Sunday, December 31

"3:00 in the morning, and it looks like its gonna be another sleepless night ..."

That's the first line of a song, by the way. Crystal Gail I think. She had some stuff out on the country charts back in the 70s. But anyhoo, here I am at 3 in the morning wide awake. Just woke up and couldn't go back to sleep, so I'm putting it to good use here. Aren't you lucky?

Tomorrow (or I guess technically today) is New Year's Eve. That has nothing to do with why I'm awake, but its a place to start this blog. No this is not about resolutions, I don't do them. I do view the new year as a fresh start, though. I think everyone needs one of those about once a year so why not now?

Over at Jenny Crusie's blog she talks about having a list of indulgences rather than resolutions and I like that idea. We tend to think of indulging as a negative thing, but its not. An indulgence is a reward. Something to make getting up in the morning worthwhile. I mean if all you had to look forward to was another day of self improvement it would get old fast. But we all have responsibilities and obligations and things we have to do as responsible members of society. That's just part of regular life. An indulgence is the treat we give our souls for doing what's expected the rest of the time. Its like allowing yourself dessert once in a while even though you're on a diet. Its okay to set down the burden once in a while, to take a rest. It makes carrying that load a bit more bearable.

So, my indulgences ...

1. Spend more time with people who make me laugh and less time with people I have to bite my tongue around. Nobody likes a martyr so why let someone suck the life out of you if you have a choice?

2. Give myself more days off this year. Days when I don't need to speak to another person if I don't want to. Can't live like that all the time, of course. But as much as I enjoy the people in my life, I need some downtime, some alone time. Time with just some soft music and a book with no interruptions. My soul demands it. And I know that doing this will allow be to be more "there" for other people. So its good for everyone.

3. Find new authors that excite me. (Yep there's a definite theme going here with the books.) This means I'll have to be adventurous at the library which is not exactly a burden. The thing is there are a limited number of really good authors out there and most of them put out maybe one book a year if they are prolific. I need more books than that people! So I need to find more people writing them. I picked up 2 this past year and its been so much fun!

4. Get back to crocheting. Its something I enjoy and now that I have the iPod for listening to audiobooks I can enjoy both things at the same time so I'm not neglecting my love of books. The thing is, there's something therapeutic about crocheting. Like gardening except you can do it year 'round. Once you get into it you only need to use a small portion of your brain while your hands go about doing a repetitive task. This allows your conscious mind to drift, sorting itself out. You are just busy enough thinking about your stitches that you can't overthink other stuff. Basically its like a vacation for your conscious mind. For me its crocheting and gardening, but for you it might be refinishing furniture or tying flies. But I think everyone should have something like this to turn to.

5. Listen to more music. I like many kinds of music and listening makes me feel good. But in my house the tv is almost always on. I like tv as much as the next person but really most of the time its just noise. I have a handfull of shows I really look forward to, and the occasional movie, but mostly its stuff I don't care about. The thing with tv, though, is its addictive. It draws your attention against your will and you later discover you've completely wasted an hour or more when you could have been doing something you really enjoy, rather than spending that time watching ... something you can't even remember now. So I'm going to walk away from the tv, go to another room, and just listen. Maybe while I read a book.

Tuesday, December 19

Why I don't volunteer

I know, all the good people volunteer. They offer their services, they take charge, the have their fingers in all the pies. I don't. I'm not a Scrooge; I'm not adverse to helping out, doing my part, etc. It has nothing to do with not wanting to help out.

The reason I'm posting this topic has less to do with the holiday season than it sounds. Yes this post was inspired by a recent event of a holiday nature; but its not a bah, humbug ... honestly. Here's what happened.

Every year for some years now our floor has hosted a potluck lunch the week before Christmas. Its a pretty good turn out, lots of participation, etc. And truthfully we've been doing it for so long that it pretty much runs itself. People know what's expected at this point. But someone has to get the ball rolling, arranging for the conference room, notifying everyone, putting up a sign up sheet, etc. And this year the previous organizer had tapped someone else to take over. Not me. Although she hinted it might be my turn next year. And I had to say, "no thanks." But I'm not a Grinch, I swear.

The problem is that I have control issues, and I don't delegate very well. I'm perfectly fine letting others live their lives however they please as long as our spheres don't intersect. But if our spheres touch, I will have a nearly irrestible need to wrest control from you. Its not that I want to. I don't. I don't like telling people what to do. I just know that it would be so much better if everyone did it my way and on my terms. And yet I'm a very mild-mannered person otherwise. Really I am. But put me in charge of something and I turn into a drill sargeant. No, worse, I become this hulking dragon of a person, with my eyes wheeling about in my head and fire snorting out of my nostrils as Darth Vader's voice comes out of my mouth ... "What do you mean you haven't done it yet? Must I use the Dark Side on you." hiss ... pant ... hiss ... pant. It gets very ugly. I even frighten myself. So its much better if I step back and let others take control and just do my little part, whatever specific task has been assigned to me.

The problem is that I am by nature a pretty organized and efficient person and sometimes people notice that and just assign projects to me, assuming I'll be good at it. And usually I am, but that just brings on a whole 'nother problem. Once people know you are good at managing something, you're stuck with it. If you are good at it, they will not let you shake the job. Suddenly nobody else will be available or capable. They'll complain behind your back that you're pushy and fight you when you try to get them to cooperate ... but they won't let you step down and pass the baton. No matter how deep your voice gets.

So I avoid being the person in charge and I don't volunteer. I'll do anything you ask in the way of helping out, but I won't take control. Its better for everyone this way.

Tuesday, December 5

Much Ado About Nothing

The other day I reached into my wallet for some money and had a hard time finding it. That's partly because I didn't have very much in there; but I knew I had a little ... somewhere. The problem was I couldn't find the folding stuff among the receipts I had shoved in my wallet. Some housecleaning was in order.

So that evening I sat down with my wallet and register, prepared to dutifully note any debit card or credit card transactions. And no wonder I had trouble finding anything in there; the receipts measured to more than 18 inches laid end to end. Sounds like a lot doesn't it? Makes you think "gee, she should probably do that more often." Well guess what? That was only 3 receipts. Three. So now you're thinking "Aha! Clearly she made a lot of purchases on those 3 occasions." Well clearly you haven't made purchases lately that involved computerized cash registers. Because one of those receipts was about 7 1/2 inches long and had only one purchase listed! I counted up all the transactions, total, for those 3 receipts and it came to a whopping 8 items. I don't get it. Its not like the print is so big that they need all that space. Oh, and that doesn't even include the coupon slips they push on you. Maybe this doesn't bother anyone else. But it drives me crazy to purchase a single greeting card, for example, and receive enough paper to cloth myself with in return (I'm short, it could work).

While I'm on the subject, another thing that bothers me is the way cash transactions are handled these days. I did my bit behind the counter while I was in high school, and I remember being taught to hand the customer their coins first and then their bills. More and more often I get a cashier who slaps the bills down on my open palm and then piles the coins on top. Since I've usually got my wallet in my other hand it requires some juggling to put the money away. And you know, there's all those receipts in the way too. Inevitably, I end up dropping some coins.

I guess its just me, though, because I don't hear other people complaining about this stuff. They complain about other things. There was an article in the paper a few days ago saying that manufacturers were responding to customer complaints about the plastic "clam shell" packaging. Apparently in the future we will have kinder, gentler packaging. Half the contents will probably be missing but you'll be able to get to whatever is left a lot easier. This is because people complained about having to cut away at the plastic with a knife to get the packaging open, and it seems people sometimes miss the packaging and open an artery instead.

Okay, that's a problem. But I think people are looking at it all wrong. Its a question of perspective. Rather than seeing the risk, they need to concentrate on the opportunity. How often do you get to maniacally hack away with a serrated edge without raising eyebrows? You can vent a lot of frustration on those packages. Gives new meaning to the phrase "retail therapy." Without the packaging to deal with we'll need another outlet. And the cashier is just too convenient. I can see the headlines now. "Cashier Found Tied Up With Register Receipts, Mouth Full of Pennies." That's assault, right? But not robbery. Because the assailant did pay. The trouble began when he got his change back. With receipts.

Sunday, November 26

Counting Blessings

Well the Thanksgiving holiday is gone, along with the last slice of pumpkin pie. It was a good holiday, actually. You never know when family gets together how that's going to work because nobody punches your buttons, or feels more free to do so, than family.

This time of year always makes me thoughtful. Its nearing year end so I look backwards at things that have happened, not just this past year but over the course of several years. I'm blessed in many ways. I have close family. As mentioned above they make me nuts on occasion but I always know that if push came to shove they would be there for me. And isn't that what matter most? Not the petty little disappointments, or the times they were less than perfect, but the big things that really matter.

I have a career doing something that doesn't suck, that I'm good at and that suits my personality. And I'm lucky to have a good employer, great bosses and terrific co-workers. Its not exciting work and I'll never stand on the upper rung of the ladder, but I'm much happier as a grunt than I'd ever be as a leader.

And I have had many friends. I have some great new ones, and a few long term ones - a small elite handful. There have also been a few that I've parted ways with. Generally this has not been the sad occasion you might think. Sometimes you have to face the fact that you are different people now, that whatever connection there once was just isn't there anymore. And you know I think its better to let these things go gracefully than to cling desperately. Friendship should be more than just history; you should both still be getting something out of it. Maybe that something is just a shoulder to cry on, a shared laugh, or the one person you know will always take your side. These are not small things. Usually you don't need someone to "fix it" just someone with whom you can rest between battles. And sometimes you realize that you aren't getting anything out of it and haven't for a very long time. This other person is taking more than you have to give and you have to cry "enough." Its sad to let that history go.

Letting it go is not something I have done easily. Maybe I even clung longer than I should have because there were memories there. I don't regret the parting, though. It was time. I don't regret having had these people in my life, either. They are part of who I am, part of my personal history. And it wasn't all bad. I read somewhere that some people are meant to be in your life for only a short time, because you - or they - have something that the other needs at that point. Once that need is fulfilled, you each have to move on. A handful of people might travel with you for longer, a lifetime if you are very lucky. But if they don't its because it wasn't meant to be.

I count these people among my blessings too. It doesn't matter that they aren't part of my life any longer. They were once and they helped shape the person I am now. I hope wherever they are that they are a little better for having had me in their lives too.

Blessings. Past, present and future. They all matter.

Sunday, November 19

Is It Us or Them?

Conversations as you get older so often seem to include variations on the phrase "it was different when I was younger." Its true about everything after about age 30. Before 30 you can tell yourself you are still one of them. But after 30 you start becoming one of us *she rubs her hands together and cackles gleefully*

For instance we didn't use calculators in school, we actually learned math. And you've probably seen the email joke that makes the rounds every six months or so about how we entertained ourselves and didn't expect instant gratification* at all times. (Note the asterisk; you'll need it later.) I made the discovery recently that there's another way our generation differs from theirs ... and our parents from us and so on. Humor.

I was watching Jeopardy the other night. You'll have to stay with me on this one; there's a train of thought I promise. I was watching Jeopardy and it was Celebrity Week so they had been having famous people on, competing for charity. The Celebrity Jeopardy shows are much more relaxed and not to be taken too seriously because these folks are entertainers, not scholars, and like to grab the limelight whenever possible. But a number of these folks had acquitted themselves reasonably well through the week. So anyway, this one night they have 3 people who do comedy. One was Martin Short, of whom I am not a huge fan; but that's a personal taste thing, not a critique. And this chick who does a sitcom whose name I can't recall but I did know who she was at the time. And the last player was some comedian I'd never heard of.

Like I said, I'm not a Martin Short fan, I think he's a bit over the top as a rule. But he was pretty low key that night. And the chick was pretty funny. Then there was the last guy who was just OUT THERE. The Three Stooges acted less foolish than he did. And I'm watching him and thinking "I don't get it." But here's the thing, I didn't know him but he was a 'celebrity' so clearly a lot of people do. And a lot of people must find him funny or he wouldn't be a 'celebrity.' Logical, right? And it got me to thinking that probably the generation after mine thinks this guy is a stitch.

They have this guy. And the previous generation have (Not "has." "Have" - because most of us are still around) Saturday Night Live alumni. And my parents' generation had Bill Cosby ... well still do because he's still around, too. And actually I think he's pretty funny, myself. And their parents had Hope and Benny. And if you don't know who they are, look them up. And as we all know so many comedians today resort to foul language and what I think of as 'shock' laughs because people laugh more at the shocking language than at the humor. But that's a value judgment and I'm showing my age so we won't go there.

But think about what's really different about each of these comedians. Yes the topical humor is different because its different times and comedians today are a lot more daring. Well so is sitcom TV. Judgment call again but I personally think a lot of it doesn't belong in the family hour. Okay, apparently I am going there. Hey its my blog, and if I can't be judgmental here, where can I? But ... follow the bouncing ball because we're actually still on the same train. (Yes I mixed my metaphors; deal with it.)

What has actually changed about the way comedians do humor over the generations? Today's humor is more "in your face." Not just the language, but distance to which they will go to get the laughs. SNL sort of started that, really. If you look back at Steve Martin and the gang, their humor resembled my 4th grade class with all the boys snickering over a planet called Uranus. It was a bit juvenile. Hey I'm not dissing it because SNL was really really big with the high school crowd, my crowd, when it first came out. They weren't as crass as a lot of the comedians of today's generation, but it wasn't our parents' humor either. I'm at a place in the middle because I grew up with Cosby-esque humor but came of age with SNL. I'm straddling the line. Maybe that's why I can see it. The Hope's and Benny's had a more subtle humor. It hit you a few beats after the joke was told. The humor was sometimes topical, and yes they poked fun at the VIPs and current events of the day; but they were subtle about it. You had to think about that joke for a moment. You had to engage that part of your brain.

Yes I'm still on the same train. Keep up.

Cosby was/is more topical and a bit more daring. Not risque, but he uses material the Hope's and Benny's wouldn't have. However his humor is subtle as well. It builds up. They aren't one-liners but rather sophisticated because you have to stay with him to get to the punch line. And sometimes it takes several minutes to get there. Kind of like this blog.

Saturday Night Live was my generation's Three Stooges. There wasn't much subtle about it. They smacked you over the head with the humor and were very blunt about the VIPs and topics they were taking on. It was often physical in scope and left little to the imagination. You didn't have to wait for the punchline or wait for the joke to hit you.

Stay with me. We're almost there.

So how did this guy from Jeopardy differ from SNL, Cosby, Hope and Benny? He was completely lacking in subtlety. He made Martin Short look dignified, okay? His humor didn't build up, you didn't have to wait for the punchline, and activating any part of your brain was not necessary. If he had held up a flashing sign saying "laugh NOW" he couldn't have been any more obvious. If Hope and Benny were a tap on the shoulder, this guy was a 2x4 upside your head. No waiting for the laugh. *INSTANT GRATIFICATION

(TADA! Told you we'd get there.)

Its not really the fault of the comedians. Because we are in an age where we (well its really more they) expect instant gratification. And the comedians are delivering. They're just giving the audience what they ask for. Big return with little effort.

So its not them, its us. Okay not us, but them. You know what I mean. Sorry this took so long. But I'm one of us. I like the subtle build up, and I appreciate delayed gratification. Especially if its yours and not mine.

Thursday, November 16

Everybody is Really Very Much Like Everybody Else

When I was maybe 11 my mother introduced me to Agatha Christie. I think it was Mom's thinking was that nothing much happens in an Agatha Christie book that you wouldn't want a kid to read. Well okay there are those dead bodies, but even they are done with good taste, artfully arranged and already dead so you don't even have the violence factor.

Christie's most famous character was the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, a rather comic figure with a mustache obsession. But very very people smart. He understood that people do fall into types or categories and usually act according to type. Yeah, I know its terribly un-PC, but these books were written back before WWII, most of them.

Another of her characters was Miss Jane Marple. Miss Marple was an elderly spinster lady (it was the 1930s, people; they had spinsters back then) who lived most of her life in one small English village of St. Mary Mead. Miss Marple has learned in her life time that what most people call intuition is really just being guided by your own life experiences. In her first appearance in "The Murder At The Vicarage" Miss Marple describes it this way: "Intuition is like reading a word without having to spell it out. A child can't do that because it has so little experience. But a grown up person knows the word because he's seen it often before." I've always thought that was an excellent analogy. You recognize when something is a bad idea without having it "spelled out" because you've seen this situation before, or heard about it, or heard of someone else's experiences. Recognizing those similarities gives Miss Marple an advantage over the police quite frequently.

Miss Marple also says, in many ways through out many stories, that people are really very much the same wherever you go. And I've discovered over and over again how very true that is. People do fall into 'types'. Oh, not obvious ones. But if you live long enough, and you pay enough attention, you start noticing things. That perfectly likeable person that turns out to be completely unreliable. The grouchy complainer that actually comes through for you before anyone else. The clean cut kid at the store who ends up short changing the next customer. And somehow your 'intuition' recognizes pieces of them in other people you meet.

This was Christie's genius. The plots were fun and the mysteries clever. But what made her books timeless is the characters. Those bits and pieces of real life behavior that she weaves into fictional people. Not just the good and bad people, but the everyday people. The person who means well but ends up pushing someone away. The one who wants so badly to be impressive that they make entirely the wrong impression. There are variations on themes but essentially people fall into a finite number of categories. And often when we are reading we'll come across some character, over the top and more of a caricature, perhaps; but all the same, they remind us of someone. Because art really does imitate life. And everybody really is very much like everybody else.

Friday, November 3

Go Away; I'm Reading

I am a Reader. And yes I use initial caps for that. A Reader is someone who reads for the sheer enjoyment of it. Not to pass the time or to educate ourselves, although that's always a nice by-product. We carry books around with us just in case we get a moment or two when nothing else is expected of us. If we walk into the doctor's office and we are told it will be a 15 minute wait, we are secretly gleeful because it means we get 15 minutes of reading time, guilt free. We aren't neglecting something else we should be doing, its not our fault that there's a wait. But we're willing to take advantage of it.

My reading is an addiction, an obsessive-compulsive disorder I cheerfully embrace. I'd rather be reading than doing anything else. I can lose myself for hours between the pages of a book. I need to read the way an athlete needs exercise. And a lot of people don't understand that. They don't need to understand. Just accept. I am blessed because I have people in my life who do accept. My love of books is not because my life is boring, or no more than anyone else's anyway. Its not because I have nothing else to do. Its not because I am devoid of friends. I have friends. I have family. I have a job and responsibilities and obligations up the Yazoo. My love of the written word is not something that needs fixing, or a 12-step program. It is not something that I can be coaxed out of or shown the error of my ways. I read for the sheer pleasure of it. I read because its FUN. I read because its what I most want to be doing at any given time.

And I am not alone. This reading obsession is not an aberration, it is not abnormal. Lots of people feel exactly the way I do. I know this because I've encountered them. Oh, yes, we recognize each other. We're the folks who carry a book with us EVERYWHERE. We're on building rooftops (its quiet and not crowded), on subway cars (you aren't expected to make eye contact anyway), in coffee shops (its practically trendy to read over your latte). And every so often self-preservation nudges at us enough to look up and around at the rest of the world. At the table next door, or a few people away we'll spot another head buried in another book. Maybe that person will look up at that moment and see our book, our eyes will meet, and we both smile. Because we recognize a kindred spirit. And then we go back to reading because conversation is not only not encouraged, its a breach of Reader etiquette.

So, the next time you see someone sitting in the waiting room/coffee shop/subway car/etc. and they have a book in front of them ... leave them alone; they're reading.

Monday, October 16

The Fate Of Civilization As We Know It

I was getting some grief for not allowing comments on my blog. Apparently nobody noticed that I hadn't said anything. So what's the point of allowing comments, I ask you?

But now I have something to say; so, if I can figure out how, I will allow the comments and you can make one. Though chances are good I'll just ignore it. Just letting you know. One of my idols,

Jennifer Crusie , best-selling author and Queen of Snark extraordinare says that if you are not willing to allow dissent or criticism you should keep your opinions to yourself. Well she's an author so she said it much better than I can. But that's the gist of it. And she's right as usual so ...

But I digress. What I wanted to talk about is the fate of civilization as we know it. Because I'm really worried. I've noticed the problem before, many times in fact over a period of some years. But it really slammed home to me this past weekend.

It started when I was running errands and got hungry so I stopped into a local fast food chain. Its not crowded or especially busy so I step right up to the register and give the counter person my order ... 3 piece chicken strips, mild; side of beans and rice; small beverage. See I'm organized about it. I hate people who get right up to the counter and have no clue what they want so everyone else has to wait while they dither about their order.

And the counter person responds - "mild or spicy?" Hello? But I only pause a moment before saying "mild" and then remind them that I want beans & rice for my side dish. And he asks "do you want fries?" Now I'm getting a bit testy because I've already said, TWICE, that I want the beans and rice and I tell him so, in fact I'm a bit sharp about it. Then, no really, then he said, "it will be a few minutes for the spicy chicken." I'm not normally a sarcastic person (well okay I am but I can usually curb it) but I couldn't resist saying "thank you for that information but I ordered the mild so I don't really care." And he gives me this blank look and turns around to get my MILD chicken strips and my bowl of beans & rice. He gives me another odd look when I pull the bowl over and take the top off to make sure that it really is beans & rice. After all that wouldn't you have done the same? Surprise surprise, its actually what I ordered. And then he asks if I want a drink, but you know I saw that coming, I really did. I mean if he can't remember what I said 2 seconds ago he certainly wasn't going remember the 2 minutes previous to that.

And you are wondering to yourself why I am telling you this trivial story. Because my friends, it happened again the following day at another store. A bookstore I frequent that has a really nice coffee shop attached. I go there often and usually the service is excellent. I stepped up to the counter and told the kid at the register that I wanted a grande vanilla latte, in a mug, please; and a cinnamon scone too. Because once again I am organized and I don't dither. And he rings up a tall latte. Keep in mind that the previous day's experience is still fresh in my mind so there was a definite ring of impatience when I say "no, a grande vanilla late, in a mug" so of course he reached for a paper cup. And I remind him that I wanted that in a mug and a cinnamon scone, PLEASE. See I'm TRYING to be polite still. He does go to get the mug and hands it to the girl operating the coffee machine and then rings up my order ... and I pause because I know that's not enough so I raise my voice a little, but not yelling, and I say "AND I WANTED A CINNAMON SCONE PLEASE." And he says, I'm not making this up, "what kind of scone do you want?"

And the only thing preventing me from going over the counter for his throat is the knowledge that I really like this bookstore and don't want to be banned from its doors forever.

Here's the thing: in neither case do either of these two gentlemen apologize for repeatedly screwing up what are very simple orders. And in neither case did they ever bother to look me in the eye while taking my order.

Now I don't know if its the fault of the store managers for not instructing these guys on proper customer relations; the fault of the parents for not teaching them to look at someone when they are speaking; or if we are just raising a nation of apathetic people. Yes yes, I know its not ALL young people. I have family members younger than both these guys who are models of courtesy and responsibility. I know its wrong to make blanket statements like this, terribly un-PC. But here's the thing, folks; these two instances happened back to back and not for the first time. So I have to think that courtesy, respect, responsibility and so on are becoming the exceptions and I think we need to be very worried about it. These kids are our future, after all; the same rule applies to the human race as it does to the rest of the animal kingdom. Survival of the fittest.

I think we're doomed. Better get your order in now.

p.s. Somebody please tell the folks at Blogger that their spell checker doesn't like the word blog. Doesn't that just figure?

Saturday, September 16

Nothing to say

Keep moving, nothing happening here.