MERCURY IN RETROGRADE…OR IS IT THE STATUS QUO?

I don’t follow astrology on any regular basis. I don’t make decisions based on where my moon or rising sign is. But, I am, like many people, really interested in those times when the ancient art (not science) seems to explain the inexplicable.

So, when I hear that Mercury is in retrograde (as it is now), I invariably feel an inward flash of insight. That explains it, I think. And whatever my distress du jour, it calms down a bit. Now, don’t ask me to describe what particular alignment of the heavens is indicated, I just know that there’s supposed to be some kind of dishevelment of the energetic state of things. And a time when shit happens squared.

But, I must ask – being the fair-minded person I am (or hope to be): Aren’t we all making up justifications for everything that goes awry, all the time?

From, “But, I didn’t know the gun was loaded” to “my blood sugar was low” to “she triggered unconscious memories of childhood angst,” we are at our creative best when it come to finding a reason why we aren’t responsible for some bad deed that we have perpetrated, or a succession of painful events that have landed on us.

I can speak for myself (and maybe for you), and say I am an excuse machine. It’s not just restricted to my own process; rather, it’s what I do about virtually everything anyone does. As a matter of fact, I get paid to do it. Isn’t a large part of my job as a therapist about explaining away the disturbing elements of my patients’ lives and giving them the pass of rationale? Not that deep understanding isn’t a useful tool. It is. But there is also something to be said for the simple perspective. This is a bad day. I’m in a crappy mood. I did something stupid. You’re being really irritating. I just hate that. Without the excavation into the underlying meaning or source.

So, the planets may be in a particular array, and someone might be able to identify the shift in some kind of force. But let’s take it down a notch or two and just tell the truth. There aren’t really “good” times or “bad” times. There are just times. And we meander through them and sometimes stumble against the very thing we were able to circumvent before. Our humanity is never about consistency. We are the mitigating force. How we react to the natural variety of external reality is what determines what we think of the status quo.

I WAS TAKEN TO THE WOODSHED

After my weather rant yesterday, a really smart and thoughtful reader of my blog took me to task because of my disdain for the efforts made to protect New Yorkers from failures of infrastructure and services. He was, of course, espousing a legitimate and much more reasonable point of view than I. I was, as it turns out – however – right. Now, not in any ultimate sense, but right about the distance between projections, alarm and reality.

A new term will now be added to the lexicon: doing a DeBlasio – defined as over-reacting to a future and highly ambiguous threat; in part, as an overcompensation for a past under-response to an apparently similar threat. Also to be construed as bad judgement. See “to Cuomo.”

The storm of the century yielded a mere six to seven inches of snow in the City. But the subway and roadways were shut down. The cost in loss of business has yet to be computed. But it will be – by those same media types who were fueling the hysteria yesterday.

But, as they used to say on Ally McBeal (my TV trash talk knows no bounds): Bygones.

I was just out, in what was quite a civilized trek, running errands. MM, my favorite vegetable market was delivering!! All is now right with the world.

…until the next big thing hits. It’s all a very large scale tsunami. We don’t know we’re inside it because the distance between the bands of monster waves can be very long. Food for thought? Naa – better to stay with thoughts for food.

To those who cringe at the chalky taste left in their mouths after three progressively negative rants – I promise… it’s just a phase. This will pass.

Weather Wimps and Weasels

New Yorkers – and I want to be specific: New York City residents – are weather wimps. We are, as the boys in my fourth grade class used to say, a-scared of weather. Especially snow. Oh no, snow!! So, as soon as the first dusting appears, we all become apocalyptic, which leads to the overarching, non-stop mass conniption fit to be found in any grocery store, large or small.

In places where people have actual houses, the concern – in the face of a real snowstorm – would be for salt to cover the roadways and sidewalks. Probably some other stuff too, but I don’t really know what that would be. Since almost no one in the inner boroughs (which is, in fact, my definition of New York City) lives in a private house, we concern ourselves entirely with food. God forbid we should have a day without access to the full panoply of edible choices.

Not only knowing full well that this is inevitably the case, but also as a sufferer from stock-the-larder-syndrome, I rushed this morning to ye olde supermarket. There were about ten times as many people as one would normally see on a Monday, all in flagrant distress and hyper-territorial. I was jostled repeatedly – no, shoved in the ribs with a hard plastic handheld shopping carrier – by a man who was at least 80. He was in it for the final meal, perhaps. I was just a random obstacle to his anxious search for salad and fruit. I do believe he would have killed me if I blocked the apples.

To back up just a little, the weasels in my title are the New York City weather media. They are the flamethrowers. They amp up the direness quotient of any potential climactic event, not even maintaining the usual deadpan face and voice they use to report volcanic eruptions or deaths on the battlefield. No. Weather is an occasion to take free license with their creative impulse to induce trauma.

And, on this occasion, our dear Mayor jumped to the very top of the bug-eyed band-wagon. “This will be the worst snow storm that ever was in New York. Everything will come to a stand still. Stay home today (before the storm? Why?) Batten your hatches, bend down between your knees and kiss your ass good-bye.” (I do embellish here.)

Neither he (Billy  DeB.) nor they (the weatherfolk) had to say it. It was implied: RUN, DON’T WALK and buy all the food you can carry or have delivered (it’s still New York). Don’t stop and think that the whole thing will come and go in a few days. Make believe you will be stranded for months.

Back in the market: My fellow wimps and I raced along the grocery aisles, grabbing, snatching, barely knowing what we were flinging into our carts. It brought to mind Supermarket Sweep. With much less of a prize at the end.

The check out lines were yet another occasion for taking that last stand and jousting with whomever seemed to bend the unwritten rules. Fights were breaking out all over. Someone should have hosed everyone down. Each of us fled as soon as the checkout person handed us our change. Back to the illusory safety of our personal bad-trip tents.

The day is young, and weather is fickle. Will we have the storm of the century or what used to be “hey a snow day, let’s go out and throw snowballs” all through my childhood? TWT. But the big fear has already been cashed in on. Those lucky devils who own any kind of food store are now planning their next first class cruise.

I, myself, am in for the duration. I’ll obsessively watch the weather on at least two channels. Maybe I’ll make popcorn.

RUDE!!!

Badweather gripes: It’s easier to remember what pisses me off when the climate’s in the crapper.

New Yorkers are famously depicted as rude. Often I am hurt by how unfair and inaccurate that is. Sometimes I think it’s a vast understatement. Today, in the embrace of sleet-snow-slushy upperwestsidedom, I am in full-throttle outrage at my thoughtless neighbors.

It first came to pass in a teeth-gnashingly familiarly way: Walking, barely staying upright, slip-sliding on the completely unmanaged half-inch of movable ice coating the sidewalks and gutter, I had my first cross-directional encounter. My companion and I were walking west; an adult woman and an under-ten-year-old boy were walking east. I automatically adjusted by stepping as far to my right as I could. They did not follow suit.

What the fuck?!! I blurted out – a few paces after I successfully swerved out of harm’s way. Doesn’t anyone move over? In New York, it is not uncommon for the correct answer to be a resounding “No.”

In a similar vein, I was reminded by my only slightly more philosophical partner, that there is a constant battle to avoid being brained by a swiftly moving backpack – in the fractional space between individuals on the subway. He says – and he’s a frequent underground traveler – No one seems to take account of or responsibility for the giant humped appendage they are wearing. He lives on the edge, so he will tap the offending pack and ask the owner to “watch it.” He is, of course, risking death in doing so.

I then brought up the final element of the rudeness trifecta – a specifically gender-linked one: Men sitting knees akimbo, on public transportation. I grew up thinking it was a given. Not to be questioned. I guess I believed their balls were in mortal danger if they put their legs together. It is only of late, because of one of those “you stupid members of the public, this is how to behave” New York print campaigns – which tells men to close their knees when riding on the subway – that it dawned on me that there was another option. Besides being scrunched into a half-seat because some guy was taking up an extra chunk of my space to facilitate the comfort of being spread-eagled.

Just identifying the self-centeredness running rampant on a field of big apple is exhausting. So, that would be the totality of this rant. More to come. I promise.

IN THE VORTEX

There are eddies and rapids which affect the flow of life. When they collect in a particularly problematic way, it feels very much like one is in the vortex. Swirling, out of control, fearful. Who can’t remember what that’s like?

We’ve just come through a period of time (holiday season, phase of the moon, unknown component) when many people seemed to be in the vortex. It’s abated, to be sure – for most. But some have remained. And the sensibility which arises is almost as bad as the direct experience.

A belief can be born (or reborn) that one is just unlucky. Which is just a stone’s throw from hopelessly doomed.

I’m speaking pretty generally and generically, but I’m thinking of someone in particular. Someone with great courage and fortitude, who has had an abundance of time inside the vortex. He is swimming upstream against forces that have aligned to torment him with the large and the small – from the insurgence of craziness on the part of an important person in his life, to the general resistance one can readily encounter in the world of service providers. You know, the stupid, inhumane, and often significantly offshore world of utilities…and such. On a good day, that can take you to a bad day. But when it’s already a day of struggle, those fools can generate seriously postal feelings.

I would like to draw on the positive energy potential of all of you out there. Like the request to clap for Tinkerbelle, I ask you to send a high-ion flow of good stuff his way. Waves of possibility would be great. You don’t need any more specifics. Just join in my intention to raise him from the vortex. He’s one of the very good guys.

Just some musings.

Things change. That’s not news. But some of those changes are quite surprising. Such as…

The late great planets.They ain’t what they used to be.

Take Mercury for example: For most of my life the name was associated with illness and healing. It was the stuff in the thermometer and when you cut yourself you applied Mercurochrome. Now both are verboten. Why? And what about Pluto? Gone girl. Just like that. It isn’t a planet anymore. Which raises the question…

Can you change reality by changing your definitions? Or by declaring certain ones off-limits?

I’m also thinking of the overcompensation which sometimes arrives with good intentions. I understand there is a trend to deny gender differences in young children; parents waiting for the child to decide if he/she is a boy/girl. You – who are trying not to pigeonhole your beloved offspring – are creating a massive shitstorm for your kid who will be short a few reallycrucial, self-identifying building blocks.

One of our greatest failings as human beings is our tendency toward unthoughtful, impulsive decisions. Zeal and passion notwithstanding, we do need to include reason in our process of structuring and restructuring our world. Or else we have to keep getting that big eraser out and spend all our time correcting stupid errors.

So I’m here to cast my vote for a delay of game. Let’s take a beat or two before we act.

Not to end on such a profound note…here’s another bit of something to chew on:

Why is traffic so mysterious? As far as I can tell, it doesn’t follow the laws of logic. I would welcome any thoughts about this, since it’s one area I can’t seem to understand. You know what I mean: Sometimes you’re stuck for what seems like eternity in a motionless clog of cars. And then it loosens up, but there’s no explanation – no accident, no construction, no change in the weather. What goes on?

ON THE BACK NINE

Life after 50 (okay, who’s kidding – after 60).

Amongst the volumes of information one isn’t provided with, is how to live well on the other side of middle age.

A definition is needed: I expect to live to one hundred – at least. You know how things have been going…Soon seventy will be the new forty. The life expectancy just keeps moving ahead of the baby boomer curve. So, if I’m going to be really candid, I will tell you that I kind of expect to live forever. Before you cart me away in a custom straight jacket, I should assure you that I’m living as if I were mortal. And, for the sake of what passes for reality, I would say that I consider middle age to be fifty to sixty. So, I’m on the other side…maybe.

Here are a few things one must adapt to:

There’s the physical: Changes show up as if all of a sudden. Did my jawline succumb overnight? No. It’s just that old threshold thing. Awareness isn’t as finely tuned as I would like to think. So, there it is, the turkey neck that wasn’t there before. It’s always a challenge to the spirit. But, oddly, or naturally (I’ve got no frame of reference here), within a couple of weeks my new reflection looks just like me. I keep shifting and expanding perspective. Acceptance continues. What’s the alternative? Chasing the dragon of visible youth is not for me.

The mental “progression” is a bit thornier: I don’t know anyone in my age group who can remember those basic things one never questioned. Names. Dates. Specifics. To-do lists. In response, I (we) have – without fanfare – become quite bionic. Googlebrain would be the best name for it. Reliance on a search engine to fill in the memory blanks. If you’re part of a couple, you might have noticed that you also use your partner as a supplement. “What was the name of that actor who was on Law and Order and also turned into a fly?” There is a new seriousness about making lists. Compensation by sticky notes, notebook and calendar entries does the trick. But they have to be made within the very small thought-window after hearing or thinking about a prospective task. The increasingly ephemeral capture of new information is quite impressive. If you’re impressed by entropy.

Staying current: I feel strongly that this is essential. Even if you’d rather die than spend a moment tweeting or on Facebook, you nevertheless need to keep abreast of what’s going on in the vanguard of our culture. And that means fashion, music, TV and movies, politics, electronics, and – God help us all – social media. Watch award shows. You can catch up quite a bit that way. And, if you’re fortunate enough to have some under 30’s or – even better – under 20’s in close proximity in your life, listen to them carefully. They know the new code – the one that changes almost daily. If you look away for too long, you’ll be searching for a new Rosetta Stone. Even if you feel underwhelmed or overly disdainful of that which is the next new thing, you don’t want to default into altacockerhood. You know, the look and sound of someone who has decided they would get off at a certain stop on the cultural bus and ignore the rest of the route. A musty smell is the tell.

Create new goals: What? Is it too late? Don’t let me hear you say that. The stories I love and which inspire me are about the seventy-year-old who finally enrolled in college (and graduated); the eighty-year-old who is building a new house; and the ninety-year-old who is taking classes in any new art form. Genetics matter greatly, but action is a maximizer of potential.

Keep dusting yourself off. Don’t give in to poor grooming. Move your body. Take risks but not stupid ones. And stay in touch. I’m prepared for a very long ride and I don’t want to be either bored or passé or relegated to the ranks of the living dead. Even at the end (should there be one) I’d like to breathe some fire.

The day at large – back outside.

THE SIT-DOWN COMEDIAN

Take my dentist. Please.

I had an appointment with my dentist today. Didn’t expect to have such a good time.

While we were waiting for the anesthesia to kick in we chatted. I told him the Great Dane story. Then, in the spirit of comedic sharing, he told me the following:

(I quote – poorly, I’m sure) I heard on the news about a manhole cover that was missing. You know, you always hear when a manhole cover is missing but they never tell you when it’s found. What about the manhole cover’s mother?! And you don’t see a picture of a manhole on a milk carton!

This struck me as really funny and, with various metal things in my mouth, I roared. Dr. Blondman attributed my great mirth to the nitrous oxide – but I beg to differ. He was actually on quite the roll. He offered up a few other choice quips and stories and the time  passed quite well.

Dr. B. is already in my top echelon of trusted humans on the planet. He is in the same tier as eight family members and five friends. Excellent company. What is it that I trust? I trust his skill, integrity and humanity. The holy trinity. Now I can add humorist to his many fine qualities. As I said to Bella, the dental assistant, I would go there just for the entertainment. Dr. Blondman assured me that he, too, was there for that reason.

And we both laughed.

You know it’s a good day, when your dental appointment is a pleasure.

And now I have a new relationship with manhole covers. I’ll never look at one the same way again. As a matter of fact, on the way home, I saw one crossed with a giant “X” in reflective tape. Why? Who can say, but, perhaps, there is an entire universe of manhole cover reality that I’m just about to discover.

BUS STUFF

I was keeping score today…

Going cross-town on 96th St: I forgot to buzz for a stop at Lexington Ave. I assumed the driver would stop there. The bus always stops there. Someone (else) always buzzes. Not today. My assumptions were all I had to keep me warm as I walked that long block from the east side of Third Avenue to the west side entrance to the subway on Lex. In that second of realization that I it was too late to buzz, I had encountered the ultimate powerlessness that can, at any moment, be front and center. Hmmm.

Later, on the return trip: I saw the bus at the stop as I came up the subway stairs. I made that final push, calves screaming, and arrived at the bus stop with my nose an inch away from the closed doors. I’ve seen my share of – is it rigorous or sadistic? – drivers who will never open the doors once they’re closed. So, I stood, already feeling that sinking Oh crap, now I get to stand in the sub freezing NY early evening air for some unpredictable amount of time feeling. (Buses are anything but regular these days). But, before my thoughts could gather steam (or icicles), the door magically opened. A compassionate driver! Palms together, I gave her a much-deserved bow of thanks.

Now the score is even.

The Dog Had Other Ideas

I know there are things I should take seriously – many things. One of them is (are?) service dogs.

Okay. I’ll try. But, come on…Dogs should be available for me to pet. That seems like nature’s way.

I was at a school concert today. A young family member was going to be singing – along with her classmates. So, of course, I showed up. Not much can improve on my delight at hearing the sweet, uplifted voices of well-rehearsed boys and girls.

Well, there is one thing – A gorgeous, grey-toned Great Dane ‘sitting’ next to me. I love the breed. They are big and sweet and affectionate. I once owned one such dramatic canine. So, with memories of Francesca filling my mind, I reached for the giant pooch.

“Uh, uh, uh!”  The human appendage spoke. “This is a service dog.” Our eyes met (me and the dog’s) and we knew that we were now precluded from that moment of contact.

I withdrew to the confines of my seat; with difficulty, keeping my hands off the shapely head and strong back of my four-legged neighbor. He however, had other ideas. I felt – then saw – some large hindquarters backing up against my thigh. And then he sat on me.

I figured – if you’re virtually in my lap, I can be permitted to pet you. No one stopped us – even as my leg became numb. I didn’t care. Love the dog.

Greetings from the land of the underachieving super-folk: It’s a little like the realm of the high-functioning mentally ill.

(This is what happens when it’s really much too cold to be outside; my mind turns inward – we’re sort of dealing with the upper west side of my cerebral cortex. Aren’t you delighted?)

Back to the title…

If you haven’t the faintest idea what I’m talking about, I envy you.

Ah, potential. It bites some of us in the ass a few times a day. One of the greatest things that can happen to a child is also – potentially – one of the worst. The child who is fêted and admired and made much of for his or her innate capabilities, will feel like a prince or princess, unconquerable and maybe better than the average bear. This won’t last. As adoration turns rapidly into expectation, even the smartest, most creative or the most athletic will start to (metaphorically) huff and puff while trying to keep up with their press.

When you’ve been designated with a category (i.e. bright, brilliant, artistic, a great dancer/swimmer/whatever) at an early age, you buy it. You don’t question whether or why. This is you. So you are told, and so you believe.

There are a few special souls who can cut through reality like it’s butta. They find their place, work diligently to enhance their natural talents, and achieve success after success.

Usually, this is not how it goes. Usually, there’s the inevitable moment when The Road Runner screeches to a halt, realizing that his unobstructed forward motion is now about to send him over a cliff. The greater the height the worse the fall.

Surviving the first challenge is unlikely to auger relief from this particular heart-stopping risk. That’s the thing about what you come to think defines you at an early age. It’s a tenacious belief. So, there you are at 30 or 40 or 50 or… and each new occasion where you aren’t the best or the brightest; where you struggle or (God forbid) fail – this is an occasion for soul searing misery.

Rolling with the punches ought to be a course taught to every child as soon as they can comprehend. But the folks whom I’m addressing didn’t learn it – and are trying to pick up that skill later in life.

So, to come to terms with the fact that you are neither Superman/woman nor the biggest loser (not in a good way), you must struggle to reconfigure your sense of self. No mean feat.

But, the outcome of discovering you are merely another member of the human race – even if you can run really fast – has great benefits. For one thing, you are no longer alone with your specialness. You can actually be buoyed up by the common humanity inherent in your wrestling match with life.

I will whisper this once in your ear…so pay attention. You are still as beautiful as you ever were. But you don’t have to be perfect.