Monday, November 26, 2012

"Oh, bummer. The murderer? It was me all along."

(Many readers who review my book "One Hundred Open Houses" emphasize that the book is laugh-out-loud funny but also brutally honest, painfully honest, intensely honest.  I didn't feel that way when I was writing and no one passage struck me as brutally honest. I plucked out the passage below as an example of my own peculiar take on love.)

When I finally reach the ex we have a surprising heart to heart during which we both admit we can’t take in love.  Here’s how we arrived at this strange confessional.  They have not yet diagnosed his high fever, so I emphasize how much his children love him. He seems surprised and says, “You know how hard it is for me to accept love.” 
“Get in line,” I say, just to be agreeable.  I have no idea if I can accept love or not.
“I can’t accept it either.” 
“You can’t?”  he says astounded, as if he just met me.  “Maybe that’s my fault.”  I’m not sure it’s his fault but say nothing.  And then, because I’m at work (although that has never stopped any indiscretion before) I say some other sappy things and try to close on a good note.  He finishes off by declaring, “The day you drove off from this house for the last time, you said, ‘I still care for you.’” 
I, who have a mind that retains everything, have no recollection of such a leave-taking and I’m astounded that he has tucked that scene away all these years when he forgets almost everything else. I might have said it.  I’m crazily nice sometimes. I tend to want to finish off a scene in a memorable way. 
Then he starts rhapsodizing about how great all the kids are and we are so lucky.  Rather than nitpick, I agree. The truth?  I’m embarrassed by this kind of confessional.   I feel as if we’re trying to say something important to fulfill some psychological blueprint put out by Dr. Phil.  If I never hear the word ‘closure’ again it will be bliss.  The whole concept is misguided because it would take years of hard work to get to a one-sentence wrap-up of where we went wrong.
Now here is where I can document that there is something big missing from my make-up.  I don’t see any point in talking about all this unless we are going to take it down to the last rung.  And that last rung is really dangerous because it is the simple truth but sounds horrendously callous.  Oh, by the way, I married the wrong person. OR, perhaps I’m not the marrying kind, so, no matter how much you can or can’t take in love, it wouldn’t have made any difference.  OR, when I married you I was in a trance and then it sort of seemed okay for a while, and then all those kids came and I was distracted.  But now we’re done, you know what I mean?  OR, don’t let’s forget all the hormones that kicked in during all those pregnancies and possibly distorted all emotions.
Do I care about you, do I not care about you, what does it matter?  I live far away.  Most days, I handle life on my own and you handle life on your own.  We’re not each other’s problem anymore.  Of course I said none of this. It wouldn’t be polite, to say the least, and would have caused resentment as the truth often does.
Some might see this as a cold, unfeeling analysis of our lives. But let me just remind you that we all want to hit it out of the ballpark and how can we do that if we let all the misguided sentimental untruths keep us in perpetual dawdling.  Many of my favorite lines come from Gone With The Wind and the adjective “mealy mouthed” uttered by Scarlett and the opinion “it ain’t fittin’” uttered by Mammy, come to mind.  I don’t want to be mealy mouthed when I explain my emotional life. It ain’t fittin’.   I cry sometimes and I can even sob but usually it’s when I think how the boys will feel when I die.   Maggie will be sad but it won’t crush her.  As for my marriage?  I don’t know what that was all about.  I really don’t. And maybe I don’t need to know.
You have only to remember Willa Cather’s My Mortal Enemy where there’s a realization at the end of life that the person you’ve been living with is your mortal enemy.   And suppose the person is you?  Of course it’s you.  Now that I think about it, it has to be you.  That’s why you have to take care of these things while you still have a chance.  You don’t want your dying words to be, “Oh, bummer! The murderer?   It was me all along.”
When the ‘can’t take in love’ conversation is over my mouth tastes as if I’ve been sucking a lead pipe. Thank god, the Dubai rep calls with a million questions that I am happy to answer.
By the next morning, I’m all moody and stuck.  Even the new dollars in my brokerage account don’t dispel the blues.  I was no better than The Manchurian Candidate when I got married.  I had a chip inside me that was like a homing missile.
       I found and married the man of my dreams – a tall Presbyterian professional.  I am really annoyed that I had no clarity to make the choice.  I think I had no sense of safety.  Yes, I’m sure that’s it.  Back then, women had no sense of safety unless they were married. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"These five foods will......"

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I'm re-running this post

I grit my teeth. According to my dentist, I grit my teeth all night. What’s that all about? Am I trying to open a tight-lidded jar of pickles every night? My dentist says gritting your teeth is like putting 20,000 lbs of pressure on your jaws. Really? It’s the same as if a cement truck with enough live cement to re-pave I-95 just landed on my sweet rounded jaw?

Why does everyone want to scare us? Every day, Facebook and Yahoo present health and nutrition news that will keep you sleepless (at least you won’t grit). I’ve read all of the “These five foods will.....” warning stories. Spoiler alert: the answer is always bananas, sugar, anything made of white flour, carrots and dried fruit. Bananas are apparently champions for promoting belly fat. If you have belly fat don’t even wear anything from Banana Republic. The Acai berry (a frequent visitor on my Yahoo page) sucks the fat right out of you while you watch Bravo. You are so full of energy you bounce around like a ping pong ball. Alas the berry is controlled by thugs that sell fake or diluted Acai. Resveratrol is the answer to everything and it’s in red wine. (Yipee!) Wild salmon and blueberries are also the answer to everything. Wild salmon, by the way, is $24 a pound and blueberries are $4 per 8 ozs.

I have a mouth guard for the gritting problem. When I remember to insert it I look like an extra from Planet of the Apes because it pushes the upper part of my mouth out. I think about all of this when I’m in the shower. Water promotes deep thinking. As little Edith Anne used to say “ and that’s the truth.”

Monday, November 19, 2012

Homemaking smugness is knocking at my door

This morning, I only wanted to eat last night’s leftover spaghetti but instead I was proactive. I delayed a short-term reward and washed curtains.  There’s nothing that makes a room look fresher than clean white curtains. I took down the basketweave linen curtains in the living room and the percale curtains in the bedroom and threw them in the washer.  Just to fill the space I added white socks and two towels.

Homemaking smugness was going to be knocking at my door.  

When the washer stopped, I took one linen curtain out of the washer. Something was wrong. I thought I was the victim of Dante’s Inferno Washing Hell also known as - somebody’s pocket was full of Kleenex and now a million bits of tissue are distributed all over the clothes. I felt what I can only describe as a mini stroke.  You stand stone still and stare while your brain looks through the files for a solution. But wait.  This couldn’t be Kleenex because nothing in the wash had pockets.  It had to be something else.  Darn you beautiful linen basketweave curtains that let in a muted contemplative sunlight and yet deliver privacy.  Darn you subtly textured linen that was just waiting to dissolve into fuzzy gunk that would collect in clumps too numerous to approach but drop like confetti on my kitchen floor.   I could vacuum the curtains but I have to wait until they dry or I might electrocute myself.

Repeat that joyful moment five times for all the other curtains and the towels.  Forget the socks.  I could conceivably wear socks with linen clumps embedded in their cottony thickness.  (I love that word embedded).  The only good to come of this is a post for my voracious blog.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

this kind of untainted emotional comfort makes my head swim.

Two house painters entered my life last Thursday. They are careful and efficient and I'll continue to think about them after they leave.  I will pass the windows and doors that they’ve painted and feel satisfied. Tom, the head of the outfit starts telling me that he likes to read biographies and he has read the biographies of Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis.  The Jerry Lewis biography, he says, was written by Jerry’s first wife Patty.  He says, “I like tangible.  I like to hold the book.” 

Tom shares tidbits from the biographies:  Gleason was not that nice. If you crossed Sinatra he would get revenge. The way Dean Martin’s son died, crashing into the mountain, was also the way Dolly Sinatra, Frank’s mother, died. Her plane crashed into the same mountain.   We all agree enthusiastically that Dean Martin was one of our favorites.  After a pause, the second painter, Joe,  tells us that one of his relatives had been Captain Kangaroo’s secretary and that she made good money.  We all try to remember Captain Kangaroo’s real name.

Joe is one of seven children and his father had been a steam fitter. “My father was a smart man”, he said, “and he worked hard.”  Joe, who lives with one of his brothers, is going to his sister’s house for Thanksgiving.  He and his brother are going to rent a car and drive down.   He said two of his sisters live next to each other in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The thought of this kind of untainted emotional comfort makes my head swim.

These two painters have known each other forty years.   They work together without many words.  They stop to eat their sandwiches at 12:00 o’clock. Sometimes they don’t finish their sandwich and take it home to the dog.  The other morning, Joe said that after he ordered his tuna sandwich at the deli he had seen them carrying  in a freshly made meatloaf and he wished he had waited. Tom said, they could pick it up on the way home if he wanted. This morning, Tom, gave me half his breakfast sandwich.  He said he couldn’t finish it and he thought someone should eat it while it was still warm.  It was an egg with sausage and cheese on a soft roll. 

Tom and Joe leave the radio on while they work except toward the end of the day when it gets very quiet.  All you hear is the occasional rasp of the sandpaper and the swish of a brush.

Sometimes, about an hour or two into the day, I stand on the ground while Tom is on a ladder and we talk more show business.  We talk about Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé.  He says he really liked Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.  We agree that even though Tom Cruise can act a little crazy we like him.  I am so happy that I can be sincere with the men and that I know all of their references. 

On a trip inside the house for water, Joe tells me that his family moved to Long Island from Westchester after he was burned.  Then he tells me how badly he was burned and shows me the places where the grafts were placed.  He says he received the Last Rites and crosses himself twice.

When I’m inside, they look around my yard and at the neighboring houses. Tom tells me, “You’ve got a big pot of parsley growing, did you know?”  I didn’t.  “I’ll bring it in for you.”  And there it is, a big healthy pot of parsley that has self-seeded and grown silently.   I ate the big green leaves all day. “Look I spilled a drop of paint here but don’t worry,” he says when he’s ready to leave.  “I can pick it out with this tool when it dries.” It’s been a while since I’ve met people like this.

I think to myself, what is a better life than this? What is a better life than working with your friend of forty years and seeing that your work makes a difference at the end of the day? What is better than knowing you have survived a terrible event but look, you’re still here and you will be driving to your sister’s house with your brother for Thanksgiving dinner?  I would not mind if these two men came to my house all the time.  I like to hear them talking.  I like to talk to them.  I like to know what they are thinking and that everything is okay.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Stop Waiting

"Give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting...snap out of it. Come into the present moment. "(Practicing The Power of Now page 53) Eckhart Tolle

Help comes from everywhere if you recognize it.  The other morning one of my children called about Thanksgiving and in passing she mentioned that on Eckhart Tolle’s tweet that day he had said to give up waiting.  That morning I was waiting for workmen that had been absent too long and knew instantly that this was my message. Stop waiting.  Stop waiting for anything.

Waiting always has an underlay of anxiety. Will the phone ring? Will the e-mail come. Will the check come? Waiting to move into a new house. Waiting to sell a house. Waiting to give birth to a baby.  Waiting for test results. Waiting to lose weight to start living Waiting in line, etc. etc.   Waiting  - the mental state of waiting - is useless and often thwarts the thing we’re waiting for.  I’ve always believed that good news comes in moments of unawareness. Get engrossed in something else. Distract yourself. Give up the “waiting” state of mind.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

"Bless me father for I have sinned."

I was born a catholic and attended convent boarding schools most of my young life. I attended Sacred Heart in Washington D.C., St. Mildred’s Academy in Laurel Maryland and St. Angela Hall in Rockville Maryland, a very fancy school where we had horses, our own vegetable plot and took our lessons in drawing rooms.  In these schools, we started the day with a mass and communion before breakfast.  On Thursdays, we had a 4:00 p.m. meditation during which we would sit and do nothing in front of the Eucharist for what seemed like four years.  During these meditations, a nearby dog would start to howl sending us into convulsive hysterics that we had to hide.  There was a Holy Roller Church down the road and we could also hear their excitable songs and shouts drifting over the Maryland hills.

I learned to sing the mass in Latin and occasionally read the “lesson” during mass.
We never saw the nuns in anything but full habits that were long and made a particular noise (a swish) accompanied by the slight click of long rosary beads bouncing against each other. Their faces were framed by the starched white wimples.

At age seven we got to receive the wafer that we were told was Jesus. We swallowed it whole without daring to chew.    It was the body and blood of Christ.  At nine, the bishop came to confirm us and part of the ceremony was to kiss his ring and get a slap on the cheek when His Grace gave us our confirmation name. We couldn’t wait to get slapped.  We also got to pick a confirmation name and we all chose Mary or Marie. My full name could be Consuelo Mary Saah.

Every Saturday Father Breen would hear our confessions and even at seven and eight we had to collect and itemize our sins - the only sins we knew were lying, stealing, bad thoughts.  If we didn’t lie or steal all week, we would say we did just to have a decent confession. “Bless me father for I have sinned.  I told three lies, I stole a piece of candy and I had a bad thought about my friend.”  Father Breen gave us all the same penance: “One Our Father and a Hail Mary and ask God’s forgiveness. 

I was reminded of all this recently when I read that Pope Benedict XVI canonized 7 persons making them saints. If you think the epitome of slowness is the line at the DMV, canonization is slower.  One of the new saints has been “on hold” since the 17th century.

Here are the steps that must be followed in the process of canonization: evidence of heroic virtue, evaluation of the candidate’s life and (the clincher) two Vatican verified posthumous miracles.  I was very interested to find out what some of these “verified miracles” were.

St. Teresia Benedicta was canonized in 1997 after the Vatican verified that a young girl who ate seven times the lethal dose of Tylenol was suddenly cured after her family prayed to the spirit of Teresia.
Mother Teresa is in the canonization process. Here are her miracles:
1. A woman who broke several ribs in an accident was healed because she was wearing a Mother Teresa medallion.
2. Mother Teresa appeared in the dreams of a Palestinian girl telling her that her cancer was cured.

There’s no doubt that these were good and holy women but next to the miraculous antics that take place on the internet every day, I think the Vatican is going to have take it up a notch.

I still go to church occasionally but I have a lot of trouble with the handholding and hand shaking and talking and the mediocre english translation of the latin.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I was never so happy to see 5 a.m.

Here’s what happens when you lose power for eight days.

On the first day you go about your business - hey wait there is no business because the internet is down.  It 's  2012 - they have systems in place, don't they?  We would have power in a couple of hours. I put all the food in the freezer,  got out the flashlights, a few candles, a few books, no big deal.  By six, it was getting dark.  Twelve dark hours stretched ahead of me.  I tried to read by candlelight and then flashlight but I couldn’t concentrate.  I got out the transistor radio and listened to “talk radio.”  Talk radio is all about political extremes.  The only station I could get came from Connecticut and the host was an Obama basher.  He kept bashing and bashing.
I turned off the radio and there was nothing to do but think.
I found out that thinking is overrated.  Thinking is awful.  I realized I hadn’t thought in a long time and liked it that way.
I tried to stop thinking and pay attention to my breathing.
I finally fell asleep. 
I woke up two hours later fully rested.
After a long, long time I fell asleep again and woke at 5 a.m.
I was never so happy to see 5 a.m.

On day three I opened the refrigerator and the stench punched me.
I got a big black garbage bag and placed all the food into it.
When the refrigerator was empty I noticed that things had spilled into it over the years.  Red things had spilled into it and also green and brown things. The spills had fossilized.  I was happy to have a legitimate chore and began to scrub the refrigerator.  After a couple of hours, the refrigerator looked beautiful - white, clean and empty.  I yearned to decorate the refrigerator with new food but that was the road to madness.  
I began to dust books in the bookshelves with a small brush.  This was not as satisfying as the refrigerator so I abandoned the project.

After eight days of this life The Stockholm Syndrome set in. This psychological phenomenon is also known as capture-bonding in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors (in this case LIPA).
I was still looking down the street for LIPA trucks but I was also wishing for the power to stay away so I could live this simple, media-free life.
I raked leaves, visited the library, cleaned out the silverware drawer, organized my socks. I was decoding Fifty Shades of Humility prior to joining an order of nuns.

On Sunday, all persons who had been around to commiserate had returned to their lives and I was alone.  There was a rhythm to my day and I succumbed to the absence of electricity and put it out of my mind.   As is always the case, the moment I gave in to “what was” the situation reversed.  Help came from the Hawkeye State, Iowa’s nickname. I drove down my street on Monday evening and saw two big trucks.  On the side it said Hawkeye Electric.  Iowa is also known as The Corn State because it produces one-fifth of the world’s corn crop.  It is also known as “Land of The Rolling Prairie” because of the vast rolling prairies that cover the state.