The Better Answer

I read this modern epistle of 50s-style housewifery in aghast disbelief!

My inconvenient memory sometimes dredges useless debris up from the depths of its deeps, making me ponder ridiculous junk all over again. So the other day, while tidying up my house, I suddenly recalled an article I’d read in a women’s magazine probably three or four decades ago. (Yes, I actually remember this crap. God knows why. The file drawers in my steel trap of a mind hang open and unlocked.)

It was probably picking up my little granddaughter’s toys that triggered the memory. But, in any case, I recalled an article published by a woman, the theme of which was something along the lines of coping when presented with an unexpected diversion from your plans. The writer described the fact that her husband, who genuinely enjoyed spontaneous dinner parties, was in the habit of calling her at her office and announcing, “I just asked the Smiths to dinner tonight. Is that okay?”

The article continued for several paragraphs, describing the writer’s actions to prepare for the sudden invasion of this dinner-expecting couple. She wouldn’t, she explained, rush straight home from work; instead, on the way home, she’d stop at the supermarket to grab a pre-roasted chicken, a bag of apples, packaged salad, and a prefab piecrust (if, she pointed out, she didn’t already have these items on hand in the refrigerator and pantry, in expectation of just such an event). Arriving home, she’d rush into the living room and swiftly grab all their baby’s toys–hence, the likely connection my undisciplined memory made to the long ago article–to corral them in the playpen. One assumes she’d also picked up said baby on her mad dash home; the infant wasn’t further alluded to in her article. She’d make a swift run through the living room to plump cushions, pick up newspapers and remove other detritus; then sling up fresh towels in the bathroom. She’d place the chicken in a warming oven, decant the salad mix into a bowl, and throw together an apple tart with the prefab piecrust–but, she explained, without peeling the apples. (Wow! Way to skimp on effort.)

What I most recall about reading this epistle of 50s-style housewifery is my complete, utter, aghast disbelief.

I was at that time afflicted with neither a marriage, a husband, nor a baby, but I could nevertheless envision SO many better answers to the question of, “I just invited people for dinner tonight. Is that okay?”, the first of which was, “Sure, that’s fine. What are YOU serving them?” Reading further into the article, that remark might have been coupled with, “By the way, it’s your turn to pick up the baby from daycare tonight. Oh, and don’t forget to clean up all your magazines and newspapers scattered around your recliner. By the way, what time is this shindig supposed to happen? It’s been a rough day. I want to get home and take a long, hot bath first.”

Of course, other scathing answers bubbled up in my brain like gas at the surface of a swamp. “What?! I’m getting my hair done tonight. My appointment at the salon is for 6:00 p.m. I don’t suppose I’ll be home until at least 7:30.” Or, “I can’t believe you forgot that your parents are coming for dinner tonight! I can’t stretch the meal I’d planned to feed two more people!” Or perhaps, “My boss just told me I’ll need to work overtime on the big project tonight. So I suppose this depends on whether you think we can get by without my income when I’m fired.”

But, realistically, there were so many other better answers to her husband than either the ones I invented or Mrs. Non-Liberated-Woman’s unbelievable plan of action. In her situation, the first one that would have hit my tongue was, “Why would you even THINK that’s okay?” Then there would have been the straightforward and plain-spoken, “That’s a decision that should be made by both of us. You’ll have to call them back and cancel the invitation.”

Of course, the very best and clearest answer when faced with the question of, “I just invited the Smiths to dinner tonight. Is that okay?” would have been, of course, “NO!”

I’ve wondered, occasionally, over the years, how many spontaneous roast-chicken-and-apple tart dinners the writer produced during the course of her marriage, and how long she and her husband remained married. And my answers to myself are always the same: “Even one would have been too many!” and, “Not very long.”

Enjoyed this? Then you might also like “Twenty-Four Hours Too Late”. You can find it in the Archives, below, dated November 22, 2017.

Hiding in Downton Abbey

Okay. This was pretty intriguing stuff.

When the long-running British series Downton Abbey initially began, I read about it and shrugged, uninterested. Midway into the first season, though, a coworker, Dani, who was enjoying the show, urged me to begin watching it. I remained unconvinced. “I’ve seen Upstairs, Downstairs,” I told her. “Life can hold no more.”

The show was well into its third season one winter, though, when a weekend snowstorm headed for Indianapolis. Not a blizzard, shades of ’78; just a plain old Indy snowstorm. High winds, falling temperatures, lots of drifting snow. The storm was supposed to begin late on Friday night. If the power stayed on (always questionable when high winds combined with snow), I’d need something to occupy my time over a snowbound weekend. I already had yarn and hooks for a crochet project, and plenty of favorite books to re-read. But I’d watched every DVD I owned multiple times to the point of utter boredom, while I had no cable package and basically hated every sitcom and drama then running on network TV. What to do?

So when I headed out for snowstorm supplies to stock my pantry, I chose to make a longer trip down to the highway. There was a used video store tucked in the corner of that strip mall. I could load up on groceries before shopping for a couple of shows.

The DVD store proved a bust, however. I either already owned or wasn’t interested in any of the videos they had. Except…the first season of Downton Abbey. Oh, well, I thought as I laid my money down. Dani would be happy. I’d finally caved.

The wind was already rising that night as I picked up my crocheting and fed the first disk into the player. Snowflakes danced in the darkened windows as the theme music played. The telegraph operator spoke the first line of the series:“Oh my God!” Okay, this was pretty intriguing stuff, I admitted a short while later, realizing that I’d become so interested in the drama that I’d botched two rows of the shell stitch that I could usually crochet in my sleep.

And then they carried the lifeless Turk down the gallery in the dead of night.

I finally stumbled to bed about two a.m., having watched the entire first season. When I at last arose the next day, I didn’t even spare a glance for the snow-blanketed landscape. I just made a cup of coffee and fed the first DVD back into the player to rewatch the whole thing.

The real blessing of my fascination with the series came in 2014, when my sister-in-law’s mother passed away. Paula, the younger sister, had cared for their mother for years, living there in the house with Ellen, and found it troubling to return to their empty home following Ellen’s death. So we three staged a weekend sleepover to reintroduce Paula to the premises, staying up the better part of the first evening watching Downton Abbey, using the familiar scenes and characters to grease the skids of Paula’s difficult transition into a home without their Mom.

The world turned and turned, and we tumbled into 2018; I received a diagnosis of uterine cancer. Numb with shock after the phone call from my gynecologist, I reached out to Paula, and she hurried to stay with me that night. Once again we pulled out the first season. Watching the well-known plot, hearing the memorable lines, I found myself encased in a comforting familiarity, like pulling a pillowy soft blanket over the gaping wound of my fear and shock. I continued to watch select episodes of the series throughout my tests and surgery and recovery that winter—especially the one in which Mrs. Hughes feared she had breast cancer. It was all ineffably comforting.

Over and over again, watching the special features at the end of the series and movie videos, I’ve listened as the cast, the directors and producers and crew members, remark that it has been a privilege and a pleasure, if not a wonder, to be part of something which has touched the lives of so many people everywhere in the world—a show so beloved, so appreciated, that it has woven itself into the threads of our culture. Each time I’ve thought to myself, “If they only knew….”

Then my friend of 32 years, living 900 miles away in another state, died…and no one told me. I learned of her death through a dream, à la Joseph and the Pharaoh, and the aegis of a search engine. Renée had already been buried when I discovered the truth; I did not even have the comfort of a memorial service to say my goodbyes to her.

And so, knowing that a cherished character of my much-beloved series was to die in the second movie, which I had not yet seen, I hurried out to purchase the video. For I needed a funeral. I needed to weep for someone lost. I needed to hear the trite truth that life goes on, and that time heals.

I needed these people who did not really exist in order to mourn the unbearable loss of one who had.

Yet one more time I pulled the enfolding blanket of the fictional world of Downton Abbey across my cringing soul.

And it worked.

May the new year bring better times for all of us, and countless blessings upon you and yours!

The Secular Light Show

November 13 will be World Kindness Day, and so I am revisiting this very applicable post from 2020.

In early November 2019, a local family initiated their holiday light display—an astounding and impressive effort; simply lovely. It was, perhaps, a tad early, but what with the invidious daylight savings time having begun two weekends prior, the winter nights were certainly quite long enough to make such a light show worthwhile. The family noted the display on our local neighborhood website, posting photos and inviting people to drive by and enjoy the spectacle. Several website members commented on the exceptional light show, and I punned that it was “delightful”.

But, as always seems to happen these days, a sourpuss (i.e., jackass!) simply had to comment. “This is a very secular display,” he groused. “Christmas without Christ is not Christmas.”

Other members quickly shut him down, pointing out that not only does not everyone celebrate Christmas, but that a light-up baby Jesus in the front yard really made no more of a statement than a reindeer; that religious beliefs were best celebrated in the home and the heart, not on one’s lawn, and not just at a particular season, but throughout the year; that at the holiday season it was best to be building people up, rather than tearing them down; and, finally, that whatever else it might be, the light display was certainly fun and festive and was bringing smiles to the faces of those witnessing it and wonder to the eyes of small children.

Nothing that was said to him, however, no matter how thoughtful or theologically sound, altered the Religious Grinch’s opinion; he remained stubbornly resistant to these various peacemakers, responding emphatically with his opinion that the light spectacle was insulting to the true meaning of Christmas while intimating that he felt picked upon for having stated his opinion.

Mindful of our ever-watchful website “Lead”, who had deleted my comments before, I merely replied with a carefully-pointed remark that I thought it was a lovely gesture that this family had taken so much time, effort, and expense to make so beautiful a display just ahead of World Kindness Day on November 13th. It seemed to me, I continued, a truly kind thing to create such beauty for one’s neighbors to enjoy, and I, for one, was most appreciative of their efforts. Then I private-messaged two of those who had made the most rational and courteous responses to the Religious Grinch, and told them how much I appreciated their efforts, receiving in reply their thanks, good wishes and blessings—blessings and good wishes that they also offered publicly to the Religious Grinch, and which were (perhaps not surprisingly) not returned by him.

Although my true thoughts remained unsaid on the website (at least by me; some others dared make some of these points), there were so many things I wanted to say to Mr. Religious Grinch. I wanted to suggest that perhaps the light display had been set up by a Hindu family celebrating a belated Diwali, not Christmas, or even a NeoPagan family whose spiritual holiday, celebrated with light, is not Christmas but Yule, the winter solstice. I didn’t know, I pondered, if light displays comprised part of the celebrations of Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, but those holidays, rather than Christmas, might be what the lights represented. Soyaluna, Saturnalia, Festivus—even the 6,000-year-old holiday of the Kemet Orthodoxy faith, called “The Return of the Wandering Goddess”, might be the reason behind the glorious twinkling and blinking and racing lights in the front yard of a neighborhood home.

I wanted, too, to ask Mr. Religious Grinch what he had done, or planned to do, to bring a smile to the lips of his neighbors during this holiday season; to provide them a moment’s joy. He certainly had not provided his good wishes to those on the website, so was he planning some other random act of kindness? How would he express his Christ of Christmas during the season? Would he speak a word of loving encouragement to someone sad and depressed, or haul an elderly neighbor’s trash bin through the snow to the curb on garbage collection day? Would he be dropping a dollar into a homeless person’s outstretched hand, or volunteering at a food pantry, or giving a contribution to a domestic violence shelter?

Finally, furiously, I typed my reply to Mr. Religious Grinch–the reply that (lest I become a Grinch myself!) I ever so carefully deleted before my finger, hovering anxiously over it, could press the SEND button:

“Well, sir, since this light show disturbs you so much, perhaps you should set up on your own lawn a very non-secular display, full of stables and Holy Families and angels and stars and Magi and shepherds and sheep and oxen—and YOU could be the ASS!”

If you enjoyed this, then you might also want to read, “The Ghosts of Christmas Trees Past”, which you can locate by scrolling to the Archives, below on this page. It was published on December 18, 2019.

Rules to Live By

The rules I live by are so ingrained that I rarely recognize them as such.

Like most people, I live according to many small, particular (one might say petty) rules and belief systems that are now so ingrained that I rarely even recognize them as such. I’ve mentioned some of these in a previous essay, but a few examples of my personal rule/belief system are:

Beds should be made every day;

If I particularly enjoy a TV show, it won’t last beyond one season;

and

Toenails should always be painted bright, pretty colors during sandal season.

But, as I also mentioned in that earlier essay, I do not constrain anyone to adhere to my rules and beliefs, since my overarching conviction, the one that informs my entire life, is that compromise is essential to peaceful human interaction. This is made easier by the fact that I live alone; my cats rarely argue with me, and, when they do, I’m the Mom; I win. But I still consider the ability to compromise to be a vital element of human maturity. (Unfortunately, the state of current society in America indicates all too sadly that this essential principle has been pretty well abandoned.)

Anyway, being easily entertained, I recently wasted a little time considering the other rules and beliefs under which I operate, and compiling a list of them. I found this activity enlightening, especially when I began comparing my personal “Life System” to those of my friends. It was astounding not just how many factors we agreed upon, but disagreed on. (That whole compromise thing again; that is why we remain friends.)

So here is a brief list of just a few of the vital rules and beliefs by which I discovered I live. To wit:

Bedsheets should be changed every week.

Dishes don’t have to be done until there are a sinkful—and when one lives alone, that takes awhile, so dirty dishes in the sink are a given.

Toilet lids should be put down before you flush. (Have you ever read about what gets sprayed around if you don’t do this?! Eeeewwwwww.)

If you’ve never used it and you throw it out, you will need it.

If a man has to tell you how great he is in bed…he isn’t.

If it’s Amazon’s Choice, avoid it like the plague.

Cats will always walk off the linoleum to throw up on the carpet. Having thrown up on the carpet once, they will walk to a fresh spot and throw up again. They will always do this if the carpet has just been cleaned. They will definitely do this as soon as guests arrive in your home.

If you’re barefoot in the morning, you will always step in cat barf. Somehow this will happen even if you don’t own a cat.

If you are looking forward to a day of just relaxing with nothing urgent to do, 25 different chores will rear their ugly heads.

An old friend who you haven’t seen for years will show up unexpectedly on your doorstep on a Sunday afternoon, especially if you are lazing about in your PJs with uncombed hair while the house is a complete mess.

If a particular public or historical figure is your hero, you will learn something horrific about their behavior that will forever tarnish them in your eyes.

If you really liked a movie, the critics will savage it, and you will look like an idiot for saying you enjoyed it.

The family crisis will always happen while you are out of town or otherwise unavailable.

If you finally discover the perfect shade of lipstick or nail polish, the manufacturer will discontinue it the very next month.

If you belittle a dish at a potluck dinner, the person who brought it will be standing right next to you.

The elegant paper invitation you’re sending to the most important person will always be lost by the post office.

If you plan an outdoor activity involving many people, it will rain.

The pet you love best will die young.

If you hesitate to buy it, it will be gone the next time you’re in the store.

You will realize someday with total dismay that there is always going to be at least one person who will be glad to hear that you’ve died.

If you have to be up by 5:00 a.m. to make it to an early work shift, your neighbors will be having a loud party that keeps you awake until at least 2:00 a.m.

The people you love best will be the ones who hurt you most. The very fact that you love them gives them this power over your heart.

If you’ve been waiting for three months for a vital appointment with a medical specialist, you will get a jury duty notice for the day of the appointment.

The power will go out when you are in the midst of attending a critical on-line meeting.

If you make a disparaging remark about someone, they will be standing within hearing range.

There is absolutely no way to make brussels sprouts taste good.

You will get desperately sick just prior to, or during, your long-awaited vacation.

And, finally, (no, Jack!) it is NOT all small stuff!

I’m sure I’ve many other rules and hardcore beliefs under which I operate my life, but these are the most essential.

Now, what are yours?

Let me know in the Comments what rules you live by! If you missed it, you might also want to read the post “Consider Compromise” which sparked this silly little missive. You can find it in the Archives, published October 12.

When the Queen Died

Hatred does not cease by hatred, ever.

As an adolescent constantly searching to discover the appropriate spiritual path for my life, I came across a book titled The World’s Great Religions. One line from that book would remain with me the rest of my life: Verse 5 of the Buddhist Dhammapada. The translation was given as, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, ever. Hatred ceases by love.” (I’ve read other translations of the verse in the intervening years, but they are in essence the same.)

I had reason to recall this favorite quote when, like many people, I was shocked to read the controversial tweet by Carnegie Mellon Professor Uju Anya as news broke of Queen Elizabeth II’s imminent death. Dr. Anya wrote, “I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.” Twitter removed the post for violating its community guidelines, but not before it had circulated worldwide.

A short time later, Professor Anya followed her disturbing tweet with a factual, painful explanation. She described the genocide endured by the Igbo people, her people, when they attempted to separate from Nigeria to form the independent nation of Biafra. She detailed British involvement, wholly for financial reasons, in support of Nigeria during the ensuing war.

The child I had once been, reading that Buddhist quote at about the same time this war occurred, knew nothing of that conflict; Vietnam dominated the headlines for my young self. It was only after reading Dr. Anya’s explanatory remarks that I researched the history of the Biafra war. I found her description of British support of Nigeria in the war to be accurate, although the struggle was far more complex than she alluded; racism and wildly differing cultures helped ignite holocaust.

Nevertheless, after reading her explanation, Dr. Anya’s original tweet made far better sense to me. Filled with anguish for what her people had endured, she fastened upon the Queen as the singular object of her revulsion; the symbol of that past evil. I still could not, did not, approve of Dr. Anya’s spiteful words (hatred does not cease by hatred, ever), but I could certainly understand why she’d said them.

Yet I still had a real problem with Dr. Anya’s tweet. Those words, written by an educator, who claimed that they were, as she later remarked, “designed to educate people”, were simply inexcusable. The explanation that followed her outburst was educational; her malicious statement was not. Not in any way.

I do not pretend to be well-educated; in fact, my formal education is very slight. In consequence, I require more, a great deal more, of those who style themselves, by reason of years of study and position, to be educators. It was in that regard, as an educator, that Dr. Anya failed miserably.

Her outburst was, the professor asserted, an “unplanned, spontaneous” reaction when she learned that Queen Elizabeth was dying. That, too, did not wash. Anyone with a few functioning neural connections (and that would certainly include Carnegie Mellon professors!) knew for a good while that Elizabeth II hadn’t long to live. The Queen was 96 years old. She was the surviving spouse of a 74-year marriage—and Widowhood Effect has been understood for decades. She’d had Covid. When appointing Liz Truss as Prime Minister, she’d had to stand using a cane. Unplanned? Spontaneous? In my opinion, Dr. Anya’s vicious tweet was long planned, and anything but spontaneous. I simply could not accept her glib explanation that she was “triggered” upon learning that Queen Elizabeth was close to passing, and to my mind, that made the professor’s failure to first post the historical reasons for her fury even a greater failure of her position as an educator. She had ample time, during the Queen’s slow decline, to disseminate the terrible history of Britain’s behavior during the war, and engage her followers in frank discussion; to state why she held Queen Elizabeth, who was merely the titular head of the nation, personally responsible.

Put simply, Dr. Anya started at the wrong end of the stick. How many people saw only her first, inflamed tweet, and, disgusted, never read further to discover the very valid reasons behind her fury? How many more people might she have educated on the history of genocide had she first spoken factually, with restraint?

Professor Anya, an intelligent, well-educated woman, was so blinded by hate that she introduced her remarks in completely the wrong order, thereby garnering some sympathy, but also a great deal of antipathy.

Hatred does that. It blinds us and makes us behave poorly. And it does not cease.

Having struggled my whole life, though, with recurring bouts of rage and impotent fury for past abuse, I empathize with, while still not condoning, Dr. Anya’s reaction to the Queen’s passing.

Nevertheless, I persist in admiring Queen Elizabeth II for many reasons, not the least of which is the remarkable self-discipline that she demonstrated throughout her lifetime: her careful words and calm demeanor.

Had Dr. Anya been able to put aside her antipathy, even for a brief moment, might she have learned something from the Queen’s iron-willed self-control? Perhaps…

At any rate, Professor Anya, you successfully exacted belated vengeance upon a dying elderly woman and those who loved her, and I genuinely hope (although I doubt) that it helped you to heal at last. (Hatred does not cease by hatred, ever.)

Yet I somehow doubt that a double rainbow will split the sky at the hour of your own death.

If you appreciated this essay, you might also find something to like in “Princess Diana Saved My Life”, recently re-posted on August 31, 2022. You may locate it by scrolling to the Archives, below.

It is Pronounced!

I started to write a post on this subject…then realized I’d already done so, years ago.  So here it is again.  (Hmmm.  I may be running out of things to talk about.  Nah.  Never happen.)

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 for “aaigs” 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 hid my face 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 his daily intercom announcement about our school “athaletes”. (I recently heard that 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 speakers on the TV 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 Uuh-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.

If this essay made you smile, you might also enjoy “Mispronounced, Revisited”, which you can locate by scrolling to the archives, below.  It was published October 19, 2018.

Writing in Cursive

Back to the basics…

As a young child in the 1960s attending a Roman Catholic elementary school, I learned to write on gawdawful, flimsy, triple-lined paper—paper made from such poor pulp that it had a faintly brown cast and even occasional wood chips hiding beneath the blue lines. Regular #2 pencils had a terrible habit of tearing through these fragile sheets; it was impossible to erase a mistake neatly, as the graphite just smeared over the shoddy surface.

But even worse was our promotion, usually in fourth grade, to the dreaded cartridge pen. Made with thick nibs that were supposed to encourage neat writing, these cheap ink pens scratched and stuttered across the surface of school notebook paper. They had a terrible habit of leaking and even exploding, usually over a vital test paper. One always approached with trepidation the necessity of inserting a fresh ink cartridge into the pen. No one, teacher or student, managed to achieve this without ending up covered in ink—blue or blue-black ink, only, thank you. Colored ink, like the more rational ballpoint pens, was not permitted.

But putting aside lousy first grade paper and cartridge pens with their shortcomings, the one thing those parochial schools taught competently, even superbly, was handwriting. Penmanship. Cursive.

Starting in the second grade, just after we had mastered printing, we students were given penmanship lessons every Friday afternoon. (As an aside, what a brilliant, master strategy: Take a bunch of kids who want nothing more than to get the hell out the door of the classroom for the weekend, and use the last hour of Friday afternoon to teach the two least cerebral classes imaginable–Art and Penmanship!) But as a 7-year-old child, these lessons in cursive infuriated me. I already knew how to write; why did I have to learn it all over again?! But learn it I did, scribing line after line of looping circles across the page to acquire the feel of writing in cursive. I was criticized by my nun teachers and forced to use a special notebook paper when I failed to end each word by drawing the final hook on the letters to the appropriate upward spot of each line. Struggling valiantly through the irritating lessons, I began to find that, not only was cursive writing much faster, but it could also be far prettier. I listened in excitement when my beloved third grade teacher, Mrs. Dryer, explained that she believed the letter “L” to be the most graceful of all the alphabet. My middle initial was L! I began to try ever harder to produce a graceful, swooping letter L,

Letter (2)

and finally succeeded, to the praise of my teacher. My middle initial–indeed, my entire signature–is written, to this day, in those elegant, flowing loops.

But worlds turn; times change. Faced with the onslaught of the computer era, teaching cursive began to seem to school officials evermore like a waste of time. Why did one’s signature matter when, scribbling it onto a touchpad, it looked nothing at all like a signature, anyway? Schools began to drop the teaching of cursive writing, and I wondered, sadly, how any future American child would be able to read the signatures at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence.

My sadness bubbled up into laughter, though, when I realized that I had a skill even beyond cursive writing which ensured that anything I wrote would remain a secret: Because I knew how to write in cursive, I‘d long ago mastered the art of Speedwriting, a form of simplified shorthand. After using Speedwriting at my job for years, I continued to jot notes and make lists in that quick and easy stenography.

Cursive (2)
If you can read this, then you not only know cursive, but you can also read speedwriting.

Continue reading “Writing in Cursive”

Typhoid Mary, Covid Carrie

I have somehow become suspected of being a walking Covid factory; the Wuhan Market in human form.

It would appear that I, quite innocently and without any evidence whatever, have become the Midwest’s greatest vector for disease transmission; the Typhoid Mary of Covid. To this I can only say that, not content with scything down a large portion of the population and rendering the rest ill for months with the long form of the disease, Covid has made people downright freaking crazy.

The first indication of my unwitting selection as the Great Disease Vector came in January, 2021. The vaccine had just been released, but was in short supply; only specific populations–the most elderly, those who looked after them, health workers, etc.–were given first shot (pun intended!) at vaccination. Several members of my family fell into those categories, though, and were promptly vaccinated. But I, plenty old but not quite elderly, was caught in a holding pattern, waiting for my chance at a shot to save my life. (It’s really a great pun.)

Now, some of our family members being Asian American, we have for many years celebrated Chinese New Year together. In 2021, that holiday arrived in January. Unfortunately, one of those family members had been ill with an undiagnosed mystery illness (think, possible long Covid following asymptomatic disease; think, with far less charity and a touch of irritation, just plain hypochondria). So when the celebration rolled around, the vaccinated family members were invited. I, however, was warned by the most officious member of the family that I was a danger to the sick person, since he, along with his wife and three children, were too young to be vaccinated. Don’t come! I was ordered.

I did as bidden and stayed home, heartbroken. Only much later did it occur to me that, as a lifelong asthmatic, I was in a great deal more danger from two unvaccinated adults and three unvaccinated children than they were from me. But, hey, who was I, Covid Carrie, to quarrel?

Finally, the vaccine was released to those of my age category and (after a mighty battle with the website—for the love of heaven! Despite having come to tech so late that I actually learned to type on a manual typewriter, I could and did design numerous databases during my final two decades at the office, all of which functioned one helluva lot better than the joke perpetrated upon a helpless populace by the Indiana State Board of Health! But I digress….) I finally received my first vaccine and began the tortuous waiting period for the second shot.

Meanwhile, unfortunately, Easter rolled around. A gathering was planned once again with Mr. Mystery Illness and his kin, and I was warned, “You’re a danger to him. You’ve only had one shot. Don’t come.” You’re a walking Covid factory. You’re the Wuhan Market in human form. Stay away, Covid Carrie. I sighed and spent Easter visiting a homebound relative.

The world kept turning, and I, now both fully vaccinated and extremely careful, did not fall ill of Covid. In fact, when boosters became available in October, I rushed to get one, standing in line for over an hour despite having arrived early to my appointment. Nothing was going to keep me from that booster! When Thanksgiving landed, by God, I was going to be ready: vaccinated, boosted, mask-wearing, crowd-avoiding and hand sanitizer using me!

I hadn’t counted, though, on yet another family member. Despite every argument we flung at him, despite seeing that the vaccine had done the rest of us no harm, my son-in-law was adamantly an anti-vaxxer. Once more I was given an ultimatum: I could come to Thanksgiving dinner, but my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter could not, due to his unvaccinated status (the possibility of his testing negative using one of the now readily-available home tests was not even discussed). Choking on my tears, I made my Sophie’s Choice, deciding, of course, in favor of my daughter and her little family. I had, after all, promised my baby granddaughter when she was no more than twelve hours old that I would always protect her, even to giving my life for hers. Giving up Thanksgiving seemed quite minor by comparison.

After all this, then, it came as no surprise to me this summer when I was barred from yet another gathering, this time of friends. I’d been exposed to Covid several days before our luncheon was planned to take place, and was upfront about that with everyone. But, I offered, I would test both the day before and the morning of the luncheon; I would wear a mask, and not order or eat, so I would not have to take it off; I would just join them at the table to bask in the joy of being with friends.

We can’t risk it, I was told.

Accustomed at this point to my status as a pariah, I was saddened, but neither upset nor surprised. My friends met for luncheon in an enclosed restaurant space, surrounded by strangers of uncertain vaccination, health, and testing status, and I remained at home.

Still, I find it odd that, having not yet (I will not dare say never!) fallen to Covid despite being directly exposed to it now over four times, I should somehow have acquired the weighty status of the Great Midwestern Disease Vector. As I say, looking at the anti-vax and vaccine wars, the lockdowns and protests, the attacks on mask wearers and mask refusers, as well as what I have experienced, it would seem that Covid’s true legacy is not actually death and destruction, but simple, plain, insanity.

For another viewpoint on my experiences with Covid, you might appreciate “No Pleasure in Being Right”, which you can locate by scrolling down to the Archives. It was published September 1, 2021.

I Really Hate the Medical Profession! ( Part 1, Probably)

There is a reason for those two snakes on the caduceus!

A few weeks ago, I endured what is euphemistically termed a sleep study.  I haven’t the slightest notion under the frigging flaming sun as to why it would be called that, since the whole convoluted process would be more correctly titled a sleep deprivation study.  There’s no way in Dante’s Hell that any normal human being could sleep under those contrived circumstances, and certainly not someone like myself, afflicted with mild claustrophobia.  Sci-Fi androids probably have fewer wires than those that were slapped on me that night: a giant metal surge protector slung about my neck connecting hundreds of tiny twisted cables; nasal cannula jammed up and drying out my nose; sticky electrodes lining my body from my scalp right down to my calves.  And all of this in a stuffy windowless box of a room.  Sleep? Who could sleep?!

Even more hilarious were some of the questions on the paperwork I had to complete prior to the study.  Do I snore?  How the devil would I know?  I live alone.  My cats haven’t complained.  What did I weigh in high school?  Are you kidding me?  I’m 68 years old.  I sometimes can’t remember if I ate breakfast today, and they’re asking what I weighed in high school?  A lot less than I do today, was my somewhat-acerbic answer.

Despite this absurdity, the medical powers-that-be somehow determined that I suffer mild sleep apnea.  A CPAP machine was recommended.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, because I wasn’t really thrilled with the whole idea), in keeping with everything else  that is unobtainable/scarce/in shortage during the Covid era, CPAP machines are globally unavailable for six to nine months, as I was informed by a phone call from the medical provider’s office.  Having told me this, this same provider’s office then scheduled a follow-up appointment just three months down the road.  Excuse me?  If I’m not receiving any treatment for this condition (of which I remain unconvinced, anyway, considering the bogus environment of the test), why would I fork over yet another $176 fee to learn…what?  Nothing?  Sorry, doc, I don’t feel called upon to contribute to your next Caribbean vacation cruise.

All of this madness was, I should probably explain, in service of determining the cause of a worrisome heart arrhythmia.  So that night of sleep deprivation was followed by yet more ineptitude with a stress test.  (“Can you walk?” the cardiologist asked me, and I answered in the affirmative.  I enjoy walking.)  Unfortunately, she asked the wrong question.  She should have said, “Can you jog?  Sprint?  Run?”  Nope, and, suffering asthma, I’ve not been able to do so for perhaps 35 years or more.

The tech inserting the IV in my arm helpfully wrote “ASTHMA” in big warning letters across my paperwork before I was handed over to two techs who had, quite obviously, never encountered an asthma patient in their very young lives.  I suggested using my rescue inhaler first, and was voted down.  Bad move.  I always use my inhaler prior to exercising.  So, tucking the inhaler into my clothing where I could reach it easily, I hopped up onto a treadmill set to what they described as a “brisk walk”, with no warm up preceding the rush of movement.  Uh…  What they termed a brisk walk, I called at least a trot.  Not a good idea, without a warm-up, for most older people–joints, you know; for an asthmatic, a very, very, VERY bad idea. In a mask, too. Within three minutes, I was suffering a full-blown asthma attack and (since they refused to pause the machine to allow me to use my inhaler) the whole test had to be scuttled.  Three hits of my inhaler later, they proclaimed, “You’re having an exaggerated blood pressure response”.  Uh, a colossal asthma attack and three blasts of albuterol—ya think?

One week later, while speaking with the physician’s assistant who had received my test results, she complained that I’d been unable to exercise long enough to get accurate readings.  “I had an asthma attack,” I protested, and she was surprised.  That fact hadn’t been mentioned in my results.

Finally, reading the conclusions posted to my online chart, I sat, stupefied as I scanned the information.  My heart, I learned, was structurally sound.  There was no evidence of blockage, heart attack, or arterial disease causing the palpitations that I was experiencing.  “Continue with your treatment plan until your next appointment,” the letter concluded. See you in six months….

WHAT treatment plan?  Wasn’t that what all these tests were in aid of determining?  I had no treatment plan.

For two years, Covid gave me an excuse to entirely avoid the medical profession and seek natural treatments for any problems I experienced.  While l, along with the rest of the world population, would really, really like to see Covid become a faint and fading, distant memory, I’d still genuinely appreciate another such perfect justification to never see another doctor—never, ever again, for the rest of my life.

If you appreciated this little rant, I’m sure you’d enjoy “Aging Is Difficult Enough Without…”, which I published on July 29, 2020.  You can scroll down to the Archives, below, to locate it.

Lessons Learned

With the youngest memory of our family taking the first step of her educational journey today, I was reminded of this post from January 25, 2018.

As I mentioned in a long-ago post, we all have memories of teachers we idolized, and others whom we absolutely despised. Sometimes, too, those memories are a mixed bag, such as when we received shabby treatment from a teacher we liked.  We all have those stories.  These are two of mine.

I adored my fifth grade teacher, Miss Shireman. Looking back through time using the eyes of an adult, I can see that she was one of those rare teachers who not only genuinely enjoyed teaching, but liked children, as well.  She devised endless wonderful projects and creative ways to engage us in learning.

But what eluded me completely in childhood was that, like all of us, my beloved teacher was human.  She had good and bad days, and sometimes those feelings affected her teaching.

One such bad day occurred during our study of Indiana history. Miss Shireman had assigned us to draw a map of Indiana and its counties, and given us a weekend to complete the assignment.

Draw a map of Wyoming or New Mexico – a cinch. But draw a map of Indiana, with its squiggly lower border and 92 counties?  Not so simple.

I sweated over that map. I carefully drew and erased and redrew that noxious bottom border, and struggled to fit in all the weirdly-shaped counties.  I worked as hard on it as I had ever done on any assignment, and felt pretty proud when I turned it in that Monday.

A few days later, I was shocked when Miss Shireman stood in front of us and slammed the handful of maps down on her desk, declaring her disgust over the poor work we’d all done. We were going to do the maps over, she announced, and this time, we’d better do them well.

I was devastated. I had tried so hard! I’d been so proud!  It took everything in me not to cry. But pride came to my aid.  I redid my map by tracing the one I’d already done.  I knew it was already my best work, and I wasn’t about to redraw the whole darned thing.

It was not the first time I’d been scolded by a teacher for poor work when I knew I had tried my hardest, but, probably due to how well I liked Miss Shireman, it is the most painfully memorable.

Then came seventh grade.  Our teacher, Mr. Phillips (whom I didn’t dislike, but had no special liking for, either) encouraged our creativity and language development by having us write short stories.  In this, I was in my element.  I loved it…until the day he told us to choose an incident from American history as the basis for our story.

Wham! Writer’s block. I HATED American history.  It seemed to me nothing but a series of bloody battles and hypocritical old white men trying to circumvent the Constitution and get rich by trampling the bodies and spirits of others (sort of like a recent Administration).  I finally landed on one possible theme: the mysterious disappearance of the entire colony of Roanoke, Virginia.  That incident did intrigue me.

Once again, I sweated over the assignment. I wrote and rewrote that story, quickly learning that writing without inspiration was like slogging through knee-deep swamp mud.  I wasn’t precisely proud of the version I at last submitted, but I was satisfied.  So it was quite a slap in the face to receive my graded story back with a poor mark and the caustic comment written across it: “This is a very poor effort for you.”

Poor effort?! Did that jerk not understand how hard I had worked on that story?  It was my absolute very best damned effort under the circumstances, and he didn’t have the sense to appreciate it.

(Yes, it still makes me mad.)

There are numerous other memories of unhappy moments with teachers bopping about my memories of my years in school. I daresay everyone has memories like that.  And if these two stand out so prominently in my thoughts, it is mostly because of a sense of injustice.  I had done my very best, and was belittled despite it. But that in itself was a really important lesson for life, although probably not in the school syllabus.

I would need to use my fingers and my toes and then start on the strands of my hair to count the number of times in my working years that I was unjustly reprimanded. Small people given a little bit of authority often prove Lord Acton’s statement about the corrupting qualities of power. Being unjustly reprimanded by a boss at the office is a sad fact of life for most workers.

The most important lessons we learn in school are often not part of the curriculum. But they are probably the lessons we most need to prepare us for reality and for our future.

Happy first day of preschool, sweet Morrigan Lynn!

If you appreciated this essay, then you’d probably enjoy a post related to the many times in my working life that I had to rely on that childhood lesson of being unjustly reprimanded.  You can find “Tales of the Office: Jackass Bosses I Survived!” by scrolling to the Archives, below. It was published April 27, 2022