In the News: Fear of Going Mad While Flying

Note: This is a repost from June 2013. Since I posted this essay three years ago, the flying experience has gotten even worse! Hardly a day passes now without some unpleasant airplane incident going viral and hitting the headlines.

The doctor who was dragged off an overbooked flight and injured after refusing to give up his seat.

Parents of a toddler wanting to hold onto his separate seat kicked off flight.

“Chaos erupts at Fort Lauderdale Airport when Spirit Airlines cancels flights.”

And today – “Passengers get into fistfight aboard Southwest flight.”

To be fair, passengers are not always well-behaved and flight crews do not have an easy job. But how responsible are the airlines for creating such stressful experiences? Should the airlines be regulated, as they were here until 1978? After that, several airlines competed for customers. Flying was fun! In the last decade or so, our 10 major airlines have merged or decreased to four. And the four are not fans of making anything fun.Flying

“I feel like shrieking,” I said to the woman next to me on the airplane. She was squirming even more than I was, squished in between me at the window and her husband on the aisle. “But, don’t worry, I won’t.”

We were three hours into our 5½-hour flight, which was an hour late taking off. We sat at the gate and then on the rainy runway at JFK Airport behind dozens of other jets before we were cleared for takeoff. The pilot kept saying, “Another 20 minutes, another 20 minutes …” while cell phones came out and people made calls to change their pick-up times.

She and I had exhausted almost all activities: reading, napping, checking phones and computers, looking out the window, watching a movie (she with headphones, me without, but I was desperate), getting up and bumping down the aisle to the teeny bathroom, drinking, eating.

Eating used to take more time on these flights.  Now that many airlines no longer serve free meals, at least in less than first class, there is not the fun of opening the little packages and trying to figure out what the globs are and gobbling them anyway. On my flight going east a few days earlier, I didn’t catch the flight attendant in time to order anything. (It takes them forever to get down the aisle, but if you look away for a few seconds, they are gone.) And my two connecting flights were so close together I didn’t have time to pick up anything at the airport, like a $10 granola bar.

This time, I was smarter and quicker in the airplane and I scored a $10 turkey sandwich with potato chips. I hadn’t eaten in about 12 hours and it was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever tasted in my life. I tried not to wolf it down, instead savoring every bite for the taste … and the filling of time.

The woman next to me whipped out something from her tote that looked and smelled delicious and I wondered where she got it, but I kept quiet, licking the salt and potato chip crumbs from the bag. Sometimes I prefer not to talk to my seatmates. Suffering in silence beats an onslaught of personal drama or incompatible political or religious philosophies. It’s the luck of the draw – or the airline’s software program.

I once sat next to The Bug Man, as his hat said. I asked what he did, thinking he might be an exterminator. Turns out he was an entomologist (bug scientist) and a well-known bug wrangler who works in Hollywood overseeing movies with bugs and insects (such as “Arachnophobia”). He was interesting and single! (But with rooms full of bugs at home, he said, not appealing to me, a bug phobe.) Later, I saw him interviewed on television and wondered why he didn’t fly first class.

Joking with the woman next to me broke the silence and we soon were off and running (mentally, not physically), sharing our love of yoga and how much we were looking forward to getting back to it. She had been away for five weeks, visiting her son in Spain and her daughter in New York. We discussed our work, children, cats. It was a pleasant conversation and before I knew it, the San Diego skyline appeared underneath us and we were swooping in for a landing.

I’ve always loved flying, especially the take-offs and landings. I’ve never had a fear of flying, but now I’m starting to dread it. In the past, I’ve flown to Australia and Europe with less discomfort and inconvenience than I’ve endured recently on shorter trips. These have included cancelled flights, delayed flights, arbitrarily reassigned seats and airport connections and lost luggage. And it gets worse each year as the airlines think of new ways to torture us.

If the airlines are cutting back to be competitive, why aren’t they offering better service, not worse? Fewer flights perhaps, but at least on time and maybe a little meal?

I cannot image a restaurant or store doing business this way and keeping customers. “You have a reservation for 7? Too bad. We won’t be serving dinner until 8:30. You wanted the booth by the window? Too bad. All we have left is the table by the back wall. You want to leave? Too bad. We locked the door and you can’t leave until we say so.”

How many of us would come back? If we want to travel quickly, do we have a choice? Would a covered wagon be better? I’m beginning to think so. There might by dysentery and wild Indians, but at least we could lie down and get comfortable for awhile, gnaw on buffalo jerky.

In the News: Planned Parenthood

Flash back a few decades. Without realizing it, I have chosen an authoritarian (old white male) obstetrician to see me through my first pregnancy and deliver my son. I am very young and new to this business of Ob/Gyn oversight, not to mention marriage and pregnancy. Alone, no friends in San Francisco. No birth centers, a sense of participating, surrounded by family. No, the kindly doctor took over with a paternalistic pat on the head and other parts. Fortunately, it was an easy birth and my son was born beautiful with a full head of blond hair.

So, then I asked for birth control pills. “No, you will have to get them somewhere else,” he said. “I don’t prescribe them.” The good old doc was Catholic.

The somewhere else I went was Planned Parenthood. Visiting my parents in the beach area of Los Angeles, I took the bus 20 miles into downtown LA, to the closest Planned Parenthood. My memory is smoggily vague. Did I have my son with me or did I leave him with my parents? Did I have an appointment? Did I wait long? I just remember lying in a greenish space with curtains and a strange (young) man coming in and examining me and okaying the pills. Did I get them there or go to a drugstore?

I know I was relieved as I rode the bus home. And within months my husband and I had moved to San Diego and I had a new, younger male doctor named Dr. Rights. And birth control for two to three years until I got pregnant with my second son.

Flash forward, recent years. A young woman I know is a student. No money. She goes for a checkup at Planned Parenthood and they discover cervical cancer. She undergoes treatment and is doing okay.

I walk by our neighborhood Planned Parenthood. It is closed! Oh no. But I see it has moved to another location two miles away. Not far. And the new center looks larger. That gives me hope. Government funding may be wavering, but the spirit of the organization is strong, determined, not about to give up after 101 years. Helping women who are between doctors or jobs, without resources. What would I or my friend have done without them? I could have found another doctor, maybe gone to my mother’s, but the delay might have meant an unwanted pregnancy. My friend with cancer may have been able to borrow money, but if not, she would not be alive today.

The conservatives are big on people taking personal responsibility. Planned Parenthood is big on teaching women how to do this with birth control, family planning, health care. So why the gap in logic and compassion? Many religious conservatives are against abortion services offered by Planned Parenthood, even though it is legal in this country. And even though family planning education will reduce abortions, the Planned Parenthood foes would rather shutter all the clinics and kick poor women out onto the sidewalk than continue to support the organization.

This would be like me, a vegetarian, refusing to help a food bank or soup kitchen because they distribute or serve meat. Just because I am personally opposed to eating animals, I don’t think I have the right to impose my viewpoint on others.

The foes of Planned Parenthood, including those in government office, are trying to inflict their religious beliefs on us, in opposition to the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion …”

Vice President Pence the Pilgrim may criticize Muslim sharia law, but he’d be the first in line to brand and stockade a woman with a mind and body of her own if he could get away with it. In his worldview, he cannot even have dinner alone with women. He is more comfortable sitting around a conference table with other old (mostly white) men deciding that women are their vessels and not separate people with rights.

If their wives are okay living that way, that is one thing. But most of us have outgrown the stranglehold of authoritarianism and will resist its being forced on us. By now, my San Francisco doctor is long dead and Dr. Rights, closer to my age, died two years ago.

That means the younger generation, with less restrictive beliefs, are moving into government and medicine and other areas where they can make a difference. Like Planned Parenthood. And, yes, healthcare for all.

Let’s hope they move quickly, with agility and honesty, leaving the tyrannical T-Rexes in the dust.

Where Is My White Blouse?

White blouses are everywhere and, for me, nowhere.

Ubiquitous and yet elusive.

I’ve been looking for just the right white blouse. Once I get an idea for something I think will add to my wardrobe (or household, or garden, or knowledge base), I don’t let go until I find it. Sometimes I change my mind after a tenacious search, but then it’s on to a new item or variation.

Seldom do I find the exact item of clothing I envision. There is always some part – fit, material, color, weird pockets or buttons – that is annoying or off-putting (Take it off, off!) Even once hiring a tailor to make me a pair of palazzo pants for a party did not result in the lovely creation I had in mind. Instead of svelte and sweeping, they were slippery and billowy, like old pajamas.

Anyway, I can see this white blouse. The right one for me, topping jeans, printed pants, skirts, tights, even a bathing suit. Taking me through several seasons and occasions, allowing for a variety of accessories and sweaters and jackets. So, the requirements are:

stylepremiere.com/blog

Not too formal. Simple, to go with my simple, casual life. With sleeves that can be worn long or rolled up, a smallish collar or collarless V-neck, slightly loose but not like a tent. No stiff, stand-up collars or starchy tightness that bark “I mean business.”

Not too informal. For yoga, walks, gardening, and other projects, I have t-shirts. For running errands and getting together with family and friends, I have lots and lots of casual blouses, favoring the boho style, and at least three in white. So, I don’t need another one of those.

Not too stiff. The stretchy fabric does not fool me. Claustrophobic. Linen, while appealing for its purity, and faux casualness, feels like sandpaper and makes my skin itch just looking at its rumpled surface.

Not too flimsy. Not a big fan of chiffon or lace or other sheer fabrics unless I’m buying for a party and it comes with an attached, comfortable camisole.

Not too teeny-bopper, club hopper or middle-aged sexpot. You know what I mean. Eyelet trim. Very short. Teeny straps, one strap, strapless. Shoulder cut-outs, so the sleeves look like they’ve been ripped off and are hanging by a thread.

Not too old and plain. I am old, but I don’t want to look dumpy and frumpy. And sadly, many clothes for older women are too droopy and drapey for me, overwhelming my small frame and height. I tried on one long white blouse at Gap and resembled a nerdy scientist in a lab coat. Another at Express in a soft fabric, tie in front and tail in back style. It looked beautiful on the hanger but not on me, more like I’d crash-landed with my parachute half-open.

Not too fancy. No weird ties, attachments, embroidery. My cats confuse tassels with playtime toys. If I’m going to get a simple white blouse, then it must be simple! Yesterday I spotted one that looked good from a distance. I pulled it down – and there on the simple sleeves were triangular flaps of material sticking out from each elbow. For what reason? To remind us that our bat wings had fallen even farther? To elbow our way around now that we’ve given up stiff collars?

I am just about to give up. People like to say things like the perfect thing (mate? job?) will appear when we give up searching, but I don’t believe that. It could or could not happen.

In the meantime, my mind is shifting … there was that red blouse …

Friendships

Are some relationships just time bombs waiting to blow up? Explosives and a clock wired to detonate at a certain time?

Or are they just balloon fantasies we have blown up that will eventually float away, or lose air and flatten on the ground?

It takes a while to get to know people and sometimes we hate to admit we’ve invested too much time in someone who is too fundamentally different and so we keep going …

… until one day a minor disagreement, light shining brightly, sets off the tick, tick …

… the fadeout … the flyaway …

Would it have made any difference earlier to re-wire, to point out the obvious?

Hard to say. What it comes down to is this. If the relationship is a bomb, you are damned if you do speak up and damned if you don’t. It will blow – sooner or later.

If it’s a balloon fantasy, thoughts hanging in your imagination, the first sharp poking or wind blowing will flatten and send all hopes flying.

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Lately I’ve seen a lot of articles on friendships. What are the types of friendships? How many friends do most people have? Are we losing the ability and desire to cultivate friendships? More than one article points out that we are connecting less. Families are shrinking but houses are getting bigger. Many people have replaced conversation with compulsive phone checking and texting. I see this myself every time I eat out or attend a gathering.

The articles I read on friendship don’t help me, not really. I’ve had so many friendships come and go, partly because I’ve moved often and had at least 25 jobs. Many friendships are circumstantial. They don’t take hold and last beyond living or working near each other or belonging to some group. I’m more diligent about maintaining connections than most people are. I’ve learned to lower my expectations, to be more realistic about what people can offer, or choose to offer. And to truly enjoy the friends who are in my life now, even if I don’t see them often.

Some articles categorize friendships, generalize about how many we need. I question their accuracy. After all, each of us is different, not to mention at different stages of life or living in different parts of the country or world. Introverts like me prefer fewer, but deeper friendships. Extroverts can never have too many friends. With all kinds of variations in between. People who live in one town all their lives might have more life-long friendships than those who live in transient neighborhoods. Married or living-together couples rely on each other for friendship; students and workers have built-in friendships.

It’s not until we live alone, children gone, retired or working at home, that we realize more fully how fortunate we are to have friends. We should not take them for granted. Nor should we close the door on new friendships. Cultivating friendships – new and old – is an art and a commitment.

In the News: Driving Me Batty

Bagged saladsThe recent news that someone found a dead bat in a packaged salad mix is pretty horrifying, but I admit a welcome relief from other current news in the world, such as Number 45’s latest temper tantrum tweet or a passenger being violently dragged off a United Airlines flight for no good reason.

Also, I’m not missing news of April the Giraffe. Is she about to give birth? Any day now for two months. I wish her well but also wish the vets at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York had more accurate information.

So, for a while I get to ponder the bat issue. From both the bat’s perspective and imagining myself opening that bag.

That poor bat. How did it go from hanging in a cool, dark cave to hanging out in a lettuce field or factory? Was it exploring or confused when it accidentally got stuck in a head of lettuce or assembly line machinery? Did one of these workers see it and decide to leave it (for any number of reasons): http://www.oceanmist.com/video/romaine-harvest-2/

After interviewing a scientist who wrote a book and a blog about food safety, I usually stay away from pre-packaged salads. They are the most likely to be contaminated, she warned. But there are the occasional times I’ll grab a bag of greens, especially when I’m entertaining. I would NOT be a happy host if I got down my special salad bowl, poured out my lettuce and out plopped a flying rat. Or would it be folded inside, clinging to the cellophane? Actually, it was dead, partially decomposed, and the two people already munching away on the salad had to go for rabies testing. In another recent incident, a woman opened her salad package to find a LIVE scorpion still crawling around inside.

I’ve only had two experiences like this in my life, neither as horrifying. When I was about 11, my mother showed me a box of oatmeal crawling with weevils. It took me YEARS to get over that. I still ate my oatmeal most mornings (my dad was Scottish) but I cringed with every speckled bite. Do you have any idea how many specs of dark color appear in oatmeal?

My second experience involved a rice cake 20 years ago. You know, those faux crackers supposedly good for you made of sawdust and cardboard. In an effort to be virtuous and save time while out running errands, I bought a single, wrapped rice cake in a health food store. I opened it and took a bite. Then I noticed a black what looked like wire sticking out from the piece in my hand. I looked closer. A roach! A whole roach inside the rice cake. Since then, rice cakes have evolved into flavored and seasoned snacks, but there is NO WAY that attempt at sophistication has me fooled. Gag me. I will not eat you if you are the last food on earth. No wait, that’s roaches ….

Should We Raise or Lower the Bar?

“Believe me, there is no such thing as expecting too much.” Susan Cheever, American author

“It’s expectation that differentiates us from the dead.” Sheila Ballantyne, American author

“If you have too much expectation, you may come away disappointed.” Dalai Lama

What should we expect – in relationships, in life?

The word expect, from the Latin exspectare, to look out for, has a range of meanings.

On the lighter side, it can mean to think something will likely happen. For example, you will wake up in the morning, your car will start, you will get to work on time, your friend will show up for lunch when she said she would. Synonyms are hope, look forward to, anticipate, think, believe, imagine.

On the heavier side, it can mean looking for something from someone you think is rightfully due, or a requirement to fulfill an obligation. For example, I want you to do your share of chores around the house, we expect you to be here at work by 9 a.m. Synonyms are require, want, insist on, demand.

My late mother-in-law told me when she got older that she had given up having expectations. “That way I’m never disappointed and pleasantly surprised when something nice happens.” At the time, I thought this was sad, almost like admitting, “I’m not going to be getting much.” How can we not look forward to things, have desires? Has she just given up?

Recently, watching Season 7 of “The Good Wife,” I saw a similar exchange. The scene takes place in a bar where Alicia and her new law firm partner Lucca are discussing jobs and men. Lucca, a perky thirtysomething, says “I don’t have any expectations.”

Alicia looks at Lucca with her slightly weary, fiftysomething expression and says, “Really? That seems so sad.”

What does it mean to have no expectations? Buddhists advise letting go of the “wanting mind,” which they consider the source of much suffering. If we stop attaching ourselves to specific outcomes and try to flow with the unexpected, we can be closer to enlightenment, or at least calmer along the way.

On the other hand, some old and new age philosophers advise us to visualize what we want, to attract what we deserve. Expect everything and the universe will deliver. Think and Grow Rich, wrote Napoleon Hill in 1937, setting off a chain reaction of self-help, create-your-own reality books.

So, which is it?

Now that I am older myself, I think I see what my mother-in-law was saying. She didn’t mean she was letting go of all expectations. For example, she still hoped to wake up in the morning (although realized she might not) and looked forward to gatherings with friends and family. These are lighter expectations, reasonable hopes for a healthy person.

What she meant was that she was letting go of unrealistic expectations from people and the world. A devout Christian, she was big on forgiveness and acceptance. The world tested her many times – a mentally ill son, a granddaughter who died of alcoholism, children marrying and divorcing, coming and going.

Living in an old house, she often made requests for help that could seem like demands to family members who were busy working, living their own lives. Was she expecting too much? Perhaps at times. But we all knew she had been unconditionally generous with us (most of the time, anyway).

It has taken me a long time to even begin to understand this in my own life. To see that there is a difference between reasonable and unreasonable expectations and that they sometimes get mixed up. We are all sliding around inside the kaleidoscope, seeing the world and each other with shifting needs and perspectives.

For example, I hope when I go to a gathering that I meet someone interesting. When I start a new writing project, I look forward to learning and being appreciated. These are all possible and more often than not, they do happen. But if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world. I may feel a little disappointed but I don’t lose all hope.

I no longer expect that anyone I meet will become a lifelong friend or even like me. I don’t expect people to change fundamentally who they are or to see the world the way I do. A curious and somewhat naïve person, I have been quick to jump into friendships and slow to realize that others are often more discerning than I am and may not be available for friendship or even friendly complements on the job. They are too busy, too different, too indifferent – or they just have other priorities and that’s okay.

I hope when I post or send out an essay that I connect with at least a few people, make someone laugh or an editor want to publish my writing. But I don’t demand it, or expect fame and fortune. If that happens, as my mother-in-law said, it is a pleasant surprise.

Acts of generosity do happen and often at unexpected times. It pays to keep our minds and hearts open to that possibility with a sense of curiosity and adventure. The bar is fine where it is. No jumping or stooping required. Just keep moving forward.

Mental Fitness: It’s in the Bag (Somewhere)

Do we need brain exercises to keep mentally fit? Some of my friends think we do and work out online with programs like Luminosity. Science so far says no to games, yes to learning new things, such as a language or musical instrument.

I’ll leave more evolved answers to experts.

I’m not big on computer games or puzzles, prefer learning by reading and writing.

And just dealing with everyday challenges is often enough for me. If I don’t stay alert, I can get run over by a car or a tyrannical government.

Or have to pay for my 50th bag because single-use plastic bags are now banned in California (a ban I support) and stores are charging us for paper bags and reusable plastic ones. BagsAnd because I’ve left the other 49 tossed in my kitchen or car. And forgotten that cool canvas tote and the mini-tote my kids gave me for Christmas. They are either 1) in another purse or 2) hanging with my purses in my bedroom closet.

So how to remember? I joke with all the store clerks. They don’t remember either.

I could Google for ideas. But I’m stubborn and like to learn on my own (aka the hard way). I like to imagine and analyze.

I need to keep my bags in more than one place since I shop in different ways. Sometimes I drive, sometimes I walk to a store and sometimes I stop in spontaneously while out walking.

Since I most often drive alone, it makes sense to pile some bags on the front passenger seat. They are too easy to forget in the trunk.

I have a small kitchen, so not much room there for extra bags. I already stuff baking pans in my dishwasher, which I never use. I could make room for bags, but as with the car trunk, out of sight, out of mind. My mental powers do not yet penetrate metal. Perhaps a hook for the more attractive totes? Not much wall space either.

TotesNow that I think about it, remembering to always carry the mini-tote in my purse is probably the best solution. Always with me, like my wallet and lipstick and iPhone and keys. Then – remembering it’s in there! I’ve left stores several times now, paying for a bag and then realizing halfway home that the little tote is still inside my purse.

But I am starting to remember. Grab one before I get out of my car or yank from purse before I reach the checkout counter. A new habit, light gradually revealing a conscious image, synapses connecting. It took a year to navigate the debit/credit card chip reader scenario, to learn to be quick before the clerk flashes a new screen. (The clerks and screens are all different.) I do that pretty well now, except when the bag boy or girl interrupts to ask: Do you need a bag? Paper or plastic?

Habits take approximately 66 days to form, according the latest research.

Another month to go. And I’ll have bags, bags, bags for life.

And then be ready for the next challenge. Bring it on.

tote
Emily McDowell studio
Los Angeles