Friday, April 27, 2018

The more things change...

This was written in January of 2011. As I too often say when about old things, very little has changed, although politeness and respect have gone so far out the proverbial window we can no longer see them even in the distance. I am appalled, not for the first time, that as a society we are all too eager to fix that which is not broken, but totally unwilling or unable to fix the things that are.

Criticism is just a really bad way of making a request. 

No, I didn’t say it, but I wish I had. Diane Sawyer quoted it from someone she’d interviewed, then pointed a pistol finger at the side of her head and said, “Genius.” She was right.

For the nearly 40 years I’ve been married, I have hated television. Not because I think all TV is bad, but because in our house, it’s on every waking moment of the day. When the house was full of kids and noise, the TV was the loudest noise of all, because not only was it on, people were watching it. From my point of view, which is admittedly only half the equation now and was much less then, nothing that was said on TV was as important as anything that was said between us. This argument has been shot down for 40 years. I have complained about the one-eyed-monster that lives in three rooms of our house and criticized its watchers for…well, you know how long by now.

I, on the other hand, want to read the news. And everything else. I read the newspaper daily, but get most of my news from the Internet. I am annoyed when I want to read a news story and end up instead with a video. If I wanted video, I would watch TV. (Just another argument I’m losing.)

I also like to read for entertainment, not watch TV. Until Duane bought me a Kindle, my books and magazines cluttered every flat surface in the house as well as the bookcases, my car, and several boxes in the attic. Not being particularly neat in any event, this clutter has never bothered me. It has, on the other hand, driven Duane crazy for, yes, 40 years. Before he gave up—as I did with TV—he was critical of my clutter and of the fact that I have to read things to get them; I can’t always absorb what I’m being told.

We have come to an easiness with the passage of time. He turns the TV down, though never off, and tries to listen to me even if what I’m saying lacks importance. I buy my books electronically and try to keep the magazines in semi-neat stacks, though I fail way too often. Because we like each other a lot, we’ve also learned to make some allowances for the other person’s quirks.

I can’t help but wonder if we’d have learned much faster if we’d just asked more often instead of criticizing.

We had elections in November, with all the newly elected people being critical of their predecessors and promising big changes and promising to keep their promises. Within two weeks of swearing in, we’ve seen broken promises and heard constant disparagement of how the new folks are doing the jobs they haven’t even learned how to do yet. The criticisms from both sides of the ideological table are vitriolic and downright mean. Fact-checking is tossed aside in favor of having the loudest voice.

Over the weekend, an Arizona congresswoman was shot. During the same siege, six people died, including a nine-year-old. Before the blood was washed from the scene, before anyone knew if Gabrielle Giffords would live or die, blame, accusations, and criticism were being bandied about like stray bullets.

None of those things do either Ms. Giffords or the rest of us any good. Until we learn to respect each other and each other’s points of view on everything from religion and politics to butter versus margarine, we will neither grow nor grow up. It is not necessary that we agree, nor that we all like each other, though I admit it’s easier when we do.

I said—over and over—that I wasn’t doing New Year’s resolutions because goodness knows history shows I never keep them, but this is one I think I’ll work on. Instead of criticizing, I’m going to try requesting when I want something to be different, and maybe I’ll take a long look in the mirror while I’m at it.

Friday, April 20, 2018

...for laughin', for cryin', for livin' and for dyin'...

The bones of this post are from about three years ago, back when Duane had just gotten his first new knee. Some things have changed--children's hospitals no longer accept most of the things stitched with so much love, my friend's sister-of-the-heart has passed away, and my shark-catching grandson turned 16 this week. But, like always, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just as I was inspired by strong women when I wrote this, I am still--never more so than in celebration of the life of one of those women. Rest in Peace, Barbara Bush. Thank you for everything.

I took Duane to have the new-knee staples removed today. The nurse who removed them is beautiful. Blonde, straight white teeth, and a pretty smile. She's been married a year, she and her husband are buying her grandfather's farm, and she wants four children starting as soon as possible. "Is that crazy?" she said, and then answered her own question. "I don't care if it is. Family's important to me. To us."

Night before last, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team brought home the world cup. With skill and dignity and class.

This morning, my daughter-in-law accompanied me when I went walking. We walked faster because she's younger, and she took time to eat raspberries while I huffed and puffed to keep up. I don't think she broke a sweat, but I love her anyway, and it was fun walking with her. I love my sons for a great many things, none more than the daughters-in-law they brought me.

My grandson caught a shark when he went fishing with his dad and brothers off the coast of North Carolina. It wasn't very big, I guess, but sheesh, a shark. His mother--my daughter--said calmly on Facebook that Connor "saved the boat" and provided dinner. Back in Indiana, I'm shrieking, "It's a freaking shark!" His mother undoubtedly looked up the proper way to cook shark.

On June 9, I went to Walmart. It was raining when I went, but, you know, it rained all the time in June. No big deal. But when I left, it was pouring. I'd been waiting inside the entrance doors for about 15 minutes when a pretty young woman offered to help. I said No, I could wait, but she insisted, and she held her umbrella over my cart and me all the way to my car. Which was way across the lot because I don't search out good parking places. (That's one of the things you find yourself doing when you wear a Fitbit.)

I have a friend who goes with a sister-of-her-heart every few weeks while the sister has chemo. They talk and my friend knits and relationships mesh and tighten at the same time as they wait and hope there.

I have other friends who sew and sew and sew for children's hospitals. Blankets, gowns, cancer turbans, stuffed toys that offer comfort and warmth.

There are so many pictures of guys out there with six-pack abs and sexy stubble and maybe some tattoos and soulful expressions. These are the ones who go on the covers of romance novels and that's fine. Though none of my heroes ever really "fit." They wear shirts most of the time and hardly ever look soulful.

But I've realized as I've sat here that those guys on the covers don't motivate me at all. And much as I truly love them, the guys in my books aren't my inspiration, either.

But the heroines, well, that's another story altogether. Those women I listed up here...and others like them? They're my inspiration. They're the ones whose stories I want to tell, the whole laughin', cryin', livin', and dyin' thing.

How about you? Who's your inspiration?

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Other Side

Today's post is thanks to our son, Chris Flaherty, the one who says it's not that that grass is greener on the other side, it's that it's the other side. I'd love to say I always understand that, but I don't. I do understand the part about not fitting in--writers often don't, poor kids often often don't, Democrats in Indiana often don't. The idea, I think, is to get comfortable in the round hole you don't really fit into, but saying that is much easier than doing it. Chris's words--and the eloquent ones of Robert Service--touched me and made me ache. But sharing's a good thing, I'm convinced, even when the sharing is sad. 

Robert Service's poem, "The Men That Don't Fit In" used to make me feel better about myself. When I read it the first time, I realized there must be lots of people who share my struggles. I've always experienced terrible bouts of depression associated with unfulfilled wanderlust and adventure-seeking. I change jobs much too often and as a result have enjoyed very limited professional success. I've basically started over a dozen times. I currently live on a beautiful mountain retreat and have a great job (to most people) with benefits a congressman would envy, yet every single night I dig out my maps, stream national geographic, or browse Zillow or Instagram to see where I want to go or live next. I'm never content. I don't ever need MORE.. just different.
Well, my life is quickly reaching the final stanza of Robert Service's poem and it doesn't make me feel better, anymore. It's actually pretty damned depressing.
So, for all of you who have repeatedly punched happiness or contentment in the face in search of something else, this is for you.

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest. 
If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake. 
And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last. 
He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in. 
Robert W. Service

Friday, April 6, 2018

On being productive.

I love being productive, when I can end a day tired but satisfied with what I've accomplished. When I look back at the days when the kids were all in school, my day looked something like this.

3:30 AM: Get up. Start washer and dryer, put away supper dishes, drink coffee, and get ready for work. Read a chapter of a book while folding the clothes that were in the dryer.

4:20 AM: Go to work. Trip takes 33 minutes. Allow extra seven minutes for emergencies such as flat tires, mountainous snow drifts, and having to stay in the car until “American Pie” stops playing on the radio or a chapter ends in an audio book.

5:00 AM – 1:30 PM: Work day job. Half hour lunch is long enough to return things to stores, pick up things at other stores, get caught by a train, and read another chapter while eating a hot dog from B & K.

1:30 PM: Go home from work. Trip often takes more than 33 minutes because other cars insist on using the road. Pick up things at the store I forgot to get at lunchtime.

2:05 PM – 4:15 PM: Put away the groceries I brought home. Reload washer and dryer and fold the clothes that were in the dryer. Drink coffee. Make the bed. Run the sweeper if the floor feels crunchy. Look at the can of Pledge in consternation, trying to remember why I bought it. Start supper, using mystery meat I defrosted in the microwave. Read a chapter while it’s defrosting. Fall asleep and wake up when Duane comes home. Feel guilty because the house is never clean enough.

5:30 PM – Pick up first child at practice. Five-mile round trip.

5:50 PM – Pick up second child at practice. Five-mile round trip.  

6:20 PM – Pick up third child at practice. Five-mile round trip.

6:30 PM: Explain to children that it would be much easier if they all came home at the same time. They could do their homework while waiting for the last practice to end. Glare back at the resultant blank looks.

6:35 PM – 7:30 PM: Eat supper, drop off assorted children for evening activities. Go home and fall asleep during Jeopardy.

7:30 – 10:00 PM: Dry and fold more clothes, do supper dishes, stuff Pledge can behind everything else so that I can never find it again, notice there’s another Pledge can hidden in the same place. Shower and get ready for bed.

10:00 – 11:00 PM: Pick up children from wherever they’ve been dropped off, not getting out of the car because—didn’t I mention I was ready for bed?

11:00 PM: Go to bed. Intend to read another chapter. Don’t even get the book open. Regret never stopping to smell the roses everyone’s always talking about.

(I must admit that Duane did some of the hauling of kids, but since this is my whine here, I felt perfectly fine leaving that part out.)

My schedule is much different in retirement.

Somewhere between 5:30 and 7:30 AM: Get up. Put clothes in the washer. Go to office. Write. Or not. Play Solitaire. Or not.

9:30 AM or so: Eat breakfast. Put clothes in dryer.

10:00 AM – Noon: Write. Or not. Sew. Or not.

Noon – Eat lunch. Fold clothes and put them away.

12:30 – 2:00 PM: Do whatever I want. Fall asleep in the recliner.

2:00 – 11:00 PM: I’m not exactly sure what happens to the rest of the day, but it’s gone.

I also work part time, I volunteer, I belong to things. Much of the time, I’m busier in retirement than I ever intended to be. Productive? Not so much, and even though it’s taken me seven years to figure it out, that’s okay. Sometimes it’s enough just to smell the roses.