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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sorry, Walgreens--More Like The Corner Of Confused And Crabby

Sometimes, when a bunch of people gather, I can't help but listen for Blog Fodder. It's not that I'm looking for something to criticize or poke fun at so much as I am--in a Seinfeldian manner--observing things that I can comment upon from a "did you ever notice" perspective. It's like looking at an ordinary drop of rainwater under a highpowered microscope. So much more there than the first look affords.

I belong to two retiree lunch bunches because I taught at two schools in my district. Even though I taught at a junior high only one year, they are gracious enough to include me in their monthly group, and I like their company. Of course, I also attend my high school's monthly lunches. At both, I generally order a bloody mary and settle in for some chatting. In addition to gossip about colleagues or district business, the conversation always comes down to two familiar topics: travel and what everyone is doing to promote health and longevity. If there was such a thing as a Dr. Oz Cruise, these groups would book immediately. I know who is taking flaxseed and chia seed every day, who is using only gluten free products, who is swearing by glucosamine, and who orders everything online from Puritan's Pride. I know that Dr. Bragg's Raw Apple Cider Vinegar With The Mother is the only apple cider vinegar with true health benefits. Oh, and do you want to take a river cruise? Well, forget it. They book so far out now, that it's impossible to plan one any earlier than 2015, and you had better forget the "Downton Abbey" one. That one is sold out for the foreseeable future. Carnival Cruises are just so noisy--too many kids and young people--but you can book a quieter one on Princess or Holland America. But--sigh--it's just sad how some lines treat their employees, who are all foreign nationals. Try to tip them well, if you can. There are horror stories out there that are just awful.

Listening to travel stories is one of my joys. If I can't go, then I want to hear about when you went, and if you have some pictures, even better. My colleagues are generous with their travel stories, and they give good recommendations regarding cruise lines, travel agents, places to see, and places that aren't really worth a stop. They will even give you their guides, books, or anything else that they have that might be of help. The problem is, they never sound very impressed or happy about where they went. I always get the idea that they went in order to have gone, to simply cross it off their list or something.

They get far more exercised when talking about their use of wellness products. I understand. Ten years ago, I didn't think twice about any of that. Now, however, my hair keeps getting greyer. My hands and knees truly hurt with arthritis. My vision prescription changed for the worse, and I have a hard time driving at night. It all seems very unfair to me. That stuff is for Old People. I'm not Old. Then I think about the Simple Arithmetic of it. I have far more years behind me than I am likely to have ahead of me. It's natural to want to tip the scales more in the other direction.

The whole thing makes me feel confused and guilty. Should I be taking supplements, chia, flax, wheat germ, green tea, fiber powder, and shots of vinegar (With The Mother)? How do I know? Every time I watch a little of Dr. Oz, he tells me to eat something else to lose weight. If I ate all of that stuff, I'd weigh 200 pounds. Should I get a Neti pot, or will I collapse and die from a brain-eating fungus? Rick and I eat very little meat now compared with how much we used to eat, and at least three days a week, we eat vegetarian. I start my day with Greek yogurt or a spinach and strawberry smoothie. I use olive oil only. Should I start oil pulling?

Let me say this: I liked it so much better when I was young and talked about makeup and boys. Or when I was a mom and talked about sleep habits and spit-up. Or even when I was in my thirties and talked about work, teenage attitude, and my shoes. And let me also say this: I am deep-bone tired of this winter. It has made me old. Older. Elderly. Aged. Aged and in need of Spring.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

If You Want Your Stuff To Be Like Family

Last night, while Rick and I were sort of watching television and sort of strategizing with our fantasy basketball teams, a commercial came on for a storage facility with a slogan that, for me, was problematic. Do business with us, they said, because "we'll treat your stuff like it's our stuff." I immediately turned to Rick.


Me:  Well, I don't see how that's such a great thing.
Rick:  What?
Me:  Telling people that you'll treat their stuff like it's your stuff. For example, if someone stored their collection of tchochkes here, I'd give them all away. I'm in Streamlining Mode. If that was my stuff, I'd be giving it away or tossing it. So...
Rick:  Or what if you don't take care of your stuff, like hoarders? You just cram it all in and let it rot? How is that good?
Me:  Exactly.  Some people simply don't give a damn about their stuff. So, what if they let other people go through the stuff, or they leave the door open and the stuff gets stolen? I know lots of people who are very casual about stuff, like Sam and Jared with their clothes. Half their wardrobe is in someone else's closet, usually each other's.
(there is a pause)
Rick:  We're never giving them our stuff.
Me:  Ha! You got that right.

All of this reminds me of another business, a restaurant, whose slogan was "We treat you like family" and the similarly themed "When you're here, you're family." Again, how is that good? I don't go out to dinner to feel like I'm at home eating with my kids, or my sisters and brother. And the very last thing I want is to sit in a restaurant and have the atmosphere of sitting in someone's kitchen or dining room while Mom complains that no one appreciates the time it took to prepare and cook the meal, Dad rides herd on some sullen, plugged-in tween who won't eat that because there's some fat on it, and a little preschooler who wants to talk about what a Disney character did and how she's a princess/he's (are there any male Disney characters who are heroes and carry the movie? Well, put his name here).  I have crossed restaurants off my List because of a high proportion of families in their patronage.  I'm by no means against families.  Heavens no.  I've just already had mine and been through all that and don't care to bear witness to it again.

Even Family Dinners at my house, which were not actually like the previous scenario, are still quite calisthenic and can wear me out sometimes. Plus, when I'm at home, no one comes out and serves me my dinner and takes the used utensils or extra plates away. I am not automatically brought nice, icy refills of water at home, either.  There is certainly not the luxury of being asked, "May I take your order?" or the more delightful "And what can I bring you for dinner this evening?"  Oh, how gorgeous.

Perhaps I am overthinking and overanalyzing these slogans. After all, it is only advertising and marketing, not great literature. But when there are so very, awfully many commercials that interrupt programming--especially as we watch the news--it's inevitable that I pay attention to a few here and there. They're asking for it.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

And The Greatest Of These Is Love...Of Learning

One of the objectives that was a Big Deal when I was still formally In Education was helping our students to become Lifelong Learners. At first glance, that looks sort of at odds with a more tangible goal, which is always to get them to graduate in four years. Becoming a Lifelong Learner, however, means to instill into each thriving mind that Love Of Learning--so much so that said mind wants to go on learning new things forever and forever.

I am a Lifelong Learner, but my education didn't make me that way. It's not that I didn't have excellent teachers all along the way; I did. Part of my quest for learning has to do with reading, and the other part has to do with an all-consuming Need To Know that completely commandeers my conscious mind and compels me to find out every single detail, fact, and available piece of information about whatever it is that currently interests me.

My lifelong learning has led me to, at various stages of my life, read deeply in, research the hell out of, and generally beat up the following topics, in no especial order:



1.  Jack the Ripper
2.  Cows
3.  R.M.S. Titanic
4.  Birds of North America
5.  Redwoods
6.  Oscar Wilde
7.  The Battle of Gettysburg
8.  Mary Lincoln
9.  Abraham Lincoln (1840-1865)
10. Human anatomy
11. John Keats
12. Emily Dickinson
13. The Black Donnellys
14. Daniel Day-Lewis

There are others, but I don't want to start freaking people out unnecessarily. I'm not counting the stuff I started to research because I had to teach it, either, like Walt Whitman. I was already deep into Miss Emily before she became part of my regular curriculum.

The Interwebs make this so very, very easy. If I hear about something on NPR, I can research it immediately on the Interwebs. I can then go on Amazon.com (my boyfriend!) and select books which my boyfriend will then send directly to my front porch in a few days or so. I can even get on Netflix and search for any documentaries on the topic. The amount of information available to me at my fingertips is almost overwhelming. There is so much that I can wallow in information: facts, details, witness accounts, photographs, recordings, testimony, you name it. For information addicts like me, it is heaven.

The problem with making Lifelong Learning an educational goal or objective is that it's impossible to achieve if you have a student with absolutely no natural curiosity. Or a student who doesn't/won't read. Or someone who doesn't care about anything but himself and his (insert trivial object here: cellphone, motorcycle, designer something).

I just this minute learned that someone from Maryland discovered what he thinks might be pictures of President Lincoln's funeral procession passing by on a New York City street. The photo, published on a Flickr site, is from the National Archives. Here's a link.  I'll be looking closely at it as soon as I hit "Publish" on this post.  Then, I'll probably click another link, then another, then another.  And pretty soon, I'll be looking at all kinds of other things and learning about them, too.

Being a Lifelong Learner is a gift.  Did you receive it?  What wonderful, interesting things have you learned about?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Red Or White, Fiction Or Poetry, I Can Help You With That


Since I am still trying to escape the clutches of this Evil Ailment, I'm having another Radical Self-Care Day. That is NurtureBlogSpeak for "lying around in my jammies and resting." I've picked up a little bit of freelance work, so I have some stuff to do, but while zipping about The Interwebs, I came across the most wonderful article title: Uncorking the City: Wine and Books. What a most wonderful combination! I read with great interest the accompanying blurb on my newsfeed: It's a brave man who chooses a life in the wine business. Or the book business, for that matter. Carlo DeVito is clearly more courageous than many, as he has actually chosen to pursue both. I eagerly clicked over to the article in its entirety on the online version of the Wall Street Journal.

And I was immediately disappointed. It was not, as I had hoped, an article about a man who ran a combination bookstore and winery/wine shop. Instead, it was about a man who used to be in the publishing business, wrote several books on wine, and now runs a winery. This was not what I wanted to read about at all. As I finished up the article, largely skimming the last paragraph or so, I started thinking about what a terrific idea a Wine and Books Shop would be. I want to own and run that shop.

Think of it. It's midafternoon, and you want a nice hour or so. You stop in and say hello. "What's good on pour today?" you might ask me. "Oh, that depends," I answer. "Do you want a red or a white? Do you want a little sparkle or still?" Let's say you want red. "I want you to try this," I say. "It's a Meritage, and it's drinking so well right now. Lots of fruit in the front, only slight tannins on the back of your cheeks, and it finishes with a beautiful dark chocolate smoke." I pour you an ounce to taste and you love it. Then, as I pour you a glass (in a crystal balloon, so that you can enjoy the aroma and so that it continues to breathe) I say, "What are you reading lately? Anything good? If not, take that gorgeous red wine and go read absolutely anything by James Wright. If you're not in the mood for poetry, grab something smart in fiction." Then we settle up and you go grab a book and a chair and spend a marvelous hour or so. If you really love the wine, you can take home a bottle. Same with the book. Maybe I'll have nibblies so that no one gets too...tipsy.

On the weekends I can do mimosas and Bellinis, but not spritzers. (I hate adding water to wine. It's criminal.) In the summers I can do sangrias. Doesn't it all sound lovely? There can be book chats, and I can set up a space just for book clubs to meet. Someone needs to set me up in this business.It's perfect for me. Pull out those checkbooks, Dearest Readers. Your future vintages and volumes are on me.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

For The Good Of The World, Get Your Jollies Today

Today, Dear Readers, is The International Day of Happiness.  I forgive you for not remembering; after all, this Day is only two years old, officially declared back in 2012 by then UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. "Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness," said the Secretary General. The UN then called on everyone, including organizations and governments, groups and individuals alike, to "observe the International Day of Happiness in an appropriate manner, including through education and public awareness-raising activities."

Um...none of that will increase this individual's gross global happiness, to be honest.  That all sounds like worky inservice stuff, which I retired from about three years ago.  The happiest thing about all of That back then was that I didn't have to grade it.

And I'm unable to get too Happy at present.  This beastly cold has morphed into Something Worse, and I am Down For The Count.  I had to break my Sacred Vow to you, and I missed two days of writing here because I was so unwell.  At the risk of TMI, just let me say that, if the Energy Conundrum could be eased by snot, I could bring the price of fuel down all by myself.  Considerably.

But this is the International Day of Happiness! I have several readers in Other Countries! We can increase Gross Global Happiness right here. This article I read in LiveScience measured some happiness by looking at social media, which is the Most Scientific Data There Is. And the happiest US state is...Hawaii. Duh. I don't need an analysis of Twitter to tell me that. Giggling at the heels of Hawaii are Maine, Nevada, Utah, and Vermont. (California, where are you? And obviously, this study was well before the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.)Not so happy are Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, Delaware, and Georgia. (Ohio and Michigan, where are you? Leading the league in cheap vodka sales, that's where.)

Over on Instagram, Brazil is downright hysterical with happiness at number one, while Japan and Vatican City tied for the lowest. Take heart, VC! This data was collected early in The Francis Effect. The USA scored eighth, beating out Canada and the Bahamas. Canada, what is the matter? Why the long face? Is it Rob Ford? Is it the taxes? It certainly cannot be curling and its wonderfully outrageous uniforms. (Although I must make a correction here, pointed out by my Alert And Faithful Reader John S. of Pennsylvania, who reminds me that curling is Scottish in origin.) In any case, buck up, Canada. You know how I adore you.

In any case, I feel compelled to somehow celebrate this International Day of Happiness, especially since I missed World Nutella Day (Feb. 4). So, today I will be Happy. Happy that I can stay home because I am retired, and I don't have to go to work or prepare a bunch of monkey plans for a sub. I will be happy that I can still feel connected to the world via my computer, and I can be entertained by it, too. I will be happy that, if I feel at all better, I can get in my car and go someplace. I'm happy that I can finally see the grass in my front yard!

Maybe I'll make a dessert today, and that will make Rick happy, too. That's one of the things I like about Happiness. It grows when you spread it around.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Yo! Check It Out

Even as I was on my Bed Of Misery, my children decided yesterday to come on over for the afternoon and dinner (in order to Jolly Along my recovery, I'm sure.) Thank goodness I had the ingredients for the world's simplest and most delicious Asian-style pork recipe done entirely in the crockpot. Thanks to Dear Reader Shirley, I had the crowd-pleasingest salad* in the universe, and dinner was a simple matter of tossing things into receptacles, stirring, and serving. The only thing I had to actually pay attention to was some rice. (*I add chunked-up apples; it's a wonderful addition.)

Sam and Jared brought their lovely and intelligent girlfriends, Tina and Kait respectively, and it was a great strain on me not to hug and kiss everyone. We are and always have been a demonstrative family, a trait that has been echoed throughout the generations. (As a matter of fact, when Jared first "sent me a fax", as my mother calls text messaging, that he and Kait were coming, I told him that it was fine, but that I had a terrible cold. "Don't touch me. Don't even look at me. That's how awful it is," I tapped out to him."Kait says she is going to lick your face," was the response.)

Our tiny livingroom was full to the brim with people. Tina was bundled up under a comforter (see, it's not just me), Sam and Jared and Rick folded their tall frames into furniture, and Kait leaned over the arm of the couch to tell me all about her recent birthday trip. I was in my chair, finishing up Jared's knee warmer. Having taken his measurements the last time he was here, I custom-knit him a knee warmer to keep his knee warm at work in order to lessen his arthritis pain. Soon, however, this heartwarming scene of domestic tranquility would degenerate into something far more typical for us:

Jared: Are you gonna hook up your Playstation or sit there like a bitch?
Sam: (affably) You mean like you? (to me now) Do you guys mind if we hook up the Playstation and play a little bit before dinner?
Me: No, go ahead. But play nice. Jared, you know how you get.
Jared: Remember when we had the Sega, Sam, and Mom used to yell at you all the time because I told her that you had cheat codes that you used to beat me?
Sam: Yes! You got me in trouble all the time with that. I never had any cheat codes.
Jared: Mom used to holler upstairs and say, "Sam! Stop using cheat codes! Play the right way or I'll--"
Sam: (interrupts and uses horrible nasally voice that sounds nothing like his mother)--I'll come up there and take the power cord and NO ONE will play. I mean it. That's not fair." And I didn't even have cheat codes.
Me: Oh my god. I never sounded like that in my entire life. Maybe now, with this horrid cold, but never like that.
Jared: Mom was all about the cheat codes.
Me: Sam, Cheat Code can be your rap name.
Jared: That's pretty good. Cheat Code. If I'm ever a rapper, my name is gonna be Hate Crime. That's so gangsta. Because who likes a hate crime? No one. But I'll spell it K-R-H-Y-M-E, like rhyme. Then I'll rap about everything I hate.
Tina: (looks up from her phone) I want a rap name, too.
Kait: I do, too. What's my rap name?
Me: (surveying the empty box of candy in Kait's lap) Kait, your rap name can be Gummy Worm.
Kait: Okay!


Somehow, Rick got the rap name Head Wound, and I don't remember how. Tina and I still don't have a rap name, so we're open to suggestions. And, luckily for you, I left out the profanity that tends to zing around the room when Jared and Sam get together. They both work in male-dominated workplaces, and there, it's ubiquitous.

Starting April 1, Sam and Jared will be roommates again. They will be sharing a house, back together again for the first time in ages. I feel a sense of a circle connecting, a knot tying, yet a loosening of...I'm not sure what; but it's like I can breathe more deeply. They're best friends, and they look out for each other. They have good women in their lives. I feel good about Hate Krhyme and Cheat Code right now. I really, really do.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Week 2 Of My Crisis Begins: Situation Update

It's bad enough to get a crappy cold. Having a cold is miserable: the sneezing, the coughing, the sore throat--together or separately--make each day an endurance test. I've had this horrid cold for a week, and each day I hope that the next day I'll feel better. So far, I'm daily disappointed. This lousy thing has made lots of things awful, and now I'm going to complain about them.

The Many Ways This Cold Has Ruined My Life

1.I can't breathe, yet my nose keeps running.
2.My nose is full of crusty ick.
3.My face is cracked and chapped from wiping my nose.
4.I can't taste or smell anything.
5.My cough makes me sound like I've been smoking for sixty years.
6. I feel like I shouldn't get colds now that I'm retired.
7.All I do is cough, sneeze, blow my nose, suck on Ricolas, and wash my hands.

This evil disease doesn't deserve much more digital ink, so I'll keep my discussion brief. There has been something wrong with me since I was born in that I get every illness worse than the person who gave it to me. Ask anyone who knows me. I can't even be overtired without spiking a fever, so when I get a cold, no matter what I do, it will last two weeks and be The Worst Cold I Ever Had.

And why do I even have it? I am RETIRED. I'm not around eleventy thousand teenagers anymore in a closed environment. I wash my hands like it is my job. And, come on. RETIRED. Can't I have a pass? Can't I be retired from colds and contagious, annoying viruses and illnesses too?

Believe me when I tell you that I am living #7 as my daily routine. It is making me crazy. I have zero appetite because the various OTC Cold Remedies I am swallowing all have some kind of decongestant that works as an appetite suppressant. Add to that the fact that I can't taste or smell food anyway, and it seems a waste to even eat.

Is anyone funding research for this? Anyone? If so, why no progress? If not, why not? I'm ready for The Cure.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Leaning In On A Word

Perhaps I'm a little slow to pick up on this particular topic, but have you heard of this? Sheryl Sandberg, of Lean In fame, first a book, now a nationwide if not worldwide, philosophy for women, has started a new campaign.

Lean In, a "nonprofit organization founded...to empower all women to achieve their ambitions" now offers "support through online communities, free expert lectures, and Lean In circles" which are peer groups who meet regularly. Sandberg wants women to recognize that the corporate structure, traditionally male, has to be navigated differently by women. There is extra scrutiny of women, and there is sexism. While it's not surprising that much of this is levelled by men, a great deal is unfortunately from women, too, both at work and at home.

Women need to help one another, obviously, but her new campaign focuses on vocabulary. This campaign, called Ban Bossy, maintains that "bossy" is a term used almost exclusively for girls. When a little girl speaks up, takes charge, and leads, she is termed "bossy." When a little boy does that, he is called a leader. "Words like bossy send a message:" the website says, "don't raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys. A trend that continues into adulthood."

That's the pitch. It then asks if you will help girls become leaders by Banning Bossy.

Partnered mainly with Girl Scouts of America, as well as lots of other respected organizations/businesses, (and celebrities), Ban Bossy has a good pedigree. Lots of organizations and sites have taken up the cause.  And why not?  Who could possibly be against helping young girls find their voice and take on a leadership role?

Sigh.  No one.  But, as we all know, banning--or pretending to ban--a pejorative term isn't going to get it done.  I get what Lean In is doing.  It's the whole Raising Awareness/Heightening Sensitivity thing. And I don't fault them one bit.  Take it from me, a girl who was called Bossy most of her life.  Until it morphed into the more adult Bitchy.

Because that's all Bossy is.  It's the Elementary School form of Bitchy.  I spent my entire life wearing that term--both of them, really--because I was a leader and because I spoke out and because I did not sit in the back and shut my mouth.  I don't think the answer lies in banning the word; I think it lies in teaching girls how to ignore the word.  It lies in empowerment.  If you ban a word, you have given the word the power, not the girl.  What are you saying then?

When I taught Creative Writing II, students often complained about the poetry assignments that had specific meter, especially sonnets.  There was so much crabbing and moaning about finding the right word.  Finally, I stood at the front of the room with a dictionary and said, "Who is the master here, you or the words?  Who is in charge?  Your job, always, is to make words your bitch.  They work for you.  They do what you say, not the other way around.  Now stop being such a pushover and whip them into shape."

I grew up knowing that I was smart, capable, and valuable.  My voice counted, so I used it.  If someone ignored me, I spoke again.  If I was still ignored, I shoved my way toward the front and spoke again.  If I still didn't get recognized, I spoke more loudly and more forcefully, using all the biggest words I knew.  I don't need to get my way, but if it is important to me, I want to be heard.

In my thirty years of teaching, I made sure to tell my female students all of this.  That they should never give up their power, ever.  That a label like Bitch means nothing if they don't believe it themselves.  That being a woman means fighting harder, but if you have integrity, other women will help you.

I think banning words is silly.  I wonder if this campaign isn't misguided although I appreciate its message.  I do know that women, in general, need to be more helpful to other women and less judgmental in general.  And I, for one, will be more mindful when I use the term Bossy, if I haven't been already.


Friday, March 14, 2014

It's Like What Robert Frost Said

Have you ever asked a little kid what he wants to be when he grows up? The answers I love the most are when the kid says something like, "A killer whale" or "A kittycat." Once the kid gets older and becomes completely ruined by television/cable/DVDs/Netflix, the answers do too. Then he's likely to say, "I wanna be Batman" or "I wanna be fill in the blank with a Disney hero."

When I was a kid, I was awfully boring. St. Patsy confirms this. Actually, her response was, "Boring? No, you were just good and didn't give me any trouble when you were little." So, boring. I did all kinds of creative stuff with art supplies, but I was really a straight-up-and-down sort of child. And when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said the same thing, always.

So now, let me ask you, sort of, in a question supplied by a Dear Reader:

If you had to start over again, what career path would you choose?

My stock response back then would be my response now: a teacher. I've never regretted my career choice. There were plenty of things about it that I disliked, but the teaching was never one of them. If I could simply teach--just teach--right now, I'd do it. Not grade papers, not discipline, not fill out stupid forms, not supervise standardized testing, not babysit study halls or lunch, not all that UNteaching--just teach the books and grammar and writing that I know and love and can pass along and help others to understand and appreciate and learn. I would do it. Seriously.

Now, for those of you who say, "That's not fair. The question seems to imply that you must choose a new career path," I would say, 'I'm at a loss then.' I had dreams of being a veterinarian, as I discussed here before, but couldn't manage the high-level chemistry/math. Perhaps I'd be a Life Coach, specializing in teenagers and women. I really don't know.

But it's your turn. Let's hear what direction you might have taken, had your life made a different turn.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

In Which We Bring Our Monsters Out From Under Our Beds

Now that the original meme questions are dispensed with, Discussion Questions are needed for the next seventeen days. Thankfully, I received a thoughtful Reader's question via email, so we are set for the present. For those of you who have been enjoying this series of Daily Postings, please do likewise. Simply click the email link in my Sidebar or post your queries in Comments.

Thank you.

In about 1970 when my sister Susan was six years old, a big story was in our local newspaper about a guy who almost died from a bite from a brown recluse spider. Her best friend Curt told her all about it in a very matter-of-fact but gory and detailed accounting. Susan, already unhappy about sharing the planet with spiders anyway, became terrified that every single spider was a brown recluse. Unfortunately, she became terrified that every single dust bunny, tangle of hair, piece of dryer lint, and piece of potting soil was a brown recluse as well. It was awful. Because Helpful Curt had given her an exhaustive lecture on the habits of the brown recluse, she knew it liked to be...well, reclusive. She would not even put her feet on the floor in the morning until we told her we had looked for a brown recluse under the bed. This continued for each shoe and sock, each piece of clothing, and every single thing with which she came into contact. It was bad enough for the family; I can't imagine what it must have been like for her. I can still remember the look on her face in the morning, her legs pulled up tightly, crying and shaking her head, refusing to get down. She was genuinely afraid.

I don't remember now how it all became resolved, but I do remember wanting to beat the hell out of Curt. And I was only eleven. It never occurred to me to be afraid of the spider. I wonder why. Maybe because I had my own heebie jeebies to think about, which leads me to today's question:

Do you have any irrational fears?

Ah, the killer there is the word "irrational." That makes this a little more thinky. Would Susan's fear of the brown recluse count? Not sure. What do you think? Her reactions might be irrational, but her fear? Hmm.

I would say I have two irrational fears. The first is my fear of snakes. On its face, it appears rational. Some snakes are quite dangerous. How would you know if the snake were poisonous or not? Best to leave them all alone. But my fear is so instantaneous, so much a phobia, that I can't stand to look even at a picture of a snake without an immediate reaction of my stomach lurching, my eyes tearing up, and my muscles jerking. I won't touch a photograph of a snake. I had a real-life encounter with a snake twice. The first time, I was within six inches of it. I saw it, dropped everything, screamed, ran, stopped, then screamed again. I stood there, about thirty yards from it, and every once in a while, I would shudder and scream again. I could not scream it out of my memory. The second time, a colleague brought in his albino python to show science classes. He was walking in the halls with it. As he neared me, I got the clenched stomach, teary eyes, but instead of running away, I was rooted to the spot. I must have been pale, too, because he saw me, apologized profusely, and turned around. Have I ever had, in my childhood or early life, a pivotal encounter with a snake? Nope.

The second may not even truly be a fear. Honestly, I'm not so sure what it is, but nearly every time I'm at the top of a set of stairs, I get a flash, a millisecond of an image of myself lying at the bottom. It happens every time I'm going to go down a new, different set of stairs, say at someone's home or at a museum or winery. It happens only once in a while at my home. Certainly I don't want to fall downstairs anyplace. I'm especially afraid of falling and knocking my teeth out or messing up my leg with the titanium screw already in it. Isn't that the strangest, goofiest thing?

I cannot wait to hear your Irrational Fears in comments. Be Brave and Tell All! Remember, Emerson said, "Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world."

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Nance And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Trip

No preamble to today's post, Dearest Readers, except to say that today's Question is the last one in the meme. March still has almost three weeks remaining, so if there are other questions you would like to have answered, discussed, or generally kicked around by me and The Esteemed Commenters, please mention them in the comment section or email them to me using the clickable link in the Sidebar.

Continuing a bit with yesterday's theme, today's question asks:

What was the most awful vacation/trip you have ever taken, and why was it so terrible, the location or the circumstances?

(It also adds, Would you ever go back under different circumstances?)

The year was 1976, and I was seventeen years old. All during the late spring and early summer, I had battled rogue and random infections and could not seem to get well. By the time school finished up, I was flat on my back with mononucleosis, and if the tests were to be believed, it was the third time I had had it. I could not remember feeling worse or more tired.

Until, of course, I got a virulent case of strep that strafed what was left of my immune system and gave me such high fevers that I became delirious and heard things like lawnmowers and breaking glass in the middle of the night. My throat was a horror film. My tonsils were enormous and covered with grey and white matter that peeled off and choked me whenever I tried to swallow. I couldn't stop crying.

When it was finally over, and I could walk and sit up and function, my parents announced that my little sister Susan and I would be accompanying them for the month of August on a big trip out West. The announcement went over like, as my dad would later tell it, a lead balloon.

Susan's winning city softball team would have to do without her for the whole month. My boyfriend would have to do without me. We packed up the '69 Buick LaSabre (vinyl seats, no airconditioning) and set off west. My doctor had cleared me to go, but had nixed the idea of camping all the way. My presence meant motels. It also meant, he told me, "No swimming, no riding, no hiking, no physical exertion. You have to rest. Enjoy the ride and the vacation." I also had huge iron pills and vitamins to take which Susan used to use as leverage against me."I have your life in this bottle," she'd say, taking them hostage. "Now move over and give me more room."

The year 1976 was the Bicentennial, but by the time August rolled around, all the cool stuff was long gone. Our trip was exactly what my parents had planned--for themselves--driving for hours and looking at Scenery. And the American West has a ton of Scenery. Sometimes, when you are driving Out West, the only thing there IS is Scenery. You, your car, and Scenery. As a teenager myself, and Susan a preteen, we didn't give a shit about Scenery, or as my mother always wrote in her travel journal, "vast panoramas of majestic mountains with white puffy clouds in the foreground." We sat in the back seat with Queen on our cassette player and read comic books. Once, when my father pulled over to behold a particularly breathtaking view and Susan and I didn't look up from our comics, he hollered, "Right now! Turn off that rock music and put down those comic books and look out that window. You're not bigger than God, you know!" I was duly chastened, but when I looked at Susan, she was trying with little success to stifle both a smile and a giggle. She was braver than all of us, always.

Once we neared Montana, traffic thinned out alarmingly. Big Sky Country is right. Also, Big Empty. We drove for miles and miles and miles with no company on the road. It was blisteringly hot, and I was miserable. My open window didn't do anything but bring in warm air and dust. All of a sudden, a dark mass appeared on the horizon. I thought it was just a heat shadow, that wavering optical illusion you get from a hot road. But as we sped forward (my dad really like to make time, and he went at least ninety on stretches like this), the mass got larger and more solid. Pretty soon, we got right up on it, and to my delight, it was an enormous herd of cattle. It was as if a lake of cows stretched as far as the eye could see. We had to stop. My father looked at my mother with an expression of incredulity and expectation. As usual, when he was driving, he blamed anything untoward that happened on my mother, The Navigator."Well, now what?" he said, exasperatedly. "I'm on the road you said we should be on!" As my mother started to try and soothe him, I looked with interest and excitement at all the cows milling around. I wondered if I should ask if I could get out of the car.

"...and if we just wait for a little bit, they'll move on," my mother was saying. My dad was regarding her with the same kind of look that one gives an insane person. Nope. I would be staying in the car. "Doll," my dad said to her, "do you honestly think that I'm going to sit here and wait until Christ-knows-when for these cows to move? You cannot be serious!" My mother matched his frustration. "Well, Honey, what else can we do!?" she said, raising her voice the merest bit, mainly by inflection on a few key syllables.

And so we waited and waited while the cows strolled around. More than a few stood still, looking right at us. I think it was the arrogance of those few that finally got to my father. In a burst of exasperation, he hit the horn. My mother turned to him, horrified, and I saw the look in her eyes. She looked completely terrified. "Bob, NO!" she yelled."They could stampede!"

Every single cow we could see turned its head toward us and started to move in our direction. Some trotted, but most just walked. Suddenly, a gigantic cow head burst through my open window and into my side of the car. It smelled awful. And when it left a huge pool of slobber in my lap, it smelled even worse. I was so stunned, so amazed, and so darn surprised that all I could think of to do was to say, "Mom!" But she had her hands full with Dad.

So that was Montana, and the very best part of it. Let's just say that by the time we got to Washington (where we couldn't even see Mt. Rainier, my mother's Mecca, so shrouded it was, by clouds), my parents called Patti, my big sister back at home, and put her on high alert; she might be driving out to Cleveland Hopkins Airport soon to come get Susan and me. My parents weren't sure they could stand it all the way back home.

But a funny thing happened when we turned Eastward. Susan and I knew it was almost over. At least we were headed home. Wyoming was pretty, even though we had to escape a tornado there. I was very happy to go to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, and I was quietly reverent and impressed. And, overall, I was feeling much better. The whole way West, I was beset by terrible leg cramps and awful fatigue. Both lessened considerably on the way home.

That trip was terrible in so many ways. St. Patsy admits it was ill-conceived from the get-go, taking two teens on a largely Old Folks Scenic Drive, especially when one of them was still convalescing. I admit that Susan and I were snots on purpose some of the time in that Teenage Brat sort of way. I am grateful that I got to see so much of the USA; I'm often surprised by the number of people my age who haven't. They've been all over Europe and other countries, but they haven't seen very much of this one. I'd like to see all fifty states before I get too old. And thanks to St. Patsy and Dad, I've seen quite a few.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Wanderlust

My grandmother and grandfather (St. Patsy's parents) were born travellers. They both had the blood of nomads in their veins, and nothing made them happier than to be part of a caravan headed out across the country. There were epic treks to Canada for fishing camp, yearly pilgrimages to Florida, and vacations with as many of the extended clan as possible to see whatever sights there were wherever we hadn't been. I dimly recall a trip to Michigan, I think it was, and stopping to be photographed with an enormous statue of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. I also have a snippet of memory in which I see myself running in sand and driftwood along a beach with my cousin Laurie, who is my age. We were chasing little chipmunks. Everyone got food poisoning on that trip, by the way, and my mother loves to tell the story of my cousin Ruthann lying on the side of the road, crying weakly, and saying, "Just leave me here. Leave me here to die."
Grandma and Grandpa even went to the Alaska Territory--it wasn't a state yet--although I don't exactly know what they did there. Grandpa liked to gather rocks and driftwood and other pieces of flotsam and jetsam from beaches and significant areas and paint on them the place and the date. Those were his mementos of his trip. Those and about ten thousand slides.

Grandma and Grandpa had seven children, and all but perhaps one inherited their Traveller Gene. My aunts and uncles have travelled the world, sometimes in campers or trailers, other times by air. They have taken ocean cruises and river cruises. I doubt that, at this point in their lives, there is any place they wanted to go that they haven't been.

St. Patsy and my dad used to love travelling by car, taking a week or two at a time to go up to New England or take the Skyline Drive and decide en route where they might end up. Dad got seasick and disliked air travel after his time in the service, so the car was their major conveyance. They camped in Quebec, hung out in Key West, and hobnobbed with the hoity-toity at the Greenbrier(with my mother saying every moment, "I don't think we belong here.")

I have a somewhat mutated version of the traveller's gene. I love travelling, but I don't pursue it. It's hard to explain. Travelling was a...a sort of drive inside my grandparents. It's that way with some of my aunts and uncles. There is a restlessness there, a need to leave their home environs and see something else, whereas for me, I enjoy travel, but I don't ever feel like I'm between trips. For some of them, travel is a way of life. For me, it's a big deal and a somewhat unusual occurrence, although I have been travelling more now than before. So! Let's get to today's question (and I'm running out of them, by the way):

Where is one place you haven't yet visited but would absolutely love to go someday?

I know the question says, "One place", but I'm going to try and cheat a bit with my answer. Because all of my earlier literature study in high school and college was concentrated in British Lit., I would love to go to England, Ireland, and Scotland. And, what the hell, let's go ahead and toss Wales in there, too. How can any English Literature major not want to go there? Of course, England is the land of Shakespeare (even if you are an anti-Stratfordian, someone who wrote all of the Works lived here!), but also Keats, Byron, Marlowe, and that's just for starters. Ireland gave us Oscar Wilde; Scotland, Robert Burns; Wales, Dylan Thomas. And the history! As some Britisher once said to an American, "Dearie, we have loos older than your entire country!"

In time, Rick and I will go to all of these places, but we have to be patient. It's important to us to go when we'll have time to enjoy seeing them without rushing to cram them into a small time frame. I hate waiting for pretty much anything, but I've learned how. And I think they'll all be there when my turn comes.

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Monday, March 10, 2014

I Have Issues. Let's Talk About Them.

One of the many things I have grown to love about my retirement is the quiet.  After thirty years of generally talking all day, listening to other people talking, or being subjected to hallway noise of yammering and shouting, the relative silence is a true pleasure.  It's rare that, in the course of a usual day, I hear a single voice that is not my own.

Think of it! For days and days, from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon, aside from me chatting with my cats, there is not another human voice to be heard.  Unless my mother calls, unless Rick calls, unless a sister calls (all of which could happen, but seldom do), no voice interrupts my day.  I don't turn on the television or a radio.  I wallow in The Quiet.

Another part of the reason I enjoy the quiet might be that it's apparently difficult to have a sane discussion with people anymore, about anything.  It's terribly tedious when grownups link every little thing to The Politics and blame everything on their pet issue du jour.  I do it about the republicans for humorous effect here at the Dept., but Out There, it's reached a level of sheer idiocy.  I'm going to try my best not to add to the circus as I answer today's question, which is:

What is one political or social issue that drives you crazy when people talk about it?

(This question also adds the gentle and civilized note:  You don't have to give your opinion; just tell what the issue is.  Honestly, in this format, I don't know if that's possible.  Readers here know most of my opinions anyway, though, so it's not an issue.)

All of the Issues drive me crazy anymore, especially when David "Gregorius Interruptus" Gregory tackles them on Meet the Press.  Do not get me started.  That show should start with Rachel Maddow giving him a good, smart smack in the mouth every single week.

But I digress.

Firstly, the Affordable Care Act.  I hate like a root canal that Everyone calls it "Obamacare."  Yes, I realize that President Obama himself claims to embrace the term, but that was a political move to take the sting out of the term, I think.  Certain people speak about the ACA as if it were a product of The Great Satan--as if it says that, at some point, all the elderly among us will have to go to the woods and live off the land with only a backpack of dried fruit and a Swiss Army knife.  The most rabid detractors have no idea what the ACA even says.  Or does.  Or will do.  They just want Sarah Palin to run for president and drill for oil in snowy game preserves.  And shoot things.  From her snowmobile.  Named Prak.

Next, guns.  Chiefly, gun control.  This is an issue fraught with so much conflict.  The US has a very distinct gun culture, and within it are separate gun cultures.  Some of them are historical and go all the way back to our earliest regional heritages.  Some are simply violent and macho gangster posturing.  I'm not pretending to understand any gun culture; it's all alien to me.  But I will never believe that what we need are more guns, as in NRA president Wayne LaPierre's quote about the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with one.  And I worry a great deal that all the rhetoric about beefing up mental health initiatives instead of legislating commonsense gun control will only serve to further isolate, stigmatize, and harm those struggling with mental health problems.

Finally--I'm going to confine myself to three or I'll get too fired up--public education in general and teachers specifically.  The amount of teacher-bashing and outright disrespect and belittling of the profession and individual teachers is both astonishing and breathtaking.  Wait--add "heartbreaking" to that list.  There are actually people, and a great deal of them, who think that a teacher is someone who gets paid way too much to work only nine months a year, then retires to a cushy salary for doing nothing.  These are the same people who, when they find out you are a teacher, say, "Oh, I could never do that job!" or "You couldn't pay me enough! Kids today...!"  These are the same people who want inexperienced kids from government programs to teach cheaply in public schools, but then raise hell when all teachers aren't perfect in the classroom.  "These are our children you're talking about!  That teacher is in a position of Trust! We expect the best for our kids." Basically, what they want is ... I have no idea.  Honestly, I don't know what in the hell they want.  They have free schools.  Teachers get paid little, comparatively speaking. It's painfully obvious that education is not a national priority, and nothing gets cut more on the national, state, and local level more often and more deeply than education budgets.  My entire career, I did more with less, year after year.  There was never a year that we didn't hear the phrase "Because of budget cuts...".  Teachers are Heroes.

Dammit.  Now I'm fired up.  Your turn in Comments.

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What Happens When You Tell Jiminy Cricket To Shut Up? I Have Fewer Pans To Wash!

Now that I'm Old and a Recovering Catholic, I've pretty much given up Guilt.  It's kind of my permanent Lent offering, except that I'm not sacrificing anything, I'm still eating meat on Fridays, and hey, if a Pope can just up and quit his job, doesn't that kind of render Lent a moot proposition anyway?

I remember the first day I began to part ways with Guilt, and I've documented it here.  As I aged, Guilt got quieter and more reticent.  Instead of lurking in every corner of my conscience, ready to tsk with disapproval, it simply sat there, silent and weary.  Years of middle child syndrome, battles with weight and body image, motherhood, and teaching had made Guilt an impotent shadow.  At fifty-four, retired, and at long last relaxed, I find that it's been relatively easy to let go of Guilt.  Most of its origins are gone, anyway.

There are times, however, that I feel A Little Bit Bad when I do something.  Not so much Guilty, just kind of like a kid does when he sneaks a cooky or like a teenager does when he exploits a loophole in a rule.  That sort of What The Hell attitude.  Or, as today's question asks:

What is your guilty pleasure?

 I wrote about this once before, too, a long time ago, here.  But that was almost eight years ago.  Things can change in eight years, and for me they have.

My Number One Guilty Pleasure is One-Bowl dinners in front of the television.  Doesn't that sound awful and disgusting, like a dog or something?  Or like we are these hideous Neanderthals, hunkered down over huge, heaping bowls of hash-like mashed food, shovelling it into our maws while watching Wheel Of Fortune.  Ugh.

But it's not like that at all.  Once, I made lemon orzo topped with a mixed baby greens salad and roasted shrimp drizzled with lemon vinaigrette.  Or I make a nice stirfry with chicken or beef and a lot of fresh vegetables over rice.  Or campanelle pasta with ham and asparagus and asiago cheese dressed with sage and mushroom olive oil.  Or grilled steak salad with balsamic vinaigrette (homemade, of course).

After twenty-plus years of cooking full course meals for the boys and all of us sitting at the table every night--which we all loved, don't get me wrong--it's nice to have such casual meals for just Rick and me.  And cleanup is so easy.

But my guilt stirs every so often because we aren't at the table, like civilized people.  I'm not serving separate meat, veg, starch, salad.  I mean, when we lived at home and ordered pizza for dinner when Dad was working the 3-11 shift, St. Patsy always made a veg and a salad!  With carryout pizza!

Do you see how deep it goes?  Save me.

Ever since we became Empty Nesters, Rick and I have really appreciated a more streamlined, simpler life.  We eat dinner and watch the news.  We chat and laugh.  Simple pleasures.  What could be wrong with that?

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Saturday, March 08, 2014

No Matter How Long It Takes, No Matter How Far, I Will Find You

Rummaging through a desk drawer the other day, I came across an old notecard with someone's AOL email address on it.  Also included was their Instant Messenger name.  I had to smile.  I don't think I've been on AOL Instant Messenger since 2004, and that was when I was using it to answer questions posed by my sophomores regarding their research papers.  I was Very Progressive, according to my assistant principal then, and Very Cool, according to my sophomores.  In all actuality, I was Very Lazy.  It beat staying after school and coming in early before school, and I could tackle several people at the same time, all from the comfort of my rolly chair in my own home.

AOL was way more jazzy than the platform  I used in the earlier days of my online life.  Do any of you remember Prodigy?  I used to get online via dial-up and spend hours on Prodigy in an online community devoted to the film The Last of the Mohicans and its star, Daniel Day-Lewis.  There, I found a wealth of knowledge about all of the film's stars, locations, and all kinds of stuff. I got to be a Regular there, and along with a group of thirty or so people, we posted often.  No bit of information or detail was too arcane, especially if it was about DD-L or if it was a mistake in the film.  We dissected and discussed, swooned and snickered.  Pretty soon, we split into two factions, the Westerners and the Easterners.  Talk became more lively and more about each other than the film.  Some of the posters knew each other, and some lived close enough that they arranged meet-ups.  There was even talk of an all-out convention for each faction.  Which leads me to today's question:

Have you ever made a friend online first and only afterward met her in person?  How did you finally meet?

The short answer is, heavens yes, all the time;  I just go where they are and say hello.  The longer answer begins with meeting some of the fans I met on Prodigy.  Because I had a Real Job which cut horribly into my Free Time, I couldn't attend the Eastern convention.  Later, however, another one was planned in New York.  We would tour actual sites of the French and Indian War, meet up with two extras from the film who were also Prodigy posters, and visit a fort.  I was the last one to fly in, and I was met at the airport by several of the women who I had gotten to know by name online, but who I had never seen.  It didn't matter. Once we introduced ourselves, we merely picked up where we had left off online; physically meeting was nothing more than a formality.  That was about twenty years ago, and it was the day I met Ann.

After that, we had several other mini-conventions in different locales.  One memorable one was in Michigan, at a friend's lake house on Silver Lake.  At that one, Ann paid for a copy of the film to be shown at a theater in a nearby town.  We saw it twice, with a break for lunch.

Since then, I've met bloggers, too.  I drove to Virginia to spend time with Shirley, of glutenfreeeasily, and Veronica of the hibernating CompostStudios.  And just last month, during my stay with Mikey in San Francisco, I was able to spend the day with Julie of Thinking About.  Again, physically meeting was merely a formality.  We've been friends for years!  Honestly, what does it matter what any of us looks like?  Unless one of us is looking for someone to model our latest fashions, who cares?

My mother--and probably a few others in my family--worry each time I do this, go and meet "a stranger", as they call it.  What if? is the first phrase out of her mouth.  She forgets that I've already gotten to know this person.  We've talked; I've read her life in her own words.  I know her.

Friends have been made with less.

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Friday, March 07, 2014

True Religion

When my mother decided to marry my father, she scandalized her entire family of Lutherans by secretly taking classes to convert to Roman Catholicism.  They already didn't care for her choice of husband:  he was older than her by four years, the son of immigrants, lived in Lorain, and had incited some pretty rebellious behavior from St. Patsy.  When her wedding day came, she had already been informed that her father would not be there to escort her down the aisle of a Catholic church.  She walked herself down the aisle.

Every time my mother tells that story, I have a hard time accepting it.  I think of my grandpa, a gentle, taciturn man whose voice I had never in my life heard raised.  He was an avid putterer, slow-moving, hands always busy, constantly mending, repairing, painting, trimming, fabricating doodads to make something work again like new.  He liked to tease gently, wink a lot, and get Grandma's goat.  The idea that he would purposely make anyone unhappy is alien to me.

And for what?  Religion?  My grandmother, who loved God and studied her Bible every single day, would be in attendance for her daughter.  She was devout.  She was the most religious person I knew.  For her, it was all about God's Word.  The interpreter was secondary.  She lived The Word.

My mother sacrificed a great deal to marry my father, and she continued a life of sacrifice in many ways.  As irony would have it, she became a far better Catholic than my father, whose church attendance was spotty at best and disinterested at worst.  All four of us kids were raised Roman Catholic and received the sacraments, although I'm the only one who was married in the Catholic church.

All of which leads us to today's question:

Do you still practice the same religion you grew up with, or a different religion, or none at all?

The short answer is none.  I became disillusioned with Catholicism a long, long time ago.  And I became even more wary of and disillusioned by Organized Religion in general.  And as the Christian churches became more and more of a political force, I got downright disgusted.  The things people do in the name of their god and their dogma make me sick.  It's nothing new, this war because of religion.  It's as old as the Crusades and...never mind.  You don't need a history lesson.

Instead of following a Religion, I follow a four-word rule.  It's pretty much President Lincoln's quote, pictured above, but compressed.  It is Kindness Is My Default.  In every situation, I try to default to Kindness first.  It doesn't cost me anything (like I used to think it did), and it often helps tremendously.  Think what an average day would be like if everyone had this rule.

I do understand the value of Religion to a great many people.  I do understand the Mystery Of Faith.  No one has to prove the existence of his or her God to me.  Religion is a deeply personal possession, a treasured comfort, a joy and satisfaction to its owner's soul.  It is an essential part of his or her identity.  I respect that.

But, by the same token, please respect my right to follow my own essence of Religion, a sort of self-rectitude, a kind of social benevolence by which I try, as Gandhi purportedly said, to be the change I wish to see in the world.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

What Lies Within, Chapter And Verse

I've written here a couple of times before about my friend Ann, who died almost three years (impossible!) ago.  She worked in resort real estate for her Real Job, but she was also a romance novelist for Harlequin.  That fact impressed me terribly, but she said that there were plenty of people who sniffed and acted like it was no big deal. "Oh those," they would say dismissively.  "All of them are the same.  Anyone can write those."  She said she used to be embarrassed to tell people that she wrote romances until she finally decided that, hey, she was a published author and her books were making money.  What right did anyone have to make her feel bad about that?  So the next time someone gave her that lousy answer, she said, "Oh!  Well, which ones have you written?  Maybe I've heard of them. Which line for Harlequin did you publish in?"  The person was usually unprepared for this response, and even if he or she explained what the original comment meant, Ann felt she drove her point home pretty well.  If it was so easy to write a romance novel, then why weren't you doing it?

I've been retired for almost three years.  Every so often, I am urged by someone to write a book.  I have one person who tells me, "I don't even care what you write about; just write and I'll buy it and read it.  I can't wait!"  Obviously, that's incredibly nice to hear, but it puts a lot of pressure on me.  It's lovely when people ask you when you are going to write a book.  It implies that you have a book inside of you, or it says that people enjoy reading your writing, or even that people find you interesting or eloquent or both.  And, today's question puts an even finer point on it:

What is the novel inside you?

Oh, hell.  I used to tease Ann when she was between romance novels.  I'd say, "Here.  I'll come up with some titles and let you have them for free.  Then I'll even spitball some possible plot ideas."  She'd pretend to be enthusiastic and interested.  My favourite one was Free Wild Sex Tours, Unlimited.  It may or may not have taken place on safari in the Serengeti.  I can't really remember.

Like all good English teachers, I have a couple novels/stories already started (in several different word processing formats), but I'm not passionate about them.  I don't feel compelled to write them, and to be honest, I don't really care to finish either one.  The first one has some very good writing in it.  The second one has better characters in it.  And I'm lazy.  Good writers are disciplined, and I'm anything but.

It's very intimidating to be a reader of classic literature and then aspire to be a writer of books.  And I have to admit; my best writing is over at The Brian Williams Tie Report.  There is more of my fiction voice there.  Here, I am mostly chatting.

As a creative writing teacher, I still believe that honesty in writing, even in fiction and poetry, is critical.  I always told my creative writing students that their writing should read as if they tore their guts out and threw them, still steaming, onto the paper.  So I think that, on some level, the writing should come from a place of authenticity.  (Hence, the old Number One Rule Of Good Writing, write what you know.)  There is a lot of stuff I know.  I need it to settle out, sift through, distill into one crystalline idea that drives me.  I'm not to that point yet, I think.

I love writing.  It's my preferred means of communication, always.  The refinement, the revision, the polishing are as enjoyable as the original act of creating the document.  Choosing words, crafting phrasing, deciding on diction--all of it is like assembling and then conducting an orchestra.  I know without hesitation that words are my power.

What is the novel inside me?  I don't know.  Is there a book inside me?  I don't know that either.  If there is a book or a novel inside, will it even come out?  That's a better question.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Faster, Higher, Stronger--And No, I'm Not Discussing A Martini

My father was pretty darn good at finding that one special interest of each child and using it as a gateway for the relationship. I was sort of The Creative One, so Dad always drew me pages and pages of odd shapes, and I would make something out of each one.  Susan was into music, so Dad would listen to her favourite cuts on albums, and they'd talk about the songs.  Patti, who was older and more serious, read huge books and followed The Politics, so they'd talk about that (and later Women's Lib, which confounded my father).  My brother Bobby was into all kinds of sports, so that was their thing.  They played catch, he coached Bobby in pitching, and now, both of them are in the local Sports Hall of Fame.

Let's just say that no one should ever expect to find me in any sports hall of fame anyplace for any reason ever.  I am not, nor have I ever been, Sporty. I can remember in high school phys ed, standing in the outfield during softball, my teacher Ms. Sayre, screaming, "Nance, your ball! Coming right at you!" and me, standing there inspecting my nails, saying, "Uh huh. Okay," and stepping out of the way.  (The only reason I was even in the outfield was because A) I didn't think anyone would hit it out there, and B) there was a little bit of shade from the shed nearby.

Playing sports is worky.  And sweaty.  I prefer working my fantasy basketball team and spectator sporting. Which leads us neatly into today's question:

Did you watch the Winter Olympics?  Which events did you enjoy seeing the most?

I watched very little of the Sochi games, and even then it was because of the dreaded Nothing Else Is On Syndrome.  What the heck has happened to Olympic coverage?  Is it just me?  Because I used to watch a ton of Olympic events, and not only when I was a kid, either.  I remember watching the Lillehammer games devotedly.  Now, Somebody In Charge decides what I am permitted to watch, and usually it is endless hours of stuff I Don't Care About or stuff That Is Kinda or Mostly Boring.  Add to that the fact that, no matter where you go on the Interwebs or even broadcast television, they announce the results without any warning, and it's hard to care what happens when you finally do see it.  If you do.

Admittedly, the Winter Games don't hold as much interest for me as the Summer Games do.  I hate snow and winter so much that watching these people willingly cavort around out there actually irritates me.  And makes me cold.  And I get sick of hearing them talk about how lousy the snow is, or how bad the ice is, or how they've had to make snow and how much, and yada yada yada.  Here's an idea:  have the Winter Games in Northeastern Ohio where WE HAVE WINTER WHEN IT IS WINTER.  D U H.

I like to watch luge, skeleton, and ski jump.  I like some curling because it is Canadian and because it is so odd and befuddling.  And because they wear such fun uniforms.  Luge and skeleton scare the hell out of me because it's just a person and a sled. Period.  At something like eighty miles an hour.  Ski jumping is fun to watch for a little bit, and then it gets repetitive, so Rick and I practice our British and Australian accents and do our own commentary, inventing harsh penalties for minuscule infractions, and predicting horrible tragedies.

It's all very morbid and awful and we laugh like rabid hyenas the entire time.  "Well, that's not getting him on the podium, Nigel.  At least four tenths come off the top for that head position.  Oh no, oh no!  If he doesn't bring that tibia back into line right now, right now, his center of gravity will be too far forward and he's looking at an absolutely crushing faceplant. Oh my, what a tragedy, and after all the work he's put in since that terrible fall from the Ferris wheel last year."

Maybe the Games were overhyped; maybe they weren't hyped enough. I don't know.  I do know I was glad when they were over.  Rick was glad because then his ritual of watching Dr. Phil with a beer when he got home from work could resume and his TV schedule was back in order.  I was glad, in part, because I don't like the word "Sochi."  It sounds like a made-up Mama word for a pacifier.

I'm sure I'm in the minority here, so fire away in comments.  Also, Feedburner and Blogger are completely estranged now.  I don't know what to do, but I keep trying.  Today, it told me I have no email subscribers, so if anyone has any ideas, please let me know.  Thank you.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2014

I Enjoy Being A Girl, But There Are Limits

I wanted to get this particular question out of the way well in advance of International Women's Day, which is 8 March.  When you click the hyperlink I provided, please take especial note of the fact that currently, the UK is holding twice as many events as the USA is to commemorate this day.  I realize that it's technically not a competition, but after I read this article in which I learned that a "report from Brigham and Women’s Hospital released yesterday found women are routinely bypassed as medical research subjects — starting at the selection of male lab mice over females — which means women end up with health recommendations that are really meant for men."  Even though a law was passed in 1993 tying National Institute of Health funding to the inclusion of women in study samples, "two decades later, research specific to women is still lagging".  Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA; Real Life Superhero) has gotten a sign from the Commissioner, so she is already on top of this.  Even if she has to spin Earth counter-clockwise, things will happen, believe you me.

Anyway, I digress.

This question is sort of a frivolous, Girly-Type Question, and while it may be trivial in light of Larger Women's Issues, let's face it:  we can't always be building low-income housing or trying to tinker with soybeans to find a reliable strain that is drought-resistant.  Sometimes we need a little bit of Steroypical Me Time.  So...

Do you get regular mani/pedis?

Heavens no.  And I say that with absolutely no judgment at all towards the activity or those who perform the job or those who enjoy getting either or both.  Or even the expenditure involved although I have to say that I'm largely clueless as to the cost of any of them.  I know dozens of people who luxuriate in getting a pedicure, my sister included.  I know dozens of people who get all different kinds of manicures. Bridal parties do it as a group activity before the wedding.  Friends go as a matter of course, sometimes as a standing outing.  It's simply not my thing.

Let me start first and foremost with a pedicure.  I can give you my reason in a single word:  feet.  I talked about this topic before, here.  No one, and I mean no one, touches my feet.  I don't even like typing or looking at the word feet.  No way I'm going to allow a stranger--a stranger!--to get intimate with my feet and my toes and all that.  Ugh.  I shuddered just then.  I honestly did.  The very idea.  I don't even like Rick to touch my feet.  And don't get all ooeygooey about the so-called merits of a foot massage.  I almost just threw up in my mouth. Urk.


I could use a manicure right now, actually, but forget it.  I had one once, and it hurt like hell.  My nails are about the thickness of the papery stuff on a head of garlic.  They are also weak, bendy, peely, and small.  My cuticles, which are always dreadfully dry, continuously try creeping up my nails like you see on really elderly people.  When I get brave and push them back, my nail bed is so sensitive that it feels like some kind of torture.  Do I lotion my hands?  Yes.  Do I soak them before trying to manicure myself? Yes.  Did I go to a very good manicurist?  I thought so.  Much of this dryness and thinness is due to my migraine medication.  It's a tradeoff.

Long ago, back in the 80s and 90s, I had lovely, long fingernails.  I would grow them out and use all different kinds of polish.  One of my favourites was a knockoff of the popular Chanel color at the time, which was a very very dark mahogany.  There was another one called Black Cherry which looked black but had a distinctly red hue to it. And I loved, loved, loved a classic red.  But if even one nail broke, I'd cut them all down and grow them back together.  I hated the way it looked if one was different.  But those days are over.  It's okay, though.  I can type much better with very short fingernails.

If I could have long fingernails back and get a manicure, I'd get a French, I think.  It's basic and always looks so finished and sophisticated.  I've never been a fan of painted toenails because all it does is draw attention to feet.  Nothing good about that.  Ugh.

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Monday, March 03, 2014

Letting My Storm Rage On From Frozen NEO, But I'm All About Happy

The question I chose for today is timely because the Oscars were announced last night in what was probably the strangest telecast for them I ever remember seeing.  Am I remembering rightly that one acting award was given at the beginning, and then all the techie awards and sort of "secondary" awards (like animated short, documentary, makeup) were then bestowed before any other acting Oscar was awarded?  I felt like Ellen Degeneres was underutilized, but I was so bored at one point that I found even her to be annoying.

Anyway, I'm going to use today's question to celebrate a sort of Festivus Tradition* I have regarding the Oscars show and the category of Best Song once I've answered it. (*The Airing of Grievances)  Off we go.

Have you heard the song Let It Go from the movie Frozen, and if so, do you like it?

Let me say that I set aside all of my anti-Disney bias and listened to this song with an open mind.  I also tried to keep in mind what it was, a movie theme song for The General Public, which meant it would be somewhat narrative, have a theme or lesson within it, and at some point it would reach soaring heights like an eighties power ballad, and the singer would raise her fist or hit her chest or something intense like that because she feels the music.  It's like what the coaches on The Voice tell their team members.

Okay, so I listened to it, but it was just meh for me.  Even U2's song didn't move me.  And the little duet by the girl in the red dress with her strappy shoes parked picturesquely next to her and the amiable looking guy with the guitar was unremarkable and made me think of Once, except that Once was way better. The only song I truly enjoyed was the Happy one by Pharrell.  (I also thoroughly admired his outfit.)  As a matter of fact, here is a link to the song.  I like it that much.  The video is happy, and his style is wonderful.

For years I've been saying that having all of the Best Song nominees sung or played during the Oscar telecast is a real timesuck and a drag on the energy of the show.  Just play a snippet of each one as they are announced before the winner is read.  They do that with every single other award except Best Picture.  Aren't we putting an awful lot of weight behind a category that is, at best, a pretty extraneous one?  Most Best Song nominees are not even part of the movie; they're played at the end while the credits roll.  Can you even name last year's Best Song?  I have no idea.  Can you name 2012's Best Song?  How many Best Songs can you even name?  I can name a helluva lot of Best Actors, Best Pictures, Best Actresses.  I can maybe, maybe name three or four Best Songs, and that's only because my buddy Roger and I used to have a seriously cutthroat Oscar Pool for about fifteen years.  We picked everything, even the shorts and foreign language films.

When is the last time you went to a film and said, "I expected more from that film.  The song at the end was terrible"?  Or, after having heard the list of Oscar nominees, sent a text to a friend that said, "Let's go see Mandela. Just got a nod for Best Song!"  Never.  Come on.

The running gag for all awards shows, especially the Golden Globes and the Oscars, is that it inevitably runs long, sometimes way long.  When will they do The Smart Thing and cut the performances of Best Song? Who is going to raise a serious objection?  Will musicians riot in the streets?  Do you think all the Hollywood headliners and the seat-fillers, who are starving and wearing three layers of Spanx or corsets and have not eaten anything but iceberg lettuce and green smoothies laced with  Benefiber for the past week will care?  Ha. It is to laugh.

I am more than happy to be The Bad Guy here and make this decision for everyone.  Consider it one of the many things I can sanction under the purview of the Dept. of Nance.

*NOTE*  Blogger and Feedburner are not making nice for some reason.  My email subscribers are suffering the consequences. I apologize, and I am doing what I can on this end.

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Sunday, March 02, 2014

Speak

Today's question is pretty straightforward.  Unfortunately, it will tarnish my reputation irretrievably in the eyes of thousands of people forever.  Oh, well.  As Lynn Anderson famously sang in 1970, "I never promised you a rose garden."  Here we go:

Do you speak more than one language fluently?  If so, how did you learn it?

Sigh.  The short answer is "No."  I hope you're happy now, Meme Mistress.  Thousands of my former students the world over are disillusioned and prostrate with incredulity.  Allow me to explain.

In my long career as a high school teacher (and one strange year at junior high), I used to, after giving directions, ask in several different languages, "Do you understand?".  A great number of my students used to make the assumption that I spoke all of those languages (French, Spanish, Japanese, Finnish among them), an assumption I did not take special care to disabuse them of.  I know enough French to be able to understand the language, to construct conversation, and to translate written French.  This also amazed and stunned my students, many of whom were only in first- or second-year French.

Additionally, my sons were in Spanish for all four years of their high school careers, attending the same school at which I taught.  I picked up enough Spanish from them and from living in my hometown for my whole life, a city which was home to the highest concentration of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans per capita, second only to New York City.  (Although, it must be noted that most of my Spanish-speaking friends back home spoke Spanglish.)  I could understand some Spanish and because it was so similar in some ways to French, I could translate it, too.  It also helped that I used to read Sesame Street anthologies to the boys, and they were chock full of Spanish vocabulary.  I tend to remember anything I am interested in, no matter how arcane, so Spanish stayed in a brain cubby along with birthstones, anatomy, and the lyrics to "Itchycoo Park" by The Small Faces.

Jared's and Sam's fluency in Spanish translated to a hike in their wages when they sought work in retail. Their ability to act as translator for customers was a desirable skill.  Their Spanish teacher early on was a dear friend of mine, Teresa, who both boys still adore and have vowed to take a bullet for. One of the most entertaining things was when, on car trips or even errands, Jared would translate song lyrics into Spanish, even partially, so that we could sing them that way.  My personal favourite:  El Partido de Crying.

My father was one hundred percent Croatian, first generation American, but because his mother wanted to be an American so badly, she forbid the language to be spoken in the house.  Consequently, he never really learned any, and neither did I.  I'm sorry about that.  I can't pass any of that on to my sons.

Some of my students claimed I didn't speak English because of the words I used and because of my correct pronunciation.  "You're not from around here, are you?" they used to ask.  "No, I'm not," I'd say.  "How did you know?"  They would look so proud, and someone would say, "You don't talk like anyone around here.  You talk different.  You talk proper and stuff.  Where you from then?"  It always killed them when I told them I was from the next town over.  Sometimes I do miss that; they're so easy.

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