Monthly Archives: January 2010

An Ode to my Father in Law

We made head-way in solving the world’s problems last night–my family, friends and myself.  Though I think may be on my husband’s “bad” list now as I’m only getting necessary words from him and no warm fuzzies.  But that’s OK for now; I’ll take it one problem at a time.

We had a casual family and friend gathering.  There was some wine involved, and vodka, and a little Lady Godiva White Chocolate liqueur, so lips were a little loose and tongues were a-wagging.  All was going well until a good friend suggested that my dear hubby was “high maintenance.”  My father-in-law and brother-in-law thought it absurd and called me in the room to verify.   I did. I verified my friend was right in her assessment.  It did little to appease the men.  We pulled my sister-in-law into the room and even got my mother-in-law involved.  There developed a definite divide.  We became more partisan than congress.  It was the women against the men.  

But the girl vs. boy thing was not the world problem we solved.  Amidst the laughter and vows to be self-sufficient, my father-in-law brought up an interesting point:  it was all a matter of perspective

And it is.  What I consider “high maintenance” is low maintenance according to others and vice verse.  The thing is, and here’s where we made progress in solving all the ills of society, I realized no one can ever be right, therefore no one can ever be wrong when a problem is a matter of perspective. 

Philosophers have been going on for centuries about perspective, but for some reason they haven’t gotten around to pointing out that NO ONE IS RIGHT when a problem is a matter of perspective.  They all seem stuck on the idea of changing your perspective as if that was the ultimate answer.  For at least 2 millenia we’ve been blathering on about finding an Archimedean Point so that we can completely remove ourselves from a situation to get a clear perspective–but did Archimedes give us steps on how to make it all right from there?  No.  More recently, in the last century, Richard Bach gave us the famous line:  Perspective–use it or lose it.  Great advice for looking at a situation from a different perspective, but again, what do we do from there? 

The Catholics and Protestants knew for centuries that they held different perspectives and ravaged war across Northern Ireland anyway.  The same could be said between the Israelis and Palestinians, vegetarians and carnivores, the Goths versus the Preppies in the 1980’s.  Everybody has a different perspective about what is right, wholesome and in good fashion.  And we all accept that, but what we neglect to remember is that when it’s a matter of perspective, NO ONE IS RIGHT.  So we say, “yes, they believe differently than I do, therefore I must make them agree with me.”  But that gets us no where.  Because no one is right to begin with.

So why fuss about it all?  Why not just acknowledge that no one’s right, including ourselves, apply kindergarten rules and  play nicely?

I’ll start at home by letting my husband know that even if I consider him high-maintenance, I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.  And I’m not expecting him to change at all.


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Filed under Age, Chaos, Definitions, Relationships

My Unwanted Advice

God, but I am good at giving advice.  Sometimes it feels like I’m channeling the wisdom of all the greats–Freud, Jung, Dr. Ruth, Dear Abby.  The words fly off the tip of my tongue, flow out the end of my pen, and pounce my fingertips over the keyboard with lightening speed.  I’m on target.  I’m insightful.  I’m often ill-timed and unwanted.

For some reason, whenever someone actually asks me for advice, I’m blank.  I come up with cliche’s that barely apply or I nod and smile wondering why the hell anyone thinks I have any answers about anything. 

But if you’re a stranger, say a female browsing the kids clothes at Target loudly complaining into your Blue Tooth about unwanted facial hair while the hair on your head is thinning, I’m ready and armed with suggestions to get your hormones checked.  I’ll have allegorical examples and I may even offer doctor names and phone numbers.  Usually I’m received with dirty looks and nasty “mind your own business” responses.  Sometimes people retreat out of fear.  So far no one has called for security, so I guess I haven’t done any real damage.

My poor family and friends put up with it, usually with few complaints.  They may have tuned me out at this point, I’m not sure if I’d know. Occasionally I’ll recognize myself in their troubles and wonder why I was never able to give myself that same kind of advice.  More often I wonder if perhaps I have an as-yet-unnamed form of Tourette’s Syndrome. Perhaps one day as I rant about in a Senior Center, there will be a note in my file reminding the caretakers I suffer from Unwanted-Opinion Disorder.  Hopefully my children will have forgiven me by then.

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One man’s treasure . . .

There’s a pile of art on a chair in my dining room.  It consists of the work of two artists, and is a selection of their best work, culled from a pile once stacked on a corner table.  And I’m not sure what to do with it. 

When my kids started going to school, like many other proud moms, I displayed their art on the refrigerator.  When it was full, I started replacing the old stuff with the new stuff.  Until the day my poor son spotted a masterpiece of his in the recycling bin.  Apparently it was an emotional stab in his sternum.  I pulled it out, photographed it, and put it back in the trash.  That’s when I started taking pictures of all their art, and added another item on my never-ending-to-do list:  make scrapbooks of their projects.  They never ask to look at the pictures, but if they see I’ve thrown something away, they do ask if I have it on a disk somewhere.  And that’s what the pile is on the table: their “better” pieces I’ve yet to photograph.  Only these particular ones, both my son and daughter feel they should keep because they are more “special” then the rest.  But keep where?  And for how long?  Are they going to take them to their college dorms?  Will they frame them and decorate their first apartment with them?

It’s a dilemma I’ve been dealing with since I had my children.  But it’s one shared by most adults, even those without kids.  What do you do with all the sentimental crap that means something to someone at some point but doesn’t anymore?

I once worked with a woman who was relieved the day her mother, in pre-diagnosis days of senior dementia, threw away all the track and field trophies in her china hutch.  My co-worker was actually grateful because she was saved from having to “inherit the shit” but her sister was grief-stricken and literally attempted to gain access to the landfill to try and retrieve her old awards.  And an old neighbor, who, thanks to her husband’s job, had made cross-country moves five times toting along her mother’s fox-trimmed silk bathrobe, matching mules and other favorites in boxes she hadn’t opened for close to twenty years because she didn’t know what else to do with it all. 

And now my husband’s grandfather is moving from his apartment, where he’s lived for over thirty years, into a senior center.  He doesn’t have much to pack, but what he does have is creating such grief for him that he’s stressed and distressed.  He recently handed me a box with anniversary cards sent to him and his wife for their silver anniversary–over forty years ago.  He was visibly shaken by not knowing what to do with them.  He didn’t  feel as if he had room for them in his new place, so could I take them?  Of course I could.   I told him I’d put them someplace safe.  And I did–“safe” has a relative definition, doesn’t it?  I put them in a dumpster.  Later I mentioned it to a friend because, though I had no idea what else to do with the box, I was feeling guilty.  I was hoping my friend would tell me I did the right thing.  She didn’t.

In fact, she was appalled by my callousness.  And yet, she couldn’t give me an alternative.  I asked her what I was supposed to do.  Should I stack his cards in a closet on top of a box of mine so that in forty years my grandchildren would be faced with the situation?  Is anyone’s life diminished by me throwing away the cards?  I did eventually get her to agree with me that it didn’t make sense for me to keep them, but she still felt it was wrong of me to just throw it all away as if it meant nothing. 

What other choice do we have, though?  We see the shows on TV about people who put too much sentiment and meaning into their possessions to the point where they can’t get rid of anything.  We call them hoarders.  We are nauseated by their messes.  We don’t understand how they can live like that.  We feel great pity for them because their “stuff” replaced the people or love that are now missing from their lives.  It seems so harmless to keep the hand-made mother’s day cards, but if you throw them in a box and only look at them when you find them in a hunt for something else, do you really need to keep them?  It doesn’t seem so.  But there’s such guilt involved in throwing them out. 

Really, if it’s the thought that counts, why do the things haunt us so?

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Weighty issues

The thing that sucks the most about being fat is having to lose weight. 

I’m not morbidly obese.  But the girth around my waist exceeds 35-inches and apparently that makes me a statistic for a variety of health issues, none of which are fun. 

It’s not that my diet is bad. I’m such a picky eater, I barely eat at all.  I only put enough down my throat to keep my blood sugar stable so that I don’t pass out.  I’ve logged my daily intake to see if I’m really eating more than I thought, and no, I was thinking correctly.  I eat somewhere between 1,200 and 1,600 calories a day–usually the higher number on the weekends because of my favorite cocktail (I said I was a picky eater, not a picky drinker).  So unless someone is slipping Ambien into my evening tea (or vodka), the weight issue must be one of exercise, right?

With that theory in mind I began the new year with the goal to exercise six times a week.  I pulled out my P90X CD’s that I bought last summer after stumbling onto Tony Horton’s infomercials and started in.  As it turns out, I’m only exercising about 3 times a week right now.  I just haven’t been able to hit that magic 6 number.  It just hurts too much. 

Why is there so much pain involved in losing weight when gaining it only gives you the occasional heartburn or broken jean zipper?  My arms ached so badly this morning I couldn’t get my jog bra on to do cardio (and when your chest far exceeds your stomach, you gotta put on a jog bra).  So I skipped today and promised myself I’d walk faster between my desk and the coffee pot.  If I do enough reps between 9 and 5, maybe I’ll be able to convince myself I did cardio all day long.  

I’ve been on this masochistic regimen for about 2 1/2 weeks now.  I know I shouldn’t be expecting results yet, but a little bit of something would be nice.  I weigh myself everyday and have seen the scale stay flat and occasionally, after a day of strength training it even goes up a little.  Which is more than a little demoralizing.  My ulta-skinny sister-in-law says I should expect it.  Apparently it’s inflammation from the work out.  It’s supposed to be a sign you were working hard.  I just don’t understand why I get punished like that for doing the right thing.  The universe isn’t supposed to work that way, is it? 

But I’m going to keep at it.  Even though it hurts and so far I’ve only gained weight.  And I added in a new element to the big plan to lose weight.  I started a cleanse yesterday.  At least it’s giving me some instant gratification.  I weighed myself first thing this morning and a couple hours later, immediately after spending a few minutes reading in the bathroom, I became a little curious and weighed myself again.  I lost 1 1/2 pounds since breakfast.  Amazing.  A little scary, too.  But I’ll take any loss I can get right now that doesn’t involve pain.

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I just donated money to Oxfam to help their efforts in Haiti.  Every little bit helps, right?  I’m hoping it helps someone.  It certainly doesn’t help me feel less helpful.

It’s such a horrible feeling, not being able to help people.  I’ve always had a romantic vision of Haiti—what it once was.  I always told myself if it ever was able to pull itself out of the poverty and despair that now defines it, I would go there and stay, permanently.  It was once so beautiful, so exotic.

And there’s a part of me that thinks, perhaps, just perhaps, this terrible, horrible, devastating event could be the catalyst that will turn it all around.  Perhaps the rebuilding efforts that are mandatory now will help bring Haiti and her people up to a better place, a happier place, a more beautiful place. 

But when you see the video and photos of the people in the street, the mothers and fathers wailing, the old and frail with bloodied bandages, such sentiment coming from a white woman in a nice suburban neighborhood sounds pathetically cliché.  After all, isn’t that what I tell my children when they get off the school bus ranting about the latest injustice?  Only two kids made it to the final round of the spelling bee!  They told us it would be 5 and they only took 2!  I didn’t make it!  

What’s my response?  Let it be the grit in your oyster.  Now you know what to expect next year.  They usually give me a look of disbelief, something more akin to a “dirty” look, and probably vow to themselves not to complain to me again (of course a vow that’s forgotten as soon they shout “that’s not fair” about something).

Yes, Pollyanna to the rescue.  And I can’t help but think that way now, about Haiti, though I’m sure if I were able to say something like Let it be the grit in your oyster to one of the people suffering there, they’d spit in my face, or worse.  And it does make me feel guilty for hoping something good comes out of the earthquake’s destruction.  A guilt I only now understand—to hope something good comes from something bad suggests you’re a little glad something bad happened, right?  But that’s not how I feel at all.  I’d rather have not needed the earthquake to make change, but since it happened, I’ve  a choice:  succumb to the despair, or hope for the best. 

Selfishly, I admit it’d be easier to feel hopeful if I knew the people in the midst of the tragedy felt the same way.

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Am I old?

God, I just can’t stand it.  But every bleeping day there’s yet another sign that yes indeedy, I’m getting old(er).

In an email I received yesterday, someone used the acronym FWIW to begin a paragraph.  I had no idea what it meant.  It took me an hour and two phone calls to figure it out:  For What It’s Worth.  (Which is much nicer and cleaner than anything I came up with.)

Of course I flew into a steaming diatribe against texting and how it’s degrading the English language and how we’re all going to be illiterates unable to read words with vowels within the next decade. 

But then, after I calmed down and had a cocktail last night, a different, and somewhat scary, perspective fuzzied up my logic.

The thing is, I can’t specifically say what’s wrong with texting.  The English language has never been static.  It’s in a continual state of flux and change.  It is different than it was 500 years ago, and almost unidentifiable from its form of 1,000 years ago–and nothing horrible happened because of that state of change. So why does it bother me so much when I experience it changing in front of me?

I think it’s because I’m getting older. 

Let’s face it, the world continues to change and go faster all the time and the only people who have problems with it are the older folk.

Like the elderly woman at Acme Grocer the other day.  She accidentally got in the self-checkout line, thinking it was a wider aisle for the handicapped.  While she fumbled with the machine and created a line of smug, sighing, eye-rolling impatients behind her, I could tell she was becoming more and more angry and defensive.  I stepped up to help her scan, bag and pay.  She thanked me, begrudgingly.  Then there was an off-hand remark about how “these damn machines” are destroying the world as we know it; making everyone anti-social.

Is it because I’m younger than she and have never had a checking account without a debit card that the self-checkout line only seems to make sense?  I don’t think I’m anti-social.  Most of the cashiers are rude as hell to begin with.  So if I have a chance to check out without dealing with them it makes me a happier person, hence more apt to be social with people I want to socialize with.

But, if I was thirty or forty years older and had come into adulthood speaking to “the girl” behind the counter as I write my personal check for my food, would I be as happy with the self-checkouts as I am now? 

And, if I was twenty or thirty years younger and had yet to develop my adult habits, would I still be upset with how texting is changing the way we spell and use grammar?

Perhaps fighting age has nothing to do with anti-wrinkle creams and plastic surgery.  Perhaps we should let go of the fight against graying hairs and start fighting ourselves whenever we insist on keeping the status quo. Prhps.

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Filed under Age, Commentary, Definitions

Hello world!

So I wrote a novel.  And because of that, I’m starting a blog.  In a sense, I’ve come full circle. 

If life is indeed a myriad of over lapping circles, the Venn Diagram of Me would have several devoted to reading and writing.  One of those circles would include me reading Catcher in the Rye upon Ms Fisher’s suggestion back in seventh grade.  In that same circle would be the inspiration to become a writer.  And you would also find a notation saying “disappointing mother, again.”  That last bit was inspired by the paragraph where Holden is describing his family and says his older brother, a writer, went “to prostitute” himself in Hollywood.

Prostitute?  That word had only one meaning to me back then, and it was one I had only recently learned.  But according to my new idol, Mr. Salinger, if I were to become a writer I’d have to prostitute myself.  How would I explain that to my mother?

Fast forward thirty years.  I call myself a writer and I’ve actually completed a novel.  I’m on the hunt for that perfect agent to represent me and lo!  I must make myself appear more marketable.  Upon the recommendation of nearly every writer-based magazine, conference, newsletter and website, I am convinced I simply must have a blog. 

I must allow the body of my work to be taken at will, used and discarded according to the whims of whatever audience I can attract.

Yes, Ma.  I’m a prostitute.

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