Interesting weekend. Here's what you DON'T want to have happen on a Friday...
You go for a mammogram in the morning. You receive a phone call from your doctor in the afternoon. Because it never occurs to you that there could possibly be a problem with your (yawn*) medical test, you answer the phone call. There's a problem with your mammogram.
Turns out the breasts that you've lugged around for all these years, love 'em or hate 'em, have suddenly become...somehow defective.
Then the doctor says, "Have a nice weekend!"
Suddenly the sky is bluer. You worry about all the things you've never done in your life. You want to see and touch all the people you love. You vow to be a better person. In fact, you hope you get to even keep being a person...it's all in the one minute phone call.
And suddenly it is quite impossible to "have a nice weekend!"
So I know. These are the kinds of things that happen when you are around age 50. If it's not your breasts, it's your gallbladder. If it's not your eyesight, it's arthritis. The acne of your adolescence hasn't even gone away, and the wrinkles of your future are suddenly demanding equal face time. But knowing about something and expecting it to actually happen to you are two different things.
Monty Python left us the memorable line, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!" Truer words were never spoken. How could you? If you really expected any of the bad stuff, you'd never pick up the telephone.
So I spent the weekend looking for antidotes to this kind of experience, and I found a few good ones. I held a new baby (1 1/2 weeks old!) for about an hour. I marveled at her tiny fingers and toes. I breathed in her baby smell. I remembered my own girls' dark brown, sticky-up hair and perfect little valentine lips...
I went to a really good Mexican restaurant. I ate more than my share of the above average guacamole. I closed my eyes and listened to a classical guitarist serenade me with surprisingly beautiful music, and lingered long after my enchiladas were gone. I tipped him $5.00 on my way out, and wished I'd had more to give...
I watched Perry Mason, and walked the dog, and shaved my legs, and bought groceries, and did all the normal boring things I do in my normal boring life. I bought the new Michael Buble album and played it way too loud, and I ate almost an entire box of Dots myself, and that was after finishing my ice cream. Behaving just as if I hadn't a care in the world...
I went for an early morning run. I skipped all the songs on my ipod that I didn't want to listen to, and I enjoyed the solid slap of every single step. I sang "Let's Do the Time Warp" with gusto, even though I was running in a public place. The people who live in my AZ neighborhood are mostly old and quite deaf anyway...
And I have almost made it through the weekend. Not that Monday brings answers. I have several more days to wait for my several more tests. But I can live until then. I just needed a few days to get comfortable with the idea that nothing has really changed at all. Sure, it was an unpleasant phone call. And it unleashed an avalanche of "what if's" and a boatload of anxieties. But then I had a whole lot of worries in my head before the phone even rang...these new ones just helped me reorganize the pre-existing ones a bit. Which probably needed to happen.
Aha! I see! Life is uncertain...even MY life. Every second of it. And it's a good thing to have that brought to our attention now and then, I guess. Because we need a reason to empty the gratitude out of our pockets and spread it on the table. We need a reason to count up what we thought was just spare change, and realize that not only does it amount to a fortune, but it has already bought us everything.
And because, as a result, we really have an obligation to enjoy every single uncertain second just a little...bit...more.
My week was progressing nicely and then suddenly...cell phone problems! Utter panic. Internal chaos. A feeling of complete disconnection and helplessness. WHAT IF SOMEONE REALLY IMPORTANT NEEDS TO TELL ME SOMETHING REALLY IMPORTANT??!!
1) By text?...hmmm...probably not all that likely, now that I think about it.
2) And they don't have my home phone number? Also not likely, I guess, when I consider the cast of characters who might need to deliver those really important lines.
3) And I can't find out about it just by looking at facebook?
Completely unlikely. It seems I get all my most important news via facebook these days...but then I guess that telling fact also explains the ridiculous feeling of complete disconnection and helplessness caused by one afternoon's interruption in my cell phone usage. I have to say, the panicked voice of the young man on the other end at the T-Mobile call center didn't help. He seemed to swing back and forth between sounding like someone apologizing for doing something dire like running over my dog, and someone convinced that I might jump at any moment and that he was the only hope for talking me down. I wanted to reassure him that I was okay, that I could live until my new phone arrived the next day (it was supposed to be here by 3pm, by the way...so WHERE IS IT??!!)
I am developing a suspicion that our culture may be training us to be completely absorbed in relatively trivial things. Not like when I used to watch The Young and the Restless and Nicki and Victor would get a divorce...and remarry...and get a divorce...and remarry...and for some reason I kept tuning in. No, this is more like the whole world has become a reality show. I would like to get a peek inside the booth and see who is responsible for the editing. It must be somebody smart, an evil mastermind with a firm grasp of both the allure of technology and man's basic need to feel connected. Because the content is pretty stupid most of the time, but we all keep watching. I saw a disclaimer at the end of a reality show recently that said "content may have been edited for entertainment purposes." I think they should also start tacking that on the end of the 10:00 news.
The fact that there are Kardashians in the world, for instance, and that people buy magazines to watch them gain/lose weight, speaks volumes. Or that there is an entire TV channel devoted to the Jodi Arias trial. My sister and I eat lunch at the same restaurant every Wednesday. There is a TV there. It plays only the Jodi Arias trial. It's a restaurant that serves only locally sourced, organic food that is delicious and, as a bonus, makes you feel a little self-righteous and pretty darn good about yourself. Smug even. BUT THEIR TV PLAYS ONLY THE JODI ARIAS TRIAL? I would expect maybe some kind of nature channel, or perhaps TED talks...you know, what passes as 21st century brain food.
Now most of what I do on my cell phone is relatively worthwhile. I communicate with people I love. I allow my children to beat me at Wordfeud. I take pictures of amazing things I am eating or of beautiful things I see and send them as little virtual postcards to say, "wish you were here!" I recently figured out how to use the calendar function and set alarms to remind me of things I forget. That should become increasingly useful as I become increasingly forgetful. I don't use facebook on my phone. Having to actually sit down and turn on my computer now and then provides the little extra step I'm counting on to keep me from becoming completely enslaved.
I'm hesitant to allow our relationship to become any deeper, even though I know I only use about .01% of my amazing little device's capability. Because I'm already an addict. I take comfort in that familiar little weight in my pocket. But a cellphone seems to come equipped with a million insidious tendrils that will work their way into your tiniest cracks, if you show weakness. If I download one more app, I'll probably soon find myself using the phone while using the bathroom, or texting while simultaneously eating a cheeseburger and getting on the freeway. Or, heaven forbid, watching TV on my phone! In fact, some poor fool is probably watching the Jodi Arias trial on his phone right now...speaking of which...hmmm...I wonder if I could figure out how to listen to TED talks on mine...AND IT'S 3:05! WHERE'S THAT DARN UPS GUY?!
Spring, 1935 by Kuzma Petrov-Vodin
I am suddenly
noticing your blue
socks, how they only
seem to match
an odd choice
just one of
the million things I hope
to always remember
Thanks to The Mag for today's prompt.
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Here's a snippet of excellent Friday writing advice from Sam McNerney at Big Think:
"I think fluency explains why one hallmark of good writing is clarity. If written language is a window into the writer’s world, then wordy prose diminishes the reader’s chance of understanding that world. Here’s the rub: despite easy-to-digest principles that encourage fluent writing (e.g., 'omit needless words' and 'when in doubt, cut'), many writers fill page after page with verbose paragraphs much more difficult to understand, hopefully, than this one.
"There are at least two reasons why. First, everything we write is fluent to us. The challenge is to know how comprehensible a piece of writing is for the reader. This is difficult because it’s nearly impossible for you, the writer, to know what it is like for your reader to not know something you know. Psychologists term this the 'curse of knowledge' and one byproduct is using jargon unknowingly. If, for example, I write, 'Cartesian mind-body dualism is at odds with modern neuroscience' I may wrongfully assume that a reader has a background in either philosophy or contemporary cognitive science.
"There are a few ways to avoid the curse of knowledge. The easiest is to show a draft to a friend and ask him if it makes sense. Stepping away from a draft also helps. Research suggests that apocryphal stories of warm baths, long walks and ping-pong matches giving rise to moments of insight contain some scientific merit. An effortless activity refreshes the mind, so when you return to your draft it’s easier to notice previously overlooked errors.
"The second reason is less obvious. When I ask writers for advice, many recommend that I read other successful writers and 'steal' from them. This is good advice. However, the problem with learning how to write by reading good writers is a lot like trying to understand a magic trick by watching a magician preform it: it’s not obvious what makes the trick work and it’s easy to overlook the hours of practice the magician spent perfecting it. A cogent and lucid novel is likewise illusionary. It’s not apparent why it works – it just does. Importantly, the novel does not include the hundreds of thousands of words and paragraphs – even chapters – omitted from previous drafts. Like an aspiring magician, the aspiring writer cannot simply study a piece of prose by reading it; he must focus on the concealed details that make the final draft work while remembering the countless hours the author spent revising, rejecting, sifting and selecting.
"In sum, good writing is easy to read but writing well is difficult to do. Aspiring writers forget this and fall victim to what I call the illusion of simplicity, or the tendency to conflate the fluency of a piece of prose with how easy it is to write something of equal value. A professor of mine used to harp on what he termed the 'golden first draft bias.' His point is that because nearly everything we read – magazines, newspapers and books – is a final draft we mistakenly conclude that it was the only draft. As a result, his students – including me – believe that there’s no need to revise."
That "curse of knowledge" thing?
Yes. Something I definitely need to work on in my own writing.
Tete a tete
there is no way to tell anyone
all the things I would say to you
not the doctor, as I lay on his couch
dictate my heart onto his yellow chart
make my head suitable to be filed
spread my sorrows across his lap and beg
for understanding, or just a fix
not the librarian, wise in her sea of books
straight spine, stern looks, ears alert
all the words never spoken in her hand
the world a reference, even she
would never understand it all
despite having read every ending in advance
not my mother, I know
the person who made this cannot explain exactly
the things it has produced, as a critic
she can see the beauty but knows too well
the heft, the shape
the line of every flaw
having carried them herself
not my sister, she is not enough like me
to see with my same eyes, she grew up
in another room, the voices through the wall
the same, but heard with other ears
a different rise and fall of family
as she drifted off to sleep
not a teacher, who might even tell me every why
and every how or when but never show
the work, never let fall simple facts
the way I see them standing
not a stranger, as if anyone could
know me just from being at the same time
sitting together on a bus, bumping in a hallway
or sharing stars, both noticing but each
under our separate sky
only you could I tell my secret, only you
could understand my shooting arrow
my arc, my fall, my hits and misses, all
the things that burst me every day
but even so, even then
it seems that there may not be time
or words enough between us
perhaps we will
hold hands awhile first
unfriendly as a box of dropped
tacks, points up in the dust
a squint, a tumbling wind
a scuttle, rattle, whirl, a glint
and patient as a rock
twice baked to seeming sleep
heavy eyed half closed
but ready, waiting
with its startled bloom
to ask well what did you expect
and until then, content
to simply sit
and sit and sit
Between Heaven and Hell, Jacek Yerka, 1989
Ignore the mess but
look closely at my kitchen nonetheless
I've planted every clue, my hidden
archaeology, my recipe
a trail of crusts
and crumbs, of everything
I did or ate or made, my store
of thoughts, overflowing the careful
cabinets, pantry chock full
with canisters of want
cups with which to measure
my wilted afternoon of flowers
in a vase, and eggshells, dream bits
lipstick rims on leftover
milk in a glass, the ring
from the bottom of a pot, and only drips
to show what Tuesday was about
or Friday or probably tomorrow
for that matter, I am afraid
that this is who I am, my story may never be
cleaner or better, never prettier
than it is right here today, told by
a used napkin on my cluttered, littered
spattered kitchen countertop
Check out The Mag
for more responses to this fascinating prompt...