Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stuff Around My Desk

A friend of mine who is writing a book mentioned a while back that she was going to have her picture taken at her desk. I think that is so cool. To be photographed, smiling, clutching a cup of coffee over a spotless desk…! This would be completely staged b.s. in my case.

One of the reasons I refuse to get Scype is because I don’t want anyone to know what I look like when I sit at my desk. Or what my desk looks like whether I am there or not. I was going to take a picture to show you what I mean, but it's too awful, even for me.  So here is one of the various things I have taped up around me besides about two dozen post-its.  I've always loved how Dave Barry made fun of "English Major's Brain,"  which I have, big time. 
And welcome to my newest follower, Kim Sloggett! Kim, thank you so much for becoming a follower. If you have a blog, please let me know!

Don't you wish you had a job like mine? All you have to do is think up a certain number of words! Plus, you can repeat words! And they don't even have to be true! ~Dave Barry

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pierced by the Thread

A while back my blog friend Jules wrote a post titled “Who Sees the Common Thread?”  about how upset she and her mother were after the shootings in Arizona. Though they viewed the tragedy from slightly different perspectives, Jules and her mother were both moved to tears by putting themselves in place of some of the people more directly affected by the crime. I was deeply touched by the empathetic responses that Jules recounted. Appropriately enough, guess what someone who doesn’t have empathy or conscience is called? According to Martha Stout, PhD and author of The Sociopath Next Door, this is all a sociopath is.

Sounds like almost a small thing, doesn’t it? Like a minor flaw. But without empathy, people not only can’t judge good and evil, they don’t care. Without conscience, people’s evil has no “brakes” and careens out of control, wantonly destroying whatever is in its path, no matter how undeserving. Sociopaths care only about getting caught. They ironically see themselves as superior to normal people, see others as objects to be manipulated—and are proud of their ability to con, trick, deceive and lie. They attack good people not merely in spite of their goodness, but because of it; kindness to the sociopath is only vulnerability, one more trait to exploit. They cling, need and use, but they don’t love. They seem blissfully ignorant of ways they’ve hurt others. When caught in the act, they lie with surprising alacrity. They are the victim; the person who accused them is the cruel one to say such things! Yet when they think honey will catch the particular flies they happen to be after at the moment, their personalities are more honeyed than any you’ve ever known. As Stout says in the book, “…charm…is a primary characteristic of sociopathy.”

Although many criminals must be sociopaths in order to commit the crimes they do, not all sociopaths are criminals.  In fact, most are not—simply because they can be so talented at avoiding justice. According to Stout, four out of every one hundred people is a sociopath. One out of twenty-five. One in every average-sized classroom. How can that be? The more covert sociopaths are extraordinarily good at keeping themselves hidden. They “mirror,” or imitate, good people—not because they want to be like them, but to do what they do best: take advantage in order to manipulate. Though you may not know it, there is a very good chance that you know not one, but several. As Stout says in the book, “…by far his most impressive talent is his ability to conceal from nearly everyone the true emptiness of his heart—and to command the passive silence of those few who do know.”

Jules and her mother responded to a very obvious kind of sociopath by exhibiting the opposite response—showing empathy. That struck me as so perfect. Jules says we cannot comprehend evil, nor should we try. Maybe we can’t know what that hideously cold lack of empathy or conscience is like, but when we directly experience seemingly random attacks, don’t we automatically ask why? Don’t we have to?

Jules mentions in a later post that it’s hard to feel so much, hard to feel other people’s pain. Yes. But it’s rewarding, too. As Stout says, “…the awareness provided by extreme conscience improves people’s lives and makes them happy.” Sociopaths, with their furious, terrified need to control, aren’t able to enjoy the truly good things in life that the rest of us automatically embrace.

Her words reminded me of something I recently read in M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie that I’ll use as today’s quote. And thank you again for being so inspirational…and for shifting the balance of power in the world.

I know that good people can deliberately allow themselves to be pierced by the evil of others—to be broken thereby yet somehow not broken—to even be killed in some sense and yet still survive and not succumb. Whenever this happens there is a slight shift in the balance of power in the world. ~M. Scott Peck, M.D., People of the Lie

Monday, January 24, 2011

Invisible Awards Are Fun, Too

Many Many thanks to Jules for the above blog award! At least I THINK that’s the award! Some time ago, I quit being able to see some pictures on blogs—whether my own or those of others. (I also can’t seem to join other people’s sites as a follower. Help!) Anyway, I can’t tell if there was a picture attached to the award, but I suspect that there is because there’s a blank spot on the page. So I got this one from Yvonne of Welcome to My World of Poetry, who originally gave the award to Jules and looks like another great blog to check out.

Jules has a knack for deep, inspirational stories…with endings that are anything but expected.

I think this award is a great thing to pass along to my newest follower, Lynn of Present Letters. Lynn’s letters to her mother are touching, inspiring, and sometimes simply fun.

Also to Sioux of Sioux’s Page. Sioux once used the phrase, “fierce spirit” on one of my blog comments, and that’s become one of my favorite phrases ever. Sioux is herself a fierce spirit who never fails to make me laugh, cry, think or nod in agreement.

And finally, to Becky, great friend and writer, who inspires me as both...even though my stupid computer won't even show me most of her blog page.  SIGH....

Jules coincidentally posted something last week that really inspired me, but I’ve decided to save it for another post since this one is already so long. But I will end with a quote of hers that I just loved, and I hope she will tell me right away if she doesn’t want me quoting her!  (And P.S.  We are having yet another snow day here.  You know you've had too many when even your kid acts disappointed.)

"The truth is I write when the voices in my head tell me to and no, they do not have indoor voices." ~Jules

Sunday, January 23, 2011

LOTS of Snow Stuff Around My House…and a Surprise

What’s black and white and red in one flitting little spot? My backyard with this cardinal in it.

Like everything else, photography is something I’m learning to appreciate as I attempt to try it.  Each time I find out the truth behind all of the arts:  it's a lot harder than it looks to capture what the soul feels. I didn't even come close with this guy, who stood out like a flying ornament in the ten + inches of snow we got in my area.

And right now we are getting more snow. As I age, I’m learning to appreciate ALL of the seasons, but some are harder than others. This little bird is a happy reminder for me—a bright spot. 

When you have come to the edge of all the light you have
And step into the darkness of the unknown
Believe that one of the two will happen to you
Either you’ll find something solid to stand on
Or you'll be taught how to fly! ~Richard Bach

Friday, January 21, 2011

Senior Sex(less) and the City: Dating…Then vs. Now

Then: Do I look okay?
Now: Would my picture appear on “People of WalMart?”

Then: Does this make my rear end look big?
Now: Good thing I don’t have to look at myself from behind!

Then: Does my hair look perfect?
Now: Uh oh—the back of my hair looks awful. Good thing I don’t have to look at myself from behind! Also, does the skunk stripe from where the gray is growing back in look too obvious?

Then: Uh oh, my clothes are wrinkled! I’d better iron!
Now: Uh oh, my clothes are wrinkled! Maybe people will think that either, A.) the wrinkles appeared in my car on the way over, or B.) this is a crinkled fabric that’s supposed to look like this.

Then: Is my outfit brand new and perfectly coordinated?
Now: Will a little spit get the toothpaste blobs out of the outfit that I’ve worn all day? Because I don’t want to have to do more laundry than I have to.

Then: Ooh, he’s really cute!
Now: Ooh, he sounds sane!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Totally Random Tuesday: Departures

First of all, thank you so much to Jules for the blog award! Even before the award, Jules recounted on her blog an experience she had that I found so inspirational that it may become a blog post. So I will pass along the award later in the week—and double thank you to Jules!!

Speaking of inspirational…. Your kind and wonderful comments about my last post made me realize that this slow, bittersweet send-off we go through when our children go off to college or move out is really nothing new. When I thought about it, I realized that for mothers, child-rearing IS a very prolonged departure. It’s a series of separations—from body, from breast, from arms, from hands…eventually from home. That’s okay, though. As Pat said, it’s an exchange like almost everything in life. In this case, we lose a little of them, but we get a little of ourselves back again—changed, reworked, molded, reshaped, softened in ways, better defined in others.

In this process of living, I like to think that we are left more nearly…art.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Silly Stuff From Around My House: The Lone Egg

When she was little, the smiley faces began appearing in the condensation on my car window. When they started appearing on dusty furniture, I told her that her new chore could be dusting. So the faces started appearing on her plate instead. She knew I couldn’t tell her not to eat, the imp.

Now she is almost ready for college, and this is what appeared in my refrigerator the other day. “Why?” I asked.

“He was lonely,” she shrugged.

Gracious, I will miss her.

The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves. ~Victor Hugo

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why I Love My Day Job

Overheard in the teacher’s lounge:
Teacher 1: “Remember the kid who glued his hand to the table, and I had to call a custodian to get a solvent that would get him unstuck?”
Teacher 2: “Remember the one who ate off the tops of several pencils, and I had to send him to the nurse to make sure he hadn’t perforated his intestines?”
Teacher 3: “Remember the one who stuffed a gum wrapper in his ear and finally had to be sent home to get it removed?”
(Collective sigh from all of them, followed by a few moments of contemplative silence.)
Teacher 1: “Hard to believe this is high school.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Totally Random Tuesday Again: Truth

Thank you to Sioux and Anonymous for some great comments a couple of weeks ago about my hiker friend. They inspired today’s random thought about people who are good at seeking out truth…and those who aren’t.

I’ve learned that people are too good to allow obvious evil to survive in the open. We are, however, notoriously easy to fool. Evil therefore relies on fools because it needs deception in order to survive. It is by nature a coward and a mimic and a sneak, but it isn’t content simply to slink off into dark alleys and crevices. Instead, evil revels in its favorite form of deception: camouflage. And it doesn’t dress itself as an old crone with warts, either—evil polishes its own façade and loves to drape itself in beauty. It loves cameras and spotlights, grinning with perfect white teeth and grabbing hold with a warm, firm handshake. Worst of all, perhaps—it doesn’t shrink from good, but cloaks itself in it like a chameleon. In fact, it gravitates toward decency, seeks it out, searches for a collar that looks just like all the other collars and a robe that looks just like all the other robes. Evil is at its most dangerous not when it dives in and slaughters an innocent lamb, but when it hides under the fleece so that it can quietly devour the whole flock while everyone scratches their heads and wonders what the hell is going on.

I’m learning that there will always be those who search for truth, those who work hard to cover it up, and those who really don’t care. And the most dangerous of those could very well be the last group. Although the second is the purest evil, it’s the foolish who allow evil to flourish by—perhaps unwittingly—becoming its minions.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stuff From Around My Backyard: Lazarus Frog

I’ve mentioned before that my little pond is much too small to over-winter fish on its own, but this year I decided to buy a heater and net and give it a go. So far the fish seem fine, but the frogs are another story.

I once looked up the term for a group of frogs. “Army.” This year we ended up with an army of two. Then one frog apparently fled when the net went on. I made sure to cover the overhanging rock so that they could find their way in by going under the ledge, but that obstacle course was a challenge for them. Apparently only one of them passed froggy boot camp and learned to take the less direct route. That was only the beginning of the battles for this little army of one.

Then on a warmish winter day, I saw this (left). I was so upset! What had caused the little guy to croak? The fish looked fine. I consulted the internet, which assured me that belly-up is just never a good sign in the animal kingdom. I turned to my friend Fran for “Franalysis.” She is a master gardener and my consultant for all things nature-oriented. We both agreed he had pretty good color for a dead frog. She told me to delay scooping the body to see what happened. Good advice.

Long story shorter: I’ve taken to doing almost daily Frog Checks. The “body” disappeared, reappeared on the other side of the pond, and disappeared again. There is no current in there. Then on New Year’s Eve day (which was very warm here), I saw the following sight.
 I’m sorry if this is a boring post to the non-nature lovers among you, but I feel obligated to share with the world my completely non-scientific discovery that apparently frogs CAN hibernate belly up. And anyway…I don’t think it hurts to start the new year with a tiny miracle of sorts.

Good luck Lazarus! You’re one tough little soldier.

There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. ~Miracle Max, “The Princess Bride”

Friday, January 7, 2011

Senior Sex(less) and the City: #16

The Cowboy
We’d met once about a year earlier, so we hugged warmly. Old friends in singles group world. We were eating at a restaurant where the fare was a bit tricky. My buddy—a somewhat solicitous man—asked me if I’d like some help with it. I asked him about something he was eating. Here, he said, try some. I couldn’t eat my potatoes; did he want them? We exchanged. Later, a friend asked me something about my date. Date? I assured her that I barely knew the guy. But it made me realize how easily I’d fallen into that old-married-couple interaction with this man. Odd how emotionally attracted I am to that calm, masculine energy, that ruggedness, yang to my yin. A cowboy quality.

I was reared in Nebraska. Reared in the city, but still, a part of me knew this man, knew that he knew horses and dust and how to cup a cigarette in callused fingers, flicking the ash like a small gunshot. I knew he could mend a fence and casually lean on it as he pulled the hat down to shade his squinting eyes. I could feel without touching the dryness of his hands and the stubble on his chin.

And he sensed, in turn, that I have learned to sniff the air around people, easy to spook. He knew to move smoothly, self-assuredly, not too suddenly, so I don’t bolt. He quickly had me—a separate species, really—eating out of his hand.

But helpful very quickly seemed to turn…patronizing. Is there a time in life when condescension is ever truly appropriate? I can’t think of one. Even my father was never patronizing, bless him, as the truly great never are. Those little digs cut like spurs.

Snort. Gallop.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Stuff from Around My House: OVER-Stuff

As I’ve mentioned before, our beloved lab mix, Buddy, turned 14 last April. Of course he is the resident spoiled child who gets more excited about Christmas than anyone in our family, but like most elderly loved ones, it’s hard to know what gifts to get him. His digestive system can’t take a lot of variety as far as treats are concerned, and his toys are everywhere. So I’ve taken to giving him beds. To keep the whole thing cushiony enough for his aging frame, I got into the habit of just stacking the beds from year to year. At the very top, I throw a rug over the whole thing to make it easier to wash.

Last year Santa tried giving him those little stairs to help him climb into human beds. The only traffic the stairs saw was from people trying to lure him up with dog biscuits. Buddy learned that the stairs were really weird dog biscuit dispensers.

This year Santa outdid himself with the reasoning that we could streamline the dog’s giant pile of bedding. The box pretentiously declared it the “Dogpedic Sleep System,” constructed of five inches of supportive, orthopedic memory foam. It was the biggest gift under the tree. The human members of the family, at least, were very impressed. After a ceremonious unwrapping (during which the gift recipient himself paid absolutely no attention, distracted as he was with eating and then yakking up a gift tag), we all took turns curling up on The Dogpedic, unanimously pronouncing it more comfortable than our own beds.

Buddy was less than impressed, however. His old bed sags in the middle. In human world this might be a bad thing, but in dog world, I see now that this was actually the goal. That work-in-progress has literally shaped itself into a custom made nest.

The fancy-schmancy Dogpedic Sleep System? After much trial and error, it simply got added to the bottom of the stack, just like every other year. My daughter recently surveyed the whole conglomeration, which is well over a foot tall, and pronounced it “The Princess and the Pea” bed. Yes. That’s it all right, even though I actually pitched two of the nastier layers. It’s hard to see, but the Dogpedic is the lowermost of four beds. So here is Princess-Pea-in-the-Pod himself…perched atop (or should I say, “within?”) the official Budpedic Sleep System.

Snug as a Bud in a Rug.

What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other. ~George Eliot