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Curious things, habits. People themselves never knew they had them.
Agatha Christie, Mystery Author

I think we’re generally creatures of habit, don’t you? Even though we may delude ourselves into thinking we are free spirits. Of course there are good habits like exercising, bad habits like smoking and those that just evolve into daily routines. But I also think that habits can lead to grooves that eventually become ruts. And, even good habits can morph into bad habits such as obsessive exercising.

An artist friend of mine once told me that when she came home from high school each day, she painted for at least an hour because she wanted her art to become a disciplined habit and that only by working diligently could she improve. As someone whose approach to creating art has been erratic over the years, I’ve recently been enjoying my new habit of spending 2-5 hours each day painting. It’s become more a part of my core thinking and I can see my work evolving. And I now feel the “need” as well as the “desire.” But to avoid getting into a rut, I think I also should plan interludes where I do other things that feed my creativity such as visit a gallery or even write poetry.

Yesterday, I needed some more encaustic wax so I decided to change my routine and walk to Pearl, an art supply store, only about a mile away. I used to love the store— it had tons of fascinating things for sale and people who knew precisely what you needed and could provide advice. But about two years ago, they started carrying less and less stock and some of the key employees no longer seemed to be around. It became frustrating to shop there. So I eventually switched to Dick Blick. Their stores lack the grit and personality, but they have what I need for the most part. But back to yesterday. I walked to Pearl and their small display of encaustics was less than half full. They did not even have a basic white. Someone came up and said he could order it for me if I had a few days, but I said I really needed it today and that this was my final attempt to continue being a customer since every time I came in they no longer had what I needed in-stock.

Stay with me here. I’m getting back to talking about habits. Later in the day because of recent shopping experiences my attention was caught by an interview on the PBS Lehrer Report with retail consultant, Paco Underhill. Trained as an environmental psychologist, he authored a marketing bestseller Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping. The discussion was about a shift in shopping habits in a slumping economy. “We have an entire generation of Americans with little or no fiscal discipline or financial knowledge. Our houses are too big. Our cars are too big. Our debts are too big. Our bellies are too big. Now it’s time to go on a diet. Nobody’s going to go back to the old ways,” he proclaimed. “And what we’re seeing here is a time in which our retail world is probably going to contract… because we are over-stored, meaning that most retail entities would be eminently healthier if they were smaller.”

Underhill also noted that 60% of discretionary income in North America is held in the hands of people who are 55 and over and don’t need “stuff.” He talked about shopping sickness in our culture and that one of the fundamental issues that consumers are discovering is that acquisitions don’t transform who we were before we made the purchase so our relationship to consumption needs to be more real. This hit home. Many days I’ve thought to myself, I’d like to get out for a while, where can I go and what can I buy? But in the last year, I’ve made a conscious effort to look around me and see that honestly I need nothing more than food and basics. Including, of course, my art supplies.

Arguably for good or bad, my new mindset now is to order many things I need online, since it’s a crap shoot whether a store will have it in stock or not. I believe that Underhill and various research indicators are correct, our shopping habits are not likely to return to pre-recession levels. This is especially true for boomers like myself caught in the insecurity of disappearing investments and job cutbacks.

This is a bit of a loosely woven post thematically, but maybe a few things worth examining.

What are your habits — even good ones — that have morphed into ruts?

Have your shopping habits changed because of your age and/or the recession?

How many times have you made judgments about someone based on their looks? The gorgeous girl must be stuck up or gets all the guys. A pudgy or obese person must have no self-discipline, be lazy or have a jolly sense of humor. The foreign-looking person could be a terrorist. Blind people are saints because they deal so well with their challenges. The gray-haired gal won’t know anything about technology. The long-haired boy is a free spirit or does drugs. The child with glasses is intelligent. The old man in the wheel chair is decrepit. The muscular woman with short hair is gay. And so on. In a sense we’re all trapped by how we look because very intricate and subtle stereotypes exist and we all fall prey to them, without ever consciously realizing it.

Several years ago I was reading an article in a newspaper and the woman in the article was quoted saying, “IT’S WHAT I LOOK LIKE, BUT NOT WHO I AM.” I don’t recall the context, but her words felt like a sock to my gut so I wrote them down in a notebook I keep.  Long ago I recall being stunned when a friend told me that some classmates in high school thought I was conceited. In reality my aloofness was shyness. And now as I age, I find my looks shifting in many  unfolding ways, no doubt bringing new stereotypes into play to those who view my exterior and don’t know me.

Can we ever really know how people perceive us? What stereotyped thinking are you guilty of? How does what you look like differ from who you are?

Move over Sally Field, whatever drug you’ve been hawking in the commercials that I haven’t paid much attention to is probably the one I’ll be taking soon. That gnarly beast, age, continues to throw her curves at me. Just when I’m done reeling from one change, another comes hurtling my way. Ok. I’m being melodramatic. But I am bummed about a bone scan I had recently that shows some thinning in the spine according to my doctor who called yesterday. I eat right, run, walk, weight train, take vitamins, and I gave up diet soda a few years ago. Even with my genetic predisposition to this given my northern European background, I thought somehow doing the right things would help me escape it. No such luck. So, I’ll meet with my doctor and we’ll strategize after I do some research on my own. I don’t know why this news has thrown me for such a loop, but I skipped boot camp this morning to brood about it.

In a more cheerful vein, another blog, What Possessed Me, put me on to this Flickr photo stream by Fiona Watson. You might enjoy clicking through it when you have a few minutes. I’m always amazed and heartened by people’s creativity and glad that we now have the tools to share it.

Unwritten book page 4: still life with a molecule

Unwritten book page 4: still life with a molecule

Parasol magazine has another issue of inspiration for you to download and enjoy.

PARASOLMAG3-1

And last but definitely not least, the sun is shining here and the temps are moving up. We’ll be heading out to Summerdance tonight, and I plan to share photos later this weekend of the sites and sounds of summer in the city—my favorite time of year. I’m feeling better already! Happy weekend.

Amused, vindicated, relieved, gratified that fretting about aging is not just for women. I confess that these are the immature feelings I’ve had since my husband turned 60 years old a few months ago. Why? Well, it seems that now he is the one peering into the mirror and sighing. Looking glum and pre-occupied at times. Mortality and vanity are waging their battles within his psyche. man1

My husband is a great-looking guy but something about the big 6-0 made him take a closer look in the mirror and notice the gray hairs gaining ground, a little thinning on top, a slight softening of the jaw and, oh-my-gosh, wrinkles! Personally, I’ve been working my way through this newest phase of self-acceptance since my early 50s, and I was beginning to think that men must be better at it than women. Not so. They just come late to the party.

So I feel for him. It’s not easy to take inventory of your changing façade after years of taking your looks for granted. We talked about this as we took an Easter stroll along the river. Surgical procedures aren’t for us, but if there were a pill that could maintain our youthful looks, we’d be the first to take it. Most of the cosmetic surgery “afters” we’ve seen are a caricature of the person’s “before” face. I’m not talking about a wee eye tuck that is so subtle you would barely notice. It’s the cheek implants, the stitched up eyelids and the puffy lips. It just looks weird, not attractive, and reminds me of an over-inflated tire. And, it’s a real money pit and never-ending quest—what about veined hands, sagging body parts and other telltale aging signs that seem to crop up daily?

Anyway, as we walked and talked I told my husband that I had positioned aging this way for myself: everyone has his or her day in the sun looks-wise and there’s a biological reason for that—to attract the opposite sex in order to procreate. Now, we can enjoy the freedom to shine in other, perhaps more important, ways.

Certainly our youth culture doesn’t help with this passage, and there aren’t a lot of rituals or perks related to aging in our society. But my husband and I determined that it’s up to us to change that – in our daily lives and among our family, friends and others – by being content and proud, looking and acting great for our age, demanding and earning respect, and just getting on with living every day. So that’s our roadmap for the future at least for now. It brings to mind those old song lyrics: a fool will lose tomorrow looking back on yesterday. Still, I confess, it takes some mental “rearranging” from time to time.

Anne, my friend from South Africa writes:

I sometimes worry about global warming and climate changes that are being experienced world wide. After working with internationals from America and Europe, I am amazed that no one seems to use nature to dry their laundry. Everyone insists on using a tumble dryer regardless of the weather conditions.  In the Southern hemisphere, and I can only speak from a South African perspective, we use the wind and sun to dry our clothes in summer and dryers are used in winter only in rainy conditions.  We use washing lines outside to dry our clothes.  This does not appear to be the norm in the Northern Hemisphere even though they have wonderful summers.  Imagine every household chewing energy and contributing to this problem when it is totally avoidable at least for half of the year.

Anne, I don’t remember that from when we lived there in the 70s. But then maybe it was because we were still hanging clothes on the line in good weather back here in the states and it was nothing that would have caught my attention as out of the ordinary. I’ll have to ask my Mom. My son lives in Prague and though they all have mini-washers in their apartments, there are no dryers. He hangs his clothes to dry inside his apartment. Maybe it is an ecological thing for the Czechs…I’ll have to ask him too and get back with some comments.

Recently I came across the article, Social websites harm children’s brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist,” and forwarded the link to my daughter (mother of two sons, 5 months old and 2 years old). Her reply was, “I worry about this a lot. Just add it to the list of things that keep me awake at night.” Last night, I was awake thinking about the daunting job that today’s parents face, and how our highly “wired” world will have an impact on the lives of our young children.100_13552

The article states that Professor Susan Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist, believes repeated exposure to social networking sites and technologies could “rewire” the brain of young users and harm their ability to form human relationships. Computer games and fast-paced TV shows also are a concern. Her fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, have a small attention span and live for the moment. A teacher of 30 years told Greenfield she had noticed a sharp decline in the ability of her pupils to understand others. And the article noted that educational psychologist Jane Healy believes children should be kept away from computer games until they are seven, since most games only trigger the “flight or fight” region of the brain, rather than the vital areas responsible for reasoning.

As a long distance grandparent, my relationship with my grandsons is enhanced by technology. With Skype (video calls between computers), I can see them take their first steps, ask them questions, make funny faces at them and even read a book aloud as they turn the pages. My daughter also maintains a family blog where she posts videos and pictures of the boys to share with family and friends. Technology makes the distance more bearable, and offers the ability to share family moments.

As the boys grow older, it will be increasingly difficult to manage the influence and use of digital technology. I hope that additional research is underway to understand the effects of technology on children during their crucial stages of emotional, physical and mental development. Meanwhile, parents (and grandparents), caretakers and educators would be wise to take note of this current information, be aware of their own behavior as role models, and determine the role of technology in the lives of their young children—avoiding the negative aspects, yet harnessing the potential!