Crappy Toilet Paper

I have to use dreadful toilet paper in my bathrooms.

It’s not that I can’t afford the “downy soft” or pillowy versions of this necessary household accoutrement. It’s that the original owner of my condo, prior to my purchase, installed very high-end, brand name, low-flow toilets that are, if you will excuse the awful pun, not worth a shit.

I should have found it telling that, when I viewed the home prior to purchase, there was a plunger stationed beside each toilet. But it wasn’t until after multiple drainage backups (the most memorable being the day that I was running both the washer and the dishwasher at the same time when the pipes refused to drain), that a plumber explained the culprit to me.  Arriving after my panicked call–my toilets had begun making big burps, as though some hideous monster was trying to climb out of them, while both the dishwasher and the washing machine, hitting their drain cycles, began spewing their contents onto my kitchen floor–he ran one of those pipe-colonoscopy things.  Then he showed me the screen of his apparatus, and there lay the problem: paper.  Lots and lots of paper clogging the main drainage pipe.

If I followed his instructions, Plumber Guy kindly explained, I wouldn’t ever experience this problem again. And the main information contained in those instructions was: Use crummy toilet paper.  The “septic safe” kind.  One ply.  Not beaten into soft, fluffy submission.  About the same consistency of the paper used for dressmaking patterns or gift wrap.  That little change, and a monthly addition of special drain-clearing, paper-eating enzymes (usually reserved for those who have a septic tank, not a city sewer system) would clear up my problem and allow me to avoid further catastrophes.

Plumber Guy was correct. Following his advice, I’ve gone three years without further drainage incidents. But the price I have to pay is using toilet paper that is, shall we say, unkind.

I’ve become accustomed to it, and really don’t notice the substitution except on those unhappy occasions when I’m not well and must make multiple trips to the porcelain throne. Then it hurts—and not just my pride.  But I do, nevertheless, run about like a madwoman when guests are expected in my home, replacing those unpleasant, scratchy, septic-safe rolls with the “nice” toilet paper.  The super-soft, cushiony kind.  I run out to my garage, where the cache of spare paper towels, Kleenex and toilet paper is stored, and there, reposing on a special shelf is the “good” toilet paper, reserved solely for guests.  I do sometimes angst over this when the rare unexpected guest drops in, but have finally decided that if you show up unexpectedly on my doorstep, welcome as you may be, you must take what you can get.  And I have made the rare mean-spirited decision to leave the rude toilet paper on the role when an expected guest was someone I’d prefer to not have in my home!

This whole situation loomed heavily on mind, though, when many people were coming in and out of my home to help out while I was recovering from surgery. After a long talk with myself, I decided that requiring them to deal with a drainage disaster would be to add just another layer of onerous responsibility to their tasks.  So I compromised by putting the “nice” toilet paper in the downstairs half-bath, which they were most likely to use, and leaving the same old nasty stuff in the main bathroom upstairs.

Someday, perhaps, I will have reason to replace my current toilets and the problem will be solved for once and for all. Having done considerable research on the subject, I know what brands of toilets have a good rating in regard to this problem, and what I will select.  And I will happily—joyfully, even—trade in my high-end brand toilets for the less fancy and much more effective ones.

Truthfully, though, I recognize in the grand scheme of things, having to put up with scratchy toilet paper is so extremely minor a problem that it is not even a blip on the radar. But, there you have it: it’s my problem, and I am constantly aware of it.  I am tired of dealing with crappy toilet paper.

Touching the Angel’s Hand

Aged not-quite 19, I moved out of my parents’ home to a basement apartment in a slum. Years later, that same slum area would undergo urban renovation, and the once-gracious mansion, restored to dignity, would become a psychiatric clinic, located on a street of other restored mansions not far from the President Benjamin Harrison home.  But at the time I and a roommate lived there, it was decidedly a slum.

And that was okay. We were young, and, like all the very young, totally believed ourselves to be invincible. We ignored or laughed off the very real dangers of the area in which we lived.

Unlike my roommate, however, I did not see my newfound freedom and my escape from the rigors of my family’s problems as license to live riotously. Disturbed by her use of drugs and alcohol and her sexual promiscuity, only three months later I moved once more, this time to a tiny studio apartment  just a few blocks away, carved out of what had been a hotel in the 1930s.  It had lovely parquet floors, a gigantic, time-worn old bathtub, and a miniature kitchen fashioned from what had once been a closet.  Most of the population of the building were elderly pensioners, living in this low-rent district to eke out their Social Security, and the local hooligans, aware of the dates when then-paper checks were delivered, lay in wait and regularly mugged residents in the front hall.  My youth helped me to avoid such a fate, but more than once I was unfortunate enough to walk in just after such a frightening assault had taken place.

Despite the ever-present threat of robbery and muggings, though, I often found myself walking to my job. For the same reason that I lived in the low-rent district, I had to forego taking the bus; I could not always afford the 35-cent bus fare.  I earned only minimum wage at my job as a file clerk, and most of my salary went to pay my rent while saving for the required deposit and installation fees to the phone company, a monopoly which had a stranglehold on communications and could charge whatever it pleased.  It took me months to save enough cash to have a landline phone installed.  My groceries each week, purchased after a long walk to the only grocer in the area were, again, all I could afford, and numbingly the same: a gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a box of cereal, seven cans of soup, two packages of cold cuts, a carton of eggs, and some salad goods.  When my brother and sister-in-law brought me a kitten, I added a few cans of the cheapest pet food and cat litter to my purchases.  Each week I carefully hoarded quarters so that I could do my laundry using the machines in the scary basement (also the site of many an assault—I learned to do my laundry at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning, when the muggers were sleeping off the previous night’s excesses).  The uniforms that I wore to my job, which were supposed to be dry-cleaned, I carefully hand-laundered in the bathtub, hanging them over it to dry.  Dry cleaning would have been an expensive luxury, even had there been a cleaners within walking distance.

Oddly enough, although the rigors of my existence at that time were trying, frightening and heartbreakingly lonely, I don’t regret a moment of it. What I learned from those two years of poverty and isolation was resilience. I learned that I could take complete care of and responsibility for myself, and even for another helpless little creature.  I found that I could be so terrifyingly lonely that suicide seemed a viable option—yet that I was strong enough to resist that lure, to fight despair, and to carry on.  I learned that I was competent.  I discovered that I was a survivor.

The experience gained in those two years of living on the raw edge of life, aged only 18 to 19, was incredibly powerful and contributed to my later hardiness in a life that has often been filled, as are most lives, with anguish, tragedy, fear, and difficulty.

I will never claim that I enjoyed that period of my existence, but I will always recognize that it gave me many undeniable and precious gifts. Because of those two rigorous years, and the lessons I learned from them,  I can agree, wholly and completely, with what Fra Giovanni wrote centuries ago in 1513, counseling about the vicissitudes of life:  “Welcome it; grasp it and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you. Everything we call a trial, a duty, or a sorrow, believe me, that angel’s hand is there; the gift is there….”

The gift was, truly, there, and I touched the angel’s hand.

WE Are NOT Pregnant!

I just heard, for the umpteenth time, the statement, “We’re pregnant!” I gnashed my teeth.  I wanted to scream.

WE are not pregnant. SHE is pregnant. HE is expecting.  THEY are going to have a baby.  She is a pregnant mother-to-be.  He is an expectant father.

I am reminded of an old episode of Bewitched—the one in which Darrin claimed to know everything Samantha was experiencing in her first pregnancy.  Endora took great offense to his remark (well, when didn’t she take great offense to anything Darrin said?) and decided to place a spell on him so that he would, actually, physically, experience what Samantha was going through.

I think of that episode every time I hear the misbegotten phrase, “We’re pregnant”, and heartily wish that there existed an army of Endoras with no job except that of zapping fathers-to-be with just such a spell.

If “we” are pregnant, then how come he’s not losing his figure? Being awakened throughout the night by a kicking fetus? Why is he not throwing up? Why is he not having to purchase a new wardrobe to accommodate his swelling abdomen?  Why are his feet not swelling to three times their former size (and, by the way, never quite returning to their pre-pregnancy proportions, necessitating a farewell to many a beloved pair of shoes).  Why are his back and pelvis not in agony as they struggle to carry the extra 40 or so pounds packed onto his abdomen?  Why is he not spending hours in painful labor, or having a doctor’s whole hand shoved up his inner parts to check dilation?

While I understand the concept of wanting one’s partner to share in the wondrous creation of a new human life which is occurring, to be appreciated for a (minor) role in having begun that new life, the whole phrase, “We are pregnant” seems to me just one more instance of males trying to lay unwonted claim to a whole lot more than their fair share. Already, most women still relinquish their names (and therefore a personal part of their identity) upon marriage.  Their children, even their female children, generally bear the last name of their presumed male parent.  (And, let’s talk turkey here: Guys, short of a DNA test, you are always the presumed male parent.)

But, for the love of heaven, do men also have to lay claim to pregnancy, too? And, if they do, should they not have to actually experience labor and birth?  Should some tech wiz female not be inventing a sci-fi apparatus that would allow a “We’re pregnant” partner to share in each and every labor pain for eight or ten or twenty hours?  To know the exquisitely unpleasant experience of pushing an object the size of a football out of an opening the size of a golf ball?  Or perhaps males should be hooked up to that machine following an emergency C-section, so that they know what it is to have been sliced and diced, had multiple organs moved out of the way, and then to be unable to fold in the middle: to have to clamber out of bed by rolling off the side, kneeling and then pushing oneself up by elbows on the mattress, only to attempt caring for a sobbing, soggy newborn after stumbling through the house with a gaping wound from hip to hip.

No, no matter how popular and fashionable the phrase, I simply cannot reconcile myself to ridiculous statement, “We are pregnant”, for “we” are not. She is a pregnant woman, a mother-to-be, someone undergoing the rigors of creating a new human life.  He may, perhaps, be a supportive husband or partner, but he is not physically pregnant. Like clueless Darrin, he is physically incapable of understanding her experience. He is an expectant father.  And that’s simply all there is to it.

Pennies, Headlights and Bubonic Plague

When I was a child playing Ring Around the Rosie, we always chanted the final line as, “One Two Three, we all fall down!” It wasn’t many years later that I learned different versions of that final line: “Ashes, ashes” , or “A tissue!  A tissue!”  By that time, I’d also discovered the macabre origins of the game as a reference to bubonic plague, so I tend to think of the “one two three” of my own childhood game a sort of cultural evolution.

That was my introduction into the way common sayings transform as the generations pass. Another of these is found pennies.  I remember once finding a penny and hearing for the first time that my penny wasn’t lucky because I’d found it face down.  I looked at the companion who’d told me this and said, “Huh?”  She, younger than I, repeated that my penny wasn’t lucky because I’d found it lying face down.  I looked at her and chanted: “See a penny pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck; see a penny, leave it lie and you’ll have bad luck by and by.”  My friend’s expression was just as “Huh?” as mine had been; she’d never before heard that rhyme.  The lucky penny tale that she had grown up with said that, to be lucky, a penny must be found face up, and then put in her right shoe.  (Why a penny in one’s shoe should be particularly lucky I’ve never quite figured out; it always just sounds uncomfortable to me.)  However, she was pleased with my version of lucky pennies —  they’re all pennies from heaven, no matter how you find them – and asked me to repeat the rhyme so she wouldn’t forget it.

That made me think of the bridal rhyme: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” That was all I had learned, yet my mother’s version had included a final line saying, “…and a penny in your shoe.”  (Again, uncomfortable!)  Another friend was from Britain; her version of the bridal rhyme stated, “…and a sixpence in your shoe”.  (Ouch again.)  Well, I’d had the penny and she the sixpence, and for neither of us, we concluded, did the charm bring any luck to our disastrous marriages.

Other cultural transformations, though, are less benign than children’s rhymes. To me the most frightening metamorphosis of all is the alteration, still unknown to so many older people, in what is meant when the car driving behind them quickly flashes its headlights.  To contemporary drivers, that gesture indicates the demand, “ You are driving too slowly. Get out of my way.  Pull over.  Pull into another lane.”

To an older generation, however, the quick blink of headlights behind them has always meant, “I’m going to pass you; don’t speed up.”   Actually, we were specifically taught that information in my Driver’s Education classes, lo! those many years ago.  If the car following us blinked its headlights, we were to lift our foot from the accelerator to slow our own vehicle ever so slightly, allowing the over-eager car pass us.  Today, though, that misunderstood courtesy of marginally slowing down so that the other car can pass simply infuriates young drivers.  It’s resulted in many an incident of road rage.

It’s odd, sometimes, to look at these cultural mutations and transformations, but, more than that, it’s remarkable and sometimes even startling to consider what they indicate about the behavior of various generations. A child’s game is no longer a macabre reenactment of bubonic plague; a penny from heaven becomes unlucky just because of the way it landed; a courteous gesture becomes an incitement to rage by someone already discourteous.

Things change. And while usually that give me hope, it sometimes saddens me.

The Horrors of Voice-to-Text!

Years ago I had a darling little “slide” phone. A teeny-tiny keyboard slid out from beneath the phone proper.

I could text like the wind on that little phone. Even proper punctuation was easy on it.

But it was a “dumb” phone. Not a smart phone.  And it was growing old.  So, with a sigh, I eventually gave up my darling little phone and upgraded.  I chose another carrier and purchased a smart phone.

And the damn thing was the dumbest phone I’d ever had since my first, brick-like cell phone.

Oh, it could do all the expected things: take photos, run apps, access the Net. But the keyboard was a nightmare.  No matter what I tried—turning it sideways, using different keyboard colors, changing the keyboard sensitivity, downloading different keyboard apps—I could not type an error-free text on the dratted thing to save my own life.

Frustrated beyond belief, I began using voice-to-text.

Oh, dear.

Now, mind you, my not-so-smart phone is an Android. On a limited income, I was not about to pay the overreaching, exorbitant price of an iPhone. But for that very reason, I am forced to wonder why the very same phone that can, whenever I say, “Okay, Google” and make a request, figure out precisely what it is that I’m asking and type it correctly—why, why can that same phone NEVER, never ever even once type a text out correctly on the first try?  Or the second.  Or even the third.

The same voice—mine–asking a question is the same one speaking the text, so why?! It makes no sense.

Even worse is the damned thing’s propensity for changing what I have just said. I speak, I watch the screen, and it (for once) types what I have said.  But when (as I have learned I absolutely must do!) I scroll back to check the text, I find that it has changed not just words, but entire phrases, to something else.  WHY?  It wrote what I said…and then, without reason or warning, changed it.  I have even, to my horror and dismay, watched it change entire phrases WHILE THE TEXT IS SENDING.  Right in the middle of cyberspace, BINGO!  An entire sentence of carefully-spoken words is changed to something completely nonsensical.  This, of course, requires a sigh and another text, correcting the nonsense that the Evil Child of Terminator has just written.

Then there is the fact that, no matter how carefully I speak, my phone can never seem to comprehend the difference when I say the words “And” and “In”. Inevitably, it switches them.  And although it was finally corrected, for the longest time it could not comprehend the punctuation words, “exclamation point”, writing those words out completely unless I used the British version, saying, “exclamation mark”.  Even a phone as dumb as mine should be able to figure out  that I AM NOT LIVING IN BRITIAN!  Nor can it still figure out the punctuation statements “Quote” and “Unquote”.

And then there is its habit of, out of the blue, capitalizing words. Words that have not, in any way, shape, or form, been spoken with emphasis.  Words that do not relate to some current cultural event—not a movie, a song, or an idiocy perpetrated by a Kardashian.  Nope.  Just because it wants to, apparently, and consequently requiring that I backspace using that irritating, miniscule cursor (that no more obeys my thumb than does the keyboard) to correct the inaccurate upper case.  The opposite, of course, is also true—no matter with what emphasis a word is spoken, the phone will not capitalize a first letter, let alone an entire word.

And there is the final (to me) insult,  no matter how many times I have corrected it, of using the sub-moronic version of the decades-long accepted contraction, ‘cause, and mutating it to “cuz”. Listen, you jerk-ignorant programmers: a “cuz” is one’s cousin.  The slang word is not even pronounced in the same manner.  The word, “ ‘cause ” is a contraction of the full word,  “because”, and has been in use in the English language since the 15th century.  It is ‘cause, not cuz or cos.  (Because that’s what is grammatically correct, dammit!)

The best thing I have to say of Voice-to-Text on my phone is that it is ever so slightly easier than typing on the worthless keyboard. And perhaps my next phone (which will still be an Android, because I still have the same reaction to the overpriced and really no better iPhone) will be a bit more sensitive to my spoken statements and print them out a bit more correctly.

Even if I could talk without breathing, though, I’m not holding my breath.

It Is Pronounced!!

Before I write one further sentence, let me state, unequivocally, that I mispronounce many words. While I don’t make some of the most egregious errors of Midwestern pronunciation – I do not “warsh” my clothes, nor return books to the “liberry”; I do not “ax” a question, nor shop at the “groshery” – there are still several words that I’ve spoken incorrectly for so many years that the mispronunciation now sounds valid to my ears.  I catch myself in two of the worst quite often, uttering the Midwestern “jis” rather than just, or “tuh” instead of too.

But there are common mispronunciations that grate on me almost daily. For this, I blame Mrs. Dryer, my excellent third-grade teacher.  It was she who told our whole class that if we mispronounced the word “mischievous” in her classroom (saying it as “miss chee vee ous” rather than the correct “miss cheh vus”), we would receive an “F” for the whole day.  Never mind that this word has been so consistently mispronounced that the incorrect pronunciation now appears as a secondary pronunciation in dictionaries; in Mrs. Dryer’s classroom, one said the word correctly or suffered the consequences.  Mrs. Dryer’s classroom rule set me up for a lifetime of picky pronunciation.

As an adult, I hung my head in embarrassment when an executive at a meeting I attended spoke of the “physical year” rather than fiscal year.  As a teenager, I sat cringing in my classroom seat while my American History teacher spoke of “Eyetalians”, or our Assistant Principal made an announcement about our school “athaletes”.  I recently heard the same mispronunciation made by TV news commentator and I wanted to reach into the screen and rip the speaker’s tonsils out of his throat.  Now I mute the set each time that commentator is on air.

I generally adore British accents, but I find myself bothered by the British habit of adding a faint but noticeable “r” at the end of any word ending in a soft “a”. I hear them mangle Asia into “Azhar” and transmute Amanda or Anna into “Amandar” and “Annar”.  “There is no ‘r’ at the end!” I want to shout at the actors on the screen.  But I find myself just as furious when Americans end these same words in “uh” rather than ah.  “It’s an ‘a’,” I insist to the No One who is listening.  “It’s pronounced with a soft ‘a’!”

But I save my most impressive rants for announcers and newscasters on TV and radio. Hear My Declaration, O Ye Who Are On the Air: If one has made the decision to go into a field which requires public speaking, then Diction Is An Essential Skill.  So I rave at the car radio or the flatscreen when an announcer says “uh-mediately” rather than ih-meditately, or “uhh-fective” instead of eh-fective”.  I bury my face in my hands when they slur sort of  into “sorta”, or, just as I do, utter the word “tuh” instead of to.  I wince with shame when I hear them speak of “Queen Uh-lizabeth”.

Nevertheless, having been embarrassingly called out myself on an occasional mispronunciation, when faced with an acquaintance who has mispronounced a word, I have learned to soft-pedal my corrections to avoid humiliating them—yes, even to the boyfriend whom I was almost done with. Having heard him, for the umpteenth time, suggest we dine at the “buffit”, I said mildly, making sure that there was no one else to hear me correct him, “Is that how the word is pronounced, are you sure? Because I’ve always heard it pronounced buffay.”  “Don’t be dumb!” he retorted.  “It’s not Jimmy Buffay, is it?!”  So I shrugged and said not a word as he suggested to the couple we were meeting that we have dinner that evening at the “buffit”.

And I didn’t say a word, either, when they realized he was serious, began to chuckle, and corrected him.

Well, I did smile. A little.  Evilly.

Pieces of Your Soul

As we sat talking one day in my lovely little condo which is decorated to my, and only my taste, a friend looked about and, sighing a bit, commented on all the compromises–starting with home décor–that she has made in her household. “When you marry,” she said, “you give up a little piece of yourself.”

Wedding Photo ColorI understood. I was married for 19 years, and (leaving entirely aside the difficulty of a marriage that crumbled due to my partner’s alcoholism, drug use and infidelity), I made any number of  concessions and compromises—as I’m sure he did, also.  The very act of spending your life with another person is a commitment to cooperation and negotiation.  Many couples never learn to navigate their way through the thorny path of such concessions, though, without one partner giving up too much of her or himself.

And therein lies the rock upon which so many marriages and partnerships and perhaps even international negotiations stumble, never to recover. There must be give-and-take in any relationship. Yet, all too often, one partner becomes the giver, the other the taker. Taking can eventually become a self-fulfilling premise.  From the color one paints the walls to the type of car, to the amount of a mortgage, to the number of evenings out for one partner, to who will be the person attending parent-teacher conferences or helping with homework, who pays the bills or takes the taxes to be figured, who mows the lawn or gets up with the baby, the Taking partner can become so accustomed to the compromise and conciliation of the other that he or she retreats into a sort of childhood cocoon, where everything done is done by a parent-like figure who has only one’s best interests at heart.

The Giver, meanwhile, waits continually for just a word of recognition and appreciation, which comes rarely, or, after some time, not at all. Overburdened, or perhaps just feeling that more and more pieces of oneself have been handed over to a vacuum and vortex of need, resentment begins to replace the contentment of mature compromise.  And resentment is the most vicious enemy of love.

It is hard, sometimes impossible, to strike a balance between two disparate personalities and negotiate a pathway to shared responsibility and decision-making. And perhaps that is why I, divorced now the same number of years as I was once married, continue to live alone.  I know my tendency to try to make another love me by giving until there is almost nothing left of myself—and then, having wrung myself out, beaten myself dry on a flat rock beneath a burning sun—to know the experience of having love gutter into bitterness and resentment; to be, despite it all, left alone because the “me” that the other once knew and appreciated has disintegrated, like damp tissue paper, into nothingness.

It is one thing to give up a tiny piece of yourself for the sake of cooperation and agreement. But let it always be a two-way street.  And save the largest piece of yourself for yourself.  No partner is worth your soul.

Rah-Shar!

The other evening I poured myself a glass of sparkling, barely-alcoholic blush moscato wine, using one of my lovely pink Depression glass stemware pieces. I held the glass up to the light and admired the bubbles of rosy wine sparkling within the equally-pink glass, and then sat down to sip my treat as I relaxed with a book.

It didn’t quite work out as I had planned.

Having perched myself on the corner of the couch, I set my glass down on the wooden arm and picked up my Kindle. A moment later, reaching for the stemware, I knocked the glass right off the arm of the couch, splattering wine everywhere and smashing the glass into a thousand shards and fragments as it hit the wall.

Whereupon I exclaimed, “Rah-Shar!”

You see, years earlier, my Chosative (Chosen Relative: for an explanation of that term, see my 12/18/17 blog post) had told me of a magazine article she’d once read, which explained an especially lovely concept: When some beloved, treasured item breaks, it is essentially taking the hit for a loved one—taking harm upon itself, so that the person or people you care about will not be harmed. Consequently, instead of regretting the loss of something unique or cherished, one should acknowledge the event by exclaiming the word which embodied this concept.

We both loved this idea. Unfortunately, my Chosative hadn’t written down the foreign word and was quite unable to recall it.  The two of us spent the next few years searching for the word across the vast reaches of cyberspace, to no avail.  We even each separately contacted one of those of  public radio shows that explores the delightful concepts of language, but they failed to respond.  Perhaps they couldn’t find the word, either.

And then one day, while desultorily once more searching for the word as she waited for a repairman, there it was. Algerian.  The concept was part of the consciousness of several Eastern countries, but the word itself, the single word embodying the concept, was Algerian.

“Rah-Shar!”

The listing was far down under the thread following a question, “What do you say when you break a glass?” There were many answers, ranging from the downright silly to the rude, but a number of Eastern countries seemed to have assimilated this concept that a broken treasure was protective; that to break something beloved or cherished was actually lucky, for it meant a family member or friend was now safe, the broken object having taken upon itself the harm that would have otherwise befallen them.

“Rah-Shar!”

Considering this concept, I compared it to what I had once written in this very blog in November of 2017: that we should never refrain from using our beautiful or special things, never save anything “for good”, for our good is right now; that as much as our guests deserve to be served upon our fine china, with our costly glassware or silver—even as they deserve to dry their hands upon those lovely embroidered guest towels, or to enjoy the scent of our expensive perfume–so do we deserve it, also. We are, always, every day, deserving of our own best.

In the same vein, then, we should never hesitate to use our lovely things: our glassware or silver or china, our best perfume, our embroidered towel—even the favorite toy still kept in the box and never played with. For if these precious things do shatter or tear, if they break irreparably, they are serving a much greater purpose than that of merely providing us pleasure: they are protecting those we love.

As I cleaned up the fragments of my once-lovely pink Depression glass, I murmured a thank-you to the wreckage. And as I placed the remains in the trash bin, I said quietly once more, “Rah-Shar!”

A Work in Progress

In my path to healing old emotional wounds, I spent a lot of time attending groups such as Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics, as well as an excellent but now-defunct journaling group called SEAS.  In the long run, I did derive some good from each of the meetings I attended. But in many cases I was not what one might call an optimal member.  In fact, with one exception, most of the groups I graced with my presence were probably really glad to see the back of me when I finally decided to pull out.

Let me say it without shame: I could never stand what I considered the time-wasting and nit-picking traditions of so many of these associations.  There were minutes to be reported and treasurer’s statements to be announced and chapters to be read aloud, often by people who could barely read, and altogether too much nonsense that bore no relation whatever to the stated reason for everyone’s presence: recovery.   The plethora of formalities seemed just an extrapolation of the burden carried by every codependent; that is, the need to control, due to having lived in uncontrollable situations.

I grew tired of the repetitive and downright silly statement required of each member prior to speaking: “Hi! I’m Whatshername, and I’m a co-dependent!”  To be followed, of course, by a cheery group chorus of,  “Hi, Whatshername!”  After one or two meetings, everyone knew who Whatshername was, up to and including some of those vague people who barely seemed certain of their own names.  And we all knew we were co-dependents or an associate thereof, or we wouldn’t have been there in the first place.  Not to mention that repeating the statement prior to every single word one uttered  was time-wasting overkill.  But never will I forget the tongue-lashing I took from a group leader when I side-stepped all the silliness and announced, “Hey, you all know me now and we all know why I’m here.”  Everyone laughed, several members nodded, but Group Leader puffed up like an adder about to strike. After heaping scathing verbal abuse upon my unbowed head, she ordered me out unless I was prepared to “take tradition seriously!” I gathered up my purse and left,  suddenly realizing that, although still in need of recovery, I was actually a bit more mentally healthy than a lot of these people (Group Leader being one of them).  When I dared return the following week, that same Group Leader failed to show, and the rest of us ran a meeting totally free of tradition, hunkering down to essentials in open and free discussion so thoroughly that we overran our allotted time by an hour.

Control issues aside, however, my greatest problem with the groups I attended was their insistence that I say such terrible things of myself. “I am a co-dependent”.  “I am the adult child of an alcoholic”.  Oh, it wasn’t that the names themselves weren’t the truth—the problem I had with the phrase was in its way of diminishing me.

“I am that I am”.  That was the name given by God in answer to Moses’ question.  The church I attended for many years taught that to say “I am” was to recognize the spark of divinity within that made one a child of God.  Therefore, one never diminished oneself by adding a negative to the words “I am”.

I learned not to say, “I am angry”, but “I feel angry.”  Depressed, bitter, frightened, ugly, a bad person…  I learned not to connect negatives with the Divine within me.  So I simply could not say, “I am a co-dependent”.  I could rephrase my truth and say, “I am currently expressing co-dependence”— “I have learned co-dependence and am trying to heal”–“I demonstrate the effects of growing up in an alcoholic’s household”.  But I simply could not state the required phrase about myself by attaching a negative label to my acknowledgement of the Divine within me.  And that fact brought me into conflict with one recovery group after another, usually after only a few meetings.  So I would take whatever good I had gleaned from yet another disappointment and move on.

And, in the end, moving on was precisely the right choice for me, for I’d learned essential truths about myself from those disappointments: that I was my own best judge of what was necessary for my healing and recovery, and that I was willing to do that hard work, even if I had to do it completely alone.

I’m still a work in progress. But I’ll get there.

Lessons in the Thimble

I’ve read quite a number of self-help articles and books in my time, and what I’ve learned from all of them, taken together, could be aptly described by the very old country adage, “Shake it all together and stuff it in a thimble and blow it in a bed-bug’s eye.”

Oh, this isn’t to say that I learned nothing from dozens of manuscripts purporting to reveal the mysteries of life and/or the best way to live, for I did learn a great deal–especially from those authors who were humble enough to admit that these ideas were simply methods that they, personally, had found to work in their own lives.  These unpretentious authors tended to suggest that the reader could adapt and apply all or part of these lessons to her or his existence.

But what I actually learned from most of the self-help sages was that I was intelligent enough to debate their pronouncements—sometimes arriving at the conclusion they were insightful; occasionally gaining only a scrap or two of wisdom amidst a whole lot of nonsense; and, sadly and most often, finding discovering egotism and conceit in their writing.

For instance, reading one child-rearing article some years back, I learned that to handle a toddler who was throwing a tantrum (said child wanting Mommy to participate in building a Lego fortress at a time when she simply could not stop to play), Mom should solemnly promise to play with the Legos “next time”.  Of course, I thought to myself, “next time” will occur when good old Mom is preparing a formal dinner party for ten, but, what the heck—this is an EXPERT talking.  There was also the childcare expert who suggested that, in order to teach a child that a stovetop was hot, the parent should see that the kid burned his little fingers “ever so slightly”.  I am not even going to tackle my reaction to that sage piece of advice!

Later I encountered the trendy “Two Different Planets” concept of couplehood.  In the chapters of that book devoted to those actions women must absolutely take to preserve their unions, I particularly remember a pronouncement that couples should take weekend trips away together to renew their relationship–and that, if she was under the impression that they just couldn’t afford to do so, she was wrong.  Uh-huh.  Yep.  Just wait until the bills begin piling up in the inbox after that romantic weekend getaway, I thought, and see precisely how much good it had done their marriage.  Buyer’s remorse was going to set in once the checkbook reached government-style deficit financing proportions, and the resultant quarrels would be beyond ugly.  Not to mention the fact that, since this “how to preserve your relationship” ploy was pronounced by this expert to be her responsibility, she would be the one locating the B&B and making the reservation while also lining up babysitters for the kids or pet sitters for the dog and cat. And although he would likely see that the car was gassed up and the tires aired prior to their jaunt, she would be the one rushing home from work to hit the kids’ soccer game and dance lesson before getting the laundry caught up so that suitcases could be packed…and all of this only to learn, much too late, that the whole romantic getaway had been planned in conflict with the weekend of the Big Game.

What a great way to save one’s marriage.

All too often, though, I learned that the self-help gurus themselves had the proverbial feet of clay. One, whose popular book I could not finish despite the fact that it contained genuine nuggets of insight, provided telling examples throughout his narrative of the points he was making.  But every single negative example he provided was illustrated using the behavior of one gender, while each of his positive examples was delineated by describing the behavior of the other.  Noticing this anomaly only a few chapters into the book, I thought that it must certainly change as the work progressed, so I skimmed quickly through the remaining chapters, searching for further illustrations of the author’s points. And the singularity was consistent. Negative examples were always illustrated depicting the behavior of one gender; positive examples, the other.  I was so appalled by this bias that I could not finish the book, despite what might have been some very helpful guidance.

It’s a rare day now when I read either self-help articles or books. After half a lifetime of taking all those books and magazines and putting their lessons into the thimble, I’ve learned that listening to self-proclaimed savants is  just a way to test one’s own wisdom; that arguing with the individual who has all the degrees “proving” their erudition is futile and something best done in the privacy of one’s own mind; and that, finally (and most importantly), hidden within my own soul is all the wisdom that I’ve ever needed to run my own life well and competently, if I will but listen to and act upon it.