Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fiestaware Cup and Saucer Versus the Mug

My Mug Does Not Runneth Over
I love my Fiestaware cups, but are they practical
when I want to drink some serious eye-opening coffee? 
Dust covered the rim of the blue Fiestaware cup sitting on my kitchen shelf, making the color appear a pale gray. “Why don’t I use those cups, and even a saucer, for my morning coffee?” I asked myself. “My daily java routine could use a touch of elegance.” I washed a blue cup and saucer and placed them next to the coffee pot as a reminder to drink from them the next day when I sleepwalked into the kitchen.
I also formed a little riff in my brain about how often I gulp from a large mug and how the super-size culture has affected America. I resolved to liberate my mug and myself from what I perceived as yet another example of wretched excess.
Choices, choices...A cup or a mug?
Twelve minutes after I pushed the start button at 6 a.m. today, my coffee was ready. I poured the hot liquid into my coffee cup—not to be confused with a mug—and settled in for my first caffeine fix of the day. I sat at my writing desk, took a few swallows, wrote a few lines, reached for the cup to take another sip, and it was empty! I did the instant replay of walking back into the kitchen, filling the cup, adding sugar and milk, and returning to my writing desk in my room. I took a few swallows, wrote a few more lines, reached for the cup to take another sip—empty again?
I retraced my steps to the kitchen, put the cup and saucer in the sink, took a mug out of the cabinet, poured a generous amount of coffee into it, returned to my writing desk, and got down to the business of the day.
The mug wins!

I decided that wretched excess has nothing to do with drinking my coffee from a mug. I’m self-employed, so most mornings I don’t have to dash out the door. My fifteen-year-old routine of drinking a mug of coffee, writing, drinking some more coffee, and writing some more cannot easily be broken just because I come up with some absurd motion that my mornings would be more refined if I drank from a lovely cup and placed said cup on a saucer.
A mug it is from now on, unless I’m in a rather Victorian mood, in which case I’ll bring out the bone china, brew a pot of tea, bake some scones, and really put on some airs.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lust for Stuff By Any Other Name…

Lust for Stuff By Any Other Name...
Isn’t Quite Lusty Enough

Stuff, spilling out of the attic and onto the floor 
Lust for Stuff is the name of a blog series I began several months ago. I covered only a few items: books, jewelry (especially gold), the appeal of free stuff and how I resisted it, and lust for stuff and the Joads from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
I had an entire series planned until the day I checked my blog stats. Stats tell bloggers about traffic to their blog, how many people read their posts (never quite enough to make me happy), browsers and operating systems being used, and a blogger’s audience by country. Stats can help you fine-tune your blog and even consider advertising. Stats also tell  you what sites refer readers to your blog, for example, Facebook, Facebook mobile, Google searches, and other Web sites.

I'm embarrassed that we filled this truck with stuff and took it to the dump.
During the few weeks I wrote about lust, I checked my stats.  Okay to be honest, I check my stats every day, several times a day. Like checking e-mail and checking Facebook, it’s a compulsion—as if I needed another one. Compulsions aside, perhaps not quite aside because during the time I wrote about lust for stuff, one of the hundred times I checked the stats, I saw an unfamiliar link.  Said link had referred a few readers to one of my “Lust for Stuff” stories. “I’ll just click this link and see what it is,” I said to myself, and click I did. “Whoa! Oh, my. Oh, no. Not that kind of lust.” I closed the window and resolved to never again go near that link.
Unfortunately, the link put me off so much that I avoided writing about lust for stuff. I wanted to come up with a different name for the series, one that wasn’t quite so . . . “lusty.” I wrote my intentions on my ubiquitous to-do list, but other intentions delayed my trip to the pages of my thesaurus until a few days ago. My Bartlett’s Roget’s Thesaurus at 1415 pages is the perfect companion to someone with a lust for synonyms. With over 350,000 terms and phrases, my appetite likely will not be satiated during this lifetime.
I steered away from that kind of lust in my quest for another name. “Desire” was the first, best match for the kind of lust I wanted to describe. But desire, craving, yearning, longing, hankering, and other nouns didn’t have the strength I wanted. I went to the verbs, and they, too, were similar, even the same words, sans suffixes: crave, long for yearn for, pine for, die for (to die for has become a mantra for some folks’ lust for stuff). I kept going: covet, envy, jealousy, possessiveness, rivalry, competition, bitterness, greed, hunger, appeal, attraction, discontent, malcontent, want.
Not one of the synonyms came close to what I want to say. Lust for stuff, especially in our consumer-driven society, is visceral. People get a gut-level feeling that surpasses desire, craving, yearning, longing. That visceral feeling of eagerness to purchase, to have, to own, goes far beyond envy or appeal. The urge, the strength of the feeling to acquire, to buy, to own is stronger than desire. It has become the fabric of our society, the fabric of our economy, and as most of us know, that fabric is fraying.
I cannot find another word works as well as lust to describe that drive to possess stuff, material possessions, ownership of clothes, books, houses, cars, trinkets, linens, toys, food, plants, watches, jewels—the list doesn’t end, because even for someone who “has it all,” someone is busy creating yet something else for that person to buy.
Lust for stuff it is. Do you have it? Do you want it? Do you need it? Crave it? Desire it? If yes, then you have “Lust for Stuff.”

How many plants are enough?

Thank You for the Dark Clouds

Gratitude—Three Sentences

It's a day to rest my eyes and be grateful
for cool breezes and muted skies.

I prefer sunshine and blue skies, but today all I see are clouds and rain is in the forecast. Can I be grateful for the chance to rest my eyes from the sun’s bright beams? Can I say thank you to the balmy breezes and the cooler air from the cloud-filled skies?

It's not a day for clothes to gently sway in the
breeze and dry in the sun.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Grateful for Anger?

Gratitude—Two Sentences

Anger directed toward me generates anger of my own
and I often respond in kind.

Today, I will try expressing gratitude for the opportunity
to practice restraint and respond in peace.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My World and Worldly Goods

More in the "Lust for Stuff" Series...

What Would I Miss If I Lost “Everything”?

If my possessions were a blank slate, how would I fill it?
I met a Bernie Madoff victim yesterday. He didn’t lose everything, but he lost a lot. I can’t really relate, because I've never had to part with any kind of high-level materialism—no high-end sports car, no plane, no house on the ocean.
Regardless of the price tag on stuff, however, parting with it can be hard. I know because I haven’t been very successful ridding myself of it—I remain inundated with stuff. I have a house full of it in Florida and yet more in my MA house (although that amount was subject to a severe clearing last summer).
I have a picture of myself as being free and light should I ever purge most of my stuff. I wondered how the man who lost so much felt, so I asked him, “Do you miss the stuff?” His answer surprised me: “Yes.” When we got down to details, he admitted what he missed most was being able to cruise into the Apple store at any time and get a new gadget. I have no fondness for gadgets, electronic ones in particular, because for the most part, they make my brain hurt. It also was interesting that he didn’t miss other stuff so much as having the choice to indulge in it. I get that part, the wanting, but checking the bank balance and saying, “No, not this time.”
Of course, being the compare-and-contrast type of person I am, throughout the evening and into this morning, I have pondered my stuff, what I want, what I really care about, what I would miss if I “lost everything.” This relates to stuff, physical, material items, not personal relationships, which are so different as to not even be included in this discourse.
I thought of my possessions as a blank slate: Nothing there. Whenever the whiteboard in my kitchen is cleaned, that blank slate doesn’t last long. Someone fills it with a word, a note, a drawing, song lyrics, a quotation. If my material life became a blank slate, how would I fill it? What would I want right away?
I came up with a few things beyond the obvious such as a place to eat, sleep, and bathe and clothes to wear.

1.     Paper and pens. Life would be empty if I couldn’t write.

2.     Flour, yeast, sugar, and an oven to bake bread. Bread is so easy to make (for me), it’s nutritious, and filling. If I can make bread, I don’t think I would ever go hungry.

3.     Garden space, even if it’s ever-so-small. I nourish myself in a few ways, writing, baking bread, and growing things. Even if I had a large terra cotta pot and a straggling spider plant to nurture, I am certain I could endure.

4.     Books. Books are easy to acquire—I know because I have hundreds of them. Yard sales, libraries, thrift shops abound with them. I will always have books.

My list of necessities is short. As I look around me, I see so much in excess of those necessities and wonder how much of my life I spend tending for them, and what, just what, I would do, if I didn’t have them, even those that I obviously enjoy. Perhaps in the days and weeks to come as I navigate what I have, what I want, and what I need, I can come closer to the necessities in my daily life and further away from the stuff—even the stuff that I like.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Gratitude: One Sentence

When I face challenges today,
I will be grateful for the opportunity to act with wisdom.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Everybody's Heard About the Word

As an editor, I can say one reason so many people have such awful grammar is Microsoft Word. Whenever I run spelling and grammar check at the end of a job, I am appalled at what comes up. Most of the time I have something correct and Word asks me if I don't want to change it to X, which would be wrong! That goes for spelling, grammar, wording, sentence structure, capitalization, punctuation. Lesson: Word is not the last word.
If you care about something you’ve written, after you finish writing—and this is radical—read it aloud. It’s astounding how often something that sounds so right on paper sounds so wrong when spoken. Equally astounding is how often Microsoft Word deems something correct when it is so wrong, for example:

I no its knot write to say many of the things eye doo, butt when I right thumb, they seam to reed all write two I. Me even red them moor then too thymes.

I ran spelling and grammar check on the preceding and no errors came up. Eye sup hose it’s perfectly grate to pub lash these words as they err.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Different Riff on… “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”

Pythons and Pit Vipers Prowling in the Palmetto?

The dastardly dog blasted out of my hands and bolted for parts unknown last night when I took the two lab/coon hound beasts out for their nocturnal business. Street smart this dog is not… any kind of smart is stretching it in a description of him. I took the still-attached-to-my-person dog back inside and fetched the flashlight to see if I could find the escapee.
I figured he was off for the night and pictured myself driving from street to street calling his name and spending a sleepless night worrying I’d find him tomorrow… well, I don’t want to write about my worst thoughts.
Food lovers these dogs are, so I went back inside, grabbed the feeding dish and a cup of dry food, took it outside, and clanged the bits as loud as I could into the metal container, all the while calling “Deek! Deek! Deek!”
Meanwhile, back inside, the contained canine yowled and howled, also wanting freedom, or at least the food she heard clanging into the bowl.
The food brought the dog to his senses and brought him toward home, but through the palmetto scrub in the lot next door. I heard his plaintive cries and scanned the lot with the flashlight. There he was, but not moving, his leash tangled in the underbrush and probably the overbrush as well.
Did I mention that I was home alone? Of course I was home alone: daughter was at boyfriend’s, other daughter in North Florida five hours away, other daughter in Massachusetts, and son also in the land of the Red Sox.

At 59, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” is not so much a joke anymore. I’m not graceful to begin with, so I don’t put myself in too many situations where I might fall and “can’t get up.” Therefore, in a rather mindful manner, I telephoned the nearest child, who of course did not answer her phone. I called the second-nearest child and announced, “I’m heading into the palmetto scrub to get the [insert very bad word] dog. I can’t find my Doc Marten boots, but I’m wearing Doc Marten shoes, along with thick socks tucked over my jeans.” For readers unaware of palmetto scrub and its perils, snakes lurk within, and spiders, and God only knows what else. Python owners no longer pleased with the 30-foot growth of their once-manageable pets have loosed them into my development. Palmetto scrub is not a place a sane person wants to visit in the broad daylight, much less at 9 p.m. I continued, “If I don’t call you back in 15 minutes, call me!”
I headed outside, and even had the presence of mind to put on thick gloves. I approached the palmetto and the dog was gone! “Dang! Where could he be?” I then heard another plaintive cry. He had gone deeper into the scrub. At first he was in an area that was almost a path into the scrub, so I was willing to brave a rescue. But he had wandered deep into the growth and rather than calf-high, it was neck-high. No way was I going in there unless I could rustle up a haz-mat suit.
No haz-mat suits being readily available, I wondered what to do next. Call the sheriff? No, how dumb was that? Hello, 911 what’s your emergency? “My dog is stuck in the palmetto and I’m afraid to go in after him.” Call animal control? Not after 9 p.m.
I called my daughter and told her I was ditching Plan A and hadn’t come up with Plan B. I thought about heading down the dark street and trying to enlist my son’s friend to help me. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t want to go tromping into the scrub, either. Fortunately, I didn’t need to wander up and down the street seeking someone to go into that overgrown mess. Just when I decided I’d have to camp out in my car and wait for daylight, the dog freed himself and walked up the driveway. I was so angry, I did not give him the food, but severely chastised him.
“Blessed relief!” I thought to myself. I made my “I don’t have to go into snake land” telephone call, removed my snake gear, went back to my cup of chamomile tea, and tried to settle down and go to bed.
“I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” is a tired joke, but not so tired for those of us who find themselves alone in situations where a possibility of injury exists. I’m grateful that I had the presence of mind to make the call, put on the snake shoes, and cover my bases, so my epitaph will not read: “She went into the palmetto scrub and couldn’t get out.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What Is Real?

“That orchid doesn’t look real.
It looks like a silk flower,” she said.

       No, no, no. That orchid does not look like a silk flower. A silk flower looks like that orchid.

Have we become so far separated from nature that when we see her efforts we compare them to what is false, manmade, yet omnipresent?

Walking on the beach, my neck aches from looking down, for sea glass and interesting shells. I caught myself saying, “That looks just like pasta!” No, no, no. The pasta looks like these shells.
Bellflowers have delightful shapes. How often have I looked at one of them and pictured in my mind a facsimile of the flower—a dinner bell, the Liberty Bell, a school bell, a cat’s collar bell? No, no, no. Those bells look like the flowers.

Placed in a vase, these dwarf blue delphiniums stun with their cobalt hues and have often drawn the query: “Are they real?” Of course they’re real; it’s the bottles, and jars, and wanna-bes in the floral department of the craft store that aren’t real.

Thin, wispy petals of poppies are often compared to tissue paper or their wrinkled surface is likened to crepe paper. No, no, no. The tissue paper and crepe paper look like the poppies—not the other way around.

What is real? It doesn’t come in a box, or a bag, or a jar most times. And it’s not a rabbit in a children’s story (that, by the way, is not a favorite of mine). Look today for what’s real and note just how often a poor imitation represents what is real in nature.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

“You’re So Strong” Is Often Wrong

SIDS is a scary acronym and it becomes even scarier when the syndrome itself affects someone close to you. I haven’t had this particular grief, but my daughter’s close friend recently lost her precious baby girl to SIDS.
I’m no expert on grief, but I have experienced child loss and it affects my view of the world and particularly my view of mourning, not only my personal experience but also that of others.
My daughter’s friend related that it troubles her when someone notes that she is “so strong.” I puzzled over this comment for a few days, because it’s one I’ve heard often in relation to my own child loss and several other aspects of my life. I don’t remember this particular observation bothering me in the early, what I call “fresh”, days of my grief, but when someone noted that I seemed to be doing “well,” or “strong,” I remember thinking to myself, “Huh? What else am I supposed to do or be?” I then generally accepted the “strong” statement as a compliment and went on my way of just living—not believing for one second that I was strong, and in fact, often feeling pretty wobbly.
One example of being “strong” that comes to mind occurred a few months after my long-time marriage disintegrated. A close friend was visiting and sat in the bathroom watching me scrape peeling cracking disgusting paint and wallpaper remnants off the walls, an activity, which, in retrospect was rather apropos to my life at the time. She looked at me, shook her head, and said, “I can’t believe you’re in here scraping paint. If I had separated from my husband and just got over Lyme disease, I’d be piled up in the bed, crying.”
I looked at her and said, “There is a part of me that is piled up in the bed crying right now. But this other part is here in the bathroom scraping the walls.”
It’s that part of any of us standing in the bathroom scraping the walls that fools people into believing we are strong. And I’m not certain if fooling people into believing we’re strong is even the right way to explain what is happening. On reflection, I think people want to believe those who have suffered are strong. Why? Because grief and loss are painful, truly life altering. We fear loss, we fear grief, we fear pain. One of our biggest fears surrounding loss, grief, pain is that we cannot, will not be able to bear up under the weight—that we aren’t, won’t be, cannot be “strong”—that we will crumble and die from loss, grief, pain.
When someone sees my daughter’s friend move through her days, living her grief, yet still living, I believe the strength they see is not so much the young woman’s strength, but rather it is the strength they want to have should they suffer similar loss, grief, pain. By observing her “strength,” which is probably simply getting up and living a day—that day—they too believe that should the unimaginable happen to them, they will be able to get up and live a day.

One of the best quotes relating to being strong doesn’t say much of anything extraordinary. No magic formula exists for dealing with loss, grief, pain, but if one did, I think it would read like the following:

“Strength just comes in one brand—you stand up at sunrise
and meet what they send you and keep your hair combed.”
                                    ~ from Kate Vaiden by Reynolds Price