Sometimes unexpected friendships are the best

I’ve been thinking a lot about odd couples, or what looking at from the outside seem like odd friendships. These musings started, as many of my musings do, watching the animals awaiting adoption at the animal shelter where I work (Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation, or ARF). Often, an animal housed with another animal will do better at the shelter, and in the home as well. So our behavior and animal care teams try out pairing roommates, and sometimes they come up with what turn out to be surprisingly winning combinations. Our marketing department even recently developed a campaign for 2 cats using The Odd Couple theme as a hook.

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The Odd Couple, Cash (black) and Swift (tabby).

In Neil Simon’s play (1965), later a movie (1968) and then a television series (1970-1975), the mismatched roomates are the persnickety neatnik Felix Ungar and cigar-chomping slob Oscar Madison. On Broadway in 1965, Oscar was played by Walter Matthau (he seems to have been born for the role), with Art Carney as Felix.

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Water Matthau and Art Carney, 1965 production of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.
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The ever-funny Neil Simon, still smiling at age 90.

 

Felix and Oscar were perfectly portrayed in the 1968 film by Jack Lemmon as Felix and Walter Matthau again as Oscar. When adapted for television, Tony Randall was cast as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar.

 

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Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as Felix and Oscar, 1974.

 

But back to Cash and Swift. Cash arrived at ARF as a tiny kitten with his sister Mermaid. The shyer of the 2, Cash watched as his sister and then several kitten roommates were adopted. Unfortunately, black cats, including kittens, tend to stay longer at the shelter awaiting adoption, so Cash was growing up at the shelter. I love our shelter, but kittens should grow up in homes with loving families. Swift, a little zany guy with a serious play drive, was so active that he overwhelmed his siblings. He, too, was the last of his litter reamining at the shelter. Cash was between roommates, and Swift needed a buddy, so the team decided to give them a shot, and it worked! Cash, in the role of Felix Ungar, taught Swift, as a tiny Oscar Madison, some calmer manners, and nutty Swift brought Cash out of his shell and showed him how to have fun. The first time I saw the 2 curled up together on their cat bed, I knew in my heart that they had to stay together. Others at ARF felt the same way, so we made sure to make a point of sending them to an adoptive home together.

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It’s not quite as odd a pairing, but it seems to work, for another cat set of roommates: Nathan and Wynn. Nathan is another shy black kitten growing up at the shelter. Wynn is a little older and also very shy. Nathan has done well with roommates, and Wynn originally came in with 3 other cats, more outgoing than he and quickly adopted. Wynn was really shut down at first, cowering in a corner behind his cat tree. But he and Nathan, in an example of mutual support, are both getting a bit bolder every day. It’s sort of more like 2 Felixes making each other feel better about life.

 

 

I suppose I’ve been a part of some odd couples. Not so much personality-wise, but more in the Mutt and Jeff way of me being not-tall and many of my friends being not-short.

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In the classic odd couple pairing, I was the quiet, good girl who ran off with the loud, bad boy (or wannabe bad boy, anyway). It worked until it didn’t anymore. That’s all water under the bridge, as they say.

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I was looking for famous examples of odd couples, not necessarily of the Hollywood celebrity variety, and this one in particular struck me: comedian Groucho Marx (1890-1977) and renowned poet, essayist, and critic T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). They became pen pals in 1961 (coincidentally the year I was born) and maintained a correspondence, finally meeting in person in 1964.

 

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The friendship supposedly began when the author of such profound classics as The Wasteland and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, wrote to Marx, who dropped out of school in the 7th grade, asking for his autograph. Yes, Eliot asked for Groucho’s autograph. My favorite lines from Prufrock:

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A Groucho Marx line that always makes me laugh:

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But as Groucho pointed out, they both liked puns, cigars, and cats. Remember, T. S. Eliot did write Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted into the musical Cats in 1980.

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T. S. Eliot stops to say hello to a cat.
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Groucho Marx with one of his cats.

Of course, let’s not forget all of the cats who look like Groucho Marx.

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Another human odd couple that I am fascinated by: Pulitizer Prize winning playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) and actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962).

Miller And Monroe

They married in 1956 and divorced in 1961 (something about that year, 1961). Famous for such heavy-hitters as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, Miller and sex symbol Monroe faced numerous hardships: investigations into Miller’s communist sympathies and Monroe’s depression, miscarriages, and drug use. Monroe died the year after their divorce, at age 36, of a barbiturate overdose. You know I had to look for a pet connection. Marilyn was an animal lover, saying, “If you talk to a dog or a cat, it doesn’t tell you to shut up.” That’s a really sad quote when you think about it.

 

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Monroe with one of the many animals she loved during her too-short life.

 

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Miller, Monroe, and dog Hugo.

 

On a lighter note, there are so many examples of unlikely animal friendships: the gorilla Koko and her love of kittens, Bubbles the elephant and Bella the dog, Mabel the chicken and her puppies, to name a few. There are even several books available about these friendships.

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While not quite as exotic as some of these, our late Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix Sadie was mother to abandoned kittens Ben and Sara, and she and Ben were close their entire lives.

 

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Ben and Sadie in their senior years.

 

More in alignment with the original Felix and Oscar theme, we also have Misty, our gorgeous but persnickety 6 year-old diva of the Greta Garbo “I want to be let alone” school, and goofball and wild child, 1 year-old Marble, who insists that they play together. And sometimes Misty will play. When we decided to keep Marble, I was afraid Misty might try to hurt him, but he is persistent and she can’t help but play chase and wrestle with him. He is a force of nature, an irresistible force to her immovable object.

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Misty, up top, with Marble, down below.

 

I was that unmovable object once, in the face of an irresistible force–a pit bull named Snuffalufagus. I never thought I’d feel so much affection for such a big dog. She changed my mind forever about pit bulls.

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She’s irresistible, and I turned out to be movable!

 

 

Don’t resist–make friends where you find them, even if they seem to be unlikely candidates. Greta Garbo didn’t say she wanted to be left alone, she said she wanted to be let alone, and there’s a big difference. Treasure your friends and family.

Peace and hugs.

So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright

I’m in a Frank Lloyd Wright state of mind at the moment. I go through passions, as any regular reader might have noticed, and right now I’m obsessed with all things FLW. I’m rereading the T. C. Boyle 2009 novel, The Women, about the, shall we say, turbulent relationships FLW (1867-1959) had with the various women in his life. He was not an easy man and his relationships were messy and complicated. In his era, he was in fact scandalous and reviled by some for his flauting of social mores, but today no one would really think it quite that outrageous that he left wives for mistresses. He also was perennially in debt (one of his nicknames was “Slow Pay Frank”), a surprise given his major success.

The Women

 

Boyle himself lives in a FLW designed  home in Montecito, California, which I am sure has a lot to do with his interest in FLW. As a design student at UC Davis back in the day, of course we studied FLW and his enormous impact, and I fnally saw some of his drawings, furniture, and glass designs in person when I made it to the Art Institute of Chicago a few years ago.

 

Author TC Boyle at his home in Montecito, CA.
Novelist T. C. Boyle in his FLW-designed home in Montecito, California.

But my fascination goes back to another of my childhood memories of music in our house, this time from the iconic album Bridge Over Troubled Water (1970) by Simon and Garfunkel.

 

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This album reeived some heavy rotation time on the turntable, along with Carole King’s Tapestry.

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There are, of course, many wonderful songs on Bridge Over Troubled Water beside the title track: The Boxer, Cecilia, Bye Bye Love, The Only Living Boy in New York, among others. But the song that always caught my attention when I was a 9-year old, was, oddly, So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright. I didn’t really have any idea who FLW was, but the song seemed so sad and made me want to know who this man was.

 

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The story goes that Simon and Garfunkel (or as I like to call them, Paul and Art) were renting a house in the Hollywood Hills in 1969 while working on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. Art saw one of the FLW homes in the area and suggested to Paul that he write a song. What I didn’t know was that Art, smarter than I realized, majored in architecture at Columbia University just in case music didn’t work out for him. Not a bad Plan B. Theories suggest that it’s also Paul’s goodbye song to Art, as the duo broke up after Bridge Over Troubled Water was released. Note the line “all of the nights we’d harmonize till dawn”.

 

 

FLW was undoubtedly a genius, and his designs are amazing. He not only designed the buildings as an architect, he also worked on the details of interior design, including the furnishings, textiles, and art pieces, and even mailboxes. He was known to design the clothing for the women in his life. Was he controlling? I imagine so. And that spilled over into his personal life.

 

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The bit that’s sticking with me at the moment is a scene in the book The Women in which FLW declares himself a pacifist, a conscientious objector to war. That’s cool. I consider myself a pacifist as well. But I’m not a bully, and FLW seems to have been a big one. I’m not a genius either, so…

Much of the novel The Women takes place around Taliesin, FLW’s studio and farm built and rebuilt (plagued by fires and tragedy) in rural Wisconsin, now maintained by the Taliesen Preserve.

 

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FLW at Taliesin in 1911, when the house was first was completed.

Can one be a pacifist and a bully both? I suppose so. We are, if nothing, complex and contradictory creatures, we human beings. He had a vision for how he wanted things to be, and brooked no nonsense from those around him, but he wasn’t violent and held a deep appreciation for other cultures. Except when it came to food. He was very early 20th century mid-Western in his taste for basic meat, potatoes, and gravy. None of that fancy French stuff for him (one of the many bones of contention with his Southern belle and Francophile second wife Miriam Noel Wright). When he traveled in Japan while working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, he had a hard time with what I think of as an amazing cuisine.

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The Imperial opened in 1923 and was demolished in 1968. The entrance lobby was saved an reconstructed at the Meiji Mura architecture museum in Nagoya.

I also think of FLW as an artist, sensitive to atmosphere and color and harmony. We have a model of one of his early designs, the Romeo and Juliet windmill, built for his aunts in 1896 in the town of Wyoming, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of the artist who made the model. When I bought it from him at an Oakland gallery, he was working in the exhibitions department at the Oakland Museum of California. I’ll post it when I recall it. He is a talented artist who deserves credit for his work.

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The Romeo and Juliet windmill.
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Our model of the windmill, photo by Robert Ward.

 

One of Wright’s most famous buildings is Falling Water in Pennsylvania, completed in 1935.

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Falling Water

 

The sesquicentennial of FLW’s birth was celebrated this year on June 8th. This feature by Jay Jones in the Los Angeles Times provides a nice overview of his work: From New York to California, celebrating the 150th anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birth. One of his more famous and first California homes is Hollyhock House in the East Hollywood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Built for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall in in 1919-1921, the house is now part of the Barnsdall Art Park.

 

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The living room at Hollyhock House. Wright was a pioneer of open living spaces, with the hearth at the center of the home.

Yes, I can see a man who has the kind of vision for open, warm, harmonious spaces and the surrounding of ourselves with beauty as being a man who wants peace and harmony for the world at large. The contradiction is in his very messy and unharmonious personal life. The saddest and most tragic episode was that of his mistress, Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney. Mamah and her husband were clients and Oak Park, Illinois, neighbors of FLW and his first wife, Catherine “Kitty” Wright (1871-1959).

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The Wright Family in 1898, Frank on far right, Kitty in center with infant Lloyd.

FLW built Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin, for Mamah, a place where he and she could get away from the press and turmoil caused by his leaving his wife and 6 children and her leaving her husband and 2 children. A disgruntled workman at Taliesin murdered Mamah and 6 others (including her 2 children, on a summer visitation at the time) and set fire to Taliesin in 1914. Distraught, FLW was vulnerable and became entangled with the quite dramatic and mentally unstable opiate addict Miriam Noel, his 2nd wife after Kitty relented and granted a divorce.

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Mamah Cheney (1869-1914)
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Miriam Noel Wright (1869-1930)

His relationship with Miriam was the most turbulent and fractious, and their divorce battle was a media storm of accusations and paparrazi around FLW’s mistress and later 3rd (and final) wife Olgivanna Lloyd Wright (1898-1985).

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Olgivanna Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona in 1968.

 

FLW was quite proud of his Welsh heritage. The name of Taliesin, and the later Taliesin West, means “shining brow”, and comes from the name of the 6th century Welsh poet, who in Welsh legends is portrayed as a wizard, prophet, and companion to King Arthur.

 

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Seems fitting in that FLW can be said to have been a wizard in his own way in the arts, but not in his relationships, and defnitely not with money, except to make it disappear.

Whether Paul Simon was writing his song as a literal tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright or using the name Frank Lloyd Wright to refer to Art Garfunkel, it is a poignant song. And it led me on a journey of discover around FLW and his life. And since I am obsessed at the moment, next up in my book queue is the novel Loving Frank (2007) by Nancy Loran, the story of Mamah and FLW from Mamah’s perspective.

 

Loving Frank

 

Nancy Horan
Writer Nancy Horan

 

I have no plans to travel to New YTork any time soon, but when I do, I will make a pilgrimmage to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, itself a work of art and completed in 1959, the same year FLW died at age 89. True to form, the estate he left behind took years to settle.

 

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Love Frank, hate Frank, or puzzled by Frank and his life, you have to admit he led an interesting life.

 

Tom Wright and his wife, Etsuko Saito, live in a Bethesda home designed by his grandfather, Frank Lloyd Wright.
The signature red tile placed on the facades of Wright’s buildings.

 

 

 

If I could talk to the animals (oh wait, I do that)

Yes, I talk to animals. I can’t say that they listen to or understand me, and they don’t talk back to me in a language that is clear, like with Doctor John Dolittle in the children’s books from the 1920s by civil engineer Hugh Lofting (born in 1886 in Maidenhead, Berkshire, England).

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Hugh Lofting

Lofting died in 1947, so any Doctor Dolittle shenanigans after that point are not his fault. The original stories are set in Victorian England in the fictional village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, a place I wanted desperately to live when I read my mother’s old copies of the books in the 1960s. To tell the truth, I still want to live there.

I’ve written about perfect moments.  In  my memories, reading Doctor Dolittle as a child, curled up in my pajamas in the comfy chair with the nubby green upholstery, the sun shining through a window of the den on a cold day and dust just visible floating in the stream of sunlight, smelling the old-paper smell of the books my mother had also read as a child–that’s a perfect moment.

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The movie version I am familiar with is the 1967 musical with Rex Harrison as the doctor, and also starring Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley, and Richard Attenborough.

 

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It was, surprisingly in retrospect, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture that year, and won the Oscars for Best Original Song (for Talk to the Animals) and Best Original Effects. Of course, I at age 6, loved the movie, but I don’t think it was actually very good. I mostly remember Anthony Newley singing (not necessarily in a good way) and the voyage in the Giant Pink Sea Snail.

 

 

It never occured to me as a child to ask why, if the Giant Pink Sea Snail is a living creature, it has no insides and the humans can live in its (his? her?) hollow shell without problems. When you are 6 you go with your imagination and don’t question these things.

 

I have never seen the Eddie Murphy version of Doctor Dolittle (1998) and have no intention of ever seeing it. Sorry, Mr. Murphy, but in my mind Doctor Dolittle will always be English, Victorian, and Rex Harrison-ish, although I applaud the concept of introducing said doctor to a new generation and a diverse audience. Plus, I don’t think fart jokes are all that funny and just have no place in my world of Doctor Dolittle and Puddleby-on-the Marsh. And neither does a PG rating.

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But as usual I digress. I talk to the animals. Frequently. And I talk for them. I have voices I use for the animals who live with me, and they often are very sassy when speaking through me. We sing, too. Each animal has a story and a song, and there are songs that go with different ocassions, like meals and bedtime.

This version of Talk to the Animals by Sammy Davis Jr. makes me happy in some way I can’t explain. Sammy always reminds me of my mother’s second husband, Van, who was extremely thin and liked to dance and had a style a lot like Sammy’s when he was in happy drunk mode. That was less frequent than mean drunk mode, but we don’t need to go into that here.

 

And before you think you need to have me committed, let me tell you that I know I am not alone in the world. I know very rational people who sing and talk to animals, and have voices and special songs assigned to particular animals. Maybe it’s a little quirky, but it’s fun and harmless. I have no illusions that the animals are actually listening to, understanding, or responding to me. I think my marbles are all still with me.

 

 

Each of my resident companion animals has a special song. For Sara, it’s obviously Sara Smile (1976) by Hall and Oates. I’ve had Sara (brown tabby) since she was a newborn kitten, and I sang that to her when I bottle-fed her. She’s 19 years old now, and it’s still her song. Her brother Ben (orange tabby), who passed away at 15, was subjected to me singing the Michael Jackson song Ben from the horror movie Ben (1971), sequel to Willard. Yes, it’s about a rat, but it’s still a good song. I’ll spare you my singing and go right to the sources.

 

 

Misty, who I sometimes call Mystical, gets to hear me warble on with The Beatle’s song Magical Mystery Tour (1967) with the lyrics changed to “She’s the magical mystical cat, she’s going to eat your face…” She won’t really eat your face, but she on the moody side, shall we say.

Misty

Here is the song performed by Sir Paul McCartney:

 

Alternatively, Misty also gets Windy, the 1967 hit by The Association, alltered to “Everyone knows it’s Misty…And Misty has stormy eyes…”

 

Marble, lively young lad, I decided gets the the old Ballad of Davy Crockett (1955), with the line changed to “Marby, Marby Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier”. It suits him, can’t explain why. I won’t make you listen to it. You’re welcome.

 

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Einstein is the odd one out, the only dog. He feels misunderstood and put upon by all of the cat activity in the house. Middle child syndrome, in a way. I don’t know why I started singing Petula Clark’s Downtown (1964) to him. Maybe because it’s fun to say Einstein to the “downtown” spots, and I make the main line “Einstein, everyone’s waiting for Einstein…” And he does look a little like Petula Clark, now that I think about it.

Einstein

 

And then we have songs to mark times of day. From A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) comes Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time is Here, changed to “Breakfast time is here” or “Dinner time is here”, depending. Breakfast can also be signified by changing It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas (1951) to “It’s beginning to look a lot like breakfast”.

 

I won’t go into all of the songs I’ve sung to different foster kittens. But I could use suggestions for foster #56, Dapper. He’s a very affectionate 1-year old boy. I’ve been calling him Dapper Dan in honor of the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000) and George Clooney’s character Ulysses Everett McGill’s obssession with Dapper Dan hair pomade.

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I’ll have to listen to the movie soundtrack and pick out a song. They do sing You Are My Sunshine in the movie. Sounds like I’ve found a winner!

 

Peace and hugs, and keep singing! I’ll be out there looking for that magical place, Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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Seeing the beauty in a life well-lived

I was listening to the audiobook of the Louise Penny mystery The Brutal Telling in the car the other day and was struck by the lines spoken by Inspector Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec:

“The leaves had fallen from the trees and lay crisp and crackling beneath his feet. Picking one up he marveled, not for the first time, at the perfection of nature where leaves were most beautiful at the very end of their lives.”

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I also found out subsequently that in the Regina Spektor song Time is All Around, she also says “Leaves are most beautiful when they’re about to die.” Put that way, it sounds a little morbid, but I found the idea to be one of beauty.

 

 

Yes, in the literal sense the vibrant colors of autumns leaves can be breathtaking. But what the lines made me think about was the beauty of what I call lived-in human faces.

In the Penny novel, the inspector spends a deal of time looking at the life of Emily Carr (1871-1945). I had never heard of Emily Carr until we went to Vancouver last year and saw a show of her work. There is even an Emily Carr University of Art in Vancouver. She was a very important artist and writer in Canada, receiving much of her inspiration from the art of the Pacific Northwest indigenous people, particularly the Haida of the Haida Gwaii (at one time in history called the Queen Charlotte Islands) in British Columbia.

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She documented what was a disappearing way of life and landscapes that were being destroyed. Among her famous paintings are Raven, 1930:

 

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and Vanquished, also 1930:

Vanquished

 

Emily Carr was not a traditionally pretty woman, but when I look at photos of her I am struck by the beauty that emanates from her. She chose her own path, was often ridiculed, and wasn’t considered an important artist until later in her life. She spent much of her time alone, with her beloved animals, traveling in her caravan and painting, memorializing a culture threatened by Euro-centricism.

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Emily 2

 

I’ll never forget the moment when I had an epiphany of sorts about the beauty of faces of those not young and smooth and still untried but of those who’ve been through troubles, taking life as it comes, and aging with grace and dignity. I was watching the movie Beyond Rangoon (1995), which takes place during the 1988 uprising in Burma, or Myanmar.

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What I took away from this movie was the image of the face of U Aung Ko, the guide who helps Arquette’s character escape to Thailand. He was the heart and soul of the movie. His face to me conveyed as much as his words or actions. He has a beautiful face.

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After that I started paying more attention to the faces around me of older people, not necessarily like the leaves in the quote about to die, but who having lived and learned and loved and sometimes suffered and hopefully found peace, giving them a beauty beyond pure looks. There are countless images I can add to prove my point but I don’t think it’s necessary.

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Baba Ji, photo by Laurent Auxietre, Nepal

 

In 2008, Jyll Johnstone released the documentary Hats Off, about then 93-year old actress Mimi Wedell, who passed away in 2009. She began her modeling and acting career when she was 65. The film’s tag line is “90 is the new 40”.

 

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Mimi Wedell

In terms of how I live my own life based on these reflections, I am proud of who I am becoming as I age. I like myself better now at 56 than I ever  have. I’ve never lied about my age, and I never will. Why? I’ve earned every laugh line and crow’s foot and the now emerging gray hairs. If I had the gorgeous snowy white hair my grandmother Cottraux (coincidentally we called her Mimi) had, even when she was a younger woman, I would show it off. I have no interest in cosmetic surgery. Yeah, I’d like to lose a few pounds, but apparently not enough to give up chocolate. Life is too short to give up chocolate.

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Don’t get me wrong. I care about how I look. I usually wear contact lenses, although more and more these days I wear my eyeglasses. Seeing is becoming pretty important too! I wear a little eye make up. I’m not saying we should let ourselves go, but that we take pride in what’s good about ourselves. I’ll never be drop dead gorgeous, but I like to think I have a kind face. That is my idea of being a beautiful person.

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On my 56th birthday, laugh lines and all.

In American popular culture, there is such a heavy emphasis on youth, on cookie-cutter beauty standards that are unrealistic and potentially harmful. The green leaves on the trees are of course beautiful. I love the green of spring and summer. But as the leaves continue their leafy journeys, they change into works of art, bursting with color and causing us to gaze with awe. We should celebrate ourselves as we enter into the metaphorical autumn and ultimately winter of our lives. All of the seasons of the year are to be enjoyed, as are all the seasons of our lives.

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Peace and hugs.

Sock it to me! (I’m eccentric but non-problematic)

My name is Genevieve and I am a sockaholic.

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Yes, I joke. I don’t take addiction lightly, believe me. I’ve witnessed many a struggle with substance abuse, saw my mother’s second husband die of cirrhosis after years of alcohol abuse, and experienced my own battle not so many years ago.

But I do have an issue with socks. Or chaussettes, in French. J’aime vraiment les chaussettes. Everything sounds better in French. Tout sonne mieux en français.

I’ve always had a thing for colorful legwear. As a youngster I loved colorful knee socks and tights, although the tights never lasted long as I also had a lot of skinned knees (still do; haven’t outgrown my clumsiness).

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Kindergarten, me on the right in the awesome red knee socks.

 

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Not just one skinned knee, but two! But rocking the ankle socks with my Easter dress.

 

My mother used to tell me that when I first got my own room, a tiny room but all mine (!), and I had my own dresser, I asked her for empty shoe boxes and put them in the drawers so I could organize my socks by color. This sounds completely like me, by the way, so I believe it’s true. In fact, I should start doing that again. I had an epic fail with the drawer dividers I bought. Although that’s because the drawer is so full it won’t shut anymore. I need a dedicated sock cabinet! Many women yearn for a shoe closet; I yearn for a sock cabinet.

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Epic organization fail.
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And this doesn’t include all the ones still in the laundry basket.
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Not going to fit in the bedroom…

 

There’s also my legging collection. Remember the words colorful legwear. That can cover a lot of ground.

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Yes, they take up a lot of space in my closet.

In one of my knitting phases, I decided knitting my own socks was the way to go, so I joined a “sock a month club” and started receiving sock-knitting kits. I realized quickly that I could never knit a pair of socks every month. Precisely because you have to knit two of them. The first one is fun and great and you take it off the needles feeling so proud, and then you realize, “Oh crap, I have to knit another one now.”

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I made it through two sock kits before canceling my membership.

 

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The unknitted socks I still have in my knitting stash.

I recently got the brilliant idea from my friend Debra of mixing up socks so I don’t have to worry about the concept of pairs. I wish I’d thought of that in my knitting frenzy. I could have kept going only knitting one sock of each pair and just mixed them up as the mood hit.

Reminds me of my favorite David Hockney photograph that I recently saw at the Getty Center in Los Angeles. It’s a subtle mismatching, but quite an elegant one. I never really liked David Hockney’s paintings that much, but I discovered his photography and now I am a fan.

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David Hockney, Self Portrait, Gerardmer, France, 1975 © David Hockney

Ironically, my photographic homage to Hockney is all images of my bare feet, not my socked feet, so maybe my obsession is with my feet and not socks per se?

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Genevieve Cottraux, Homage to David Hockney, 2017

 

Recently I discovered Blue Q socks, and that was the game changer that took me from a sock enthusiast to a sockaholic. I did already have a pair of Blue Q socks, a Christmas gift from Bob’s nephew Joe and his lovely wife Isabella.

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While not a Blue Q sock, the banned book socks I received from Joe’s parents another Christmas gave me the idea that one could speak their mind on the their socks, not just on t-shirts or bumper stickers.

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Banned book socks, not on my feet. My feets are smaller and cuter.

Then came the final piece of the puzzle–a trip to the wonderful store Nathan & Co. in Oakland. I’ve loved Nathan’s ever since Nathan himself adopted a dog from the East Bay SPCA when I was a volunteer there. The store is so cool; I can’t go in without buying something. There were the Blue Q socks, full of attitude and f-bombs. I don’t speak in f-bombs, but I love the idea of wearing them on my socks, hidden by my jeans, my little sassy secret.

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My first Blue Q purchases, from Nathan & Co.

A sock monster was born. In Iceland, I discovered a store in Reykjavik that was both a great coffee bar and a purveyor of all things Blue Q. Apparently, Icelanders share my  sense of humor.

And then there was the hosiery store that teased me with their window display of tights (hey, I said colorful legwear, not just socks) only to be closed. Foiled! I could have had puffin tights! Or Icelandic horses!

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Iceland other shop 2

I came home with a renewed obsession with Blue Q socks. They are far too easy to order online. I began to get in trouble.

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I was doing better after a spate of purchases, happily living with the sock collection I had accumulated, when along came the SockPop, a pop up sock shop in Berkeley in the Elmwood neighborhood, on College Avenue. I was at Timeless Coffee Roaster, an amazing vegan coffee place, to see a friend before going to work, and was heading back to my car figuring I’d just make it to work on time.

Timeless

And there it was. But my sock-clad feet (appropriately coffee-themed) walked right in.

coffee socks

I was in trouble. Socks everywhere. Cute animal socks. Snarky socks. Socks with cat ninjas!

sock pop assortment

I succumbed. I was 20 minutes late for work. Was my sock addiction becoming a problem? I posted for advice. My colleague and friend Stewart responded: “According to clinical guidelines, no intervention required until you get to the point where there are ‘repeated significant negative consequences (e.g, financial problems, neglecting other responsibilities, etc.)’ Not there yet? Then you’re still in the ‘eccentric but non-problematic’ category, so….enjoy it while you can. The dues aren’t high enough yet!”

Was being late for work because I was sock shopping considered neglecting my responsibilities? I focused on the word repeated. I’d been late to work before, of course, but only once for the crime of pop-up sock shopping. I decided to go with eccentric but non-problematic, a phrase I want on a pair of socks…

 

Peace and hugs. I could get that on a pair of socks too…

I’ll stick to the high road (call me a doormat if you want)

The other day, I was in one of my favorite local markets, Piedmont Grocery, paying way too much for groceries. I realize that in itself is a privilege, a luxury, a splurge, whatever you want to call it. I could have saved money at a big supermarket but I hate big supermarkets generally. Living in a city plagued by food deserts, I know what a privilege it is that I can choose where to shop. If you don’t know what a food desert is, you might not be paying attention to issues of social justice and access to basic resources.

 

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But that’s beside the point.

As the checker was scanning my items and politely not saying anything about the amount of chocolate in my cart, the courtesy clerk, aka bagger, was pondering how to get my purchases into my tote bags and back into the cart in the best way. He seemed to be putting an inordinate amount of thought into it, and asking me my opinion. As I’ve gotten older, I am much more prone to chatting with the people helping me in stores. I used to shy away from it, but I actually find those conversations easier sometimes than ones with family and friends.

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Many of the stores in this area hire those with intellectual disabilities, which is pretty cool. When I was growing up, baggers were called bag boys and were usually teenage boys working for tips, and they always pushed your cart to your car and loaded them in the trunk. My mother had a terrible time when tips were no longer accepted for this job. For years she kept trying to tip the baggers, and when one finally politely told her he’d get fired if he took the tip, she finally got the point and quit trying to give them money.

Anyway, the gentleman bagging my purchases compared packing the bags to playing Tetris.

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I used to play Tetris back in the day on my old black and white Mac, usually when I should have been writing my master’s thesis back in the early 1990s.

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You can buy one on eBay if you really want one!

 

I said something about me not being that good at Tetris, and that he was probably a lot better at it than me, when he said something to the effect that he could do Tetris with the groceries really well but if he took too long he’d have angry customers. To which I said, without thinking, “I don’t get angry.” He looked at me in astonishment and asked me if I really never get angry. In the moment and in that situation, I honestly replied that I don’t get angry.

Maybe because it was my day off, or maybe because I started the day having coffee with a dear friend, or maybe because I went to get my flu shot prepared to wait for hours and I only waited about 5 minutes, but waiting to have my groceries nicely packed seemed like a no stress situation in which I could wait a few seconds here and there so as not to the tomatoes smashed.

tomato-smashed

 

Yes, I get angry. Angry at the world situation, angry at particular people in power, angry at injustice, angry at animal cruelty. But angry in my day to day life? Not so much. That wasn’t always true. I’ve fumed and sworn at the silliest things.

fuming

I got it in my head at one point that I needed to learn to stand up for myself, which was true. But my first foray into that was to send my food back to the kitchen at a restaurant because my veggie enchiladas were in red sauce, and not the green sauce I ordered. I thought I would be being a doormat if I just accepted it and ate it. That’s what one of my companions did; he’d ordered the red sauce and gotten the green on his chicken enchiladas. A simple mistake in our orders. He took it in stride and graciously ate his enchiladas. I like red sauce. I had a hankering for green sauce that day, but I could have eaten the red. I’ve briefly (thank goodness, only briefly) worked in food service, and I know how hard it is, and how picky customers can ruin the day. I also hate to waste food. For about a minute I was proud of myself for sending the plate back, but ever since I’ve felt like a jerk.

 

So is accepting delays and small mistakes taking the high road or being a doormat? I’ve also fallen into the doormat category. Not as much anymore. In a weird way I’ve achieved a balance between accepting life as it comes and standing up for myself.

doormat

 

There are lots of refrigerator magnets and other stuff that reflect what I am trying to say. Numerous people have written self-help books that may or may not have helped anyone but probably made the author some money.

 

You want to pass me on the highway to get where you are going a few seconds ahead of me? Fine, go ahead. Training a new cashier at the coffee bar and it might take a little longer? Great, and congratulations and good luck with the new job. I’m not in such a hurry that I have to glare at you and mutter at you under my breath while you are trying to learn on the job. At the end of the day, I have to live with myself, and I don’t want to be the angry customer, the a–hole driver, the person who causes a scene or holds up everyone else while counting my change or arguing with courtesy clerks. And I do live a life of privilege, a fact that I try not to take for granted.

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I have more important things to worry about. Like saving the world. Or at least making my little part of it a better place.

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My doctoral dissertation, distilled to a memo pad.

Peace and hugs.

Hiding from the horrors of life

California is on fire, and I am hiding in my guest bathroom.

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Not from the fire, but from the despair I feel about the world right now. I’m not just sitting in the dark on the floor in the bathroom. I have the current foster cat family in with me. Or they are letting me hang out with them. It gives me comfort. But still, I consider it as hiding.

 

I want to help, but I don’t know how. My anxiety keeps me from making a move. I can easily donate money (not much, but some), but I want to DO something. Yet here I sit, playing with kittens, feeling defeated. The most I’ve done is obsessively share Facebook posts about resources for help. Cooking also gives me comfort. But instead of volunteering my services to help feed evacuees, I cook for the 2 of us, and we eat in front of television.

The things I “should” be doing today seem so unimportant. Folding laundry, who cares? I could be writing scholarly papers for school; my PhD is important to me of course, but I can’t focus on anything. It seems trivial when people are losing everything, some even losing their lives.

People do come forward to help in emergencies. Volunteers are helping at evacuation centers. Animal rescuers are helping find shelter and foster homes for displaced animals. Others are organizing donations of supplies for the evacuation centers and animal shelters. I want to be one of those people.

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Evacuation center at the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga.

The world seems like it’s falling apart. The hurricanes and the continuing devastation left behind, especially in Puerto Rico. The Las Vegas shooter. The never ending issue of racism and inequity in this supposedly civilized country that treats its own people like garbage. A “president” who couldn’t care less about anyone but himself.

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Trump throws paper towels at the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

It’s like the modern-day Fall of the Roman Empire, or how I imagine it.

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I was already feeling it. Whenever I drive around Oakland and Berkeley, I see more and more homeless encampments. Oakland is turning into Tent City. I despair for my own city and its people.

 

We’ve been watching the Ken Burns series on Vietnam, which I am finding so painful to watch. I am ashamed of how ignorant I am about the times in which I was born and raised. It hurts me to see the the death and destruction, not just of the American youth sent to fight a senseless war, but the countless civilian deaths of the Vietnamese on both sides of the fight. Children killing children. Hate mongering. Old white American men thinking of lives in terms of numbers and “kill ratios”, and continuing a war for their own egos.

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Vietnam PBS

And now a place I hold dear to my heart is being destroyed by fires. (Why can’t the idiots in power face up to climate change? It’s for real and the effects are being felt right now.) I lived and worked in the Napa and Sonoma areas not so long ago. I didn’t want to leave to live in Oakland, but life doesn’t always work out the way we think it will. I still have friends in the area, some of whom I know are safe as I write this. Others I haven’t heard anything about, and it scares me.

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The backyard of my former house in Napa, circa 2005.

And lest I get complacent thinking I’m safe, the fires continue to spread. I never think it couldn’t happen here. It did happen here. There was a fire not so long ago that destroyed a large swath of the area where I live now–the Oakland Hills Fire in 1991. It’s only about 40 miles from Oakland to Napa, and the fires are now approaching the rural area around Fairfield, among other places.

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The Oakland Hills Fire of 1991.

I don’t have an emergency plan. We’ve never prepared any kind of earthquake kit (the usual recommendation in California) or thought through how we’d get all of the animals and ourselves safely out of here.

My heart is breaking for the world, but I bury my head in the sand. I care, and caring is a good first step, but sometimes we have to do something with that caring. It’s is too close to home this time.

Stay safe.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother (okay, he’s heavy, but still, he’s my brother)

I never understood what the song that goes “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” really was about. It just sounded kind of cool back in the day (1969). You know, he ain’t heavy, but he’s groovy, man.

The phrase originates, as far as I can tell, from a story about Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska, founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan as a community for homeless and troubled boys. One boy wore leg braces, and the other boys would take turn carrying him on their backs. One of these boys is reputed to have said, when asked, “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.” A lovely story. True? I don’t know. But there are several statues titled Two Brothers at Boys Town, and the line made it into the movies in which Spencer Tracy portrays Father Flanagan.

 

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Photo that is said to have inspired the stories.
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Two Brothers, Boys Town, in Omaha, Nebraska.
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Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town.

This isn’t about my brother. I wrote about my own brother not so long ago. This is about 2 brothers, Ringo and Tiger, and their special relationship and what they’ve been through together. Ringo and Tiger are, of course cats, not humans.

human brothers
No, not these goofballs.
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Yes, these goofballs.

Ringo and Tiger are very special cats, and I feel privileged to be a part of their human fan club. To put it bluntly, these cats would likely have been euthanized in many other shelters. They are 9 years old, which is considered “senior” in the world of cats, although it is the equivalent of only 52 in human years. So at almost 56, if I were a cat (oh, what a thought!) I would be a senior, even though I don’t think of myself as one at all as a human.

if i were a cat

Ringo is termed “morbidly obese” at 18 pounds. Tiger has cancer, and is not exactly a petite guy himself at 12 pounds. They’ve been together all of their lives. They were surrendered by their guardian to the Humane Society of Broward County in Florida, from where they were evacuated in advance of Hurricane Irma.

Florida

Wings of Rescue (a wonderful organization) flew them out with about 160 other cats and dogs on September 7, 2017. When they landed in Hayward, California, volunteers from Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) were there waiting to transport them to the shelter in Walnut Creek, California.

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Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation in Walnut Creek, California.

 

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Ringo and Tiger arrive at ARF from Florida.

Two very lucky cats indeed. According to the ASPCA, every year 5 to 7 million pets enter the shelter system. More than half of these are cats, of which approximately 70% (yes, 70) are euthanized. And who are most likely to be euthanized? Guess. Older cats and cats with medical issues. Ringo and Tiger are defying the odds.

 

 

 

Ringo is a laid-back cat, loves to sleep on the bed with his people and follow them around, and gets along with everyone! Tiger is sweet, sociable, and loves to cuddle. Those are pretty good dating, I mean adoption, profiles.

Because they have been together all of their lives and are attached to each other as one would imagine they would be, they are a bonded pair, meaning they have to be adopted together. Another factor that means it will be just a little harder to find a home for them.

 

bonded pair

 

Ringo obviously doesn’t carry Tiger on his back. But Ringo could live a long and healthy life if his adopter works with a veterinarian on a careful weight loss plan. Tiger’s potential life span is not known, but his adopter would basically be taking him in for hospice care. It will be a special person or family with big hearts who will take these brothers into their lives. It will be worth it. And I know that person or family is out there.

 

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Best of all, at ARF Ringo and Tiger have a great room to stay in together, they get love and attention from the staff and volunteers, and they have all the time they need to find their human family. I take great pride in working in a system that allows for cats like Ringo and Tiger a chance to start a new life. Please support in whatever way you can your local shelter so they can help more animals in need. And do consider a senior and/or special needs pet. They need love too, and will add so much to your life.

You can help support the work of Wings of Rescue as well.

 

Peace and hugs. And meows and purrs from Ringo and Tiger.

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