Thursday, November 4, 2010

what a difference a word makes.

Linus: [to Sally as she walks away with everyone else] Hey, aren't you going to stay to greet the Great Pumpkin? Huh? It won't be long now. If the Great Pumpkin comes, I'll still put in a good word for you!

[realizes what he just said]

Linus: Good grief! I said "if"! I meant, "when" he comes!

Linus: I'm doomed. One little slip like that could cause the Great Pumpkin to pass you by. Oh, Great Pumpkin, where are you?

There are multiple reasons this is on my mind, and the recently passed holiday is the least of them. The primary one is that I keep going back to something that appeared in my inbox recently. Usually when someone is having a tough time, you say something like "I'm here if you need me." This person said something to the effect of "I'm here when you need me," and it made all the difference in the world. "If" is conditional, transient. "When" is "I'm not going anywhere." It's more of a statement of faith, as Linus shows. Right now, that means a helluva lot.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

memories of you

Memories of You -- Ol Blue Eyes

This post has been rolling around in my head for weeks. I decided it finally needed to see the light of day, even if I can't clearly articulate what it is I'm trying to say.

Facebook has been a tremendous tool for getting back in touch with childhood pals, I'll give it that. What I haven't been prepared for is the way people remember me.

I get friend requests every now and then, and I always accept them and say what is the truth, that I never send them (well, almost never, unless it was someone I knew extremely well) because I never know if people remember me. I'm not trying to be modest, I'm being honest -- I really don't know, nearly 30 years later, what the people I knew in high school (or younger) remember of me.

To the gentleman who told me he wished he'd been kinder to me (you know who you are), you had and have nothing to worry about. I do have to say that one knocked me off my feet, though. As far as acts of kindness go, it wipes away whatever slights you perceive having made toward me. (I don't remember any, really. But that was a beautiful thing to say.)

But it's all the people who say things like "Of course I remember you! You were always so nice!" or "your smile is still as contagious as ever!" or whatnot who get me thinking. And mostly what I think is: Does life eff with people's basic personalities? Because of what I remember of myself in high school, cheerful doesn't really come to mind. ;-) And I certainly don't remember being overly kind or whatever. I remember being depressed as hell, largely, and having just a few close friends.

Was I really nice and generous and all that then? Am I now? Have the nastier parts of my post-high school life intervened to screw it up? I don't know. I know it's been forever, IF ever, since I've been able to see myself the way others see me. (Two therapists -- one current, one former -- and a friend both brought that up in the past week.) I don't think I am a particularly spectacular person. I just try to do the best I can with what I have and hope it's right.

Someone who lived just that way and who I loved a bunch died last week, and that's got me thinking too, and remembering. I don't know if he knew how much he meant to me and what an impact he had on me growing up. I have no idea if I succeeded in communicating that when I saw him last. But that I remember him unfailingly treating me as well as his own kids says something both about his character and about the way life ought to be lived.

I love you, Mr. P. And as for my childhood pals -- I don't know if I am, or ever was, the person you're remembering me as. But thanks for remembering good things.

Waking skies
At sunrise,
every sunset, too,
Seems to be
bringing me
memories of you.

Here and there,
scenes that we once knew.
And they all
just recall
Memories of you.

How I wish I could forget
those happy yesteryears
That have left a rosary of tears.

Your face beams
in my dreams
spite of all I do.
Everything seems to bring
memories of you.
Those memories of you.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Edited 6/3/10 to add link to article

Or, Man's inhumanity toward man, part 2.

When it's online I will come back and post a link, because it's well worth a read. But I just finished editing an update to the famous Stanley Milgram experiments.

Twenty-first century style, some idiot turned electrocuting people into a reality show.

Now, of course, just as in Milgram's original experiment, no one actually got shocked. It was all just some really good acting, but it made for some distressing insight into human behavior. The original subjects got paid; the "reality show" contestants got whatever the hell it is people who want to go on reality shows get, I guess -- well-fed egos, maybe.

Nevertheless, in both cases, about two thirds of the people administering the "shocks" kept going -- up to delivering what would have been fatal levels -- just because an "authority figure" told them to do it.


I have been thinking a lot lately about compassion, and who has it, and who doesn't. It would be nice to think it exists, even if only in smidgen format, in all people. But history has showed us otherwise. Hell, so has Milgram. When only 30 percent of folks will call a halt to hurting -- or KILLING! -- someone despite being told to keep going, mankind is in sad shape.

What brought it up for me today was this:

former restaurant critic on food stamps

I have been on both sides of this particular aisle. It's much uglier on the receiving end, I assure you.

Many years ago, I worked at my parish's food pantry. There was one mother of 7 who visited frequently. She always said how awful it made her feel, and I always told her, as I was packing bags for her, that there was no need to feel awful, that that's why we were there and it was OK and that everybody needs a little extra help now and then.

You know what? It's a LOT easier to say that and believe it when you go home to a fridge stocked full of food you both want to eat and were able to buy yourself.

I suspect a number of journalists who found themselves victims of the industry implosion over the last few years also found themselves in this guy's shoes. I did, for a time. It was the most humiliating experience of my life. I used to walk to the church a few blocks away that had free meals a couple of times a week, hide as much as I could (ball cap, hoodie, etc), keep my head down and pray no one would recognize me. The people who were dishing up dinner couldn't have been kinder, and I'm sure they would have told me what I told that mom -- there's no reason to be ashamed, etc. But there is still shame involved.

Is it put on us by ourselves or others? A little of both, I think. I don't have an answer for how to handle it. The standard "put yourself in the other person's shoes" not only goes just so far, but can lead to pity, and I, for one, am not interested in that, no matter the problem. I don't need you to feel sorry for me. I'm not sure I need you to tell me it's OK when I'm not in a position to hear and believe that. This guy is more fortunate than most; his background helped prepare him some.

I dunno. I don't have an answer, as I said. If I make you think after I make you feel, I'm content to leave it at that.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

this is what i'm talkin' 'bout.

I mean, really. It's bad enough when regular people (who you can have some hope of educating/shaming/etc) say crap like this, but medical folks??

Read the post, but especially the comments on the post.


Hey guys: There's a difference between a little dark humor to get you through the horrors of your day and openly mocking people who haven't had your good fortune and aren't equipped to slag you in return.

BTW: My history is significant for one of the same things (which apparently makes me mentally challenged) and I don't have a bowl haircut.

As one of my early writing coaches liked to say, "Gross generalizations are generally gross." Let's try not to make them, shall we? The world would be a much kinder place.

man's inhumanity toward man....

Today I went to an exhibit on race, sponsored in large part by Mayo Clinic. With 33,000 employees in a town of 90,000 or so, they have a bit of pull and a lot of cash, and they're very good at philanthropic things.

You would think, with people coming here from all over the world for treatment, that Rochester would be a pretty diverse place. You would be incorrect. The signs as you drive into downtown saying "we are striving for a more inclusive community" are kind of a hint of that. The reality is, for every Arabian sheik who brings his retinue here once a week every year for checkups and drops $8 mil while he's here, there are a dozen farmers five minutes outside the city limits. When's the last time you saw a farmer of color? :-\

Some years ago, in a very segregated city of moderate size, I had a good friend who happened to be black. It was horrifying to do something as tame as browse a store in the mall and watch him get followed while I was free to roam where I pleased. On a lesser scale, it's kind of like what I felt like at the Bullseye when people assumed I was a slackjawed idiot for having to work as a cashier. My only regret is that before I quit, I didn't go off on one of them and say, "listen, you pretentious sack of shit, I have a master's degree and am NOT an 8th grade dropout, so stop making assumptions."

And that's what it comes down to. The most heartbreaking part of this exhibit -- and there were many -- was the one that gave voice to the children. Some wrote down and put in a notebook their experiences of being discriminated against. One little girl, who listed herself as "8 but almost 9" said that she didn't *not* want to be Hindu, but that she wished people were nicer to her, because even if she were black or white or Asian, it shouldn't matter, right? One of the high school girls on a videotape, who identified as Native American, black and white said people would stare at her and then outright ask "what ARE you?" She said she finally started responding, "human."

We all know about slavery in America (or we think we do). We all know about the civil rights marchers (or think we do). But to see and hear the experiences of people who have lived some of these things is humbling and thought-provoking. One older white gentleman said he didn't realize until he watched the videos of the civil rights marches and paid attention to the people lining the streets, throwing rocks and hurling profanities, that that was the history of HIS people, and that horrified him into doing something. And so it should.

Anyone who knows me at all well knows I am a glass-half-empty person. My life experiences to date have brought me to that point. But sometimes things happen that remind me and my closet optimist, who lives inside my head and who I let stick a toe out every now and then before shutting him back up for another year or two ;-), that no matter how bad I think my life is or has been, somebody else's is or has been worse.

Yeah, people can fucking suck. There ain't no two ways about that. Seeing a pair of actual shackles an actual slave was locked up in is a vivid reminder. Often we aren't very nice to each other, and often it's for arbitrary reasons that we aren't.

I long ago gave up trying to save the world. But it's entirely possible to make a dent in my -- or YOUR -- little part of it. Life, to me, isn't about expensive "toys" (good thing, since I have none and likely won't ever) and that sort of thing -- it's about integrity and about being able to say, when it's all over, that I did what I could. I don't need to be famous, or rich. I just want to be able to say that I did what I could while I was taking up space and oxygen here to improve things a little. I hope I can.

Edited to add: While the topic here was race, there are other sorts of discrimination people won't talk about, either. I can't believe I neglected a couple rather obviously close to me. It can be summed up as: medication-related weight gain.

I am not the world's tiniest girl, but the addition to my regimen of a med known for packing on the pounds has caused me to become that much less tiny. It sucks. But you know what? I wasn't *always* a cow. I may not have always been society's definition of "thin," but I wasn't always Gigantor, either. So how about not looking at me and assuming I'm this size because I don't exercise (I walk most places I go, now that I live somewhere that's feasible) and eat terribly (since I order the groceries for the whole house, I bring in almost nothing but chicken, pork, fresh fruits and vegetables and hugely limit the processed stuff).

The other form of discrimination I face is going to be another blog post before May, which is Mental Health Month, is out.

Race exhibit

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

at the age at which Mozart was dead already.

I promised this to someone on my birthday, but was out of town on the day and didn't have the book with me. So here you go, Carrie. Credit Ellen Goodman, April 1977.
Let others freak out at turning 30 or 40. Let others greet their new decades with $12-an-ounce moisturizing cream and anxiety attacks. Not me. I'm no more mesmerized when the zeroes click into place in my life than when the speedometer turns over a new 10,000-mile mark.

But this odd-numbered birthday is different. This one has been lurking around, waiting to ambush my mind. You see, at the age I'm about to be, Mozart was dead already.

Now why, you ask, would someone whose musical career ended in the college chorus line of Guys and Dolls be worrying about Mozart?

Because Mozart has always been a convenient symbolic figure in my life. Someone to make me feel totally inadequate. Someone not to be able to live up to. Someone to make me miserable. Nice healthy things like that. I mean, if you want to feel like a wipeout, there is always the specter of old Wolfgang inking in the G clefs.

Remember when you were 5 and thrilled at being able to tie your shoelaces? Mozart was composing minuets. Remember when you were 30 and still hadn't "found yourself"? Mozart had finished The Marriage of Figaro. Need I go on?

Of course, Wolfgang isn't the only such handy source of low self-esteem and discontent. In the third grade there was always one kid who was on the gold book when you were on the green. There was one guy in college who had his first play produced on Broadway while you were completing your language requirement.

I had two friends publishing novels in New York the year that I was writing obituaries in Detroit.

I suspect that most of us were geared at a young age to all those grades and annual reports. There wasn't any such thing as an overachiever back then. He was just someone ahead of us. Someone to chase.

Now, however, it strikes me that there may be some advantage in arriving at the age at which Mozart was dead already. You don't have Wolfgang to kick yourself around with anymore. It occurs to you that you are far too old to be precocious, and you'll never be a Young Achiever. You'll never again be able to write Don Giovanni at 31.

Instead of whipping yourself to mush after the goals of others, you begin slowly to reset those goals. All this is called learning to live with yourself.

You stop living for Who's Who or the obituary column. You begin to give up the notion of living for the record, for others, or for the fleeting immortality of card catalogues and Chamber of Commerce plaques. As one friend put it: "If I'm not going to be Shakespeare, I might as well enjoy life."

At the age at which Mozart was dead already, you begin to gain what some people call perspective and others call "losing the old drive" and others call mellowness. For a day or so you might be repulsively philosophical. You might ruminate on the fact that the earth will be cold in a billion years or so, that most people's life's work is their life, and that there's not a whole lot of point in just making points.

The next trick, I suppose, is to learn to accept your limitations without trapping yourself in them and to find some of the important lines: the line between eternal dissatisfaction and smugness, the line between anxiety and boredom, the line between being driven and being immobilized. The line that we describe as a balanced life.

As for me, I may get there yet. I have at least finally realized one truth that comes with the candles: I'd rather be alive than be Mozart.

wond'ring aloud...

wond'ring aloud
How we feel today...
will the years treat us well...

Gotta love Jethro Tull.

Hit one of those milestone birthdays last week. Birthdays always make me reflective, but the ending in -5 and -0 ones much more so. One of the things I've been wondering about is just how much wiser I am, really.

For some reason, I've been thinking about Chris Farley. Maybe my subconscious unearthed something while I was in Milwaukee last week. Chris Farley was an alum not only of my alma mater, but of my specific place within it. He died in my first semester there and it was a huge deal. (Also a little weird to be seeing my dean interviewed on CNN, but that's neither here nor there.)

Marquette has gone through a lot in the last 13 years. Buildings have come and gone. Al McGuire (peace be upon him) died. The board of directors was mocked nationwide for trying to change the school nickname to "The Gold." Hegarty's, a 77-year-old campus institution -- and where my friend Mike took me for lunch to try to get me to talk about my feelings after my dad died -- is closing. It's all minutiae that adds up to a life. And as far as I can tell, I'm thinking about Chris Farley because he didn't care, and I wonder why he had that figured out at 33 and I still don't.

It sounds petty, but remember the SNL skit where he was auditioning for the Chippendales? That, friends, took brass ones. Niecy Nash getting out there every week on Dancing with the Stars and shaking her self-admitted large self for the entire country to see? She's doing it, and she's doing it with a "F, yeah" attitude. Meanwhile, I refuse to go out in public in anything sleeveless, because god forbid anyone stare at my fat and flabby upper arms. Like the rest of me isn't fat and flabby either? And more important, like I should care?

How does one arrive at the point of that sort of self-acceptance? I feel kind of ridiculous for being this old and not having achieved it yet. Perhaps that's a hint to get the hell outta the Caribou across the street from St. Marys. It kills me that physicians all tend to hit the genetic lottery as well as the IQ-points one. Really -- looks or brains -- should be one to a person. ;-)

and it's only the giving that makes us what we are...

Monday, April 12, 2010

"an elegant deception"

I spent Sunday afternoon not in the park with George, but at a play with a couple of people.

The play, "John Gabriel Borkman," was the 2nd to last one Henrik Ibsen wrote before being thoroughly debilitated by a stroke. You wonder if he saw it coming.

Despite having been written in the 1890s, there was a lot of it that was still perfectly topical. One part of the second act, however, particularly spoke to me. (The theater did its own adaptation, and I had to find this online from another source, so it's not exact, but you get the idea. Borkman is a disgraced financier ala Bernie Madoff and Foldal is a mousy little writer friend of his.)

BORKMAN. [Restlessly.] Yes, time flies: the years slip away; life---- Ah, no--I dare not think of it! [Looking at him.] Do you know what I sometimes feel like?


BORKMAN. I feel like a Napoleon who has been maimed in his first battle.

FOLDAL. [Placing his hand upon his portfolio.] I have that feeling too.

BORKMAN. Oh, well, that is on a smaller scale, of course.

FOLDAL. [Quietly.] My little world of poetry is very precious to me, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. [Vehemently.] Yes, but think of me, who could have created millions! All the mines I should have controlled! New veins innumerable! And the water-falls! And the quarries! And the trade routes, and the steamship-lines all the wide world over! I would have organised it all--I alone!

FOLDAL. Yes, I know, I know. There was nothing in the world you would have shrunk from.

BORKMAN. [Clenching his hands together.] And now I have to sit here, like a wounded eagle, and look on while others pass me in the race, and take everything away from me, piece by piece!

FOLDAL. That is my fate too.


BORKMAN. [Interrupting.] Well, well--let us say no more of these stupid old stories. After all, neither of us got into the Cabinet, neither he nor I.

FOLDAL. But he rose high in the world.

BORKMAN. And I fell into the abyss.

FOLDAL. Oh, it's a terrible tragedy----

BORKMAN. [Nodding to him.] Almost as terrible as yours, I fancy, when I come to think of it.

FOLDAL. [Naively.] Yes, at least as terrible.

BORKMAN. [Laughing quietly.] But looked at from another point of view, it is really a sort of comedy as well.


(following a discussion on the merits of women or whether they're all evil. Foldal comes to their defense, as a whole.)

BORKMAN. [Moving impatiently on the sofa.] Oh, do spare me that poetical nonsense.

FOLDAL. [Looks at him, deeply wounded.] Do you call my holiest faith poetical nonsense?

BORKMAN. [Harshly.] Yes I do! That is what has always prevented you from getting on in the world. If you would get all that out of your head, I could still help you on in life--help you to rise.

FOLDAL. [Boiling inwardly.] Oh, you can't do that.

BORKMAN. I can when once I come into power again.

FOLDAL. That won't be for many a day.

BORKMAN. [Vehemently.] Perhaps you think that day will never come? Answer me!

FOLDAL. I don't know what to answer.

BORKMAN. [Rising, cold and dignified, and waving his hand towards the door.] Then I no longer have any use for you.

FOLDAL. [Starting up.] No use----!

BORKMAN. Since you do not believe that the tide will turn for me----

FOLDAL. How can I believe in the teeth of all reason? You would have to be legally rehabilitated----

BORKMAN. Go on! go on!

FOLDAL. It's true I never passed my examination; but I have read enough law to know that----

BORKMAN. [Quickly.] It is impossible, you mean?

FOLDAL. There is no precedent for such a thing.

BORKMAN. Exceptional men are above precedents.

FOLDAL. The law knows nothing of such distinctions.

BORKMAN. [Harshly and decisively.] You are no poet, Vilhelm.

FOLDAL. [Unconsciously folding his hands.] Do you say that in sober earnest?

BORKMAN. [Dismissing the subject, without answering.] We are only wasting each other's time. You had better not come here again.

FOLDAL. Then you really want me to leave you?

BORKMAN. [Without looking at him.] I have no longer any use for you.

FOLDAL. [Softly, taking his portfolio.] No, no, no; I daresay not.

BORKMAN. Here you have been lying to me all the time.

FOLDAL. [Shaking his head.] Never lying, John Gabriel.

BORKMAN. Have you not sat here feeding me with hope, and trust, and confidence--that was all a lie?

FOLDAL. It wasn't a lie so long as you believed in my vocation. So long as you believed in me, I believed in you.

BORKMAN. Then we have been all the time deceiving each other. And perhaps deceiving ourselves--both of us.

FOLDAL. But isn't that just the essence of friendship, John Gabriel?

BORKMAN. [Smiling bitterly.] Yes, you are right there. Friendship means--deception. I have learnt that once before.

FOLDAL. [Looking at him.] I have no poetic vocation! And you could actually say it to me so bluntly.

BORKMAN. [In a gentler tone.] Well, you know, I don't pretend to know much about these matters.

FOLDAL. Perhaps you know more than you think.


FOLDAL. [Softly.] Yes, you. For I myself have had my doubts, now and then, I may tell you. The horrible doubt that I may have bungled my life for the sake of a delusion.

BORKMAN. If you have no faith in yourself, you are on the downward path indeed.

Borkman was a flaming narcissist and clearly mad, but at least he believed in himself. I, on the other hand, am feeling really Foldal-like these days. Chalk it up to impending milestone birthday melancholy, I guess. There's more behind me than ahead at this point and I don't have a tremendous amount to show for it.

I swear: Next time I step foot in a theater, it's going to be for something light and fluffy. And if it's not, they're going to sell something stronger than coffee at intermission. ;-)

Friday, April 2, 2010

don't tell me you love me...

(cue Night Ranger song here)

It's been an ... interesting ... month. It's probably unwise to put the majority of the details out here, but here's the part that's bothering me.

I got back this morning from driving a friend to the airport (90 minutes each way, with my usual detour for getting lost on the way back). Picked him up at 7:30, got home about 11:30. One of the other residents -- who's been here about a month, maybe a bit less -- was taking her laundry down the stair as I was coming up. She said, with what seemed to be to be sincerity, "Oh, I'm so glad you're back!"

Taken aback a bit, I tried to keep it light and said "oh! Well, it's nice to be missed."

Whereupon she replied, "Well, of course! You're important to me."

And all I could think was, 1) You barely know me, 2) You know me in only a VERY specific context, 3) Pleeeeease don't pull out that particular gun on me. It makes me nervous.

Kurt Vonnegut (peace be upon him) said once that he never included anything even remotely resembling a love story in his books because once you do that, it's all over. The sky could be black with flying saucers and World War III could be imminent, as far as your plotline goes, and nobody would give a shit -- they'd just want to know about the love story. And once somebody says "I love you," what can you do, really, but say "I love you too"? He felt it was like holding the other person hostage.

There are a number of people I feel deep affection, and even love, for -- but it is often hard for me to say so aloud, perhaps because it makes me so nervous having someone say it to me. It makes me *especially* panicky when it's said to me from someone who uses it casually. To me, it's not a casual word, and definitely not a casual emotion, and while I'm grateful to have people who care about me, nothing in my life to date has proved to me that anything like love at first sight exists. (Affection at first sight can happen now and then -- not all that often, but it's lovely when it does.)99.9% of the time, though, love is not something that can be honestly proclaimed when you've barely met someone. It takes time to build a relationship to the point where you can use the word genuinely. Please don't make me all anxious by throwing it around lightly. I get anxious easily enough as it is. :-)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

a PSA for the HSP among us.

Well, there's this -- note that on the self-test, I checked all but 2. (Over 14 = "off the charts.)

The Highly Sensitive Person

And then there's my Enneagram result. You can take those tests any number of places; I like Similar Minds. As I've known for years, I am an utterly rabid 5. Here, from the Enneagram Institute, is but a taste:

Fives are alert, insightful, and curious. They are able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Independent, innovative, and inventive, they can also become preoccupied with their thoughts and imaginary constructs. They become detached, yet high-strung and intense. They typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation. At their Best: visionary pioneers, often ahead of their time, and able to see the world in an entirely new way.

* Basic Fear: Being useless, helpless, or incapable
* Basic Desire: To be capable and competent

Key Motivations: Want to possess knowledge, to understand the environment, to have everything figured out as a way of defending the self from threats from the environment.

Examples: Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Georgia O'Keefe, Stanley Kubrick, John Lennon, Lily Tomlin, Gary Larson, Laurie Anderson, Merce Cunningham, Meredith Monk, James Joyce, Björk, Susan Sontag, Emily Dickinson, Agatha Christie, Ursula K. LeGuin, Jane Goodall, Glenn Gould, John Cage, Bobby Fischer, Tim Burton, David Lynch, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Trent Reznor, Friedrich Nietzsche, Vincent Van Gogh, Kurt Cobain, Jodie Foster, and "Fox Mulder" (X Files).

Behind Fives’ relentless pursuit of knowledge are deep insecurities about their ability to function successfully in the world. Fives feel that they do not have an ability to do things as well as others. But rather than engage directly with activities that might bolster their confidence, Fives “take a step back” into their minds where they feel more capable. Their belief is that from the safety of their minds they will eventually figure out how to do things — and one day rejoin the world

Call this a plea for understanding. 'Cause that's what it is.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

a place for your stuff.

One of the few benefits of being unattached and broke is that trading residences, one for another, is relatively easy. At least it is if you're willing to part with your stuff.

My dad was a HUGE George Carlin fan. We talked about going to his show when he came through St. Louis, it came and went without us making it, and I still regret that. But in addition to the famous "7 words you can't say on television" (which routine, let it be noted, he first performed in Milwaukee, at the epic 11-day drunkathon that is Summerfest), George in his later years worked up an entire routine about having a place for your stuff.

Actually this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That's all, a little place for my stuff. That's all I want, that's all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody's got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that's your stuff, that'll be his stuff over there. That's all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time.

A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!

Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore. Did you ever notice when you go to somebody else's house, you never quite feel a hundred percent at home? You know why? No room for your stuff. Somebody else's stuff is all over the place! And if you stay overnight, unexpectedly, they give you a little bedroom to sleep in. Bedroom they haven't used in about eleven years. Someone died in it, eleven years ago. And they haven't moved any of his stuff! Right next to the bed there's usually a dresser or a bureau of some kind, and there's NO ROOM for your stuff on it. Somebody else's shit is on the dresser.

Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff? God! And you say, "Get that shit offa there and let me put my stuff down!"

Sometimes you leave your house to go on vacation. And you gotta take some of your stuff with you. Gotta take about two big suitcases full of stuff, when you go on vacation. You gotta take a smaller version of your house. It's the second version of your stuff. And you're gonna fly all the way to Honolulu. Gonna go across the continent, across half an ocean to Honolulu. You get down to the hotel room in Honolulu and you open up your suitcase and you put away all your stuff. "Here's a place here, put a little bit of stuff there, put some stuff here, put some stuff--you put your stuff there, I'll put some stuff--here's another place for stuff, look at this, I'll put some stuff here..." And even though you're far away from home, you start to get used to it, you start to feel okay, because after all, you do have some of your stuff with you. That's when your friend calls up from Maui, and says, "Hey, why don'tchya come over to Maui for the weekend and spend a couple of nights over here."

Oh, no! Now what do I pack? Right, you've gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The third version of your house. Just enough stuff to take to Maui for a coupla days. You get over to Maui--I mean you're really getting extended now, when you think about it. You got stuff ALL the way back on the mainland, you got stuff on another island, you got stuff on this island. I mean, supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain. You get over to your friend's house on Maui and he gives you a little place to sleep, a little bed right next to his windowsill or something. You put some of your stuff up there. You put your stuff up there. You got your Visine, you got your nail clippers, and you put everything up. It takes about an hour and a half, but after a while you finally feel okay, say, "All right, I got my nail clippers, I must be okay." That's when your friend says, "Aaaaay, I think tonight we'll go over the other side of the island, visit a pal of mine and maybe stay over."

Aww, no. NOW what do you pack? Right--you gotta pack an even SMALLER version of your stuff. The fourth version of your house. Only the stuff you know you're gonna need. Money, keys, comb, wallet, lighter, hanky, pen, smokes, rubber and change. Well, only the stuff you HOPE you're gonna need.

I have moved 4 times in the past 4 years. Each time I have gotten rid of more and more "stuff." Because really? That's all it is. The amount of "stuff" you actually need is pretty tiny, as Carlin points out.

I have hauled endless bags of clothes to Savers and Goodwill. I have sold or donated the larger part of a formerly significant bear collection. I am a familiar face at the library (where you get to take stuff BACK, so it doesn't clutter up YOUR space) and at the Paperback Book Palace (where they pay me for a particular sort of stuff that I can trade in). Really, I'm down to a few important-to-me books, a bed, a computer, an absolutely minimal amount of furniture, my Watergate "co-conspirator" autographs, and about a million pictures of the kid. (What's more important than that? :-)

The rest of it? It's just "stuff." I'm not even that big of an eco-freak treehugger, either. I'm just tired of lugging around "stuff." As Kaufman and Hart so pithily noted, you can't take it with you, anyway.

Bode Miller's dad

I haven't watched too much of the Olympics, because honestly? Despite where I live, winter sports pretty much just don't do it for me. However, in the process of unpacking tonight and getting stuff arranged in the new digs, I happened to catch the last little bit of whatever ski race Bode Miller won gold in.

You may or may not recall that Bode's shooting his mouth off prior to the last Olympics got him in a fair bit of trouble. On that basis alone, I feel a kinship. ;-) And while I'm always happy to see someone finally fulfill a dream -- particularly one that's been deferred largely through their own fault (hmmm, I know a bit about that one too), I really couldn't care less about skiing. What got me in the little snippet I happened to look up at the TV and see was Dad's reaction to seeing his boy pull it off: He grinned from ear to ear and then buried his face in his hands and lost it.

I feel ya, Mr. Miller.

It undoubtedly will come as a surprise to some that I have enough of a heart to be driven to tears. ;-) But I actually burst into heaving, messy, noisy, shoulder-shaking sobs in the middle of a frickin' BAR when I got to see, up close and personal, my boy do what he loves and what he does best and succeed beyond all imagining. It is a truly indescribable experience. It was really cool to see someone else get to have it.

As for the athletes -- I am the least patriotic person you will ever meet, but at the medal ceremonies, I always imagine what it must be like to be in their shoes. The whole "wave it high, wave it proud, I did it for America" thing affects me not a whit, but I do spend the whole time wondering how it must feel to stand there and think to yourself, "Damn. I. DID. IT." And then do they immediately wonder, "OK, now what?" Because the only thing that keeps me going most days is knowing that, while I've achieved pretty much what I wanted to in life, I haven't achieved it to the degree I want to. When you have no farther up the ladder to go, where do you go?

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

--Langston Hughes

Sunday, February 7, 2010

childhood's end

It's that time of year for that most commercial of fake holidays, you know, and the indoctrination starts early.

While the cheap boxes of chocolate and the soon-to-expire fleurs are flying out of the Bullseye, it's the kids' Valentines that get me. Puppies and kitties are still popular designs, of course, and these days most of the cards come with candy attached, instead of the kid having to find some tape and do it him- or herself. But it's certainly brought back memories.... making a "mailbox" out of a shoebox and decorating it with construction paper hearts and a generous amount of Elmer's Glue (which, back in the day, decidedly did NOT come in glitter varieties -- had to do that yourself too) ....

.... or taking class time to actually make Valentines (for the longest time, I held on to the one Terry Anderson made me in 5th grade that said "To a nice gril") ....

.... or sitting at the dining room table, going through the school directory, making sure you didn't miss anybody in your class.

I don't recall any meltdowns because someone got left out, but it was probably me and I'm probably repressing it, if there were any. ;-) I do vividly remember missing the entirety of my 1st grade Christmas party because I had to go to the nurse's office and take my stupid antiseizure meds, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway. All this longwindedness about a stupid fake holiday was meant to lead into other things we could do as kids that have long been forgotten. Here's one: Do you remember how to skip? No? Could you jump rope if your life depended on it? No? Me neither, to both of those. Yet I was pretty good at both of them when I was 5 (too, too many decades ago).

What other skills did you used to have that you can't imagine anymore?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

maybe there *is* hope?

I dunno. I'm not the world's most optimistic soul. (You can stop guffawing now.) But I do have a particular talent for perseveration, as a shrink once said, trying to see if I really was as smart as I think I am. (I defined it to his liking, so I guess I won that round. I didn't get a 700-and-something on my GRE verbal for nothing.) And I've observed some things lately that have made me wonder if mankind, or at least the American version thereof, actually might be capable of -- oh dear -- evolving.

I mean yeah, there are still the Pat Robertsons of the world, but I suspect Pat is in love with himself and his ability to stir the shit. Among the great unwashed, it's been interesting lately to discover what's become acceptable.

There's not much point about talking about "back in the day," because it's so far back for me that it's incomprehensible to most now. (Seriously -- if I tell you that I didn't know the F-bomb existed, much less what it meant, till I was 12, could you extrapolate that to a 12-year-old in 2010 and not die laughing?) But my generation got farked in a whole lot of ways -- and the sociologists FINALLY are giving us some data to prove that to the haters -- and one of them was in our inability to stand up for who and what we are from a young age. These days, those around LGBT kids who come out in their teens often don't bat an eye. It's just not a huge deal. "Back in the day" (late '70s and forward some), it was a *tremendously* huge deal, to the point that many of us didn't come forward till adulthood, and then with trepidation.

So it's been interesting to me to see the 7-year-old boy who came through my line at the Bullseye with his mom, handed me two cheap-ass, made-in-China, Disney princess figurines (Cinderella and another one, I forget who), and excitedly said, "THESE are MINE!" Mom didn't blink. Nor did the mom of the young male teen tonight who handed me a "My First Salon" (as in beauty, not literary, although I'd be tickled to see an Algonquin Round Table playset) and said he didn't mind that the package was open, he'd take it anyway. And of course, neither of those things means those boys are budding 'mos, but my larger point is that those kids didn't have parents flipping out that they weren't buying war toys or Hot Wheels instead.

*My* mother once informed me, while watching a St. Patrick's Day parade in which a LGBT group was participating, that she would be "mortified" -- her exact word, which I have never forgotten -- if one of her children turned out to be gay.

It might be a generational thing, or we might actually have come a long way, baby. But props to all the parents who let their kids be who they are rather than who the parents want them to be.

And perhaps things really can change: Tonight the one person who has been uniformly awful, mean, snippy, hateful, etc toward me since the day I started -- smiled at me and genuinely apologized for all the times she'd been awful, mean, snippy and hateful toward me. Wonders actually may never cease. ;-)