Humor Me, My Child

Walking in Target today, my eldest weedling turns to me and says, “My teabag has burst.” In the context of can opener shopping, this didn’t make any sense, so i asked her to repeat it. “I’m pretty sure my teabag has burst.” Now i have to assume that this is slang, probably for something disgusting. I start to respond, “I……”, but i am at a loss for words as the possibilities of what this could mean zip thru my head like a squirrel on diet pills. Seeing my confusion, she proceeds to tell me that to keep her combat boots – her daily foot attire- from stinking, she placed an herbal teabag in each one that morning. Then proceeded to wear them.

I have no non-flippant response to this, so i move on.

Later, when we are at the car, she removes her boot, and sure enough, a flurry of twigs and leaves flies out into the wind like an elvish  treasure. Then she plucks a pathetic looking bit of sticky paper, the teabag itself, from her sole and resets her boot. I am thinking that if i tried to explain this situation to one of my international friends, they would think it a mis-translation. I can’t help myself. I chuckle til i snort.

My weedlings make me laugh. Sometimes unintentionally, but most often not. They each have a wonderful sense of the absurd. The oldest has a talent for off-the-cuff song lyrics that can pull a giggle out of thin air. The middle is the master of the sarcastic response. The youngest is truly gifted with a pun. And when i say that our home is often filled with us singing, i mean it literally. My son and i do a fantastic version of the Underdog theme, complete with harmony. And under the tutelage of my oldest, we have a song and dance routine that mimics the insanity of navigating a crowded airplane aisle. We frequently go about our household chores quoting movie lines back and forth. And all the while, we are laughing.

Humor is an underrated virtue. In the face of sadness, of stress, of tragedy, and sickness; humor can bring relief, even if it isn’t socially acceptable. After tough days, sometimes all i need is to hear my son sing. On especially disastrous days, it may take watching Llamas With Hats with my daughters to get my breathing back to normal. But they never fail to bring about that improvement. Not just for me, but for everyone around them. After all, the best humor is universal.

Italians tell stories of passion. the Irish tell stories of laughter. Since we are both, my children and i can make you laugh with a passion. And we relish in it. We love to give that gift. To relieve the pressure. To render the darkness insignificant. We have that power. No, we are not alone in our ability… There are so many who possess the same superpower. But i’d put my weedlings up against any of them to run neck and neck. They have it. And they know how to use it.

My weedlings do a funny schtick that is an imitation of me trying to balance, unsuccessfully, a pitcher of water from a dinner half a year back. The next time you are feeling down, ask them to recount it. Or ask my middle daughter to do “The Evil Giraffe”. Or ask my oldest to tell you what lights up and blinks. Or, if it’s been the worst day ever, my son and i will sing “Underdog” for you. I promise it will make you feel better. And in the process of helping you, we will feel better, too. Because, really, what improves your day more than making someone else smile?

Misty

Johnny Mathis is playing in the background. I set it to play. On purpose. Because it’s Mother’s Day weekend. And my Ma is Johnny Mathis’ music. So on this weekend every year, i take some time to listen to him croon and think back to the better memories i have of her. Aaaaahhhhhhh… “Chances are, ‘cuz i wear a silly grin….” There are other things that remind me of Ma: The unmistakable scent of Aliage, Easter peeps, antique shops… But nothing draws me straight to memories of her like Johnny Mathis. He was her favorite, so to me, he reeks of nostalgia.

My Ma wasn’t perfect. In fact, at times she was a train wreck. When i was younger and less understanding, i harbored secret stashes of poisoned anger. But as i’ve aged and become aware of my own frailties and failures, it is easier to step around the black tar and concentrate on the patches of green grass that grew, if sporadically, theatrically fabulous. Both the oily sludge and the fragrant lawn offer lessons, but given that it’s Mother’s Day, i’ll let the cool blades tickle my toes and leave the sticky, smelly gunk to my therapist. Contained within the emerald sod are lessons that i have taken to heart. These things are as pure Ma as “The Twelfth of Never”.

Even if you are on your last dime and have little to your name, share with others. Ma would literally give the coat off her back or her last slice of bread to any soul who needed it. Didn’t matter if they were King Arthur or a fallen addict. Ma would invite them to the table. She’d make them a pallet or offer them the couch. They became family and were treated as such. This proved, more than once, not to be the smartest move for safety or security; but it was indisputably the truest move for her heart. I can’t come close to her example, i’m far too cautious with who i open to. But i do try to take the idea to heart.

Don’t be afraid to try new things. If some new ethnic food set up shop in town, Ma was one of the first customers. It could be rumored that they were slaughtering raccoons for the meat in the stew, the Health Department could have given them a stack of warnings, and Ma would give it a shot anyway. New, exotic fruit in the produce section? She might not know what to do with it, but she’d buy one and figure it out. If a Martian landed in the back yard and offered a pulsating, radioactive sandwich, Ma would take a bite. She loved new taste sensations. The adventure of it was thrilling to her. That thrill lives on in me the same way. The simple act of a new food experience brings such joy, if you let it.

When confronted with a person of difference, help them accentuate their own personal positive. I remember one evening long ago, i was dressed in a black plastic jumpsuit, ass-kicking boots, slicked hair, with a spider web painted on my face, ready to go dancing at the club. Ma took one look at me and frowned. But instead of telling me i looked like an idiot or that plastic didn’t constitute “clothing”, she told me that my spider wasn’t glittery enough. We washed my face, and she spent half an hour painting me a new web… complete with a stunning, sparkly spider making its way down my cheek. And as she did so, in her own version of “Anything worth doing is worth doing well”, she told me that there was no shame in being a freak, as long as i was the best freak i could be. I need to OWN my freakiness. Make that spider so damned beautiful that no one could dare tell me it didn’t belong there. That philosophy has worked for me and my weedlings. When we make choices outside the norm, we make them decisively. We own them. And we dare anyone to tell us we’re wrong.

The other side of that token: Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Or rather, when you feel you are wrong. My idea of wrong and yours may not be the same. But if i feel i have screwed up, i try to say so and fix what i can. It isn’t easy. In fact, it sucks. I do a lot of stuff wrong. That makes for an awful lot of apologies. But a clear conscience is a valuable reward. Only differing opinions on whether i am wrong make it difficult. Well, that and expecting other people to do the same.

No one is beyond hope. No drug addict, no alcoholic, no -ic of any kind is so far gone that they don’t have a chance at being a free soul. Everyone has a monkey or two on their back. Don’t judge the monkey and don’t assume it is chained there permanently. Have faith. I watched my Ma shed King Kong himself, so i know that it is possible. You don’t have to be the zookeeper, but don’t be afraid to offer an encouraging word. Words can build foundations of determination, and that determination helps in sedating the primates long enough to pull them off.

God moves mountains, but he expects you to bring a shovel and help dig. Faith gives you strength, but action gives you results. No amount of prayer will get the war won, but fighting without a higher purpose will gain you nothing. It is no simple task sometimes to combine these two things, but it’s the only way to reach the goal. It is made easier when you surround yourself with people who do the same. Then you can help each other dig and the mountain gets moved all the faster.

Be yourself. Even during the darkest of times, Ma was always Ma. Authentic. True. There was no Diva Ma, no Bitchy Ma, no Charming Ma. There was just Ma. One could argue that there was Drunken Ma and Sober Ma, but even between those two masks, she was still Ma. Still herself. I never had the foresight to ask her if she really was that comfortable being herself, or if it was a “fake it ’til you make it” kind of thing. But whatever the reason, it showed me that there is a certain comfort in predictable authenticity. Both for oneself and for others. The masses may not adore you, but they know and can bank on what to expect from you
at any moment. Life becomes much easier for everyone.

Are these lessons the ones i should have taken from her? Are these the types of things that make Mother’s Day worthwhile? “It’s Not For Me to Say”. But so much of me is derived from Ma. A lot good. Some, not so much. And that’s ok. It makes me, well, me. And that, my friends, is “Wonderful! Wonderful! Oh, so wonderful my loves!”

Grateful Praise

“For the beauty of the Earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise!”

It’s a gorgeous day. Sunny, blue-skied, fluffy clouds, slight breeze. Steering towards hot, but not there yet. I go to the farmers’ market. Sundress and sandals and bangles and raspberry lip stain (Just in case a kilted Liam Neeson happens to be there and wants to kiss me…) I can’t help but smile. I’m here to buy herb plants and local veggies. And tho i complete that task, the bulk of my time is spent wandering. Local artisans ply their wares: Jewelry, paintings, clothing, yard ornaments, toiletries and gewgaws. Local cooks hawk their specialties: Jams, sauces, spices, breads, cakes, and cheeses. Toddlers in cute Sunday outfits delight in marshmallow pop-guns. Blue-haired women of scores of years scarf freshly fried corn dogs. Rough, ungainly men try the skin-softening magic of handmade hand cream. Candles and cutting boards. Horseradish and holsters. You never know what you will find or who you will see. (Tho i have yet to see Liam Neeson).

Home with my loot, i begin Sunday chores. I string up the clothesline. I always feel like Grandma Walton when i hang wash on the line. It’s a really good feeling. Makes me smile. Apartment windows open so the breeze comes in. Plant my new seedlings on the patio: Tomatoe, thyme, rosemary. Vacuum. Walk the dog around the flowering apartment complex. Answer some mail. Set the music to Danny Elfman while i sip on a small, cold glass of wine. Typical weekend activities that hold no significance.

This is life.

The day of weedlinglessness grows ever nearer. It’s important for me to remember that life will go on. Weedlings or not. And if i can enjoy a beautiful day of solitude like today, then what have i to dread? Extra time to smell the roses. Or the rosemary. Even if i never had another date for the rest of my life, i’ve got so much to do and enjoy… How can i allow myself to be maudlin? How can i sit this evening, the scents of herbs wafting around me, the sounds of birds and frogs and leaves in the wind, and not be content?

Because i sometimes forget that “alone” doesn’t mean “unloved”.

And at those moments, i usually receive a sign. A text from an old friend. Or a new friend. A lick from my dog. An invitation to dinner. A call from a weedling. A fortune cookie that reads “Alone doesn’t mean unloved.” (God-Goddess-Universe knows i am sometimes rather thick, so the signs are often blatant). How grateful i am for those signs! They allow me to put my loneliness aside and be joyous. The beauty of the Earth! The glory of the skies! Shoes and ships and sealing wax! Cabbages and Kings! Manalive! Towanda! Up, up and away! And yippee-ki-yay! It’s Howdy Doody time!

Even as we destroy this planet, there is a lot of beauty to be had still. Each honeysuckle blossom. Each kitten. Each babbling brook. I may never get to enjoy Liam Neeson, but i can enjoy these things. And i do. Everyday. Don’t let me forget. And i will remind you, too. We can be joyous together. Take our routine activities and make them special by seeing the magic in them. Noticing the beauty. The flavor. The glory. We all can do it.

Maybe, someday, we can even learn to see it in each other.

Ring the Bell

I know this place.
I know it too well.
Many times i have stood at this gate
Expecting The Master to answer.
Each time
Every time
The wrong entrance.
By now i should recognize this door
Recognize it from the sidewalk, no less.
I should know these pickets
These posts
The wrought iron of the handle, even.
But here i stand
Yet again.
Same gate.
No Master.
Yet again.
It may be forgetfulness.
Or maybe just lack of attention.
Or a bad sense of direction.
But here i am again.
Like a long lost Jehovah’s Witness.
Reading signs on the door
“No Loitering”
“No Salesmen”
“No Trespassing”
No need to reach for the handle
Nor to knock on the door.
The Master isn’t here.
Not even hiding behind the door and Refusing to answer.
Sick and angry
To see my face again at the gate.
Please, Sir
Please
Don’t sic the dogs on me again. I Promise  i won’t come back.

But we both know i am lying.

I will return, again and again.
Never recognizing the path to the gate
Until it’s too late.
I know this place.
I know it too well.

Judgement Day

I have been described as “non-judgemental” by people who know me. I have always strived to be that way, never wanting to make another feel bad for their preferences or choices or for who they are. I know what it’s like to be under such scrutiny and i would never choose to do it to another. That being said, i found myself horrified last night. Waiting at a stop light, i watched a woman come out of a local burger joint. Close to me in age with the build of a typical southern Little League mom. She had on twill shorts and a Tshirt… Nothing to attract attention. And she was obviously out with her husband and weedlings for a fun Friday evening. But what thoughts ran through my head as i took that quick glance?

I wondered if she knew her rolls and muffin-top were accentuated by that tight Tshirt. I visualized handing her a hair brush. I said a hopeful prayer that someone would send her for a proper bra fitting.

And why? She didn’t appear miserable. In the half-second that i saw her, she appeared to be having a good evening. Her husband and boys didn’t seem to take any notice of those things. So who the hell am i to pass judgement? When it hit me that i was criticizing a woman i don’t know for not meeting some arbitrary standard of mine, as i said, i was horrified. I had become the judgemental person i reprimand.

Thinking over it later, i realized that i do it more often than i would have thought. The rotund girl in the daisy dukes. The insanely busty woman who goes braless. The gal in the Sponge Bob pajama pants at the grocery store. The one who wears the fluorescent orange eye shadow. The sandal-clad broad with hobbit feet. The stranger at the beach who appears to be smuggling a rabbi in her swimsuit. I have shaken my head at every single one of them. How dare i.

It’s not like i haven’t gone out in public, seen pictures later, and wished i could take it back. I have. And there have been times when i didn’t care. I didn’t feel well. I was in a hurry. Or i was in such a good mood that i didn’t notice. I wonder how many people shook their heads at me at those times? I have pictures of me in cutoffs where i think i look happy and beautiful, and pictures of me in elaborate gowns where i look defeated and dumpy. So who is to say which outfit was the better choice?

We say that we should be allowed to dress up or not according to our own taste and comfort. That clothes do not make the woman. That our style should be a reflection of who we are, not what others expect us to be. That we should dress to make ourselves feel good. But we also say that we women should take pride in ourselves. That we should make the most of what we have. That we should dress to impress and to project our best selves. To do all of those things seems like an inherently impossible task. Some of those things are mutually exclusive for most of us. And most of us don’t have just one “self” to project.

There are two women whose style and carriage i admire, but whose approach to appearance is diametrically opposed to each other. One is a very regal black woman. She favors flowing skirts, long jackets, precise makeup, and heels. Her fingers and ears twinkle with baubles and gems. When she enters a room it is impossible not to notice her confidence. She is kind and gracious and all those things that a lady is supposed to be, and you can tell it from the way she clothes herself. I’m not sure i’d recognize her in pajama pants.

The other woman is equally arresting, but for a totally different reason. Generally found in jeans and a casual Tshirt or flannel, devoid of makeup, straight hair sparkling clean but free of adornment. Her only jewelry, the wedding band to her beautiful wife. Her wardrobe is distinct in its non-descriptness. When you meet her, you are struck by her confidence, her comfort in her own skin, and the blue of her eyes that rings clear like the perfect spring sky. If i saw her in a classic shift, i think it would stop my function cold.

Is the former too involved in her appearance? Does she deserve to be criticized for refusing to answer the door without lipstick? Does the latter deserve any disdain for preferring a well-tailored suit and brogues to a chiffon sundress and sling-backs? Of course not. They are both stunningly beautiful, and their choices are perfect reflections of who they are. So why is it when i see a woman with children in hand and a smile on her face, i can’t think the same of her attire? If i took longer than a second to look at her, really LOOK at her, would i accept her choices more readily? Am i criticizing her, in effect, because i don’t know her? Because i can’t justify her choice based on my knowledge of her? How condescending of me.

I may never get to the point where i can accept leggings and a sports bra as clothing for anyone who isn’t immediately pre- or post- run. I may never be able to overlook ripped and filthy clothing on anyone who isn’t involved in laborious work. I think those things are too entwined in my beliefs on self-worth. But i can most certainly train myself not to dog another woman for committing some fake crime of fashion. I can teach myself not to assume that, just because i am not aware of them, there aren’t reasons for her choices. And i can learn to accept the fact that i have no right to pick-apart a woman’s wardrobe like some over-zealous editor of Harper’s Bazaar. Not only can i, but i must. As hard as it is to kill an old habit, it is even harder still to allow myself to be something i revile.

I’m An Expert

Twice today i was asked for advice. One was on a topic i am well-versed in. The other was about something that, well, i had to ask myself if they sent the text to me by accident. Surely no one who knows me would use my take on the subject as anything but humor. In any case, it got me to thinking… In my life, i have seen a lot, been thru a lot. I guess that makes me a decent source of advice for quite a few things. But i’m not the Highlander, so there are still many life experiences i have yet to deal with. Shall we rummage thru a general list, in case you should ever need my advice?

– I have traveled quite a bit outside the country. If you need advice on compact packing, surviving layovers, approaching locals, or how to carry your money safely, i’m your gal. But my sense of style is based on practicality, comfort, and looking classier than i am… So if you want advice on how to fit 4 pair of slut shoes into your carryon, you’ve got the wrong broad.

– Given my line of work, i can give you a decent explanation of tests and conditions relating to Cardiology, Radiology and women’s health. And as a mother of three with long term MDD, i have a reasonable grasp of childhood ailments and mental health. I am happy to impart what knowledge i can. But please don’t ask me if your neurologist is taking proper care of your brain tumor or if you should see a dermatologist about that boil on your bum. I have no flipping idea. (And i REALLY don’t want to see that boil!)

– I spent a generous part of my childhood in a home where alcohol, drugs and various types of abuse were routine. I will help anyone i can to deal with those circumstances or the scars they leave, as my sister and i are living proof that you don’t have to succumb to statistics. But after all we went thru, please don’t ask me to help you put another person thru it. That just makes me want to hurt you.

– I have been married and divorced three times. Two of those, with the fathers of my children, remain amicable. So if you want advice on how to keep a civil relationship after divorce or how to co-parent with an ex, i can give you some ideas that will hopefully get you started on a good path. I can also tell you what i know about divorce law. But if you want my advice on marriage, you might want to request my advice on mental health instead. Just sayin’.

– I have studied and taken extensive college courses in comparative religion. I love good discourse on faith and spirituality, and i am blessed to know people of various religions who are good walking examples of their faiths. If you need a sounding board for your evolving faith or need someone to accompany you to a new religious service, just ask. But if you want me to condone your defamation of a religion that you don’t like, just go ahead and kiss my arse. That’s what it will come to.

– Since i minored in cultural geography in college, see the last bullet for other cultures as well.

– I am a Star Trek fan. If you want a good old-fashioned debate on Kirk vs. Picard, the evolution of the Klingon Empire, or why i think Jadzia Dax was the sexiest ST character EVER, i will be more than happy to do so. Especially after a glass of wine. But ask me about Star Wars, and i’ll start quoting Space Balls on you.

– I can quilt, crochet, sew, and tat lace… But i don’t have the attention span to do large or intricate projects in spite of the fact that i keep my closet stocked for them. So if you are in need for chartreuse yarn and the store has already closed, give me a call. If you want to learn to make a granny square or how to do Irish Chain, invite me over for coffee. If you ask how long it would take me to alter and re-line your brother-in-law’s authentic Civil War reenactment uniform… The very real answer is, “Longer than it takes to read Crime and Punishment.”

– I am a 48 year old woman with kids, curves, and scars. If you want some brand names of large-cup bras that do their job, i’ll let you rifle thru my bureau. If you slip your 22 year old size 2 body into a pair of see-thru jeggings and ask me if they make your ass look fat, my only advice will be some authentic Italian hand gestures.

– I am a tea whore. Seriously. I love the taste, smell and tradition of tea. I buy from a Master Blender, and i can identify the teas “notes” like others deconstruct wine. Tea is my both my caffeine and my valium. The making of it is therapeutic to me. If you are looking for a perfect blend or want to put together a tea gift basket, i am full of ideas! If you want to know how many lipton bags to put in your windowsill iced tea jug, you are out of luck.

– I am a writer. I love words. Especially ones that make you laugh or think. If you received a thoughtful gift and want to word a special thank you, if you are doing the crossword and need an eight letter word for “unreal” , if you got a snarky email and need a witty retort… Honey, i’m all about it. But if you ask me to proofread a message that is essentially a string of texting vernacular, expect to get a raised eyebrow and a witty retort.

– Lastly, what i write on here is who i am. For better or for worse, this is me. If you are having to host a dinner party that includes a rabbi, a Croatian fish farmer, and a transvestite, i’d be happy to attend and keep everyone involved in the conversation. Hopefully, i will also keep them all laughing and help them realize that we all have a lot in common. But if you need someone to speak on the tragedy of orphan beatings at a general assembly of the Papal council, for the love of God, don’t ask me!

We all have our areas of expertise. Every single human on this Earth has a gift that is meant to be shared and wisdom that is meant to be imparted. Most of us have a fair idea of what we can speak intelligently about in times of crisis. To identify the ones who have no idea? Ask them what they can’t tell you about.

Never Pretty. Always Beautiful

I am not a pretty woman. From what we see and hear in our world, beauty is about a flawless, symmetrical face with a tiny waist, rock-hard bum, perky breasts, long, flowing locks and an age that is never more than 28. I have lines and crags and freckles and scars and dry skin and smooshy parts and a barely-there bum and I have never found a way to defeat gravity. But as depressing as that is, I take comfort in the fact that most women are like me.

Tho we women flog ourselves daily for not being pretty, no one else seems to care. We scrub and scrape and color and cut and spackle and Bond-O and nip and tuck. We squeeze ourselves into shoes that will eventually deform our feet. We inject ourselves with plastics and poisons. We paint ourselves with chemicals known to cause cancer. We pay good money for just the right amount of radiation burn.  We strap ourselves in and suck ourselves up and point ourselves out just right. Every day. All in hopes that someone will notice and think we are pretty. And yet, I’ve never heard a man say that any of these things impresses him enough to call it love.

And really, isn’t that what we are all wanting? The need to feel pretty isn’t about knowing that we are Vogue-worthy, it’s about getting the attention of a love interest. One who is smart and handsome and well-off and well-appointed and romantic and rugged (No small amount of pressure for our menfolk there). But those men aren’t after the young and palpably sexy blonde, so why do we strive to be like her? I don’t deny those women are pleasing to look at. And I don’t deny that I, given the opportunity, wouldn’t want to take one home myself. But is that walking list of beauty editor favorites any more likely to find love than we are?

I have known a few truly pretty people. Men and women both. And none of them is any more successful at love than the rest of us schmoes.  I think, and as I get older, I am really starting to believe that what attracts love is beauty. And, honey, beauty sometimes ain’t pretty.

The ones I know who appear to truly have found the sort of love we all seek won’t be on the cover of Vanity Fair. They have wrinkles and sags and mommy-tummies. They aren’t always decked out in their finest. They burp and sweat and have strange laughs and morning breath and sometimes forget to shave. They dig in the garden, nurse their children, clean the bathroom, scoop the innards out of the turkey. In other words, they are schmoes just like us. But if you look closely, you will see something else. And if for some reason you can’t see it, you can tell that their spouse does.

Ask the spouse and they’ll tell you. It’s in the way she laughs like Cliff Claven on Cheers. It’s the way she yells at the TV when her team makes a great play. It’s the fact that she can fix both the ceiling fan and a standing rib roast. It’s the way she closes her eyes when she eats something decadent. It’s in her intellect, her humor, her goofiness, her character. But, mostly, it’s in her eyes.

As much as the eyes are the window to the soul, they are also the window to love. And tho it would seem logical to compare it to a magnet or a tractor beam, it is really more like the sun. When she glances over at him, sweaty and stinky and covered in grass after playing with the kids on the front lawn, her eyes appear like a sunrise. A glowing beam of warmth and respect and genuine affection. When she glances at him, his evening drink in hand, legs kicked out on the back porch while listening to cicadas and tree frogs, her eyes become like a sunset. Deep and rich and dark with the promise of stars soon

And, oh, she can bring him stars. The more-than-ample bum becomes exactly what he likes, regardless of the fact that she often wishes it were smaller. It is what he wants because he has seen the sunrise and the sunset and the lovely afternoon in between. Because, though he, too, wishes he were taller and thinner and somehow better, in the end, all he wants is to see that look in her eye.

Following my logic so far, to be beautiful, we have to find love. And to find love, we have to be beautiful.

Hey, I never said my theories made sense.

But if I had to come up with a way to make it make sense, perhaps the love we need to be beautiful isn’t the love for another, but a love for ourselves and for life. A love that allows us to take joy in a fragrant blossom, a delicious flan, a sweet kitten… A magnificent thunderstorm, a kick-ass guitar lick, an unlikely touchdown. Maybe that’s the kind of love that brings it back to us.

And if that’s the case, then we all have a chance. Even those of us with rolls and gas and hairy toes. Even those of us with chapped lips and unibrows and back fat. Even those of us who are old or chubby or plain. Even those of us who aren’t pretty.

Thank God

Herbert Was Wrong

They tell me it’s because i’m getting older. All these things that keep popping up. Getting lost. Falling off. I just keep thinking to myself, “That can’t be right. I’m not old.” As an American woman, i’m supposed to be in my prime. OK, maybe the saying is about sexual prime, but it stands to reason that you wouldn’t hit your sexual prime only to have your body and brain fail for no good reason. I hope God isn’t that kind of Sadist.

I am reasonably fit. I eat healthy most of the time. My weight is spot on the recommendations. I sleep a full night. I take medicines as directed. I don’t overindulge in alcohol. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I try to meditate. I try not to break the law. I wear my seatbelt. And i don’t wear white pants after Labor Day. Yet i am plagued. Cholesterol. Shingles. Menopause (OK, maybe that isn’t a bad thing after all), bifocals, bunions, hypertension that causes other complications, osteoporosis, wrinkles, sags, bags… And now i’m losing my mind.

My similarly middle-age friends tell jokes about going into a room and forgetting why they’re there. They lose their keys. They can’t recall phone numbers. They draw a blank on the name of their partners’ favorite beer. They miss important dates. They forget to thaw the chops for dinner. Me? I accidentally call my daughters by each others’ names. I have accidentally called my son my dog’s name. I have stared at the dog and for the life of me can’t remember the word for that species of animal. And when i get angry or excited or giddy? The words in my head come out in the wrong order. And not like Yoda, either. Like a verbal Yahtzee toss. It’s frustrating as hell. To be there, mouth open, word at the back of my mouth and i can’t bring it forth. And it gets scary when i hear a thought come out of my mouth and it makes no sense.

As a writer, words are important to me. I will delete whole paragraphs from a piece of work if i can’t find the perfect word for a single thought. I love my Thesaurus. And much like Charlotte from her web, i will yell from my laptop to my weedlings to request ideas for a word that means suchandsuch. I try to say and write exactly what i mean. To be unable to pull those words out of my brain is like craving Chick-Fil-A on a Sunday. Vexatious. To hear gibberish come out of my mouth is more like hearing Elmo swear. Sacrilege.

Now, i realize that it seems far worse to me than to those around me. I am able, sometimes, to recognize that my mouth is awry and manage to shut it before spouting off like a word puzzle from the Sunday paper. And perhaps my panic magnifies the issue in my personal reality. Perhaps i don’t deal well with stress, and it short-circuits my brain when i can’t maintain calm. Perhaps all people my age say “cat” when they mean “coffee” on occasion. Perhaps all our brains are so full, at this age, that the files get jumbled. Perhaps the cumulative effects of weed and Bovine Growth Hormones and red dye #5 are catching up with my generation and having a bad impact. Perhaps we all are losing our memory bit by bit. Perhaps. But, damnit, I DON’T LIKE IT! I DON’T WANT IT! AND I REFUSE TO ACCEPT THE FACT THAT I AM NO LONGER YOUNG!

Ma was just a couple of years older than i am now when she died. This makes it difficult to assess how i compare in the familial trend, though i remember my grandmothers from both sides being sharp and acute til the very end, and they were much longer lived. I hesitate to compare my brain to the men before me because, well, let’s face it… Male brains are a different animal entirely. Both my body doc and my head doc tell me that this is all normal, and that if i could learn to control my stress better, my brain will respond (As will the blood pressure, the shingles, the tmj… Pretty much everything but the bunions.) But i regularly attempt meditation, and i always fall asleep. I tried yoga, but the sweaty mats made me schieve. I considered running, but my boobs begged to differ. Tai Chi moves too slow. BioFeedback isn’t covered by my insurance. I’m too poor for regular massages.  And weed is illegal. So what is left? I write. I walk. And i bitch to my girlfriends. I may still be stressed out, but i’d hate to see what i’d be like without those things. I’d probably explode like in that old movie Scanners. And that would give my children nightmares, so that option is out.

In my all-time favorite book, Flowers For Algernon, i still cry every time i get to the part where Charlie starts to lose his edge. The pain of him knowing what is seeping away is so profound that it stabs me right through the pages. And i worry it will happen to me. Even knowing in my head that i am no worse off than anyone else my age, my soul still panics at the thought of losing my intellect. I have no doubt that my healers are correct and that obtaining some zen, some way, some how, will improve my health and clarity. Tho i may still misplace my dog, i will at least be able to remember her species. It’s an improvement anyway.

In Dune, when Paul is tested by the Bene Gesserit, he recites a mantra to remind him that fear is the mind killer. I disagree. It isn’t fear. The real mind killer is stress.

The Breakfast Cereal Aisle of Life

I remember years ago reading an essay by a man who was born and raised in Soviet Russia. He was describing his first visit to an American supermarket. He said he nearly had a breakdown in the cereal aisle in the face of so many choices. He was used to choosing between two or three. Over 100 choices available? Just for breakfast cereal??? It was overwhelming.

At the time, i found his crisis humorous. Too many choices… What a problem to have! With my second decade thinking, it seemed unfathomable for variety to cause an existential crisis. But now, at this moment, i get it.

While in the throes of panic from my middle weedling leaving the nest, i find myself in the midst of a unique opportunity. My oldest weedling is on her own, more than capable, and on her way to making her own niche. My youngest is about to embark on a transition year. And as for me, for the first time in my life, i have to make a life choice that has no connection to a man. Not  being happily married, not unhappily married, not wishing to be married… no man at all to consider. Just me and my own future. The immediate vision is like that of Montana in the springtime… Fresh new grass and budding stems for as far as the eye can see. How exciting! I can go anywhere! My life isn’t tied to any stake at all! The possibilities are endless! Yeah, baby!

And then i start to consider them. All those possibilities. And i feel like the man in the supermarket.

While it is true that my choices are narrowed somewhat by the need to have an appropriate atmosphere for my son, that really only takes the raisin bran off the shelf. There are still so many other choices! Too many. So i take away any place that has bad memories. Wheaties, off the shelf. Places with no work for me. Mini-wheats, off the shelf. Places too difficult to travel from. Cheerios, off the shelf. But there’s still Life and Apple Jacks and Sugar Smacks, and Cap’n Crunch. There’s still Special K and Chex and Cornflakes and Lucky Charms. All these choices. Each with their own taste and appeal and price. The pragmatist in me has started making lists and charts, comparisons of the many brands available. The gypsy in me visualizes the many bowls of color and texture. The child in me sits on the floor of the store and weeps in fear and fluster.

To quote Maria Von Trapp, “When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Only in my case, he has flung open windows, doors, hatches, chimney flues and skylights. So many escape routes, and nothing actually chasing me. Oh, the irony. The only thing i know for certain is that i have been given this opportunity for a reason. That God has trusted me with something very special – my own future. A blank slate, a full buffet, a veritable Kellogg’s factory of choices. And i take the responsibility very seriously. After all, after i buy the whole grain goodness, i’m the one who has to eat it.

So the Gypsy picks the child off the floor. The Pragmatist makes a list of the cereals that meet the nutritional, flavor and price requirements. And all three of them will converse til the choice is made. I’m sure the dry-goods manager and the other shoppers will find this amusing. But, i suppose, so what? You could say, “What’s the big deal? It’s just cereal?” But me? I say it’s life.

What The Flock

It’s an ovine world. A sheep’s world, that is (Don’t feel badly – I had to look it up, too). And most of those sheep are white.

The white sheep, they do what is expected. They live the WonderBread life. Work, spouse, kids… They vacation in Florida, they organize church picnics, they coach little league, they go to the gym . They invest our money, clean our teeth, teach our kids, run our cities. They are the bulk of our country.  And they are wonderful. They are the backbone on which our society stands. Yes, they sometimes follow each other off a cliff, but it’s that loyalty that keeps the nation from falling apart in times of strife.

The black sheep… Well, they come in shades from tan to jet, and they are ones exuding a passion. The actors, the musicians and dancers and artists… the ones who make us dream. The cops and firefighters and soldiers… the ones who keep us safe. The revolutionaries, the visionaries, the idealists, the life-poets. The movers and the shakers. And they are wonderful. They expand our field of vision and keep the white ones from becoming stagnant. Yes, the fire inside them sometimes burns too fiercely and they are removed, or remove themselves, from our world. But their legend and purpose live on.

And what of the sheep that are blue? What of the pink ones or green ones? The ones who think so differently, are filled with such uniqueness, that the masses don’t know what to make of them? The ones whose personae are so vibrant that they can only be viewed through photo negatives or cheap sunglasses. The perpetual Rudolphs. What of them? Tho they have a common bond of uncommonness, they are no group, no flock. They are the wanderers, the gypsies, the witches and hobbits and sprites.  No, they don’t build empires or paint chapel ceilings or run congressional committees. They don’t have typical attitudes or ideas or lives. They make us laugh, they make us cry, and they keep us paying attention. And they are wonderful.

I am the zebra striped one with the chartreuse legs and the tangerine tail. Which sheep are you?