Friday, August 31, 2012

Flag Waving

[The following piece was written in 2003--two short years after the events of 9/11. For a variety of reasons, it seems kind of appropriate to run it here now as the Presidential election season is heating up.]

During my Army brat childhood, the only color I saw more often than the red, white and blue of the American flag was the olive drab of my father’s uniforms. My first flag-specific memory is of standing with my Brownie troop in front of the central fountain at the local mall, waving mini flags to the rousing accompaniment of “Stars and Stripes Forever.”  While my racing pulse could easily be dismissed as stage fright, at the time it felt like the swelling of patriotic pride.

The following year was 1976, the Bicentennial. The Independence Day parade that year cemented my love for the flag—forever linking those stars and stripes with prancing horses, booming cannons and, perhaps most importantly, to popcorn, cotton candy and dripping ice cream cones.

In the decades since, my relationship with the flag, like my relationship with cotton candy and ice cream, has grown considerably more complex.  A flag flapping in the wind still has power over me, but that power is now tempered by concern over the state of the republic for which that flag stands.

I believe that the values symbolized by the flag—liberty and justice for all, just for starters—are goals we as a nation often fall woefully short of. I don’t believe the Pledge of Allegiance, without or without the contentious “under God,” should be mandatory because I question the value of reflexive, unquestioning loyalty. And, whether I personally find it effective or merely obnoxious, I absolutely support your right to make a political statement by burning or otherwise defacing the flag.

In light of that last fact, it probably seems all the more contradictory that very little upsets me more than the sight of a flag being displayed well past its prime. The sight of a flag hanging in tatters distresses me in a way that the deliberate defacing of a flag to make a political statement does not. When an activist sets an American flag alight, it’s the expression of a passionate belief. When a flag is left to disintegrate in the elements, it is, at best, a sign of good intentions defeated by neglect.

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, America’s on-again, off-again romance with Her flag was rekindled. The display of pride and solidarity was heartwarming, but now, years after the attacks, it seems as if many of those very flags are hanging still, much the worse for wear.

Around our town and county—and around the rest of the country, I’m sure—there are flags that have gotten snagged so that rather than hanging regally, they are all corners and folds, like some sort of accidental origami. Others have wrapped themselves around their poles, looking like sloppily wrapped burritos with a corner of red, white and blue tortilla left to flap in the wind. There are flags falling apart at the seams—including one I’ve seen whose stripes flap independently of one another. It seems I can’t leave the house without noticing yet another tattered flag.

All my stewing about the neglect of the flag got me wondering about what our flags say about our love for our country and what passes for patriotism. As upsetting as these abandoned flags are to see, maybe they are sending a necessary message.

In times of drama and tragedy—like September 11—we are out in legions, flying flags, raising money, loving our country, making a stand. When it comes to day-to-day living, though, to the issues that profoundly affect the lives of millions of Americans—poverty, inadequate health coverage, unemployment, lack of affordable housing and a host of other issues of quiet desperation in the lives of so many—most of us can’t be bothered. While there are organizations and individuals making valuable efforts, the majority of us remain steadfastly uninvolved. Not only are we rarely motivated to contact our elected representatives, pathetically few of us even show up to choose those officials. And fewer of us still are thoroughly educated on the issues we expect our elected representatives to handle on our behalf.

The events of the past several years have shown us that the barely noticed workings of our nation deserve our attention as much as the dramatic moments. Until we’ve learned that lesson, perhaps the hung and forgotten flags are an all too appropriate symbol of our patriotism and citizenship, of the privileges we take for granted and the rights we regularly fail to use to our nation’s full advantage.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Hard Way

One fine spring day, Daughter-Only asked First Great Nephew (two-year-old son of First Nephew) if he would like a lick of her ice cream cone...

And thus did Daughter-Only learn an important life lesson: never relinquish your ice cream cone to a two-year-old.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cost Benefit Analysis

Replacement toilet seat: $12.98

Zebra print duct tape: $2.00

Zebra print duct tape on your broken toilet seat when your mother-in-law comes to visit: Priceless


Monday, August 27, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday

Masked Mom's Media Monday is taking today off. We will return next Monday with our usual pithy and pointless commentary.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Monday, September 30, 1985 & Wednesday, November 20, 1985

For tonight's Spiral Notebook entry, I am digging deep(ish) and putting my true adolescent angst (or a sliver of it) on display. First, a little present-day context. Tara of the brilliant Faith In Ambiguity* mentioned on last week's entry that I sounded "relatively wise" for a seventeen-year-old and I promised her that I would post some authentic vintage teenaged angst this week. (What I did not tell her is that it will probably not vary too much from my authentic middle-aged angst except there'll be more crayon.)

Next, a little 1985 context. The entry this excerpt is taken from is my first after returning to the town where Mr. High School lived. Those of you unfamiliar with the Mr. High School saga need only know that I met Mr. High School in eighth grade, developed an insane crush on him over the summer between eighth and ninth grade and then I moved away mid-way through ninth grade only to return (partly because of a lingering, um, let's call it curiosity about him) at the beginning of our senior year of high school. This excerpt details my first sighting of Mr. High School upon my return to town.

After this melodramatic entry, it was nearly two months before he and I actually spoke to one another. Following the excerpt, there is a snapshot of the actual page from my journal on the evening of that momentous occasion. Perhaps this snapshot will give further insight into why I was drawn to the literary and not the visual arts.

One more thing: there are a few swearish words in this entry. I left them in for authenticity's sake.

Monday, September 30, 1985
Being madly in love with someone who doesn't know you exist is not fun. Ok, that's a slight exaggeration. Mr. High School does know I exist. However, it seems quite obvious that he doesn't much give a shit whether I do or not. And in all honesty, why should he? It is unreasonable (but very creative) to think that the things that happened (or should I say didn't happen) between us would have haunted him the way they have me for the past two years. I have seen him only twice over that time and once he actually waved. However, this time 'round he was not in that kind of mood. I saw him last Wednesday at the Bloomsburg Fair. He freaked totally out of his mind when he saw me. Knowing him, he took it personally that I had come back to intrude upon his life. The thing about the Fair is that he didn't say word one or wave or even acknowledge my presence beyond the way his eyes nearly bulged out of his head and the way he nearly gave himself whiplash doing the double-take he did when he saw me. Maybe that's a good sign, the way he risked physical injury just to see me.

(The eternal optimist. Let's look at the bright side of this--so what if we have to bend over ass-backwards to find it?)
(That's going to be it on the subject of Mr. High School. At least until my stomach settles down. That's not to say that he makes me sick to my stomach. What he does do is get my nervous system in a panic. Not to mention the rest of me. So I think I will lay off the subject for a few minutes.)
Wednesday, November 20, 2012
I'm really not at all sure what's going on here. The original caption says it's "creative elation." From this distance, it looks more like a travel guide into a severe hormonal disturbance. There's a watermelon, a banana, a purple smiley-face-thingy with a gigantic rainbow exclamation point down the middle of it (the stand-alone sun is the dot for the exclamation point). There is a flower on the right and then a rainbow with a stem on it on the left. The heart is the pot of gold at the end of a whole other rainbow. As to what's going on down in the lower right corner, I'm not entirely sure--a pink chocolate chip cookie getting ready to land on a bright red flying saucer with flashing yellow lights, maybe? A petri dish moon rising as double suns set behind a red mountain? I have no clue. I shudder to think what a Freudian would make of it all...
*Seriously, you're better off reading any random post of hers than you are reading what I'm about to post here--I'll forgive you if you wander off.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Sky Is Falling...

...okay, so it's not. But there is a very frantic Chicken-Little-like voice in my head going, "My mother-in-law is coming! My mother-in-law is coming!"

And while I'm not off to tell the King, I must go and clean and clean and clean.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Random Quote Friday

"Working with language is a means by which we can identify the bullshit within ourselves (and others). If we learn what a truthful sentence looks like, a little flag goes up at a false one."
~~George Saunders, "Thank You, Esther Forbes" in The Braindead Megaphone: Essays

Thursday, August 23, 2012

One More For The Wisdom's Where You Find It File

At the halfway house dinner table the other night, the 22-year-old resident responsible for the spectrum* question  completely out of the blue offered the following thought-provoking words:

"Actions speak louder than words. You know what speaks louder than actions? All those thoughts in your head that you keep to yourself."

*I almost typed "spectral" question which would be an entirely different type of question.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I'll Let You Know When I Get There...

One of the intangible* rewards of my job is daily being immersed in a human nature laboratory of sorts--so many personalities shoved together in a situation that lends itself to intensity and intimacy of a sort. I have seen deep friendships form between people who likely would not have spoken to one another in another context. I am endlessly fascinated by all the variety of thought and feeling and just being that I am exposed to on a daily basis. Some days, it's a bit overwhelming and I fight the urge to run screaming from all the messy humanity on display there. Most days, I revel in it.

One day at the beginning of this month I was in the van and checked the transportation sheet that helps staff keep track of who needs picked up where and when. Scribbled across the top, I found this:

Granted, he spelled "cynicism" not quite right, but it's the thought that counts. And I kind of like this thought. (Click for larger view.)

*Where intangible is just a fancy word for "doesn't show up in my paycheck."

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Noble Steed

One evening a few weeks ago, Hubby and I were sitting with my Dad and his longtime girlfriend on their front porch after a nice meal. The house was once my Nan and Pap's house and before they lived there, it was a hunting/summer camp from which the family escaped the Pittsburgh area into the comparative wilderness of Potter County, PA.

Though the house is much changed since my grandparents lived there--added on to and improved upon (there is hot running water now, just for one example)--it is natural to think of my grandparents when I am there. Perhaps because Pap was still living there when he died, his essence seems to permeate the house in a much deeper way than the essence of Nan, who moved into an apartment and then into a nursing home before she passed away. It is not only possible to imagine him sitting in his spot by the kitchen woodstove looking curmudgeonly while waiting for his ridiculously strong tea to steep, it is next to impossible not to.

So, the subject of my grandfather came up. He was a complicated man--with a bawdy sense of humor and a hair-trigger temper that exploded out of all proportion at times. He and my grandmother both had told me many stories about his temper and, of course, I had witnessed some examples firsthand as a child. He was also an alcoholic, though he had stopped drinking ("cold turkey," my grandmother told me) before my father was old enough to remember.

The story Nan told me of his quitting was that he had taken all of his pay straight to the bar and Nan found herself without milk for the baby, my father, and felt she had no choice but to borrow the money from the bartender. When word got back to Pap, she said, he never drank another drop. (He would not tolerate alcohol in the house--even made his beer-battered haddock recipe with Sprite. So sweeping was his prohibition and so forceful his personality that even years after he died, I felt guilty for putting a couple of wine coolers in the fridge at his house, where Nan then lived alone and absolutely didn't mind.)

That night on the porch, Dad said to me, "You remember that old ride-on metal horse? He rode that thing to the bar!"

"Mobo!? He rode Mobo to the bar!?"

Now, I'm sure some of my readers are not "horse people" and, therefore, may be totally unfamiliar with the world-renowned Mobo Bronco, who belonged to my father first and later was my near-constant companion throughout my early childhood. I rode him in Maryland, Texas and Colorado. I can even remember, when I was nine or ten, fighting my Baby Brother for a ride long after I should've given Mobo up. Getting Mobo going on the gravel driveway of the Pennsylvania house we lived in then was not easy, but was completely worth it.

He is a metal horse who stands about 19" high at his withers (4.3 hands to all you horse people out there) and 30" high at the top of his head. A rider sits on him and propels him along by pushing down on the "stirrups" which raises the body of the horse and as the body comes back down the mechanism pushes the horse forward on wheels hidden in his hooves.

I hadn't thought of Mobo in years--decades. I think I had seen him last when, about 24 years ago, we helped my parents pack up the house they'd lived in when I graduated high school and I assumed he was long gone. Then here is my father, with this blast from the past--and the hilarious (and somewhat pathetic) image of my 5'7" grandfather drunkenly maneuvering this (non-steerable) metal children's ride-on toy to the bar*. As my father laughingly pointed out, he must've already been drunk--surely he could've gotten there much faster walking or even crawling.

Talk turned to other things--politics, especially misinformation about Obamacare that is causing the fear and confusion that Republicans are only too willing to take advantage of (if not actively foster)--but my father couldn't let the horse thing go. Every few minutes he'd say, "I wonder where that horse ended up. I'm pretty sure it's right up in the attic."

Clearly, it was going to keep bugging him until he checked--it's a cursed trait he and I share. I have been in the attic or basement or rifling through filing cabinet drawers at 3:56 a.m. on a wild goose chase for something of only marginal practical importance on more occasions than I can count.

So, he went to the garage and toted in the ladder and crawled up in the hatch to the attic that is really just a glorified crawl space--you can stand up straight at the peak of the roof, but otherwise, there's crouching and hunching. I can remember crawling up in that attic for Nan as a kid and standing up in the wrong place and driving a roofing nail into my scalp more than once. I loved every minute of poking around in all that old stuff, though. I was born with an overactive nostalgia gland, I'm pretty sure.

Dad was up in the attic for less than two minutes when he handed the horse down to me. It is probably a testament to both my overactive nostalgia gland and to the general emptiness of my adult existence, that I got a little misty-eyed at the sight of him.

It's been a while, but when my father said, "You can have him." I'm pretty sure that was actual glee I felt.

And so, I've been reunited with one of the loves of my young life and Mobo has taken up residence in my entryway--where he startled the crap out of an unsuspecting Daughter-Only who first encountered him on a dimly-lit evening home alone. She said his eyes seemed menacing in the half-dark.

Maybe it's just me, but all I see is intelligence and warmth and, maybe, a couple of family secrets.

I told Daughter-Only of Mobo's long and noble history with our family (including the new tidbit I'd just been given), but she remained unconvinced of his value so I was forced to dig through the photo tubs until I found this:

L. to r.: Me, Our long-lost friend Tammy Cox, Little Sister & Mobo, off in the distance, looking steadfast as always. This was in Texas, so 1973 or '74. Mobo was probably the one thing I didn't fall off of during our stay in Texas.

Still, Daughter-Only did not warm noticeably to Mobo and I briefly despaired of passing along my appreciation for his pivotal role in so much family history but then Baby Brother stopped by and we dragged old Mobo out to show him to three-year-old Seventh Niece. She was lukewarm about him at first, the expression on her face verging on creeped out, but later, she came around:

Mobo rides again, sturdy as ever, beneath a fourth generation.

Mobo, recovering from his triumphant return to the family fold.

* A photo footnote:

Does this look like the sort of man who would drunkenly ride a children's toy to the bar? Uh, on second thought, never mind.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Office Politics

As crazy as Cranky Boss Lady drove me in our ten years together at the flower shop, that job did have one major benefit: there were no "office politics" because after the first year or so, it was almost always just the two of us and an occasional driver, sometimes seasonal help. If there was an issue (and there were many), there was just the two of us there to work it out--or not. There was no "he said/she said" stuff, no competitiveness, no drama--or at least less drama than in a workplace with more players.

To be honest, Cranky Boss Lady, still drives me a little crazy, but the way things have been going at my current job lately, I actually miss the simplicity of that variety of craziness.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Ugh.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Sunday, November 10, 1985

Sometimes, we have to learn the same lesson over and over again. The only difference between the me who, at 17, wrote tonight's Spiral Notebook selection and the 44-year-old me I've been these past few months is the older version recognizes the fact that all 75 of those selves are part of the same whole...


Sunday, November 10, 1985

I've been 75 different people the past few weeks and it's beginning to pull me apart. I'm sure the pull apart feeling is exhaustion.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

(Yet Another) Random Quote Saturday

"Did the ghosts of friends and family come and serve as my muses? Aren't ghosts merely delusions in grief? I know now that these questions are meaningless and the answer is absolute. What are ghosts if not the hope that love continues beyond our ordinary senses? If ghosts are delusions, then let me be deluded. Let me believe in the limitlessness of love, the beauty of contradictions, the miracle that is an ordinary part of life."

~~Amy Tan, "The Ghosts of My Imagination," The Opposite of Fate

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Blogger

At work, today is one of my two days off per week. Despite being off, I somehow managed to spend MORE hours at work than I would on a normal scheduled day. I did this after getting up at a ridiculously early hour (especially after working til 11 p.m. last night) to drive Daughter-Only and First Niece to catch a bus to NYC to see Second Niece. We were late for the bus in the town twelve minutes away, but only by a couple minutes, so rather than making the girls wait around for three hours for the next bus, I tried to chase the bus down at its next stop thirty minutes away. We arrived at the stop there just in time to see the bus pulling away for a penny and all that crap...we chased it, er, followed it to the town forty-five minutes away and the girls were unceremoniously packed on to the bus and made it to NYC at their originally scheduled time.

What I am trying to say is that tonight, I am continuing my almost unbroken string of disappointing blog posts. Here's hoping I get to spend some quality time with my drafts folder soon--otherwise, I might end up in Blogger Time-Out.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Random Quote Thursday

"We need a new definition of 'defense' that takes into account the quality of our education, the health of our people, the preservation of the environment, the strength of our transportation, the development of alternative fuels, the vigor of our democracy."

~~George McGovern, "A Letter to Barack Obama," "Easy Chair" column, Harper's, September 2011

Monday, August 13, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Red

Back in the olden days, back before the internet, before MTV, things were different. Our musical horizons were limited to pop music radio stations, to American Bandstand, to the occasional "rising star" featured on Solid Gold--especially if you grew up in the sorts of backwater towns that I did. These towns lacked not only a cultural "scene" of any sort, but often lacked a radio station that played anything from the decade in which we currently lived.

Despite growing up in just such a town, Daughter-Only's experience has been entirely different. Thanks to the internet, a woman such as myself (with my wholly unsophisticated musical tastes) has somehow managed to birth and raise a daughter who is thoroughly devoted to the concept of "indie" music. Many of the artists and bands to whom Daughter-Only has sworn her devotion measure their success in "hits" on YouTube, in the sales of albums and merchandise they produce in their own garages and ship out to a narrow, but nonetheless, rabid fanbase.

So it was that by the time Dia Frampton made her "debut" on NBC's The Voice, her actual voice had long since been a staple in our home. Daughter-Only's obsessive replaying of Dia's solo work and her work with her sister (as Meg & Dia) was a refreshing break from what I considered the monotonal droning of much of the music Daughter-Only listened to. Once the world at large was introduced to Daughter-Only's well-kept secret, Dia scored a major label recording contract (and second place on the first season of The Voice under the direction of "coach" Blake Shelton) and her album Red was wrapped and tucked into the Christmas tree for Daughter-Only.

Each spring, when I worked at the flower shop with Cranky Boss Lady, there was a four- to six-week window when we could get a "filler" flower called boronia heather.* Its delicate, hot pink flowers grow in clusters on a semi-woody stem. It is gorgeous to look at, but the major selling point as far as Cranky and I were concerned was its scent. It is a scent unlike any other--sweet, but not cloyingly so, crisp, almost citrusy--it is a bright smell, if such a thing exists. It is so addictive that I remarked more than once to Cranky Boss Lady that even as I was smelling it, I was still actively craving it.

Dia's voice is kind of like that. There is a sweetness to it, but not the bubble-gummy pop sweetness of many young female singers. Instead, there is a cripsness there, a purity, a clarity that works no matter what the tempo or subject of the song. In the songs that deal with heavier topics (such as "Isabella," in which the narrator urges a young girl to leave the turmoil of her parents' home or "The Broken Ones" with the lyrics, "I can't help it, I love the broken ones/The ones who need the most patching up."), the contrast of that sweet voice with the dark lyrics is deliciously, irresistibly poignant. 

Speaking of lyrics, Dia is more than just an amazing voice--she also wrote or cowrote everything on the album. The lyrics are not merely catchy, but also witty and intelligent. Though be warned--nearly every song has serious earworm potential.

Red is that exceedingly rare album that Daughter-Only and I agree on. By virtue of that fact alone, it is a remarkable work.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Enjoyable. 

*Alas, there was no scratch-n-sniff link available. Google really let me down on this one.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I've kind of come to think of my journal as an elaborate form of note-taking. Over the years, the amount and quality of notes I've taken in here has varied wildly. There were periods of nearly daily (and often long) entries followed by huge gaps--months, sometimes years--mixed in with periods of once-a-month or every other month entries. I've never given up entirely--which I see alternately as a badge of honor and a monument to plain stubbornness.

Stubborn as an ass, I am--but it's not stubbornness that keeps me coming back--it's compulsion. And it's that note-taking thing, too because the gaps in here don't have corresponding gaps in my mental note-taking. When I'm not putting my "notes" in here for (relatively) safe-keeping, I try to keep them all in my brain. Pretty soon, my brain fills up and things start to fall out--who knows what might be lost forever and how much I might miss it? 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Perseids and Poision Ivy

Tonight the annual Perseid meteor shower is supposed to be at its peak but cloud cover and an early day at work tomorrow will keep me from oohing and aahing over shooting stars this year. The weather and work provide convenient excuses but the truth is I've been a bit of a Perseid party pooper for decades now. The last year I really made any effort to watch was six years ago. We were camping out at my dad's, well away from any in-town light pollution that would dilute the power of the show. I was determined to stay awake but ended up falling asleep flat on my back on a blanket on the ground with a three-month old beagle-German shepherd puppy on my chest and  my legs (for some reason) threaded through the underside of Hubby's lawn chair.

It's a shame really that I haven't managed to get out under the night sky for so long because my first Perseid shower is one of the clearest memories from my childhood. It was the summer of 1980 and my friend Tracy invited me over to watch the shower from her house way outside of town.

We planned to stay outside all night--the shower was supposed to peak at one or two in the morning--some absurd time that, at the age of twelve, I was unsure even existed as I'd never seen it myself. We pulled two lounge-style lawn chairs into the backyard and set ourselves up with pillows and blankets and we talked and waited and were eventually richly rewarded with a stunning show of meteor activity. I've never seen as many shooting stars at a time since.

I remember the depth of our conversation almost as much as the shooting stars. Tracy and I had a tumultuous relationship--pretty common in girls our age. BFF's hadn't been invented yet, but cattiness and gossip and petty jealousy and competition among friends certainly had. She was one of two people I was closest to throughout sixth grade, but we would grow apart in seventh grade. I didn't know that yet and that night on lawn chairs on the dew-dampened lawn beneath stars twinkling and shooting above our heads, we bared our souls to one another.

One of the things Tracy told me that night was that she sometimes gave herself poison ivy to get her mother's attention. In the morning, she showed me a patch of tiger lilies and milkweed growing around the edges of a swampy area in the lower center of their front yard. She pointed out the leaves of poison ivy tangled among the other weeds and asked me if I wanted to try it.

I don't remember agreeing or protesting, but I do remember holding out my left hand and rubbing leaves hard against the back of it. The rash began before I'd made it all the way home that afternoon. It spread to my face, probably from the oils left on the fingers I'd used to grind the leaves into the back of my hand. My eyes swelled nearly shut and my mother took me to a doctor in town. I was given medication and a special face rinse and told that my allergy to poison ivy was so dramatic that I could conceivably contract it from oil or pollen in the air if I was downwind from the plants at the wrong time. My face was so swollen and distorted from the rash with its oozing blisters that the nurse, who had never seen me undeformed, made my mother promise to bring me back in when the swelling went down so she would know the "before" version.

I've had poison ivy a few times since, twice almost as badly as that summer. (One of those was shortly after my wedding to Hubby. Poor guy, to be introduced to the Ivy Monster version of me so soon after committing to me for life.) It's hard not to think of Tracy as I'm itching and trying desperately not to scratch.

And, of course, I think of her every year when the Perseids make their return. I hope she no longer has quite such a need for calamine lotion or attention and sympathy. I hope she is doing well and that she has a good seat for tonight's show.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Ways In Which I Am Not A Grown-Up, The Eighth In A Potentially Infinite Series

I believe with all my heart that there are few things in life more satisfying than being barefoot in a fresh puddle.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

I'm Sensing A Theme Here...

When I chose "Wisdom can sneak up on you when you least expect it..." as a tagline for my blog, little did I know that it would become not merely a semi-clever grouping of words, but a running theme throughout my life. Wisdom really does pop up where you least expect it--all the time...the trick1 is being ready to see it in the oddest of places.

Just for one example, how 'bout an April 2008 episode of the now-cancelled soap opera The Guiding Light? While looking for a random-ish quote for last night's post, I stumbled across this exchange which I'd recorded in one of my quote notebooks. It might help to know that both characters were Southernish, with his accent being significantly heavier than hers2.

REVA SHAYNE3: If they made a movie about you--would you change anything? Would you, maybe--I don't know--gloss over the rough edges?

BILLY LEWIS3: Darlin', my whole life has been rough edges. I don't think you can change anything--if you don't own who you were then, you really can't own who you are now.

1. Another neat trick would be learning to apply all this wisdom I'm allegedly finding lying around in odd places.

2. It also might not.

3. Portrayed by Kim Zimmer and Jordan Clarke, respectively.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Random Quote Tuesday

What we know, what we know privately but refuse to admit to others, what we know but can't bear to contemplate, what we know in our hearts but not in our brains: all of these things exist at once within us...

~~Kathryn Harrison, While They Slept: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family

Monday, August 06, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: In One Person

I don't remember exactly how old I was when I picked up my first John Irving novel--no more than fifteen, I'd guess. I know that the first was The World According to Garp--its title irresistible to me as I wandered the aisles of The Book Nook looking for ways to spend my meager Burger King paycheck.

Garp was one of my first adult titles--not counting the formulaic (but absurdly addictive) Wagons West series and Herman Wouk's The Winds of War.* I adored Garp and set out to read everything else Irving had written up to that point. I found myself passionately in love with some of the titles, lukewarm about others--a pattern that would continue with Irving's fiction over the years. Of that first batch, Garp and Hotel New Hampshire were lasting loves. The Water Method Man and The 158-Pound Marriage--eh. And it took me three tries to make it past page 166 in Setting Free The Bears.

Later came Cider House Rules, a true masterpiece and, though I don't entirely believe in "favorites," were I forced to list a Top 3, that book would most certainly be on it. Other than Wuthering Heights, it is the book I've re-read most often. A Prayer for Owen Meany is another passionate--though less frequently revisited--love. I started but never finished Son of the Circus and Until I Find You. The Fourth Hand and A Widow For One Year were both enjoyable reads, but failed to move me the way Irving's best work does. Last Night In Twisted River is another example of Irving's best work--I found the characters and their lives so engrossing that when I got to the final page, I seriously considered flipping back to the first page and starting over just to spend a little more time in that world.

All this is to say that John Irving and I have a long but occasionally rocky history together and I begin each new title with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation that borders on anxiety. A mediocre Irving title is all the more disappointing because of how great I know an Irving title can be.

Happily, Irving's latest, In One Person, is one of the great ones. From a young age the narrator, Billy Abbott, finds himself with crushes on the "wrong people." Raised in 1950s and '60s Vermont, Abbott is nevertheless surrounded by mostly supportive people who are accepting of what he eventually realizes is his bisexuality. The novel is full of quirky characters and family secrets. It is most powerful when it touches on the early days of the AIDs epidemic, from which Abbott is spared, but many of his friends and former lovers are not. The themes of tolerance and self-discovery, of sexual and personal identity and the costs of hiding our true selves run throughout the book, but it did not strike me as in any way heavy-handed or overtly political, rather it is a deeply personal tale well-told.

In addition to plot and theme, there is, always, that Irving "voice," with its italics and rhythmic sentence structure, its well-placed exclamation points and soothing repetition. It occurred to me partway through this book that part of what has always drawn me to Irving is that his narrative "voice" is one that closely resembles the voice I often hear in my own head. Did reading his novels at a comparatively young age influence the voice in my head? Or was I attracted to the novels because my head already sounded like that? Regardless, reading a "good" Irving title always feels like something of a homecoming for me.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Satisfying.

*The summer I was thirteen, I read the books of the Wagons West series in the same rapid succession a chain smoker smokes cigarettes--begrudgingly relinquishing one seconds before picking up the next. As for The Winds of War, I picked it up my freshman year of high school after being thoroughly enthralled with the miniseries based on the book. In retrospect, my fascination relied heavily on the presence of the (at that time) absolutely adorable Jan-Michael Vincent in the role of Byron Henry, but I nevertheless made my way through the entire 1047 tiny-printed pages of the mass market paperback edition of the book and went on to read the sequel War and Remembrance. Also in retrospect, my steely determination to conquer the book was due in no small part to the offhand remark of my Western Hemisphere Geography teacher when he saw the book on my desk. He said, "Good book. But I don't think you're quite old enough for it." I don't know if that was intended as a "mature" subject matter warning or more reading-level related or some combination of both, but in any case, I showed him!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Wednesday, December 8 , 2004

For all sorts of reasons, tonight's Spiral Notebook selection might best be filed under the heading "Getting more than you bargained for."

Wednesday, December 8, 2004

I've found that if you divulge enough shocking and "embarrassing" things about yourself, people will think of you as forthright, open, even courageous and entertaining. If you choose those details carefully, you can reveal tons of intimate moments of your life without exposing a single sincere facet of your actual self.

That's how it started, anyway, for me, as a defense mechanism. A way to appear transparent without actually revealing anything below skin level. But it's kind of become a habit now and I've learned to care less and less about what I reveal. My discernment gland has withered with disuse, causing a shortage of discretion in my system--so now not only do I not always make wise choices about what to reveal, I often seem to be unable to choose at all. I often find myself two-thirds of the way through some cringe-worthy story before it hits me that I have no idea why I am babbling on in that particular direction. I am lucky (or delusional) in that most of the people to whom I find myself divulging unexpected secrets seem to find it eccentric and charming rather than rude and burdensome.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Under The Wire

Proof that I need to broaden my horizons: I'm irrationally relieved to have made it home in time to post before the arbitrary and self-imposed deadline of midnight, even though this post will hardly qualify as such.

See ya tomorrow.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Un-Random Quote Friday

This one goes out to Graciewilde over at In Search of a Title, who posted an amazing review of Joan Didion's essay collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem on July 4. The review included a few quotes that struck a chord with Gracie, one of which happens to be a favorite of mine as well. Somehow, on the way to leaving a comment to that effect, I got sidetracked for, oh, a month or so, but here I am now and here is that quote that we both love along with another favorite of mine from the same collection.


I think we are all well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind's door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget.

~~Joan Didion, "On Keeping a Notebook" in Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The tricks that work on others count for nothing in that very well-lit back alley were one keeps assignations with oneself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions. One shuffles flashily but in vain through one's marked cards--the kindess done for the wrong reason, the apparent triumph which involved no real effort, the seemingly heroic act into which one had been shamed. The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others--who are, after all, deceived easily enough...

~~Joan Didion, "On Self-Respect" in Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Thursday, August 02, 2012

What I Did On My Blog Vacation: A Photoessay(ish)

Some things I've been doing while I've been away:

Baking cakes...

Looks like dinner, tastes like dessert.

Seventh Niece (whose name starts with "Z") turned THREE!

Eight-year-old Sixth Niece asked, "Can you do me in a cheerleading pose?" Heh. Fortunately, she's easy to please.

Meeting Naked Ladies...
These Ladies were fully-clothed gentlemen.

Helping the next generation get settled in a new home...
Son-One & Girlfriend purchased their first home--much painting, carpet-pulling, minor electrical work and furniture-moving ensued. (Along with many two-hours-one-way trips to Buffalo & back.)

Stalking previous generations...
The resting place of my mother's father's father's father's mother's parents, Susannah (Chapman) & Marshal Robbins.

Missing all of you guys...

Drove past this on the way to Buffalo last week. Immediately thought, "I need to go back and get a picture of that for my blog--Larissa needs to see this"...and it made me remember how much I miss blogging and blog-hopping and so, here I am again...

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Ol' What's-her-name

"I'm so sane, it's driving me crazy..."
~Falling For The First Time, written by Steven Page & Ed Robertson, performed by Barenaked Ladies

A month or so ago, I was lying awake with a bout* of insomnia, and somehow my mind wandered to the girl who sat behind me in Ms. Ryan's seventh grade English class. I could remember quite a few things about her. Her name was Wendy. She had gorgeous, curly red hair and an outsized personality with a sharp edge to it. She seemed more worldly than most of the rest of the kids in that small Pennsylvania town. I remembered that her parents were divorced and that one of them lived in Pennsylvania and the other in Alaska. She spent a year with one and then a year with the other. I remembered that she had told me these details of her life, but couldn't quite remember the circumstances under which she had shared them since we weren't really friends. I don't remember ever having a conversation with Wendy outside that classroom, for example. Don't remember who her friends were or where in town she lived.

Not remembering those things really didn't bother me. What bothered me to an absurd, and perhaps even unhealthy degree, was not remembering her last name. I knew it started with a "K," which was maybe worse than not knowing anything at all.

I started listing "K" names in my head: Kennedy, Kilgore, Klinger, Klein,, no, no, no, no.

I tried to distract myself by thinking about other things, but the "K" names kept worming their way into my thoughts: Kenneth, Karloff, Kenickie. ("A hickey from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card: 'when you care enough to send the very best.'" my mind helpfully offered.)

I tried to gently talk my mind into going to sleep. Offering it a soothing song, a backwards count from a hundred, a couple of other things that occasionally work. No luck. Things had gone from absurd to much more so: Kinesthesia, Kinkiness, Kibbutz.

At this point, it became clear that my brain was not going to let this go so I moved on to trying to think of how I would be able to figure out what Wendy's last name was--not just ever, but right now, tonight (or, really, early this morning). 

Facebook, of course. But how would I be able to find her without knowing her name? Maybe she was FB friends with one of the two people from that school that I am friends with. Maybe she still had her maiden name listed. Maybe I was completely insane for contemplating getting out of bed at 3:17 in the morning to try to figure out the last name of a girl I barely knew thirty years ago who I had no intention of contacting under any circumstances.

Maybe. But I wasn't going to get any sleep without trying. And so I did. And she was not friends with either of my friends, but she was friends with one of my friends' friends.

And her name was Wendy Kinton. And, at last, I slept.

*I do not actually suffer bouts of insomnia. A bout would seem to imply that it is an exception rather than the rule. What is actually going on is insomnia interspersed with bouts of sleep.