holding myself up

I think I took this photo in Seattle. You see much funkier stuff there than here in Phoenix.

It often takes me two or three weeks to finish a post. I started this one a couple of weeks ago when I was feeling low; just writing it gave me a lift. I am always mulling over something, and it does me good to distill my thoughts into more or less coherent paragraphs.

It was in graduate school that I finally figured out that you should wait until you are finished writing a paper to write the introduction. Much less daunting than staring at a blank sheet of paper (or these days, a blank screen) and wondering what to say. How can you possibly introduce an essay before you know what it’s going to say? So, this intro was added after much of the rest was written. I was tempted to simply the delete the parts that did not represent me as a fully actualized, rational adult, but I won’t. I’m learning, at long last, that imperfection rather becomes me.

I’ve been dipping my toes into mild depression over the past few weeks, perhaps a backlash from feeling too good for too long? My Calvinist upbringing is interfering with my enjoyment of activities I engage in (for instance, puzzling and bingeing TV shows in evening with Richard — and sometimes during the day by myself). That residual brain message labels such pursuits as self-indulgence which I do NOT deserve when the world is going to hell (and I’m headed that way too if I don’t “straighten up and fly right”). Jeez, when will my parents’ voices from my upbringing disappear entirely? They have been in abeyance for the past few months and I wish they would stay there. My parents stopped “guilting” me this way 50+ years ago, but I have never stopped lapsing at times into doing it to myself.

My reaction to these echoing voices is not to comply, but to rebel and be MORE self-indulgent. The most frequent messages were (and are), “Stop thinking only about yourself; think of others!” and “Get to work!” As I kid, I rebelled against this control by sneaking forbidden pleasures while Dorothy was resting or giving piano lessons — like conniving to run down a block to the bakery to buy a glazed donut for a nickel or creeping stealthily into the kitchen to take a (large) pinch from rising bread dough or a corner off the homemade noodle dough that was drying on a piece of newspaper. Hmmm… the examples I came up with first were all food-related. This may go some way towards explaining my urge to binge. Maybe it’s in defiance of parental control, first directly from my mother, then self-inflicted? I never made that connection until this moment. I guess that constitutes at least a minor eating disorder? I would consider it major if I added purging, but that’s never been a temptation. I binge then reap the consequences. Much healthier, eh?

A less self-sabotaging recent indulgence is to immerse myself in fiction instead of podcasts. I’ve been re-listening to the 44 Scotland Street series of audiobooks by Alexander McCall Smith. By doing so, I am choosing to remain largely ignorant about what’s happening in the world. It feels great — except for the guilt that creeps in when day after day, I immerse myself in these light-hearted stories of quirky characters in Edinburgh instead of getting informed about current events. I do take a cursory look through the AZ Republic each morning for what’s that’s worth (not much), and see some news round-ups from more high-falutin’ sources in email, but for now, my podcast habit has receded except for a quick dip into my favorites a couple of times a week.

Katie, Sam and “Hamish the Cow”
in the Scottish highlands, 2005

The Scotland Street series includes hilarious stories of a brilliant little kid with a pretentious control freak of a mother, a painter of portraits who abhors conceptual art, a narcissistic young man, an unschooled but extremely well-read woman from a village, and people of all ages navigating the dating scene. The characters have diverse backgrounds, some classically educated (which means I look up lots of words and references), some with simple common sense, a few with both, and a couple with neither. In a way, the city of Edinburgh is itself also a character.

What in my mind distinguishes these books from pure fluff are the psychological and philosophical insights that are woven in. I give you a short excerpt that may illustrate my simple delight in these books. Angus, the portrait painter, is a friend of Domenica, a semi-retired anthropologist who lives a contented life in the same flat in which she was born. Angus asks why Domenica doesn’t “do a big shopping trip once a week” instead of making daily visits for items such as “a handful of mushrooms, a few slices of salami, a single serving of pasta?” Domenica responds:

“Please mind your own business, Angus…. Shopping is a small, quotidian transaction. We need these to anchor our lives… The day needs to be punctuated, you see, the hours of the church, for instance: Lauds, Terce, Sext and all the rest are a way of breaking up the day, making landmarks in our lives…”

Alexander McCall Smith, Bertie Plays the Blues
Sam on an Edinburgh street (not Scotland Street), 2005

Update added today: I have listened my way through the first thirteen books and will finish the last one in a couple of hours. I listen as I drive, do household chores, and work jigsaws. I have noticed that I have trouble focusing on the storyline if 1) the volume is too low, 2) the volume is too high, or 3) I simply get distracted. When the latter happens, it seems like the author is starting to ramble. I ask myself, “Is he maundering, or is my mind wandering?” Whichever it is, it’s clearly time to take a break and do a little practicing (piano and/or viola), writing, catching up with emails, prepping for students, etc. There’s always something waiting for my attention.

Before this refreshing pivot to fiction, I was listening to podcasts for many hours each day. This obsession started in early 2017, “coincidentally” a couple of months after the disastrous election. I wanted to be constantly informed in order to respond with activism: calling and emailing my AZ and DC representatives, volunteering to get signatures on petitions, signing online petitions, writing and mailing GOTV (get out the vote) letters, and encouraging others to become more involved. (I drew the line at taking part in marches. I hate both being in the sun and being in crowds.) I was perpetually agitated about daily assaults on reason, fairness and civilized conduct.

Siamese puzzle pieces

I still worry some, but lately, the closest I’ve come to a state of extreme agitation was when I opened a new jigsaw puzzle a few days ago. The puzzle image is a collage of covers from classic children’s literature (finished puzzle below). I was really looking forward to getting started on it, but found that there were several clumps of pieces that remained conjoined due to the factory workers not replacing the cutting blades often enough. It took me an hour or more with a precision X-Acto knife to separate them. Now there was an outrage! Well worth penning a strongly-worded email to the White Mountain Puzzle Company, right?

I assure my politically active friends that I have not become “apolitical” (which is what people who refuse to sign petitions often call themselves). I spent a couple of hours last Saturday morning gathering signatures to try to get some of more egregious bills passed in the AZ Legislature to be put before the voters as citizen initiatives in 2022 before going into effect. If we don’t get enough signatures to block these bills, more money will go to the wealthy, less money to public schools, voting will become more difficult and politicians will continue to be allowed to keep the sources of large campaign donations a secret. I’ll return to staff that petition station several more times before the deadline in September.

Oy, Arizona, what next? On the plus side, many school districts have mandated masks despite our governor’s attempt to make doing so illegal. Whatever hope I retain comes from brave people and organizations bucking an unbearably unfair system run by self-interested people. I’m also heartened by our recent rain — this year, it’s finally not a humid, dry monsoon — and cactus and other desert flowers blooming despite the summer temperature.

One more quick story to tell. I decided well over a year ago to make myself a loose, summer dress with pockets, which are hard to find off the rack (or website). After all, I made many of my own clothes from the age of 10 or 11. When my sisters and I were small, my mother made us lovely dresses, often adorned with embroidery. She also taught us all to sew, though her awareness of fashion trends was, oh, I don’t know, maybe 30 years outdated? It worked for little girls’ dresses, but not for anyone hoping to fit in with her junior-high and high school peer group. (It must be from her that I got a complete absence of fashion sense myself?) I remember enjoying choosing fabrics and patterns with her input, always so sure that I would look SO beautiful wearing them. I would pin and cut and run the sewing machine thinking, “NOW I’ll be pretty!” This NEVER turned out to be true. The Sunday-after-church photo of me in the homemade lavender suit captures just how “off” my hopes were.

Me in my Sunday best. Note the way the stocking (this was before pantyhose) were, as my mom said, “screwed on.”
Not my favorite age.

Back to the summer dress with pockets… I went to the fabric store, chose a pattern and some batik fabric and walked out having spent almost $90! In the ’60s, patterns cost between 45 and 85 cents. I may have paid $1.50 for one when I was in college. This one? $17.50! The fabric was also very expensive, and I needed quite a bit.

My energy was apparently spent after that shopping trip and I put the project aside for a year until a month or so ago when I decided to spend all day one Saturday finally getting the dress made. Again, just as in my youth, as I sewed, I fantasized about just how lovely I would look in this frock. And again, I was sorely disappointed. When I was done and tried it on, I found that the neckline is uncomfortably high in the front (though it didn’t look that way in the picture), and it’s uncomfortably tight around the bust. So I’ll have to wait until such time as I lose 10+ pounds (IF that happens), then spend another $30 having the neckline lowered an inch or two by someone who knows how to do such things (sigh). The upshot is that I invested too much money and too much time making a dress that I’ll wear only around the house, if I wear it at all. On the positive side, I found I do remember how to sew. And I got to listen to several podcasts…

The puzzles below were done in the past couple of months. From the amount of time I admitted above to spending listening to audiobooks and podcasts, it sounds like listening and puzzling are all I do. I already said that I feel guilty about that at times, but Richard, who has never had qualms about taking time to relax and enjoy life himself, reminded me just yesterday that I also spend a lot of time each week volunteering, teaching, and doing things for others. He’s right. [Hear that, Mom and Dad? I am a good girl!]

Not super easy, but fun because I could work on it book by book.
Ditto on this one…
Much less a challenge than I expected — the styles were all so distinct.
Just finished this one — all but that one piece in the cherry bowl!
Where do pieces go?! I haven’t yet given up on finding it.
(Once I found missing pieces between the baseboard and the wall!)


  1. I love all your imperfections and feel closer to you with every post. I was hoping to see a picture of you with your perfectly imperfect frock!


  2. Nice!

    Richard S. Plattner
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  3. I can so relate to all of this! I too, feel guilty when I take time to read or binge watch a TV series. I also learned to sew as a child, and fantasize about getting back into sewing. As an adult, I made a few very cool Halloween costumes for my daughter (Raggedy Ann and a little witch costume that she looked adorable in). I also made curtains and recovered seat cushions for a used camping trailer we bought a few years ago. I really enjoyed doing that and felt very accomplished when I completed the project. I think I’m better at sewing “things” than every day clothing. Thanks for sharing.


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