postaday

THE COAT OFF HER BACK

The year I was 16, I entered college where I discovered the true meaning of angst. I’d had a difficult childhood, but no one except a teenager can fully engage in suffering. By the following summer, at 17, I was deep in the thrall of breaking up with my first love. I had become a moaning, weeping, sodden wreck for whom life was worthless. What stretched before me was a vast puddle of lachrymosity. Pathos. Loss. Oh woe was me.

Somewhere along the way, my mother thought a chat with Aunt Kate would help pull me out of the Slough of Despond. She gave me a few bucks for subway tokens and bus-fare and packed me off for lunch in Manhattan with my favorite Aunt.

Even a despairing teenager can’t avoid perking up a little at the prospect of an elegant lunch in New York. On someone else’s dime.

We met in front of the New York public library, our family’s traditional location for liaison. After ritual greetings and appropriately flattering commentary — “You look wonderful, Aunt Kate!” and “So do you, darling!” — we headed to a hotel for lunch.

In my sudden enthusiasm, I pointed out to my aunt that I was still wearing the fake fur coat she had give me many years ago because I loved it that much.

“OH!” she cried. “You’re still wearing that old rag?” And there, in the middle of downtown Manhattan, she pulled the coat off her back and said I had to have it.

“Aunt Kate,” I pleaded. “We are in the middle of 6th Avenue. And it’s the middle of winter. You’ll freeze. We’ll be mowed down by traffic! Can we at least discuss this indoors? Please?”

Acceding to my wishes, as soon as we got to the restaurant, she made me swap coats with her. Hers was nice, even luxurious. Also a fake fur, but plusher and 5 years newer. She wore mine (the one with the torn lining) home. You had to be careful in my family. If you admired something — or accidentally suggested you might like something similar — you would own it.

Spode Tower Pink

Spode Tower Pink

The ultimate example of family caring were the dishes. Blame me. I started it. I bought the dishes at a barn on a back road in Connecticut in the early 1970s. I was poking around a room full of old pottery and turned one over. It was Spode. The markings looked to be late 19th century. Eighty-six pieces, including a chipped sugar bowl and eight demitasse cups minus saucers … and a set of saucers without cups. In pretty good condition. For $30.

Of course I bought them, but they were delicate, so I never used them. They remained in the closet gathering dust. Years passed. One day, my mother admired them. Faster than you can say “Here, they’re yours,” I had those dishes packed and in her car. She loved them, but they were old and, it turned out, valuable. So she put them away and never used them.

One day, Aunt Kate admired them, so Mom gave them to her. Kate then gave my mother her set of bone china for 12 which she didn’t need, the days of dinner parties being long past.

My mother also had no need for a large set, so she gave Aunt Kate’s set of 12 to my brother, who gave my mother his china for six. My mother gave my brother’s dishes to me while Aunt Kate traded my Spode for Aunt Pearl’s old china. Aunt Pearl packed the Spode away in a safe place, because they were old and valuable and she didn’t want to break them.

Twenty years later, Garry and I went to visit Aunt Pearl. She had the Spode, carefully wrapped and boxed. She gave them back. Of course, we never used them. I eventually gave them to the kids, who sold them on eBay. They knew they’d never use them either.

In life you find kindness and love, sometimes in the form of dishes. And there is the coat off your aunt’s back, proffered in the dead of winter in Manhattan.


WEEKLY WRITING CHALLENGE – Honey versus Vinegar

OLD RUSTY MEMORIES

Weekly Photo Challenge 

Relic - What images does “relic” conjure for you?

Photo Marilyn Armstrong - Bernat Mills

We live in a throwaway society … yet here, in the country — maybe because we have a little extra room — many people choose to keep the relics.

OLD NUMBER 2 - 2

Because we find old things, those rusty remembrances of our past, beautiful.

snow shack

Whether it’s the old storage shed behind the barn, the barn itself, or the old truck we drove for 20 years … they hold a lot of memories of when we also were young.

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In fact, we find old stuff … relics … fascinating. We collect them. Photograph them. Try to imagine what they might have seen in their many years on this earth.

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NO BUNGEE JUMPING THIS WEEK, THANKS

Fearless Fantasies – How would your life be different if you were incapable of feeling fear? Would your life be better or worse than it is now?


If I could not feel fear, I’d most likely be dead of doing something stupid and dangerous.

Just as pain warns our bodies that something is wrong, fear warns our brains to be cautious. Excessive or unreasoning fear can cripple us, make us unable to do anything at all. Phobias can eliminate some activities entirely.

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If you are terrified of heights, sky-diving and mountain climbing are likely to be non-starters. If you are scared to death of insects, forget that jungle exploration trip down the Amazon!

But normal fear based on a sensible understanding of a situation keeps us from doing dumb stuff. From climbing that rickety ladder, from diving off the cliff into the rocky, shallow water below.

I think, in the context of my life, I have done many things other’s would have thought dangerous, but which weren’t. They may have been totally stupid and wrong-headed, but not dangerous.

I can’t think of anything I would have done (that I wanted to do) but rejected because of fear. I pretty much did what I wanted. Mostly, it worked out okay.

The stuff that didn’t work out?

Fear wasn’t the issue. It was poor judgment, usually of person or people. Nothing to do with danger and everything to do with street smarts.

 

DARKNESS AND LIGHT

Contrasts

There’s something wondefully appropriate about the brightness of the sun slightly illuminating the dark entry hall, as if the light is calling to those inside to come out into the sun.


 

Arch Collegia

BLAH BLAH BLAH

Verbal Ticks — Is there a word or a phrase you use (or overuse) all the time, and are seemingly unable to get rid of? If not, what’s the one that drives you crazy when others use it?


Were “very” banished from the language as well as “that” and “which,” my writing would be more elegant. Much of my editorial efforts are spent removing the aforementioned words after inserting them in nearly every sentence.

SAVING SOME THINGS OF VALUE

Antique Antics

What’s the oldest thing you own? (Toys, clothing, Twinkies, Grecian urns: anything’s fair game.) Recount its history — from the object’s point of view.


Collecting is a beautiful disease. Insidious with no known cure. You acquire a thing. You love it. You get another thing, similar, but not the same. One day, you look around and you have a collection.

Han Dynasty 206 BC - 220 AD

Han Dynasty 206 BC – 220 AD

Chinese antique porcelain and Asian sacred art grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. There is something awe-inspiring about holding something in your hand that was created thousands of years ago. It lives on your fireplace mantel.

Bronze, probably Tibetan, 19th century?

Bronze, probably Tibetan, 19th century?

You look at it and imagine all the people who have touched it, whose lives this pot has touched, whose prayers this Buddha has heard. It’s living history.

Qianlong (1736-1795) porcelain.

Qianlong (1736-1795) porcelain.

Thus, when I had to reduce the collection, I didn’t sell anything. I split the collection and gave more than half my favorite pieces to my friends, people who I knew would treasure it as I did. How much was it worth? A lot, maybe. Or not so much. I don’t know. It was beyond price to me. Money is transitory but these precious, fragile, beautiful pieces need to be protected, to be kept safe, not sold as decorations.

Tang horse with servant

Tang horse with servant

A great deal of the world’s great art has been casually destroyed by governments and individuals with no reverence for art or history. War, natural disasters have contributed to reducing the number of these fragile pieces of art. If I can save a Han pot, a Qianlong vase, or a single Tibetan Buddha. I’ve saved something of value. I no longer collect, but I continue to preserve and protect.

ARE WE LIVING IN THE SAME WORLD?

Terminal Time

You’re at the airport, your flight is delayed for six more hours, and none of your electronic devices is working. How do you pass the time?


netflix for books

I don’t believe it. You genuinely don’t know what to do without electronic gadgets? You are lost without your cell phone or tablet? Really? You’re not kidding me?

If you don’t have an instant answer to this, perhaps we come from different planets. Because me, I would simply reach into my carry-on and pick out a book. If none of the books I’ve packed appealed to me, I’d take a walk to the nearest shop (airports are full of them, in case you haven’t noticed) and buy something to read. A newspaper (yes, they still print them). Maybe a couple of magazines. Or — a book!

If all else fails, I might consider chatting with other passengers who are waiting with me. I have had some of the most interesting conversations of my life in terminals, waiting for planes, trains or buses. Although I know you usually text, the organ into which you insert food has a dual purpose and can be used for conversation.

Despite rumors to the contrary, direct communication between living people can prove a pleasant — even enlightening — way of passing the hours. If you’ve never tried it, this would be an opportunity to expand your world! I strongly recommend you give it a try.

You really need to think about this? Seriously?

FOOTNOTE: I’d probably be taking a few dozen pictures too. Airports and the people in them make great subjects. I don’t take pictures using a phone. In fact, I don’t carry a cell phone (what? say that again? You heard me … I don’t carry a cell phone). I use a camera, a device dedicated to taking photographs. And I carry enough spare batteries to get me through two weeks without electricity, so I don’t care what anyone says. My camera WILL work, no matter where I am!

 

FIXING TYPOS IN MY LIFE STORY

Worlds Colliding –There’s work you and home you, café you and hospital you, friends you and strangers you. In this week’s writing challenge, tell us about a time when two or more of your “yous” ran into each other.


When I was little, I had imaginary playmates. I talked to them. They followed me around. I was never bored because I had friends who really understood me. After I started school, my shadow friends left, never to return. Instead, I got a narrator who has been my lifetime companion. Whatever has gone wrong in my life, blame it on the narrator. It’s all his fault.

Marilyn and BonnieMy narrator remembers everything. He fills in my back story. I’m in charge — technically — but he never shuts up. He is my third person perspective on life. In real time. I’m so accustomed to the nonstop running commentary, I’m not sure how I’d understand my world if my narrator left.

As long as I can remember, my narrator — who remains nameless after all these years — has filled the holes in my story. Adding “he said” and “she said.” Describing action and scenery. “Fictionalizing” reality.

Mr. Narrator is distracting and does not respect “the moment.” No respecter of persons, he can suck the fun out of parties, or if I’m not careful, make me laugh at the worst possible moments.

I’ve also learned from my narrator. Learned to view life as an endless story with chapters, back stories, hilarity, weird characters, strange coincidences, tragedy, romance, hope and despair.

My job is to live and fix the typos. The narrator takes care of the rest.

LOSERS WEEPERS – PARSING RIGHT AND WRONG

Finders, Keepers?

While walking on the beach you stumble on a valuable object buried in the sand — say, a piece of jewelry or an envelope full of cash. What do you do with it? Under what circumstances would you keep it?


What, are we are bunch of third graders here? Finders keepers, losers weepers? Seriously?

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It’s not because I’m a goody two-shoes. I’m not. A couple of basics make it inevitable I’d feel obliged to return found valuables to their real owners or at least try.

1. I have lost valuables and sometimes been fortunate in having them returned to me by total strangers who apparently were raised right.

2. I know how painful loss is. How humiliating, saddening, and hurtful. I would not willingly inflict such pain on anyone if there’s a chance of fixing it.

Let me put this in perspective: if you don’t make a good faith effort to return what you found, what does that say about you? For that matter, about your parents, your schooling and anything you identify as your religion?

What does it say about us that this is supposedly a question worthy of consideration?

IN PRAISE OF DISTRACTED DRIVING

Game of Groans

Think about an object, an activity, or a cultural phenomenon you really don’t like. Now write a post (tongue in cheek or not — your call!) about why it’s the best thing ever.


The subject of today’s sermon was a hard choice, a tossup between distracted driving and my other favorite, humiliating “reality” television. Distracted driving won the day because I can choose to not watch TV, but driving is unavoidable.

Growing up, we were limited to relatively simple, though effective distractions. They got the job done in their own, primitive way. Women could apply makeup at 90 MPH on their way to work. People would cram lunch down their throats while negotiating difficult stretches of road at high speed. Then, there’s the couples’ favorite: the knock-down drag-out fight to the death in the car on the way to Sunday dinner at Mom’s.

Ah, the good old days. Make no mistake, the classics are still with us. Makeup is ever in need of application. Drive-through eateries encourage entire meal consumption while in rapid motion. And who amongst us can deny having had at least a few fights-to-the-death while en route to a family get together? Isn’t that the entire point of such occasions?

75-Pops2013_083

Please, let us not forget the first and best of them all — need I really remind you? — driving under the influence. Booze, dope, medication, exhaustion … whatever. The DUI never gets old. Nor does getting a blow job while at the wheel. Classics are classics for good reason!

Nowadays, though, we have increased our choices exponentially. You can weave drunkenly all over the highway merely by picking up your phone and putting pedal to the metal. You can watch a movie on your DVD player (it’s just for the kids, really), compile that overdue report on your laptop, play Angry Birds or text all your pals whenever you like as you navigate our national highway system. The possibilities are endless and the satisfaction? Well, for everything else, there are credit cards.

You can select your venue too. Small country roads allow you back up traffic for miles until desperate drivers will do anything to get around you. Alternately, you can weave blindly across as many as four lanes of ultra high speed traffic on the interstate during rush hour. Or why not choose a holiday weekend? You could cause accidents, near accidents, even a few fatalities and generally wreak havoc throughout a region. You might even make the evening news! Hard to resist the lure of that one, eh?

Uxbridge Cemetery

As we approach this Memorial Day Weekend, you too can be a statistic. So grab your cell phones, DVDs, tablets and laptops. Bring on the picnic lunch and your favorite nail polish, Wash it all down with a beer or six. If you die, you will merely be improving the quality of the gene pool, so let’er rip!

ZZZZZ

Mind Reader

Who’s the last person you saw before reading this prompt? Whether it’s a family member, a coworker, or a total stranger, write a post about what that person is thinking right now.


“Garry? Hello?”

“What?!” His voice is muffled, irritable, half asleep.

“Did you put the dogs out earlier?”

The body in the bed makes annoyed face, groans, starts to get up.

“Forget it. I’ll do it.” I do it. And I clean up the pool of pee at the top of the stairs because Nan is getting to the “what’s housebreaking” stage of being an old dog. I hope I never get to that point, but feel free to put me down if I do.

Back to the bedroom after showering. I need to dry my hair. I’m still peeved, but much cleaner. And there’s still no one to complain to. Just an unmoving sleeping husband. I don’t think he is doing much thinking.

Zzzzz.

TIMING OUT TO ELSEWHEN

Now that home time machines are readily available, we can all start our days with a trip to another time and place, known to many of us as ELSEWHEN. It’s better than a second cup of coffee! Today started out a day like any other. Coffee. Make sure dogs get biscuits. Wash a few dishes in the sink. Just as I’m finishing up, my new machine blinks on and a vortex (also know as a wormhole) appears in the window. Time to travel!

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Setting up the machine is simple because it knows. All I have to do is focus on when, where and how long I want to be elsewhen and the machine does the rest. Radio Shack has come a long way. On the down side, if it glitches, I won’t be able to cash in on my warranty. It gives me pause.

Be aware: it’s dangerous traveling in time with a chemically muddled brain. You can wind up some weird places that are definitely not for tourists.

For those of us who are not particularly agile, you needn’t jump or climb into a vortex. Just stand close to it, then reach out mentally. Cool, huh?

If you are time traveling for the first time, here’s are some tips:

  • Don’t drink, smoke dope (even if you have a prescription!), or take any mind-altering substance before you travel elsewhen.
  • Skip the 14th century. The plague is depressing and you need vaccinations.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. A piece of hand luggage in a natural fiber (like canvas) is a sound investment.
  • Take a camera, extra memory chips and backup batteries.
  • Leave the cell phone home. A ringing cell can have unpleasant consequences.
  • Tell your family and/or friends where (and when) you are going to be away and when you will be back. If you need to be retrieved, it’s important to have backup.
  • Take a friend with you if your machine supports multiple travelers.
  •  Make sure to land on the ground in an open area. Google Earth and history books can be helpful in giving you good visualization capabilities. You don’t want to start your excursion with a broken hip or ankle.
  • Make your first trips close to now until you feel comfortable with the technology.
  • DON’T TRY TO FIX THE PAST. Very bad idea. Really terrible idea.
  • The future is scary. I avoid it and you should too. Whatever happened in the past, stays in the past (unless something went terribly awry). This is not true of the future.

Take lots of notes, pictures and have a blast. Talk to people Don’t worry about language barriers. The machine won’t send you anywhere without giving you appropriate language skills. You won’t remember them when you get home, but they will always be there when you need them.

Time machines don’t last forever, even the most expensive ones. They all have much the same life span as a cell phone … a year or two, max. Make the most of it while you can. Enjoy your travels and welcome to TIMING OUT of life!

It’s the best ride you’ll ever take.


PICK YOUR GADGET

PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE: GREEN, GREEN

A Photo a Week Challenge: Green

Our world is full of colors, but especially the color green. And aren’t we lucky? Green happens to be my favorite color, from bright lime green to a green so dark it looks black. To me, green is the color of life and spring. I love watching plants as they begin to grow and shoot up one or two green stems into the sunlight. I love watching our lawn change from winter brown to spring and summer green. Even the spring air smells green to me. And it makes me happy.

IN A NEW POST CREATED FOR THIS CHALLENGE, SHARE A PHOTO OR TWO THAT INCLUDE THE COLOR GREEN.


 

TOSSING THE DICE OF LIFE

Take a Chance on Me

What’s the biggest chance you ever took? Did it work out? Do tell!

- – – – -

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My life has been so full of chances taken, some of which worked out very well indeed … and others which left me digging my way out of the smoldering wreckage of my life. They all had one thing in common: they seemed like a good idea at the time.

And maybe they all were. That’s the thing about risk-taking. You don’t know whether it will work out. That’s what makes it risky. If it were a sure thing (Question: Is anything in life a sure thing? If so, what might it be?), there would be no risk, no chance.

Life itself is chancy. Full of risk. Every single decision, every little choice can ultimately leave you wondering “what if?”

The biggest chance with the most risk I ever took was being born. Since then, it’s just been one thing after another.

I call it life, but you can call it Harry, if you prefer.

POLITICS AND CORRUPTION IN ROME — IMPERIUM, ROBERT HARRIS

Cover of "Imperium"

Imperium, by Robert Harris

Random House

Sep 7, 2010

Fiction – 496 pages

It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome. In America, in 2013, we complain about corruption. We wonder about conspiracies. We brood darkly on the failure of government to address issues of inequality. We deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell.

Except that government went to Hell a long time ago and you could easily argue that government — all government — was always hellish. Compared to Rome, our government is a clean machine, as clean as a fresh snowfall. It’s all a matter of perspective.

English: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rom...

Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Roma Italiano: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rome (Photo: Wikipedia)

Reading history puts the world in which I live into perspective. Whatever problems we face, we — the human family — have faced them before. We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive is greater (for the most part) than our ability to screw up.

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve undoubtedly heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, even more famed as an orator, Cicero rose to fame and power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from republican to imperial. Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history. It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power the earth had ever seen … and the end of the greatest republic the world would ever know. Perspective.

Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and displaying a dogged determination and persistence in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making friends — but far more enemies — along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave, Tiro, is the inventor of shorthand and has become the author of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.

It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.

imperium audibleRobert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to our own. I read it on Kindle, then listened to the very fine version available from Audible.com. I recommend both most highly.

This is part one of a duology.  The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain the same book is titled Lustrum.

Both books are available on Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from other sellers.

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HOW DOES SILENCE SOUND?

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Silence

A while ago, I had the flu and my ears were blocked. One day, Garry took out his hearing aids and kept turning up the television until we could both hear it. “That,” he said, “Is my world. That’s how much I can hear.” I have never forgotten. Which is good because it’s all too easy to forget when it’s not your problem.

Many people don’t think of hearing loss as a “real” disability. Is it because it’s invisible? I can’t walk much, can’t lift, ride a horse or bend and am usually in some kind of pain ranging from “barely noticeable” to “wow that hurts.” None of which are visible to a naked eye. I once had a woman in the post office lash into me because I had a handicapped pass and she didn’t think I looked handicapped. Years later, I’m still angry. How dare she set herself up to judge?

People make assumptions all the time about Garry. They assume if they call to him and he doesn’t answer, he’s a snob. Rude. Ignoring them. If I’m with him I take them aside, explain Garry cannot hear them. “You need to make sure he sees you and knows you are talking to him,” I tell them. I consider it part of my job as his wife. It’s rough out there in a hearing world. Parties are the worst. When so many people talking at once , it becomes impossible for him to hear a single voice.

The hush of a snowy woods is silence

The hush of a snowy woods is silence

Mostly I can hear. Most things. Not as well as I did when I was younger. Background noise is more intrusive and annoying than it was. But I hear well enough for most purposes. I depend on my hearing to catch nuances, to interpret underlying meanings of what people say.

Garry used to be able — with hearing aids — to do that too. It was important in courtrooms and while interviewing people and of course, in relationships. It’s not only what someone says, but how he or she says it. Body language, facial expressions … it’s all part of the communications package. But his hearing is worse now and much of this ability to catch the subtler part of speech is gone.

When the hearing part goes, other senses have to compensate — but nothing entirely fills the gap.

I am forever asking Garry if he heard “it.” Sometimes “it” is me. He often behaves as if he heard me though he didn’t — but he thinks he did. Sometimes, he didn’t hear exactly what I said or notice I was speaking. It takes him a while to process sound, to put words in order and make them mean something. It isn’t instant, the way it is for someone with normal hearing. He has to pause and wait for his brain to catch up Sometimes, he puts the puzzle together wrong because he heard only pieces and what he missed was critical.

There’s also the “what?” factor. How many times can anyone say “excuse me, can you repeat that” before he/she feels like an idiot?

Human speech is not the whole story. There is music, soft and loud. The funny noise coming from the car’s engine, the scratching of a dog locked in the closet. Birds singing or a cry for help from down the hall. Garry can’t hear any of that. Once upon a time, he could and he misses it. He doesn’t hear the beep of a truck backing up. Or the sound of the water in our pipes that means someone’s using the shower. The little grinding noise of a hard drive going bad or an alarm ringing. The hum of the refrigerator. All the little noises are lost to Garry.

What does silence sound like? When you hear only the very loudest noises, but none of the soft sweet sounds? The explosion, but never a murmur? To be in that silence — always — is a different world.

- – – – -

* Answer: Three.You can ask someone to repeat something 3 times. After that you are too embarrassed to try again. This is true for everyone, not just people with hearing problems. We all encounter accents we don’t get, mumblers and people who speak too fast or too softly.

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