Princess Diana Saved My Life

This was the first blog post I ever published, on October 22, 2017. I republish it today, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in her honor. Thank you, Diana. What you suffered helped me to live.

Princess Diana saved my life.

However fanciful that statement may sound, it is also, to some degree, true.

In the years when the royal marriage was crumbling, and Diana’s popularity with the masses was at its lowest ebb, the articles being written by a rabid press were a thousand times more critical and far less fawning than they would be after her passing (although undoubtedly no more factual). More than one intrusive publication at the time explored the notion that perhaps the unpredictable and complex princess suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder.

Until I encountered those articles, I’d never heard of that psychological affliction. I was completely uninterested in whether the disorder applied to Princess Diana, but the description intrigued me. I needed to understand more about it. In one of my earliest ever internet searches, I researched the term. Leapfrogging from one page to another, I stumbled across a review of a book; a book written for family and friends of those with Borderline Personality Disorder. Included in the review was a questionnaire from the book: a quiz to determine if one was really in a relationship with a person suffering the disorder.

I took the quiz with an eye to unraveling my tortured relationship with my mother.

I answered “yes” to every question.

At last, at last, I had an explanation for the enigma who was my mother, and for the anguish and abuse that had comprised my childhood.

Knowledge is power, the saying goes, and like most proverbs, it carries a germ of truth. Armed at last with real understanding of the mental disorder that had, in all probability, troubled my mother, I began the long, excruciatingly painful but eventually rewarding struggle to excavate myself from the ruins of my childhood.

Decades later, it is a struggle that still continues. My healing is always tenuous. But without the famous and sometimes infamous Princess, and, more importantly, the insensitive, rude media speculation about her behavior—without those things, the healing that I experienced might never even have begun.

Like the multifaceted person who was Diana, Princess of Wales, my mother was saint to some, demon to others, and both, sometimes at the same moment, to me. The life that Betty Jean wove about me, my brothers, my father, even her acquaintances, was often a glimpse into the nether regions of hell. But we (and this is something of which I must constantly remind myself)–we escaped. She never could. My mother lived in that hell always.  The rest of us dwelt only on the fringes of her insanity, and at last, with physical distance, knowledge, understanding, therapy, and, finally, with her death, we were freed.

Forget me not
Forget Me Nots

With regard to those articles that set me on my search, though, well, aside from Diana’s well-publicized and admitted struggles with bulimia, no one, and certainly no member of the media, could ever have had genuine knowledge of any psychological disorder suffered by the beleaguered Princess. Those rumors were nothing but the fabrication of a bitterly unkind and often hostile press, hunting for their next story! Continued speculation on the matter would be both inappropriate and unspeakably cruel, for the truth is, none of it matters at all except to the family and friends who loved her. For the rest of us, that aspect of Diana’s life never was and still is none of our business.

But I will forever be grateful to the famous woman who endured such unbearable public abuse, so much anguish-provoking intrusion into her private existence, for without what I learned, encountering cruel conjecture and malicious speculation about Princess Diana, I might never have uncovered the knowledge I needed to begin the tortuous ascent from my own personal purgatory.

I say that Princess Diana saved my life, but it was really I who saved myself. I took her story, the painfully sad fairy tale of a real-life Princess, and allowed it to lead me to knowledge. I grasped that knowledge like a lifeline, weaving it into a net – an escape net, to which I clung for my very life. My very life: the life that I now have. The whole and healthy life that I created, like a phoenix, rising from the ashes of intense misery.

And while I may not live happily ever after, I will never cease to be grateful to nor forget the story of a princess with which that new life began.

Perhaps the press and media might learn a bit from “The Speech of Angels”, published October 24, 2017. You can locate it in the Archives.

Out of the Country

The cost of higher education in the United States is utterly iniquitous.

As I discussed in the post Barbie Shoes (November 13, 2019), I’ve always enjoyed reading personal essays on-line. Although the Lifestyle section that once collected the best of such compositions has long since vanished, I still discover personal essays here and there, reading them with as much pleasure and interest—or disdain–as ever.

A year or so ago I stumbled across one such essay discussing the problems inherent in student loans. The author, a young woman who had endured years of financial problems when her loans were called in prematurely, described in detail her path to fiscal ruin.

I felt genuine compassion for her plight. The cost of higher education in the United States is utterly iniquitous. Even with scholarships, students (and sometimes their parents) are subjected to crippling financial burdens from the loans needed to finance a college education. At higher levels of education, Master’s degrees and PhDs, scholarships are not even available. The costs are simply insupportable.

As the young woman pointed out, too, there are no financial advisors available to these very young (usually, 17- and 18-year-old) borrowers. Short of a wise family member, there is no one to say to them, “Is the return you’re going to get on this investment truly worth it? Do you know how many years—years when you will be wanting, perhaps, to marry, start a family, buy a home—how many of those years will be spent simply repaying these loans?”

So I read her essay in a state of empathy. She wrote of having achieved her goal of acceptance at the college of her dreams, and starting her educational journey there, only to experience difficulties. As a young Black woman in a mostly-White campus, she mentioned enduring frequent microaggressions that left her emotionally depleted. I couldn’t really imagine how that would feel, but I had once endured relentless, vicious bullying at a new school as a teenager; while not truly analogous, I felt that experience at least gave me a slight basis for commiseration. I’d also witnessed the difficult adjustment experienced by several young people of my acquaintance to campus life. Being subjected to racist remarks would undoubtedly compound the usual adjustment difficulties.

The young woman finally experienced what she described as a mental health crisis, one severe enough that she dropped out of college. Again, I commiserated. I’d endured multiple mental health crises in my life, stumbling through the first one, complete with suicidal ideation, when I was barely 14. The experience was unspeakably dreadful. I was sorry that she capitulated, but I acknowledged her misery.

Dropping out, though, resulted in her student loans being immediately called in. Payments were due. Now she carried a financial liability, while ill-equipped to find a job at a salary high enough to keep up with the payments. She was well and truly caught in the net of student loan hell.

So she defaulted—and began a years-long process of legal woes as she tried to manage the fiscal blows to her credit and future.

But it was at this point in her essay that I encountered the sentence which led me to question everything the young woman had written to this point: She stated that she missed a court date for a hearing on her debt due to the fact that she was out of the country.

Wait. What?

Out of the country? Why? For work? I reread the sentence; it specifically did not say, “for work”. Out of the country. Why? Was this trip a gift? A honeymoon? Did she need to get to someone who was ill, even dying? Again, things not said. And when? Court dates are generally set fairly far in advance; how is it she was unaware of the schedule? And where? Canada or Mexico? Did she simply drive across a nearby border? Or did she fly somewhere? Take a cruise? Never having been able to afford such travel myself, I was of the notion that international plane fare or cruise packages were expensive. Even passports weren’t cheap. Was she staying with someone for free, with many meals provided–or using hotels, paying car rental, eating restaurant meals? Student loan payments in default, a salary that purportedly didn’t cover making those self-same loan payments, but she could afford a trip to another country? Why wasn’t the probably-not-inconsiderable sum for this little jaunt spent on payments toward her legally-acquired loans?

I stumbled through the rest of her essay–complaints about the court system, excessive loan payments, and “rigged” financial systems–in a very different frame of mind.

Personal responsibility. Accountability. Determination. The determination that might have declared, “I don’t care what those racist fools throw at me, by God, I’ll show them! They’re not going to keep me from my education!” The sort of responsibility that, in my own circumstances, kept me slogging away in demeaning employment situations, enduring sexual harassment and gender pay gaps, in order to support my child, no matter what the cost to my mental well-being. The personal responsibility and strength of character to be totally accountable for one’s own decisions and behavior.

My compassion evaporating, I reread the young woman’s entire essay with a very different eye.

I still feel that the cost of a college education in the U.S. is iniquitous. Student loans are a terrible form of usury.

But Ms. Out-of-the-Country definitely contributed to her own problems.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Barbie Shoes” as mentioned above, which you can find in the Archives from November 13, 2019.

Minimizing is Not a Bra, Redux!

     Prelude: Just slightly over a year ago, on June 27, 2021, my Dad was admitted to the hospital with what would prove to be his final illness. The six months that followed passed in a haze of surgeries, doctors, care homes, visits, pet care, errands, and stress, all culminating in his death in December. At the time this post originally appeared, on June 30, 2021, I had no idea of just how awful things were about to become! I only knew that Dad’s illness followed a host of other personal crises: the death of my favorite cat; the unexplained, nearly-fatal illness of another beloved pet; Covid quarantine with my toddler granddaughter while both her parents suffered the virus; being cruelly excluded from family gatherings because the vaccine wasn’t yet available to me. So I wrote this post under a swirling cloud of angst.
     Now, recalling it just a year later, my feelings haven’t changed.
     No, Jack. No. It absolutely is NOT all just small stuff.

Kindness never minimizes another’s need.

I know several people who will nod in sage agreement when I admit that I’m a person who falls easily into the trap of listening to and accepting other’s opinions about my life experience, often to my own detriment and peril. But I’m learning. Late in life and slowly, but I’m learning.

One such event occurred not long ago when, asked during a Zoom meeting about how I was doing (a question that, in this case, was not just the usual social nicety, but intentional), I commented that I felt I was just lurching from one crisis to the next. Another of the meeting attendees quickly chimed in, pointing out that, from the perspective of the universe and over the course of a lifetime, nothing I was experiencing was a crisis. Everything was “small stuff”; just a challenge to be met or a learning experience, not a calamity.

The critical individual lives 300 miles away. He was quite clueless as to what personal disasters I was referring, or what I, along with my family members, had been experiencing. I’m sure he thought he was helping me regain perspective by his comment. But his remark was, nevertheless, intentional minimizing: diminishing the importance of not just what I was experiencing, but my feelings about the situation. By doing so, he was also shaming me—letting me know that my emotions were excessive and inappropriate; “bad”, if you will. Leaving entirely aside the fact that his remarks smacked of the male habit of denigrating female moods (that’s a subject for another blog post), the simple truth of the matter is that feelings are neither bad nor good; it’s what we do with them that counts.

Amazingly, though (and this NEVER happens), I did not fall prey to his inappropriate comments. In what was, for me, an astounding feat of standing up to being bullied, I quickly snapped back, “Oh, bullshit!” My critic was visibly startled, for he is one of those self-assured, clever types whose comments are rarely challenged. For once he had no quick comeback. Some of the others in the meeting quickly diffused the incident by joking and laughter, and we all moved on. But I did not apologize, nor feel any need to do so. If anything, I believed his apology was owed to me.

To be totally honest, though, and much to my shame, I have to admit that I, too, have behaved this way to others in the past. I have minimized their experiences, shamed their emotional responses, and gifted them with my “superior” knowledge and understanding as to how they could better handle their personal pain and disasters. Not only does this behavior smack of narcissism, it is simply rude; rude, thoughtless, uncompassionate, and bullying.

When I face even more uncomfortable truths, I know that when I have minimized others’ experiences, I have done so as a self-defense measure. Minimizing puts a barrier between us and the problems or pain of another; it assures us that, even if we were to experience such an event, we would not respond to it with angst or tears. No, we are strong; we would rise above the situation! Minimizing props up our fine opinion of ourselves: “If I could get through what I have done without complaint, then you have no right to feel sad or anxious, or to speak your feelings.”

But when we muzzle another person, even those who are certifiable whiners, we diminish not just their humanity, but our own. Yes, there are those people who simply wail. There are hypochondriacs who moan about every real or imagined ache or pain. There are individuals in our circle of acquaintance who drive us half-mad because they refuse to take any action to free themselves from terrible situations, instead continually lamenting their misery. There always exist feeble individuals for whom life itself is simply overwhelming—even when it’s not.

But that does not indicate that we are free to diminish their experience. We can make the choice to acknowledge their distress without being enveloped by it. Rather than shame them, we can act with true consideration and compassion by responding gently: “I’m sorry you’re going through this”, or, “That’s a harsh series of events. I hope things will be better for you soon”, or even straightforwardly, “Is there some action you can take to resolve this problem—something that will help you feel better?”

In the final evaluation, it all comes down to courtesy. To minimize and shame another for their emotional reaction or admission of a problem is rude; it is aggressive and narcissistic; it is the behavior of a bully. Even worse, it is counterproductive. Rare is the individual who ever took her or his courage in hand, stood up resolutely, and solved a problem as a result of by being tormented and oppressed by those who should have provided support.

At some point in our lives, we all need encouragement and kindness. Kindness is never overrated. And true kindness never minimizes another’s need.

You might also enjoy “Feeling Our Feelings”, which you can locate in the Archives, below, from October 14, 2020.

Emails to Dad

On a morning soon after his death, I began to email my late father, sending him messages almost daily.

My father passed away in December, 2021. His email account remained active for four months after his death, and during that time I sent him almost daily emails. When his account finally closed in April, I was shocked to realize how much I was going to miss sending those regular emails to him.

Dad Young Man_20220416_0001

You see, Dad never became very technologically competent, so his voicemail was actually set up under my voice. It was I who told callers that they had reached his number. I was also usually the person who went through his messages for him, remembering the password that he could never recall and dialing into the account; listening to each memo and noting it down; telling him who had called and what they wanted, and deleting or saving his messages.

Yet despite the fact that, after answering machines became passé, Dad could never quite get the hang of voicemail, he managed to adapt to email and even enjoyed it. He often needed help with the minutiae of his email program—adding or deleting contacts, downloading photos or videos–but Dad loved email. He received and forwarded an endless stream of jokes and cartoons and highly-opinionated articles. Never more than a “two-finger” typist, Dad was still able to initiate simple emails and transmit them (aIthough I never managed to convince him that TYPING IN ALL CAPS was considered shouting!)

Following Dad’s death, I spoke with many people who continued to call a deceased relative’s voicemail for weeks after the individual had died, until the disconnected number was transferred to a stranger. They yearned to hear their loved one’s voice again; they just wanted to say, “I love you; I miss you.” Sadly, I couldn’t do that with Dad’s voicemail. There was nothing on his recording but my own voice.

Dad’s email account, though, was another matter. It remained active, and I was in charge of it. During the six months of his final illness, I’d spent hours sitting with him in his room at the care facility, logging in to read his messages aloud to him or turning the screen so that he could see the photos and videos. I laughed with him at the jokes, and typed to his dictation the answers that he wanted to send to a few select contacts.

Now, following his passing, I was still scanning his email account daily, checking for bills and clearing out spam. Often I sat with tears trickling down my cheeks as I notified contacts who had not heard of his passing, and reminded others to remove him from their mailing lists.

And so, having access to remove my own messages, I decided one morning soon after his death to begin emailing my late father, sending him daily notes. Sometimes I merely described the events of my day, just as I might have during phone calls and emails during his life. In other communiqués, I related stories of his little great-granddaughter, occasionally even attaching a photo. I discussed painful and distressing recollections of his last months, explaining to him how much some of those memories still hurt. Remembering how much he’d enjoyed eCards, I went to my favorite site and selected a birthday card to send him. Throughout the endless weeks I spent cleaning out the home where he’d lived for 58 years, I berated him, time and time again, for leaving such a gawdawful mess for my brother and me to sort out: the decades of accumulated paperwork that had to be shredded; the dirt and disorder and disarray of all his personal property. I reminded him when my birthday rolled around, and told him about my gifts. I railed at him for his years of smoking, the vile habit that destroyed his lungs and contributed to his death. I described the two men who arrived from a museum in Evansville to collect his hundreds of hand-crafted wartime aircraft models and his library of aviation history books, delighting in their excitement at obtaining his collection.

There was something healing about those emails; something much more cathartic than merely writing a letter and then discarding or even burning it. There was a sureness, a certainty, that I was, somehow, actually conveying my words to my father there on the Other Side.

The dismay when I could no longer do that was palpable. A few days after Dad’s email account closed, I found myself utterly at a loss, bereft of this unusual but therapeutic communication.

For four months, I grieved my father with each keystroke and each press of the Send button, and I sent that grief into the ether, trusting that he was waiting somewhere, eagerly receiving each of my messages; understanding my need to communicate; and, finally, simply glad that I cared enough to remember, and to still talk to him.

If you appreciated this essay, you might also enjoy the post “My Dad Called the Japanese ‘Japs'”, which was published April 6. You can find it by scrolling below, to the Archives.

What Just Happened?!

The wool isn’t pulled over our eyes only on April Fool’s day!

More years ago than I care to remember, I was working at an office in which one of my coworkers was a practical joker. Now, I have very little liking for or sympathy with practical jokes; I don’t find them amusing, but rather passive-aggressive. (“Oh, for heaven’s sake, it was just a joke! You need to stop overreacting!” these pranksters remark, putting the onus on their victims for feeling resentment at being humiliated or harmed.) In any case, this adult-but-childish woman pulled such a trick on me one afternoon.

I’d hauled a heavy box of files that required sorting over to a conference table. Yanking a chair out of my way, I settled the box on the table before sitting down. Unbeknownst to me, though, my coworker had walked up behind me and, just as I sat down, pulled the chair out from beneath me. I fell heavily to the floor, stunned and hurting from the fall, staring up at the ceiling and at her gleeful face. So dazed was I from the tumble that it took me several seconds to understand what had just happened.

I find that I remember that feeling—being dazed and shaken, wondering what the hell just happened—every time I’m taken advantage of by someone of my acquaintance. I admit it freely: I am easily bamboozled. Naïve. Fooled. Hoodwinked. I have a tendency to accept people at face value, rarely wondering if they are truly what they present themselves to be. Striving myself to be a caring, decent person, I make the erroneous assumption that most people are making a brave attempt to be that way also.

Stupid, I know. But I’ve spent a good portion of my life bumbling along in this state of naïve trust and so being the dupe of stronger, controlling personalities and covert narcissists. Coupled with my caretaker behavior, this is not a healthy character trait. Not in any way.

Oddly, though, it’s taken me years to sift through memories of events in my past and recognize that no, it wasn’t that I was being helpful or caring or supportive. I was being preyed upon, maneuvered, handled.

Some of my strongest memories in this regard circle about a person whom I thought of as a dear friend; let’s call her the Queen Bee. I met the QB through my association with a group she’d helped found, and we seemed to have much in common. Our friendship evolved rapidly. She seemed very interested in knowing more about me as a person, not just a group member. Her interest was balm to my neglected soul. Years after the friendship had come to a withering close, I would realize that her seeming interest was actually just an intelligence-gathering recon, so that she would have information about my behaviors and talents that could be used to manipulate me.

She did her job well, quickly determining that I had spent much of my life so starved for praise that I would do almost anything for the person who provided that honor. And so it was that I would find myself maneuvered, despite having too little time, into doing extensive prep work for upcoming meetings because, “You do it so much better than I do!” Having been admired for my abilities in learning new computer programs, I devoted hours at her behest learning to use an audio creation program in order to produce the CD she wanted for the group. (My efforts, though, went unacknowledged to the other group members.)

Each time I was manipulated by the QB, I would rise from the experience once more feeling that chair pulled from beneath me: dazed, a touch shaken, wondering what the hell just happened.

Now, years later, having stumbled upon an illuminating article about subtle manipulation techniques employed by covert narcissists, and seeing my name as victim practically written into every paragraph, I can finally categorize this and several other past unhealthy relationships. Becoming aware of my tendencies in this regard was a major step forward to overcoming these self-defeating behaviors. Nevertheless, ages after discovering my astounding “talent” for being manipulated, I still struggle against a tendency to trust and to acquiesce too easily.

Knowledge is power though, as the saying goes; recognizing that I am being controlled, although it happens all too often after the fact, at least does happen for me these days. I wish that I had gained this wisdom far earlier in my life. But, even garnered this late in the game, each step toward genuine understanding makes me a stronger, and prouder, woman.

It is never too late to become the person we were meant to be. It is never too late to grow.

If you liked this essay, you might also enjoy, “The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Rose Up to Smite Me”, published October 27, 2017, which you can locate by scrolling down to the Archives, below.

Rah-Shar!

At the previous New Year, an acquaintance was delighted to learn of a tradition I’d always practiced but she’d never enjoyed: that of putting money out on the doorstep before midnight, and taking it in after the clock has ticked over, so that one might be bringing money in all year. Bearing in mind her delight in learning of this old ritual, I decided to rerun this post from 2018, about another lovely custom.

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

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

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

Whereupon I exclaimed, “Rah-Shar!”

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

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

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

“Rah-Shar!”

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

“Rah-Shar!”

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

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

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

If you’re wondering about that term “Chosative”, you’ll find answers in the Archives, in the post “Chosen Relatives”, from December 18, 2017.

One Size Just Doesn’t Fit All

The roast of life needs a lot more spicy individuality!

I was describing to a friend my process for cooking a corned beef roast, and she asked curiously, “Don’t you use the little packet of seasoning that comes with it?”  “Sure,” I told her. “But think about it.  No matter how large or small a cut of corned beef you’ve purchased, the little seasoning packet that comes with it is the same size.  If you don’t add in other spices and seasonings, the finished product is going to be pretty pallid.”

That is my philosophy for most things in life: With the possible exception of a caftan, perhaps, one size fits all just doesn’t.  Even when corrected to “One Size Fits Most”, the maxim still doesn’t work.

A humorous example of this is a friend who rhapsodized about a technique she’d begun practicing: a way to start her day with a feeling of accomplishment.  It was so simple, she shared with several of us. She just made her bed as soon as she got up.

I could not help laughing. My actions upon rising each morning are predicated upon the demands of my insistent felines.  I first change their litterboxes, rinse and refresh each of the water bowls, and give them their canned food breakfast—all to the tune of insistent yowls and meows and the “cat food!” dance winding about my feet and attempting to trip me.  (As an aside, I don’t know why trying to injure or kill the hand that feeds them by sending that hand plummeting to the floor is a valuable activity, but that’s what they do, nonetheless.)  While all this is happening, I’ve also put the kettle on to boil for my morning cup of tea. Occasionally, as I wait for it to boil, I put some dry dishes from the drainer into the cupboard. When I finally sit down to drink that tea, 20 to 25 minutes have passed and my bed is still very much unmade—but I know I’ve accomplished something!  Quite a number of somethings.

That, I think, is often the problem with every self-help book ever written: the techniques lauded by the author(s) apply only to specific situations and/or people, and mostly to the authors themselves.  I don’t recommend my “accomplishment” method to anyone, but I’m sure there are a few cat owners who will have nodded along with the paragraph above, in sympathy, if nothing else.

As I’ve pointed out previously in this blog, and probably at nauseating length, we are, each of us, heavily invested in making everyone else on the face of the planet think, and behave, exactly like us.  With the exception of attempting to acquire (land, wealth, power), this is probably the basis for every war, pogrom, or purge throughout history right up to the present day, as well as simple misunderstandings between individuals worldwide.  The difficulty does not lie in the act of making the suggestion (“Do this for that result”), but in our insistence upon the precept that this is the only way. When faced with a response that says, “It’s a good idea, but it wouldn’t work for my personal situation”, our reaction is rarely, “Hmm. Well, what do you think would work?”  Instead, we attempt to force the square peg into the round hole, hammering out our viewpoint with unnecessary force: “Oh, but, if you will just…”  “Try it, you’ll like it.”  “Do it this way!  I know what I’m talking about!”

That last phrase is, perhaps, key to understanding why we try to make one size fit all: we feel that our judgement is being questioned.  It works!  Our idea, our method, our viewpoint works… for us!  Therefore, it must be the right way!  It must be the best way!  Snap that piece into the jigsaw puzzle, regardless of whether it fits or not.

But in a world of 7.9 billion people, there is no one right way.  There is no one true faith, no best form of government, no single way to raise a child (each one of whom is any individual, anyway), nor a single perfect manner to instruct them.

Just as there is no right way to get out of bed and start one’s day, there is no particular way to live one’s life.  One size will never fit all, nor even most.  We are each of us a peg of a different size, shape, and color; each of us searching for the corresponding, life-size hole that we might slide into easily: our perfect fit.

Perhaps some marvelous day we’ll all stop trying to push each other into a space and place that just doesn’t match, realize that the roast of life needs a lot more spicy individuality, and enjoy the tasty result.

If you found this essay entertaining, you might also appreciate “Roses of the Soul” from December 16, 2017.  Scroll down to the Archives link to locate it.

Defining Your Word of the Year

§  I’ve used many Focus Words over the years, and I’ve learned to choose them very, very carefully!  §

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions nearly two decades ago. I saw no point in setting myself up for certain failure; it was simply depressing, and merely reinforced my bad opinion of myself. (I feel the same way about goals.  Goals are something I set just to prove to myself that I am a failure.  I don’t set goals anymore, either.)

For a long time prior to that decision, I’d followed Robert Fulghum’s sound advice: On New Year’s Day, I sat down and wrote a list of every good thing I’d done in the previous year, backdated it, and called it my resolutions. This was eminently satisfying for a number of years, even though I knew I was sort of missing the whole point.

So, casting about for some way to set myself some type of goal-yet-not-a-goal, I was struck by an idea: I could still forego a resolution, yet choose something—some character-building, life changing something, to focus on during the coming year.  Not a goal, I decided; a focus.  With that in mind, what if I chose just one word, one meaningful word, and attempted to concentrate on it throughout the coming year?  Not to accomplish it—simply keep it at the forefront of my mind, and make it active in my life.  One word was so little.  Surely I could do that much.

I liked the concept. One word, one focus, seemed like a challenge I could meet.  The trick, I realized, would be finding a way to make myself remember to focus on that word— to keep adding it to my life.  (Well, that, and picking my word in the first place.)

Amazingly, having come up with the concept, I found that my answers came easily.  I’d recently discovered that a lack of assertiveness had caused me a number of problems; assertiveness, then, seemed like a very good first focus word.  But how to keep it at the forefront of my mind?  How not to forget, not just the word itself, but the need to concentrate upon my focus word?  That was going to be the real challenge of my not-resolution.

During that first year, I found that tricking myself into remembering my focus word was the best way to go. I took post-its and scraps of note paper and proceeded to hide them throughout my home in places where I knew I would not find them to easily, yet was sure to look.  Since I wasn’t about to turn the heavy mattress on the bed more than once a year, one of the notes emblazoned with “My Focus This Year Is Assertiveness” was pushed into the thin hollow between the mattress and box springs.  Another went under the couch cushions—I had been known, from time to time, to actually lift them up and vacuum beneath them (or at least search for loose change).  And, yes, one note, slipped into a plastic bag, went into the bottom of the vegetable bin in the frig!

And, amazingly, it worked. I came across those notes again and again throughout that first year and was forced to keep my attention focused on becoming more assertive.  And while I cannot now say that it changed my life, I can say with certainty that being reminded to focus on assertiveness did make a difference.  By the end of the year, I knew that I still had a very long way to go on learning to be assertive, but I was no longer quite the wimp I’d been twelve months earlier, either.

I’ve used many Focus Words in the intervening years, and I’ve learned to choose them very, very carefully. The Universe, I’ve discovered, will cooperate with me—oh, yes, will it ever!  Choose Peace as a focus word, and every possible non-peaceful situation imaginable will be tossed at me like errant baseballs.  And, for the love of heaven, never, ever, choose Patience !

But, defiant in the face of overreaching myself, the focus word I chose for 2017 was Magnificent.

And it was.

Afterword: In 2018, the Word I chose was “Kindness”.  I was astounded to learn that kindness is not just something we extend to others, but that we must also, humbly and with gratitude, receive.  It is also something we must extend to ourselves.  Foolishly brave, in 2019 I selected the Word “Restful”.  Oh, dear! I did learn a much-needed lesson: that we choose our response to events.  In 2020, I chose the word “Recognition”.  I am still discovering all the unexpected ways in which that word has come to play in my existence.

I would love to know what Focus Word you select for 2021, if you would care to leave it in the Comments section.

The Day I Had Nothing to Do

I often encounter an attitude from my still-working peers that retired people have time hanging from their hands like loops of yarn. I’m sorry to tell you this, but it just ain’t so! 

When I retired, multiple people, mostly those still working, warned me that I would often be bored.  However,  a long-retired relative gave me a very different warning: “Not only are you going to wonder how you ever got it all done before you retired, you’re not going to believe how much more there is to be done! It will suck you in!” I tucked her advice into the “Housework expands to fill all available time” file and promptly disregarded it.

Bad move.

She was right.

Following  a busy and stressful week, I woke on a recent Sunday morning pleasantly conscious that there was nothing I had to do.    As I stretched and swung my legs to the bedside rug, I congratulated myself on a “free” day.

And so I rose to immediately begin cleaning litter boxes, followed by feeding my complaining felines.  Necessary chores completed, I wandered upstairs to my computer, cup of tea in hand, to check my e-mail and read the news.  Then I wandered just as leisurely back downstairs to prepare breakfast and read a bit of my latest novel, sitting in my favorite battered green armchair by the living room window.  But that relaxation proved to be a mixed blessing, because the window looks out on my small rose garden.  Still blooming heavily at the start of autumn, the bushes looked awfully untidy.

An hour later, the roses were deadheaded and trimmed up a bit, the groundcover had been snipped back, and some dead hosta stems removed.  Carrying the detritus to the bin in the garage, I dropped a few leaves and stems on the garage floor.  Well, it wouldn’t hurt to move the car out and sweep the garage floor.  That done, though, I noted that the car mats could certainly use a vacuuming, and the whole interior of the car would look a bit better if it was cleaned of the pandemic-constant of disinfectant residue.  The windows inside were a touch smeary, too.  A bit of glass cleaner wouldn’t go amiss.  Oh, and before I drove the car back into the garage, I should run to the end of the driveway and grab the mail, still sitting in the mailbox since Saturday.

Returning the vacuum and cleaning sprays to the hall closet made me realize that I’d best get a bit of housework done: dishes to be washed, kitchen and bathroom floors to be swept.  Again responding to my pandemic-induced madness regarding cleanliness, those same bathroom surfaces should probably be disinfected. Although the floors had been thoroughly mopped four days previously, heaven alone knew what I might have tracked in since that time, so it wouldn’t hurt to fill the mop with solution and run it over just the traffic paths.  In fact, the carpet, also just vacuumed four days ago, should probably be vacuumed lightly along the traffic paths before the mopping was done, so nothing would track onto the hard floors.

Hauling the vacuum upstairs made me aware that my bed wasn’t yet made.  Just as well; the sheets needed to be changed.  I should change the towels in the bathrooms, too. Carrying these items downstairs to the washer, I noted that the medicine dispenser for my sick cat was sitting on the countertop and needed to be filled.  I really should do that now, and give her a dose, as well.  Oh, and the dispenser which held my vitamins and supplements was also awaiting a refill.  I should do that, too.  Drat, the mail was still sitting there on the countertop, unopened.  Ah, mostly junk…and bills.  Sigh.  Well, I should pay these bills.  And I really should update my budget spreadsheet.

While doing that update, though, it struck me that I had work to do for a friend, updating her business manuals and flyers.  Well, as long as the computer was booted, I might as well devote an hour to working on those.

But as I completed these chores, I glanced at my fingers on the keyboard, noticing that my cuticles were ragged and my nails all of differing lengths and badly shaped.  Hmmm, well, as I seemed to be finished with cleaning products for the day, it might be a good idea to tend to them, and give myself a quick pedicure, too.

By this time, it was now 5:00 p.m. An hour later, manicure and pedicure completed, I decided that I really should consider cooking dinner, since breakfast and then the leftovers that I’d reheated for lunch were beginning to seem a very long time ago.

Rinsing my dinner dishes and stacking them in the sink, I took a deep breath and called a halt.  Washing dishes could wait until morning.  I wanted to read my book again for a bit before trooping upstairs to have a shower and wash my hair and finally fall into bed, exhausted from my “free” day.

I really hope I don’t have too many more days with nothing to do.  I’m not sure I’d survive them.

If  you enjoyed this essay, you might also like “Clearing the Clutter”, which can be found in the Archives from January 15, 2020, or “Household Chores: Love ’em, Hate ’em”, published March 18, 2020.

The Person at the Other Fax Machine

§  The most terrifying moments of that awful video are to be found in the behavior of the person in the far right corner at the end of the clip.  §

I rarely speak of current events in this blog, since doing so would counter the purpose of my motto: May Something Said Here Touch Your Heart, Make You Laugh, or Give You Hope.  Few situations in our current world could achieve even one of those goals!

Yet there are some incidents so dreadful and obvious that it would be almost immoral to evade them. They cry out to be acknowledged, no matter how dissonant and disheartening the subject.  One of these situations is surely the horrific behavior of those who, in the guise of standing up for their rights, threaten or attack others who reproach them for not wearing face masks while in the middle of a worldwide plague, and contrary to the orders of local governments or the requests of private property owners.

I won’t take up the questions of whether masks are protective or not; whether they are a violation of one’s constitutional rights; or even whether they shield the wearer or those with whom one comes into contact.  Those matters can be endlessly debated.  The real question that I’ve uncovered (while watching countless videos of people being attacked or beaten or threatened) is why society has degenerated to such a point that these behaviors are accepted with little more than a shrug or a sigh.

I run through just a few of the incidents, all captured on camera, watching them play horrifically across the movie screen in my mind:

The hapless individual threatened by a livid man in a local Costco:  https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2020/07/08/i-feel-threatened-who-protects-shoppers-angry-anti-maskers/5389199002/
The elderly disabled veteran brutally punched over and over:  https://www.newsbreak.com/washington/spokane/news/1615195034250/see-it-suspect-caught-on-video-punching-elderly-disabled-veteran-during-mask-dispute-cops-say-perp-knocked-victim-unconscious-broke-his-jaw
And, perhaps worst of all, the middle-aged organ transplant recipient heaved into a bone-shattering crash by a hefty young woman:
https://www.nj.com/bergen/2020/07/woman-with-cane-violently-assaulted-at-nj-staples-after-asking-customer-to-wear-mask-video.html

Of all of them, I think this last incident shocked me the most—not because of the violence, since other videos and reports have displayed far more brutality; even fatalities.  But what I found most disturbing in the attack by Terri Thomas on Margot Kagan wasn’t the fact that a beefy young woman would brutally assault a slip a lady who was not only old enough to be her mother, but who probably weighed in at 95 pounds soaking wet. No, that sort of unconscionable behavior is all too common these days. Nor was I flabbergasted by the inaction of the employees and customers captured in the video (despite later claims that they rushed to the victim’s aid after the close of the surveillance clip).  Their immobility as the victim lay injured on the floor was shocking, but not surprising; compassion and courage–gallantry–are all too lacking in today’s society.

No, to me the most terrifying moments of that awful video are to be found in the behavior of the person (man? woman? I think it is a woman) in the far right corner at the end of the clip.  Watch carefully, and you will see that, as Ms. Thomas storms out of the store, this customer cautiously toes aside the fallen cubicle divider that was overturned in the fracas—pushes it away with a foot, and then calmly returns to her copying or faxing or whatever transaction she had been making before the violent altercation began.

To say that this display of utter indifference chilled me to the center of my soul would be to describe Dante’s Ninth Circle of Hell as a cool spring breeze. I watched that entire disturbing video over and over, each time thinking perhaps I had missed something—that there was some mitigating factor, some reasonable excuse, that this person blithely turned aside and continued processing paper.

But there was none.  No mitigating factor, no reason, and certainly no excuse.

The very idea that someone—anyone—would turn their back upon the victim of a horrific assault and coolly continue running off copies, casually ignoring the entire situation, speaks terrifying volumes about the moral state of our populace.

Somewhere, someone has seen that video, and recognized the person at the fax machine.  Someone—some friend or family member, perhaps even a pastor or rabbi, has gazed (in horror? unsurprised?) at the behavior of that individual.  Perhaps they said something; tried to rebuke him or her.  Perhaps (more likely) not.

The rest of us will almost certainly never know who it was standing at the other fax machine that day.  And I doubt that individual will ever read this blog post.  But I say now, and will forever say, that their behavior was an affront to human decency as grave as any assault committed by those who threaten, slap, punch or spit upon their masked counterparts.

I’m sure The Faxing Person would shrug, as unconcerned by my opinion as they were for the victim of the assault. But their display of inhumanity was deplorable. And they should be ashamed. Quite thoroughly ashamed.

If you liked this essay, you might also enjoy “Political Civility”, in the Archives from July 3, 2019.  (On the other hand, you might absolutely hate it!)