experience and thinking less of past and posterity.

My mood of examining and then putting away my oldest posts remains strong. I’m growing more centered in my present self and less in other people’s perception of me.

So I turn to some pictures of my toddler years. A studio portrait, open-faced, cheerful, curious, unguarded. A light colored turtleneck shirt—such as would remain a go-to item in my wardrobe for decades to come—under a short dress with a decorative front reminiscent of a band uniform. Brass buttons and loops around them from a placket down the center front. Bare legs. Straight hair to my waist and choppy bangs.

A blurry picture of me and my cousin. She is smiling and posing. I look serious and concerned. Both of us with bangs. Moderne furniture (not the house I grew up in, seems to be that of my cousin’s family), bookcases, some kind of pet cage in the background. I’m holding the fingers of one hand with the other and I have to wonder if the animal in the cage in the back (rat? rabbit? kangaroo rat?) gave them a nip when I stuck my fingers where I’d be told not to put them. I do have a little bit of “am I in trouble?” in my expression, it seems to me, while my cousin looks charming and friendly in her pretty red top. Ah or perhaps I’d been sucking my thumb, a habit it took considerable effort to break.

Me in a flannel nightgown (red as I recall) thumb in mouth, trying to stay awake (or wake up?) in my father’s lap as the grown-ups talk. Me in the same nightgown, mouth open, groggy sleepy face, possibly in the morning. Me, same nightgown, conked out completely, thumb still in mouth, across my father’s lap, my mother resting her head, eyes closed, on his shoulder. He has a bit of a dopey grin which suggests to me this may have been later in an intoxicating evening. A somewhat psychedelic-meets-art-nouveau poster curls from the plaster wall behind them. Looks like they’re sitting on a mattress on the floor. She’s got a hairdo that’s starting to unwind from its proper arrangement.

My sweet, sleepy-faced mother, her hair now straight and tousled as though slept in and her dark floral shirt now a plain light-colored shift, smiling at the photographer, love and tiredness in her face. I am in the nightgown, OTHER thumb in mouth, cuddled up against the side of her. My cousin, in a cute dress, barrette in hair, is wriggling around and holding one foot in the air with her hand.

My cousin and I playing with some sort of activity board with things to turn and slide. My hair is in two ponytails on the side of my head and with the bangs it’s the most normal-American-kid looking style I can recall wearing. Most of my childhood and well into adulthood it was long, straight, parted down the center and rough at the ends. My cousin has the same hairstyle, probably her mom did both of us, and is looking at the camera with her tongue completely covering her upper lip. Maybe she’s concentrating because it looks as though she may be about to try to move around like a crab, arms and legs under herself. She always was more physically bold than I.

Me between some of the youngest of my mother’s cousins, elementary school age, me the toddler, and tween. I always called the boy, who is looking at a book with me in this picture, Cousin, and we played together every time I got the chance on a visit to their area. We’re sitting on the back steps of my great-grandmother’s white clapboard house. I’m wearing a t-shirt and a diaper and my hair is in ponytails on the sides again.

Now there’s a cardboard fort and I think I’m trying to put some sort of a purse or bag around my bigger “cousin”‘s head, while the older relation reads a book sitting in a folding chair surrounded by small toys. Looks like everyone is letting me be in charge. 🙂

Me and my cousin displaying our divergent styles and love of playing together. We’ve got a dollhouse and a toy radio. I’m wearing a green hooded sweatshirt with the hood up and long pants and sneakers. She’s wearing a short tropical print sleeveless dress and is barefoot. The photographer has caught my attention and captured my happy expression, eyes shining in play as I hold a doll. My cousin has her hand on her cheek, chin tucked down, giggling I think. And as I look at this I hear her dear giggle from the last time I heard it on the phone. I should call her. 🙂

Leaning into stories, backing out of my own spotlight

Mostly I’m creating and playing and sharing the results. But a little bit of my online agenda these days is quietly folding away old self-centric things. It feels less important now to turn the attention to myself rather than to the art I can make with my unique experience.

So I put away out of the public eye another batch of the oldest posts. Pictures from my childhood.

A pretty and well-mannered little child, attention focused on a book, one button undone, perhaps from fidgeting with it.

Studio portrait, technically recognizable as me, but also just about any toddler. Finger in mouth. Baby shoes with a carefully folded over sock. A floral print dress.

With Grandma. She is wearing beads and is about the age I am now looking at this picture. No, younger by several years. My cousin is beside us and for once I’m the one wiggling and excited by something out of the picture and my cousin stands, cautious and serious, gazing at the photographer.

Me in an outfit of pale colors including white tights and shoes and a wee cardigan over my palest pink dress, sitting in a sandbox intently shoveling sand into a cup. Scooping sand with my bare hands. Kneeling in the sand. Later, apparently, on what looks like the porch of a vacation home—empty wading pool, grill, folded chair, strewn toys, a slatted wall behind and pine boards underfoot—the tights discarded, staring open-mouthed at the photographer and leaning forward, my long hair blanketing my shoulders and my eyes dark under my straight bangs.

Grandma and my cousin and I in a wooded area. Us two small ones at a picnic table. Both of us chipmunk-cheeked. My cousin (wisely, I now deem) in overalls, while I am in a white turtleneck and cardigan.

A picnic with Grandma, photo by Grandpa. I sit on her lap. She’s in shorts and has her sleeves rolled up above the elbow with a neat cuff. She’s feeding me something. I’ve got the white turtleneck again, but now I’ve got blue pants and suspenders, white shoes and red sneakers. You’d think it was from July, but the slide was developed in May. The wreckage of the picnic lies around us. Red-and-white striped cups. Plates and bags and a casserole dish and a partially eaten pie and plates with napkins and bits of uneaten food and a box with a Pepsi logo so old I don’t remember it. Also the ubiquitous big thermos for my grandparents’ coffee. We are under a tree on the grass beside some still blue water. Seems like a lovely time. And there’s pie left…

A month or so in the future perhaps. The pink dress with the short pleated skirt, but no tights, no long-sleeved shirt underneath, and bare feet. Walking on grass. Gazing out over the lawn, laundry basket in the distance, perhaps at the backyard of my great-grandmother’s house next door to my grandparents’, sucking my thumb. Sitting in a small, red, inflatable wading pool—seemingly only there to keep toys contained or provide a smooth place to sit on the grass with my bare legs—and making a growling face like a lion or tiger. Playing and trying on different voices and attitude, looks like. Throwing a ball with someone, probably Grandma. Next to me is a little stuffed animal of a dog of which I was very fond. Its short, blond fur was a little scratchy I remember. Curled in the little dry pool, sucking my thumb.

My great-grandmother, mother of my mother’s father, in a pink Chanel-style dress with pearly beads, with me and my cousin standing beside her looking like dolls or cherubim, the Christmas tree with fancy glass balls and silver tinsel behind her. It is one of the most happy and relaxed pictures of her I recall. Her old hand with its swollen knuckles rests lightly on my little arm and both my cousin and I have our hands on her lap. The past and the future together at the turning of the year.

And then the next day and the frenzy of presents. My cousin rushing toward the photographer arms outstretched, wrapping paper in each hand. She is wearing a cute 1960s short shirt dress in a boisterous green pattern and has bare legs. I, in the background, have a brown flannel, long-sleeved nightgown over white tights. I’m clutching a doll and something else, the doll I recall as being one that was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Looking at it, I think the thing in my hand might be a blue and white striped mattress from the dolls’ white bunk bed. That was made out of wood and I was so fond of it that it moved to my parents’ house at some point when it took on a new life as a toy shelf, if I remember rightly. Though it was always “the doll bed” when I referred to it.

Another picture and now I have a red long-sleeve shirt or dress and yellow tights and black shoes. My cousin and I are completely absorbed in the new Fisher-Price dollhouse, the one that folded closed and the handle acted as a latch. I loved that thing and it led eventually to me years later saving up my money (earned doing chores and selling pussy willows to downtown office workers) for my first really big purchase: the Fisher-Price Castle. In the background of this picture my aunt kneels on the floor, her long, long hair hanging across her lap, wearing pants with an wild pattern with flowers on the kneecaps, and possibly a shawl in a completely different but equally intricate pattern. Someone in the foreground, too blurry to recognize, is wearing royal purple. Ah, the 60s. Behind us is a Christmas tree with presents still wrapped under it and one very visible string of popcorn adorning it. Another day maybe? Definitely at my grandparents house now and I’m wearing a two-piece pajama/sweatpants outfit in white with red stripes. I’m standing in the middle of a pile of wrapping paper and boxes from which has emerged some sort of doll bassinet and two dolls, one white and one black. I am efficiently and with total focus stripping one of the dolls of its clothes to put it to bed. An adult in the background is grinning at the scene.

Stepping forward toward seeing a little more of the conscious self I remember, but still gazing through that foggy glass into early childhood, catching familiar motions but nothing I can name with confidence.

old photos of my parents as a cloudy mirror

There is a picture of my parents with me when I’m not quite a year old. They look like the college seniors they are. Eager, young, with a freshly-scrubbed but slightly exhausted look about them. I am shouting or singing, happy not crying, and wearing a diaper.

I think back to my boyfriend in my own junior year. To our own bright naivety which ended in the rainy season of the following year. We were thinking we might get married, fantasizing names for the two children we’d have, but wisely wanting to wait until after college when we had more resources to handle kids. Thanks to birth control (and good luck), we had time for the fantasy and the relationship to end before the pregnancy came.

Looking at this picture, I see a timeline for myself that I escaped. The one where a nice guy, but one with whom a relationship wasn’t going to last, and I didn’t have a pretty excellent little kid. The one where we then have to deal with being parents when the relationship inevitably fell apart despite our efforts and hanging on longer than we would have without a kid. The one where the kid always would have the oddness of having a divorced parent who was around less and less as life went on, but who was still somehow “next of kin”. The one where my own life choices would always be informed by being a parent, and where I would both gain and lose by that fact.

Given how different my perception of what I want in life was just a few years later and how consistent many parts of that vision have remained in the decades since, it’s clear that I wasn’t ready to make a decision on parenthood until I was nearly 30. I am so grateful I had the time to come to that decision and connect with the reality that being childfree is the life I want. Thank goodness for birth control and non-pressuring family!

I flip ahead in my photos and there is nearly one year old me, playing on a blanket with my 50 year old grandmother—four years younger than I am now. I have an abstract sense that I should think “Oh, that could have been me; I could have had the specialness of that relationship!” but my actual reaction is more like having reached the safety of the sidewalk after a near miss by a turning car.

A cute, little, chubby-cheeked, laughing child with a goofy baby-tooth grin and Grandma is having so much fun with her. But I’m ever so much more comfortable imagining the child’s view than the grandparent’s.

Here we are camping (Is Grandma in curlers? Oh, the 1960s!); she was always so active. I bet she and my biological father really bonded over their love of the Sierras. Here are my cousin and I, so close in age and so different in appearance, fumbling around with the door of a tent, not really able to coordinate much yet. Sitting up mastered, but not so much the standing and walking.

A month on and I’m a year old, delighted at the sight of Grandpa. I’m inside a parked car, standing up by clinging to the windowsill, mouth and eyes wide with happiness. The window glass reflects my grandfather taking the picture of me—shine of head where the hairline is already giving up ground at age 51, hand curled gracefully out of the way of the lens. An iron bridge is reflected behind him, like a giant Erector Set creation.

We jump a couple or more months ahead in time. Notice of my 2nd immunization against polio—a spectral shadow of death in the past scatters in the light of my childhood, now distant past and the threat largely forgotten. I have learned to walk and here are photos—I stand! Leaning against a table or a box. I toddle to play with the knobs on a big old cathode ray tube television—poor toddlers today, so many fewer delightful knobs. I pick up random objects. I lurch around a living room. A relative in her teens or twenties—wearing an A-line dress, a cardigan, and a bob cut not that different from the one I recently had in the present—kneels on the floor to interact with me. It’s my grandparents’ house, the living room—less tidy than I remember it later—as we all visit, with a cardboard box full of toddler toys, a stack of magazines, a male relative lounging shoeless in white socks, horn-rim glasses, dark pants, a white short-sleeve shirt with something in the pocket that looks like a smartphone but can’t be so is probably a calculator or notepad. At the side of the picture a man’s bare legs and bottom of their shorts and the edge of what might be a woman’s skirt.

I see the clues to the time as well as knowing the family dating of this old snapshot and think back not to my earliest memories, but my historical knowledge. What was happening in the world then. What were these adults dealing with in the world around them. What headlines of racial tension, nuclear tests, the space race, gun violence, and new countries escaping colonial rule were they reading and perhaps discussing?

Time rolls on. My parents, looking a little more experienced at this parenthood thing, grinning as wiggly little me on her lap tries to reach for a stuffed animal offered by the photographer or their “assistant”. Probably not my grandparents, judging by the peasant-style shirt my father is wearing. The hair cut is still respectably short, but the widening lapels and simple X lacing up the front of the shirt betray hippy sensibilities. My mother is radiating confidence. Her hair continues to transition from an-updo-short-of-a-beehive to the natural long look I recall from childhood. She must have graduated by now and be working professionally.

And then it’s the end of that year. Early in that month I had a smallpox vaccine. Thank goodness for vaccines. Science really did help the course of my life run more smoothly and pleasantly.

That Christmas is the first where I could coherently open my own presents and I was very interested in the process, judging by the picture where I’m ignoring the photographer and tearing into the paper, while my cousin looks off at someone to figure out if she’s allowed to begin.

There was a huge family reunion when we visited the area where my grandparents and most of the rest of the family lived. We two first great-grandchildren held on laps, my great-grandparents in the center. All very respectable, but at the far edge of the picture, my hippy uncle in sheepskin jacket, long hair, and medium-long beard (Has he ever cut it since?), and my aunt with her long straight hair. Would they be welcomed to this gathering without the powerful admission ticket of the first great-grandchild, my cousin sitting on her mother’s lap? That they were was good for everyone. The connections re-knitted after a break. The generation of cousins above mine shown more possibilities in how to live their lives and express themselves. Everyone loosened up a bit over the years. And that hippy uncle of mine is now the leading genealogist to whom the family turns with history questions. 🙂

Focus, and Joyous Calm

These days I’m using my growing energy levels—hooray for being off Prednisone!—to actively improve my health, strength, and flexibility, both physical and mental.

My Discardian practice of late is equal parts letting go and upgrading. I’m paring away what I no longer need to or care to have on my list, and leaning into creative efforts that match my current activities and interests.

So, an appreciative waving of a handkerchief to cocktail writing and nerdery as that ship sails off, and then turning with delight to join friends for storytelling and adventure in our D&D games.

The oldest posts here can also slip away across the sea of time. Here on the departing boat is a baby, me, determinedly sucking a thumb as someone out of frame holds the other hand, apparently trying with limited success to get a spoon of food in my mouth. In the background, a chalkboard with a cartoon, evidence of the wit and creativity of my young mother. Forward slightly and a round-faced toddler, able to sit up and crawl, enjoys a blanket on a lawn in the sunshine. Child-me is wearing a little blue dress and has a white fluffy bunny stuffed animal. Probably Easter, because my mother is sitting on the grass in a little Chanel-style suit in a pale pink I cannot imagine her wearing today. White pointed shoes. Knees held tight together because the skirt stops 2 or 3 inches above them. The controlled femininity of the 1960s, tempered by the freedom to get down on the ground with her little one.

Hard to feel the last image on this page recede out of the public eye, to fade into the normal obscurity of old family photos, rarely stumbled upon. Toddler Dinah gazes up happy, excited, at my beloved grandfather Bob, seen in profile with the corners of his eyes crinkled looking down at me. So often I wish I could show him something I just found online. He would have been made as sad as any of us by the inequality and polarization of these times, but oh how he would have adored the myriad devices and the ascendence of nerdery. Just the other day, as Joe chortled over the sub-reddit “What is that thing?” I wanted so much to show it to him.

And so, there it is. The good parts don’t actually go that far away. What I enjoyed about him, what he enjoyed and we loved to share with him, those live on into the century he didn’t get to travel in with us.

The handkerchief I’m waving belonged to him.

Legacy vs. Lineage

Chalk it up to aging, having a parent die, climate change, the general shaking up of assumptions that is the latter-twennyteens, but I’ve been wrestling with my creative goals in blogging.

Jason Kottke, who started before me (and that’s saying something), had a very helpful post recently, ‘The Legacy of Philip Glass‘. Glass said about the future of his works, “I won’t be around for all that,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Now as someone trained in history and librarianship, that’s not a sentiment I swallow easily. As someone who has had seen the writing legacy of beloved people—pour one out for Leslie, for Brad—vanish or fade from the Web, that’s something that instills worry not a sense of release.

But Jason also quoted and linked to Austin Kleon expanding that piece with thoughts about lineage vs. legacy:

“I like this idea of thinking about lineage vs. legacy, because it means you can sort of reframe any worrying about immortality and how you’re going to project yourself into the future, and think more about what you’re taking from the past and what you’re adding to it that creates a more interesting and helpful present.”

That’s got me looking hard at what I’ve been doing with my ‘retroblogging’. I described it as writing an autobiography in slow motion. And, to pull a phrase from Kleon, it was centered in projecting myself into the future.

But the future doesn’t need more of me.

That’s why I decided decades ago not to have children; I do not require permanence of myself or of some sort of avatars of me.

When I look at my major works—my book and game store in the mid-1990s, the book Discardia: More Life, Less Stuff, the book The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, and what I’m doing with the Kabalor project—the value wasn’t in my first ideas, it’s in the synthesis of ideas I achieved after studying, listening and learning from others.

That’s a reminder to turn the inputs into outputs. Instead of merely talking or documenting, amplify and reflect.


As I write this afternoon, I’m looking at old pictures and thinking what they can inspire. A wiggly handed baby with her mouth open and a bit of a combover being gazed upon with love by a woman with a small bouffant suitable to a 60’s soul backup singer. The same baby dancing horizontally—foot kicking, arms waving—with tongue sticking out of her mouth in concentration. Excited baby amidst toys, bracketed by grandmother and great-grandmother. Wiggling baby/toddler again, hands waving and mouth open, in lap of laughing mother, hair now smaller but in a cute ’60s dress that still evokes stylish femininity. Back to baby on the rose-printed blanket on the floor amidst toys including foil pie pans, thumb in mouth and hand gripping the blanket edge. Rolling and stretching hands to be picked up. Unable to sit up, but able to raise on hands to gaze into a doll’s face or at the camera. Puzzled by the toy grandpa beckons with, unsure if it’s worth releasing the toy in hand to reach for. A note about immunizations—Diptheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio—which places this baby at a point in time. Baby in a little tabletop seat, like a carseat but before they came into use, gaze away from mother, thumb in mouth, other wrist held gently to keep that hand from interfering with the loaded spoon; a mealtime standoff. In mother’s lap, gripping the spoon as she coaxes me to cooperate and eat; she is beautiful, like an escapee from a Renaissance painting, and I am intently focused on taking control of my fate, even if it only involves this bite. And with intent, I become not “a baby” but “me”. In father’s lap in an armchair beside a board-and-cinder-block bookcase, gazed at by him and by mother sitting beside chair, her hair in transition from fancy updo’s to the long natural look I remember from childhood; they are so young, so young. And, the baby, me, is safe and happy.

Filter, absorb, create, refine. I mark the posts with the pictures private; nothing to offer others. The next time through, my thoughts above will become further distilled, and maybe then or the distillation after that, if ever, there might be something to carry on beyond my time.

My first autumn

In the picture, Grandma Susie is feeding me with a spoon. It’s a well-framed picture, her own left shoulder at the left edge of the picture, my face in the top half of the center line, framed by her arm holding the spoon, and behind me on the table a bowel of fruit. I’m looking over the spoon toward the camera. Grandma’s smile is visible around the side of her face. A lovely domestic scene.

What draws my eye, though, is not the tender moment, but trying to figure out what print that is on her shirt. Are those early typewriters with interspersed flowers? Or some sort of cash register?

That’s not to say I don’t love the sweet way Grandma is feeding baby me, but I don’t feel a gravitational pull toward toward the domestic bliss. Non-parenting was a good choice for me.

The next blog post in that month shows just how quickly people forget the scourges that once assaulted us. An immunization record I found says I got my first vaccine against Polio on that day.

Last in this month is a happy baby (me) at about 3 months old under a very nice baby blanket. Vague resemblance to me, but if the picture was unlabeled, I wouldn’t know it was. Still, a happy baby indeed.

Let’s go on to the next month. Visiting the other grandparents (my father’s), I’m much bigger, but still pretty floppy as humans go. I’m shown in a clever garment my mother made, basically what amounts to a sleeping bag with sleeves and hood. And, as my mother noted on Flickr when we were discussing the picture, “a zipper down the front for changes”. I could wiggle without kicking off what was keeping me warm. Pretty great for a pre-crawling person. I am still not to my present eye identifiably me.

A photo of my father looking at me as he props me up in his lap. I gaze up at him open mouthed, apparently fascinated. His expression in profile though is calm and neutral. Maybe all faces are subjects of intense interest to four month old babies. He sits on a bench, a photo on the wall behind him of his mother holding him as a baby. Above his head the photo of a past beloved dog and other family pictures are visible in the distance on the knotted pine wall.

When I think about the 21 year old men I’ve known throughout my life, I know that it would be extremely exceptional for one to be ready to make this life choice. I’m delighted to exist, don’t get me wrong! But I do wonder what the lives of those two very different people who came together to—surprise!—make me might have been if I hadn’t come along. My sympathy for those young folks is on the side of being able to have an ordinary college romance, learn from it and move on. Now I know my mother at least gained a great deal from the path of parenthood and I’m sure she wouldn’t have turned back the clock and caused me not to exist. My father felt enormous responsibility toward me, I believe, and genuinely liked me as a fellow human. But he wasn’t cut out for marriage and parenthood so young—few are!—and if he could somehow have known that I could be me and exist as a person while he side-stepped into a different time path, I think he might have. I do not think it would have made as much difference as he might have hoped, but perhaps the opportunity to engage more with his restlessness while young would have helped his journey in later years.

Then a photo of me in a dress made for my maternal grandfather’s christening in 1915. Right arm in motion, tongue sticking out a bit, probably kicking under the long white dress. A perfectly good baby. And many copies of this picture were passed around in the family. I came upon three and my uncle gave me a scan of the copy he had.

Another photo, perhaps from the same day, in a different little white dress, this one more gauzy, with silky ribbons, echoed in the cuffs of my socks. Very fancy outfits for photo day. I continue to wiggle happily. I look a bit Japanese in this photo. One of my eyes still retains more epicanthal fold than the other.

The next photo—three copies of it—has me in my little zipper-front sleeping bag outfit looking positively triumphant about being held up in a sitting position (by Grandma, I think, judging by the watch).

Naked (but mostly concealed by my mother’s arm) baby me looks at the camera as I’m lifted onto a towel after a bath in a big kitchen sink. There’s a toaster behind me.

A slightly eerie picture of me, possibly after bath with wet hair, laying on a plaid cloth, stuffed animal just slipping out the left side of the picture as I make claws with my hands.

The next picture looks more to me like a baby picture of my childhood friend Rick than of me. Grandma Susie holds me on her lap smiling. She’s wearing a flannel nightgown or housedress with lace around the flat collar. She is smiling and looking down to see my reaction as the photographer gets my attention. I’m a chubby-cheeked, somewhat sleepy looking baby here.

Still I don’t really see myself in these four-month-old baby faces. Well, maybe a little glimmer in the one where I’m being lifted. Something about the shape of the eye. Dinah just beginning to come through.

Women and babies and time

Continuing my meditations on the oldest (retroblogged) posts on my blog, I visit the month after I was born.

A picture of my mother, 21 but looking 16, with a wiggling, dark-haired infant in her lap. Holding it (me) nervously as if it might give a sudden lurch like a fish and flip out of her lap. Summertime and we’re both warm. I can see bits of her hair sticking to her cheek, damp despite short sleeves and a skirt that stops above the knee.

A magnificent picture of my great-grandmother, seated in her pearls and a sedate blue-and-gray check short-sleeve dress, holding me in her two hands my feet on her legs and my head raised so she can gaze intently at me. I am so new; pale, plump, and pink. I contrast with her skinny, aged arms, spotted by time and sun, but strong enough for this burden. Her gray hair and the outline of the bones of her skull under her skin place her at the other end of life’s timeline from tiny Dinah. (And now I am far closer to her end than to where this little baby began.) What a thing for the first generation to look the fourth in the face! And how many babes had this woman held in her journey from the end of the 19th century through the tumult over the first six and a half decades of the 20th? Did she want children? Not much option not to have them until not long before this picture. And so she became a wife and a mother and a grandmother and a great-grandmother. A great accomplishment. What other things might she have done if she’d been blessed with the options I have?

On the way to the restaurant where I’m having a late lunch with my laptop, I passed babes in arms and strollers. What options will they have that I didn’t?

I return to the picture. Behind her black folding chair, a cinderblock and board bookcase—Ikea has removed most of those from today’s visual landscape—holding books, many of which are likely still to be on the shelves of my mother’s library. At the end of the top shelf a fancy candlestick—perhaps a wedding gift?—which I recall sitting with its mate on the big wooden sideboard in our kitchen.

To her left, behind my head in the picture, a graceful old piece of furniture with a curved front. Drawers below like a dresser, with a writing desk above. I remember this being beside my mother’s side of my parents’ bed, painted a green reminiscent of weathered copper. And I can’t now picture it anywhere else; I wonder what happened to it? I think all of us must have outgrown it and it didn’t move when they retired. They sold the huge, rambling house I grew up in “as is” and so many things stayed there. Released from our lives.

There is in the picture something big and black atop the back of the desk. My 21st century eye reads it as a wireless speaker, but of course it’s many decades too early for such a thing. A dark black box of paper or wood, with a latch on the front. Perhaps for holding letters and bills and stamps. I was born in the time of paper.

White and pale pink leap out from the picture: her shiny handbag, the outline of a book inside pressing against the soft side; my little baby dress (probably closed at the bottom to keep my feet contained); her pearls; the paper of the newer books on the shelf.

My little right hand is captured in a gesture, middle fingers together, pinky and index held out from the others. Cryptic, but emphatic.

And isn’t that just the nature of infants? Cryptic, but emphatic.

One last picture from this month: my mother and I entranced with each other. She is seated in a narrow armchair, hair in an updo that’s well on the way to a bouffant, wearing the long-sleeve plaid dress again. I am in her lap, resting on her legs, her feet tucked to the side together, ladylike. I look up at her eyes and mouth wide, hands raised, excited to exist and perceive. She is probably talking to me, saying my name, perhaps the name I wear now, perhaps the one that will soon be abandoned as not quite fitting this little bundle. She appears more confident about holding me; mothers learn fast.

I smile in appreciation at that love pouring down on me from her face, and now I close the old photo album, marking those posts private.

Oh, it IS a baby!

The oldest month of posts showing on my site as I start this post are from when I was born. First image: a tiny, round-faced human, sort of identifiable as me but I bet I’d have trouble picking it out of a line-up of similar babies. Strange to know what you looked like the day you were born.

Pictures of my young mother in hospital holding me. Her hair in a sort of bonnet to keep it out of her way, gazing down at the bundle in her arms. There is a giant bouquet of roses on the table beside her.

From the next day, my mother—and oh how her face in this picture is like the one I saw in the mirror at that age—seated in a chair and wearing a very big loose robe, gazing up at her mother, dressed for summer in a flowered, sleeveless shirt, a handbag on her arm. My grandmother is saying something; perhaps advice to a new parent.

A washed out picture of a baby in a diaper in a hospital bassinet, labeled with the name I was given at birth, but which was quickly displaced by “Dinah” (to which I legally changed my name at age 18).

I was assigned the sex “Female” at birth—it’s worked out fine, but seems over hasty to me from the perspective of 2019—and I was 6 pounds 10 ounces. This document has my little footprints. I am a hominid, all right. I theorize that they did the left foot first and I did not approve, so the right foot is all pressed down and the toes are curled.

Sometime late that month I was at home in a little white crib, in a room with blue light. I was a reasonably cute baby. I shared this picture on Flickr and my mother told a story of how they put together the crib wrong and the bottom fell out and I rolled out. No harm done except to cause some new mother panic.

There is a series of pictures of me being presented to my great-grandmother a week or two later. My mother is wearing a dark plaid dress, my father a light blue plaid shirt, rather rumpled. Neither looks well-rested. My mother’s father’s mother is wearing pearls and a neat little white short sleeve dress with a round white collar with a black bow on the front. The dress has a pattern of vertical stripes of patterns of something small, perhaps flowers. Narrow strip of white, double wide strip of pattern, and so on. I am wearing a swaddling cloth sort of arrangement and demonstrating my ability to stick out my tongue—blep—while clinging to someone’s fingers with my tiny right hand.

One of the pictures shows my terribly young father bemused as I apparently refuse to let go of his finger and my mother gazing adoringly at him as he gazes at me. For an unplanned adventure, they did pretty well with me.

Oh my goodness. I wonder if the little saucepan in this next picture of my mother’s mother holding me in the kitchen is the one I just put into the Goodwill box yesterday for Discardia. I think not, but it certainly could be. I am staring over her shoulder right into the camera, though I don’t know enough about babies to know if I’d even be able to focus on anything farther away than a face right over me at 10 days old.

None of these pictures fill me with a desire to have children or any regret that I chose not to. I’m very grateful for the life, to be sure, but I have ducked any sense of responsibility to carry on the genetic pattern.

And that’s probably a good thing. Humankind can do with a good deal less multiplying. Most of our challenges will be easier to solve with fewer of us. What an interesting world that will be. Makes me want to stick around another century, if I’m not in too much pain.

Thinking of the far future, I am smiling as I close the door and mark these posts private to cast the past into quiet darkness. Like putting the lid on a box, setting it in the back of a drawer, and closing the drawer, then walking off whistling.