Diametric Opposites Conspire to Inspire

So there’s this turtle video that either has or is fixin’ to go viral. It’s pretty amazing – the Michael Bolton soundtrack aside.

I’m feeling a tiny bit cynical today. When I posted the link to my Facebook, I commented that I have friends who would have insisted, “Oh no, really, I’m fine.”

Perhaps one or two of them really would have been just trying to tan the pasty-white undershell, but others of them would cut off body parts before asking for help.

I’m like that sometimes.

So. What is it that’s so hard about asking for help? Or even accepting it when you haven’t asked?

Given that it is so hard to ask, why is help so often proffered with a sermon? (I do that too.)

Do you suppose the helpful turtle railed on and on about whatever stuck turtle did to get stuck in the first place?

And speaking of stuck, I ran across an exceptionally long Q&A on a website about how to get unstuck. It rocked my world. I shared the link with a friend who said to me afterwards, “I don’t know whether to punch you or thank you.” It’s a powerful piece that does have the effect of a sucker punch – you are warned! The columnist’s response to the letter doesn’t go where you think it’s going to – again, you are warned! Chances are pretty good you’ll be plunged into despair and yet hopeful. You are warned!  The central idea is it’s up to you.

I feel stuck some days. I’m finding inspiration in two diametrically opposed viral pieces – one that says let a friend help and another that says that you have to do it yourself. Both are true. Neither are true. Life is complicated. This too shall pass. Yada Yada.

I ended my 50th year last week. As excited as I was to turn 50, I’m just as glad to leave it. 51 is a nice number – a calmer number, a less fraught with significance number. In spite of my stuckness, I am moving forward in some areas, backwards in others, but I am moving. So, “clearly” (to quote the Princess Bride), I’m not stuck.

The week of my birthday was spent catching up on sleep (primarily) and eating (far too much). I spent time with HMOKeefe, friends and family. I saw some movies. Read some books. Played some board games. I opened presents.

Chef Boy ‘R Mine sent me French champagne and truffles. (Is he a great kid or what?) I’ve yet to partake of them and I’m sure he’s puzzled as to why. The answer, I think, is I’m waiting for the right time. There’s a good chance that tonight might be the right time. If the gorgeous weather of this weekend holds, this evening may find me at the patio table, all loosey-goosey from time in the spa (fitted thanks to HMOKeefe with a new cover) munching, sipping, and wallowing in champagne and chocolate.

We’ll see.

I return to the real world tomorrow. I’m both looking forward to it and dreading it. This seems to be a theme with me lately – diametrical opposites. It doesn’t seem like I should be able to hold two opposite ideas in tandem and expect to feel motivated. It could be what an old friend called the Private Benjamin Effect.

Said friend was infuriated by the end of that movie. Goldie Hawn plays an unlikely Army soldier, one who impetuously joined the Army without having investigated the situation too well. One who after a number of missteps and misunderstandings finds what she believes to be True Love ™ only to discover she’s been duped again. The movie ends with Goldie tromping down a dirt road in the south of France. My old friend would point out that she had no money, no plan, no place to go, no way to get there, and wildly impractical clothing.

Sound familiar?



Used under a creative commons license. Pareerica's http://www.flickr.com/photos/8078381@N03/2894159255/

I did a search on Flickr using the term imagine – I was delighted to find the very kind of image I set out to find on the very first screen of results. It’s a good day to be me.

I wanted an image that was a little edgy – one’s imagination can be a fearful place as well as a hopeful place. It’s most powerful when those two mix – hope rising out of fear.

One of our features as Homo sapiens sapiens is that we possess the ability to think beyond the here and now – to both hope and fear, for these are components of imagination. We can see possibilities. We can anticipate barriers.

Most of us lead comfortable little lives only barely tinged with the quiet desperation of Thoreau’s imagination. We go through rough spells. Some of us will throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do this.” But we can. We do.

Our lives sometimes feel like an endless stream of I-can’t-do-these-things-I’m-doing. Perhaps that’s the core of Thoreau – the desperation of self-imposed limits.

What-if is often seen as a brain-storming, motivational force. My what-ifs are worst case scenarios. I don’t think I’m a fearful person, but then again, I’ve had a right awful couple of years. There’s that old chestnut about 99% of what we fear never happens. If that’s an accurate statistic, my 1% has been powerful enough to cause lengthy analyses of dark what-if scenarios before I can move forward.

I discovered I was stronger than I thought I was. I’ve moved forward when I didn’t think I could even stand.

I-can’t-do-this is a lie.  

Still, I wasn’t impressed with myself.

I’ve whispered I-can’t-do-this and I’ve shouted I-CAN’T-DO-THIS. But I did it and I’ll do it. The doing can be worrisome, terrifying, humbling. It can also be strengthening. A large part of the downside is the fear of what will people think.  That fear is that we’ll be alone.

Another salient feature of Homo sapiens sapiens is that we’re pack animals. We need one another at the primal level. And yet we pride ourselves on our independence. We’re quirky creatures.

Pride is not an integral part of dignity. Dignity is imbued by the creator, pride is manmade. Pride can be squashed, but a loss of dignity is self-imposed. Independence is a chimera; and quirkiness, well, quirky is dignity in faded jeans and a clever t-shirt.

I’m not that strong. Every I-can’t-do-this that I’ve done has relied on help from someone. It’s always easier to accept help when you haven’t asked for it, but the I-can’t-do-this when the this is asking for help is a lie too. I can do this. I can ask for help. I’ve proved it.  And when I’ve been asked for help, I’ve always been happy to.  We’re pack animals, we’re cooperative – we’ve had to be to survive.

I-can’t-do-this is a lie.  

We-can-do-this is more accurate.

Routine (or the New Normal)

I’m working part-time at a group home for teenagers. The kids are there because of stuff they did or because of stuff done to them. In most cases, though certainly not all, these kids have lived a life of routine that does not have a discernable pattern – or in other words – no routine.

For years, I viewed the concept of routine as a Great Evil to avoid at all cost. I was, and perhaps still am, convinced that routine stunts creativity and turns us into automatons. But more on that later.

Anyone who has been charged with the responsibility of taking care of a three-year-old understands the importance of routine in a child’s life. Toddlers without a routine are some of the most miserable beings on the planet. More importantly, they know this. If you change a toddler’s routine for any reason, in most cases (aside from holidays, vacations, etc.), the toddler will scream blue-bloody murder.

When Chef Boy R’ Mine was that age, any deviation from the weekly routine turned him into a hyperactive monster prone to tears, rage, and publicly embarrassing behavior. Being sufficiently enlightened, knowledgeable about child development, and having examined all of my parents’ shortcomings as parents, I, like nearly every other parent, was convinced that my child would always be happy and well-adjusted. It’s such a rude awakening when enlightenment, knowledge and introspection does not, in fact, make a damn bit of difference as to whether or not the child is going to have a tantrum at the Kroger.


The older the boy got and the older I got, the more I realized that routine is not just important to toddlers, it’s important to everyone. It’s not the blanket evil I was once believed to be true.

My first day of school.

My first day of school.

The beginning of the school year was always a time of relief and rejoicing. Staples used to run a commercial with a happy, frolicking father tossing school supplies into the basket with great glee. His two disgruntled children watch. I laughed every time I saw it and said Amen! I thoughtfully provided the commercial at the beginning of this post.

The start of school signaled a return to routine. After a couple of months of flexible bedtimes, erratic meals, impromptu outings, and any number of unscheduled activities, we were all worn out from too much deviation.

Now of course, school brought its own challenges, but there was a carved in stone routine that was only interrupted by Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day. Those interludes provided needed respite from the grind, but like the first day of school in August, I always looked forward to January 2nd when the holidays were officially over and we could get back to the routine.

At the group home, the first thing we do is put these kids on a schedule. They have standard mealtimes, standard bedtimes, and a daily rhythm that doesn’t vary too wildly. They chafe at first, but like the toddlers they come to both expect it and need it. The minute something gets off-kilter, they get hyperactive and there are tears, rage, and the occasional tantrum. Routine is good.

As the years went by and I began noticing how much I looked forward to the first day of school (and January 2nd), I realized that routine was important in my life too. While it does inhibit my creativity and does, to some extent, turn me into an automaton, the emotional equilibrium that routine provides does mitigate the downside. For the most part.

Several years ago, I became disgusted with my routine and made some sweeping life changes. I do not regret this.

Can you see John Lennon's head?

Can you see John's head?

However, these sweeping changes punctuated by some disasters of varying importance have left me, metaphorically, in the cereal aisle at Kroger having a tantrum. Everything is in flux and while I can envision the goal line, I cannot see it. (I can’t believe I’m using a sports metaphor, but there you have it.) I had a plan and I have goals, but I don’t see the plan being executed for another 5 to 7 years which means attainment of the goals are going to take even longer. I have resisted looking that truth in the eye.

I am emotionally exhausted and prone to rage and tantrums. I am simply tired of not knowing what I can expect from the next day, the next month or the next year. I’m fond, perhaps too fond, of quoting John Lennon’s “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” It’s good to have goals, but that doesn’t preclude having a routine or abandoning a plan that can’t be executed under the circumstances. Muttering “This too shall pass” has been comforting. It may very well be passing, but the movement is so slow as to be imperceptible.

I have chafed at the routine that is trying to emerge, because it is in direct opposition to my goals and expectations. I had a major setback yesterday. I’m still reeling. I do know that the chafing, the grumpiness, the rage and the tantrums have not changed one damn thing. I need to embrace the latent routine and accept my New Normal.

So. My task for the day is to try and fine tune the routine that I think circumstances are dictating; and tweak it enough to insure I don’t become a bitter, old woman whose creativity is limited to seeing what happens when she substitutes Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup for the Cream of Mushroom in the tuna casserole.

The New Normal I’m trying to talk myself into embracing is so far outside my realm of experience (and not in a good way) that figuring out how to turn it into something that’s going to work for me is daunting. I do know that viewing it as temporary is not working. For years now, I’ve hung onto arbitrary timeframes uttered by doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs that have proved to be complete fiction. There is no goal line in sight. (Damn it, did it again.)

So, channeling the sentiments of many sages, the goal is to be right here, right now with a routine, day in and day out, that doesn’t ignore the future, but doesn’t treat the now as the aberration. The now is the future. I will resist discussing quantum physics to make this point.

And this all seems much grimmer and whiny than is my intention. I’m more at peace right now than I have been. Years ago when the New Normal began, I would have told you I couldn’t have gotten to this day without losing my mind. While my mental health has ups and downs, I have not worn a strait jacket or been prescribed haloperidol. While I’m not dancing around singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” I am also not railing at the universe.

Now then. If you’ll excuse me, I have a set of chores that I’ve previously allotted 9 hours to, but which the New Normal dictates must be done in 45 minutes. I need to get cracking.

Grow Your Own

Baby 'maters.

Baby 'maters.

I’m pretty ticked that I have baby tomatoes on the plant I haven’t killed yet. I’m also concerned that I only have two.

I tried veggie gardening about fifteen years ago and it was Not Successful. Flowers are easy; vegetables not so much. There was also the problem of Bambi and Cohorts. [Note: I did get some amazing radishes out of the deal and I don’t understand why I don’t grow radishes every year – talk about easy.]

Grow Your Own

Grow Your Own

My dad keeps a fairly large garden and I’ve always relied on him for home grown tomatoes. In recent years he’s gotten stingy about them. After a couple years of denial that my father could be so cruel, this cute little tomato plant at the nursery (complete with Grow Your Own Tomato sign) insisted on coming home with me.

It was in a fairly large pot and I decided that perhaps, given my soil, growing tomatoes in a pot might be more fruitful. After peering at the provided pot, I decided it was too small for a mature root system which I hoped would form. I purchased a dandy tomato-growing pot. I don’t think it was specifically designed to grow tomatoes, but it looked like it would do the trick and was attractive. I’m all about aesthetics in the garden this year.  I’m also all about self-reliance and, if dad is going to be stingy, I’m going. . .

Potted Tomato

Potted Tomato

For the curious, my tomato plant is a Better Boy. The name appealed to me – who wouldn’t want a Better Boy? When I brought him home, he was about a foot high. Now over two feet tall, he’s sporting two green lobes and nary another bloom anywhere that I can see. This is in keeping with my vegetable woes – I buy a supposedly idiot proof tomato plant and get a whopping two lobes of fruit.

If the past predicts the future, one of my tomatoes will develop blossom end rot and the other one will get eaten by varmints. Unless, I can persuade Dad to be more generous with his bounty, I’m going to be tomato-less again. Maybe.  I feel kind of good about my tomato plant.  It looks really healthy and happy.  Maybe my two ‘maters are just overachievers and the other laggards.  Hmmm. . .I think that’s it.

Last year a co-worker took pity on me and gave me tomatoes. She and her husband plant all sorts of varieties and I was particularly fond of the yellow ones. When the tomato plants at the nursery were hollering Pick Me, Pick Me, none of them bore a sign that said Grow Your Own Yellow Tomato.

Yellow tomatoes are particularly good if chunked (along with a red tomato), mixed with cubed avocado and sprinkled with sea salt and coarse ground pepper. The taste is spectacular and, if presented in a vivid blue bowl – quite the eye candy (had you taken the picture after you learned about the macro setting on the camera 🙂 ). Any tomato is good with cucumbers and onions. Then there’s just quartering them and eating them standing over the kitchen sink. That’s good too.  Sliced thickly and liberally sprinkled with fresh ground pepper is a lunch time favorite.  Diced finely and put on a bed of fresh spinach with a nice viniagrette is yummy.

Yellow and red tomatoes with avocado.

Yellow and red tomatoes with avocado.

And then there’s the BLT sandwich. There’s no point in such if you don’t have home grown tomatoes. If you do, toast some thick cut sourdough or whole wheat bread, spread with mayonaise, heap a ton of crisp bacon on the mayonaise and top with thick sliced tomatoes and iceberg lettuce. [Note: Tacos and BLTs are the only reason iceberg lettuce exists and it’s a must for these two.]

In short, except for making ketchup, there’s not much you can do to a home grown tomato to ruin it other than pick it too soon.

One never ever not ever under any circumstances refrigerates real, i.e. home grown, tomatoes.  Never.  Such abuse of innocent ‘maters should be punishable by large fines and short jail terms. It won’t ruin them completely, but it will sorely compromise their wonderfulness.

I’m very hopeful that Better Boy will come through for me and keep me in tomatoes at least for a week or two after which I will go groveling to Dad and co-workers.  In the interests of self-respect and self-reliance, I’ll take any tomato-growing hints y’all might want to offer.

The Inverse of No. 10

Connie has the tools and understands the process, but still can't do it.

Connie has the tools and understands the process, but still can't do it.

For years, I did not know who wrote You are wrong because…    Now that I do, it seems obvious.  However, it seems like there should be something in this list about committees and group projects.  To wit:  you are wrong because you assumed a group of people followed through to the logical conclusion.

I do not understand how it is that we can design a jack that allows wimpy me to lift my car partially off the ground and, thoughtfully, to provide that marvel of engineering with the twinky spare tire, but fail to provide a means of getting the lug nuts off that isn’t reliant on brute strength.   In short, because I am not a big lug, I cannot de-lug.  How hard could it be has felled me again.  When I rule the world, things will be different.

Whine in ’09


I’m thinking that maybe if I have a major, no-holds-barred, massive whine fest, I can find one more hand-hold on the cement block wall that is my life these days and, um, get-a-grip.

Or not.

But in any case, I’m going to rant and rave and more than likely delete 90% of it before rock-and-rolling through this house like the avenging angel of housecleaning. OK, I’m going to commence cleaning after I finish this and after I deal with the flat tire.

It’s always been true that when my life is at its most chaotic, I slow boil on the sofa for a day or two and then get up and do something not particularly helpful to the crisis at hand – something like putting new shelf paper in the pantry or alphabetizing the spices. There’s a peace of sorts in doing something that creates a sense of order, no matter how trivial, but also does no harm. There’s not anything I can do to stop the onslaught of chaos, but I can put clean sheets on the bed. I can wreak genocide on dust bunnies. I can clean out the junk drawer. It’s live-action metaphor that will make me feel empowered to effect some sort of change.

But really. I can’t take one more damn thing.

Way back when, in another geologic era of my life, I was sitting in a doctor’s office waiting for my appointment and perusing a months-out-of-date copy of Redbook. In the issue was a stress test which I decided to take as it was now well past my appointment and my stress levels were rising as I considered all the things I wasn’t getting done while I waited.

The quiz had things like:

  • If you got married or divorced in the past year, give yourself 4 points.
  • If you moved in the past year, give yourself 2 points, 4 if it was a move of more than 100 miles.
  • If you had a baby in the past year, give yourself 4 points.
  • If you changed jobs in the past year, give yourself 1 point.
  • If you experienced the death of a loved-one, give yourself 3 points, 4 if it was someone in your immediate family.

And so on.

The only questions I didn’t get the maximum points on were the death of a loved one, bankruptcy, legal problems, and life-threatening illness. When I tallied my points, I was in the category of “honey, give it up, do not pass go, do not collect $200, just check into the nearest asylum and get fitted for a straight jacket.”

In retrospect, those were the good old days.

I cannot take one more damn thing.

And yet, every time I utter those words, one more damn thing happens. Some of it is my failure to adequately plan and/or putting my faith and trust in the wrong people. Some of it had nothing to do with me, but affects me nonetheless, and a great deal of it is in the nibbled to death by ducks category.

The past couple of years have been horrific. Really. I can’t take one more damn thing.

Nibbled to death by ducks is an expression I was introduced to about ten years ago. I think it’s British, though I’m not sure. As I understand it, it’s that state of stress brought on by a series – a series that feels eternal –  of minor catastrophes and inconveniences that goes on and on and on. And on. Endlessly on. Pointless, meandering, irritating. Like this paragraph.

I think my life shows that I can handle the big stuff – the really catastrophic oh-my-God shit. While I’d like to do it with more grace and style than I do, I do, some how, time and again, seem to get through it with my sense of humor intact.

To be fair to myself (although it could just be that I’m too stressed to see the trees for the forest), I seem to have more than my share of big stuff. I’ve quit trying to find some meaning in that. OK, mostly quit. These days when I do find myself veering in that direction, I’m most often reminded of the biblical book of Job. If you know your Bible, you know that Job didn’t do a damn thing to deserve any of the stuff inflicted on him – it was all some bizarre pissing contest between Jehovah and Lucifer. Job reacted in such a way that Jehovah won the bet and thus was rewarded in the end.

Now I’m not nearly as blameless as Job and I’m not about to thank Jehovah or any other idea of god for the endless shit that keeps whirling about me. It’s my fervent belief that if there is a sentient creator, he/she/it is not so petty. All this crap is not going to result in a reward in the afterlife or make me a better person or build character.  If that were true, I’d be the second-coming of Mother Teresa already.

Right now, I’m working feverishly to keep my sense of humor. (It’s not for nothing that the Dalai Lama is a fan of the Three Stooges.)  For the first time ever, I really do feel like I’m in danger of losing it. To not be able to laugh is my vision of hell. That’s rock bottom – the point of no return. I think we all have one and yours might be something different, but mine is the ability to laugh. I’m the person who usually doesn’t need a couple of years to find the humor in some catastrophe – those “someday we’ll laugh about this” events. I’m usually the one, often inappropriately, laughing in the middle of it.

The irony of the flat tire I was greeted with yesterday is so in-your-face that if I read it in a piece of fiction, I would roll my eyes at the heavy-handedness of the writer. Yet, it wasn’t until just an hour or so ago that I realized the dark humor of it. I still haven’t had the belly-laugh-until-you-cry moment, but hopefully it’s on the horizon. It is pretty damn funny when you think about it.

No. I’m not going to explain the irony of the tire. It would take too long and require even more whining. But, trust me. It’s pretty funny and I will laugh about it. I will. Even if I have to fake it.

Afterword:  Self-reliant tire-ing is not going well. The rain isn’t helping.  And I’ve yet to begin cleaning which will, perversely, make me feel better even though I hate cleaning with every fiber of my being.