The awesome Director of Photography for my sketch Dunes (which we film next Saturday) emailed me this clip today. Thank you, Richard! You made my day!
I am descended from a long line of martyrs. Now, you might be thinking the lion snack, pyre kindle, rock dodger sort, but you’d be mistaken. See, I’ve long suspected my family actually survived through the centuries by being fabulous finger pointers. “Oh, you’re looking for a witch? Have you spoken with Goody Johnson? No reason. I’m just saying there may be naked devil frolicking. Hey, since her property is right next to mine and she doesn’t look like a pond floater to me, if you catch my drift, I was thinking you know maybe we could just add that to our lands. Hey, did I mention the frolicking and the warts? I think there was cavorting!” In fact, all of my friends know that if they ever need someone to bury the body, they should definitely not include me due to my finger-pointing genetics. Even If I wanted to keep their secret, my DNA would kick in and the next thing you know I’d be at the local sheriff’s office spilling my guts. No, we’re more the sort of martyrs with our ever-lengthening faces who believe we were meant to suffer. It can make the holidays a real hoot. And while I’m not always like this, I have some glorious moments.
A recent example: I was driving home one night and I suppose the radio wasn’t entertaining enough and the traffic wasn’t particularly challenging, so that allowed for some quality me time. Time to really over think things – to rework reality. I started picking on myself and it went something like this: “you know, none of your friends parents like you – true story”. I made a list in my head of all of my friends and their parents – a list that would make what I was saying completely true. I crawled out on that mental ledge and followed with “you’re kind of unlikeable, there’s probably something wrong with you.” Now let me say this was up there with the time I called April and declared, “I only have three friends” to which April calmly took a breath and asked about several other people that I hadn’t counted – people I really liked and she was able to negotiate through my very German, “no, that’s an acquaintance”- the “du” vs. “Sie” roadblocks I threw in her way until I came down off of that ledge. I’m kind of famous for these glorious moments, I’m not so proud to say. So, as I drove and thought of every parent that disliked me including in-laws, I became smaller and sadder. This was my narrative I chose to tell myself that evening for no better reason than I was bored.
And then the small part of me that hates to be beaten up rallied. “Julie’s mom doesn’t feel that way. Ern’s parents don’t feel that way. In fact, if you think about it, more of them like you than don’t and the ones who don’t, you’ve always had a “right back atcha’” attitude anyway, so let’s admit we’re being silly.” I perked back up and recounted the ways that Julie’s mom had shown me over the years that she did still think about me and she did believe I was an ok person. I used that knowledge to feel ok again. To feel likeable. To feel like I wasn’t some friend toad who when introduced to parents was seen as some loathsome and repulsive parasite latched to their beloved kid. (Did I mention I’m very skilled at making myself suffer?) Those were the people who mattered to me – those incredible, amazing people who I admire and they like me. I’m ok.
Reminding myself of the real truth, the real story, allowed me to not only feel better about myself, but about the people around me. And the real story is that Ernie’s parents always ask about me when Ern comes into town. Julie’s mom follows my blog and was one of the top people to respond to my Facebook posts – something that goes well beyond what my own family does and it’s something that means a lot to me. And all of that helps me feel connected to my past.
Last week Julie told me that her mom had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Julie, who is a doctor, explained what that meant for the coming year and then asked if I would write a reminiscence – something her mom could read because she likes my writing. I had a small meltdown, and then I sat down at 3:30 am the following morning and wrote a small bit that will never do this amazing lady justice or properly express how much she means to me or how incredible I think she is.
Of all the phases in my life – school, graduation, college, marriages, friend’s children being born, this is the one I like absolutely the least. I want to stomp my feet hard enough or hold my breath long enough so that Death pauses, furrows a brow and says, “you know you’ll just pass out, but I suppose this once because of your moxie and that particular shade of blue on your face, I’ll cry uncle then come back in about 15 years, deal?” (I basically want Death to be the character from Terry Pratchett’s novels. Relatable with a great fondness for cats.)
Like my aunt and my mom, she’s one of those people I have always assumed would always be there. That decades from now I would still be hearing stories of her wanderings or hearing her boasting about and celebrating her incredible children and grandchildren. That I would be admiring her beautiful nature photos or the latest art piece she had created. That wherever the wind stirred the tall grass and gently encouraged the wind chimes into performing a fairy’s chorus that I could smile in the knowledge she was somewhere out there – Monte and Polly at her side.
And quite selfishly, on the 6th anniversary of my mother’s death, I admit that among the reasons I’m sad is that there will be one less person in this world that thinks I’m ok.
Post the family’s Thanksgiving get together, I was driving down Mopac listening to KGSR wrapped in the afterglow of all the well wishes, good conversation and great food. I had 40 minutes of music and in-my-head time and I started thinking about how great my friends and family are. While under the influence of a lethal combination of L-Tryptophan and sugar, I started composing a blog entry. I do this all the time while driving, but few rarely make it to the website because I either don’t jot down the idea or it floundered before I could commit it to virtual paper.
As I drove, I composed the entry which basically talked about how completely in awe I am of my friends and their talents. I wrote about how gifted each and every one of them are. At this point in the thought process, I mention a story I wrote in an expository writing class at UT called “The Aluminum Rose” – a story specifically about one of my oldest friends, Angie, that reflected on how beautiful and unique she was by comparing her to a foil rose her father crafted for her many years ago. I backspace over this bit, recalling the day the professor took that story, threw it up on the overhead and an entire class picked it apart (nothing beats the humiliation of having a classroom full of uppity upper level English students holding a microscope to your writing). This particular class nearly ended in a brawl due to a disagreement over whether I had proven that Angie was either a unique or a beautiful person. What I took away from the whole experience was that while you can make certain claims in writing there’s a limit to what you can expect your audience to accept wholesale. I ponder this for a bit – if I say that my friends are awe inspiring and gifted, I will need examples.
I mentally start writing examples starting with Ernie, my oldest friend – the kid who was responsible for me my first day of school in Austin, Texas. I talk about Ernie the concert quality pianist (after only a couple of years playing), Ernie teaching in China, Ernie the guy that tried to sneak into a forbidden part of China and didn’t get arrested, Ernie, the Germans and the Crazy Knife Wielding Chef – so many stories. I even tease him a bit in this unwritten blog over his perception of himself as a young boy. (I’ve known him since he was seven and he remembers himself as a bit aloof and overly studious – not particularly a playful kid.) I recall that I once had to remind him of our various 3rd grade adventures, to which he replied something along the lines of how I brought that out in him. (It was actually a less flattering recollection – I think it had to do with me being kind of a spastic mess and being so irritating he had to sink to my level. I love my friends.)
I write about Jerry, my college roommate who really came into his own in New York. I recount some of his adventures like with the tribe in Ghana or the private tour of the Roman Baths in Malta by one of the archaeologists. I write about his work with psychiatric patients and the homeless and I take a moment to be blown away. I make a mental note to send an “I love you, guys’ note to both he and another old roommate, Jim. I truly love them both. Recently, through Facebook, the two of them had made me laugh over a tiny clash with someone who doesn’t know me. I think about how perceptions of me vary wildly between the older friends and the newer, but decide not to mention it in the blog piece because it’s not very relevant.
I think about the rest of my amazing friends, but before I decide on who to write about next and what I’m going to say, I begin to wonder why it is that these incredible people go slumming with the likes of me. There’s an Ernie speech that immediately pops into my head, but I don’t let it play out. Suffice it to say that Ernie is right. I can’t decide whether to include this bit, because no one wants to read some sad little self-deprecating analysis. Plus, some might think I either need a serious pep talk or I’m trying to manipulate them into throwing praise my way. I decide to leave this out.
At this point, I’m well down the road and a story pops into my head from my PBS days. It’s where I thanked the universe for helping out after a pledge drive. I was cautioned not to name names in the future to avoid accidentally forgetting someone and the inevitable hurt feelings that would follow. I think I may be heading down that road where I heavily praise some and forget others. I see the drama unfold.
I mentally crumple up the pages and chuck them into the bin. I’m working myself up into getting mad over a blog entry that doesn’t exist. The post-Thanksgiving moment has left and I’m neither feeling warm nor cuddly.
Now it’s Sunday and I’m kind of having a grand “fuck it” moment, mostly because I haven’t poked the blog in awhile. So, I’ve decided to write what I intended in a rather round-about fashion and give a blanket thanks to all of my friends (and one beautiful parent of a friend who has always inspired me) – you are all truly amazing and gifted people who I am constantly completely blown away by – from your stories, your writing, your photographs, your sculptures, your beauty, your achievements with your patients, your clients, your students and your kids – your adventures, your unique views of the world and how you choose to share/express those – for all the laughs and smiles throughout the years and the fact you all choose to slum with the likes of me. I kind of love you guys.
… and to those who are hurt that I didn’t name them specifically, know that it’s only because I happen to love Ernie, Jerry, Jim and Angie more or you owe me an email.
Normally, I don’t plug other blogs unless I’m plugging one of those few there on the sidebar (scroll down, no further, a little further – don’t forget to scroll back up). They all represent my recommended reads (that I have permission to link to), because let’s face it, I like every one of those people and their web presence makes me happy (even if some of them get lazy and refuse to update regularly – like say, December 2009 – Tony, I’m looking at you). It’s my way of checking in to see what’s on their mind in a way that Facebook or a Tweet simply won’t satisfy.
However, today is a new day.
Have you ever read the blog 1,000 Awesome Things written by Neil Pasricha? The set-up is basically that Neil counts down 1,000 simple “Awesome” things on a daily basis (weekdays only). My understanding is the website began after the author was in the middle of one of life’s curveballs and decided he’d write and share 1,000 things that he found to be “Awesome”. It’s the kind of site I go to when I’m having a bad day and need a hit of humorous optimism. (And it’s the kind of site that doesn’t make me feel like I’m coated in syrup or have a sense of dread that tiny people are going to leap out of my computer and force me to join them in a round of “It’s a Small World” while skipping under a rainbow.)
I could easily find an “Awesome” thing a week to share, but I’m settling for this one: #467 The Guilty Pleasure Song. To quote the post
“…we laughed about those songs you don’t really tell your friends about. You know, it’s those tracks on your iPod you’re afraid someone will find, your secret bubblegum pop playlist with the ironic title, or the last track on a distant mix CD that still pulls powerful strings on your achy breaky heart…”
I started thinking about it and I’ve decided to come clean before someone accidentally comes across my iPod (good luck). It’s Ricky Martin’s “Living La Vida Loca”. I know, I know, it’s not folksy or even alternative, but most of you already know of my love for Smash Mouth, so it’s not like you didn’t see this coming.
So, the question is: What’s YOUR guilty pleasure song?
From Jennifer (I must confess, Lady Gaga sucks me in, too):
Two more: This one is from Kendra – one of her many (see comments below). In 7th grade I remember telling my grandmother I liked the song “Rock of Ages” and she replied, “my mother did, too.” I stood there blinking at her for several long minutes until my mother cleared it up.
And finally there’s this one, which is also on my iPod and is in my collection of favorites (it’s easily the most embarrassing of the lot):
As I mentioned somewhere on my Summer’s Bucket List post, I started taking Beginning Sewing. Why? I have no clue. Maybe it was pinning together one too many of Dad’s sewing projects over the years, sitting at my grandmother’s antique sewing table rocking the stylized metal foot (is it a foot if it’s about 3′ x 3′?) back and forth or seeing my co-workers projects. Who knows? Now, I’ve sewn in the past. I’ve had my own machine (that I sold in a garage sale). I’ve made my own dress (singular) with buttons (go me), but I’ve never been formally trained. And since I’m apparently determined to be a jittery spaz that people pity in the writing group (embarrassed myself at the June meeting, too – good work), I clearly need some wins.
So (with an “o”, no need for an obvious painful pun), my friend Kendra and I signed-up for Beginning Sewing at the Stitch Lab. It was truly a fantastic class with an awesome (and extremely patient) teacher, Hayley. I was drawn to this particular place, because each lesson ended with the students creating something. Ok, and to be honest, I really dug the fabrics they showed on Flickr (well, they’re really cool/fun fabrics).
In the first class we learned the basics of the sewing machine and a simple stitch. And by the end of our first class we had completed our first project – a pouch. Yes, a pouch – something you can put things in and take things out of, I don’t need your sassiness. The pouch has a drawstring and a flat, rectangular bottom. A world of Christmas thoughts flitted through my head (as prompted by a fellow classmate who, more clever than I, suggested them – I’m sure I eventually would have thought of them. Maybe.)
In the second class we had to create a decorative pillow. Let’s stop right there, I hate decorative pillows with a passion. When I say “with a passion” I mean I think they herald the fall of mankind and their continued existence burns a hole through my very soul. Sure, they can look “lovely” I suppose – possibly at someone else’s house, but other than collecting dust, and constantly needing to be fluffed and repositioned, I don’t care for them. HOWEVER, with that said, I made one (not much choice in the matter) and I have to say it kind of makes me stupid with happiness. In this particular class, we learned about piping and zippers (and the value of a good seam ripper – apparently, if the zipper cloth doesn’t go under the foot just right and the fabric wads up, you can have a bit of a nightmare on your hands – so I’ve heard).
The third class – let’s just start by saying I was already enjoying a really bad weekend before I walked through the doors. I got to class early, suspecting I needed to purchase more interfacing for my project. (We got to choose one of several projects and since I wasn’t letting anyone near me with a tape measure to make a skirt and I didn’t need a fancier decorative pillow, because of the whole “fall of mankind” thing I went with the “messenger bag”.) As we were all laying out our material and looking at our instructions and patterns for our various projects, our instructor mentioned there had been some crying in a previous class. Inwardly I snorted. As a rule, I’m typically not a cry-er. In fact, it usually takes some major event to get me going (or an Oprah episode, ok or maybe the end of a good book, or that time Dr. Carson Beckett died on SG:Atlantis saving the entire station and really all he wanted that day was someone to go fishing with him, but I digress). I’m fairly certain it was the smugness in my “snort” that caused everything to go pear-shaped for me that day.
It started with the fabric. Where I thought I didn’t have enough for interfacing, I actually didn’t have enough of the regular material, either. I realized this as I started laying everything out and ironing the pieces. This is where our ever-patient teacher consoled me and pointed out all the other fabrics available for purchase throughout the store. WHEW! I shopped around, picked out the fabrics I wanted and Hayley cut-out the right yardage. I was on my way to messenger bag-dom! But, I was now behind my classmates on the pinning and cutting. In fact, people were starting to sew before I had my piece pinned. Hayley to the rescue part 2 – Hayley began helping me cut and pin. Apparently, I chose a project that was a little more complex than the skirt or pillow and she tried to remind me that we had plenty of time. I wasn’t behind, she reassured, I just had more pieces. At some point when I was finishing off stitching a piece at the sewing machine, I turned in my chair to go back to the table for more pinning and that’s when the “snort karma” caught up with me to smack me in my smug face. The chair I was sitting in broke into three pieces and I unceremoniously spilled onto the wooden floor. (My knee and ego are still bruised.) I really can’t quite express how humiliating it is to be the oldest and the fat-est crawling around on the floor. I apologized profusely and proceeded to beat myself up – the odious fat beast on the floor – good one, Beth.
I hung my head down, berating myself as I made my way back to the table and that’s when I started silently bawling. This is a trick I learned from my mother – the art of the quiet melt-down where you don’t alert those nearby that it’s happening. The only thing that kept me from completely walking out was the idea of the parade of people tailing me into the parking lot with their pity. “It’s ok. It’s not that bad. That chair was wobbly.”
Now I was in full-blown freak out, which meant the higher functioning bits of my brain had shutdown. The reptilian side, which demanded I run and hide, pinned and sewed something completely wrong. Hayley to the rescue part 3 – she took the piece away and started removing the stitches while giving me something else to focus on. Together she walked me through the rest of my project and after a few of the students had left, having completing their projects, I produced this:
Now, what the picture doesn’t show well is that the flowers are not really a yellow or gold, they’re actually a cheerful chartreuse. I’m kind of proud of this creation – my first messenger bag – produced from tears, banged up knees, bruised ego and a lot of patience on my instructor’s part.
Bag in hand and with thirty minutes to spare, I headed to the car. The air let me know my pants were falling down. AWESOME DAY!
Don’t miss the the much anticipated return of Dotopotamus with its fresh new look and fresh new stories! WELCOME BACK!!!!!
(Unlike the Big Blue Mess, who is trying to think up stories and is attempting to write something new for my first writing group meeting. This may quickly be followed by me being unceremoniously kicked-out of the group after much raucus laughter at my pitiful little debut. Self-confidence – not one of my strengths – I may have a small stroke between now and presenting my first story to real writers. At the very least, that might give me a story for the Mess. And just think, a week after that I go to a free Improv class – surely, more stories could follow.)
Every year I’m asked what I want for my birthday, just like the rest of you, and I sit on Amazon trying to think of things I wouldn’t mind collecting dust on a bookshelf; it’s my annual birthday/Christmas routine.
But you know what I really want? and not necessarily for my birthday? I want as many of you as possible in one place. From Dayton to Davis – from Montreal and New York to Las Vegas and all the places in between (like Texas, Texas and Texas – oh, and Indiana, don’t think you’re skating Wee One or you Miss Arizona). We could meet up in Chicago (I’m officially declaring it “middle-ish” – has a lot to offer I’m told, I can only personally comment on the airport and that seemed perfectly airport-ish – lots of gates and such) – maybe for a nice four day getaway?
It goes without saying that the invitation is open to any and all you wanted to drag along and it wouldn’t necessarily have to be a gathering of Texans and you ex-patriates (shame on all y’all) – you other state-ies are welcome. I even promise you won’t be forced to stare at me the entire 96 hours (I mean, we’d have to sleep some time, right?)
I’m completely serious, so you tell me what you think – how can we make this happen?
Lately, as I spend more and more time interacting with people online, I’ve been thinking about the nature of friendship. What makes a friend a friend versus an acquaintance? When does an acquaintance make that transition to become a friend?
I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but I think I can identify a criteria that works for me.
Now I really think “acquaintances” have gotten a bad rap. I have a ton of acquaintances and we do things like lunch or meet for drinks and we ask polite questions about each other’s various family members and pets. We can talk about movies, books and television without hissing and spitting (hissing and spitting is obviously reserved for friends and their bad taste). Sure, these acquaintances are not coming over for a slumber party, but they also escape the me that doesn’t know how to behave in polite company. In fact, it’s with this set of people that I practice my rusty social skills. I say things like “yes” instead of “yeah” and work on whipping out phrases like “thank you”. And when these acquaintances don’t call me on my actual birthday, I’m not placing them on some mental list. Those of you who are acquaintances, this isn’t actually a bad group to belong to – there’s so much less pressure.
I wish I could think of some common occurrence that moves an acquaintance over to friend – maybe it’s when the person has given some sign that they can handle more than a simple exchange of pleasantries. Maybe it was when Lynn talked me off the ledge every day after I lost my job and I made her laugh so hard, she spit water on her monitor (no respect for technology) or when Anna threw her luggage down in the dorm’s TV room and collapsed on a couch or was it when she was “taxing” a Wendy’s burger? or maybe when she was convincing the staff a Chick-fil-a that I was “special”? or that first card that called me a quarter of a century old, which made me feel old and really I’d like to be “old” like that these days – then there’s Kendra – maybe it was with her refusal to get my mail because she was exceptionally lazy and really there was just the one more mailbox to check but nooooo… or that time you sassed me… or that time you gave me a book of “Opposites” that made me cackle… or the time you identified my “super powers” and here we are… friends. Well, maybe not you, because I think you owe me a phone call, but the rest of you.
A few weeks ago a group of us were sitting around our table telling stories and one of my friends pointed out that I was surrounded by characters. I’ve heard this before, but it did make me wonder – am I drawn to colorful people, do I bring out certain outrageous qualities or do I simply create them to fill a part in a story? and if I was creating them, what did it say about me?
I spent the next couple of weeks, during those quiet moments, making this a fairly big deal in my head. I like to prod and probe through the murk that makes up “me” on the off chance there’s something new to learn. It’s a great game that we introverts like to indulge in. Externally, I was also in the process of taking a few photos for April’s Summer Photo Scavenger Hunt – this is where we have the entire summer to capture a wide range of photos from “toy” to “mystical”. I shared the idea with a few co-workers who wanted to represent “Friendship” and “No” (both photos that are on the list), so I brought in my cheap point-and-shoot to work one day.
That’s when I took this photo of Merl. To put this in context, let me tell you about Merl. Merl has been with variations of our agency for over 35 years. When you mention where you work to people who are familiar with the agency, they typically won’t know the head of the agency or any of the upper echelon, but they’ll always ask if you know Merl and by knowing Merl, you go up in their eyes. He’s always polished, professional and the most knowledgeable person in the room. He’s our “go-to” and our front man. And of all the people I work with, he happens to have the most dry and wicked sense of humor. I don’t snicker, chortle, chuckle or laugh around Merl, I cackle from the bottom of my soul. I suspect people outside of our team get hints of this in meetings (if they’re paying attention), but I always wonder if they’ve ever been fully treated to Merl’s terrific sense of humor.
So, we were setting up his team to take the photo to fulfill “Friendship” and he furiously worked to lick down some red candy to match his team’s red outfits. Unfortunately, the red dye wasn’t transferring to his tongue. I finish taking the photo of the group with their hands overlapping and the next thing I see is Merl laying this fake candle on his head and smiling. I want to say that there was some declaration about being a unicorn, but I could be making that up. I asked Merl if I could take a photo of him with the candle on his head and as you see he was completely willing. This picture makes me laugh for so many reasons – the serene smile, the knowledge that our group are some of the few folks treated to his wit and seeing this highly respected individual, one who I consider to be one of the true faces of our agency, being so absolutely silly.
I’ve decided, I definitely don’t “create” the characters around me. Everyone is a character – it’s just a matter of degree and willingness to share.
I had lunch with “the guys” earlier this week – former co-workers that helped make one of my many stupid jobs bearable. These are “the guys” who call me by my first name (and get away with it, because there’s no point fighting it and if I whine, they’ll only post the whine on their websites. Yes, they really did.). The guys who go shark fishing or gator hunting depending on the season. (It’s a cultural thing. See, in Texas, it’s up there with horseback riding, javelina roping and chasing down those stray tumbleweed before bellying up to the bar. The summers are always hot. The cicadas are always chirping and we all walk and talk real slow-like. Just like the movies.) The guys who are in “the band” and play in local bars and do iron man canoe races that stretch over several days (and then end up dehydrated and hallucinating on some random pier, but that was really just the once). The guys who had plans to be in Belize on New Years Eve 1999 perched atop some Mayan/Incan/Aztec something to ring in the millennium. Ten years later, not much has changed. Their adventures just have new backdrops. Every few years, we’ll get together, they’ll tell stories, we’ll reminisce about a time when we were more like characters from The Office and then we go our separate ways – all caught up and ready to embark on new adventures to share at some later lunch.
As the weak link in the group, I have one complaint – it’s that moment when “the guys” turn to me and ask, “So, what have you been up to?” Our good time ruined by their curiosity as I scramble for a story. I mean, how do you respond to a pack of shark hunting javelina baiters when all you can think to say is “Sam did this cute thing where she ate some cantaloupe – it was on the floor and stuff”? The only thing left to do at that point is to smile weakly and hope they’ll quickly remember that they had plans to snorkel around the Great Barrier Reef or walk the length of China.
See, I collect stories – other people’s stories and I collect people who can tell good stories – I’m a listener. Sure, some would call it the “creepy, quiet girl that is probably on the edge snapping at any moment”, but labels can be so cruel. As a listener, I’m held to a different standard and shouldn’t have to be burdened with coming up with adventure stories of my own. Now, you want some good adventure stories, I have a ton just waiting. However, they don’t feature me. But if you insist, well the closest thing I’ve had to an adventure was that time I went with Anna to the Ripley’s museum a few weeks ago, walked through a tunnel where the walls were basically a revolving tube with swirling lights playing off of it. Midway through I declared, “Anna! I think I’m actually tilting!! I can feel it” “Close your eyes, Beth.” Whew. Close call there. Another adventure down for the books.
So, if you’re out with me, just carry on – no need to ask Beth what she’s been up to lately. It probably involved Jay
or Sam or work or this one time I walked outside or maybe, if I’m feeling feisty, something about my website or how many books I’m behind in reading – the real riveting stuff.
But if you ask, I can tell you a great story about shark hunting. It’s not my own, but it’s a great story.