“CHEMISTRY” IN RELATIONSHIPS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother was a psychologist with a private practice. She saw lots of relationships up close and personal. She always wondered how people seemed to be able to find others who satisfied their unconscious needs. The Ying to their Yang.

“How,” she would ask, “Does the sadist find the masochist?”

You need one of each for a relationship to work. No one wears signs advertising their dominatrix tendencies. How does the person who likes to wear diapers or fluffy animal suits, find like-minded people? Today the answer is online, but before the internet, people still managed to find one another. We are all like puzzle pieces. There are a few other pieces that fit neatly into our piece. But only a few. How do we find those needles in the haystack of humanity?

For example, everyone knows someone who always seems to end up with a similar ‘type’, usually one that is not good for them. There’s the woman who finds men who treat her badly, cheat on her, or abandon her. How does she know who is going to fit that pattern from an initial, often neutral social contact? When we first meet someone, we can’t really know them. So — what propels our choices?

My mother believed we all put out ‘vibes’ or signals on a subtle, primitive, even physiological level. Dogs can hear and smell things humans can’t. Mom believed that the unconscious ‘senses’ things of which the conscious brain is unaware. Maybe it’s pheromones. Maybe it’s micro facial movements.

I’m a perfect example of this unconscious level of communication. When I was young, I was attractive but very guarded about relationships with men. I was superficially outgoing, intelligent, and funny, but I was very closed off emotionally. Men sensed that and stayed away. I could go to dances, looking great, and never get asked to dance. It was as if I’d created an invisible protective shield around myself. I ended up marrying an abusive, controlling, manic-depressive. I stayed with him for 25 years.

Decades, and years of therapy later, I started dating again, after my divorce. I had conquered my inner demons and was open to a healthy relationship. I had no trouble finding men who were interested in me this time around, even in my late 40’s. I ended up in a wonderful marriage to a kind, caring, delightful man.

Something had happened to me on a deep, emotional, and unconscious level. Yet it made a palpable difference in my real world relationship experiences. How was that change so effectively communicated to the outside world? My outward personality hadn’t changed much. To meet me, you weren’t hit in the head with my inner transformation. My friends still recognized me as the same person I had always been – at least on the surface.

I’m not a psychologist and I don’t have any answers. I find it fascinating that who we are on a psychological level manages to get projected to other people. Haven’t you met someone and immediately had a strong reaction to them, either positive or negative? I met a woman at a book club meeting. I knew we were going to be friends. Years later we are still best friends, yet we hardly talked at that first meeting.

We call this ‘chemistry’. We say we are ‘drawn’ to someone. I don’t know how to explain it, but three cheers for whatever it is!

I WANT TO BE A CURMUDGEON – BY TOM CURLEY

I want to be a curmudgeon. I’m the right age. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve earned the right. Problem is, I’m having a hard time doing it. I want to be able to yell at kids to “GET OFF MY LAWN!” You know, traditional curmudgeon stuff. Unfortunately for me, I can’t do that. I live in the middle of the woods.

Nope. Not a kid in sight.

The nearest kids are at least a mile or so away. In over 20 years not one Trick-or-Treater has come to our door on Halloween. And who wants to walk over a mile just to play on some stranger’s lawn? And if they did, why would that bother me? I mean if they were blowing up my lawn, or stealing my lawn I’d be pretty pissed.

Photo: theketog.org

But just playing? What’s your problem?

That never stopped my Grandpa. He loved yelling at kids. I think he looked at it as sort of a sport.

OK, my Grandpa wasn’t really Yoda. I just thought the picture was funny. Photo: Imgflp

The problem I’m having with being a curmudgeon is that I’m too tolerant.  I think it’s a generational thing.  Us baby boomers  are a lot more tolerant than our parent’s generation. We let our kids get away with stuff our parents wouldn’t put up with. This has made some things tougher for our kids. For instance, pissing off their parents.

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It’s a kid’s job, especially in their teen years, to piss off their parents. It’s a rite of passage. Part of growing up. In my day, it was ridiculously easy. All I had to do was grow my hair long. And by long, I mean as long as the Beatles. The early Beatles.

PHOTO: The Beatles, left to right, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon (1940 – 1980) arrive at London Airport February 6, 1964 (Photo by Getty Images)

Long hair was responsible for every evil and ill in the world. Crime, Communism, the canceling of the Lawrence Welk show, etc.

Photo: gigoid.me

But our generation is way more tolerant. Kids today have to really work to piss us off. A while back I was in a shopping mall when I saw a group of teenagers walking by. One was wearing what I think is called a “side mullet”. One half of his head was completely shaved and the other half was a mullet. Yes, a mullet, the hairstyle of the Gods.

Photo: MachoHairstyles – Hipster Mullet

He was wearing a studded dog collar around his neck. He had pierced ears, a pierced nose, he had one pants leg rolled up above his knee and he was wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants. All I could think was, Wow. That poor kid. Look how far he had to go before his parents finally went: “That’s it! Your grounded!”

Not the actual kids. But close.

And here’s another thing. That kid got up that morning, got dressed like that and looked in the mirror and thought to himself “Yeah, that’s cool. I’m rocking this look.”

Which brings me to the flip side of this equation. While it’s a kid’s job to piss off his parents, it’s also a parent’s job to embarrass the hell out of their kids. Mostly when they are teenagers. Here, the advantage goes to the parents. The best my parents could do was to show naked baby pictures of me to my prom date. Embarrassing? Not really. Today? I’m sure the parents of that kid I saw in the mall have a Pinterest account devoted just to him. It will live in the cloud forever and will pop up at every family gathering for the rest of his life. And what the hell will his kids have to do?

What does any of this have to do with me wanting to be a curmudgeon? Nothing much, other than it makes me realize that all the traditional things I should be yelling at just makes me laugh.

So, I guess I’m out of luck.

Oh wait, there’s always Trump.

YESTERDAY WAS ANOTHER COUNTRY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

“Yesterday is another country, all borders are closed.”

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It was a wonderful piece of dialogue from “MidSomer Murders.” In the episode, Chief Inspector Barnaby is questioning a murder suspect about his whereabouts the previous day. The suspect tries to dodge the questions with thinly veiled irony. “Yesterday, Chief Inspector, is another country. All borders are closed.” Barnaby ultimately opens the borders and nails the suspect. Still, I liked the perp’s style.

Now that the new year is ending its first quarter, many folks would prefer not to think about the last year. Here, in the United States, many of us think of 2016 as another country with all borders closed. We don’t want to recall the epic long Presidential campaign and the result. Regardless, we’re in it now — and it’s every bit the nightmare we feared.

Reality bites. It has fangs, claws, and power in congress. Reality is taking a big ugly chunk our of our flanks this time around.

Our yesterdays are always subject to border closings, depending on how we remember them. I often write about legendary people I’ve met in my professional life. Those are pleasant stories to recount.

There are parts of my past I choose not to share. Those borders have remained closed. Rich Paschall, a fellow blogger on Serendipity, wrote a touching piece about heroes and icons we lost last year.  It jogged my mind to return to this piece that I began writing last week. Thanks, Rich!

A lot of the borders to yesterday are closed because we don’t want to revive the memories. I certainly don’t. They aren’t happy memories. They make me sad. I’ve never been good at handling emotions.

Someone recently wrote a Facebook piece about the pain of seeing a loved one pass away, deep in dementia.  Quickly,  I tried to blot out the images of Mom, whose last years were diminished by dementia. No luck. I could clearly see the woman who used to be Mom.  Strike that.  That’s what I was thinking in the moment, especially during the final months of her life. She was still Mom but she didn’t know me.

I struggled during those final visits. In  part, I struggled because I felt guilty I couldn’t come to see Mom more often. It was a four (or more) hour drive from Massachusetts to Long Island. During the drives, my mind would fill with images of a younger Mom. I could hear her laugh and see her smile. I remembered the things we did together over the years. In my mind, I saw her wedding pictures — Mom and Dad in the prime of their lives.

By then, Dad had already been gone for five years, yet I hadn’t been able to cry for him. Now Mom was slipping away. In what turned out to be my last visit, I tried my best to reach through the dementia, to reclaim a few moments with Mom.  I failed.

A few weeks later, in the middle of sub teaching a high school class, the principal and Marilyn entered the classroom. I instantly knew Mom was gone.

I was the main eulogist at Mom’s funeral. I’m a wordsmith. I could see people crying and smiling as I recalled my mother’s life. My stomach was tight, but I couldn’t cry. Not a tear.

I’ve talked to Marilyn about the grieving process. She understands and at least in theory, I understand too. Yet, it troubles me. I’m such a sucker for sentimental old movies, but real life is something else, something I find very difficult to share, even with myself.

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I’ve tried to shoebox the frailty of life. Keep the anxiety behind one of those closed borders. Marilyn was 70 in March. I’ll be 75 in  a few weeks. We have lots of health issues and we work hard at not worrying about them. As the character in Bridge of Spies” said, “Would it make a difference?”

Would worrying more fix something?

Instead, we use our energy to enjoy each other and our life together. We feed off each other. The borders are open. For both of us.

MORNING … IS IT?

“Garry? Hello?”

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

“Did you put the dogs out?”

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 pee at the bottom of the stairs because the dogs hate rain. Snow? Sleet? Wind? They can deal with it, but heavy pelting rain? Nope. They take it personally and with significant hostility.

Shower and back to the bedroom. I need to dry my hair. I’m still peeved, but cleaner. There’s still no one to complain to, just the unmoving, unconscious husband.

Zzzzz.

More coffee. Definitely.

NEED A NEW TIN FOIL HAT? DIRECTIONS INCLUDED!

Once upon a time, we thought this kind of thing was confined to the nutcases you met in regular life.

You think you know someone. You hang out, exchange emails. Make a few jokes. Maybe you work with them. Then, one day, out of the blue, you discover they are a firm believer in the upcoming zombie apocalypse. Or the next Messiah.

Even better, they are the new Messiah.

I lived in Jerusalem for almost 9 years. Big surprise, you meet a lot of people who are sure they are Jesus Christ come back to finish his work on Earth. One of them worked at the local pizza joint and seemed normal, until in the middle of a casual conversation, he would drop a bomb about his mission. And there you were, transported to wacko central. But he made pretty good pizza.

I had a casual friend who was a piano player. He sang and played at fancy hotel bars, like the Hilton Hotel. He was an American, so it was inevitable we would meet. We struck up a little chatty relationship. One night, he called and invited me over. He had something important to tell me.

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Important? Our relationship consisted of reminiscing about life in the U.S. in the 1960s — and I’d done his horoscope. I was (coincidentally) the astrology columnist and managing editor of a short-lived English-language weekly. Please, let’s not discuss astrology or my psychic abilities (or lack thereof). You don’t want to know and I don’t want to tell you.

Having nothing better to do at the time, I walked over to his house (just around the corner) and we got to talking. Suddenly, I knew. He was going to tell me:

  • He was an alien and came from on another planet — or galaxy.
  • He was Jesus Christ.

The latter. Jesus again. He wanted me, because of my brilliant psychic abilities, to be Paul and spread the word. I worked very hard to tell him that his timing was off and I would be sure to advise him when the right moment arrived. Then I fled into the night and home. He was one of several people who convinced me there was no future for me in the psychically predictive arts.

Now, the people who run our government … the government of The United States of America … are as fruit-loopy as anyone I’ve met in my travels through the years. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or do both at the same time … but I am absolutely certain of one thing.

I need a good, sturdy, tinfoil hat. 


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Then there was the guy I worked with at one or another of the many high-tech companies at which I was employed, who one day informed me of his intention to quit his job and move to an underground bunker. In anticipation of the upcoming apocalypse. Not zombie. Regular. I hadn’t even done his horoscope. It turns out he may have been more right than I possibly understood at the time.

So it’s not the weird people you bump into at work or at the grocery or pizza joint. It’s your government. My government. The big one. With all the money. And nuclear bombs and rockets and an army and Lunatic Numero Uno is at the very top of this.

Does he have a good aluminum foil hat? Could that be the problem?

The thing about people who believe in cabals, believe they came on an alien space craft, or will be leaving on one shortly, is you can’t argue with them. They believe what they believe. Absolutely. Don’t bother with facts, their minds are made up. What if they think I am one of their (many, many, many) enemies? Pass the aluminum foil. I need a another hat.

NOTE: Buy the super long roll of foil. The ultra strong stuff. Better hats.

TRANSFORMATIVE EXPERIENCES

Most apologies aren’t.

“Well, I’m sorry,” is not an apology. Neither is ” Well sorry to bother you!”  On the domestic front, most mid-battle apologies aren’t worth the paper on which they are not printed. As in “Pardon me for living” and “Sorry, but you’re a fine one to talk!” These rank very low on the sincerity scale.

I have received very few heartfelt apologies in my life and never from anyone who owed me one. When all else fails, pretending nothing happened works pretty well. Amnesia is the backbone of many relationships. When coupled with denial, it’s powerful stuff. I think our entire country is going through some level of amnesia coupled with a hefty dose of denial.

But I digress.

Especially when whatever happened was stupid, no one can remember what it was about anyway. Sometimes, right in the middle of battle, you can’t remember why you’re fighting. That’s a sure sign you should quickly and efficiently change the subject. Watch some television. Maybe something with demons and secret agents.

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I am 70 years old today. No one has apologized for any of the awful things which were done to me. All the people who should have said something are dead, or gone. It’s never happening. I probably would have fainted with shock had anyone said they were sorry and by now, I’d merely find it embarrassing. Thanks for everything and please, go away.

The people who do horrible things worthy of a full, groveling apology will never apologize. They are people who don’t see what they do as wrong. Who feel they have the right to do it because (a) “I have to do what’s right for me,” even if it’s wrong in every other way … or (b) “I’m always right” (and you’re not).

The rest of us? Depending on our ethnic and religious background, we feel varying levels of guilt. In my experience, feeling guilty and being guilty are not the same. Some of us have a high guilt level from birth. It’s part of our cultural package.

Most of us are sinners in a small “s” way. The great big “S” sinners — the really bad guys — won’t be doing any apologizing. Ever. If you’re waiting for your evil former boss, scumbag ex, or abusive parent to — as seen on TV — come to tell you he or she has seen the light? That you are right and he or she was wrong and oh, they are so terribly sorry … can you ever forgive them?

Don’t hold your breath.

Apologies may be transformative experiences. I wouldn’t know. It’s not an experience I’ve had.

OLD FRIENDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

There’s something very special about old friends.

As we get older, there are also different degrees of ‘old’. I have friends from when my children were young, 30 years ago and friends from when I was young, more than 60 years ago. My husband has known Marilyn Armstrong since he was a freshman in college. In 1975, Tom and his ex wife actually lived for a while with Marilyn and her then husband. That creates lasting bonds that are like no others.

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My current group of local close friends have only known me as a retired empty nester. So it’s comforting to talk to people who knew me when I was a newly married career woman, or as an energetic full-time Mom with young kids.

Tom and Garry

Tom and Garry

Then there’s Wendy. She represents a whole other, unique category of old friends. We were best friends from 5th grade into 7th grade. We had that special bond that only 9-12 year old girls can have. We did everything together. We slept over at each other’s homes almost every weekend when we were in New York City for school.

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We spent time at my weekend/summer home in Easton, Connecticut, where I now live. We hung out at her ‘country’ house, first in a neighboring town in Connecticut and then on a tiny island on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. (Very cool! She still owns the island and goes there regularly).

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We intimately knew each other’s parents and in my case, grandparents too. We reveled in each other’s pets – we both had birds. We named our birds after characters in Peter Pan (Wendy/Peter Pan). Her parakeet was Petey and my canary was Tinkerbell.

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We were friendly through high school. In junior high, we moved onto other best friends and different circles of friends. We lost touch after high school. Totally. We didn’t have any contact at all until I called her after our 40th high school reunion. We talked on the phone a few times and then lost touch again for another ten years.

This past year, as our 50th class reunion approaches, we reconnected on Facebook. This time our connection has blossomed into a real friendship. We have talked on the phone for a half hour to an hour every week for the past few months. We both look forward to our conversations. We have moved past catching up and reminiscing. We have filled each other in on the basics of our careers, marriages and children.

We each have a child with serious health issues. We’ve talked about books, friends, hobbies and politics. We both suffer from Donald Trump’s PTSD.

We’ve come to realize that we’re similar in many ways and simpatico on other levels, too. We would not continue our relationship if that were not the case. We might have become close if we had just met for the first time. But there is something so special about talking with someone who knew my first dog, remembers my parents as ‘young people.’ Who remembers writing ‘novels’ together as pre-teens using manual typewriters with carbon paper — and no self-correcting features.

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I believe we know each other – the essence of who we are – in a way that almost no one else can. It would have been nice if we had stayed in touch through all the intervening years. Apparently it wasn’t necessary. There’s just something about the friendship we had in those formative, innocent years in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. That ‘something’ has survived for 50 years and is creating a modern-day friendship which is more fun, deeper and more meaningful than either of us could have imagined.

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I’m surprised but thrilled that Wendy has become such a wonderful addition to my life. I talk to her more and on a different level than I talk to the old friends I have stayed in contact with. I cherish the bond we’ve created and I look forward to watching it deepen over time.

We are meeting in person next week for the first time since 1967. Although we live two hours apart, we hope we can continue meeting in person as well as texting, emailing and talking on the phone. I think we give new meaning to the phrase ‘old friends.’