Mosaic

This past year I joined a Facebook group for spouses/partners who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. While I have this incredibly supportive network of family and friends who are always there for me, our loss is different. They lost a beloved son, a son-in-law, a brother, an uncle, or a friend. In a lot of cases, Jay was someone whom they’d known most of his life if not all, or for some, they’d known him all of theirs. Whereas, I lost a husband – my best friend, my favorite person, my raison d’ê·tre. And while the losses are equally tragic, they’re also very different. I have never lost a child or a brother or a good friend to suicide. They have never lost a husband to suicide.

In this group I’ve found a comfortable space where every member has experienced a similar tragedy. Just reading their words or posting mine has helped me put my grief in perspective and it has helped me realize that the ways I feel and think aren’t particularly uncommon – that I’m not alone in the thoughts/feelings that I have. It’s a safe place where I can share my best and worst thoughts, where I can celebrate what was but still show how deeply my scars run. It’s a place where I don’t have to lay out a backstory or offer-up a lot of explanation – a place where the members just get “it”. They inspire me. They break my heart. They laugh, cry, and share their stories – the good and the bad. It’s a group no one wants to belong to and one we’re glad exists.

Occasionally a member will post a photo of a meaningful momento – something they keep close to remind them of their loved one, and that’s what inspired my post today. (This is the post I mentioned I was struggling with over the past couple of weeks. I couldn’t figure out how to sink my teeth into what I wanted to say. So, here we go!)

Before Christmas, one of the members shared a photo of a bracelet she wears. It’s fairly simple – a square on its end divided into quarters with two lines crossing it. In each quadrant is a letter – from left to right the letters represent one set of initials, from top to bottom represent the letters represent another person’s set of initials. Let me just show you, it’ll be easier:

Custom Crossed Paths Initials Bracelet

When I saw it, I knew immediately I wanted one – truly a no-brainer.

I immediately went to the company’s website, and that’s where I read their description: “Who crossed your path and changed your life forever? Cross your initials with the initials of the person who set you in a new direction and stay connected wherever you may wander.” I paused. So many people have crossed my path and changed my life forever – more than Jay – people who had an equally strong hand in righting my course in this life (or at least made small, but significant course adjustments). I suddenly pictured dozens of bracelets running down my wrists, filled with their initials: JU, AA, AB, AG, DP, HB, JB, JH, JJ, JK, JS, KT…. (the list goes on). The imagined bracelets celebrated everyone who not only had an impact on the course my life has taken, but have greatly influenced the person I am today. People who believed in me. People who took chances on me, opened doors and presented me with new opportunities both personally and professionally. People who taught me my self-worth (hrmmm “…taught me…” makes it sound as though it’s in my past. I should change that to”…continue to try to teach me and get frustrated, slap their forehead, sigh, and maybe even cry a bit in regard to my seemingly hard-headedness in regard to…”) Most of my good friends, would tell you this is an area they’d greatly love to see me improve upon. Hey, I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t challenging. My job is to keep them busy and sighing. You’re welcome, friends!

Those people shaped the me that you have now. Without them, I wouldn’t be me. (Now you know who to blame. 🙂 )

Of course, wearing that many bracelets seemed a tiny bit ridiculous, so I looked at the company’s other offerings. There I discovered another type of bracelet – one which displays the latitude and longitude of the place you met someone. My first reaction was, “that’s ridiculous! I have no idea where I met my friends.” Then I thought about it, and realized that with rare exception I could actually pin-point the location of our meeting. From a particular room in a house to a desk in a classroom to an office or a meeting room. Not only did I know where I met them, I remember the moment – the formal introductions, the stolen glances across a living room, the picnic table on a Thanksgiving Day – all photos sitting in my memory I can easily leaf through – all with very specific locations. My imagined bracelets doubled and now gracefully hung from two wrists.

With some I remember there being this immediate connection – a moment when I just knew, “this person is part of my tribe.” Aside: one of my friends once went completely slack-jawed after she’d introduced me to her friend. In a matter of hours we had our arms around each other, giving each other huge hugs. Typically I’m the hugest fan of strangers touching me – even some acquaintances, which this friend was quite aware of, but hey I’d found one of my people out in the wild, I had to hug them because I didn’t realize that, even though I didn’t know them before, I really missed them and needed that hug.

Of course, some of those first meetings didn’t go quite as well (definitely zero hugging). They were more of the, “I think I’m going to sucker punch this jerk and see if they’ll make fun squeaky ouch noises?” variety. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t, though I have since slugged almost all of them in the shoulder more than once. Hey, they can’t help being them, and I can’t help being me.

And there were those in the middle. People who were this constant presence in my life. People who didn’t elicit that visceral “OMG! I adore you!” or the “OMG! I cannot stand you!!” reaction. These people just appeared beside me, and we were simply friends.

And all of these friends, no matter how we met, would end up becoming essential to my story influencing so many aspects of my life from my thoughts, my tastes, and my tolerances.

Recently, an old friend made a fairly simple observation. I was in the process of making a choice, and then explaining the “why” behind that choice when they said, “you probably got that from me.” And I’m pretty sure they were right. Then I realized it wasn’t just that single thing I’d taken from them, or from others – I’ve taken so much more. In fact, the more I thought about it and the more I think about it, I recognize that not only did people cross my path, but I carry many of them with me every single day. It’s in the way I smile, my facial expressions that aren’t easily concealed, my wit, the way I write, the choices I make when I park, the music I enjoy, the way I laugh, the way I sneeze, or the way I speak when I’m expressing an idea emphatically. Their traits, their quirks, their habits have been added to my own and I’ve become this incredible mosaic of all the people who have touched my life.

After thinking about all of this, it was hard not to ask for those bracelets for my birthday. I was only held back by the uncertainty of how people would perceive me crossing their initials with mine and wearing them around. I imagined incredibly awkward conversations. “Ummm Beth, we’re not going steady.” While I looked completely surprised, “wait, we’re not???” So, I suppose I’m content to wear them in my head and on my heart, for now.

I’ll wrap everything up with this final piece.

I’m not sure how you feel about the TV show This is Us, but a recent bit of dialog really stuck with me (and it’s the theme for this season):

It’s so strange, isn’t it? How just like that a complete stranger can become such a big part of your story. It’s actually kind of terrifying, y’know? How a single cross with one person you’ve never met can change everything.

This is Us, Season 4, Episode 1 Strangers

I look forward to 2020, to a year which includes a new job, being on a board with new people, traveling to new cities and starting a new personal project. I know with absolute certainty that my path will cross with many people, and I look forward to that next person who becomes a significant part of my story, to that friendship, and seeing the new/unexpected (and hopefully welcome) directions we go – adding and changing the mosaic that is me.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

New Things: The Final Edition

I have another post in mind, but I find I’m a bit stuck as I churn over the “hows” of what I want to post. I’ve poked it, prodded it, written it a dozen different ways in my head, and now I’m going to let it marinate a bit then maybe have another go at it before year’s end (gads, that’s only three days away). In order to get out a post in December, my only real story option is to catch you up on the new things I’ve done in November and December. Of course, because I’ve settled down and started typing, all of them have fled my head – at least the November version. You’ll just have to trust that I did in fact do new things in November, and I’m certain I enjoyed them.

Moving On

Let’s start with a big one: I got a new job that will start in January. I’m excited and anxious all at once. I could tell you all about the why’s and how’s, but well that would be breaking a promise I made to myself about writing about work on this blog. Those kind of stories can be a bit career-limiting. Plus, my former supervisor, and soon-to-be co-worker (who incidentally reads this blog and whom I can sass in a mere 9 days with, “You’re not the boss of me!!!”) doesn’t need his ego stroked more than usual. The fact we’re both leaving is its own statement, so I’ll leave that there.

I quit my swim class; I’ve never done that before! I mean, that probably doesn’t count as a new thing if we’re going to make new things only about happy/positive things. Ultimately, I wrestled with it, and decided my frustration over not progressing athletically was a decent reason. No one’s fault. Well, mine and my stupid brain and body for not cooperating in a manner and at a pace I’d prefer.

Quitting was quickly followed by: I advanced to the intro to lap class, and then announced that I was rejoining swimming. As you can see, I’ve lead quite the mercurial swim life. I’m currently learning how to do the butterfly stroke. Of course, that reminds me of a Trevor Noah bit making fun of swimming and the various strokes, which leads me to…

I saw Trevor Noah live, which I saw in November. (HAH! I knew I could remember at least one thing I’d done.) It was an absolutely fantastic show where he did a hilarious bit about swimming. Have I mentioned that? If you get a chance, I highly recommend reading his book, Born a Crime. I’m typically a fiction-only reader (and yeah, I get it – go ahead and get your “His book is fiction” cracks out of your system – go on), but this was fantastic. He talks about his family and growing-up in South Africa during Apartheid where he was quite literally born a crime. If you can, listen to it as an audio book where he narrates his own story. Also, as a favor to me, read a real review; mine isn’t doing the book any justice and you’re probably not as tempted to pick it up as you should be. I personally recommend the review from the NY Times. I think it might be good based on the preview I could see on Google. However, I couldn’t actually confirm it. Apparently, one of us (me) has read their three free NY Times online articles and now they want money. 😦 I will not surrender to you, NYT! Also, I’m kind of cheap!

I had brunch with my first boyfriend. It was a wonderful visit. He’s funny, smart, clever, and has been involved in some really incredible things (testifying before Congress among them) – gone on many a grand adventure/jaunt/wander – and to put it simply, he’s continued to be a neat person. I like to think of him as a true survivor of dramatic, demanding teen-girl me, which is truly medal-worthy. Sorry David, no medals have been minted yet, but I give a great “atta-boy” for surviving. ATTA BOY!

I went to the opening of a campaign office. In this case, I was there for Elizabeth Warren’s office opening here in town. A good friend of mine is a huge Warren supporter so I went as moral support (lots of supporting happening that day) and also, I suppose I went for the opportunity to punch him every time he pointed out that we were standing in Beto’s former offices.

I spent Christmas alone. This one probably isn’t making you think, “Yay!” Basically, I turned off my phone and avoided FB most of the day. You see, it’s also my birthday, and it was a choice I got to make as an adult. As we always say at work (former work): It is what it is. (I suppose other people say it, too but I’m giving my office all the credit since I heard it there first, and often – usually daily. Hrmm… a defeatest phrase the whole team took up at work, possibly another clue?) I’m pretty sure there was one wellness check in the form of my trainer who came by with her daughter that evening. I love her! Before day’s end, I brought everything back up online and returned greetings so my Mother would stop frowning down over my poor manners.

Seriously though, I sometimes don’t feel like being “Edie,” and that’s kind of who I feel I am right now. (Inside family thing. Just nod your head in understanding.) After having a brief chat with my suicide loss survivors gang (a group for those who have lost spouses/partners to suicide), we agreed that next year I should plan to take a trip away from here. I think I’m going to do that.

The day after Christmas, a friend scooped me up and we just finished spending the past few days around Aransas Bay as part of my 2019 Beth-venture. It was absolutely beautiful!

In sum, I’ve spent the year trying a lot of new things – some big, some small – things I wasn’t always sure I’d enjoy. I swam, I spent time in the mountains, I fed more stingrays, I met new/incredible people (the kind you’re immediately drawn to, because you recognize they’re your tribe). I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and I’ve written a bit.

I look forward to 2020 and all of its adventures – its ups and downs – all the new things – all the times I get to be with you, laugh with you, cry with you, and be alive with you. I love you!

I leave you with this morning’s sunrise from my balcony where a dolphin was playing down below. May you all wake up to the simple wonder of gorgeous sunrises and playful dolphins.

Rockport, TX

The Way I Was Raised: Idea Fairies

Co-worker: Beth, did you plan a White Elephant Gift Exchange?

Beth: No, I didn’t. However, if you’d like to plan one feel free to do so!

Co-worker (actual quote from email): Couldn’t remember if we were doing it…maybe next year you can plan it 🙂

(The smiley face at the end is truly one of my favorite parts. It’s right behind “I couldn’t remember…” because, true story, we’ve actually never done one of these at our holiday parties. So, I’m confused. They couldn’t remember that we still aren’t doing it?) Moving on!

Let’s talk idea fairies. You know what I’m talking about. Those people (maybe you) who are life’s true visionaries. Their (your) imagination is boundless, and really the only thing holding them back from a standing ovation and a well-deserved write-up on Page 6 is you, you delightful little worker bee. They’ve done their job, they’ve dreamt up the most magical of plans – an idea that once realized will surely impress and delight everyone – friends, family, those uninvited and unclean urchins peering into the windows looking forlorn. But here’s the thing, love, you really need to hop on board and do the work. I mean, they’ve already covered the hard stuff – the thinking bits. You just need to pull it together with that little elven magic thing or that holiday voodoo (we don’t judge here – judge free zone – all religions welcome) that you do. It’s really quite a mystery to us, but we all have our strengths, and mine is thinking and yours is doing. Oh, please don’t bother us with the details, just… you know… do what you’re good at, my favorite little minion, love you, kisses – see, you’re super good at “realizing” my vision. DUH! Don’t doubt yourself, dear! I believe in you. Let me know when you’re done, and then you can send out the invitations.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand idea fairies. From the gal who thinks we’re going to have a White Elephant gift exchange that I should make happen (for the record, I genuinely loathe White Elephant gift exchanges, I don’t get the rules. Plus, I already have a lot of junk in my house. In fact, if you’re looking for unopened/unmolested oddities to bring to your next one, just swing by. I’ll hook you up with some whimsy! OH! unless the White Elephant exchange is actually a White Elephant board game/card game exchange then HOLY COW, sign me up! That sounds amazing. Whoops! I think I just Idea Fairied that and I also made it a verb – go me) to something as simple as the person who says, “let’s all get together, you just call up these people and let me know when it is.” Ummm… no. Not doing that either.

Now in truth, we’ve all done this at some point or another to some degree. We’ve had an idea, couldn’t quite figure out how to pull it off, and we started looking at our friends/family/co-workers for help. Take last year when I had my Reverse Quinceañera. I wasn’t sure what that would look like, so I threw that out to friends, then I held meetings (yep, meetings) and sent many, many annoying emails. I recruited a team. I had a ton of people who hopped on board to make that vision happen, and who even added onto it. In the end I had this incredible celebration that included a Bollywood instructor, and things like a party play list, dance speakers, a fairly full open bar with specialty birthday drinks, a photo booth, a professional photographer, people who volunteered to craft decorations, who put the food together. I had a set-up team, a tear-down team, and someone willing to join the VA so I could get a significant discount on a hall. It was massive, and it was a collaborative event. One that started with an idea. And while it did start as an idea, I always planned to be heavily involved not play party princess, wave my hand around and demand my minions hustle. (Although, during the party where I was a party prop, I did feel like a princess – it may have been the actual hair ornament or the fancy dresses or the fact that to visit with me, you literally had to queue up.)

I like to think that my friends were willing to build on this dream and take my birthday party to that next, more amazing level, because of their buy-in. That they saw I was always driving this locomotive, ready to work, ready to bring it together, instead of simply flopping on the ground before them and demanding, “I need a party, people!!! A phenomenal soirée! Now go forth and make it happen my floundering little lackeys! Of course, I can’t help. Don’t be ridiculous. Mama needs a spa day! All that dreaming and bossing you around takes a toll! Chop chop! Could someone massage my feet?”

And that’s what you sound like when you try to push your idea on someone else and insist they make it happen for you. You sound like an annoying, and a tad bit entitled and spoiled, little prince/princess.

Don’t do that.

As the holidays are upon us, and so many grand ideas are hopping around in your head, ideas you KNOW will be more than well-received if they could just see the light of day, I empower you to spread your own wings and soar! This is your opportunity to show the world how capable you are in addition to the brilliance you’ve always displayed. Show them you can plan a lunch, AND invite all the people you love, all by yourself. You can use that phone, that email, and send those messages. You can even select a restaurant. No haggling. No “you decide” “no, you!” “No, YOU!!” You just do it. Show them you can throw that White Elephant gift exchange, you exquisitely brilliant creature, you! Everyone will sit in a circle, there will be hot ciders (the good kind, where you’re just a tad naughty), and you’ll giggle madly with your friends over their outrageous choices, those friends whose contact information you were able to divine on your very own, as you navigated the whole contacting them thing, and you’ll do it at a place of your choosing. You’ll be fine! Imagine that feeling of serene accomplishment as you bask in the glow of the accolades you’ll receive. And you know what? Those little minions (call them “friends” – that’ll be a great first start), say the word, and they’ll even “help” you – not do it for you, but help, because they’re excited now, too.

You got this former idea fairy. Now go make a plan!!

PS Real life note to friends: If (big if) I plan a karaoke couple of hours at the High Ball on the 22nd, AND then we drifted over somewhere for say a White Elephant game exchange, who would have interest? FYI – with karaoke, think “group singalong” – you’re not expected to solo, but that option is always available. We sing until Dancing Queen plays.

The Way I Was Raised: Accepting “No”

It would be easy to dive into the importance of saying, “Thank You” to kick off the modern manners posts. I mean, Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner, and it’s a great time to remind people to polish off their gratitude, but I hate easy. Instead, let’s talk about “no”.

Thanks to so many technological advances, we are more closely connected than we’ve ever been. I can begin any given day by wishing my friend Julie a cheerful “Good Morning, Pooh!” in New Zealand, and she can see that message immediately (and then, of course, curse me immediately while muttering something about respecting the time difference and how I’d better be texting I won the lottery. But really who’s at fault? Me or the person who had their notifications turned up loud enough that it would disturb their sleep? Oh, still me? Hmph.) The fact I can annoy someone at an inappropriate time, half-way around the globe is amazing. Thanks to satellites and submarine communication cables, we’ve become this well-connected world. We can set-aside those dusty atlases and decades-old volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and experience new people, learn new things, and see our living planet in real-time – not through the lens of some stuffy entitled British explorer. (To my stuffy, entitled British readers. I’m American. That’s really my only excuse. I’d apologize, but you made us. Thanks.) It’s all incredibly cool when you take a step back and really think about it. Gone are the days where we’d have to bargain for more library time just to explore another culture – another person’s thoughts/perspectives. 

As a kid, I deeply envied my friends who had pen-pals who lived in foreign places. They received letters in these cool airmail envelopes with their exotic stamps from another kid who was living a wholly different life, having different experiences than our own. These lucky friends got to talk to them – got to hear their stories. Now I can simply send off an email to another country and have a near-real-time conversation (and let them know I’m a Princess in Texas who will give them millions, but first I need them to wire me several thousand dollars). It’s fantastic!

As we’ve grown closer, we’ve also become more comfortable sharing who we are – from our successes to our struggles – from our toes wiggling next to carefully placed fruity drinks on a beach to our emotional challenges. We’ve moved into a world where there are fewer strangers – we “see” each other more, and we tell ourselves we’re more enlightened, more accepting, and more understanding.

This post is for enlightened, accepting, understanding you as we head into the holidays. This is for the you who gets “it” – the hyper-empathetic you who feel all the feels – the “woke” you. This post is for the you who gives a thumbs-up and a heart every time a friend, near friend or that guy from your class expresses themselves. You who wish you had emoticon stickers so that when you’re forced to interact with an actual person, and they say something great, you could just reach over and slap a “Haha!” sticker on their shirt. (Note to self: sketch idea – who wants to help me write that?)

I’m writing to tell you, it’s ok for someone to tell you “no”.

You know their story, you’ve read their posts/status updates, you’ve talked to them in the halls or in a class. You feel comfortable with them because you feel a closeness – you “get” them, you enjoy them, and you invite them into your life. Then one day you extend an invitation to a gathering, to dinner, to any number of things because you want to include them more, and they just said, “no.” It can feel like a slap on the hand, and many of us have a bad habit of internalizing rejections. We make that “no” about us. How could they say “no” to this terrific idea? I’m including them. Don’t they appreciate me and this great opportunity?

We’re pretty fantastic and we definitely have the best ideas, so a “no” can be challenging to understand. Why wouldn’t someone want to be a part of this thing we invited them to do – to be part of us? Our spastic brain gerbils kick into overdrive, “They must not like me! That’s the only answer!” Then we take a moment to list all the ways that we’ve been terrific friends, “look at all the things I’ve done and I’m asking is just this small thing.”

Well my amazing friend, a “no” isn’t necessarily a rejection of you.

You’ve read their posts/status updates, you’ve talked to them in the halls or in a class. (You’ve read this sentence before.) You know their story. You also understand that people are fairly self-focused. At any given moment only a fraction of our thoughts are devoted to others – with obvious exceptions and to obvious degrees. A lot of what we do is based on our own needs. So, my point is this: When someone says “no” think of five reasons why they may have said “no” that has nothing to do with you. Think back to the time that person posted repeatedly, whether in their own words or in a meme, “I’m an introvert; it takes a lot of energy to be around big groups of people.” “I lost <friend/relative/beloved pet> and my heart is wounded.” “I’m struggling with a health/mental health issue that prevents me from doing things/being around people.” “I just got back from <someplace outside of their house>, and I am looking forward to some downtime.”

After Jay died, I told several people I didn’t feel like sending out Christmas cards. (Christmas cards used to be my thing.) One friend decided what I was saying was: 1) I didn’t want to receive Christmas cards, and 2) I didn’t like sending her Christmas cards. I know this may be surprising, but my Christmas card stance was never about anyone else other than me. I was saying “no” to certain aspects of Christmas, but not “no” to people.

Really listen to the person who is saying, “no.”

If it’s still important to you that you do something with them/for them, then I challenge you to try and find another option. If big crowds aren’t their thing, if they’re struggling with loss or depression, if they’re covered from head-to-toe in a body rash, or are having a huge acne flare-up, and the cheap hair dye turned their hair a dusky green, then maybe you visit with them one-on-one – maybe you send them a text or call them on the phone. You flex those empathy muscles and show them you heard them, you understand, and you’re still there for them – willing to compromise, but showing you still want to include them. Show that you “heard” them.

And share your own needs, too. If something is important to you, then express it. Their “no” could be that they didn’t realize you needed them – that what your’e asking is something that matters.

Let’s all agree to work on listening, communicating, and and not making assumptions when it comes to “no’s.” Let’s pull our egos out of the equation. Instead, think of “no” as an opportunity – an opportunity to grow in our understanding of each other.

A November Promise?

If you felt I was a bit pushy with my fundraising efforts for the Out of the Darkness walk here on The Big Blue Mess, well then we’re probably not friends on Facebook. This is not a bad thing. I hammered those guys – friends, family, former co-workers, improv classmates. If you once dared to send me a “friend” request, while thinking “now this is a fine idea!” then what followed was really on you. I showed little mercy. We had an important goal to meet! However, as a benevolent fundraising tyrant, I promised them that if they took me to goal, they’d get cat videos to make up for my pushiness. (Little did they know that I increased the goal a couple of times. Shhh! That’s just between you and me, ok?)

Discussing mental health in relation to suicide is important and absolutely necessary, but so is enjoying the little things, and the medium things, and the big things – the silly things – all the things. While there can be tremendous sadness in this world, there is also incredible joy. Joy that needs to be recognized, embraced fully, and celebrated. And what’s more joyous than kitties? (Ok, dogs, otters, baby pandas, sloths, floppy bunnies.. you get the idea unless you named hippos – hippos are kind of jerks. What’s wrong with you? Why would you name hippos? Hippos kill more people than sharks! Why aren’t we discussing the hippo menace? Why isn’t there a hippo week on Discovery? Who is behind this hippo cover-up?)

Well, Sunday rolled around and my friend Jonathan demanded his cat videos claiming it was November (he’s super good with a calendar) and that the walk was officially over (his wife may have been my cohort in the fundraising efforts, so he was aware we’d finish – the post walk luncheon with him and the kids was also a tip-off), so he was certain he was owed some promised cute cats! I pointed out, “the offer was Facebook only!” I then tagged him in the mid-October dancing cat .gif I’d posted there as proof that I’d fulfilled my promise while foolishly thinking this would be good enough. Oh nay, nay. “Month of November!” was the retort. His cohort Jerry then chimed in with the accusation that I was, “Zuckerberging.” Really? That’s not a thing! He followed-up with a hashtag: #bringbackmycats. Wow!

So, to silence them I present you with an oldie but goody – my all-time favorite cat video:

An update on the walk is coming soon. I’m getting a little help from a talented (and quite busy) honor student, so stay tuned.

The Way I Was Raised: An Idea!

There are three things I’m good at (only three): my handwriting, my smile, and my manners. At least these are the things I tend to receive the most compliments on. Although to be fair, I occasionally get a “Hey, your hair looked really great yesterday” or (true story) from last week, “You’re starting to look sexy.” Oh backhanded compliments, you’re so delightful! I also don’t sweat much for a fat girl. (Ok, that’s a total lie. I have sweaty knees. These are things you learn from going to a gym regularly or reading my blog. You’re very welcome for that shared moment.)

Basically, what I’m trying to impart is that I have a lot of great qualities that would serve me extremely well in the early 1800’s at the prairie school. Back it on up, Mrs. Wilder!

Well, it turns out I can’t really write a succession of blog posts about my handwriting. I mean, I could. It would be similar to watching the world’s dullest Sesame Street episode – one that was devoid of cute rhymes or catchy tunes. They would likely focus on a single letter, and there would be zero puppets to make you feel ok about your particular place in the world or your relationships with friends and family. And by the end of the post you’d find yourself in a rather awkward conversation, trying to explain yourself to friends and family, “No, I’m reading this lady’s blog and today we’re focusing on capital M’s… no, I don’t know why… The Office reruns weren’t cutting it? Guilt maybe? It’s like an alphabet train wreck I can’t seem to look away from! SPOILER ALERT: JIM AND PAM GET MARRIED! LEAVE ME ALONE! I need ice cream!”

I also can’t feature posts about my smile. Let’s face it, after one picture you’d either agree or disagree that I smiled well, then you’d start thinking, “Y’know, if I stare at it too long, it’s kind of creepy. Why is she smiling like that? Is the smile originating from inside my house? Halloween is bad enough, but now this? This smile? Like a red balloon hovering out of a gutter, beckoning me to approach, but more like an evil Cheshire cat. Where’s Alice?!?! I can’t escape!!!” By the way, when people say it’s one of the top three things I do well, that doesn’t mean as compared to other people – just a top three for me. “Beth, I dunno… I mean if you’re pressing me, I guess I’d say you’ve got good handwriting, and uhhhh… your… ummm… smile? Yeah, yeah, you’ve got a ‘nice’ smile? Hey, who likes Slurpees?? Slurpee run!” So, pump those breaks on that smile judgement!

Quick aside: Some of you may feel you now need to pay me some compliments. Nay nay. This is not a fishing trip, but thank you.

This leads me to manners – that third thing I get complimented on – that I’m apparently good at. Now if I’m honest, I think it’s likely a thing I get high marks on when you compare me to others. It’s not that my manners are flawless, or without fault. I mean, I still owe two thank-you cards from several years ago, I owe my closest friends a wedding gift from 19 years ago, and I’m being 100% honest when I say I still have some real guilt over that. I mean, clearly not guilty enough to see if I could unearth a two-decade-old wish list or send a card that read, “Remember that time you gave me… yeah, thank you for that!” But there’s guilt nonetheless. I may be on a personal mission to spoil their kids because I didn’t buy them a blender. Hey, I’m just saying blenders don’t hug or make me laugh like they do, so who really won out in the end? (Did I just make an argument on how being ill-mannered can pay off in the end? Oh dear. Ignore this part, ok?)

No, I really feel it’s that by comparison my manners just stick out. Also, I tend to sit up straight (yay orchestra years) and I usually manage not to hiss or make rude remarks at strangers. That should concern you if that’s all it takes for me to stand out among my peers, but you can clearly now see why I’m well-positioned to give practical advice on manners.

I ran the idea by my focus group (or Facebook followers, it’s practically the same; however, I feel “focus group” sounds so much more official – like I stuffed people into a room with overly-bright and flickering fluorescent lighting, loaded them up with Taster’s Choice and stale donuts, then projected a PowerPoint presentation called “The Way I Was Raised: An Inside Joke” against some wood paneling. Ok, I totally did that, but I offered up pillow mints instead of the donuts. Stale donuts are pricey! Then I collected the stubby pencils (why? why is there a market for overly short pencils that do not afford you the opportunity to erase if you need to? I have questions!), tallied the scorecards, and 23 people liked the idea. That’s right 23 people, who you don’t know, are subjecting you to this new “feature” on my blog. (Please feel free to leave your “thanks” in the comment section below.)

Then I ran the idea by a second focus group, my Aunt, and we now have a ladies agreement that I will not use this feature for evil. In other words, I will avoid skewering the family. It’s apparently not nice or the least bit fair no matter how well-deserved. I feel though that “family” really means “blood relations” despite what Merriam-Webster says, and that it’s open season for everyone else. (You really shouldn’t have been overtly rude to my cousin. Naughty, naughty.)

All of that said, here are a few of my thoughts: Gone are the days of Miss Manners, Emily Post or even Dear Abby. I’m sure a few of you are wondering who I’m even talking about. Let me pause a moment to address the youngest of our readers.

Dearest Millenials, we used to receive printed news that arrived at our house wrapped in cellophane and rubber bands. In fact, that’s where all household rubber bands came from – true story. In those “papers,” as we lovingly referred to them, were features from advice columnists who attempted to keep society from devolving into a chaotic, ill-mannered, anarchy. It was also a time when women who sought to be journalists were sidelined and their only hope of reaching a national audience was to help others with fork placement. They were beloved by a certain generation. Also, these women would probably quirk an eyebrow in my direction and politely pull me aside to let me know it’s rude to be patronizing. They are not wrong, so I do sincerely apologize.

Moving On

What I will try to do is post a monthly piece on modern manners that will be titled: “The Way I Was Raised,” which is a bit of an inside joke that will probably reveal itself over time, and I will switch up topics based on input/feedback I receive from you guys. I recognize you all have a wealth of ideas and stories from the humorous to the grrrs, and I’d love to incorporate them here.

So, what do you think? Are you up for some posts about manners from a person whose manners are probably questionable, but are at least in the top three things they personally offer this world?