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.

The Trials and Tribulations of Houseguests

§  A young friend won’t be making her annual trip to stay with me and visit her “Indiana Family” during this difficult year.  But I hope she will get a smile from this essay!  §

Listening to a radio show as I drove one afternoon, I caught part of a discussion on the topic of appropriate behavior by houseguests when making visits.  The subject intrigued me because  it had often been covered by those original Agony Aunt columnists, Dear Abby and Ann Landers, to whose advice I’d been devoted in adolescence.

The interviewee, asked to explain what houseguests should not do during a visit, launched into a total bitchfest about guests who, having risen in the morning before their hosts, proceeded to brew themselves a cup of coffee and (horror of horrors!) use the mug which was sitting out beside the coffeemaker for that morning cup…their host’s favorite coffee mug!

 Now, I rarely have houseguests, and I don’t even own a coffeemaker; anyone unfortunate enough to be lodging with me is going to discover that instant coffee is the best available.  Tea, now, tea is a different matter.  Depending on their preferences, they might get a good quality teabag of regular or flavored tea, or even loose tea brewed properly using a tea ball in a china teapot.  But, those facts aside, the truth is that, as a good hostess, if I was providing for a houseguest who I knew might be waiting for a “cuppa” before I rose in the morning, I would have set out not only a cup, but a spoon and a spoon rest and real sugar and sweeteners and a napkin, all awaiting their use.  I’d have made certain they knew where all the other accoutrements were to be found too: the toaster, the bread, butter, jam, and milk.  And, even though I do, yes, have a favorite mug, I damn sure wouldn’t have gone on public radio making an ass of myself because a guest in my home had availed her or himself of simple accommodations.  To do so would be disrespectful.

Respect, as I learned from those long ago Agony Aunt columns, is what smooths the relationship between host and guest.  Both acknowledge the disruption to their usual lives, and treat one another with courtesy, making an effort to be especially respectful to smooth over any bumps in the road during a visit.

A much younger but extremely wise friend once related to me that her mother, having come to visit, was both very surprised and complimentary when she found the apartment beautifully cleaned prior to her visit.  My young friend, while admitting that her home was rarely in that condition, remarked that it was simply respectful to prepare for a guest’s visit by cleaning her home.

I agreed wholeheartedly.  Having a houseguest means that one looks at one’s home differently.  The worn but still useable bath towels that are perfectly suitable for my own bathtime would be disrespectful if put out for a guest to use. The chipped mug is placed to the back of the cabinet, and the nicer ones, including that favored mug—why wouldn’t I want a friend to have the best?– set forward prominently.  Bedsheets are fresh, TVs are turned down low when a guest has retired for the night, and favorite foods are offered.

But, returning to the memory of those Agony Aunts columns, I recall long, serious deliberations on whether a guest should, on the final day of their visit, make the bed (because that’s simply a nice gesture to one’s hostess) or remove the sheets and pile them on the mattress (since they now have to be washed).  Silly debates such as this enthralled me when I was a mere teenager, years always from having a home of my own, much less a houseguest.  Even more interesting (and often hilarious), were the disputes—many of which flamed into fury—over nosy houseguests, those people who snooped and pried into places they had no business being, and how they should be handled.

Putting a jack-in-the-box into a drawer to pop out and send the prying houseguest shrieking, was often favored. I particularly loved the suggestion by one host who claimed to have hidden notes in each drawer which said, “Too bad you decided to snoop here.  I put poison on the handle, and I have the only antidote.”

But then came the rejoinder from a woman who was obviously suspected by her friend of being one of those very sneaks, a charge which she strenuously denied.  While staying there, she related, she’d needed a thread of dental floss, something which she hadn’t packed.  She opened the medicine cabinet to search for some, and was sent screaming back from the sink as a cascade of glass marbles came tumbling out of the cupboard, pouring like a loud river onto the sink and bouncing across the bathroom floor.  When her host came charging up, ready accusation at her lips, the terrified guest was crouched in a corner, surrounded by marbles, stuttering, “I just wanted dental floss!  Just dental floss!”

I seriously doubted that the friendship between the paranoid host and the shocked houseguest continued following this fracas.  After all, it appeared that, just like that belligerent radio show speaker, someone had forgotten the first rule of having or being a houseguest: Respect.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “Agony Aunts”,
to be found in the archives from February 16, 2018.