Lemonade From Lemons

I saw the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” at the theatre on the first weekend of its release. As I left the theatre that evening, I overheard a woman walking beside me comment to her companion, “I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that!”, a sentiment with which I and numerous other smiling moviegoers apparently agreed.  But as I glanced over at her, beaming agreement, I glimpsed the frowning face of her companion.  He proceeded to explode in a plethora of angry complaints about the movie.  It was obvious to me—and to just about everyone nearby in the theatre lobby—that he had NOT enjoyed the movie, and, by golly, she and every one of us present was going to be made aware of that fact.

I’ve had reason to recall this unpleasant moment on multiple occasions as various male companions responded to movies we had just watched together. And I’ve begun to wonder if this is just a facet of my generation—or my bad taste in boyfriends–or if it’s simply a male trait in general to respond to a movie disappointment by behaving as if the writer/producer/director/actors all intentionally conspired to perpetrate upon him a film which he despised.

I’ve attended many a disappointing movie with women friends. Discussing it afterwards, that’s basically what we’ve said, too: “Well, that was a disappointment.”  “I’m sorry I wasted my money on that.” “I didn’t really like it” (with a shrug).  “Well, at least the popcorn was good!” (with a giggle).

But leaving a substandard movie, or turning off the TV, while with a male acquaintance has almost inevitably resulted in an explosion of sorts. And I puzzle over this.

Discussing the subject with various female friends, it actually does appear to me that an irritation or disappointment—not just with a movie, but with outings in general—results in (shrug shoulders) “Oh, well” from the female contingent, while our male counterparts complain bitterly about the vile wrong perpetrated upon them.

Never was this made more clear to me than the time my sisters-in-law and I went to The Festival That Didn’t Happen.

Now, my Chosatives (see my 12/17/17 blog post) and I are small-town-festival junkies.  We love the fair food, the smiling crowds, the hokey little parades.  We adore shopping for homemade crafts and homegrown produce.  So a few summers ago, we hurried out of town to one of the first festivals of the season.

Which, as it happens, didn’t. Happen, that is.  Somehow the organizers had come up with a name for the “First Annual” festival, gotten it listed in the annually-published booklet of festivals throughout the state, named the attractions that would be available…and then somehow just lost momentum.

We arrived and there were no booths selling crafts and produce, no little parade, no corndogs and gyros and elephant ears. No Lions Club barbeque. There was, in fact, no festival, and the few year-long merchants in the area, dishing out ice cream and hot dogs and burgers at their little diners, were just as bewildered and apologetic as people could be.

Oh, there were still a few things to see: the town was an extremely old one, in a picturesque location, and there was, in fact, a wedding being held in that lovely lakeside venue; we watched from the outdoor seating area of a countryside diner as the photographer took gorgeous photos of a young couple. There were historic old houses, an antique shop, and a rustic general store.  And it was a simply beautiful early spring day, soft and warm with scudding, fluffy clouds in a bright, sunny sky.

So we three enjoyed ourselves. We strolled about and licked ice cream cones.  We looked at the town’s lovely old architecture, watched the wedding photos being taken, explored the antique shop and a century-old millworks grinding grain, the general store and a year-round Christmas shop.  We had, in fact, a lovely afternoon.  Then we came home.

But we also discussed what would have happened had the male members of our family been along for this “failed” outing, and shuddered, considering the complaints, angst, bitterness over wasted gas and a long drive, and general grumbles, moans and protests that would have taken place, ruining what had turned out to be quite a pleasant day.

Perhaps, as I say, this is just a personality quirk among my own family and friends, that our womenfolk tend to make lemonade from the lemons of life. Nevertheless, I wonder if, at some future date, I will not read some scholarly and scientific article comparing the rate of wars and generalized destruction to a predominantly-male habit of bitter resentment over the most minor vicissitudes of life.

But how much more relaxing to shrug and say that the popcorn was great, and enjoy sipping lemonade while strolling the boardwalk

The Name of My Year

I know what year it is: 2019. But I don’t yet know what year it will be.

Many, perhaps most people do this, I’ve noticed. The majority of years are thought of just as the number stated at the top of the calendar. But throughout our lifetime, that number often pales into insignificance as we give the year a verbal title recalling events pertinent to us: The Year Joe Died. The Year Haley Was Born. The Year of the Flood, the Wildfire, the Hurricane. The Year We Bought the House. The Year I Graduated.

These titles lend such richness and flavor to our memories that we often speak of them in just that way before stopping a beat—closing our eyes and searching our memories for a moment to recall the actual date of the occurrence: “The year the kids were married—oh, yeah, that was 2017. Yes, October, October 7, 2017.”

I have a flock of years like that in my recollection: arrows of memories winging their way through the skies of reminisce, named for events both traumatic or blessed, as I scroll through the chapters of my life—for that is how I think of them: chapter titles. Beneath each is a viable script, paragraphs of meaning and explanation, tracing details and events quite unrelated, one would think, to that chapter title. Together, they comprise the book of my lifetime, beginning with Chapter One: The Year I Was Born. (Perhaps the book may be titled: I Was Born: It Could Happen to Anybody!)

Since retiring, though, I’ve noticed more of a tendency to think of all of my years as verbal titles, rather than those numbers displayed so prominently at the top of the calendar page. And so I currently look back upon The Year I Retired, followed by The Year of the Cookbooks. (That second odd title requires a touch of explanation, no doubt: That was the year when I told my cousin, proprietor of our late Grandmother Marie’s huge box of recipe cards, “Look here, Susie, you’re busy! You work, you have a teenage daughter. You’re never going to get around to copying those recipes for all of us. I’m retired; time hangs from my hands like loops of yarn. Lend me the cards, and I’ll transcribe them into a cookbook for everyone in the family.”)

And transcribe I did, through the course of one entire spring and summer, occasionally losing a bit of my mind in the process as I stumbled through difficult handwriting, missing information, and antique recipe nomenclature that required hours of research to resolve. (What the HECK was a “29¢ bag of chocolate chips”? 29 CENTS? Or a “Number 2 Can” of pumpkin? For the love of God and little green apples, Grandma, what do you mean, “Bake until done”? Uh, is there a temperature connected with this, much less a time?)

My sanity, such as it is, was severely challenged by the Year of the Cookbooks, yet when it was done, I had a PDF document ready to e-mail to every family member who wanted it, complete with Grandma’s high school graduation photo on the cover, and other pictures and memorable food-related, riotous stories scattered throughout.

Marie Gregory

So delighted was I with the results of my efforts that (definitely, sanity-challenged!) I turned right around and transcribed all my own recipes into a cookbook, also.

The Year of the Cookbook was followed by The Year of the Wedding,Dancing with my daughter at her wedding as I leapt into the preparations (finally—were any two people ever engaged for SO LONG?!) for the wedding of my only daughter. A frustrating, amazing, exhausting, meticulous, wonder-filled and magnificent year, in which everything that could go wrong, did, and yet in which I somehow managed to help produce the most marvelous and glorious wedding possible for my beloved children.

Then came the most recent year, 2018: My Dickens Year. It was, genuinely, the best of times, the worst of times. I might have titled it “The Year of Cancer and of Morrigan’s Birth”, but it’s simpler just to recall it as My Dickens Year. Diagnosed with cancer in January, cured by surgery and prayer and natural treatments in March, and finally overwhelmed by indescribable, heart-breaking, breathtaking, wondrous joy by the birth of my first grandchild in August, it was, beyond any measure, a year of the worst of times, a year of the best of times.002

And so, this morning, as I traced my fingers over the number at the top of the paper calendar that I persist in using and enjoying despite a digital world, I realized: I know what year it is. I do. It is 2019.

But, for the moment, I don’t yet know what year it will be.

Repainting the Nativity

Following the most recent holiday season, I’ve spent weeks working to refurbish my small nativity scene.  This grouping—just the three main figures—is nearly 25 years old. I purchased the expensive set from a charity-oriented catalog, spending money that I didn’t really have, because I was taken with the unusual grouping. Unlike traditional displays, the child in my tiny nativity scene is cradled in his mother’s arms, while she sits encircled within the loving touch of her husband.

Despite their cost, the statues I received were formed of cheap plastic, their clothing created by cloth that was probably dipped into some mild hardener, such as white glue, and then draped. The faces were surprisingly detailed and well-sculpted, but because they were created in an Asian country, the skin tones and eyes were representative more of their origins than those of a family from the Mideast. But I appreciated my little set especially for that very reason; it seemed to me to be more universally  inclusive. The muted, uneven colors of the cloth, and its rough texture, correctly represented a family in exodus, travelling in poverty.

One of my own family members, though, found my nativity set comical. A sad person who usually tried to build herself up by cutting others down, her preferred method of criticism was mockery. And so it happened during one holiday season several years ago that she sat at my Christmas dinner table, laughingly examining the figurines where they perched, surrounded in holly garland, on the pass-through to the kitchen (to keep them safe from my cats, who regarded the Baby as a hockey puck). My relative made scathing remarks about St. Joseph’s “sick-looking” face, and the fading colors and battered cloth covering the statues. Where on earth, she demanded, had I found such a pathetic  little display?

Respecting both the day and her status as a family member, I forbore to answer in kind, replying only that my  nativity set had been created in an impoverished country. I neglected to mention how much I had actually paid for it, but explained that the proceeds from sales went largely to people who desperately needed the money. I let the matter rest there.

But I felt stung. I loved my little nativity scene, but I had to admit that it was true: the statues were beginning to show their age. So that January I set about repainting the figurines. I carefully changed their facial tones to accurately represent desert dwellers, and altered their clothing to colors that, while slightly more traditional, were still faithful to the era represented. The smooth acrylic paint restored the cloth to stiffness and luster. I was pleased with the results.

Years again passed, and during this most recent holiday season, I re-examined my nativity set. The colors painted a decade ago had not faded (as had the sting of those long ago critical comments); instead, they had darkened.  holy family loves cats Joseph’s shepherd’s crook had been stolen and used for another hockey game by my ever-marauding cats. The tiny statues no longer quite pleased me, I realized. I made up my mind to refurbish the set once more.

But this time, as I brought out paints and brushes in January, I approached my nativity scene with a different idea in mind. I would not be adding tints to represent a family of immigrants in poverty. Instead, I would be painting them as the sacred souls that they were, not just in Christian legend, but in countless myths and legends of a Sacred Birth from all the eras and all the countries of the world.

Finally finished (I’m not a particularly good artist, and painting comes hard to me), the seated figure of the Divine Mother wears a scarf of silver, touched with opalescent paint. The guardian figure of her husband, standing near her and encircling her and the Child, is partially cloaked in gold—gold, for the nobility of a man who gave up everything: home and family and livelihood, to fly into hiding in Egypt—and all for a child that was not even his. And the Divine Child is swaddled in a shining blanket bespattered with  minute stars.  img_20190115_110047196 (2)

Refurbishing my aging nativity scene has been a careful, thoughtful effort. I seriously debated before finally adding haloes to the figurines, created of gold and stars. It was the finishing touch.

img_20190115_110150240But an acquaintance dropped by one recent afternoon as I was fitting the small, painted twig, shaped like a Scottish thumb stick (a type of walking stick), into Joseph’s tiny hand.

She examined my work with raised eyebrows. It was obvious she thought little of my small, shining saints.  “That doesn’t look anything like a shepherd’s crook,” she at last complained.

I took a deep breath. It wasn’t Christmas day, and she wasn’t a relative! Shooting her as withering a look as my face was capable of producing, I retorted decisively, He wasn’t a shepherd. He was a carpenter.”

No one was ever going to criticize my noble St. Joseph, not ever again.

Toxic Recipients

Now that the holidays are safely behind us, it’s probably the perfect time to discuss the situation of Toxic Recipients.

Most of us have known one…and many of us, unfortunately, still do: the person who, no matter what gift is given, is never quite pleased. Who is not only displeased, but vocal about her or his displeasure. (The dress is an unflattering style; the shirt is the wrong color. The membership to the local museum is a waste of money—after all, no one goes to the museum more than one time yearly. Movie tickets? The movies these days are all trash. There’s nothing worth seeing. Ditto the restaurant gift card; don’t you know how much that place has gone downhill?)

As to why these individuals behave this way, well, that is a topic for another blog post.  But in an attempt to please a TR, friends and family (having exhausted all the usual avenues for gift ideas), often turn to creativity, sure that something hand crafted, homemade, will be given the respect due the work put into it, if not the gift itself. Homemade bath bombs and salt scrubs, hand-knitted sweaters, carefully-constructed photo journals, “just add water” recipe jars, hand crafted suncatchers, redeem-at-will coupons for yard work, home repairs, chauffeuring, babysitting…  But all are rejected with a roll of the eyes and a heavy sigh, or a scathing comment about a how a flagrant misuse of their funds must have resulted in a limited budget for gifts this year.

A gift card to a favorite store? Couldn’t  be bothered to shop, could you? Cash? Giving money is the biggest cop-out ever! Fresh flowers? What a waste—the damned things don’t last any time at all; they just wilt. A gift made to a charity in one’s name? Don’t you realize that NOW that self-same charitable organization will be dunning the honoree for donations at every possible turn? A planter? Who has time to take care of plants? A spa gift card? One has to tip the staff at those places, you know!

I recall a story once told me by a coworker: Her family was sure they had finally hit upon the absolutely perfect gift for their Toxic Recipient Matriarch. They contacted an astronomical society and had a star named for her. Now there was a present that couldn’t be topped! It was, in fact, sky-high.

The Matriarch’s reaction to this gift was, as they recounted afterward, a true Mastercard moment: utterly priceless. Upon opening the certificate, she read it through twice—the first time uncomprehending, the second time, in patent disbelief. The she pinioned her hapless family with a gimlet stare and, tossing the certificate toward the discarded wrapping paper, demanded, “Just what the hell am I supposed to do with this?!”

So….  My humble suggestion to all of those trapped in the hellish round of attempting to please a Toxic Recipient on every birthday, anniversary, holiday, or whatever, is just this: Stop. Stop trying. Stop giving. And, above all, stop caring.

Give a gift with the store receipt prominently displayed, and when the TR comments upon the tackiness of this behavior, merely shrug and say, “Well, we knew you’d hate it, since you always hate everything we give you, so we were just making it easy for you to return it.”  Or show up emptyhanded, and mention casually and with total unconcern that your financial circumstances right now limit gift giving to small children only. Or, when the poisonous remarks about your gift begin to be spouted, throw up your hands and recount a laundry list of past gift failures. “Well, let’s see. You didn’t like the pink blouse/blue shirt. You used the restaurant gift certificate, and then gave us a blow-by-blow description of how poor the food and service were. You never even used the zoo membership. You didn’t cash in on our “a full day of yard work” coupon. You said the tool set was cheap. You never got a pedicure at the spa. You told us the year of gym membership was just our way of saying you were fat. So it was this,” (here making a dramatic gesture toward the most recently-rejected gift), “or purchasing your funeral plot. Of the two, we thought this was better.”

Of course, this last statement is likely to result in one’s being cut out of the will, or thrown out of the house, or banished from the family, or treated to an Amish-style shunning, or some other such volatile gesture of utter disdain.

Which, come to think of it, might not be so bad a result after all.

The Lopsided Tree

I have been watching (for, give me strength, months—literally months!) commercials lauding a particular brand of “perfect”, extraordinarily realistic Christmas tree. Each time I’ve been subjected to the commercial, I’ve thought to myself, “If you want a tree that perfectly realistic, for heaven’s sake, buy a live tree!”

But that isn’t true, either, is it? I recall the live trees of my early childhood, before artificial trees became common. They were never perfect. One always turned the “not so good” side to the wall. They sat crookedly in the tree stand, requiring endless work to straighten them and keep them straight. They shed needles no matter how much water was added to the stand. The top branch keeled over under the weight of the angel. But they smelled heavenly, and once the heavy glass colored bulbs were lit, they looked like a little piece of heaven, too.

They were a lot of trouble, those live trees, and I don’t precisely miss them, having used the artificial variety for most of my lifetime now. But I had reason to think about them as I set up my tree this year.

Two holiday seasons past, I had to purchase a new tree, doing so during the after-Christmas sales. I choose a prelit “umbrella” tree, one with folding branches that didn’t have to be frustratingly inserted following a complicated pattern. As I checked out with my tree at the counter, the sales clerk warned me that returns could only be processed within 30 days; be sure, she advised me, once I arrived home, that the lights on the tree were working. I swiped my credit card and laughed. “My dear,” I chuckled, “this baby is staying in the box until next Christmas. And if the lights don’t work, well, that’s why God invented strings of lights!’

But the lights did work, as I found out the following year. Although sparse (I prefer my trees simply laden with twinkling white lights), the tree blossomed into brilliance once plugged in. It was taller than I’d anticipated, but fit nicely into the narrow area available after the aggravation of moving the furniture. And, once decorated, it was just breathtaking.

Fast forward to January 2nd. There was simply NO WAY that tree was going back into the box. Finally I covered it with big trash bags and propped it into the corner of my tiny, single-car garage…where, a few months later, it crashed to the ground one evening as I pulled my car into the space, snapping the weld that held the bushy top branch in place so that it broke completely from the tree.

Ever the optimist, I decided to put it aside until the holiday season, sure it would be easy to repair. If the upper lights didn’t work now, I thought, I’d just get a string. No big deal.

Sigh. A week prior to Thanksgiving, I decided it might be best to repair that treetop. But after a frustrating two hours of attempting multiple mends, it became clear to me that the broken treetop was not going to be repaired. Oh, the lights still worked. But no way was that treetop ever going to slide into place in the trunk once again.

Finally, on the night before Thanksgiving, I brought the damaged tree into the house. Deciding that if duct tape had been good enough for Apollo 13, it was good enough for my Christmas tree, I taped the broken tree top to the trunk portion of the tree. It was lopsided as all get-out, and it wobbled ever so slightly, but it worked. I wound some ribbon about the trunk to disguise the mend, and settled the tree into its spot by the living room window.

The Lopsideded Tree Crop

And now, I realize, I like the tree better.

It was a little too tall before; now, perhaps four inches shorter, it is just the right size. It’s lopsided, just like the beloved trees of my childhood. The side where the mend shows most has been turned to the wall. It lost a few needles in the repair process, especially where I discovered that one umbrella-fold branch had also been a victim of that topple to the garage floor.

It is a perfectly imperfect tree.

Perhaps that is a metaphor for Christmas itself—for all the holidays celebrated by all the families of many cultures throughout the lands of this earth. We strive to make everything perfect—the food, the gathering, the gifts, the lights. But no matter how hard we try, perfection never happens. Married children cannot split their time between two families; grandchildren can’t make it home from distant colleges. The turkey burns; the mashed potatoes turn out runny. Someone starts a political discussion that ends up in shouting and quarrels. The smokers are angry at banishment to the porch. All the men escape to the TV for football, while the women, resentfully, clear tables and wash dishes. The kids scorn the gifts that their parents worked so hard to provide.

Perfection never happens. But, nonetheless, the lights burn brilliantly on the lopsided tree, reminding us that perfection isn’t a necessary component to joy. Satisfaction, acceptance, and “good enough” are all we truly need for happiness.

Manners of the Heart

I once enjoyed reading various columns in the daily newspapers. They were, after all, essentially the same thing as these blog posts; only the presenting medium differs.  And I have vivid memories the many weekly and daily features that I read.

One, years ago, was an advice column for etiquette. (I see you are now shaking your head.  You are thinking: When even the words “please” and “thank you” are forgotten bastions of good manners, when hate speech and road rage are common — well, in this era, almost no one, no one at all, would ever write, much less read, a feature piece about etiquette.)  But, there you have it.  For many years, newspapers across the country carried a daily article totally devoted to proper behavior.  Some still do!

I found the etiquette column fascinating. My own upbringing might be referred to as “Midwestern casual”.  I knew enough of good manners to keep my elbows off the dinner table and my mouth closed while chewing a bite.  I did not sling my napkin about my neck, but placed it on my lap. I knew that I should hold the door open for a person whose arms were laden with packages, or who was elderly, and that I was to answer respectfully, “Yes, Ma’am” or “Yes, Sir” when addressed by an adult. Parents of my friends were addressed as Mrs. or Mr., not by their first names.  I was never to point at someone, and I needed to say “Pardon me” or “Excuse me, please” when it was necessary to walk around someone.  But that about summed up my acquaintance with mannerliness.

So I devoured these articles on etiquette, learning unexpected and captivating facts. Presented with more cutlery than a knife, fork and spoon?  Start at the outside and work inward.  Lay my unused hand across the napkin in my lap. If arriving first at the door, hold it for everyone else, but if a someone offers to take the door for me as a large group enters, say thank you and continue in.  Spoon my soup away from me. When first becoming acquainted in a formal situation, ask if I might call someone by their first name. Sit with my ankles crossed and on a slight slant to one side.  Stir tea or coffee slowly in a vertical line.

Some of the advice was pithy and intelligent; occasionally (like that “spoon your soup” rule) it seemed to be total nonsense…until one considered the consequences of behaving otherwise (A dribble from the soup spoon will fall into the bowl, not the lap! Tea stirred in a circle will create a vortex and could overflow the cup.)

But scattered amongst all this concise and sensible information, there lurked pitfalls, and many of these became apparent in the questions sent in by people seeking to know the appropriate way to handle unusual situations. My favorite of all these was the woman who had a debate going with a friend on the correct way to put the flat sheet on the bed.

Having grown up in an era in which white bedsheets were the norm—colored sheets, and solid colors at that, had finally edged into the market; prints were just becoming popular—it had never occurred to me that there was any special way to lay the flat sheet atop the fitted sheet. You placed it down, straightened it across, tucked in the bottom and put hospital corners on the lower sides.  Period.  End of story.

But just as Dear Abby learned in the Great Toilet Paper Debate, everyone has an opinion.  The writer opined that, if the sheet was laid down “properly”, with the uppermost seam turned down, the flat sheet had to be laid with the printed side downward or “only the maid sees the pretty sheets”.

The maid?!

I had already gotten stuck at that part about the sheets being laid down “properly”. It had certainly never occurred to me to turn that uppermost seam down any which way.  One laid the sheet, as I’ve said, to the correct height on the mattress and tucked in the bottom and corners.

But the maid?

What maid?!  Did the writer of the letter—much less the author of the column—not realize that 99-and-some percent of the readers of this column had no maid?

It suddenly occurred to me that the etiquette lessons I was learning from these articles might not, after all, be applicable to the reality of the life I was living.

I’ll never remember what the author’s answer was to this ultimately silly question, having boggled at those other points in the letter. Despite that, I continued reading the manners advice column daily, extracting from it some pertinent guidance that I continue to use to this day.

But the memory of that letter came back to me when I was recovering from surgery, and a thoughtful friend came weekly to change the bedsheets for me. Laying down the flat sheet, she asked if I preferred to have the embroidered top seam turned down, for that would determine how she lay the sheet over the mattress.  “Hey, you’re doing me the favor,” I told her.  “I’m just grateful for your help. You put the sheet on there any way you like.”

And that, I think, is the essence of good manners: gratitude, consideration, and genuine courtesy.  Truly good manners are manners of the heart.

Mathematics Makes a…WHAT?!

More years ago than I care to remember, during the era in which the Sunday newspaper was a regular establishment and chock-full of information, I always enjoyed reading the small magazine that accompanied the paper. For several years one of my favorite features in that magazine was a column written by a woman acclaimed for her high I.Q. Much as I do with this blog, she simply discussed ideas and events that interested her, and, whether I agreed with her observations or not, I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.

The topic of one such article was the necessity of teaching and learning mathematics. Since math has been my stumbling block since I got to the point of learning (uh, being unable to learn) my “seven plus” tables—I’ve since discovered that I may suffer from dyscalculia, the mathematical equivalent to dyslexia–I read her column with real curiosity.

The author explained her point of view carefully, and her observations made great sense, until I reached a remark near the conclusion of her essay, in which (to the best of my memory; this was decades ago) she stated that “…mathematics makes a better poet”.

Say what?!

I put the article down and pondered. This being the pre-Internet era, I could not easily check my supposition, but I did not recall that anyone had ever mentioned or published Einstein’s shining examples of verse.  (I’ve looked them up since, and the few poems of his I was able to locate on-line were, at best, ordinary; certainly in no way comparable to notable poets such as Byron or Millay.)  I thought further on the subject and realized that, whether one believed that William Shakespeare was, in fact, Shakespeare, or any one of another half-dozen candidates for having written his works, I simply didn’t recall his equally-brilliant ventures into the field of mathematics.  Hmmm. That is, other than his ability to write in iambic pentameter—a feat which basically relies on tossing all the grammar books and rules out the window and brilliantly twisting language to fit emotion.  (In fact, most truly excellent poetry does just that.)  Da Vinci—certainly the ultimate Renaissance man and brilliant at mathematics, as proved by his engineering marvels—Da Vinci wrote quite an essay explaining why poetry simply did not measure up to painting.  He may have loved numbers, but he certainly had little enthusiasm for verse.

Pondering the article further, I mused that, having written several hundred poems myself–yes, most of them quite ordinary; I am admittedly not a Keats or  Dickinson or Millay–and even published a (pathetically) few, I did not ever recall needing any more mathematical a skill than that of counting out the syllables and establishing the rhythm of verses by tapping my fingers on the desk.  And this drumming occurred only when I was writing verse with rhyme and meter…a skill that wasn’t even necessary on the occasions when I wrote free verse.

Mathematics makes a better poet?

Nonsense. Despite the fact that my own I.Q. was obviously lower than that of the author, her contention was definitely pushing the point due to her personal bias.

The truth, I thought, lay more in the fact that mathematicians absolutely love math, finding it everywhere and searching for it in everything, while those who adore language do the same with words, from “Let there be light” right on down the freeway.

My personal bias is, of course, language. That may very well be why I toss the “mathematics makes a better poet” argument right out the window of the highrise to watch it shatter on the pavement below.  Introduced to poetry at an early age by a mother who loved it and who read it aloud with great skill, I was able to write competent verse by the third grade despite my compromised mathematical skills (and let me tell you right here and now that surviving elementary school while suffering dyscalculia, in an era in which the disorder wasn’t even recognized, was no picnic!)  But all I needed to compose poetry was the kindergarten skill of comprehending rhythm, the ability to count to no more than 14 or 15,  and fingers that could tap out a tempo—a feat that barely involved mathematics.

So while I respect those who regard numbers with the same worship and understanding that I extend to language, I do not share their perspective. I comprehend their view that the entire universe is mathematical…but I do not, cannot, see emotion as based on that theorem. And poetry is inherently emotional.

In any case, I know that there are just as many of us who, respecting mathematics, nevertheless want nothing more to do with numbers than we absolutely must deal with to get by on a daily basis in modern society. To that point, I’ve always recalled the comment of a brilliant young social worker I knew years ago.  He sat with a group of us, laughingly discussing all the courses he’d been forced to take in college that in no way contributed to either his work or the adult life that he actually led.  Having mentioned a laundry list of worthless instruction, he shook his head violently, flung his hands upward and rolled his eyes in an expression of utmost disdain, exclaiming with a bitter sarcasm that I completely understood, “Oh, and calculus!  I’m so glad I put myself through that!”

An Excellent Memory Is a…Defect?

According to an article I read recently, my excellent memory is not, as one might surmise, the result of careful training and good genes but is, in fact, due to a physical defect. Apparently I am lacking in a specific biochemical which is responsible for sorting and storing memories, relegating recent events to the dusty file cabinets at the back of the brain.  My file drawers hang half-open, it seems, the labeled manila folders within sticking up, where I can “see” many more of them than I should be able to do.

I’ve decided that the information from that article is probably true, for I’ve always had a strange and quirky memory. I can, for instance, recall most of the lines of a ridiculous song which we first graders were taught for a goodbye party, when the Roman Catholic school I attended was saying farewell to one of the parish priests.  “Me and my teddy bear/had no worries had no care/until we discovered Father Sciarria was going away…”  (These aren’t the only lines that I recall, either, but I will not inflict the other trite words on you, the hapless reader.)  I even recall that my mother put a fresh ribbon around the neck of my brother’s carefully refurbished teddy bear for me to carry on this momentous occasion.  Yet a friend who participated with me on that day has no memory of the occurrence, and certainly none of the song.

I also remember squatting with my older brother on the subfloor of the partially-built home my parents were viewing one weekend. My brother and I pushed a knothole out of the wood planks and then dropped nails through the hole to listen for the crash  as they dropped to the concrete of the basement floor below. As to why, in the name of heaven, I recall this, I have no explanation.  I could not have been much above two years old at the time, and it was hardly a stunning or memorable event.  But, there you have it: I remember it, and my brother, three years older than I,  once confirmed the silly recollection.

My fine memory has served me well on many occasions. The ability to recall minute details of specific events and conversations has saved me from many a misunderstanding, made my job easier, or made it possible for me to solve difficult problems.  And I have learned that to recall a joyful incident can be, for just an instant, to live once more in that moment of elation. But, in the converse, being able to recall, in tortuous detail, painful past events is in no way a blessing.  If recalling joy is to rediscover it, then a thorough memory of agonizing occurrences is to fully relive the anguish.

I’ve read, too, that each time we remember an event, we are actually remembering that we remember it.  The memory is, in essence, a watery, beaten carbon copy, growing more mangled and less precise with each repetition.  This causes me to wonder if the details that I recall—such as that fresh ribbon on the neck of the teddy bear—did, in fact, happen. It’s the sort of conundrum which makes eye witness accounts (as so many police departments and courts have learned to their dismay) totally unreliable.  What a witness remembers, may, in fact, not be borne out by the simple expedient of today’s everywhere-present videos.  People remember things oddly, or incorrectly, or that never even happened.

But the simple truth remains: if I remember the occurrence or event—if I recall it, and experience all the emotions surrounding it—then it is real to me. Whether or not I have added or lost specific details—whether or not I recall things precisely as they happened—they exist for me in the reality of my mind.

So I would not, not for any reason, and certainly not to be spared pain, give up one iota of my crazy, quirky, detailed memory. Not one sunset, not one touch of my daughter’s hand, not one friend’s face, nor one moment of awe or surprise or elation or even just simple, everyday life from my earliest childhood to this present moment.

It would seem that I’m not defective in that I have too little of whatever brain biochemical should relegate my sharp memories to the dusty file bins at the back of my brain. Indeed, it seems to me that those who have the “normal” amount of that compound must have far too much of it—and lose so much thereby.

 

 

One of the 7 Percent

I am not on Facebook.

I do not now have, nor ever have had, a Facebook page.

To many people, this is absolutely unfathomable. I have, when stating this fact,  received skeptical looks and even the snarky response, “Everybody is on Facebook!”  To which I respond with a shrug, and the reply, “I guess I’m nobody, then.”  Once, in response to the snotty-voiced remark, “You HAVE to be on Facebook”, my own retort was just a tad snarky: “Ex-cuuuuuse me! I fail to remember that line in the Constitution of the United States which states, ‘Every citizen will be required to have a Facebook page!”

If questioned more politely regarding my decision to eschew Facebook, I simply explain that I had a very bad experience with its predecessor, MySpace, and nothing that I have ever read or learned since regarding Facebook nor its originator, Mr. Zuckerberg, has made me lean toward establishing a Facebook account—especially all the most recent revelations regarding the misuse of user data and egregious violations of privacy.

Leaving entirely aside Facebook’s so-called privacy policy (longer than the aforesaid Constitution of the United States, but obviously not working even half so well), there is the memory of a young Mr. Zuckerberg referring to his customers as, “Dumb F***s”. And though he now claims to have matured beyond such belittling remarks, the recollection of the event does not endear him nor his platform to me.  Then there was the $68 million lawsuit payoff to the Winkelvoss brothers and Divya Narendra for what they claimed was intellectual property theft. Again, this fact does not encourage me to use Facebook.

But, if anything were to convince me to remain one of the anonymous 7 Percent—the Non-Facebook People of the world—it would be the laundry list of promised “I’ll get back to you on that” statements that Mark Zuckerberg made to Congress in the hearings held during the spring of 2018.  I understand that the New York Times noted 24 times–24!–in which Facebook’s originator replied to members of Congress with a remark along the lines of, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”  Some of those questions were extremely serious matters, such as how Facebook handles law enforcement requests, data tracking of minors even when they have logged off, investigation of unauthorized data access, and (most upsetting to me) data points on non-Facebook users.

Of course, I’m pretty certain I know how this works. Much like the biennial reports on vaccine safety that the pharmaceutical industry was supposed to have been producing and submitting to Congress since 1986 (a Freedom of Information lawsuit proved that not one—not even one!–such report had ever been produced, and no one has ever been held accountable for that failure), it’s highly doubtful that any of Facebook’s promised responses to Congressional questions will ever be submitted.  The smoke from this particular fire has dispersed and dimmed, and the public and their representatives have moved on to other, more enticing, matters.

A young acquaintance’s husband explained to me that he established a Facebook page solely for the purpose of looking at photos that friends post. He posts nothing himself, he explained; he makes no status updates; he accepts no friend requests other than his genuine personal friends;  he does nothing but look at family photos.  And considering my actual real-life status as a new grandmother, I’ve considered his viewpoint—especially after learning of  the collection of data on non-Facebook users, and thoroughly considering the general lack of privacy in any form in today’s society.  After all, I tell myself, I broadcast opinions and ideas and thoughts on this blog every week.  So perhaps I should, after all, create a Facebook page….

Nah.

Controlling the Rainbow

(This post was originally published on December 4, 2017, and is now rededicated to Amanda and John. Happy First Wedding Anniversary, my dearest children!  What an eventful year!  And, yes, little Morrigan Lynn, our magnificent miracle–yes, someday you will be a young girl counting on your fingers…but I assure you, your birth was a full ten and one-half months after your parents’ wedding day!)

There was a rainbow on my daughter’s wedding day.

As omens go, that’s hard to beat.

Neither she nor I actually witnessed this phenomenon, but were told about it afterwards by the relatives, smokers all, who had stepped outside to indulge their nicotine habit.

I’d been praying for days—weeks!—for lovely weather to grace the outdoor wedding ceremony of my only daughter. The venue she’d chosen had an excellent hall, and we knew that, if the weather didn’t cooperate, the ceremony could be moved indoors.  But she wanted an outdoor ceremony—wanted it desperately.

And things weren’t looking good.

I began scouring the weather reports two full weeks in advance of the ceremony, constantly checking on my phone, Kindle and computer, comparing predictions that somehow never quite seemed to mesh except for one thing: rain, rain, and more rain. I continually reminded myself that “weather forecaster” is the only job where one can be wrong 95% of the time and still remain employed, but that wasn’t convincing me. So I decided the best thing to do was gather all of my friends and family and issue a request (command!) for prayer.  Prayer and petitions to whatever deity, saint, deva or nature spirit they believed in.  If they didn’t have a favorite divinity, I supplied them with options, using my favorite search engine (NOT Google, but that’s  subject for another blog post).  I tracked down the names and antecedents of every saint, goddess, god or nature spirit said to have authority over the weather.  And there were a bundle of ‘em.

And so the prayers and petitions and appeals and entreaties went up from a dozen hearts and lips. But the weather forecast remained unswerving.  Rain.

However, the forecast began to alter slightly, from rain all day to “rain in the afternoon”. Raindrops, just wait until after 4:00 p.m., I prayed.  That would get us safely through the ceremony and all decamped to the reception hall.

Smaller Walking Up Aisle
Her Dad and I walking our daughter up the aisle at her outdoor wedding, October 7, 2017.

And, in the end, that is exactly what the deities, gods, goddesses, saints, devas, divinities and nature spirits (most likely, heartily sick of hearing so many desperate petitions) provided: The perfect early fall day. A temperature that rose to no more than 80, a light breeze lifting the brilliant leaves of the trees, and fluffy white cumulous clouds cruising through a blue sky…all of it lasting until just that last shutter click as the final formal portraits were taken.  Just at 4:00 p.m., a dark thundercloud rolled over to obscure the sun, and we all made tracks for the reception hall and food, music, drinks, dancing, cake and joy.

And, at some point during the proceedings, a rainbow.

And that was the one thing I’d forgotten about in my desperate need to control every last detail and thereby provide my daughter the perfect wedding day: the possibility of a beauty even greater than clear, warm weather. A rainbow.  The ultimate promise.

Let go and let God. I’m a great proponent of that saying…in theory.  Practice is an entirely different matter.  However, my daughter’s wedding day was a firm reminder to me of that concept.  Another was taught to me by a Hindu friend, who explained that rain on one’s wedding day is considered “a blessing of water”.  Sunshine, warm breezes, trees clothed brilliantly in green and gold and ruby, rain and a rainbow. Every possible good luck omen.  My daughter and new son-in-law got it all—more likely in spite of, rather than because of, all my desperate pleas to the heavens.

Now, though, laughingly thinking of omens, I’m forced to remember my own wedding day to her father, right here in my home state.  Omens indeed!

Indiana had an earthquake.