HOT ONES AND COLD ONES – Marilyn Armstrong

A couple of years ago, I discovered my most popular post was black & white pictures of implements in my kitchen. Also well-favored were cute pictures of Bonnie and a 300-word piece on why I’d like to be called “Spike.”

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You can read my MOST popular ever piece here and try to figure out why for yourself.

Also, about once per year, other than my faithful friends, I have a whole new group of followers and a piece I’ve revived is new to them. Even I don’t remember everything I’ve written. It’s not that each item isn’t good, but they aren’t all that much better of different than the other 10,690 posts I’ve written.

The “biggest post” has gleaned more than 10,000 hits. It’s a complete puzzle since it’s not topical, not especially well researched or passionate. If you can figure out why everyone wants to read about why my blood type is B+. I’d like to know.

What do these posts have in common? Let’s analyze them a bit. The pictures are good, but this isn’t the first time I’ve published them. On previous occasions, no one found them particularly remarkable. I’m sure this means something, but what?

Coming home at sunset

Cute pictures of Bonnie? Well, you can’t argue with cute pet pictures, now can you? I mean … who doesn’t like kittens and puppies and adorable animals in general?

Finally, everyone has a name and everyone wishes it was something else. Now there’s a revelation.

Why are these three most popular posts more popular than other better pieces? What do they have in common, other than having been written and photographed by me? I can’t see anything special in any of them. Well, maybe the swan.

I have no idea. I can publish the same piece three times under slightly different names. It will be ignored twice, but be almost viral the third time.

My most popular photograph. It’s a good picture, but is it the best?

There’s no accounting for taste. Also, no accounting for when people feel like reading and the other times when no one bothers to read anything and my stats fall through the floor. To keep myself from getting crazy, I have stopped trying to figure it out.

I take pictures of what I see in a world grown much smaller in recent months. This piece may get a great response or fall flat. If something does poorly, I run it again later. Often, it’s a big hit on a different day because … well … who knows? Full moon? Wind from the north?

Do you know? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone really knows. We just do what we love and hope the rest will follow.

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR – RICH PASCHALL

The Class of South Pacific, by Rich Paschall

Most of your high school and college graduates will not have the pleasure of hearing the typical graduation speeches this year.  Students are usually listening to them in wonder, perhaps even shock at some odd notion.  It seems like a peculiar thing to say to high school or college graduates, and yet we say it all the time.

“These are the best years of your life,” a guest speaker may exclaim.  Some may narrow it down to tell students, “You will look back on this as the best year of your life.”  The best year?

It was a long time ago, and I can not recall specifically what I heard at my various graduations, but I am pretty sure the idea was sold to me somewhere.  “How can this be?” graduates may ask themselves.  “What about the next 60 years?  You mean to say, ‘this is it’?”

Are these youthful years the best years of our lives?  Is this where we had the best times, best friends, best dances and concerts and music and well, everything?  The answer is a surprising yes, and no.

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When I was in the third year of high school I learned that DePaul Academy would be closing and we would all be shipped off to another area high school.  To be perfectly honest, I did not like this a bit.  Despite the tough discipline of my school and the fear of 4th year Latin, I wanted to go to a similar environment.  However, the school where I applied to go to for 4th year would not take any incoming seniors.  So off I went where they sent me, bound to make the best of it.

There were a few familiar faces at the new school, some were transfers like me and some I knew from grade school.  There were also new experiences. There were dances and plays.  They had a fine arts department (something lacking at the all-boys academy) and teachers who seemed to care about you as well as your studies.  I took drama, not fourth-year Latin.  I came, I saw, I took something else.

The social activities meant more opportunities to make friends.  The interaction was an education itself.  Soon there was a group of us that hung together a lot, and some of us still do.

The most remarkable part of this transition was the “Senior Class Play.”  Yes, so many students wanted to take part, it was just for seniors, as in 17 and 18-year-old students.  I got the nerve to audition.  I have no idea what I sang.  Everybody was in the show so it did not matter that a hundred of us showed up.  We were going to do South Pacific.  I was rather unaware of it.

I’m in this group, front row just left of center.

Aside from learning the art of theater (Project, Enunciate, Articulate, Stand up straight), I learned about the classic story of war, hate, prejudice and, of course, love.  Learning to play our parts was important.  We were commanded to be professional in everything.  We also learned a story that held a dramatic lesson in life.

When the movie starring Mitzi Gaynor, Rosanno Brazzi, and Ray Waltson was re-released, we ran off to see it.  In subsequent years, we saw several community theater productions as well as professional versions of the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical.  We grew to love the theater and the lessons that such musicals could bring to us.  We learned why fine arts were so important in the schools.

So we were fortunate. We had a positive experience and a good education.  We learned our lessons in the halls as well as the classroom, and in the gym which was also our auditorium.  We signed one another’s yearbooks and held on to them like they were made of gold.  But was it the best year of my life?  If so, what about all the intervening years?

It is an interesting paradox that you can not adequately explain to an 18-year-old graduate.  Yes, it was the best year up to that point, and it will always remain so.  Nothing can ever take away those memories, so hopefully, they are all positive.  Those lessons of love and life will influence everything from that point on.

While you are busy making new memories, a career, a family perhaps, and new friends, they will all be measured against “the best year of your life,” whether it is at 18 or 21.  Some friends may be better, some lessons may be better, some experiences may be better, but they will all be measured against those moments in youth when you discovered who you were and where you were going.  The quality of future friendships must stand up to those already at hand.
If you have a South Pacific in your memory bank, you will tell people all across the (hopefully) many generations that come through your life how this was a great experience.  You may say it was the best time ever.  If your younger friend looks sorry that your best times were so far back, remind him to enjoy what he has because it will be the springboard to everything else.  It will be his touchstone.

Every spring, without fail for these many decades, the change of seasons hits me like some great coming of age story.  My imagination calls up images of Bali Hai and I hear echoes of “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” in the distance.  I once again feel “Younger Than Springtime” and every night is “Some Enchanted Evening.”  Whenever I look back to the Class of South Pacific, I can also look forward to a lot of “Happy Talk” for everyone who will listen.

GIVING UP, NOT IN – Marilyn Armstrong

I almost quit any number of times. I didn’t smoke a lot. Less than a pack a day and eventually I got it down to five or six a day and sometimes less. The problem with cigarettes is that one day, for no special reason, you realize you smoked an entire pack. You just sort of forgot you had quit.

In my long and checkered professional career, I had many bosses. One of them had, in a former life, been addicted to heroin. It wasn’t a secret. We all knew because he told us. I had the feeling he was proud of having kicked drugs and was now the owner of a software development company. I asked him how he did it, how he got free of his addiction.

“You know,” he said, “It really wasn’t as hard as you might think. Mostly, I had to get away from the people, from other junkies, and the world of drugs. After I stopped hanging out with those people, getting off drugs was relatively easy. It’s the culture that pulls you in even more than the drugs.”

“I wish,” he continued, a touch of wistfulness in his voice, “It was as easy to kick cigarettes. When you hang out with junkies, you know it’s illegal. You sneak around. You are careful. But cigarettes? No problem. They’re legal. Grab a buddy and go for a smoke. It’s a social thing.

“You don’t hear heroin addicts saying to each other ‘Hey, anyone want to go out back and shoot up?’ but you can stop by another smoker’s desk and say … ‘Hey, want to go have a butt?’

“I’ve had a much harder time quitting smoking than I had quitting heroin. Much harder,” he said and reached for the pack of cigarettes in his pocket. He did soon thereafter, quit. He decided having kicked narcotics, he could kick cigarettes too. So he did.

I was a smoker myself, then. I had been trying to quit for years. I’d quit, then I’d be somewhere where other smokers worked. I’d get sucked into it. It wasn’t the physical addiction that lured me. I understood how bad it was for my health, disastrous to my budget and getting more costly each day. It made my clothing and hair smell like a dirty ashtray. It was the social connection that got me. Hanging out with other smokers. The rhythm of smoking. I’d write, then take a break, grab a smoke. It was part of my process.

I was never as heavy a smoker other people I knew. I lit many more cigarettes than I smoked. But I enjoyed smoking. I liked the smell of fresh tobacco. I liked standing outside on a crisp night, watching my smoke curl up and away into the sky.

I did a lot of my thinking on cigarette breaks. When I was writing, if I was stuck, I’d have a smoke. By the time I was halfway through it, I’d know what I was going to do and how I would do it.

Smoking-Burning-CigaretteIt took me years of quitting, backsliding, and quitting again before it finally “stuck.” Years before the smell of tobacco brought back memories without triggering a desire to smoke.

I am sure today, after more than ten years if I were to smoke one cigarette, I’d be a smoker. Again. It’s not unlike being an alcoholic. One drink and you’re a drunk again.

It’s not because I’m physically addicted. After all these years of not smoking, I’m obviously not addicted to nicotine, if I ever was. Yet on some level, I will always be addicted to cigarettes.

It would probably be easier to quit now since most offices are smoke-free. That being said, it’s not that I don’t want a cigarette. I just don’t smoke.

SUMMER FRIENDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I recently wrote a blog about old friends; people who knew you when you were a lot younger and who shared a part of your life that doesn’t exist anymore. That got me thinking. Why do some people become ‘old friends’ and others drop by the wayside? Why do some people stick with you over decades while others drift away?

I believe that most people start out as situational friends. You meet and become friends because you’re sharing an activity or a stage of life. Examples are people you work with and parents whose kids go to school with and/or are friends with your kids. Also, people you meet through hobbies, like at a golf or tennis club, a knitting circle, a book club, etc.

What makes some of those friendships ‘take’ and become permanent? I have no idea. Many friendships seem to end when the shared activity stops – you change jobs, your kids graduate or find new friends, you leave the club, whatever. I’ve had so many friends like this it blows my mind. I’ve often wondered why we lost touch. Why was it that that particular person or couple slipped away? We were so close!

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But some friends do stay with you and ripen into wonderful ‘old friends’. I’ve never been able to tell which friendships will last and which won’t. In the mid-late 1980’s I was redecorating my house from top to bottom. I spent two years working closely with my decorator and we became friends. At around the same time, my daughter became friends with a girl in her kindergarten class and I became friends with her Mom (and Dad as well – we also socialized as couples). Those friendships lasted all the way through high school – 12 years. Who am I still close with 30 years later? The decorator. The Mom still lives five minutes away from me and we haven’t even talked in years and years. The decorator moved out-of-state more than 10 years ago but we’re still the dearest of friends.

For many years, Tom and I had a group of friends who shared a dock with us at the marina where our boat lives. We were crazy close. We traveled together with our boats, partied all summer, and had gotten together regularly over the winter. Gradually, boats left the marina, people moved away and most of them disappeared from our lives. Only one friend remains out of at least six or eight couples. I was heartbroken that the ‘gang’ dispersed into the ether.

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I think friendships like these end because of some odd combination of laziness and busyness. When you no longer share that situational ‘bond’, you’re not thrown together. You have to make more of an effort to see each other. Obviously, if you haven’t developed a strong emotional connection that transcends your ‘situation’, that won’t happen.

Also, people are busy. Between work, family, and other friends, time is at a premium. If you’re not at the top of someone’s ‘priority list,’ you lose. The common ‘bond’ was what got you to the top of the list before. Now, unless you have a personal bond or you forge a new one that shoots you to the front of the line – you’re toast. You just don’t fit into the new reality of your former friends’ lives.

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I have to admit, I’m hypersensitive. I take it at least a little bit personally whenever someone drops out of my life. But, I don’t lose sleep over it either. I’ve learned making and keeping friends has as much to do with timing as anything else. Like romantic relationships, some things are not meant to be. Fortunately for me, many wonderful friendships have blossomed, lasted, and enrich my life today.

Now that we have encountered a world with a plague we never imagined possible, I suspect there will be more losses of friends and groups of friends. There will be people who don’t want to go out. I have heard that is beginning to happen to people my age in other places. I’m hoping we are not among them.