"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Archive for the ‘Observed’ Category

Saved

We walk daily surrounded by miracles but rarely think of them. Our bodies are finely tuned machines. We think, breathe, walk, and absorb nutrients without considering the processes occurring. Nature, we say. It isn’t until something fails that we think about the loss of function, the miracle that the function even exists. When our backs go out, we suffer and moan the loss of movement. When diagnosed with a dread disease, there’s even more suffering and moaning, prayers and promises abound. For me, even a minor paper cut can be annoying and make me hyper-aware of my fingertips that I otherwise would have happily ignored. Likewise, about 30 years ago I had a knee injury and couldn’t walk for several months. Now I can walk, sciatica notwithstanding, and every step is a joy… when I think about it. I should be dancing, and in awe, of my recovery and ability to walk every day, but my attitude toward that blessing has become mundane, sadly.

Hashem provides us with gifts all the time. We just need to open our eyes to them. The following testifies how Hashem saved my life recently. Miracles were performed for me, and a gift lay at the end: my life… and great air conditioning. Here’s the story:

My bus would be leaving at 7:15 a.m. It was 7 o’clock and I was still on the highway, 15 minutes away. I’m a bit anxious; I’ve done this before — arriving too close for comfort — and made it on time, but I hate this mad rush. It’s really not me.

Metrocard in Wallet, Chris Goldberg

Metrocard in Wallet – NYC by Chris Goldberg, CC-BY-NC 2.0

It was time for my annual trip to New York City for the pleasure of visiting my sons and coincidentally renewing ny NYC “street cred.” I was on the way to the Megabus pick up site outside of Baltimore, near IKEA. New York via Megabus is only about 3½ hours and you can catch a $5 fare at times. I purchased the tickets weeks before, consulting with my sons on the date: a Monday or Wednesday were my choices. I remembered after purchasing the fare that I should have picked Wednesday so I could arrange to see a matinée, something I’d not done when I lived in the City. But Monday it was. One son, however, started a new job suddenly and was at training in Ohio. The other son would not be able to leave work early and could only meet me for dinner. Rats. Arriving in NYC at 10:35 a.m. and nothing planned. Fortunately there are plenty of coffee shops in Manhattan. Starbucks would renew my NYC street cred and give me the much needed caffeine boost I would need having woken up so early to catch the 7:15 bus.

Drive Cane Seat, image © Medical Depot, Inc.

Drive Cane Seat, © Medical Depot, Inc.

I left home a scant few minutes later than I would have liked. Packing list: a full water bottle, dry cereal & raisins to eat on the bus, phone charger & cord. Even so, I turned back because I had left my Cane Seat at home. I retrieved it only having lost 5 minutes. Still, that timing was too tight. (I ultimately left my Metrocard in my desk despite having reminded myself to take it along several times in the days leading up to the trip.)

I drove due east on the Beltway, zooming at about 70 miles per hour, in pace with the other traffic (but still was being passed by other cars whizzing by. Hmph. Baltimore drivers.). One particular black pickup truck behind me repeatedly overcame my car and fell back, and ironically, I ended up behind him at a choke point. Typical. Suddenly, a sea of red tail lights swim before me as I round a curve and face the rising sun’s mighty glare. I stomped on the brakes, the car slowed, but it felt like it took forever. My foot went near the floor meeting some resistance, and I remember thinking, “Don’t pump ABS brakes.” Traffic resumed and I took my exit about 5 miles after that.

The exit ramp led to a 4-lane highway. About a half mile after the exit was a traffic light. I could see it must have just turned green since cars were still stopped in two lanes at the intersection and cars in the the two left-turn lanes were turning. Since I was still traveling only a little slower than Beltway speeds, I started to brake. Heavens! There was no response; my foot went to the floor and the car sped along at about 50 miles per hour. Flash! I was concerned there would be a collision. My brain went into overdrive. Fortunately, there was an empty right-turn lane next to me. I think I downshifted to 3rd gear but I can’t really remember anything but laying on the horn and swinging around the corner like a racecar driver. That crossroad traveled uphill, slowing the car some. Thankfully there was no oncoming traffic at the top of the hill. I was able to make a left turn and another quick left into the parking lot of an apartment complex. Jamming the transmission into 1st gear, I pulled to a stop in a parking space.

Motor off, I sat stunned for a moment. I realized the miracles that had happened for me. Not once, not twice, but at least three times no collision occurred when there could have been one! A woman seated in her car witnessed my quick parking job. I shakily got out of the car to ask her where I was, needing an address for a tow truck. I was telling her what happened. She didn’t speak much English, but I understood the blessings she gave me in Spanish. She handed her driver license to me so I could read the address clearly. Shaking and thanking her, I went back to my car. It was 7:15. No Megabus.

The next part of the story isn’t as dramatic. I drank water and researched repair shop options in the area on my phone as my own mechanic’s shop was 15 miles away and not open. Few opened that early, but I found one that opened at 7:30 and called soon afterward. (It was a national chain and this branch had a good rating on Yelp.) Luckily they could fit me in for an estimate after a few jobs later that morning, and I was instructed to have the car towed there. When I arrived I was told there would be at least an hour’s wait, so I settled down, watched TV, noshed on my dry cereal, and chatted with an amiable 80-year old customer. I was also informed that the estimate would be free of charge, something I hadn’t even considered.

Freddie Ford's ignoble end, © JustHavingFun

Freddie Ford’s ignoble end, © JustHavingFun

My car was a 2003 Ford Focus with a 5-speed manual transmission, and I loved it. Fred. Freddie Ford I called it. I bought it used off Craigslist. It had 60,000 miles and was immaculate; I never regretted it for a moment. I put on only about 35,000 miles in 10 years, largely because I lived in Manhattan and didn’t drive much for nearly 5 years. I knew Fred was near the end of his useful lifetime but was hoping to put off purchasing a replacement for another year or so. Oh well.

My car was finally put on the rack, and after about a half hour, the mechanic emerged and gave me a worst-case estimate, redoing the brake lines, and assuming the master cylinder would need replacing. I went under the car myself, too, and saw the amount of corrosion and weak points in the brake lines. Sighed. I knew that at nearly 17 years old, Freddie wasn’t worth much more than $2,000 in good condition. The estimate came to nearly that amount. This did not surprise me, but I was hoping for a cheap fix. In this condition, the car was worth nearly nothing. Hmmm. Put money into an old car or look for a new one? Meanwhile, I phoned my trusted mechanic, agreed I could use a second opinion hoping he might be able to fix it for less, declined the service at the repair shop, and arranged to have Freddie towed there. (I sent a glowing thank you note to the repair shop the next day for the thoughtful treatment and thorough inspection they gave good old Freddie.) While I was waiting, I perused websites for used cars. I felt a replacement might be inevitable. My sister came to pick me up and I went home in a tizzy.

My mechanic called with the bad news. It wasn’t worth fixing Freddie. Not only were the brake lines shot but the thingamy was leaking, and the seals on the whatchamacallit were going. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the air conditioner hadn’t worked for 6 years and just last winter I needed to squeegee the inside of the front windshield on occasion. So I told him I’d like to check out the car I saw on his website the next day. Yep. I tried it out and bought it. No looking around. It was provided for me.

New Kia, © JustHavingFun

New Kia, © JustHavingFun

That’s how I ended up with my “new” 2016 Kia Rio, with a 6-speed manual transmission and super-duper air conditioning! Why was it value priced? Well, few people drive a stick, and worse yet, it has manual windows and door locks! How retro! It’s the same size as Freddie and fun to drive. I haven’t named it yet — I don’t think “Killer” is appropriate although it is alliterative — and I look forward to many more happy miles with it.

There are miracles.

I recognize that my life was saved on the road. Several times I could have had a serious collision. I had the skills to handle the car, but the blessing was that no other cars were close when I needed to manoeuver. Thanks to minor auto racing experience in my 20s, and having lost brakes once before, I had some idea of what to do. But that wasn’t enough. While I didn’t panic, I didn’t think to pull the hand brake. I may have been able to downshift sooner. Who knows? My health and life were handed to me on a silver platter and I acknowledge that gift. Hashem has said to me that I have more work to do on this world. It is not my time. I was spared.

I need to keep this gift of life foremost in my mind. Gratitude and praise fill me. I could be bitter, upset, or worried about the money, but that is not my nature. Hashem will provide what I need. 

I’m just glad to be here, just having fun…

… but I only told my mother that I had some brake problems and decided not to continue with the trip. Please don’t tell her the whole story. My gift to my elderly mother is peace of mind.

Please share this story where you can to publicize that Hashem is in charge and He performs miracles. Let me know your reactions in the comments.

Friends, it’s been a while since I’ve written. I took a little break to develop skills in polymer clay jewelry design, and it has been a fun experience! I’ll be posting some photos in my “Crafty Me” section sometime soon.

Meanwhile, I hope to get back to more regular contributions to the Just Having Fun blog. It’s not just about fun, it’s a way of life.

Happy Blah

I know I am passionate about certain things…things like politics, religion and human interactions. I can become a raging lunatic too.

I used to enjoy discussing opposite points of view with people whose ideas or beliefs were diametrically opposed to my own. I could do so without being emotional…and I miss that.

—Suze, author of the suziland too or obsolete childhood blog

People don’t understand how I can be “blah” about politics or even neutral to our President. That’s just not where my passions lie. The polity is too large for me. My little voice indeed has the power of one. I comprehend that one plus one plus one will change the world. I get that.

Dialogue Not Diatribe by Monique Wingard via Flickr, CC-BY-2.0

Dialogue Not Diatribe by Monique Wingard via Flickr, CC-BY-2.0

However, I only have so much energy and attention span. With small crisis #1, medium attention grabber #2, lack of #3, and the #4 thing immediately calling for my local, personal attention, I don’t have too much energy or impetus at the end of the day to yell, write, fight, advocate, or pound the pavements. Some days it’s just enough to get out of bed and put on clothing. Other days I can take on the traffic and lines, the idiotic bureaucrats and on-hold phone muzak, and still have energy to make dinner. (I usually can’t get past the aches and creaks the next day, though.)

When I was younger did I fight the good fight? I suppose so. Being a female in a male-dominated profession, clamoring for potty parity, volunteering for women’s health agencies, and counseling victims of domestic violence: I did all that. And when the kids were young, as a single mom, I juggled raising them to be respectable, respectful citizens with keeping the bills paid, mental health issues, family matters, and caring about the environment (professionally and personally). I recycled. I helped friends. I was a nice person.

I can’t fight what the news media choose to focus on today, the next big titillating thing. The distortions about my people are endless. A reality exists that Jews are imperiled even today; Pittsburgh, my hometown, still reels from the murders last fall. The news lies about “Palestinians,” focusing on what the Israelis are supposedly doing to them instead of calling their leaders to the carpet for misappropriating funds, keeping their own citizens in distress, shooting rockets into Israeli cities while crying about Israeli aggression. The emperor has no clothes. The news paints Israelis, “Zionists”, and Jews with a black brush, and distort the truth that Jews have an historical claim to have a homeland in Israel.

The President is an ardent supporter of Israel. That where my buck stops. That’s way bigger than whatever else the White House inhabitant is doing. I don’t have a TV, I don’t watch the news. I listen to a little NPR and mostly get my news from online sources. That’s too much already. Largely I rely upon my friends who live in Israel to give a less distorted view of the reality there. They, as well as HonestReportingCommittee For Accuracy In Middle East Reporting In America, and scads of other agencies on FaceBook like them, provide me with a view on the ground. What is being said in Arabic is not necessarily what is being translated into English. What part of “run the Jews into the sea” is not clearly hate speech?

Meanwhile, only a few blocks away from my Baltimore home, a 5-year old girl was shot accidentally in her own home, four people were shot near the zoo, three others were killed, and another few checked in to local hospitals with gunshot wounds in the past week. There is a drug epidemic here, with 303 overdose deaths in Baltimore City last year, with heroin the leading factor. Many neighborhoods of iconic row houses lay wasted while the downtown gleams. We are a city of abundant brilliance and depraved poverty. Washington, DC is only a 50 minute drive away, but it’s so far off my map.

Today I will probably have another cup of coffee, apply for a few more jobs, and massage the pain in my shoulder. I will pray for the recovery of a friend who was just diagnosed, and operated on, for throat cancer, and another’s recovery from defibrillator implantation surgery. I will watch a funny video on YouTube. Tomorrow I will celebrate the “redemption” of a first-born child on his 30th day of life at a “pidyon haben” ceremony, then go to an eye doctor appointment. I will try to plant some seeds in my little garden now that night temperatures aren’t dipping below 40F. I will plod by and by through my bills and obligations, hoping for that magic job interview that will put me back in the land of the employed, tax-paying, and useful. And I will remember to file my taxes before April 15th.

This screed really just started out as a note to a friend. Now I will eat a toasted bagel, then send prayers and good wishes into the Universe.

New Zealand

New Zealand Flag

New Zealand Flag, by Yortw via Flickr CC-BY 2.0

Evil took the spotlight again last week.

A gunman violated the distant, small, quiet country of New Zealand and murdered 49 people engaged in worship. Another soul has died since then, raising the death toll to 50. Many others were hospitalized. The gunman “live-streamed,” i.e. filmed and broadcast, his activities online via Facebook. He prepared for death, wearing a helmet outfitted with a camera and a bulletproof vest.  That miscreant went into mosques with the intent to kill. Tragically he succeeded.

I cannot find words to write. I sit stilled.

I deplore this act of heinous evil, perpetrated by one actor, leaving desolate so many families, a country, and a faith community. Massacred. My heart reaches out to the families, the ones left behind. My sympathy goes to New Zealand which I thought of more so as a tranquil backwater. They have sadly joined the front-page suffering of the world elsewhere.

Only a short while ago my hometown community, Pittsburgh, suffered such a blow. Prayers were offered around the world. We feel with you, our human brothers and sisters. Today we are not Muslim, or Christian, or Jew but people, all formed in the image of G-d. When I learned the news, I cried. It resonated too closely.

What is it about the lone actor that tugs at me and pulls me down into the darkness? So I ask: am I hypocritical? Or numb? Sometimes I wonder if I am allowed to feel this level of grief because I hear today’s news of ongoing violence and tragedies elsewhere… and react very little, feel much less sorrow.

  • 59 homicides in the City of Baltimore have been reported to date in 2019.(1)
  • “Syria’s war entered its ninth year on Friday,” killing a half million people, displacing more than 6 million, and causing more than 5 million to flee the country. (2)
  • Today, “[d]ozens of Uighur and Han Chinese civilians were killed or hurt” by a knife-wielding gang who attacked a police station in China’s Xinjiang region.(3)
  • “At least 39 people had died” in attacks during elections in Nigeria in February 2019. (4)
  • “20 dead, 111 hurt in January bombing at Catholic cathedral in Philippines”(5)

The Charlie Hebdo slaughter evoked my tears. The uncertainty of whereabouts and the unravelling of the murders of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, the three boys who were kidnapped and slain by Hamas terrorists in 2014 gripped at my heart.(6) The rape and murder of Israeli teen, Ori Ansbacher, by a Palestinian seated me, stunned.(7) I’m aware that I’m listing tragedies perpetrated on Jews here. They are my family. It’s personal.

Evil

Evil (Tong Churchyard), by Tim Allen via Flickr CC-BY 2.0

That doesn’t make me immune to the suffering of others, however. No matter how I relate that I am numb, unfeeling, my soul diminishes daily with each attack.

Maybe the 3,212 of Baltimore’s murders recorded to date since 2007, mass slaughter, and war casualties don’t affect me because they are BIG and DISTANT. Growing up in the Vietnam War era, we watched nightly newscasts at the dinner table, the daily body count tallied on the small black and white television screen parked at the end of the table. I didn’t know where Hue was, but the Tet Offensive was not just history; it was background reality.

I pray that evil does not become the background reality that today’s children grow up with. I pray that New Zealand pulls through. Most of all, I pray that evil will be vanquished from this earth.


1. Baltimore HomicidesThe Baltimore Sun, retrieved 18 March 2019.
2. FACTBOX-Nine facts about Syria as fresh violence marks ninth year of war, 15 March 2019.
3. China Xinjiang: Violence ‘kills or injures dozens’, 30 July 2014.
4. Nigeria Votes for Second Day in Election Marred by Deadly Violence, 25 February 2019.
5. 20 dead, 111 hurt in January bombing at Catholic cathedral in Philippines, updated 17 March 2019.
6. Mastermind of Teens’ Murders Given 3 Life Sentences, 1 June 2015.
7. Palestinian charged with rape and murder of Israeli teen Ori Ansbacher, 7 March 2019.

Bicycles & Bread

Waiting

Waiting, by Mikael Colville-Andersen via Flickr, CC

The last time I rode a bicycle must have been around 2001. Maybe I rode one other time since then. Even so, I am confident I can climb on a bike today and travel happily (at least if the road is relatively flat), dodging cars and gravel like I ride a bike all the time. Balance? No problem. I can do it in my sleep.

Kneading bread dough

Kneading bread dough, by Michael Richardson via Flickr, CC-BY 2.0

I can’t remember when I last baked a loaf of bread, though I used to do it frequently. My arms, hands, and shoulders remember the rhythm of kneading. My body remembers the rocking and leaning in, stretching the dough, to maximize the gluten and incorporate all the flour. Indisputably, my fingers remember the feel of the surface of a finished dough ball ready for rising, perfectly smooth, and silken to the touch. When I touch it and press gently, a proper dough has some elasticity, a give, and the dimple disappears as the dough recovers. My fingertips remember that sensation still, though lacking dough beneath them. I’m certain I could make a flawless loaf by feel today despite the years gone by.

Ruler Macro

Ruler Macro, ©Todd Eddy via Flickr, CC-NC-BY 2.0

What is one millimeter? I can sense that without a pause too, though I grew up with inches. It’s the small white crescent of a fingernail growing in after being clipped. I can see that clearly in my mind’s eye.

Few women can tie a men’s necktie with a four-in-hand knot. I can. I learned that as a Brownie Scout in order to tie our little orange ties properly.

What about colors? Do they befuddle you? Say, what’s the difference between turquoise, aqua, and teal? Discerning colors. That’s one of my superpowers. Comes in handy when painting watercolors, selecting bridesmaid dresses, quilting, or ordering from a catalogue.

Many of our skills don’t come into use often. Some we forget from disuse. I once knew and understood the relationships between cosine, sine, and tangent; the Latin names of many bacteria; how to gap spark plugs; and making a sheepshank knot. The important and the trite. Phone numbers, once religiously remembered, are now available at the click of a contact button on the phone—though I don’t think it is so great that I cannot memorize my children’s numbers. (I remember my best friend from 3rd grade’s number, however.)

Use it or lose it? Not always. It’s amazing what the body knows and retains. More amazing is the variety of things available to remember. It’s what we choose to focus on. I choose to focus on the pleasant, the feel of the wind across my body as I ride downhill, and the scent of fresh, yeasty dough that is pliable under my fingertips.

Seat 2D

Baby.
Sick baby.
Sick baby on a plane.
Sick baby on a plane on my flight.
Oh no! 

We’ve all been there, trapped on a flight with a screaming child, shrinking into our headphones, preparing to suffer for the next few hours however long the flight takes. Or if he’s not screaming, we mumble the mantra “I hope the kid doesn’t cry.” Because nothing, except maybe a toothache, seems more painful than. Being trapped. With a baby. With a baby on my flight.

This baby on a plane tale has a different story arc, however. Facebook exploded with shares about an anonymous gentleman on an American Airlines flight.

The flight attendant came over and told me you were waiting to switch seats. You were giving up your comfortable, first class seat to us.

Kelsey Zwick (on Facebook)

Kelsey Zwick & Lucy (via Facebook)

One thoughtful, generous first class passenger switched seats, giving his to a woman encumbered with a baby wearing oxygen tubing on a flight from Orlando, Florida to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Kelsey Zwick was transporting her 11-month old daughter, Lucy, to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to be treated for chronic lung disease. Narrow, crowded coach seats hardly seat an adult comfortably let alone one with a baby on her lap. A stranger saw this and thought the mother and child would be more comfortable in first class. Now that’s class!

Having never flown first class, my thoughts wandered to the price of a first class seat. They aren’t discounted. Rarely can one be obtained for a mileage award. Even if someone had gifted him the seat, giving it up would have been somewhat painful. My point is, this likely cost the donor some bucks or caused discomfort! Other thoughts swarmed around “Wow.” Would I have been so prescient, so generous of spirit, to give up my comfort — the amount I paid! — for someone I didn’t know? someone I hadn’t met?

I like to think of myself as kind, maybe a bit noble (cough cough). But when faced with the question I just asked, I admit I would not have given my seat. I’ve given up my seat on the subway, ceded my place in line in a store, yielded to other traffic, and the like. Those actions have no monetary value; at worst they cost me some discomfort or time. When it comes to parting with substance or chattel I’m more chary. I think it comes from feeling like I will miss out on something. Mr. 2D saw a situation and did not compute a balance sheet. For whatever reason, he saw a situation and acted. He rose to the occasion.

Things to think about:
Can I be more charitable? More thoughtful? More giving? How can I rise to occasions — no, not just rise, but clearly see occasions — where I can be a giver, beyond my comfort? How can I be a more sensitive citizen of this world where superficial looks glance off people and on to the next interesting thing? How can I feel more deeply? Will there be a time when I will not calculate my potential “loss” into my equation of giving?

 

Job Hunting

On a sunny autumn afternoon men worked on a roof beside a bright orange crane. Shingles filled the skip dangling from its line. Orange safety cones tied together with flagged caution tape delimited the edge of the work area. Each man wore a fluorescent safety vest.  Faint calls sounding like “ho” and “wait” reached my ears when the crane moved. The hanging weight could knock any one of the men off the roof to his death, I mused, reducing a frail, hard hat-encased skull to shards. A man could lose his footing, fall and roll down the bumpy shingles, accumulating scrapes and abrasions along the way. Or, under the hot sun, with heat radiating from below, dehydration and heat stress could strike a man, rendering him helpless. In another reality, a man rolled helplessly bleeding down the slope toward the edge, toward certain agony, and maybe death.

Crane on a roof. © JustHavingFun
Crane on a roof. © JustHavingFun

I’m sitting at my desk watching, waiting. I click on the “Submit” button to whisk my credentials into the big, black, maw that is the Application Machine. Another notation on my job application log, another application sent to the electronic cloud. If I am lucky, I will see an email pop up in my inbox stating the company received my application and it will be reviewed. Out of the 175 or so applications I’ve sent off, 87 replies were received, a quarter of those from the job agent I sent the application through. Only 28 companies sent a “thank you but no thank you” note indicating no further action was necessary, the job was given to someone else, I was no longer a contender. I’ve had 3 phone interviews, one leading to an in-person, on-site interview. One out of 175 is 0.57%. Quiet rejection.

I am a heavy load, dangling from a crane high, on a roof. Will I make contact with anyone? Or will I settle to the roof and have the contents removed, to be used for something constructive. Some Automated Tracking System bot parses my résumé; an “r” could invalidate me if I wrote “data manager” but the company wants someone with “data management” skills. It’s a knife-edge determination, and I don’t know the rules which change from company to company, application to application. 

Potter and vase. © JustHavingFun

Potter and vase. © JustHavingFun

I am the potter’s clay. Amorphous, my shape to be determined at her will, I’m a blob on the wheel, circling, spinning, whirling under her fingers. Whom shall I serve? What shape will I be? Where will I end up? What colors will I wear? She pinches and prods, draws me upward, but I don’t know my final configuration, destination, function, reception, toleration, utilization.

Well, it’s time to refill my coffee and get back to the search. As much as it has been fun conjuring images and playing with words this past hour, it is time to point my arrows at some targets. Again. At least I don’t have to beat on doors and get rejected to my face. 

Submit has multiple meanings. I submit my résumé, and I wait in submission. I have every confidence that my qualifications will spark interest somewhere and the job hunt will terminate, happily. But until then, some days I feel like I’m at the edge of the roof, avoiding the crane’s load; other days I feel shapeless and unformed. 

Today? I have hope.

 

Lame lament

Broken nail, shattered dreams.

Broken nail, shattered dreams. © JustHavingFun

Woe the loss, sad is the day. My thumbnail broke.

Brittle nails that break scourge my female sensibility. Despite being an inconvenience when playing guitar, long—or in my case, even fingertip length—fingernails seemed to be a hallmark of femininity. Filing, shaping, polishing, and having colored nails announced some mastery of the feminine identity, as much as high-heeled shoes or pouffy hairstyles when I was young. Somehow this connection followed me to this stage of adulthood. Thus, the lament.

How could this be? And here, I have invested time and money into preserving its length and shape, giving it hue and shine, an armored coat of lacquer to protect it. Yet it broke, in the same place as usual, saying “nyah nyah” to the care afforded it and the color applied.

Maybe I should have chosen a stronger color than number 80, a bubblegum pink. Eighty seems not to be my lucky number. Perhaps a springy green (74), metallic studded gray (88), or armor blue-black (87) could have averted this tragedy, mishap, failure. Gold (72) for richness couldn’t have prevented a break, nor could the delicacy and fair dusting of pink sparkles in a clear background (82). But setting aside fickle numerology or the vagaries of color protection in nail polish, the fact remains that my DNA codes for brittle nails and any color would have failed me.

OPI gel color samples.

OPI gel color samples. © JustHavingFun

What genetic advantage could weak nails have afforded my great-great-great-etc.-grandmothers all the way back to Sinai? Lacking steel tweezers, tough nails could have removed splinters; minus bamboo backscratchers, they would have pleased many generations of itchy backs…. Useful for picking up nickels off counters, scraping excess paint from a canvas, making that tap tap tapping sound when drumming fingers on a tabletop….

What an impractical question, and a more impracticable answer. Weak nails just are. There’s no explanation, no justification. Having snagged on my blouse and pulled off, the nail tip fragment is now lying on my desk. I hadn’t the heart to toss it in the trash as I am writing. I’m staring at it, it is staring at me, and we are staring at each other together. It’s a stalemate.

Broken nail tip. © JustHavingFun

Broken nail tip. © JustHavingFun

It hurts, but it doesn’t hurt hurt. May this be my biggest tragedy in life. A broken nail. May we all not suffer more than a broken nail. Two broken nails even. That should be the worst thing to happen. Ever.

 

Book Review by Capote

Other Voices, Other Rooms

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I’m a voracious and voluminous reader, I’d never read anything by Truman Capote. Other Voices, Other Rooms is his first book, written in 1948. Set in the rural South, it paints a strange-to-my-eyes picture of a world that passed and hopefully, is gone. I understand this book was semi-autobiographical, and sure that it was scandalous in its time.

I found myself captivated, however. Capote’s writing style is lush and descriptive, peppered with unusual sentence length and punctuation. I found myself rereading certain phrases which had the richness of caramel melting on the tongue. THIS is literature, I kept thinking. At the end of the book I had many questions.

I came away from it thinking that I was missing something, that I needed a discussion group or an English teacher to guide me through what I read. Maybe it was the time-bound language, the context of the story and my unfamiliarity with that place’s history, the juxtaposition of whites and Negroes, superstition and youthfulness, or the vague sexualization of the scenes that leave me feeling a murkiness when I tried to parse what I read.

What an odd opening for today’s reader: Joel Knox lost his mother who was estranged/divorced from his father. “Orphaned” and staying with a family friend (aunt?), a letter arrives from the father and prompts the friend to send him alone from New Orleans, a cosmopolitan city, to a place so rural that there is no transportation available. He catches a ride with a worker from the turpentine factory and is deposited in Noon City, which is hardly a city, and is more like a one-street town. After some time, Joel locates a ancient Negro man, Jesus Fever, with a mule who can take him to the family estate. Already the reader is thrown into a world that is very different from modernity.

The characters are exaggerated and mysterious. Joel comes to live in a home that doesn’t feel like a home. Surrounded with situational mysteries, the people he meets do not clarify the situation he is in. Idabel and Florabel, the twins who are a tomboy and a flirtatious belle, live somewhere in the swamp. The tension between Joel and Idabel is palpable and in a way, the two ends of a see-saw, going up and down. The adults Joel lives with, Miss Amy, his erstwhile step-mother, and her effeminate cousin Randolph, are mysterious and vague, and provide no guidance for the boy. Joel does not learn that his father, Mr. Edward R. Sansom, is bedridden and paralyzed until some time after he arrives. It is only much later that he suspects his father could not have written the letter summoning him. Joel feels closest to the servant Missouri Fever (Zoo), Jesus Fever’s granddaughter. Zoo is scarred by her former husband, Keg Brown, and relies on folk charms, religion, and superstition to protect her. Background characters include a Negro population who are voiced in dialect, and are distinct from the white inhabitants of the town. An inanimate character, their home, Sully’s Landing, sets the mood, too, being ancient, damaged, sinking into the ground, and having no indoor plumbing or electricity.

Like I said before, Truman Capote’s writing is lush and he creates vibrant pictures allowing the reader to peek into a world, feel the heat, and the mosquitos biting.

I felt a bit like Joel, exploring the unknown wilds of a new land. Every action had overtones and meaning he simply didn’t know at first. Only the sheen of manners and a deep desire for love and relationships kept him out of trouble and allowed him to navigate in this new scene. Is he naive? I think so. Is the situation unfathomable to him? It sure was to me! The undescribed illness that keeps him comatose (?) and bedridden for a few months in the fall creates a dependency upon Randolph, and that relationship is full of overtones I’m not sure I’m reading right. I felt restless at the end, unfulfilled.

I enjoyed the visit to this world. I don’t enjoy feeling like there’s something I’m missing, however. What am I missing in context having read it 70 years after its publishing, having grown up in modern cities, and after the Civil Rights movement. I’m certain to follow up by looking for literary critiques, both contemporaneous and modern, on this work.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Happiness is My Choice, 15

How do I react when disasters occur? What is my response to adversity?

WBAL news reports flooding in the Baltimore area, July 2018.

WBAL news reports flooding in the Baltimore area, July 2018.

When nature doesn’t seem so natural, when events confound me, when a roadblock is placed in my way, do I panic and flounder about, or do I go forward by choosing a different route?

So many events, even daily occurrences, do not go the way I expect them to go. Surprises can create joy or terror. By their nature, surprises are… unexpected. We do not foresee them, changes in routine disrupt comfortable patterns of action, and we can become amused, befuddled, or even crippled. Some reactions are beyond control; the aha moment upon seeing fireworks and the pain of a broken bone force themselves upon us equally, though not equally desirable.

Surprises follow a spectrum. Good or bad. Big or small. Delightful or horrid. For some reason, we mostly focus on the small, bad, everyday experiences. These events captivate us and take over our thoughts. Our emotions cascade in response to the little things, and they build on each other. Predictably, some of these “bad” things may be somewhat within my control. I think that’s why they are so annoying.

Roadblocks. Most of my “bad days” start with small roadblocks:  I forget that the coffee supply needs to be replenished, so I may be unready to face the day. Like many people, my morning coffee—the anticipation of inhaling that sharp aroma and sipping the warm liquid—can propel me into the world some days. When I don’t get what I anticipate and desire, my 3-year-old self may emerge. All due to a small, unpleasant surprise. The jar was empty. Someone (i.e. me) did not put it on the shopping list.

And if I let it, the bad day can continue. I get drenched in a rainstorm walking from the parking lot to my business. I could have checked the weather report but missing my coffee threw me off, so I didn’t have the foresight to carry an umbrella. By the time I got to work, the heavens opened and the deluge splashed around me. Naturally, I wore sandals, so my feet got soaked, too. Then once in the office, while drying off, I missed the call saying the 11 o’clock meeting was being moved up to 10. At 10:15 I notice the department sounds quiet and nobody is around. Glancing at my online calendar, I see a flashing notice asking me where I am. Yikes!

Affirmations for positive thinking.

Affirmations for positive thinking.

Late for the meeting, the boss glares at me when I slide into my seat. I fail to pay attention to the presentation and missed the project update. After the meeting I realize I left my lunch in the refrigerator at home. I nibble on some crackers I keep in my bottom drawer but they don’t appease my hunger. Then my computer reboots in the middle of a calculation and I hadn’t saved the file. It’s all lost! Worse and worse. I’m in a brown mood the rest of the day after that. I just cannot get caught up. Everything snowballs into a big mess. By the end of the day, an acid ball roils in the pit of my stomach and I can’t wait to go to bed. It’s still raining when I leave the office and my feet get wet again. Say goodbye to that lousy day. But wait! I forgot to stop by the market and buy more coffee!

I can rewrite the scenario above, change my outlook, with the following directions: stay calm, be peaceful, get centered. I can control my reactions to today’s challenges.

Catastrophizing the lack of coffee, beating myself up for having forgotten to purchase it, started my descent into a “bad day.” How could I turn that around? Isn’t it inevitable that would trigger the events of the day? Any one of those little adverse events could confront me on a given day. On a catastrophic “I didn’t have my coffee” day, they become mountains to scale, larding my mood with the foulest of weightiness. Drawn down further and further, I see only the bottom of the hole. That thinking certainly is not compatible with serenity.

Frustration Ahead!

Frustration Ahead!

Happiness is my choice. Lighten up. It’s coffee, not surgery. We take everything so seriously so that when a stumbling block appears, we trip.

Here’s what I would do to change that day: There’s no coffee. I’d reach for a pen and scribble it on the shopping list mounted on the refrigerator door. Or more recently, I speak aloud, saying, “OK Google. Add coffee to Shopping List.” After listening for the confirmation, I would reach for some tea. Sipping it, I would notice the sky looks gray, or listen to the weather report. Changing out of sandals and grabbing an umbrella, I would leave the house for work. And so on.

Not quite what I wanted, but it will suffice. It will suffice. The world will not stop spinning because I don’t have coffee. It’s not the end of the world. I can get coffee later. I can go to a drive through, or stop in for a cup somewhere if I need it so badly. Living with life’s little disappointments—living life on life’s terms—makes my day manageable, pleasant even. Fewer worries. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Roadblocks are blockages, not necessarily solid barriers. We find alternate routes, travel different byways, employ substitutions, and there’s no need for panic or dismay. Putting things into perspective allows us to cope, weather the storms, and live a more comfortable, pleasant existence. Happily.

Hollow Tree

A violent wind storm felled trees all over our area recently. It didn’t affect me directly; working indoors protected me from the raging winds and sideways rain. The worst I expected to happen was that the power would go out. Like it had been doing frequently. BGE couldn’t keep up with the crazy weather and lightning strikes.

Fallen tree beside the road. © JustHavingFun

Fallen tree beside the road. © JustHavingFun

Indeed, the power did fail. I was in the public library using a computer. The thrum of the air conditioning ceased abruptly with the lights and computers blanking out. Although emergency lighting blinked on within moments, the lack of air movement sounds and the yellowish tone of the spotlights lent an eerie quality to the space. Outside through the windows, it looked like night. I had been so focused on my work that I felt displaced in time!

I left the library only to stand by the entrance watching the rain cascade down from a black sky. Several other people huddled there; a few souls braved the downpour and ran toward their cars, with or without umbrellas. The rain let up a scant 10 minutes later and I walked gingerly to my car, avoiding puddles.

A surreal pall lay over the neighborhood as I drove through it after the storm. The gray sky loomed darkly above and held a threat of continued rain. Drivers behaved insanely with no traffic lights. Cars crowded the lanes and bunched together. No one could enter the main road from side streets. Branches and leaves littered the streets. Police car lights flashed where trees fell and blocked entire streets!

This tree alongside Western Run shattered from the assault of high winds. Spiky parts jut upwards from the remaining trunk. Its length lay in pieces beside it and in the road. I drove past this tree many times before the storm, never suspecting it was hollow. It took a great storm to reveal its inner secrets.

Isn’t life a bit like that, too?

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