Aging Gracefully

What does that phrase even mean?!

Not long ago I celebrated my 69th birthday. Shortly thereafter, a woman with whom I have only slight acquaintance (for reasons that will be totally apparent in just a moment) asked me when I was going to stop coloring my hair, allowing it to grow out to its natural white. Without engaging in the question of why this could possibly be any of her business, I retorted that I’d already covered this territory in a previous blog post, and if she really wanted to know the answer, she could read The Body I Inhabit. Since she never reads my blog, and wouldn’t be about to do so even if she really wanted my answer, I felt pretty certain this reply would shut down her prying. (I was wrong.)

What seemed most laughable, though, was that her question was triggered by the fact that I’d changed my hair color. After twenty years, I’d decided that the shade I’d been using was now too deep a color for my aging complexion. I’d updated it to a lighter shade of the same basic color. This was my first step in a planned transformation that would slowly permit my hair to transition to its genuine pure white. But as I disliked two-tone hair, roots a glaring shade different from the strands, I was going to take this action in phases.

Unfortunately, my evasion didn’t satisfy my officious friend, who lectured that I needed to “age gracefully”.

What does that phrase even mean, I now wondered? Aging is, in Western culture, a pretty despised condition; hence, the reason that I, once a young woman who’d used nothing more than lemon juice and chamomile to brighten my natural dark blonde, became a middle-aged woman who regularly dyed her hair to combat an onslaught of whitening strands. But though I’d originally begun coloring my hair because I felt it was almost expected in our youth-oriented society, the action slowly melded into my choice to do so because I enjoyed what I saw. The hair color that began and then continue to use for twenty years flattered my complexion as my natural shade had never done.

Was it only because my hair color was my most obvious attempt to disguise the rush of oncoming age, though, that this person felt comfortable in hectoring me? Or was it because she, just a few years older than I, had given up hair dye at about the age that I’d just reached? Was she resentful that I had not followed her lead? Did giving up a self-care routine equate with “aging gracefully”?

Shrugging at her comments, I launched into an irritable tirade. (Hey, she started it. If she didn’t want to listen to my remarks, then she shouldn’t have done so.)

“Well, I do facial exercises, too, to reduce the sagging. I whiten my teeth because years of coffee and tea have done their damage. I always used spot corrector on my freckles; now I slather it on my age spots, too. I use a depilatory every week on my facial hair because I don’t think female mustaches are attractive! There’s nothing I can do about my veiny hands, and I draw the line at cosmetic surgery, so I’m stuck with the rest of it. But I do these things because I want to feel comfortable with the image I see in the mirror: an aging woman who acknowledges that she’s no longer young but still enjoys putting some effort into her appearance. And that’s the crux of the matter—I enjoy it. It’s fun. When it becomes more trouble than it’s worth, I’ll quit. But in the meantime, I’ll color, correct, and fight.”

My outburst gained me raised eyebrows and put an end to the discussion. (Would that it had put an end to the relationship, too, but I couldn’t get that lucky.)

As I pointed out in that previous essay, all of my self-care routines are a form of self-love. Caring for my appearance is a healthy form of pride. Every five minutes of facial exercise or tooth whitening gel, each gentle massage of dark spot correcting cream or depilatory, says to me that the body I inhabit, despite onrushing age, is worthy of my attention. I am worthy of my attention.

Never having been, even at my best, any more than moderately attractive, I always put effort into my appearance. Plain I may have been and was, but I saw no reason to be sloppy, as well.

Now, aging, I see no reason to take any less care of my appearance merely because I am growing old. Call it vanity; call it pride; call it just a refusal to acknowledge the inevitable. It doesn’t matter. Eat right, exercise, die anyway… I’ll go down fighting the appearance of age tooth, nail and claw, enjoying every minute of the brawl.

If you’d like to read the original post on this topic, “The Body I Inhabit”, you can find it by scrolling to the Archives, below. It published on August 11, 2021.

Passive Aggressive Peanut Butter Pie

As promised in yesterday’s post, here is my recipe.  Years of making this pie have taught me not to use any generic substitutions for the specified ingredients.  Make this pie to give to YOUR most difficult relative, and when they go nuts over it, refuse to share the recipe!

1                8 oz. Package Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1/2             Heaping Cup Jif Creamy Peanut Butter
1 & 1/2      Cups Powdered Sugar (do not sift)
1                8 oz. Package Cool Whip
1                Keebler Oreo Crumb Crust
1                Small Bottle Hershey Syrup and/or Chocolate Curls

Cream together the cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth.  Slowly add powdered sugar, and 2/3 of the Cool Whip.  Turn into the crumb crust and smooth.  Top with remaining Cool Whip and blend the topping to the edges of the crust.  If you’re feeling fancy, make swirls and patterns in the topping.  Drizzle with Hershey’s Syrup, and/or scatter small chocolate curls or chocolate shot over the top.  Cover (you know this game, right?  You use the plastic press top from the Keebler crust to make a lid for the pie) and chill at least 3 hours or overnight.  Oh, and serve with more Hershey syrup for chocolate lovers to drizzle!  (Grandpa Bob used to like a little peanut butter pie with his chocolate syrup!)

The Joys of Passive Aggression!

I have definitely enjoyed my share of passive-aggressive behavior!

Not long ago I got sucked into a clickbait about windshield notes left on cars parked by people who seriously needed an extra session (or sessions!) of parking practice during driver’s ed. The notes were hilarious. I especially liked the ones which included simple diagrams. I really appreciated the time it must have taken to produce these little gems.

Like many people who avoid conflict at all costs, I understand, even approve, of passive aggression. Leaving an anonymous message when someone has upset me often seems like a really smart choice, especially in today’s violent, mannerless society. So, yes, I’ve left a parking note (or two, or five) on the windshield of various thoughtless asses, and have definitely enjoyed my share of other passive-aggressive behavior.

There was, for instance, the note I left blatantly on the building entry door of the apartments where I resided. I taped the poster-sized missive, written in heavy black felt tip pen, to the glass, where it would be visible to everyone entering or exiting the building:

To the Couple in Apartment 4B:

WOW! That was some GREAT SEX you had last night!

Thank you for sharing it with all of us!”.

Then there was the harsh winter when the post office put out a warning that, if deep snow was not cleared in front of our condo mailboxes, our mail would not be delivered. Displeased with my Old Curmudgeon of a neighbor*, I considered our condos’ three side-by-side letterboxes before shoveling out my own mailbox and that of my other, inoffensive neighbor. Then, leaving the Curmudgeon’s box still encased in a tall, mail-proof glacier, I dusted off my hands and marched inside to drink hot chocolate.

That wasn’t the first time I’d used snow as a P/A weapon. At another apartment where I’d resided, we had no assigned parking spaces, but each still had our accustomed spots. I’d cleared my usual space after a snowstorm, and even helped my elderly neighbor with her customary spot. But when I returned home from work that evening, I found that my upstairs neighbor (young, strong, healthy, childless, and therefore without excuses), who’d always previously parked in his own place two slots down, had co-opted my beautifully-cleared parking space. Sighing, I took a hit off my asthma inhaler and, wheezing, began to dig through the now-frozen snow to unearth a new parking space. But I carried every shovelful of snow and carefully dumped it right behind his car. I scooped up a few spades’ worth of snow from the lawn, also, and tossed them on his windshield for good measure.

Apartment parking was a bone of contention almost everywhere I’d lived, though. One night I hustled out the door to hurry off for an evening meeting, only to find that I was blocked in by a moron who’d slewed diagonally into the space next to mine. With a vehicle also parked on the other side of my car, there was no room for me to exit. Fortunately, the individual parked to the other side of my car happened to come out. Seeing my dilemma, he not only moved his car to give me space to maneuver, but helped guide me past the diagonal car. However, when I returned home that evening, I was forced to park over a block away, since the only space left was the one made impassable by the moron.

Happily, though, just a few days before this incident, I’d purchased a lipstick which turned out to be a Very Bad Mistake. Now, using that unwanted tube, I carefully wrote in glossy, greasy magenta across his windshield, “LEARN HOW TO PARK, YOU CRETIN!”.

Parking at my condo hasn’t always exactly been a joy, either. Just as the mailboxes are grouped, the driveways of the three condos are diagonally conjoined, emptying out into a single area for entry/exit. Often, careless people pull in, blithely ignoring that each section actually leads to a specific condo. I returned home from the supermarket one afternoon to find an unknown SUV blocking my single-car garage.

Grumbling, I parked my car immediately behind the gas-guzzler and schlepped several shopping bags across the lawn to reach my front door. But when, an hour later, I heard irritated banging on that selfsame front door by the offending driver, I took my time both in answering the door and then slowly putting on my shoes before pretending to search for lost car keys and finally moving my car so that the offender could exit. Playing the dithering old lady, I smiled sweetly the entire time.

But the crowning jewel of my passive aggression probably occurred when a relative texted to ask for a recipe: the peanut butter pie that I have for over a decade brought to Thanksgiving dinner–the same Thanksgiving dinner from which she’d trounced my daughter and her family not once, but twice, due to a situation over which I had no control*. Now, considering her request, I responded calmly that this particular recipe was one that I never shared. No one was getting it until I died, I said.

Then I smiled evilly and sent the recipe to every other person I know.

Ah, the joys of passive aggression.

If you want to know the stories behind the Old Curmudgeon or the Thanksgiving Shunning, check the Archives for “There’s Always One”, 04/20/2020, and “Typhoid Mary, Covid Carrie”, 08/24/2022

A special issue of this blog tomorrow will carry the recipe for my Passive Aggressive Peanut Butter Pie!

Yes, Ma’am! Yes, Sir!

Celebrating Women’s History Month!

How could this happen?!

Oh, for the love of heaven, God, and little green apples. Yet one more time, while recently reading a book with a female, first-person protagonist, I was subjected to the main character’s whining, moaning, and kvetching about being addressed as “Ma’am”. Oh, the horror of it! How could this happen? Was she really THAT old? How is it that the person speaking to her could not recognize her youth, her with-it attitude and trendy, modish clothes, hairstyle and makeup? How could they possibly address her by courteously using a term of respect?

It was one of those moments when I wished that I were not reading on my Kindle, but on a plain, old-fashioned hardback book. There is very little satisfaction in merely clicking off a Kindle. I always derived far more gratification from slapping shut the covers of an irritating book; hardbacks were even better than paperbacks. The same is true of ending an unsatisfactory conversation on a cell phone. It was a thousand times better when one could slam a receiver into a cradle on a house phone. Stabbing the end call button just doesn’t suffice. (Oops! Getting off the track here!)

Sooo… Here’s my rude and altogether honest response to the hapless heroine’s whinging: Give it up, you pathetic loser! (Well, actually, what I thought was, “Oh, for Chrissake! Grow the hell up and get over yourself, bitch.”)

Yes, times change and so do people, but the simple truth is that I have almost never heard a man complain about being called “Sir”. His own age, or the age of the person addressing him, is not even considered in his response to that title. The word is recognized as precisely what it is: an honorific. Courtesy. A term of respect. (Or, in ex-President Trump’s case, the preface to a bald-faced lie, but we probably shouldn’t even go there.)

Admittedly, I am old. I was raised in an era in which respect was not only expected, but demanded, and not just for one’s elders, but for anyone in a position of authority. As I determined early on in life, not to just protect myself from imminent peril but, cynically, to further my personal agenda, I did not actually have to feel respect for anyone in authority over me–they might very well not have earned it–but I had to behave respectfully.

Teachers, other adults, supervisors, traffic cops, whatever: Anyone in a position of power or influence had to be taken seriously and addressed respectfully, and that respect began with titles. At the very least, one spoke to such individuals using the honorifics Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms., or perhaps even Reverend, Rabbi, Your Honor, Officer, Captain, Chief… There were many such titles; “Ma’am” and “Sir” were just further extensions of respectful speech. The titles had nothing to do with the age of the individual being spoken to, but everything to do with both the power they wielded or the courtesy and esteem they should be granted.

At the opposite end of the respect spectrum lay the words used by those both older and excessively conscious of their exalted positions; words used to belittle and to put one in one’s place: the sarcastic “Young lady!” or “Young man!” The word “lady” itself had mutated from a term of respect to just a general and/or slightly rude form of address for any woman of unknown name: “Whaddya think you’re doing there, lady?!” Now, those terms did indeed often call for a response of resentment, or even antipathy. To this day, I clearly recall being addressed as “young lady” by a supervisor at the first job I ever held. That rotund old fart happened to be shaking some file folders (which he’d just had to spend his precious time hunting for because they had been carelessly misfiled) — shaking them right under my nose, as he snarled out the insulting sobriquet. I glanced at him and at the age-browned, misfiled manila folders for which I could not, patently, have been the miscreant responsible, since they’d been locked in a vault since long before my time with the company and probably even before my birth. Then I answered his snarling, “Just how did this happen, young lady?!” with a forced look of concern and a sweetly musical response of, “I’m afraid I really couldn’t say, SIR, since I didn’t work here then.”

But, returning to my primary point in this missive, it is long past time for every woman over the age of 20 to get over this ridiculous concept of, “To be called ma’am means I am old”. In the first place, there is nothing inherently wrong with aging. It happens to all of us, if we’re lucky enough to continue living, and is usually accompanied by wisdom, which is a good thing. But in the second, and far more important place, “ma’am” is an honorific, a term of courtesy, and above all, an expression of respect and regard.

Deal with it, young lady.

Enjoyed this post? Then you might also like the essay, “Pennies, Headlights, and Bubonic Plague”. You can locate it by scrolling to the Archives, below; it was published on August 7, 2018.

The Crap They Made Me Read!

Celebrating Women’s History Month!

To this day I regret the experience of reading some of those books!

Fifty-odd years after the fact, I’m still bitter over some of the utter garbage they forced me to read in high school. Looking back on the torture of those “classic” books, I wonder how much misogyny, both hidden and overt, I imbibed along with those supposedly-great works, such as Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace. (God know why, but I read a couple more of de Maupassant’s stories later on, probably only because they were included in short story compilations. The man absolutely despised women. His female protagonists were all vain and empty people, devoid of genuine feeling and lacking in character, and all were suitably punished through dreadful events by the end of each story.)
Maupassant and his misogyny aside, among the worst books I suffered through were Moby Dick, The Oxbow Incident, Lord of the Flies, and The Plague. Not to put too fine a face upon the matter, none of this was reading to be recommended for a teenage girl suffering severe clinical depression. I attribute a great deal of my senior year suicidal ideation to having been forced to read The Plague. But I found few redeeming features in any of these novels. It was not just that most of them were stultifying (which they were); they were upsetting, sometimes gross, often disgusting. Despite the fact that I could discern important themes promoted within the stories, they were still not novels I would have chosen to read, and I regret the experience to this day. I’m actually sorry that I can recall a great many passages from those books, because most of what I remember of them is disturbing.patch (4)

The one disquieting book that I recollect with some redeeming grace is Elizabeth Kata’s Be Ready With Bells and Drums (A Patch of Blue), which our 7th grade class was, quite surprisingly and after a great deal of back-and-forth between our teacher, the school principal, and our parents, given to read. Reading it was, however, still distressing; not because the subject, racism, was in any way repellant, but due to the descriptions of physical, verbal and emotional abuse suffered by the main character, Selina. Owing to my personal experience of neglect and abuse, the described situations felt agonizingly familiar. I dared not tell my teacher, my friends—certainly not the other students–that the vivid portrayal of one brouhaha in the book, the screaming quarrels and obscene insults, were all too familiar; were daily occurrences in my own home.
To the disgust of my teacher, Mr. Phillips, I could only repeat inanely that I disliked the book. Disguising my true reasons, I complained that I found the slang speech of the characters irritating. Beyond that, though, I provided only the vaguest and most unsatisfactory reasons for my aversion.
In retrospect, I realize that this one book, of all those I was forced to read, was a genuine classic; a truly important, timely story, one that initiated hard conversations about racism (an unusual and valuable discussion in a 1967 classroom). Sadly, I was just at a very bad point in my adolescence to be reading it.
Rereading the book as an adult, I still found many passages of the book distressing, but was in a better position to handle my reactions.

Still, there is one literature lesson which I remember with pleasure. During my freshman year of high school, our teacher assigned the class to write a long, comprehensive essay on a book of our own choosing, with the caveat that she must approve the book we selected. “None of those trite romances!” she commanded. I smiled. At the time, I was working my way through the entire Pearl S. Buck oeuvre, having begun with Pavilion of Women and continued with The Good Earth. I’d just finished Jane Eyre. I’d twice read Karl Bruckner’s The Day of the Bomb, the heartbreaking account of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. I constantly borrowed from my mother’s huge collection of biographies and historical fiction novels about famous women of history: Nefertiti and Hatshepsut, Empress Josephine, Harriet Tubman, Isabella of Spain, Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Katherine Swynford, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Esther, Elizabeth I, Katherine of Aragon, Empress Tzu Hsi, Anne Boleyn, Lady Julian of Norwich, Mary, Queen of Scots… Stories of real women and their formidable effect upon history that were certainly never touched upon either in my history classes or in the “masterworks” (emphasis on master) that I was forced to read.
I no longer remember which of these books my well-read adolescent self selected for my essay; I only recall that I didn’t need to reread it after having it vetted by my teacher. I just wrote my paper and earned my A.
I recall many passages from those biographies and novels, too, and the lessons that I learned from them: primarily, that women have had limited power throughout history, even when they achieved wealth and status, and also that the few female authors whose books were considered classics were still somehow of too little importance to be believed valuable for instructing the young.
I wonder sometimes how my love of reading survived the awful books that I was tortured with in high school. And I’ll never forgive my schools and teachers for the misery I endured in each page.

If this essay appealed to you, you might also enjoy “Hook, Line and Sinker”. You can locate it by scrolling to the Archives, below. It was published on June 19, 2018.

Totally Crackers!

Synchronicity is a funny thing! I’d originally planned this essay for publication in June. But after reading about Lisa Kennedy Montgomery’s recent and inexcusable rudeness in calling Pete Buttigieg a Cracker, I simply couldn’t resist publishing this post immediately!

    Language evolves.

Recently, while re-watching an episode of Downton Abbey, I smiled when the Earl of Grantham referred to the behavior of another character as “totally crackers”, meaning wild, nutty, bonkers. My grin was brought about by the memory of two Black coworkers who, in 2014, were shocked when I used precisely that phrase while referring to our mutual supervisor.

My coworkers hadn’t, as I had, the experience of working with a Scottish woman and picking up the phrase from her. To them, “totally crackers” meant, could only mean Cracker, the nasty American Southern slang for “white trash”. They were quite obviously aghast at my light-hearted remark, and it took me a long moment to comprehend why. My lagging brain finally made the connection, via a half-dozen or so rarely used neural circuits, to the three years I’d spent living in South Carolina while I was still a young woman. It was there that I’d had the insulting sobriquet “Cracker” slung at me occasionally. The first time this occurred, I’d only recently moved to the South after a lifetime spent in Northern climes. I was completely unfamiliar with the idiom or why I would be called the name. I’d asked for enlightenment from a Black coworker, who promptly collapsed into hysterical giggles over my Yankee ignorance. “It’s the equivalent of you calling one of us the N-word,” she explained between chuckles. Oh. Well, I was still mystified as to why just walking down a sidewalk, minding my own business, should result in such an outburst, but at least I knew now that I’d been wise to ignore it.

Now, many years later and once again living in the home of my ignorant Northern roots, I found myself explaining to my fellow Yankee Black coworkers the actual meaning of the British phrase “totally crackers”. I could see that they remained unconvinced. To them, the word meant, would always mean, a rather nasty insult.

Is it any wonder that people can’t get along, when our very means of communication, language, trips us up this way? When, to a Brit, even the phrase “get along” sounds odd and wrong, and should more correctly be phrased “get on”? I also recall reading that the name of the main character in the Disney cartoon “Moana” had to be changed prior to the movie’s release in Italy because it was, most unfortunately, all too similar to the name of a well-known Italian porn star. Ooops.

Bad enough that a name should cause such consternation. But even the smallest of common phrases become mangled and altered enough to cause confusion. For instance, I grew up hearing only the expression “set foot”. That made sense to me (and still does); one sets a foot down. Now the more commonly used phrase is “step foot”, which sounds both curious and grammatically wrong to my ears. One steps into something, or just steps. A foot steps, but one does not step a foot.

Yet I’ve also learned that two of the idioms I’ve heard and used throughout my entire life are, in fact, quite incorrect: “You’ve got another thing coming”; and, “That’s that”. Apparently, the correct phrases are “You’ve got another THINK coming” and, “That’s FLAT.” Having never heard or read these sayings expressed in this manner until I’d reached my 50s, I simply can’t say them that way. I will never be able to use either axiom except as I’ve done my entire life.

This makes me sympathetic toward younger people when I hear them say “on accident”, even if I can’t accept the idiom, cringing when it’s spoken. The grammatically correct phrase is “by accident” – by meaning “via” or “by way of”. For some reason, the phrase mutated during a recent generation, and so now younger people have heard it as “on accident” throughout their lives. However incorrect the phrase may be, that is what they have always heard, and that is what they are always are going to prefer.

As I mentioned once to an acquaintance, language does evolve, else we’d all still be speaking and writing like Chaucer. (In fact, somewhere in my distant, misty past I read a poem that ended by making just that point. Unfortunately, three separate search engines and multiple wordings of the question have failed to bring up either the poem or the author.) But whether that evolution is a good or a bad thing probably falls into the category of personal preference.

For myself, whether or not my fellow ignorant Yankees have encountered the phrase, I imbibed the expression from my Scottish coworker, and so I’ll go on occasionally saying that things and people are totally crackers, despite shocked reactions from some acquaintances. Although, come to think of it, after six seasons and two movies’ worth of exposure to Downtown Abbey, people living both north and south of the Mason Dixon Line might now be more familiar with the British idiom.

But I’ll just never be able to “step foot” into a room or “have another think coming”. I’ll never meet someone “on accident”, and that’s just that, not flat.

It’s all just totally crackers.

Language does indeed evolve, as I first pointed out in “Pennies, Headlights, and Bubonic Plague”, which you can locate by scrolling to the Archives, below. It was published on August 7, 2018.

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.

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.

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”