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THE CROWN

Another cold, wet dark evening in the Northeast. Too miserable an evening to go out for pleasures that might otherwise be special. 

What to do as the snow falls and makes leaving the house hazardous? 

How about a night of slightly educational, slightly soap operery watching of happenings and doings in the lives of English royalty? The TV series, “The Crown.”

Tonight’s episode takes place in the exciting days of early space travel. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins make history as the whole world watched, fascinated and unbelieving as they landed on the moon. 

TC3_304_RC-9c81150.jpgPrince Philip watches too, transfixed to his television screen. Something transformative was clearly going on in his mind, and he was excited, thrilled and anxious. He would, as his royal station decreed, have the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet the three heroes in person. 

The prince took great care composing the questions he hoped to ask the astronauts in the fifteen minutes he was allotted to be alone with them.

The three men entered to royal pomp and circumstance, and were shown into the Prince’s private chamber. 

And here is where the fantasy ends. These men, although they achieved greatness through their heroic willingness to put their lives at risk to achieve this great feat, were simply human beings after all. 

They started the interview with the Prince by sneezing, coughing, and otherwise being humans. They were subject to the same problems and dangers that plague every day, ordinary people. 

When Philip asked them for special observances while in space, he was disappointed with their answer. Much of their time was spent managing protocols that any pilot must deal with when on a mission. As the prince looked at the questions that he had so carefully composed, he realized that the astronauts were not able to give him the insights about the world and of life’s meaning that he sought. The achievements of the astronauts were not gong to clarify any deep understanding of the universe or its wonders. 

Turning next to church leaders, who were likewise questioning their faith and the meaning of life, he established meaningful relationships with them and developed lifelong friends.

So what is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of faith? Long will pondering minds question these issues.

As for me, I will to go into the kitchen and make a lovely, soothing cup of steaming hot chocolate.  That is the extent of my brilliant philosophical ideas and conclusions for the day.

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THE CROWN

OPERA

Who would have thought, after all the years of giggling at and making fun of opera singers, that I would become an opera fan?

My younger brother, Jerry, used to imitate the sound, as he heard it, of an operatic tenor. In his most sincerely serious mock voice, the eleven year old made up a heartbreaking aria, using self-invented words that sounded somewhat in the area of Italian to him. In his self-written masterpiece of operatic music, he put on his most painful facial expression and sang his famous leading aria, 

“Ah cha pa TAT-IO!” As he belted out his big performance to his audience of one: me. I pretended to emit a sad, soulful sob at the start of the song.

How odd that I would remember that song after all these years, but I do remember it with great clarity. Today, over fifty years later, I anticipate with great excitement, my husband and my opportunity to see the opera “La Boehme, ” in New York City, at the Metropolitan Opera House. What a thrill!MET_OPERA_-resized-1szdeuaz950w56rc8iql1g0q71hkp7lkzis4lut5aokk

The theater is imposing: five balconies high. Tickets in the 4th or 5th balcony, since they are so far from the stage, are referred to as the “nosebleed section.” 

As in many large arts institutions the attraction on the first floor is the gift shop. It is stocked with clever, if overpriced items like long rectangular note paper to leave at our telephone to jot down phone messages. The notepaper’s heading is, ”Chopin Liszt.” And if you would like a special pen with which to write your phone messages (on the Shopping list), try the ball point pen styled to resemble William Shakespeare. 

The restaurant in the theater, The Grand Tier, offers a unique treat; enjoy your lunch and head back to the theater. But first you may order and pre-pay for dessert. At intermission simply return to your table to miraculously find your dessert and coffee (or tea) awaiting your return.

We reached our seats. The curtain rose to the stage setting of a Parisian garret, home of a young, poor artist. I was surprised that there was no overture; the conductor advanced immediately to the scene of young artists preparing their work while suffering from the cold and from very little food. The voices of the performers filled the auditorium with the beautiful, melodic sounds of Puccini’s opera. The music is glorious, the acoustics superb, the stage setting spectacular. La Boehme was staged by the film director, Franco Zaffirelli, and is as dramatic and beautiful as the music.

So, on many levels, this  afternoon at the opera was a memorable experience.

FAVOR FOR A FRIEND

The message came by e mail.

Betsy, one of the women in my writing group asked me if I would do her a favor.

I emailed back, saying, “Sure; I’d be happy to.”

That was my first mistake. I learned from this experience to never agree to do a favor for someone unless you had an idea of what that favor was.

Unknown-1The return email from her was, “I need a birthday gift for my nephew. His birthday is in a couple of days and we are traveling right now. Will you please send him a gift from us by going to any pharmacy and buying him a “Steam Wallet? It’s important to get the money to him as soon as possible.”

I had never heard of a “Steam Wallet.”

Betsy wrote back that a “Steam Wallet” was an account in a someone’s name that kept money in a safe place until the recipient took the money out of the wallet for a purchase of his choosing. 

She requested that I deposit $200.00 in his account, and she would repay me when she returned.

That took me a bit by surprise. Although I know Betsy, I am not a close friend, and see her only at writers’ meetings. We have never socialized, spoken on the phone or served on a committee together. Why would she choose me to ask to do this favor?

And when would she pay me back? We live about forty minutes from each other, and see each other only at the occasional joint meeting. This request was an odd one, I thought. And asking me to pay out $200.00 was quite an imposition.

I was uncomfortable with her request, and annoyed with myself for agreeing to do a favor before asking what the favor entailed. 

I didn’t know where she was traveling, but why was it so easy for me to reach her by email? If she was accessible my email, why couldn’t she buy the card herself? 

I tried to get out of my obligation to do her a favor by writing back to her, telling her that me husband and I were leaving shortly for a drive to the Delaware Canal for a hike along the Delaware Canal. Therefore, I said, “I will be unable to go out and buy your nephew’s gift.”

But that didn’t stop her. She answered “It’s fine if you buy the card and deposit the money after the weekend.”

But she originally said that it was important to make this transaction quickly so the boy would have the gift in time for his birthday. Now she suddenly changed the story, telling me that it would be fine if I didn’t get it today, or even this weekend.

So I replied again that we were in an area that makes it impossible for me to buy the gift.

She wrote back immediately, saying, “Oh, please. I will wait until you buy it. You can get it on i-tunes or google.Just make the payments in $100.00 denominations..” And she added “I owe you a lot.”

This woman had the most nerve of anyone I had ever met. I will no longer give her petty excuses for being unable to honor her request. 

So I wrote back,” Betsy, I am sorry but I cannot do this favor for you.”

And that was that. I felt better for finally being off the hook.

Then Betsy wrote back, “Sorry to say, I’ve been hacked! Hope I’ve ironed things out by now, but favors for someone on email seldom are real, just so you know.”

Apologies,

Betsy  

MEDITATION

“I’ve heard so much about it but have never tried it.” And that was the feeling we had when we encountered a class in mediation while on vacation.

So we signed up and prepared to experience a new technique in living.

We entered a simple, unadorned room with chairs set up in a circle for the 20 participants to occupy.

The instructor started by explaining the importance of clearing the mind. And that is one of the most difficult things to do. “But,” she explained, “ You can’t see your reflection in running water: only in still water!” 

“Hmm; interesting analogy,” I thought. Unknown

We must try to clear out our “judging minds,” and be open to new ideas and thoughts. Most of us keep our minds in the past or wondering about the future. She said it was difficult to stay in the present. I was reminded of a saying I had heard years ago: “The past is gone, the future is unknown. We only have right now, which is a gift. That is why we call it the present.”

She described different kinds of people” the Mr. Fix-it, who always looks for solutions to problems, the Snow-baller, who makes all problems larger than they are the longer they go forward; just like a snowball rolling down a hill. 

“Our minds are like tofu;” they are blank and open. The mind takes on any flavor that is added to it, just as tofu has no flavor of its own, but takes on whatever it is served with”

And with that, we were prepared to clear our minds and be open to meditation.

In clearing our minds we would experience life in a different way. Starting with the sense of taste. This was her cue to pass around a platter of dates. “Take one but don’t eat it yet,” she told us. And she passed around the platter of dates.

“Now we are ready to enhance our sense of taste. Put the date in your mouth, but don’t chew it. First be aware of the sense of the date being in your mouth. Notice its weight, its shape and its texture. Explore it with your tongue”

After noticing the characteristics of a date, we finally were permitted to bite into it and be aware of its taste. 

It’s sweetness filled my mouth in a way that I had never felt before. Although this was not the first time I had eaten a date, this awareness created a new sensation. I was really aware of the taste of a date.

I was being mindful of taste.

We went from the taste experience to focusing our attention on our breath. 

“If you concentrate on your breath, breathing in and out, you will find your whole body slowing down. If thoughts break into your consciousness, just acknowledge them, push them away, and return to concentrating on your breathing.”

At the end of this first meditation class, about an hour,  most of us felt more relaxed. We thought that with practice we could achieve the goal of slowing down, being more aware of our surroundings and less likely to allow ourselves to be swept into the chaos that every day life has become. IF we practice!

This was an enlightening and interesting class, and I would like very much to carry this slower version of myself through my days. But just to fact check with reality, ask me at holiday time. Let’s see whether I am dealing with that stressful time of year more successfully than I usually do.Unknown

Air B ‘n B: updated concept

Space is running out, and nobody knows what to do about this odd problem. There is a shortage of cemetary space for the unknown or indigent bodies on hand with nobody to step forward, claim the body, and defray the costs of a funeral. 

So it is time to get creative and find another solutions to this land shortage for the poor but nonetheless dead, of us who find themselves totally and altogether dead.

So I have come up with a new concept of dealing with the dead.

We are all familiar with the concept of “Air B’n B.”, where people can rent accommodations for their vacation stays.” MY idea is “Earth B & B.” I don’t call it exactly a cemetery but a rental space for the formerly living. 

I don’t think that death is a funny matter, and I’m sure it’ll be even less funny when its my turn to share the experience with my ancestors.

But rumor has it that I have no way of escaping the fate of so many others. Notice that I refrained from stating “the fate of ALL others.” The reason for that turn of phrase is that we can’t be absolutely sure of all occasions at all times. For example, Anastasia. Does anyone 

know for certain, what happened to her and what her story ending is?  There have been books, movies, and even a Broadway show about her confusing disappearance, but no solid proof of her fate.

 And what about the three convicts who escaped from Alcatraz prison in California? Nobody can guarantee whether they escaped still walk among us, or whether they lost the challenge to survive those vicious seas in their small boat, and now lie with the sea creature in Alcatraz Bay.

My plan, a cemetery rental can help with the short space problem. Some American Indian tribes solved their similar problem by stacking bodies; several bodies rest, one on top of the other. In a space-saving cemetery. Visit one grave and be rewarded by honoring several generations of your departed in one single trip. It just takes starting with one very deep hole for the placement of the first departed one in the first coffin.

But my “Earth B&B” idea, rents the space for a coffin to be buried in. I think it is a great idea. The trouble is that I haven’t gotten to the next step, which is evicting one dead guest for the next to arrive.

But I’m working on it.

COLORADO DREAMIN’

 

Here we are back on the east coast, home from the sights, adventures and experiences of our visit to Boulder, Colorado.

We have always been fond of the beautiful University of Colorado at Boulder campus. So on our visit this summer, we explored the campus to make note of discernible changes. Everything changes so much that it’s important to keep up with the latest trends.

The most attention worthy change was the method of getting from one place to another. On campus, right in the midst of students walking between buildings to classes were some new conveyances. Mere walking from one class to another, the way we used to do, is no longer an assumption.

 

IMG_0453 2.jpegThis young man entered the campus book store carrying a scooter. I hope he didn’t use it to scoot between the shelves of books. How could he do that without adding several injuries by hit and run scooter! He seemed perfectly comfortable with this travel device, indoors or outside.

A great favorite among students was the skateboard. It was so popular that there was a skateboard stand outside the entrance of the book store, clearly in full use! 

IMG_0456 2.jpegThe favorite transit tool of my  youth, the bicycle, has  not gone out of fashion, although I don’t remember actually riding it through groups of students moving between classes.

 

IMG_0454.jpegThe book store cared very much about people’s perception of it’s effectiveness. Therefore it had one of these opinion gathering machines at the exit of the store.

IMG_0449 2.jpegIMG_0448 2.jpegOne of my favorite memories of the trip was an overheard conversation between a young mother and her pre-school daughter. They had  noticed a worm on the ground and bent down to put it on a leaf. “

IMG_0543.jpeg“Where’s it’s mommy?” The young woman asked the child, looking down at the worm. “Let’s go outside and look for her. I’ll bet it’s mommy is waiting in the grass.” And out they went, searching for Mommy Worm. I loved the early teaching of reverence for the value of life that this mother and child demonstrated.

Who would not be inspired to learn in the beautiful environment of the mountains behind campus , breathing the clear Colorado air and loving the nature seen all around?

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Nederland is a charming little town near Boulder, selling such treats as home brewed Kombucha in several flavors and home baked pastries.

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Walking up in the mountains I was tickled by this sign:IMG_0425.jpeg

But that’s the easterner in me. The greatest danger of animals lurking might be a puppy who pulled on its leach.

I loved the trip to Colorado; I have the warmest, kindest thoughts of the scenery and the nature loving people in this beautiful part of our country.

PEOPLE PROBLEMS

This is the most diabolical situation I’ve ever seen, heard or experienced. It is hard to believe that this is really happening. The state of communication is in terrible condition.

 Pay attention. Listen. Notice. People, our fellow human beings, are being phased out of every day-life. We humans are being replaced with machines in a frightening  way.

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Blank space and electrically generated words have taken the place of warm, human voices. Inflections, which add color and tone to the human voice have been traded in for monotonic, outer space non-character, un-character sounds impersonating speech.

Voices have been replaced by computer responses, vocalized recordings and cold, impersonal messages, and this has been a cruel affront to me.

Whenever I spoke to operators or service staff professionals I always enjoyed making light comments and frivolous statements with them. They always told me that my calls lightened their day; added some humor to their jobs. I related to them as if they were human beings: not just empty voices without feelings.

But how can you crack a joke to a robot?

How can you kid around with a canned recording?

And how do you get an original response from a computer?

My first memory of change came on an elevator. I remember elevator men and women, working in department store elevators, asking what floor I wished to be taken to. I remember that human operator telling everyone in the elevator what merchandise could be found on what floor as we elevated up the floors.  They also were there to answer questions we customers may have had.

And a human voice once responded when you called the pharmacist with a question or request for a prescription.

Now the-phone delivers to your anxious ears the pre-recorded message asking which button you would like to be connected to. The switchboard is gone, along with human operators answering questions from fellow humans. Operators have been replaced with metal boxes that answer phones and answer the questions of callers in synthetic voices.

Even in emergencies such as storm related blackouts, the electric company challenges callers to report problems such as power failures, downed trees and cats stuck on high branches by responding to motorized, mechanical questions.

To get help may I report my emergency to a person? Of course not. Report emergencies to a computer. And be thankful that you don’t receive an electric shock in return. Is this progress? Is dehumanizing human contacts a good thing? Are we better off turning our communications over to cold, steel devices and pushing out into oblivion, people?

People once spoke to us, we, the clients. Who did we become?  An audience for sophisticated devices that need help adapting to make themselves compelling? And what is the next step; who or what will replace those automatons: Robot Calls?

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