Prozac Moments

We all had them, those days when as a child, you would be whining and blubbering with a tear-stained face, exasperating your mother. But now you’re an adult and somehow you’re supposed to cope better with frustration. You’re supposed to “take it all in stride,” to “not sweat the small stuff.” I don’t know about you, but I was never given any guidebook or tools to instruct or assist me through difficult times.

I am not referring to the days when we experience real tragedy, such as a death or a major illness or a catastrophe. It’s the days when the wicked witch of the west would moan, “Oh, the world!” It would be a day when my little French grandmother would sigh and say, “Ohhhhhh, but I!” (The words don’t mean much, but the sentiment does.) It would be the day you drop the twenty dollar bill and never find it, and then you go home and your child drops the pitcher of milk that shatters and splatters all over the dining room table and then drips down onto the carpet. Or it would be the day that you mistakenly put fingernail glue in your eye instead of eye drops, and when you go home, the late mortgage payment that you finally put in the mail has been returned to you because you forgot to put a stamp on the envelope.

One of my days was during finals week and my apartment was a mess. I was down to my last set of clean clothes – the ones I hated because I felt like such a geek in them. My hair needed cutting, I was out of money and I was behind on my bills. I looked around where my daughter and I lived while I attended the University of Minnesota, and wondered why my life never looked like those advertisements for Kodak. You could never take a picture of my life, put a frame around it and use it as a successful ad campaign for that company.

It was 10:00 a.m., my daughter was off to school, where I too should have been, except I had stayed up doing calculus until 3:00 a.m., and then overslept. I didn’t have a chance to take a shower, and on my way out the door, I slipped on a yellow jellybean. With my backpack full of heavy books, I desperately tried to find a way to fall to the floor so as not to break my back. I got to my feet, took a deep breath and opened the door.

The phone rang and I knew I shouldn’t answer it, but I did. The woman on the other end was from a collection agency. She told me I owed $200.00 to this particular optometrist and that it was her business to see that he got paid.

I was confused and tried to explain the arrangements I had made with him. I listened to her on the phone telling me to pay up, or else. It seemed at that moment that she was saying, “if you think your life is bad now, just try fighting against me!” “Mwwahh ha ha ha ha ha!” I stood looking at the calamity around me, only able to interject into her tirade, the same word over again, “…but…but…but…”

Through my shock, it dawned on me that she thought she had me pegged. To her, I was lazy and selfish. I was stupid but thought I was being crafty by not paying my bills. She was thinking that everything I told her was going to be a lie and that she had heard it all before. She was thinking that all she had to do was bully me and treat me like a very spoilt child to make me pay my bill.

She was wrong and she didn’t know me very well. It was a grave tactical error on her part. I don’t do well with bullying and coercion. I never have, call it a knee jerk reaction. I was instantly alert and all sense of weakness dissipated. I may fall apart after this was over, but not now. If my daughter had seen the expression on my face, she would have called it the “stoneface.” Since being rational and professional did not seem to be the way she handled her business, I was going to beat her at her own bullying game.

I became very calm and started explaining the situation. She interrupted. I interrupted her. She raised her voice and interrupted me. I increased the decibel level and interrupted her. Soon we were shouting at each other. It didn’t really matter what we said to each other as long as we kept it clean, free of insults and could outtalk the other. I knew I was winning.

She said, “If you keep yelling at me, I’ll hang up!”

I said, “That’s the point!”

She hung up.

The silence in the room was palpable. The fight or flight adrenaline rush I experienced in the heat of the argument was draining away, now leaving room for doubt and bleak frustration. Eventually I would find out that the whole thing was a complete misunderstanding and the doctor would call the collection agency to cancel the claim.

Standing with my hand still resting on the phone, I looked around at the still dreary conditions and now I wasn’t sure whether I had made the right decision. I thought of the Kodak picture again.

“No,” I thought, “You wouldn’t want a picture of this.”

It would be quite a sight though. Maybe you could freeze frame this moment in time. Yes, it was a difficult time and at this particular moment I was not very happy, but I knew I had learned some very valuable lessons about trusting one’s instincts and not allowing people to walk over me. I also learned that even though this was another pithy qliche “this too shall pass, ” had some truth to it.

Maybe, whenever I had another day or another event like this, I could put a mental picture frame around it again. It could help me to put the situation into a different perspective, to emotionally separate enough from the event to allow me the opportunity to better analyze it and to keep myself from going totally nuts. Prozac would help too.

Better yet, maybe I could start my own company. You know, take pictures of moments in a person’s life that aren’t perfect or when they felt they were on the edge of going crazy. Maybe I could sell them as motivational cards to encourage people to get through those times or at least embrace their insanity. “Hello insanity, I love you!”

Now it was my turn to sound like a mad scientist as I started to laugh. I could see it all now. I could pay for my student loans with all the money I made, or pay for a shrink who would teach me how to cope. People would call me and thank me for my wisdom and my insight. They would write me letters and tell me they kept one of my cards at their desk because it reminded them of a certain situation that they went through.

I smiled as I closed the door behind me. I was going to be fine, but maybe a little Prozac would help too.

The Ed Sullivan Smile

It was the first time I witnessed this form of mental illness.  He seemed to be pretty harmless, just out of
touch with everyone around him.  In his delusional fantasies, I meant nothing to him, yet his smile changed my perspective on reality.

I saw him sitting at a café table at the bottom of the escalator in the mall.  He placed a chrome napkin holder in the middle of the table and smiled, waiting for his imaginary audience to quiet down.  Then, slowly and deliberately, he circled the salt and peppershakers around the napkin holder, then placed them on the top.  He smiled again and waited for the suspense to build.  Next, he circled with an ashtray and balanced it on top of the shakers.  Finally, he placed a butter knife on the ashtray.  It was clear from the expression on his face that he was confident that his Houdini-like talent had wowed the crowd.

Like a moth to a flame, I was drawn to him.  I don’t know how many times I went up and down the escalators just so I could watch.  It was a grand performance. My 18 year old self from the country was deeply affected.  I wanted to giggle, and yet I felt sorrow for this poor man with his psychological problems. I never realized how out of touch with reality a person could be.  Some time later, I saw him again in a convenience store.  Like a stand-up comedian, he told his stories and waited for our laughter to subside, while he smiled his Ed Sullivan smile.

Ed Sullivan is generally known for pursing his lips and saying he had a “really big shew.”  When he smiled, he would break into a brilliant grin that began and ended at each ear, showing a full mouth of gleaming white teeth.

The man in the store strung numerous words together, but made absolutely no sense.  Most of those who entered were only slightly unnerved by his behavior and the clerk didn’t pay any attention at all to him.  I, on the other hand, lurked around the racks of potato chips and motor oil just to watch this amazing man.  I left feeling vulnerable.

What makes one person hold onto reality, while another lets go, if indeed they had any control in the first place?  I have spent many hours living in a fantasy world because reality can sometimes be boring or difficult.  If I don’t have a lover – or chocolate, I conjure up a great sex plot that can amuse me for days.  If I don’t have money, I win the lottery or Publisher’s Clearing House knocks at my door.  I keep it up until my need passes or I get bored or it’s too difficult to maintain a dual reality.

I have derided myself for not being able to stay in the real world and then quit fantasizing for a while.  But, like an addict, I come back.  I have wondered if a person could get stuck in their fantasy and never be able to return to reality when they chose to.  Is that what happened to the man by the escalator?

I have always yearned to be able to sing or play a piano.  In imagination, I pretend I am a world-renowned pianist and I sit down to play a beautiful sonata in a room full of people.  My fingers deftly move across the keyboard and people are amazed and blessed by my talent.  If I confused my fantasy with reality and acted out my scenario, would I see adoration in the faces of the crowd, or would I see horror, disgust, humor  and vulnerability?  Quite frankly, if I came back to reality in the middle of my act, I think I would permanently go back to my fantasy world. It would probably be the only hole big enough or deep enough for me to crawl into and stay hidden!

The man with the smile was my fulcrum.  He was my balancing point.  I trained myself to pull back before I went too far over the edge. It was then that I decided to become a writer. All my plots and grand schemes could be available for all to share.  There is also a bit of sadistic joy in having others read my stories, for if they enjoy and relate to them, they might be just as crazy as I am.

I love science fantasy, because I don’t do well with real world problems, so I travel to a galaxy far away.  In that world, I hash out the problems, and take it home when I am good and ready.

I also love watching other people to see if I can tell if they are in the middle of a good fantasy.  Sometimes, I think I can catch a glimmer in someone’s eyes or a hint of a smile, like the Mona Lisa.  What did Mona see anyway?  Was it real or imagined.  Was she sane?

There was a lady I watched on a bus who looked tired and worn out. She was hard to read, yet she had a look that showed her personal and private life may have been very rich with experience. My hope for her was that,
at least in her imagination, she had found her Don Juan or could walk the alpine trail in Switzerland.

I truly dislike phony smiles.  If you don’t feel like smiling, why bother?  The other day at work, a friend of mine and I shared an elevator with one of the managers.  We had been chuckling about something, and out of courtesy, included her in on the humor.  In a flash, this woman smiled her own version of the Ed Sullivan smile, and as quickly it disappeared.  It was not genuine and she must have assumed that we would not have discerned the truth.

I wondered if she were just responding to some polite social cue or if at that precise moment in  her fantasy she heard the expected laughter and applause from her unseen audience.  I wondered too, if she saw the play of horror, disgust, humor and vulnerability cross our faces.

Glue

After so many years of wearing glasses, I found a pair of soft contact lenses that worked. So, with a new dress, a haircut, contacts, and acrylic nails, I flew off to San Diego for my sister’s wedding. I was looking forward to this weekend and seeing family. My mother and her husband would be there, three of my sisters, their spouses, nieces and nephews, and of course Stan, the fiancé.

It was a great weekend, but far too short. On the way back to Minneapolis, we encountered some terrible thunderstorms. I got stuck in Denver and almost missed my connecting flight. Instead of arriving in Minneapolis at 11:30 p.m., we landed at 2:30 a.m. When I got home, my daughter was sick with the flu and my basement had flooded.

Discouraged, I sat on a stool in my basement and watched the water continue to rise. There was a waterfall coming out of the concrete wall and a spring welling up from the floor. Having a Bachelor of Science degree in water resources, I thought maybe I could turn this disaster to my advantage. I could turn loose a few frogs and fish and have my own wetland. The storm passed, but I didn’t get to bed until 4:30 a.m.

Later that day, I went grocery shopping and bought a pump to pull the remaining water out of the basement. I also purchased some fingernail glue, because a couple of my fake nails had come loose the night before while wringing out the mop. I don’t get professional manicures that often, because it is somewhat pricey for my budget and I wasn’t going to let them fall off so quickly.

Later that week, I called my optometrist because my new contacts made my eyes dry. He gave me a bottle of eye drops. One or two cool drops in each eye and I was good to go for another couple of hours.

I was at work and I think it was about 1:00 o’clock in the afternoon that day, when I was ready to put in a couple more drops in my eyes. I can’t look up at the bottle and watch the drops hit my eye. I blink and they land on my eyelid, so I have to take out a mirror and aim the drops on the outer corner of my eye, not on the pupil or iris.

I took the little bottle out, aimed it at the designated place and put slight pressure on the bottle. A drop gently formed at the tip of the nozzle, and then dangled there. It would not release. I was impatient because I had work to do, so I gave it a slight squeeze. When the liquid finally made contact with my eye, instead of feeling cool, it burned. Puzzled by this, I looked at the label on the bottle, and to my shock, it said “Fingernail Glue.” The glue bottle and the eye drop bottle were almost identical in size and shape, and since I wasn’t used to carrying either of them with me, I grabbed the wrong bottle with which to wet my eyes.

Swearing softly under my breath, I used the ring finger on my right hand and quickly swiped over my eye to remove as much glue as I could. I had no idea what kind of damage I would sustain. My finger stuck to my lower eyelid and when I frantically pulled it loose, a line of lashes was now glued to the pad of my finger. The office kitchen was a short distance away so I went over and began washing my eye with water.

“I’m going to lose my eye,” I thought to myself. “What a stupid mistake to make.” Someone came and asked me if I was okay. I explained the situation and asked her to call my doctor. My doctor said I should come right over to his office, which fortunately was within walking distance.

News of my accident spread quickly and my coworkers were very sympathetic. One woman said, “Leanne, if you had wanted to take time off of work, why didn’t you just put your hand in the paper shredder?”

How do you explain something like putting glue in your eye? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, especially when even I didn’t know how bad the situation really was. I understood how my co-workers felt. In respect for my situation, however, no one snickered behind their hands. Nope, they just laughed outright.

Finally, while I was being led to the elevator (I couldn’t see well enough to go by myself), I heard someone shout, “Hey, Leanne! Keep your eyes peeled!” I thought that was going a little too far, but as my guide pushed the elevator button, I heard someone sing a song to the tune of “Louie Louie.” The words were changed to, “Oh Gluey Glue-Eye, Oh Baby, You Gotta Go.”

As the doctor examined my eye, he told me that he had looked in the medical books to see if there were any records available from other patients who had experienced the same kind of accident. There were. As I had noticed earlier, the glue bottles are very similar in size and shape to eye drop bottles, the only difference being that the glue bottles have a red cap. Well now, how was I supposed to know that the red cap was a sign of danger and not just another advertising gimmick?

Eye drops and fingernail glue aren’t the only mistakes like this that have been made. The shapes of super glue and sewing machine oil bottles are similar, again the only difference is the red cap on the super glue bottle. One woman told me she used super glue to oil her sewing machine. I also heard of one person who used superglue as eardrops!

I sat in the doctor’s office crying like a baby, telling him about all the tragedies that had hit my family that year, and that maybe someday I could laugh about this, but that it sure wasn’t funny at the moment. He looked at me kindly, but I know he thought I was deranged. He said that because superglue didn’t react with water, it wouldn’t damage my eye and I would not lose my sight.

I am amazed at how a crisis can bond coworkers together. I am even more amazed at how a soft contact lens can bond to one’s eyelid with the aid of a couple of drops of fingernail glue. To prevent scratching the cornea, the doctor had to remove the fused contact, along with any remaining eyelashes that didn’t happen to fuse to my finger. This part was even more painful then the original accident and I went home looking like I had a severe case of pinkeye.

I hear about people who have had near death experiences and how their life flashes before their eyes. My life only flashed before one eye……(maybe it did flash before both, but I could see out of only one).

Well I survived that incident. But sometimes the only thing that helps to make meaning out of a senseless accident is to try to learn something from it. Take this experience for an example. Your coworkers can be very kind and sensitive? Right! Something has to be done about better warning labels on glue bottles? That’s true! While that sounds like a good moral to a story, but after this incident, I’ve become a bit too jaded. All I can say is just don’t ever put glue in your eye.

I am Flying

The fact that Mighty Mouse could fly was why he became my favorite cartoon character. It was during the days of black and white television and he was a super hero that flew over buildings, through the clouds and over the oceans. His adventures and good deeds were fun to watch, but in my opinion, the real joy was in the flying.

One day I tied a towel around my neck and jumped off the top bunk of our bunk bed. I fell and I cried. When I went out to the family room where the rest of the family was occupied and told them what had happened, they just gave me this look that clearly showed how stupid they thought I was. I was pretty young then.

A few years later my siblings and I figured out how to get up on the roof of the house. We would first climb up on the bottle gas tank, onto the top of the clothesline frame and then jump onto the rooftop. I got the brilliant idea that if I held the four corners of a blanket, I could parachute off of the house. I fell, I knocked the wind out of myself, and I cried. My siblings looked at me in a way that clearly showed how stupid they thought I was.

I wanted to fly. I dreamed of flying, not in planes or rockets, but flying, like my cartoon hero. My arms would be outstretched and I would soar through the air!

I have friends who say at night they used to put themselves to sleep by counting their fingers or remembering the events of their day. Some of them still do it. When I was young, I imagined I flew until I would fall asleep. When I flew, I could feel the wind and the mist on my face. I could see the rolling hills and the sun come up at dawn. Sometimes I had wings, long beautiful white ones that couldn’t be hidden. Then I could fly only in the wild and lonely places where I was safe from prying eyes and profiteers. I had few friends, but they were loyal.

A few years after the parachuting event, I climbed up into a maple tree. It was a perfect autumn day, with a nip in the air, yet the sun was still warm enough that I could go barefoot and wear shorts. Like a still-life photograph, I sat in the tree in the country solitude. I couldn’t hear traffic or any human sound, but I could hear the small birds and the wind gusts rustle through the dry grass. As I sat there, I observed the small details close to me. The sun glowed through the leaves like red Christmas lights. The air had a distinctfully delightful autumn smell, and the brown satin bark of the young branches had small leaf scars from the previous year’s growth.

My body rocked with the swaying of the tree, my toes clung to small branches for support, and my eyes drank in the colors around me. I was confident in my solitude and free in my safe unfettered world.

Then, just inches from my face, I saw something that I had never seen before. Years later, I learned that the insect I saw was a praying mantis. I did not know that at the time. In fact, I never even knew they existed. What I did see was an insect that looked like a small green leaf, except now I could see its spidery legs. It also had two front legs that looked like arms, with hands. It had a face, with bulging green eyes. Its head could swivel around and look at me, and it was looking right at me, rubbing its “hands” together.

Hackles. Do you know what hackles are? That’s the hair on the back of an animal’s neck that rises up when they are scared or upset about something. It’s usually a good time to leave them alone. I felt the hackles rise up on the back of my neck, and on my arms and nose and shins and even on my butt.

Never in all my imagination had I seen anything like it. Here in my face, was the most hideous creature trying to disguise itself as a leaf. I wondered if it was deadly and how many more there were lurking around me in the tree I was sitting in.

I don’t really know how I got out of that tree, over the barbed-wired fence and onto the road. This time, I really think I flew. When I told my siblings about the praying mantis, they didn’t look at me as though I was stupid. No, they looked at me in a way that I came to recognize over the years. If they had known then about ingesting mushrooms and getting high, they would have thought I had eaten way too many of them. I would never tell them how I got out of that tree.

I don’t remember when I stopped pretending to fly or when the dream flying quit. One day many years later, I realized I had forgotten how and I grieved the loss, but I was an adult now and burdened with an adult’s responsibilities.

One day, my daughter and I rented the movie, Hook by Steven Spielberg. It’s the story of a grown up Peter Pan who forgot his flying days. He was lucky because at the end of the movie, he found his youth again, yet he didn’t compromise his adulthood and maturity. The authors of Peter Pan and Hook understood about flying and about losing our ability to fly as adults and I think there is a more profound issue here then a child’s vivid imagination. It is about our ability to create, to dream, to dare, to trust and to hope for a perfect future. These are gifts that we seem to lose as we mature, and there is a price to pay for that loss.

I have seen people going through a midlife crises do things that they would never have thought of doing before, but they perceived that they had lost something of their youth and were desperately trying to get it back. I have seen other people who refuse to even consider their loss, so they focus only on the stark reality of their present day. They put blinders on and focus straight ahead. As for myself, I can’t go either way too far, because in my Peter Pan pursuit, I do not want to do anything that would harm my family or me.

My mother always said I had a mercurial personality. It bothered her because she could never tell what I was thinking of, or in what direction my train of thought would go. I really think it was a sophisticated way of saying that she also thought I ate too many mushrooms during the 60’s and 70’s. The truth was I was earthbound and I needed to fly — and to not fall and knock the wind out of myself.

I have a science degree, I have a decent job and I raised a very gifted and responsible young woman. I made many sacrifices and have the battle scars to prove it. I do not have an excess amount of money or free time. This does not change the deep yearning to feel free, passionate, and alive with possibilities.

I finally found my way of flying, mostly alone in those wild places. I write. Sometimes I write on my coffee break, away from the laughter and camaraderie of my coworkers, sometimes on the bus, and sometimes I write in the evening before I fall asleep. Everyday, my pen flies across the pages and my fingers across the keyboard. My hope soars, my soul has wings and my imagination has no bounds. I am flying!

Cheated in the End by a Very Long Joke

I wrote a paper for a college writing class, which was titled, “Hide! Hide! The Cows’ Outside!” I got an ‘A’ on it and the professor attached an entire typewritten sheet praising my work and giving me suggestions for making it better. The one thing he said was that he felt cheated in the end as though he had just read a very long joke. It was a long joke, but also a true story.

So, this is what happened…

We lived in an area in northern Minnesota called Frog Alley. In the mornings, Cousin John would let the cows out to pasture. They would meander the worn path along the river and up to the little field next to our house. When my mother saw them, she would say in an alarmed voice, “Hide! Hide! The Cows’ Outside!”

Now why would you hide because the cows are outside? Every God-fearing and cow-fearing country kid knew that those cud-chewing bovines were the most docile of creatures. The only exception was the bull, which for unknown reasons, John left in with the rest of the herd at certain times of the year. Why, these animals were so tame, we used to ride them. Our skinny butts bouncing against a bony swaybacked milking cow. Now, that was heaven!

Still, every day my mother would say the same thing, and every day I would ask her again why we needed to hide, and every day she would laugh. Either mom was joking with me or she was nuts. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.

I began to watch the cows to see if there was anything suspicious or irrational flitting behind their big brown eyes. Then one time, when I was six, my brother, my two sisters and I headed up the hill to climb the lone pine tree in the little field next to our house. Halfway up, I noticed that there was one cow that seemed bigger and stood a little apart from the rest of the herd. It looked belligerent. I turned and headed full tilt back down the hill, yelling, “It’s the Bull!” This created a stampede amongst my siblings. Greg, who was a year older than I and who could run faster, ran right over the top of me, causing us both to tumble to the ground. Patty and Paula, our two eldest sisters, couldn’t avoid the pile up so they wound up on top of the heap. As one of us tried to get up, someone else was falling down on top.

It was a pretty messy game of leapfrog, but we finally scrambled to safety on the other side of the fence. We caught our breath, shook off the grass and the specter of the steam from the bull’s nostrils and the gore of its horns, and turned around to see just how close we had come to death. That bull never even attempted to chase us and was still standing, disinterestedly in the same place she had been when first I had seen her. I also noticed that she had udders.

Six years after this incident, two things occurred. First, the one room schoolhouse that I had attended was closing. Mrs. Gustafson would no longer teach the local children, as we were all going to be bussed into town for the rest of our years of education. Second, my father sold our house and built a larger one to accommodate our growing family. Before we moved, I stood in the little field in the spring grass and said goodbye to the cows, the pine tree and to the only home I had known.

It was then that I understood what mom had been saying all those years about the cows. “Yes, It’s true,” I thought, “Hide is the cows’ outside.” In spite of it being funny, I felt cheated. I had spent so long trying to figure it out and in the end, it turned out to be a very long joke.

Well, that was the gist of the paper I wrote in my college class, and I can see how the professor felt. But the real story continues….

Once we moved to the new house, the innocence of life in Frog Alley began to fade. It was the combination of being away from our community, a growing family, and the cost of having a larger house that put an immense strain on everyone. I don’t remember the next six years as being good ones.

In the spring of the year that I graduated from high school, we moved back to Frog Alley for three months. My grandfather died and left the property to my father. Dad didn’t want to permanently move onto grandpa’s property with old debt, so he sold the new house and took the family to Oregon and for one year, he worked for his brother.

Before we left for Oregon, I stood again in the little field in the spring grass. It seemed to me that time stood still to allow me to breathe it all in and remember. I was becoming an adult and had no idea what that meant. I did not realize that I was not only saying goodbye to those old cows, but also to my youth and to this land. I was not happy with my goodbye and thought the last six years were like that cow joke – it took too long for the punch line and it wasn’t that funny.

In the ten years that I lived in Oregon, I grew up quickly and learned to adapt. Yet there was always that part of me that could never reconcile to my new surroundings. The memories of my childhood stood out in poignant contrast to the busy chaotic life I found myself in as an adult. I guarded every memory of every songbird, of every time we made maple syrup and of every time I ran through hay stubble and poked the bottoms of my bare feet. In this adult world, when I spoke of these times, I was met with uncomprehending stares.

I felt cheated again. What was real? Was it when I was young and lived in an environment where you became keenly aware of every turning leaf and how slight temperature changes altered the mood of the lakes? What about the pure joy of country cows, or my mother’s singing, or her brilliant sense of humor? Was all this the big joke, or was living in the city and being away from every one and every thing that I had known and loved the joke?

Eventually, I came back to Minnesota, got married, adopted a child and then got divorced. I went to college in my forties, and raised my daughter as a single mom. I had to believe that what I was doing was best for both of us. Yet sometimes in the midst of the struggle, I wondered why I didn’t have a better picture of my future. I seemed to live the majority of my life in the middle of a muddle.

My dad once told us a story about his cousin, Lois, who was playing hide and seek with her brothers. She ran behind a tree and peeked her head around the trunk. Next thing she knew a large quantity of wet cow manure landed smack on her face and into her open, laughing mouth.

Now isn’t that typical? You are going about doing your life, you have a good moment, and suddenly you are smacked in the face with a fresh pile of dung. Once again, which was real and which was the joke? The laughter? or the dung?

When my own daughter graduated from high school, it was another spring day, where time once again was suspended. She would begin her adult life and I would begin mine – again. It was my turn to tell her the cow joke and her turn to not get it. I didn’t make her wait so long before I explained it to her.

One thing I knew for sure was that the quality of our relationship was never a joke. I loved being her mother, yet in a sense, we grew up together. I instilled in both of us an urgency to follow our heart’s passion, so we could become our best selves. I also had a chance to relive and reclaim my own youthful perspective. The abundance of solid and beautiful memories from my childhood and of our mother-daughter moments needed to be cherished; as I watched my own mother’s memories fade with the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Once again I was reminded of the old long-winded joke about the cows and how it seemed to mirror life. I thought about something that my mother had told us just after my grandfather passed away. She said she and my Aunt Corrine had visited him in the hospital a few days before he died. Mom said his face glowed with joy as he cheered them up. He told them that, when he looked back over his life, he could see a clearly defined path. He also said that, although he had never been aware of it before, he could see what the purpose of his life had been.

It has been many years since I lived in Frog Alley. My mother and father are gone, along with many of the folks from their generation. The cows are gone too. Recently my siblings and I built a little cabin just down the road from my grandfather’s old place and near the little yellow house where we grew up. The little field, with the lone pine tree, is still there and I have once again walked in the spring grass.

I wonder about my grandfather, who never really seemed to give much thought to such philosophic or spiritual issues, but in the end he was able to grasp the profound meaning of his life. I also wonder about my mother’s life, her young child’s hopes and fancies, who she loved and who she became, and to the end when it all vanished. I guess it is more than a wondering, it is an anguished question of why.

I cannot bear to think that at the end of my life, I will find that all my struggles and hopes were for nothing. I will not let myself believe that all of this life was just a long, and not so funny, joke. I am determined to find my unique path, to passionately pursue my true calling and to encourage others to do the same.

I Can’t see you anymore

The first thing I noticed about Frank was the size of his feet. They were very large and wide. It’s not that he looked like a clown, but if you were the type of person who wonders about the comparison between the size of a man’s feet and other parts of his anatomy, well they would have taken your breath away.

I was a single mom getting my degree, and twenty years older then most of the other college students. It was difficult to find a date, so when I met Frank at one of my summer jobs, I was elated. He was not an imaginative man, but he was steady and loyal. I wasn’t attracted to him, but I thought spending time with him would make me feel closer to him. This was our fourth date, and except for that unexpected kiss he gave me on the last one, there had been no intimacy. I let him believe I was chaste.

Frank was wearing this aftershave that seemed so familiar. He told me the name, which was an upscale somewhat pricey brand name, one that both men and women could wear. I didn’t like it.

Scents, like fingerprints are unique. A fragrance can bring back a memory as clearly as though the event had just occurred. In this case, the familiar memory remained illusive. I just couldn’t figure out why anyone would wear this aftershave, as it was so unpleasant.

We had gone out for our weekly dinner, ordered, received our drinks and settled ourselves in at the restaurant for at least a half-hour’s wait. This should have been a good time to spend with one’s date, but the truth was, Frank was utterly boring. I began asking him questions that I knew he would ramble on about. I kept just enough consciousness reserved for him so that I could interject an “oh really?” or an “I didn’t know that!” while he continue with “Blah blah and blah blah so that blah blah could blah blah.” Whatever!

The rest of my consciousness was reserved for deciding what to do about Frank, himself. Tonight he had really piled on the aftershave. What was that awful smell? Part of me knew I was going to have to break off the relationship, but then there would be no more dinner dates and I wouldn’t have a boyfriend anymore. School was starting again soon and struggling alone sometimes seemed like more then I could bear. I vacillated between keeping him as a buffer between myself and loneliness or the unfairness to him. I don’t like using people. I also knew that, although Frank would never admit it, I would be required to put out more in the way of sexual intimacy. After all, he was paying for these expensive dinner dates, wasn’t he? But then, there was the issue of those very large feet and my curiosity to be satisfied in their regard.

Then suddenly I remembered the scent, like someone who finally regains his or her memory after suffering from amnesia! I think it was the perfect alignment of events that triggered my recollection. The candleholders gave off a slight greenish glow around our table. The waiter arrived with our dinner, stirring up another waft of Frank’s scent. In anticipation of the feast, Frank’s stomach growled loudly, sounding very much like the croaking of a very large bullfrog.

Frogs! That was it! Frank’s aftershave smelled like frogs! Now frog smell is not one that most people would recognize. If they did, do you really think they would buy it? I can just hear it now; “Oh Baby, what’s that wonderful fragrance you’re wearing?” He asks. “Essence of Frog, of course.” she whispers in his ear. “Well it just drives me wild and I’d pay any price for it!” I don’t know, maybe people like it because it subconsciously reminds them of the primordial ooze from which we all started from.

I would know about frog smell, because I grew up in Frog Alley. They always said that nothing lived there except frogs and French people.

I was stunned and the more I looked at Frank with the green glow, the frog scent aftershave, the slight perspiration sheen on his forehead, well he began to look like a frog.

I loved the Frog Alley area with its wetlands, rivers, lakes and its frogs. We were a large family with not much money to spare for non-necessities. So what did you play with? Frogs, of course. We sold them to fishermen, we played mad scientist, we tried to eat frog legs and we vied to see who had the quickest hand at catching them. My younger brother threw my doll into the outdoor biffy, so I used frogs as my dolls. They were kind of cute if you held them under their little arms and danced them around with cupcake papers as tutus. If you ignored their big feet, they looked like tiny dancers, but they weren’t very graceful when they tried to hop away.

Frogs are really kind of boring, they don’t emote, and they just look at the world with glassy eyes and say, “croak croak.” I tried to stay calm and continue with my “uh hum” and “oh really,” but I felt I was sinking into a morass of confusion and panic. Frank sounded like he was saying, “croak croak.” Frank didn’t emote and he had glassy eyes. Poor Frank, maybe someone made him dance in a tutu with his big feet.

One year my older brother and I learned about how Jesus had been crucified on a cross, died and rose again. We were curious children with boundless imaginations. We thought that maybe frogs could do the same thing. My father, being a carpenter, had all the tools and scrap wood we needed. I am now sad to say we did this, and we were not being malicious, we were truly excited about witnessing the miracle of the frogs rising from the dead. We made a little hill in the driveway and put those little crucified frogs on their crosses on the hill. Early the next morning, we raced out as quickly as we could. We were crushed. Not only did those frogs not rise, but earlier that morning my father had backed his truck over them on his way to work. Thoroughly flattened, they were. Yes, I knew a lot about frogs.

Poor Frank, what made him the way he was? Did he get flattened by some well-meaning persons? Would I crush him if I left? If I stayed, then maybe I would have to kiss him. Maybe his tongue would come out of his mouth with surprising speed and I would be stuck to him like a helpless bug.

Frank left to use the restroom. It was then that I decided that it was better to be brave and true to myself then to stay with someone out of fear. Whether that fear was of loneliness, of not finding someone better, of not finding anyone at all, or just fear of the unknown.

The next decision I had to make was when and where I should tell him. I decided that after dinner at my door. The hardest part was how to tell him.

Frank returned from the restroom and I noticed that his feet didn’t seem as large as I seemed to remember. Since I had never discussed his feet with him before, it was difficult to find a way to bring the subject up. Once done, I learned that he had suffered a severe case of poison ivy on his ankles and feet. He had wrapped them in bandages and couldn’t fit his feet into his shoes, so he had purchased much larger ones so they would be comfortable. Now that the poison ivy was nearly gone, he could go back to wearing his regular shoes.

I was very silent on the way home because I had much to ponder. Frank held my hand. All I could smell was frog. “What am I going to do about Frog … I mean Frank?”

What should I say? “I can’t see you because you aren’t my type,” or “I can’t see you because I have to concentrate on school.” How about this one, “I can’t see you because you’re absolutely boring me to death.”

The car pulled up to the driveway and Frank walked me to my door. My hands shook and my heart pounded. I still didn’t know what to say. I turned to him and he took it as a signal that I wanted him to put his arms around me. I put my hands on his chest to maintain some distance and took a deep breath.

“Frank,” I said. I looked at him in the eyes. “I need to tell you something.” Frank looked back patiently at me waiting for me to finish so he could get his kiss.

“Frank,” I said again. “I can’t see you anymore because, well ….

You smell like a frog.”

The Agate

We had rules about finding agates back then.  One of the rules was that you left the tiny ones so they would grow bigger.  Another was that if you were walking with someone, you couldn’t take any agates from their side of the road.  It was better if you didn’t even look over there, so you wouldn’t be tempted.  If it was hot outside, you put a small agate in your mouth so you didn’t feel thirsty.

 

We didn’t see much of the countryside back then, because we were always scanning the gravel roads for agates.  As for wildlife, since we were always looking downward, the only thing we saw was road kill.  Even now, when we are out walking, my brothers and sisters and I instinctively look at the road in front of our feet.

 

One day, my brother and I decided to go out searching for agates. I was about nine years old and he was ten. It was early fall, but still warm enough to be barefooted. We wandered down a backroad, talking as we went. I remember stopping mid-track and mid-sentence and hearing a small gasp come unbidden from my mouth. Tucked along the edge of my side of the road, I spied the biggest and most beautiful agate I had ever seen. I ran over to pick it up, and just as my hand was about an inch from my beautiful prize, my brother slid across the road on his belly, jamming his hand under mine, claiming the agate for himself. The way he did that slide, I could imagine him sliding in to home plate in a baseball game.  At that moment, I wished he were indeed playing baseball, instead of walking with me.

 

Right there on the road, Greg turned over on his back, and squealed with delight. I tried to take it back, but he got up and with a big grin, jammed it down into his pocket. I argued the agate rules and the fact that I had seen it first. I shouted, tried grappling for it and I cried. Nothing worked.  Greg never let me see it again.  He hid it deep somewhere so I would never never be able to get it back.

 

When I was in my twenties, I read a story by John Steinbeck called “The Pearl.”  Keno was a pearl diver, who lived with his wife and ailing son in a small, impoverished village by the ocean.  On one of his dives, he found “the pearl of the world.”  It was magnificent and would have done for him what a winning lottery ticket would do for us. Unfortunately, others wanted it as much as he did. Keno and his family fled into the mountains, but returned back to their life of poverty; the baby dead at the hand of their attackers. The story ends dramatically with Keno throwing the great pearl back into the ocean. He felt it was the pearl that had brought them bad luck and sorrow.

 

I was struck by the similarities between my agate and the pearl. They were both prized possessions, coveted by those who had seen them. It wouldn’t have mattered what the object was, as long as it was considered valuable. There would always be those who would take, if they thought they could. Betrayal, greed and dishonesty were words that described those who would take what did not belong to them.

 

Many years had gone by and we were all adults, all home for the holidays.  I wandered around the house, looking at different things that still remained from our childhood days. Here was a coffee table that my brother had made in shop class. Over here were the remnants of my miniature collection, and on a shelf was my sister’s old stuffed animal.  I saw a bowl of rocks out on the porch and began looking through them.  It was a culmination of whatever hadn’t gotten lost through the years.

 

It was then that I saw my agate. I looked around to see if anyone was watching, and acting nonchalant, I picked it up.  No one could see my hands shake or feel the adrenalene glee that ran through my veins at this discovery.  I turned it over and was amazed that after all these years and having only one good look at it, I remembered its detail. I licked it so the bands of color would show a little brighter.  Yep that was it.  I looked around again and determined that I was still not being observed.

 

“Hah!” I thought. “It is mine now, dear brother, and you will never see it again!” The hard stone stayed snug in my jeans pocket for the rest of the holiday. I couldn’t wait to get home to really examine it.

 

More years have gone by, and since that long ago holiday, it has rested in my own agate bowl. Yet whenever I examine it, I am always torn with a mix of emotions.  Yes, it was mine now, but every time I looked at it, I always remembered my brother’s indiscretion.

 

“Let it go,” I thought.  “It’s not worth the memories.”

 

Funny thing, I had mentioned it to Greg and he didn’t even remember the incident.  So the truth was, it was just me that continued to hold on to these feelings. I thought about the freedom of getting rid of it and thus getting rid of my grudge.

 

In Steinbeck’s book, Keno threw the pearl back into the ocean. My agate was called a Lake Superior Agate, but Lake Superior was a three hour drive north from where I lived.  I figured any body of water would do, and Minnesota had plenty. Giving it back to the water would be a fitting end to my conflict.  I didn’t throw it into the water; instead I let it gently fall from my open hand. It sure looks pretty now in my fish tank.

Blue

My parakeet attempted to snap the lead off the end of my mechanical pencil as I attempted to grasp the concept of Calculus. Blue was a welcomed distraction and I paused mid-thought to sword fight with the little bird.

“En Garde!” I said as I raised my left hand in the fencer’s stance, my right hand brandishing the pencil. Blue squawked fiercely. I fought with the mighty mythical Roc, while with his beak, he parried with me, the Warrior Queen.

The phone rang. I sighed, set the pencil down and walked over to my desk to answer. It was a friend calling, so I sat back down at the table, put my feet up on a vacant chair and settled in for a good chat. Where was Blue?

As I finished the phone call, I looked around the room to seek out my little companion. He had helped me through many college courses that I didn’t think were possible for my undisciplined mind to complete. Physics at two o’clock in the morning, while mumbling out loud to myself, Blue would interject his opinions. The way he chattered, one could almost believe he was speaking human words. Maybe if I hadn’t muttered so much while studying, he would have learned to speak more coherently.

Study groups at my house were constantly enlivened with Blue running up and down people’s arms, chattering or sitting in the Ficus tree saying, “Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty. Meow,” that he had learned from a “Teach Your Parakeet to Talk” tape.

My favorite game with him was “Bird Baseball.” It had begun on Easter Sunday. There was a basket of jellybeans on the table. I was studying as usual, and Blue flew over to keep me company. This time I was irritated, so I took one of the jellybeans, set it on the desk and flicked it at him. He squawked, flew up in the air and landed, legs straddling the yellow bean. He eyed it, moved it around, as though trying to decide whether it was edible, an enemy or an egg to sit on. Finally, with his beak, he gave it a mighty whack and sent it flying off the edge of the desk.

Laughing, I retrieved the jellybean and tried it again. Blue whacked it off the desk. We got pretty good at the game and tried different angles and maneuvers. Funny thing, he would only play with the yellow ones. Bird Baseball was great fun and helped me stay awake on some of those late nights. I found lost jellybeans on the floor and in corners for months after that.

My playful bird was in to everything, but the worst were the mechanical pencils. I couldn’t leave them lying around anywhere because he would play with them and I inevitably had to spend time before studying trying to find what dusty corner they ended up in. That’s when I usually found the jellybeans.

Stretching after the phone call with my friend, I stood up and began cleaning off the table in preparation for dinner. I turned around and picked up my pencil that had fallen on the floor and then I saw Blue. The pencil must have fallen from the desk and onto my chair when I had gotten up to answer the phone. Blue must have followed to snip off the lead. When I sat back down to talk to my friend, I sat on him and killed him. His neck was broken. So that was the muffled squawk sound I had heard.

I was shocked and I was saddened. I was also embarrassed that my big butt had squashed the poor little thing. What was I supposed to tell my daughter. I picked Blue up, and with tears in my eyes, smoothed down the soft feathers on his lifeless body.

I realized that this little bird meant more to me then the sum of his antics or his personality. He lived intensely in the present. Whether he was trying to pull my earring off or rip the binders off of my library books, he used every fiber and muscle in his body to do so. He did not waste time dallying with his life.

I waste time. I dally in life. I fritter away friends and passion and hope. I don’t take the time to play with the same intense abandon that Blue did. As a result, it has taken me much longer to find my true calling. I saw then a glimpse of my potential, and I knew I would have to pick up my pace, so as not to lag behind my dreams. At that moment, I determined to work harder to make my life count.

My daughter came downstairs and I told her that our parakeet was dead. It wasn’t easy. We shed tears, hugs and comfort. Then we found a shoebox and lined it with soft flannel. We were about to leave the house and find a nice spot in the park to bury him, when with a spark of genius, she ran upstairs and collected two Barbie dolls and one Ken to be buried with Blue. She was very selective in the ones she chose. The dolls, like Blue, had had their necks broken in the line of play.

At the park, with a few more sniffles and a great sigh, my daughter looked sideways at me in slight disbelief and with a quirky smile in one corner of her mouth. “Did you really sit on him and squish him, momma?”

I knew then that we would be okay.

Bad Kitsch is Worse than Bad Karma

I purchased a wrought iron hanging plant basket, filled it with mini-lights, dangled crystal ornaments off the underside and then hung it from the ceiling. I plugged in the lights and stood back to admire my new chandelier. Soft lighting, pretty and inexpensive. I might even describe it as classy.

I suspect my carpenter cringes at my cheesy attempts at home decorating. Rand and his family are extremely gifted people. His wife has her Master’s Degree in Fine Arts. He paints, sings, plays the guitar and violin and built his daughter’s Celtic Harp that she cut her first CD on at age 11.

As for my own creativity, I discovered mini-lights.

One day last fall, Rand and I were pouring concrete for the back entryway of my house. I said I wanted to press some of the leaves into the wet concrete. Rand said, “Oh, you don’t want to do that, that’s kitsch.”

“Kitsch,” I said, “What’s that?”

He said it was tasteless art or decorating. I told him l still liked the idea, to which he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Well, it’s your kitsch.”

I thought about kitsch over the next few days and then talked to a co-worker about it. She said bad kitsch was worse than bad karma. I pondered that thought for a couple more days and then put up mini-lights in the kitchen.

Karma is an eastern philosophy that says that the quality of one’s life is determined by his or her behavior, or as the old saying goes, “What goes around comes around.” Theoretically, the thing about Karma is that you have some control over it. If you do good things, you will have good Karma, which means you will have good things happen to you. If you don’t tip the scales too far toward the bad side, you’ll probably do okay in life.

Kitsch is different; it turns bad on its own. The dining room wallpaper, with lime-green leaves, bright red and hot pink flowers the size of dinner plates, might have been pretty back in the seventies but was grotesque twenty years later when my sister purchased her house.

My friends and I have come up with some acronyms to describe kitsch. The first one is N. E. F. B., pronounced “Nefbee,” and meaning “No Excuse for Being.” Imagine that you are walking around in an antique store and you see something quite ghastly. “Why?” you think to yourself, “Would someone spend the time, the energy and the money to create this ugly thing in the first place? Why, again, would someone save it from the junkyard, put it on display and put an outrageous price tag on it? Why? Because, it’s a Nefbee.

Now, imagine that for some stupid sentimental reason, you buy it. Once purchased, the acronym is S. U. Y. G. H. I., pronounced “Sweegee,” and meaning “So Ugly You Gotta Have It.”

It happened to me once. I noticed on the sale rack in an antique store, a small ceramic pitcher with six tiny cups. It was purple and green and shaped like a cluster of grapes. You can’t use the pitcher, for if you try to pour liquid into it, it will spill because the neck is too small. You can’t see down inside the tiny opening, so how can you tell how clean it is. This pitcher with the cups had been drastically reduced down to $5.00. I shook my head and walked away. It was a Nefbee.

A couple of weeks later, I was back in the store. I saw that the price of the stupid purple hand grenade-shaped pitcher had been slashed to $2.50. Again, I shook my head and turned to walk away. That’s when I heard the Nefbee pleading for its life.

It was saying, “Save me please! Don’t let them throw me in the junkyard!” I looked at it with contempt and turned again to walk away when it spoke again.

It said, “Okay, so I’m ugly and I’m worthless, but look at my cute tiny cups. You love miniatures! Don’t let them be destroyed! Please!” I bought the stupid things and the pitcher, took them home and changed their names to Sweegee.

Twenty years later, they are still taking up valuable storage space. Sometimes I think I hear them laughing at me because I was duped into saving them. When I have thought of getting rid of the pitcher, it screams, “No! Please! You’ll break up the set.”

This brings me to another aspect of bad Kitsch. It’s the “set” or the “collection” argument. You can put anything together and make a “set” out of it, as long as the kitsch doesn’t wind up in the junkyard. Nefbees and Sweegees are masters at survival.

A friend of mine collected hundreds of decorative tins. When it was time to sell her house and move into something smaller, there came the inevitable problem of what to do with the tins. She tried selling them at a garage sale, but because she valued them so much, the price tag was too high. She ended up saving a few and the rest went to charity. Did you notice that she didn’t throw them away? It’s because these bad kitsch pled for their lives, convincing her that they were too valuable and someone would like them as a “set.” I wonder what they would have sold for on E-Bay?

Back to my carpenter, Rand. It was cold and dark before he finished the concrete project. He did such a professional job that I decided to keep my mouth shut about the leaves. Three days later, after pulling the plastic and form away from the new landing, I spied a very large and beautiful maple leaf, where he had tastefully placed it in one corner. Now that’s kitsch done right.

The more I tried to figure out this kitsch thing, the more mini-lights I put up. I wondered why Judy gave me such an ugly Christmas gift. Could she not differentiate between my artistic decorating and a tasteless dust catcher?

If you have bad karma, do you get punished by having to live with bad kitsch? I once knew this woman who liked frogs. I like frogs too, but no one deserves what happened to Sally. Somehow, the world found out that she liked them. Eventually she owned every size and shape of fake frog. Not only did she spend time dusting them, but she also spent too much money on shelving and lighting. One day, she told me she secretly hated them and believed these frogs were involved in some evil plot to take over her living room. Sally must have done some pretty bad things to be cursed with such bad kitsch.

Every room in my house twinkled as I pondered the bad kitsch/bad karma enigma. If you placed a bunch of small Sweegees and Nefbees in a basket, would you call it a kitsch-all, instead of a catch-all? If you stole an art object in one life, would it come back to you in the next life as bad kitsch? If you lived with someone with horrible decorating, would that suffering be enough to turn bad karma into good? Could you go to a therapist or an exorcist and be treated for B.K.S. (Bad Kitsch Syndrome)? Does karma and kitsch recycle at the same rate? If they’re bad, do they break down as slowly as radioactive material with long half-lives? If I try to change or destroy kitsch, am I tampering with the order of the universe? Will I be inviting bad Karma? My brain is overheating; I need to put up more mini-lights.

I know people give away their unwanted gifts, sometimes for fun and sometimes to get them out of their house. These are their “White Elephant” gifts. I wonder how many of these barely got out of their wrapping paper before they were rewrapped and passed along, hoping to reincarnate into not so bad kitsch.

There may be an answer to this over abundance of junk. For New Year’s next year, I have decided to invite all of my friends and family together. We will each bring one piece of our worst kitsch. We will wrap them and exchange them. Now this is where the idea differs from what has already been done. We will open our gifts and vote on which one rates as the baddest of the bad kitsch and then we will ceremonially destroy it. In destroying this one piece, we will have rid the world of one more tasteless piece of trash. We will also add to our New Year’s resolution to try really hard not to amass more of the same.

This would be our great moment of redemption, our good Karma! (Unless, of course, the Nefbees and Sweegees convince the guests at the party that this piece of kitsch is “the” piece that has been missing from a rare and valuable collection).

The Storytellers

    It was 1969 when my sister and I decided to hitchhike our way across Canada to Vancouver Island. A man named Andy, who was traveling from Toronto to Edmonton, picked us up in Minneapolis. His plans had been to travel across the United States, but we talked him into going back up across Canada. Celeste, was a great storyteller and as the miles went on and as we picked up additional hitchhikers, she told her stories to each one.

By the time we arrived in Edmonton, we had eight people with all our gear packed into a big old hot station wagon. We were on each other’s nerves and were sick of Celeste’s stories, especially the ones she had repeated for each of the new arrivals. Celeste had always been my hero, but for each story re-telling, her Goddessness began to slip away.

          Celeste was the oldest of us eight children and was an avid reader.  Her mind was so full of the places she had read about, that she would re-enact them with us, her younger siblings.  Our playtime was colorful and exciting as we made tree forts, crushed up jellyfish for strange concoctions, and hunted imaginary animals.  She had a gentle spirit and we idolized her; a game was never a complete without her.  As we got older, I noticed that she would get us involved and then quietly slip away; later to be found buried in another book.  We would harry her until she returned, but eventually she would silently disappear.

          So that’s the way it was that summer, the Goddess and I hitchhiking across Canada.  I had lived alone in Oregon for a while, yet in spite of my own independence, I could not and would not have dreamed of doing something this outrageous without her.  Several times before, Celeste had bravely traveled alone across the county; it was high adventure for her.

That trip across Canada was my only great adventure, with Celeste sitting in the back seat, wedged between two young men. Their mouths hung open, listening to every story she told.  For Andy and the rest of us who had heard them before, we crossed our eyes and said quietly, “Ugh, not that story again!”

A few years ago my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimers. She too had the gift of being a great storyteller. During the early stages of her disease, she sometimes was confused as to the intent of a gathering of people.  What she understood was that it was a good time to spin her storytelling magic.  This time, however, the family was gathered together for a funeral. My mother, not comprehending the gravity of the situation, walked around telling a joke about the Episcopalians (emphasis on piss) to the mourners.

Later that same day, Celeste started sharing her own stories, some new and some old. On the way home, I told my daughter some mine of when I was a child. My daughter looked at me as though she was thinking, “I heard that story a million times before, mom, and your Goddessness is slipping…no…has slipped away.”

It struck me how easily we as storytellers could annoy others with whom we were trying to share by repeating stories over and over. If I did not want to see that look…that…“I’m going into a coma if I have to hear this again” look, I was going to have to make some changes. That’s when I began to write.

I knew I could not stop spinning yarns; it was a family thing. Perhaps I could have a little more control over the effects repetition had on people.

          My mother has passed away now and I wish I had written some of her tales down. Goddess Celeste is still a great storyteller; she’s still braver then I am. I only hear her stories once in a while and still love hearing them, even if she does repeat them.

          As for myself, I have a dilemma…when do I quit talking. Telling a story is so much fun; I get to read the other person’s face. I would miss their reaction if I could only write and never orate. This is the deal…even if I have told a tale many times and you have heard it or read it before, if you like it and you don’t tell me that I bore you, I will gladly tell it again.

PS: I have retold this tale many times)