fierce attachments

a mother-daughter blog about the fierce attachments in our lives… title inspired by Vivian Gornick's wonderful memoir

can david hockney save my marriage?: one overly opinionated wife and her quieter husband

by nikki meredith

a bigger splash 1967 by david hockney

a bigger splash 1967 by david hockney

When I first discovered David Hockney a couple of decades ago, his paintings thrilled me. I found the cobalt cerulean hues of his swimming pools irresistible and his particular rendering of the southern California light evoked a longing in me for my childhood. He once called that light extravagant and said it was one of the lures that drew him to Los Angeles in the first place. It’s a light that owes some of its magic to air pollution and the skies under which I grew up were much smoggier than they are now. Often it was difficult to catch my breath without it hurting but those violet particulates permeated more than my lungs; when I left L.A. my heart missed that lambent glow.

This is not to say I considered Hockney a great artist. His images were so tinged with nostalgia for me, I couldn’t judge.

I recently attended a block-buster Hockney show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco – an exhibit The New York Times called a “sprawling romp.”  It featured room after room of eye-popping color and included portraits of friends and family, still lifes of fruit and flowers and dazzling, giant images of the East Yorkshire landscape where Hockney grew up and returned to a decade ago.   I went to see it with a friend who is an artist. I don’t usually go to art museums with friends who are artists. I don’t have anything against doing that it simply doesn’t come up very often. It came up this time when we discovered over dinner that neither of us had been to the exhibit and it was soon closing. A week later we were standing at the entrance.

“How long do you need?” I asked, looking at my watch. “Should we meet in the café?”

She shook her head. “No, no, let’s stay together.”

I’m not the kind of person who “stays together” in art museums. Actually I don’t “stay together” in any museum. I wander solo, lingering over some items, but speeding past quite a few.  I’m the kind of person who meets in the café post-experience. But I’m also not the kind of person who is able to say, “I’d really rather go it alone.”

One painting in, I realized it was going to be a little more complicated than two friends sharing an art experience. She was to be the teacher. I was to be the student.  I felt a migraine coming on. When I was an official student I did okay with official teachers but I’ve never been too enthusiastic about self-appointed ones.  But, Wait, I said to myself. She’s an artist. A good artist.  This is an opportunity to transcend my usual, I love it,  like it, admire it, hate it routine. Maybe I’ll learn something. And I did. Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Bully Boy Christie: Obesity and Empathy and the New Jersey Govenor

by nikki meredith

Chris Christie snarlingWhen I was in high school, my best friend and I were walking across the parking lot at a southern California beach where my family camped every summer. Three boys our age were walking towards us. My friend and one of the boys, a hefty guy…okay, a fat guy, got into one of those do-si-do routines: each time she stepped to the left, he stepped to his right; each time he stepped to his left, she stepped to her right – neither one could move forward. It’s the kind of situation where someone with good humor, if not much wit, says, “Shall we dance?”  This guy, however, had neither good humor nor wit. He planted his feet in a wide stance, folded his arms, and snarled, “I’m not going to move.”

My friend put her hands on her hips and examined him from head to girth to foot. “You couldn’t move,” she said, “even if you wanted to.”

I was gobsmacked.  On the one hand, I’d been taught by my parents never, ever, to ridicule or even comment on a person’s physical traits.  On the other, I wanted to yell a 1960’s equivalent of you go girl. The guy was a bully and clearly the back-up of his snickering buddies bolstered his bullishness.

I think of that incident and my dual reaction almost every time I see Chris Christie on television and I’ve been seeing him a lot lately because of an incident involving the George Washington bridge where he is alleged to have thrown his weight around with, if not dire consequences, certainly inconvenient ones for a considerable number of people. I’ll get to that in a minute but first let’s review some highlights of the Gov’s bullying tendencies: Read the rest of this entry »

jew-ish: the life and times of a one-sixteenth jew

by caitlin meredith

me

me

I am one-sixteenth Jewish. It’s funny to say it like that, but that’s what it comes down to on the family tree. And, I guess that’s how much Jewish I feel. One-sixteenth.

How exactly does that translate?

Most of the time I don’t feel Jewish, but I don’t feel not Jewish either. I feel Jewish-ish. Since my Jewish blood comes through my mom’s mom’s mom (otherwise known as my maternal grandmother), it would be enough for Israeli citizenship should I want it, and, as my mom pointed out, it would’ve been good enough for Hitler. Blood is what I’ve got to go on since all the women in my family coupled with gentiles and it’s an atheist line.

My mom once told me that the closest she could get to defining her Jewishness was that she gets a family feeling when she was around Jews. I feel the same, but I wonder if that counts. Doesn’t everyone get a family feeling around Jews? Sort of like the Italian mama in the neighborhood is everyone’s mama. Read the rest of this entry »

pooches and pot

by nikki meredith

Alice and LeftyEvery week brings news of yet another way dogs help humans. We’ve know for a while they can be excellent detectives –  diagnosing melanoma with their noses, sensing dangerous blood sugar fluctuations in diabetics and discerning imminent seizures in epileptics. People with dogs are generally healthier – after acquiring a pooch they exercise more, their blood pressure goes down, their sense of well being goes up. And the list goes on. But when I read these studies, I often wonder if anyone has measured the negative effects of dog ownership.

What happens to one’s vocal cords when one yells “shut the fuck up ” 50 times a day to a dog who barks at all manner of threats such as the wind in the willows or her own reflection in the window pane at night?  And what about the effect on one’s lower back of bending over to scoop up dog poop twice a day to say nothing of the cumulative stress of worrying about the accumulation of millions of plastic bags filled with said poop? (And why isn’t there a law mandating that those bags be biodegradable?)  And for all the new friends you make because of the dog, how many do you lose because you’ve become a bore who talks too much about dogs and not enough about movies, books, politics – in short, a dog nut who is more likely to express astonishment at the number of breeds being bred with poodles (Did you know there are now poogles, woodles, schnnodles, scoodles, and Saint Berdoodles? And that’s only a fraction of the number of poodle hybrids.) than she is an opinion about whether Hillary should run or on the pros and cons of housing density along the Highway 101 corridor? Read the rest of this entry »

friends of friends / after a good friend dies

by nikki meredith

porch at sea ranchWhat falls away is always. And is near.

-Theodore Roethke

About ten years ago, four of us – two couples — were sitting on the deck of a house at Sea Ranch, shielding our eyes from the dazzling sun. We were passing the binoculars around, trying to spot dolphins leaping through the surf.  Though the sun was bright, it was a chilly day with enough wind to create a chop on the ocean.   The house belonged to the couple we were with. The husband of the couple would be dead in a month.

We knew he had malignant melanoma and that it was spreading.  We were savoring every minute of a bittersweet time, so heartbreakingly precious because it would be so heartbreakingly short. Read the rest of this entry »

six weeks in the desert: green valley, arizona

by nikki meredith

desert museum landscape

At home above my desk I have posted this poem by Mary Oliver:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

Oliver calls the poem “instructions for living a life” and it’s advice I try implementing every day of the year — every day except for the six weeks between Memorial Day and the 4th of July.   I don’t have to work on it then because I spend that time in the southern part of the Sonoran Desert and paying attention is a matter of survival. If I don’t I might find myself with the fangs of a rattlesnake sunk into my foot, swarmed by Africanized bees, or charged by a Javelina – to name but a few of the perils I have encountered. One night when I wasn’t paying attention my husband and I, after dinner at a local restaurant, took a walk under a full moon and an ink black sky. I was wearing sandals and stepped on a hive of harvester ants.  Man, were they pissed-off! I spent the better part of that night dabbing toothpaste on multiple stings to relieve the pain. (It helped!)

Most people who can, leave the area in June because of  triple digit temperatures — many days it’s 110 and above — but initially I came because of the heat. If you’re looking for a place to write, the conditions are ideal. There is nothing else to do for most of the day but stay planted in front of a computer in an air-conditioned house.  If I’m not on the trail, by 7 a.m., my morning walk feels more like a death march. Read the rest of this entry »

this old house: my life in a highly permeable membrane

by caitlin meredith

the sad little house on the day I moved in

My house breathes. That’s not the technical term for it, of course – the technical term is that it has “excessive air infiltration.” I had an energy efficiency audit last week that confirmed it. Jim from the energy utility here in Austin hooked up a blower door to my entryway and let it rip. The blower door has a red piece of canvas with a big fan in the center that covers your front doorway. It looks like it would be used to inflate a circus tent but it’s the opposite. It sucks all the air out of your house and then tests the pressure. Well, at least it tries to – my house gave it a good run for its money.

Jim told me the appropriate level of seal for an energy efficient house in this climate would have to be less than 5 air changes per hour, or ACH, for those trying to quantify energy hogs like me. (He also told me that’s measured at 50 pascals of pressure, which I’m passing on to you, dear reader, because it means nothing to me.) The little computer attached to the blower reported that my house had 35 ACH. Was this the worst he’d ever seen? No, but he did later make a casual comparison between my house and a tobacco drying barn, a structure purposely built for open ventilation. Read the rest of this entry »

living with chronic pain – someone else’s: part 2

by nikki meredith

chopping vegetablesMy husband walks in the door from work. I’m in the kitchen chopping vegetables.  He kisses me and asks how I am. I shrug and then place the tips of my three middle fingers over my right eye – the sign that I have a migraine.   “Oh no,” he says. “I’m so sorry.” And he does look sorry though I wonder how he can keep feeling sorry when it’s  such a frequent occurrence. But even more than that, I wonder, why do I do this to him? Why do I need to tell him?

It’s easier for me to answer why I shouldn’t tell him than why I do.  I shouldn’t tell him because I assume that the hardest part of living with someone with a painful medical condition is the feeling of helplessness. I know how I feel when he’s suffering from any malady, large or small, especially if there’s nothing I can do to make him better.  When you love someone, you want to alleviate his or her suffering and when you can’t, it’s terrible. And when you can’t alleviate the suffering, over and over and over again, it must be terrible over and over and over again.  So, I repeat, why do I tell him? If I love him, why don’t I spare him this ordeal? Read the rest of this entry »

the last on my list of the most amazing and possibly even true scientific phonomena that blow my mind, continued: Lucy

by nikki meredith

beach woman holding monkeyLucy was an unabashedly uninhibited girl of the ‘60’s for whom the sexual revolution was beside the point. She was able to tap into her erotic resources with no help from Masters and Johnson and she instinctively took responsibility for her own orgasms without so much as a glance at Our Bodies, Ourselves.   Lucy’s story made an impression on me. A big impression.  After reading about her,  I never felt quite the same about a lot of things – sex, the female anatomy, couches, naked men, images of naked men, vacuum cleaners.

Lucy was a chimp who was raised from infancy by Dr. Maurice Temerlin, a University of Oklahoma psychology professor, and his wife Jane.  The couple treated Lucy as a daughter and, as such, tried to socialize her the way they would a human daughter. They arranged for her to learn rudimentary American sign language, they taught her to sit with them at the dinner table, eat with utensils, dress herself and, to some extent, maintain personal hygiene. They had some success in each area, though they made more progress with table manners than with toilet use. And I first read Temerlin’s account of life with Lucy in the late 1960’s in an article in Psychology Today. All of it was interesting but the following was, well, mind blowing. Read the rest of this entry »

my top ten list of the most amazing and possibly even true scientific phenomena that blow my mind, continued: the coolidge effect

by nikki meredith

rooster and his henI wonder if anyone will take offense if I propose that when it comes to sex, males have an appetite for novelty.  I’m not sure appetite is the right word when you’re talking about non-human animals but scientists refer to the male predilection for variety as the Coolidge Effect.  A bull, worn out from copulation, shows no interest in the cow he just had his way with.  But bring on a new cow, and he’ll be rarin’ to go. I remember interviewing one researcher who said that, in his experience, the Coolidge Effect in rams is nearly infinite. “As long as you keep supplying the male with new ewes, he’ll keep going until his body wears out.”

I came across the Coolidge effect when I was writing an article for Psychology Today about the differences between the sex lives of gay men and straight men.  At the time, gay men, on average, had vastly more sexual partners so seemed more predisposed to the phenomenon. Heterosexual men were barely holding their own and the theory was that in order to be in relationships with women, men had to tamp down their natural appetite for variety. There’s been a cultural sea change since then and in any case, one needs to be cautious when applying biological principles across species.  The term, however, does have its origins with humans. Some people say the following story is apocryphal.  I prefer to think that it’s not because I love it. Read the rest of this entry »

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