In Praise of Difficult Mothers

You can tell Mother’s Day is close. The stores are selling products that “tell Mama she’s special,” and restaurants are booked solid for Sunday. On the internet, there are quizzes and surveys about famous and unknown moms celebrating those fabulous, strong, nurturing, maternal women. And I think that’s great. But it leaves a lot of us out.

The Truth about Some Moms

The truth is, many of us were raised by women who didn’t meet the expectations made on Mommies. Who weren’t naturally maternal or nurturing, no matter how many children they raised.  Moms who hated some of the roles they were stuck in. I’m talking about Moms who fought personal demons while raising their children and didn’t always win.  Difficult Mothers.

Tomorrow’s celebration is a minefield for the moms and adult kids who fit into this category, but it doesn’t have to be.  Because Difficult Mothers also leave legacies for their children to share

  1. A Unique Set of Survival Skills.  Lots of Moms teach their kids how to walk, make their beds and ride a bike.  There’s nothing unusual about that.  But some kids get, shall we say, more esoteric lessons.  Like mixology instruction for toddlers.  Or how to recognize the warning signs of an emotional break-down.  How, and when, to call 911. How to look after yourself and your siblings when Mommy can’t.  I’m not saying these are great lessons to learn and, in a perfect world, no kid would know them.  But this isn’t an ideal world and sometimes the weird things these kids learn,  enable them to live long enough to become adults.  And that’s the name of the game.
  2. Resiliency.  If you land in the mud long and often enough, you start to see the funny side of falling down.  That’s my belief.  And kids with difficult moms are used to situations that, at least metaphorically, end up in the mud.  So they learn to roll with the punches.  Lose that scholarship or job opportunity you wanted?  Start looking for another one. Drunks crashed your wedding or your vacation’s rained out?  Folks, it ain’t the end of the world. The funny thing is, once enough time passes, some of those embarrassing family moments become great stories in the family mythology.  And every child of a difficult mother I know is blessed with a sense of humor and collection of stories.  Yes, sometimes they end up laughing through tears, but it’s still laughter, a blessing in life.
  3. A greater understanding of humanity.  I’m not saying every great humanitarian is an adult child of a dysfunctional family, but I am saying that being able to see your parents struggle first hand is to realize being an adult isn’t easy.  For some folks, it’s downright hard.  And recognizing that in your own family, makes it easier to see when other people are fighting uphill. Maybe that gives you a bit more empathy, makes you a tad less judgemental than others.  You know that love is perfect, but people aren’t.  And you learn that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.
  4. They taught us that being flawed doesn’t mean you didn’t try. Sometimes, it takes a lot of time (and therapy) to see this, but most parents are doing the best they can with the world they inherited and cannot control.  My Mom (bless her) became a traditional wife and mother just as her culture devalued that stereotype.  She heard that, as a woman, she could (and should) do more, get more, have more in life. And, as a people pleaser (just like me) she tried.  But no one told her how to accomplish all this or what costs and pitfalls came with each of her choices.  So, things weren’t always easy at our house.  She still loved my sister and me, but her personal unhappiness and discontent were mixed in with her affection. And, as kids, we couldn’t sift through those conflicts. At first, we blamed ourselves for her deep-seated, negative feelings. Then we blamed her for ours.  A long time passed before any of us got to forgiveness.

So, as the difficult child of a difficult mom, I’d like to suggest we change one thing about Mother’s Day. Instead of thanking Mom once a year for her super-human abilities, let’s acknowledge the frailties inside us all, every day.  Let’s make it easier to say (and hear) “I was wrong” and forgive each other for mistakes we’ve all made.  We don’t need our moms to be Donna Reed or Lorelai Gilmore for us to love them.  They don’t need us to be perfect, either.  We can all settle for being difficult if lovable human beings.

A Possum ate my Internet

I know this post is late and this excuse sounds weak but my story is absolutely legit, and it started last Friday when Darling Husband asked for the new WiFi password.

Now, some would think that’s a reasonable question, given that I’m the closest thing we have to an IT department. (Terrifying thought!) On the other hand, as the household IT rep., I never change the passwords without warning. So if Darling Husband suddenly can’t access the ‘net, there’s probably a bad reason why.

No Wi-Fi

There was. Two of the three green lights on our Wi-Fi has changed to blazing red. The WiFi had power but the landline phones were out. And our internet link was dead.

Forty minutes of hold music and recorded questions on my cell phone later, and our internet provider pronounced the diagnosis. Our WiFi was dead. They would ship us a new one over the weekend. In the meantime, we’d have a nostalgic reminder of life in the pre-internet days.

Listen, I like to joke about being tied to technology, but I had no idea it was true. Okay, I couldn’t stream movies or shows so, I decided to pay bills…until I remembered my bank stuff was all on line. I couldn’t write on the blog, I couldn’t read my magazines, or catch up with the news; I couldn’t even get the weather forecast. Re-reading downloaded books worked until I ran across a word I didn’t know. Automatically, I tapped the screen before remembering the Dictionary was an on-line feature. I’m not dependent on the internet, I’m addicted!

Monday’s good news was the replacement Unit arrived. The bad news was, nothing changed. I pulled out the cell phone, spent another 30 minutes negotiating recordings and hold music until a Real Person at the Internet Provider said I (sigh) needed a technician’s visit. Could I be home on Tuesday? Was he kidding? I’d have been home if it meant missing my own birthday.

The Real Source of the Problem

As a rule, I like technicians. They’re usually smart, practical, good-humored people and this guy was no exception. With his meter and tools, he cheerfully climbed through the weeds and verified the electronic signals were getting to the outside of our house. Then he began tracing the lines.

Evidence of the Crime!

And there was the source of the problem. A Cat-5 wire had been cut. No, not cut, ripped apart, bitten right where it went under the house. The technician opened the door to look into the crawlspace.

And, just as quickly, he backed out. “Found your problem”, he said, and pointed with his flashlight. I poked my head in and, there in the corner was one of the biggest possums I’ve ever seen. At least 5 pounds, he was, and filling the space between the wall and first joist. Staring back at me. And hissing.

Now I have a healthy fear of possums. Some of them are rabid and they all have teeth. So, the three of us retreated to our neutral corners (me, the tech, and the marsupial) and reconsidered our various options. Finally, new Cat-5 wire was hung, well out of Perceval Possum’s reach. But this has taught me a lesson.

It doesn’t matter if I was raised pre-World Wide Web; I’m a citizen of the virtual universe now. I can’t exist without the darn thing. But I also exist in a universe with unpredictable weather and wild animals. And sometimes they take precedence. So, for all of you who are sick of hearing excuses, I apologize. But honestly, once a possum eats the Internet line, there’s not much else a person can do.

Spring is a-coming in (loudly sneeze, atchoo!)

Some people say they can tell when winter goes; it’s when their joints stop aching. Others tie the season’s change to the return of tornados or baseball games. Not me. The weather and the fortunes of my beloved Royals are too unpredictable for me. No, I know Spring has arrived when the pollen appears.

First there’s nothing…

It’s the oddest thing: for months, whenever I go outside, all I see are unending acres of naked branches. The days get longer but the branches stay bare. Then one morning, everything is covered with a fine, chartreuse layer of pollen (trust me, that’s not a good look on a burgundy Jeep.) The cars get washed but more pollen falls. And my nose starts running like Usain Bolt. Of course, all of this pollen happens outside. But signs of Spring follow me indoors. Because the pollen has brought Allergy Season in its wake.

When did that thing bloom!

Seriously, the halls of my office sound like the waiting room of an ENT specialist or some old TB sanitarium. Cough, cough, hack! Cough, cough sneeze! Colleagues swap home remedies and OTC meds on their breaks. Tissues and cough drops are in everyone’s desk. We’re all trying to stay healthy but, as a group, we sound sicker than we did during the cold and flu season. Nevertheless, every one of us, chants between sneezes and bronchospasms, “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious; it’s just allergies.” We know. We all have allergies.

Why can’t I sneeze like a lady?

Unfortunately, allergy season, is just another reminder of my mom’s expectations of femininity. See, Mama managed delicate, light, little sneezes. “A-tissue, a-tissue” she’d say, and then she’d reach for a tissue. So dainty it was downright cute! Not me. My sneezes build up a surge of momentum that slings my head back in recoil wheneverone of them leaves the building. Aaatt-Choo!! Att-CHOO! ATTCHOO! (That’s another problem. My sneezes travel in packs. Every allergy season, I risk getting a good case of whiplash.)

Still, I’ll take Spring with its upper respiratory troubles, over Winter anytime. Spring is the season of hope, of warmth, of new life, even life that clogs up my sinuses. So, open up the windows, plant stuff in the garden and sing a hymn to May. I’ll join you….once my decongestant kicks in.

Miss Anxiety of 1953

I have an Inner Critic that goes In and Out with Me.

I call her Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Introductions, Please

By now, everyone’s heard of their inner child. It’s the spirit of the person you were as a kid, innocent, hopeful and kind. Well, if that’s not too New-Agey for you (and I hope it’s not) some of us contend with other inner spirits that aren’t nearly so pleasant. Judgmental, tactless, critical types that appear out of nowhere and torpedo your self-esteem. A friend of mine refers to her internal bete noir as her “Inner Mean Girl”. But, after due consideration, I believe mine has a different personality. Folks, meet Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Miss Anxiety?

Miss Anxiety, 1953

Miss Anxiety has been my constant companion since grade school and she has lot of concerns . Back then, she worried every morning that I’d be late for school. Or I wouldn’t be liked if I didn’t shut up. Or people would laugh if I tried to swing at a baseball. Later she worried when boys didn’t like me. She worried if one of them did. These days, Miss Anxiety worries about my salary, my marriage, my hair length and don’t get her started on the subject of my body! (Seriously, don’t let her go there. Even during the three weeks I wore a size 5, Miss Anxiety still fussed about my upper arms. She’s a perfectly toned size 1 and there’s simply no way to please her.)

Miss Anxiety has a similar obsession with rules and her Code of Etiquette is from the Eisenhower Era. No wearing white pants, except in the Summer. No wearing white shoes ever, they make your feet look big. Speak, sneeze, sing and laugh so softly no one can hear you and then apologize for the noise. Silence is the hallmark of a true lady. And the only acceptable way a lady asserts herself involves a candy that’s two mints in one. (By the Way, I never aspired to ladyhood, But Miss Anxiety hasn’t given up hope.) And as she is a title-holder herself, Miss Anxiety is hideously competitive. She agonizes over every teeny error I make, and every time I’m not chosen. According to Miss Anxiety, unless I succeed in everything, I’ll never succeed I Anything !!

So why did I quit fighting her?

Miss Anxiety
Miss Anxiety, 1953

For years, I loathed and feared Miss Anxiety, and opposed her at every turn.. I yelled back at her and ignored her. But She wouldn’t leave, no matter how hard I tried. Then, instead of yelling at her, I decided to listen. And I realized something incredible.

Miss Anxiety doesn’t hate me. She’s not trying to make my life miserable. Like my grandmother and mother, she worries I’m going to miss out on some great opportunity. So, she continually fusses at me. And when she thinks things may go wrong, she sets off alarms.

So last week, when I got stressed and Miss Anxiety began raising her voice, I listed to what was frightening her. And I responded.

It’s not given to understand what role we each play in the Grand Design. But we all have our parts. And I’m content to know I will play mine.

Turns out, that thought made Miss Anxiety pretty happy too.

New York in my Rear-View Mirror

It’s happened. After decades of waiting and wishing and dreaming, I finally visited New York. Think I went there filled with excitement? Truth is, I was flat terrified.

Why was I so scared?

How can I explain this? First, that town has gravitas in my family. It’s where my mother and grandmother were born. My Grandmother spent more than 70 years walking this earth and she never lost that New-Yawk accent. Or the assurance that came with it. And my Mom, with her birth certificate signed by LaGuardia himself, carried her birthplace through life like an imprimatur and shield. But I am only the descendant of Knickerbockers, not one myself. And the closer I got to takeoff, the more I felt like 18 different kinds of a Rube with less edge than a serving of Jello.

But guess what: New York is just a place, a city filled with lots and lots (and lots) of people. And not all of them are edgy fashion models. There’s tall ones, old ones, fat ones, thin ones, you get the general idea. But other than the fact that that they all seem to be in a hurry to get where they’re going, New Yorkers don’t seem that much different from everyone else. It’s just that there are so all-fired many of them. And they’re busy doing everything all the time.

Manhattan in Pictures

Of course, I was at some pretty touristy venues, some quintessential NYC spots. We hit the main library

Bryant Park

The theatre district

The the Strand Bookstore

Grand Central

And some other totemic places.

All gorgeous, all exciting, all fascinating. And when I came home, happy, tired, limping on both feet (which is hard to do, by the way) I wondered why I’d felt so intimidated. And whether the trip to New York would change how I look at my life.

See, this trip has been high on my bucket list for almost all of my life. And I was beginning to think I’d either never get there, or, if I did, it would be the last good thing in my life. (That’s what I get for re-watching Terms of Endearment.) But now that this trip’s in my rear-view mirror (and I’m still cancer-free) I’ve got a different perspective.

My kind of Happy Ending

Yes, I’m glad I made that trip. I’d like to go back again, soon. But now I’ve been back long enough to realize real life goes on after facing the fear or reaching a goal, or even crossing something off the bucket list. And that’s good too.

So it turns out New York isn’t Perdition (no matter what some folks say); nor is it the last stop on the road to Happily Ever After. But it is a good place to get a fresh outlook on life; and it’s where I went before whatever comes next.

The day my Money went to NY (without me)

I’ve never been to New York, though the rest of my family has. My mother and grandma were both born in the City; my kids went there last fall. My sister goes there so often she can direct the tourists to stops on the Circle Line. But, I’ve never gone to New York. And I’ve been pretty much okay with that. Well, I’m not completely okay, d love to see the place (you can’t be an English Major and not want to see New York; it’s a mecca for readers and writers.) But financially, it’s never been a good time for me to fly to New York.  So I  dreamed and figured someday I would go there.  I just never thought my money would get there first.

aerial architecture blue sky buildings
Photo by Lukas Kloeppel on Pexels.com

It all began…

In that uncertain time between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent, before the juggernaut of December really takes off. A few friends and I decided to get together for a quiet drink after work. It was great, with everyone talking and laughing together and everything was going well until I decided to pay for a round. And realized my ATM card wasn’t in my wallet. Or my purse.

Now I’ll be the first to admit I occasionally misplace things, so I tried not to panic. I just paid for the drinks (using most of my cash) and excused myself to look for the card.  I still didn’t panic as I researched first my wallet, then my purse, and finally my Jeep for the card. Then, I went home and searched the house while I checked my bank balance.  And that’s when I hit “Red Alert”.

money pink coins pig
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

See, almost all the day-to-day funds in our joint checking account had disappeared.  The Grocery money.  The Light Bill cash.  The payment on my husband’s dental bill.  Entire paychecks worth of cash vanished from sight, like Brigadoon, or Judge Crater.  I killed my cash card with a phone call and cried.

When I showed up, still panicked, at my bank the next day (the minute they unlocked the doors) the bankers there were sympathetic.  Yes, they could make sure my missing ATM card was dead and yes, they’d help me with the identity theft claim.  A teller and I pulled up all the account transactions to figure out which we’d need to dispute and that’s when I saw how my money (literally) took flight.

Where did it go??

First, there was the airline ticket.  “Was that you?” the bank representative asked.  No, I haven’t flown since 2016 and I haven’t bought a ticket since then.  Then there was the charge for the Empire State Building Observation Deck ($102.00!) and something called Statue Cruises.  And then there was an admission to MMA, which turned out to be the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The Met? My money went to New York?

I don’t know whether the Bank’s service representative or I was the more stunned.  “Well, on the one hand, these charges obviously weren’t made by you.” the banker lady said.  “You’re here in Alabama, not New York.  Still…”  “I know,” I said, looking at the computer screen.  “Someone’s taking a cool trip through the City.

In fact, if the thief had thrown in theatre tickets, that’s a trip I would have loved to take.  It’s the trip I’ve been dreaming of (and putting off) for decades because I couldn’t afford it. Along with the panic and anger, I felt, I began to get downright envious.  The Empire State Building? The Museum of Modern Art? These were places I’d wanted to see.   Someone out there has lousy morals, but their taste is not all that bad.  The only problem was they were getting their culture with money my husband and I had earned!

I found out some things because of that theft. I learned that banks have to deal with this a lot. And that some bankers are really nice.  I’ve learned that the police are careful about jurisdiction.  I had to drive to four separate stations before I found the one able and willing to take my report. It’s been a royal mess getting the checking account straightened out and protecting the rest of my financial identity.  But this crystallized a resolve in me.

I’m not putting off the chance to see New York anymore; I’m going there myself, and soon.  No longer am I content to imagine being there while by looking at TV or  Google Earth.  It’s time I saw those streets for myself.  There isn’t enough time or money enough to do everything. But I will see something of that fabled place, and listen to that cacophony of sound. See, I don’t mind my money going to New York.  But this time, I’m taking it there.

 

 

 

 

 

The Accessory Liberation Device

Everyone who becomes an Adult goes through some Rite of Passage. It may be a formalized religious ritual (like a Bar Mitzvah) or something secular, like a Driver’s Permit. But there are talismans we gather as we go through life and the world expects us to keep them handy. Well, I just threw one away.

I enjoy being a girl

Yeah, that’s what the song says. Only the lyric didn’t apply to me growing up, not once I saw the accessory list. Have you ever noticed how much extra stuff women are expected to carry? Guys go from grade school, through high school, to life, and the only new thing they get is a razor. Girls get those too but they’re also supposed to start wearing costume jewelry at some point. And make-up. And perfume. Girls are expected to do complicated things with their hair. And finally, girls are given purses so they can tote all of this extra girl-stuff around.

Some of the Bags that Ran my Life…

If you can’t tell, I’m not a purse fan. More accurately, I’ve been a purse-hostage. For the past 50 years, wherever I’ve gone, some satchel’s hitched a ride on my shoulder. And instead of helping me (by carrying my stuff) each bag has been a pain.. Going to the movies? Don’t forget the purse. Riding on the roller coaster? Where and how do I store the purse? If I’m out in public, how do I keep Pursey from being snatched? If I’m going on a plane, does it count as luggage? (Believe me, there are times when it could). And if that isn’t enough, I’m not allowed to be ruled by just one satchel. No, I’m expected to keep multiple bags I can match to any season, function and outfit, all while my husband gets by with one wallet. No wonder men have more disposable income! They don’t have to spend it on purses!

What to do?

I was bemoaning all this to my sister last month when she mentioned a smartphone/wallet case. This gadget is a brilliant idea! A simple case with the phone on one side and pockets for cash, ID and cards on the other. It carries everything I really need and (even better) slides into a pocket. Actually it’s more an a fashion choice; it’s an accessory liberation device.

…Replaced by a phone in a case. (Dog not included.)

So, after almost 50 years of suspending leather bags from my shoulder, I’m back to pre-puberty basics. And it’s amazing. No more matching my bag to my shoes or rooting through the closet for a coordinating purse. No more last minute grabs for the bag I forgot while the car door closes on my arm. When it’s time for lunch now, I stand up and leave without rooting in a drawer or the file cabinet. As long as I have pockets, I can run through the world, unencumbered and both hands free.

All hail the Accessory Liberation Device! Now all we need is a law requiring pockets on all clothing….

In search of my New Year’s Day Miracle

Everybody has New Year’s traditions. Some people make and break lots of good resolutions. Some people serve black-eyed peas and greens. But that’s not my thing. While others are nursing hangovers or glue themselves to televised bowl games and parades, I’m outdoors, weather permitting, doing yard work. And I’m looking for my New Year’s Day miracle.

Yard Work?

There’s something so satisfying about clearing the yard, once the last of the leaves have fallen. You can rake and rake without breaking a sweat, and when you’re finished, there’s visible improvement. Actually, this is the small part of the year when I can get ahead on my weeding. Once growing season starts, it’s all I can do to stay even. And I quit once the temp gets too hot. So January and February are the months when I reclaim parts of the yard from the plant invaders, like kudzu. But New Years is not for reclaiming. It’s when I look for a miracle.

In Search of Spring

Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t get along with Winter. It’s (usually) too wet and cold for my taste and I miss long, sunlit days. And, while I love where I live, we look kind of, well, shabby this time of the year. A little dirty and drab and run down. So I tend to spend the first day of the year in my yard, desperately seeking Signs of Spring. And, today I found them.

Know what these are? They are daffodil leaves and they’re growing in front of my house. On New Year’s Day. When winter’s just settling for 3 months of cold weather, these tough little flowers are sticking their heads above ground. The prospect of ice and snow doesn’t scare them (the way it scares me!). They’re growing, they’re daring to believe in Spring on the very first day of the year. That takes great Instinct…. or Nerve.

So daffodil leaves are my annual New Year’s Miracle and I hunt for them like a kid after Easter Eggs. I’m not ashamed. They’re a promise. A herald. An omen of change. And a great way to start the New Year.

Look like baby leeks, don’t they?

I think it’s Time for a Change

I started this blog years ago because I had a story to tell. A story about how two irreconcilable sisters learned to work together. Somebody told me before I could publish my book, I had to have readers which meant I needed to write a blog. When they asked what I could write a lot about, I replied, “Stories.”

Why Stories?

See, I think stories are the most powerful magic we wield. You can change a person’s future with a story. Think of all those people who started working toward law school once they read about Atticus Finch. The veterinarians who followed James Herriot into the profession. Think of the destruction caused by Mein Kamp.

But stories can change history as well. For centuries, Richard III has been vilified, not from the facts but because the next king spread nasty stories about him. And those stories made it into a great play. Sometimes the fictional story is so engaging, that we forget what really happened. Or a well-told story can rescue the truth from obscurity.

The thing is, stories, good stories, can undermine all our defenses. They let us see connections we were blind to before. They find the fear hiding deep in our hearts and linger in the corners of memory. They won’t let us go. Those are the tales I like to describe as “The Ones that Follow Us Home.

So What Will Change?

Well, I’ve spent 4 years writing (mostly) about stories other people have published and I think it’s time for a change. I still love taking about good books and I’ll continue to talk about some of those. But I want to change things up a bit.

I want to tell you some tales I care about that other folks haven’t written down. Ideas that have meaning for me. Stories that followed me home.

Like the tale of two little girls who believed they had nothing in common beyond a timeline and DNA. That’s a story still waiting to be told…some other day.

The Best Storyteller I ever Knew

Storyteller with fan

There are always tributes to male parents close to Father’s Day. Check out Social Media and you’ll see all kinds of posts commemorating the sweetest, the bravest, the kindest fathers, etc. I’m sure all of those plaudits are true. But, when it comes to titles and “Greatest” plastic championship cups, I know which one belongs to my Dad. He was the first and best Storyteller I ever knew.

My Dad loved a laugh more than anything else and his jokes were many and varied. (At his funeral, Dad stories brought out as many smiles as tears.) And, as a kid, he and his buddies pulled practical jokes to make each other laugh. And by jokes, I mean the kind of stunts that could get a kid kicked out of school. I know this because he told us about them.

The Greatest Storyteller
With an early fan.

Now some parents try to keep their own children from learning what stinkers they were as kids. But not my Dad. He loved spinning tales of his miscreant past and we loved hearing him talk. After all, we knew some of the characters. but Dad had a way of talking that made you feel like you were there. At dinner, Dad would grin, start a story and pretty soon, my sister and I would be giggling, banging our fists on the table and forgetting to eat our food (it takes a lot for me to forget food!) Barb and I loved some of his stories so much, we asked him to retell them again and again. (I referred to these as “Daddy’s Greatest Hits”) Then we brought friends over to listen to him tell them again. We never got tired of Daddy’s stories. And we miss hearing them, now that he’s gone.

So, in honor of Dad, for the next few weeks, I’m going to share a few of his stories. I don’t know if I can recapture his inimitable timing or delivery but I’ll try. Anything to hear these tales again

Some people thought my Dad was a naughty, undisciplined boy because of the pranks he pulled. To me, he was just my Daddy. The best storyteller I ever knew.

Humans & their Weird 5Ks: Tales of Molly the Dog

I’ve got to tell you, as a dog, I love humans, but I really don’t understand them. Take Les, the female human I live with. She spends hours each day tap-tapping words onto this little screen, when she could be petting me. (That’s how I learned to use this thing, sitting in her lap and watching her tap.) Les says she wants to write books someday and tapping stories onto the screen is good practice. But she’s so slow! She’ll type forty words, then take most of them out and spends an hour rearranging the rest. Then she gets discouraged and takes a bath. That’s where she is now, soaking in the hot water and stressed cause she’s having trouble telling you about the 5k. So I figured I’d tell you about it while she’s in the tub, and then she can take a break from tapping on the screen. But I’ve got to tell you, a 5K’s just one more proof of what I’ve always known: Humans are weird.

What the heck is a 5K?

That’s all Les talked about for days at a time, the 5K, the 5K, the 5K. That she was going to a 5K. That she had to prepare for it. That she was taking me with her, which is great, because I like going places with Les. And when she told me to get in the Jeep Saturday morning, I thought, “Oh, now I know what 5K means; it means we’re getting breakfast at Jack’s. Cause that’s where we always go on Saturday mornings. Boy was I wrong this time!

We drove and drove, right past Jack’s, and we didn’t stop for breakfast at all! Instead, Les kept talking about how I had to sit down, how I had to behave, how I was going to make new friends at the 5K. That ride went on forever. When she finally stopped it was by some sort of park, but was I allowed to play then? Nope, she snapped the leash onto my collar.

Pretty soon I saw lots of humans around, all wearing what Les calls exercise clothes. Most of them friendly but I was still waiting for this wonderful 5K to start.

Folks you know what a 5K is? It’s a bunch of humans driving for hours so they can run or walk on the ground. Not even the ground! Every human was moving on asphalt! Some of them were moving faster than others but none of them were doing what I call running. Not like when I race Les’s Jeep up the driveway. And most of them weren’t even going that fast. I couldn’t see why Les calls this “exercise.”

Now when I run, I run and I’m good at it. But Les was on the other end of that leash. So I decided if she wanted a “work out” I’d give her one. Between you and me, I pulled her through that 5K with her on the back end of the leash. Les is a good human, as humans go, but she sure needs to pick up her feet.

Humans aren’t the only ones who 5K

I will say I wasn’t the only dog in the group and that was pretty good. I like living with Les on the mountain but there aren’t many dogs around here. Not that I can hang out with. But there were lots of animals walking their humans on that path and I exchanged sniffs with quite a few of them. Never as long as I’d like, sorry to say. Humans may not have anyplace particular to go on a 5K and they sure aren’t going there in that much of a hurry but they don’t stop and visit either, like dogs do. They just keep going forward, pulling on that leash as if they’re in a slow and steady race to go nowhere.

Funny thing is, for all that slow and steady moving, by the end I was getting hot and tired. And Thirsty!!! For some reason, we ended up back where we began and the first thing Les did was fill my travel bowl with water. She’s nice that way. Then, all the humans stood around and made noises at each other (you know the way they do) while I laid on the pavement. See, there’s another way humans are weird. They get themselves all footsore and tired but will they lay down on the ground to cool off? Nope.

Well, dog’s aren’t that foolish. When we’re hungry, we eat, when we run, we run and when we tire out, we lay down and sleep. And I did, all the way back home, even though Les stopped half way and got me breakfast. I didn’t really want it but to be polite, I ate the ham she got me. And I ate her breakfast ham too.

See, I figure, we’re all in this life together (even cats) so we need to help each other out. Les keeps me warm and fed and dry and she keeps me safe during those loud thunderstorms. She looks after me. So, I look after her. I meet her Jeep when she drives toward the house. I flatten out the sheets on her bed. Heck, if she needs me, I may even go on another one of those 5Ks with her.

But trust me, Humans are Weird.

When The Earth is Your Closest Friend

Normally I spend hours writing these posts. But it’s late, and I’m sore from changing out yet another tire (different story) so let’s just get to the goods, shall we?

I. Know. A. Great. Story.

Trust me, you want to read it. Everyone else is reading and loving it right now and, for once, everyone else is right. Where the Crawdads Sing is a wonderful story about the heaven and hell of spending most of your life alone.

And we’re not talking Thoreau-in-Walden voluntary solitude here. The book opens with little Kya Clark watching her mother walk out of her life. No tears, no hug, not a wave goodbye, just a door slamming in their shack on the Marsh. And, once Mama goes, Kya’s siblings follow her down the road, until there’s only a six-year old trying to survive a live of privation and her hard-drinking Daddy. Finally, there’s no one’s left in the Marsh shack but Kya.  And the child has to provide for herself.

Kya grows up wise in ways of the natural world if unskilled when it comes to people.  Having no other guide, she tries to understand people in terms with the marsh beings she knows: how girls at play flock like gulls or the alpha-male in a playground of boys. But lack of skill and loneliness cause Kya to make mistakes when it comes to people, some that cost her dearly.  And that’s where the rest of the story comes in.

Death In the Swamp

Interspersed with Kya’s growth are chapters about a dead man, found in the swamp. How he got there, why he died, and the effect of his death on Kya forms the central mystery of the book but in the end, this is Kya’s story. And it’s a story that begs to be read.

Told in luminous prose, Where the Crawdads Sing, is a hymn to nature and and ambivalence in a life lived alone. It’s the story of a woman’s life, a Southern Novel and a murder mystery as well. And it’s so spellbinding, that, reading it, you can forget you’re stranded on the edge of an interstate, buffeted by the air rush of passing trucks, and facing a nasty wrecker bill. Instead, you’re in the cool, clean air of a North Carolina Marsh with a woman whose best friend is the earth.

Trust me, I know. It’s really that good. Now you should read it and know that too.

In the Aftermath of Devastation

There are times when fate knocks you down to your knees, when it’s hard just to draw your next breath. This happens with the big, bad events in our lives, when we hit losses that define us forever. Sometimes. a single event hits several people at once and the world tends to take notice, though never for long. But what happens once the funerals finish and the reporters leave to chase another story? Do the survivors continue to navigate the aftermath with a “stiff upper lip” or do they tumble headlong through the devastation? Hannah Pittard wants to know.

The Crash

Hannah looks at this question through the lens of one of the sadder stories I know. In June of 1963, a plane crashed near the Orly airport of France, and exploded into a gigantic fireball. 106 of the 122 passengers that died in that inferno were members of the fledgling Atlanta Art Association. Atlanta, in those days was still a fairly small city and those members all came from the same small, tight-knit group: the wealthy, well-born, educated, white, clique that wielded much of the town’s political clout. Their deaths tore a hole in the town’s wealthiest neighborhood and the downtown power structure.

In Visible Empire,Pittard charts the immediate aftermath of the crash mixing real-life with fictional characters. There are those that assume the mantle of duty at once, like the exhausted, nearly noble, Irwin Allen Jr. His mayoral responsibilities force him to compartmentalize his grief while identifying and burying his friends. There’s the fictional (I hope) Southern playboy who celebrates the deaths of his parents by squandering the assets they left him. Little lies and big ones come to light with the crash extending the range of devastation. And into all of this insanity comes a quiet meditation on race.

Atlanta’s Concurrent Tragedy

Although Mayor Allen, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and their allies were working to desegregate Atlanta, it was still a City of the South, with a tortured racial history. Pittard compares the reverence for air-crash casualties to the denial and obscurity that follows victims of lynchings. Unlike the white, moneyed bereaved, Atlanta’s black citizens don’t have the luxury of falling apart, although one character tries. It is his journey, far from the plane crash of Orly that leads the second half of the novel.

There is much of the Orly tragedy I wish Pittard had written about; how the crash added a moral imperative to constructing the city’s Fine Arts Center; how a daughter in France learned of her mother’s death through a transatlantic phone call; how families assembled and reassembled their lives without the aid of professionals or support groups. But that will be the work of some other novelist. In the meantime, we have Visible Empire to remind us that all life is precious and the future uncertain.

It’s not just the Tale, it’s how you tell it!

Sondheim’s musical “Merrily We Roll Along” is currently enjoying a revival in New York and I couldn’t be happier that it’s back. The show has an unforgettable score and a legendary history of being a brilliant, beloved failure. Well, “failure”‘s not a really fair description. Merrily challenges audiences and casts because of the way they tell the story: it’s backward.

The Story

It’s a pretty simple story told the traditional way. Two young guys and a girl are best friends and colleagues, all working to break into show business. They hang out together, brainstorm ideas and cheer each other on while the rest of the world ignores them. Eventually, they each catch that all-important break but success does what years of failure couldn’t do; it splits up the team. Like I said, a simple story and a sad one when you tell it that way.

But tell it back to front and watch what happens! Right out the door, there’s the climactic fight that murders a friendship that existed for decades! Then back up a bit and you watch the information bomb drop that makes that last fight inevitable. Back it up again and you see the same characters again, a bit younger and nicer but making mistakes you know they’re going to regret. And on and on it goes, each layer revealing more of what makes you care about the people and hate the disastrous choices you know they’re making. It’s a brilliant, difficult technique and that’s why I love it. Because it’s not what story you tell, but how you tell it.

…and how its told

If each story is a raw diamond, the way its told cuts it, like the jeweler. Each choice brings out different facets. For example, let’s take perspective. Change the perspective in a story and you go from Wizard of Oz to Wicked. Or from Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead to Hamlet. Now make your narrator unreliable and you have stories with twist endings like “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” or “The Haunting of Hill House“. Or show that the story is bigger than anyone imagines by showing the same event from lots of different, limited perspectives (Rashomon). These are all literary techniques authors use to make a story sparkle.

Long-running TV shows love messing around with storytelling techniques. They keep the show interesting and give watchers new and layered insights into the characters. The point is how the story is told is at least as important as important as the story itself. And smart writers (and readers) know that.

So, welcome back, Merrily We Roll Along. I hope you enjoy a successful production. After what you’ve been through, you deserve something good. And thank you for your clever story-telling device. It’s a crazy, brilliant idea.