Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Sick and Tired

Actually, I am neither right now — because yesterday I finally gave up and just stayed in bed all day. The cold worked its way out of my system, awash with herbal tea and beef broth and soda crackers, while my energies were able to devote themselves to healing the tissues instead of moving me from pointless Point A to pointless Point B.

So, instead of schlepping my way down to the office to sit stupefied and useless at my desk, I propped myself up in the bed and re-read parts of David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day (which I adore), watched The Crow (which was exciting but dumb), Carrington (which was thoughtful but dull), and Queen of the Damned (which is unbearably gorgeous in sight and sound but so badly written, with holes in the plot and characters that you could drive a hearse through, it makes you want to weep), and finally started re-reading Stephen Fry's The Hippopotamus (I just re-read his The Liar and want to compare them side-by-side).

And now I feel all better!

For those just joining us, I should preface my next vignette by explaining that when I post, I seldom do it all at once... I start writing at home or at the office and am interrupted by going to work or work itself or a myriad other distractions, and the diary post covers huge chunks of time... and in these chunks there are gaps, and sometimes something will happen which needs to be written down in the interrupted post.

This morning, after I wrote the first three paragraphs and paused to look up links, I was called away from the computer first by a trip to the local eatery for lunch, then some phone calls, and then, finally, by a strange (and time-consuming) emergency.

I can now officially add to my resume the unexpected rôle of Pigeon-Saver. I was in the kitchen getting a cup of coffee, and I looked out the window to see a pigeon outside. This is a normal sight for most urban offices, I expect... but my office is in the basement of a Victorian house, my kitchen window is at ground level facing an enclosed alleyway, and I've never before seen any living thing out there, not even the upstairs tenants. The pigeon was dragging itself along the cement by its wings, trying to take shelter under the back-alley stairs. There were no drops of blood, no tufts of feathers, no markings of any kind to suggest what had happened to the creature, just a pigeon dragging itself along by its wings with a piteous look in its tiny orange eyes.

Despite my fondness for furs, for meat, for foie gras, and for vituperating against deluded animal-rights activists, I cannot stand to see an animal suffering... and I'm far too squeamish to deliver the coup de grâce and end the suffering myself.

So there's this pigeon outside my window, suffering most likely, and I didn't quite know what to do. My coworker didn't know what to do, either, and is even more undone by suffering animals than I am. We called the landlord (who lives upstairs) and told him about the situation, but he only knew what to do about dead pigeons, not injured ones. During the course of conversation, though, he mentioned the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, which is known to take in injured wild animals, but which is unfortunately way out in Walnut Creek and may not take something so prosaic and mundane as a common city pigeon.

But that set me thinking, and I remembered that Oakland has its own bird sanctuary and might at least have some advice as to what to do with the poor wingèd rat. So I called up the Rotary Nature Center (after finding out, in the most indirect possible way, that this was the correct name for the bird sanctuary), and the lady there told me to bring the pigeon in and she would look after it for two days, either mend its broken part or else euthanize it painlessly if it was irremediable. Either way, it would be warm and fed, not suffering on the cold ground, vulnerable to torture by cats and children, directly outside my window.

And so, with only a modicum of difficulty, I scooped Mister Pigeon (I always assume pigeons are male, but the nice lady at the sanctuary confirmed my assumption) into an empty #10-envelope-box (which reminds me, I have to order more #10 envelopes, we're almost out), carried him gently to my car (talking quietly to him, as if a human idiot talking quietly would soothe a wild pigeon... didn't even occur to me to put something edible in the box), drove the half-mile around Lake Merritt to the Nature Center (I remember visiting the place as a child, and though they've gotten rid of most of the taxidermied birds in favor of abstract and childishly colorful displays about nature and ecology, they still have the glassed-in beehive that always fascinated me in my youth), and handed the creature over to the Naturalist on duty.

She was very nice and set my mind at ease... I was worried that he might have died from the stress of being scooped into an envelope box and driven around town listening to Steven Sondheim tunes. But he was okay, or at least no worse off than he had been, he even seemed to be calmed by the enclosed darkness, and the Naturalist hustled him away to the veterinary room (where I unfortunately couldn't follow). I still wonder how the bird got injured, and how he found his way into our alley, but these are all mysteries that will have to remain unsolved.

So to return to the original topic of my post... actually, I never stated my original topic, did I? I was thinking about family responsibilities, social commitments, and the difficulty of balancing the two in my life; and that I'm sick and tired of having to do so (hence the title).

I oftentimes find myself envying my friends who do not have overwhelming family commitments... and I don't mean those who have no families or whose families have been carried off by death or who have cut themselves off because of "the whole gay thing." I mean people who go about ordering their lives in such a way that they get to do what they want more often than what other people want. People who choose with whom they will spend Christmas, people who can go out after work without having to call a third person to let them know they won't be home for dinner, people who can accept invitations without having to consult someone else's calendar or having to reschedule when something beyond their control is scheduled for the same time.

This weekend was one in which my Family and my Friends collided with conflicting events. On Saturday, for example, I promised Angelique that I would attend the San Jose Emperor's Ball with her... and later discovered that it was the same day as my cousin Jamie's birthday, on which the family would gather for a meal. The meal, though, turned out to be lunch, rather than dinner, so I could do both with only minor inconvenience... the inconvenience of driving first to Danville, then to San Ramon, then back home to Oakland, then to Berkeley to pick up Angelique and another friend, then down to Cupertino. As a result of the minor inconvenience, I would not attend in drag, as I should in my rôle of Royal Crown Countess, but no big deal (to make matters worse, even though we were a half hour late arriving at the event, things didn't get started until two hours after we arrived, which had I known would have given me plenty o' time to put on my face).

Sunday, though, I was invited to two different social functions, a brunch and a sobriety celebration, each hosted by good friends. Both of these were functions I dearly wanted to attend; I had even formally accepted the brunch invitation. Then about a week later, Grandmother tells me that my sister has scheduled her daughter's birthday for that selfsame day. So I had to decline the sobriety celebration invite and cancel the brunch invite.

People will ask me why I would do such a thing, especially since I really feel that reneging on an accepted invitation is extremely rude. In this case, it was a struggle. But my niece turned a landmark 12 and would most likely be hurt if neither I nor Grandmother came to her birthday party; and while I might have gotten my sister to reschedule, it would most likely have been on condition that I give the party myself. I might perhaps have managed to do a little bit of everything, except that the parties were in San Francisco and my sister is in Concord, as is the church I take Grandmother and Daddy to in the morning (the topic of an entirely different spiel), and there's no way to get from one spot to the other with any kind of speed, and besides which I was too sick to do all that work. So I sent my regrets to both parties, and bored myself stupid at my sister's house all afternoon.

The thing is, there should be no real difference between one's family and social commitments... they are choices one makes. I should have been able to say to my sister that I wasn't coming because she scheduled the birthday on a day I was busy. But I chose to put my niece's and my Grandmother's interests in front of my own.

But I guess what I beef at is that my family isn't as entertaining as my friends are. They are, for the most part, people I would never know socially. I like them okay, but I like my friends better... I chose my friends, but my family came pre-installed. Again with the choice.

Now, I could very easily choose to ignore my family, or simply put my own preferences in advance of theirs (I doubt they would mind, they put their interests in front of the rest of the family's), but then there's the Grandmother thrown into such equations: since I chose to live with her and deliver her to the places she wants or needs to go (in exchange for rather generous room and board), I have to put her preferences in front of my own, or at least give them equal weight.

So what I have is a dilemma. A complication. I hate those!

But whatever. Like I said before, it's about choice. I choose to live the life I live. If I want a life that does not put someone else's needs before my own, I have to make choices to get that kind of a life... I would have to let Grandmother take care of herself, let my family exist without my presence, let children live with the minor disappointment of not having a bored uncle taking up space at their birthday parties. I will then of course have to choose to get a different job that makes more money so I can afford my own apartment, and so on and so forth.

On the other hand, alongside of choice, there is also commitment. I have committed myself to being there for Grandmother... it does not matter why I made that choice, whether or not that was the best choice for me to make, whether it is fair to expect myself to make such a choice, it is nevertheless a choice I committed myself to. I cannot leave Grandmother unless she has no use for me... I mean, even if I did live in my own place, I'd be over at Grandmother's all the time, reaching things down from cupboards and taking her to doctors' appointments and hair appointments and shopping trips and family gatherings.

It's kind of like being married, in a way. Except that I didn't choose Grandmother, she was already there; and I don't get sex out of it (like a lot of married people, I imagine), nor passion, nor even mild romance; and we don't share many common interests, certainly no common social ground that would allow us to attend parties we wanted to go to together; and we are not in any way equals. But it is still a commitment that is important to me, that I stay with Grandmother until her death.

And if, in a marriage, one is somewhat dissatisfied, that sort of thing is fairly common. I imagine that a married man who was only slightly inconvenienced by his marriage... say, he didn't have someone else he wanted to marry or live with, and got along fairly well with the partner in question, and didn't particularly wish to give up the lifestyle to which he was accustomed... it is unlikely that he would break up the only-slightly-inconvenient marriage.

Well, now I'm just rambling on, thinking out loud. Like anyone would, I chafe at the limitations of my life. No matter how free we are, the neighbor's grass will always seem greener. I undervalue the thing that I have (i.e., a sense of belonging to something, having a family and responsibilities and support) because I already have it, and fantasize about the freedom that I don't have (which would probably make me feel lonely, anyway... I've never in my life really lived alone and am not sure I'd like it).

So I guess I'd better bring this mess to an untimely end. Seven hours of off-and-on writing later, I've used up most of my work time, all of the time I was going to spend at the gym, and am working into my dinner-hour. So off I must go to eat before my home-group meeting, having accomplished very little except to fill cyberspace with another kilobyte or two of useless rambling prose.

At least I have the satisfaction, however meaningless and brief, of having aided and comforted a pigeon.

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