A Brag & A Story

A couple of disclaimers before I start: First, I’m writing this about an hour past my bedtime. So, if you think my typing/editing is bad on a good day, I anticipate the pain level to be turned up 10 notches before I finally hit “Publish”. Please say a tiny prayer now that my editor David has seen this before you had to endure reading it. Second, I’m about to brag. In the past you’ve seen the “strong language ahead” warnings, but today, today is a brag warning since I recognize that listening to people brag (or reading their posts) may cause involuntary eye rolling. I get it. Feel free to call it good at this point and return to your regularly scheduled email/social media browsing. I’m sure, without much browsing effort, that you can enjoy fun astronomy tidbits like how the moon is actually part of Mars. Fingers-crossed they reinstate Pluto as a planet soon. C’mon little guy, I’m pulling for you! Anyway…

Beth and Bragging

Let me start with some backstory: it’s a rare day that I brag. Sure, I do it on occasion, but most days I don’t feel I’m doing something so amazing that it warrants a herald shouting it from the rooftops. I just kind of do my thing – nothing really special about that. I’m ordinary – a bit dry-witted, and exceptionally sarcastic (my parents are so proud). If you were actually to pin me down and say, “Beth, name two things you feel you do well,” I’d tell you, “I’ve got great penmanship,” and, “I’ve got a great smile.” That’s really it. I can smile and sign things like a champ, and smiling is really not a thing I do; it’s genetics. My parents get more credit there. If you asked for a third thing, I’d struggle and then would probably offer up uncomfortably, “I’m the current holder of most f-bombs dropped on a Monday.” (Again, my parents are super proud.) In all fairness though, being asked repeatedly for sage advice about an upcoming potluck pushed all of my crazy buttons (there are multiple buttons varying in severity, but asking about the potluck was like you’d smashed all of those buttons at the same time). I started wanting to say, “I don’t have a dog in that fight, Carol – my ‘give a fox’ are super low,” but found that was taking much too long, especially when I could more easily give someone a wild-eyed look and carpet bomb them with colorful expletives. Hey, it’s seriously more effective at conveying the message of: “I’ve lost my mind. Now, lay down your offering right now, don’t lose eye contact, back away very slowly, and RUN!”

I’m also not particularly big on praise. Sure, I love it. Who doesn’t enjoy being told they’re good? valued? or what have you? That’s great. Thanks! But whatever I’m being praised for, I typically don’t feel – not deep down. I remember being at a friend’s grandfather’s in high school. She was introducing me and heaped on the praise. I demurred; it felt so keenly uncomfortable – like bragging, but bragging that was out of my control. And I didn’t want to say, “Why yes, I actually am as brilliant as she suggested. In fact, I feel she held back and didn’t quite capture the radiant and spectacular being that I am. Now get your genuflection on, briefly bask in my glory, and toddle on, please. Good day. I said, good day, sir!”

Yeah, that’s just not me. I keenly remember his cool response as he considered me with a frown and said, “False modesty is a sin.” I just blinked as if I’d been slapped. Needless to say, I’ve flipped him off multiple times in my mind for decades now. It’s to the point that if I were given the opportunity to go back in time, I’d revisit that moment (once I’d finished having dinner with Jay and my Mom, of course). I’d pop into teenage me, and treat him like it was a bad Monday and he’d just asked whether people enjoyed pizza from a donut shop at a potluck. In other words, I would have sworn a lot at an old man. (FYI, donut shops shouldn’t serve pizza. I’m just saying. That’s not a thing.)

Hrmmm… I probably should have thrown in a language warning, too. Oh well.

Another Small Story

There’s another piece of my story you need to understand before I get to the brag. My Mom was an athlete. She played tennis, badminton, basketball, and speedball. Mom bowled and swam and occasionally played volleyball. She could ice skate, as well. When she was a girl, her idol was Babe Didrikson, and she’d work on her forehand/backhand against the garage door. Growing up, I was taught to idolize Billy Jean King. The game against Bobby Riggs was a huge deal at our house. I was taught to worship Little Mo, too. On Saturdays, Mom would go off and play tennis with her girlfriends, or she’d drag me to a pool where she’d swim a mile or two while I splashed around.

Being an athlete was part of her identity, and then she had me. I was never headed down that road. I was clumsy, slow, and bad at almost every sport she dropped me into. I spent one summer, where I was forced into little league, sitting on the bench in the dugout for almost every game, because I’d do insane things like swing at balls rolling on the ground or I’d daydream while hanging out in the outfield. At nine years old, no one can really hit that far – at least in our league – so I didn’t feel a need to engage with what was happening on the field. In tennis, I was decent at serving aces, but terrible at returning balls over the net. Gymnastics was a complete disaster, and we don’t need to talk about volleyball ever. I was also the only kid in our pre-K group who couldn’t pass the swim test. Now some of that can be attributed to having no interest in the sport at hand, but the other part of that was my depth perception was/is poor. Eh, but mostly it was that I had no interest; I wasn’t Mom. Sports weren’t my thing. I enjoyed reading books, listening to music, and staring at the stars.

Now there are a lot of great things about my Mom, but when it came to sports Mom didn’t hold back. She would let me know how disappointed she was in my lack of athletic ability. She once told me she wanted an athlete, and I felt guilty that she got a book nerd instead. Eventually, how I viewed my physical abilities bubbled-up during one of the initial assessments with my trainer. I had a lot to offer about what I wasn’t… what I couldn’t…

At some point Jenn and I had a frank talk, and I’m going to misquote a bit, but know this is what my takeaway was, “Beth, I’ve worked with you and seen how you perform. You are not uncoordinated; you have athletic ability. I just think you were never directed to the right sport, and didn’t have someone really working with you.” (Jenn used some of those words, if not all of them. Ok, she may have only said, “the,” but hey I got some of the quote right? Maybe? Look, I’m not a professional journalist!)

The Actual Brag: What You Came Here For

Whew! You’re caught up! Hi, Buddy!

Now that we’ve knocked out all of that background fluff, I can move on to the brag. Here we go! Today I went to my lessons – week four of my Advanced Beginning Class, and eight weeks into swimming. My swim coach pulled me aside, away from the rest of the group, and said my freestyle was looking good, especially my side breaths. She was also very happy with my backstroke. Apparently, all I need to do in order to advance to the next level is learn the breast stroke and work on increasing my stamina (I still get winded, which drives me crazy – I mean, I can actually row for nearly two hours, yet swimming 25 meters, much less 50, which probably takes a few minutes tops, is incredibly challenging.) All that said though, I’m pretty excited about arriving at another new level. And to think I got here without sitting in my chair and holding my breath. GO ME!

And what it tells me is that there’s a lot I can do – things I never thought I could, yet here I am. I’m swimming. I’m rowing. I’m deadlifting. I’m throwing weight bars over my head, I’m squatting, and I do it six days out of the week. So, maybe if I could go back in time, in addition to Monday-screaming at my friend’s grandfather (who’d want to pass on that opportunity), I’d also stop by to visit me and say, “hey, you’re not your Mom. Those sports aren’t your thing, but take a look at these other things. You’re going to rock those. “

Anyway, it’s a small brag, but this non-athlete was pretty pleased with herself today.

The Day We Met

Have you ever tried to recall the first time you met a friend?  Maybe I’m alone in this, but sometimes when traffic is moving along slowly and the radio isn’t engaging me I start thinking about various people in my life and I try to remember that first time we met.  Some people just always seem to have been in my life, while there are a handful of folks where I remember the moment.

Like my friend DeAnne (or HRH DeAnne, her preferred title).  The first time I remember meeting her was when she walked by and dropped her business card on my desk – a lavender thing with a border that I want to say had maybe a floral pattern (I may be misremembering that bit).  What caught my eye was what it said in bold type: “DeAnne X” followed by “Queen of Everything” (err, the X is obviously not her last name, but I don’t think she wants you dropping by her house and genuflecting, which you would feel compelled to do).  How could I possibly NOT like someone who had a card like that?

But for the most part, the rest of my friends are just blurs of early images.  Anna coming back to the dorm early during the Christmas holidays and flinging her stuff on the TV room floor – Jonathan being briefed on our first RA assignment at the dorm where we were supposed to keep the rabble from tossing kegs on the passing UT football parade (the annual parade had been re-routed in previous years because of keg tossing issues from our dorm) – quiet April (so you know the memory is very old) – escaping from a goofy Jr. High slumber party with Julie in the middle of the night – Seth showing up in English where they announced he was from the exotic land of Canada (look, I hadn’t traveled out of Texas at that point and Canada seemed really cool – Canadian friends, I mean “Canada IS very cool” *cough*), but then there’s my friend Ernie.  I remember the day we met quite vividly.

Mom and I had just moved from Dallas (remember Dallas > Houston) and it was the last few weeks of second grade.  Ernie was assigned to be my guide that day.  He showed me around the school, took me to my class and then waited for me after school to make sure I got on the right day care shuttle.  Ern failed to get through my head that there were two shuttle pick-ups, so when he went off in the first one, I had a panic attack where I sat against the wall, freaked out and hoped everything would work out.

Poor Ernie, after that I followed him everywhere to the point that the day care staff would try to put a foot down and declare.  “No, Beth. You may not follow Ernie to the bathroom.”  (I just wanted to sit outside and continue to blather at him and haha to them, I did win that battle.  Lucky Ern! No escape!) If there was Ern, there was me close on his heels gabbing away.  (I used to be more gregarious.)  I made him play all of my stupid made up games.  I made him dig elaborate tunnels for army men in the sandbox and I probably even made him listen to show tunes when we were allowed to bring records to day care.  (I can be somewhat relentless and somewhat overwhelming when I like someone.)  The guy really had no peace.

It’s funny.  I’ve listened to Ern tell stories about what he was like as a kid.  He’ll talk about being apart from the other kids – somewhat aloof and very studious, which is all very true.  But I remind him of playing “Bonnie and Clyde” or our amazing bus scraps which usually involved someone drawing blood and he’ll smile and say, “you brought out the worst in me”.  I like to think that’s called “grounding” someone.

Do you remember the day we met?

It’s a Boy!

This month’s writing prompts came in the form of three photos posted on Flickr.  One was a rather vibrant photo of newly hatched robins – their necks outstretched, their eyes completely closed – truly gorgeous.  The next showed a Goth trailer sitting unhitched in front of a view of the beach – a scruffy looking dog faced the camera, while a thin guy ran in the foreground.  The final choice was a photo that reminded me of a local place called Hamilton Pool and a very particular day when I was around 15 years old.  Here’s my submission (it’s “mostly” true):

It’s a Boy!

When your parents proudly announce, “you’re going to be a big sister!” You tend to envision some bald, squawking, attention-hogging critter invading your space and leaving a long, disgusting drool trail in their wake.  At best, you picture them as the perfect little mini-me’s – whose bright future includes becoming your willing minion to boss around the house until they either grow a brain or grow to a larger size.  I should mention here that I’m an only child.  Sort of.

When I heard the news, I was 14 and my chubby cheeked baby brother turned out to be a 12-year-old skateboard punk who sported a faux hawk and a curled upper lip.  He came as part of the “Beth, we’re getting married!” package.  The only real perks were that he lived two states away and would only be around during the summers or the occasional holiday.

My first memory of spending time together was Christmas after we had finished moving into a new house.  We sat in the new living room opening presents when the neighbors came by bearing baked goodies as a welcome to neighborhood.  As the neighbors introduced themselves, my step-brother quickly snatched some horrible red, white and blue boots with tassels that my grandmother had knitted and waved them around shouting, “look at what Beth got!”  As a good teenage girl, I was completely mortified and shrieked at the injustice of having to suffer a brother.  I’m sure there was stomping (I’m quite the accomplished little stomper when motivated).

It took awhile for the neighbors to overcome the shell shock of our new family.

My step-brother and I were a study in opposites.  Where I desperately wanted to fit-in, he did everything he could to stand-out.  He would flood the house with Suicidal Tendencies, Agent Orange or Butthole Surfers and I would hole up in my room listening to the likes of Prince, The Police or Duran Duran.  He liked skate boarding and flailing around in mosh pits, while I liked orchestra and talking on the phone for hours.  It was shlock horror flicks like CHUD versus trashy Sci-Fi like Krull.  Stage make-up complete with fake blood, oozing wounds and prop knives versus Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazney and the Apple IIe.  I am Johnny!! Hello, please don’t notice me, I’m Beth.

Invariably, summer rolled around, Johnny came back into town and we had to suffer one of our first little family outings – a trip to Hamilton Pool.  Blankets, towels, coolers and sunscreen were piled into the family car – a 280ZX.  I don’t know if you’ve ever sat in a 280ZX, but I’m here to tell you the backseat is not meant for real people, much less real teens who have nothing better to do than to snap and snarl incessantly for 45 minutes.  Being confined in a small space over a prolonged period while sitting next to some unwelcome toad tends to make one grumpy.  The Texas heat didn’t help either.  By the time Dad parked, we had successfully made everyone miserable.  Mission accomplished.

We walked down the path to the pool, found our little spot and surveyed the swim hole tucked away in the small limestone cavern. Water spilled down from above forming a perfect little waterfall.  People flew into the water from a rope swing.  Swimmers called out to one another as they splashed around.  People were laughing and our “happy” family ate our lunch in tense silence.  Ignoring the 30 minute rule, we all slipped into the water and went our separate ways.  My stepmother swam to a little overhang near the waterfall where the water slowly dripped off the ledge.  Johnny headed towards the rope swing and I became Esther Williams – a Million Dollar Mermaid.  I swam. I flipped. My legs rose out of the water and I kicked them in the air slowly. I was in perfect sync with myself.

As the hours passed, the cool of the water and the full and generous sounds echoing throughout this almost secret place began wearing away at our silent anger.

At some point, I sat on the shore alone with my brother and we talked – really talked – the first of many conversations we would have when we were alone.  An unspoken truce was made – one that stated that in the presence of parents all bets were off, but in the cool quiet of a pool or a living room or any place that was  “just you and me”, we were allies and sometimes maybe even siblings.


Authorette’s note:

My family and older friends are probably having a moment, since they were either part of the story or have heard a different version it. For their sake (so I don’t have to hear about it later), I’ll fill in the missing bits.  Once at Hamilton Pool we all went our separate ways as I mentioned.  There was a woman who was there with several friend and her turn on the rope swing came right before Johnny’s.  Out she went over the pool.  There’s a moment on any rope swing when you’re supposed to release, when the rope has reached the point where it won’t go out any further.  She didn’t let go.  As she came back, her friends started screaming.  She froze and came crashing back hard into the dirt and limestone wall.  The force caused her to let go and her body crumpled and tumbled into the water.  Johnny, somewhat oblivious to the drama, reached for the rope and everyone started screaming.  The woman’s friends got to her, turned her over and floated her body using a partially deflated float.  She was conscious, but couldn’t move.  It seemed to take a while before EMS arrived (someone doubtlessly had to leave the park and call since cell phones were largely unheard of then).  Once at the scene they got a brace around her neck, moved her body onto a back board and slowly lifted her out of the water.

The shock of the events greatly overshadowed any petty need to continue squabbling; the uncertainty of her story occupied the car ride home.

Around this time, the unspoken truce I mentioned was formed.  We rarely fought when left completely alone and we did have some decent bonding moments.  In fact, he’s probably the only person I’m willing to watch a horror movie with – his love of special effects and his ability to laugh at tense scenes as he picked them apart eased all fears that worm people with human faces were ever going to become a problem at our house.

Summer’s Bucket List

I have decided that this summer is about new experiences – getting out more, trying new things, learning something new.  So far, I give myself a bit fat “C” – I’m not exactly failing in my goals, but I’m not passing with flying colors, either.

The first thing on my summer “bucket list” (thank you, Rob Reiner – now everyone is on this bandwagon) was to try out a writing group, which I did this past Saturday.  The group was fantastic.  Every single person who was there is a gifted writer and every one of them is extremely positive and  supportive of each other’s endeavors.  It wasn’t surprising, since this particular group was recommended by my friend Susan who not only is an amazing individual and meeting facilitator, but she also tends to surround herself with highly remarkable folks.

I knew before I showed-up that there was a high chance I might melt-down and while my friend Anna and my husband Jay gave me repeated pep-talks about “self-fulfilling prophecies” the week prior,  I knew I had to be prepared for the worst.  See, when I joke about trying to remember my name or title when introducing myself to a group, it’s actually my number one fear.  So, in preparation for the meeting, I read and re-read my story aloud to try and make sure the words were second nature.  I tried to remove any word “bumps” that could cause my tongue to stumble.  I wanted to try to get as close as I could to that feeling I had in orchestra –being in a concert playing and discovering near the end of the piece that I hadn’t really looked at the notes.

It’s a good thing I practiced, because when I was asked if I had prepared anything I tried to become invisible while cursing at the paper in front of me for waving at everyone. “OH MY GOD, would you stop waving?!?!!”   Funny thing about the laws of nature, it turns out that in a room full of people who are looking directly at you, you actually can’t become invisible.  It doesn’t matter how good you are at disappearing in a crowd, once those people have locked-on, you’re in trouble.

All the synapses in my brain fired at once sending varying signals in all the wrong directions.  In my mind I wrapped my arms around my body and began to rock slowly in place while trying to remember “these are nice people, doesn’t that banana bread smells great, they’re really supportive, they haven’t eaten one of their own that you’ve actually seen, you laughed, remember how you laughed a minute ago? What if you cry? You better not cry. Oh GOD, wouldn’t that be horrific if you cried? You’re not going to cry, are you? You’ll have to read.  Crap, they’re still looking expectantly. Start reading, fool.”

It turns out the synapses weren’t actually firing off in random directions; they had a purpose, they were telling my body “hey, want to see something hysterical?  Let’s dump a ton of adrenaline in her system while she’s trying to read.  This will totally blow her mind. Ready, set, GO!”  And that’s when I started shaking uncontrollably.  I haven’t shaken that badly since 8th grade when I delivered a report to my English class.  Heck, I can dance in front of people, I can play in front of people and I thought that after going over my story repeatedly, I could read in front of people – especially in natural lighting (no spotlights were used) at a cozy kitchen table laden with all sorts of yummy food and a cute dog napping on the floor.  While reading, I kept repeating “calm down, Beth – breathe”, but it didn’t work and all I could think was, “wow, this is really LONG”.  When all was said and done, everyone was extremely kind and gave positive feedback on my story, which helped let the adrenaline die off and reabsorb.  Although, it still wasn’t completely out of my system as I tried to jot down a few notes.  I’m positive I could fool a writing expert with this particular sample; it bears little resemblance to my actual handwriting.

I’ve been invited back, which I’m greatly looking forward to and I think as I get to know them my anxiety level will completely dissipate.

The plan for next month is to join the Writer’s League of Texas.  Rachel, one of the talented writers in this group, helped me reframe how I think of the Writer’s League.  (See, I don’t think I belong there and that it’s rather presumptuous of me to even ask to be counted among their numbers.  I’m not a writer.  I’m a blogger whose readership is limited to a handful of friends and family.)  She basically said, “think of it as supporting a local charity organization.”  Brilliant! Now, that I can do; I can easily get behind supporting a non-profit – that feels ok – unlike that other thing.

Next on the list is sewing, which will start in a couple of weeks.  I should manage ok since there won’t be much expectation that I speak and hopefully, my years of being Dad’s sewing assistant will come in handy.

As for improv, the class I hope will help me overcome my anxiety issues (see, it’s hard being a burgeoning extrovert when you’re trapped inside someone so painfully shy), well that’s on hold indefinitely.  I was going to attend the free class today, which is something I want to do, but I really don’t want a repeat of last week’s freak out.  There’s only a finite amount of humiliation I’m willing to take in a short period of time.  This means, there won’t be any funny follow-ups on this activity for awhile.

Cooking may be in there at some point, but we’ll see. 

Where I initially started out on this list with an enthusiasm I haven’t seen in myself since I was fairly young, “I’m gonna be a WRITER! A DANCER! A SEAMSTRESS! AN ACTRESS! A CHEF!” – I find myself needing a second wind to become re-motivated.  Thus, I give myself a C.  We’ll see how I rate at the end of the summer.

In the Cards

Reaching back into the dusty archives of my brain, I realize there’s still maybe a story or two that I haven’t written down (and a quick search on the Mess reveals I’m not too far off on the actual count).  I know, I know, if I just went outside and interacted with people instead of holing up in my special cave world where light is afraid to shine, I might have more to share, but as all my little mole friends know – the outside is SCARY.

Right, you’re here for a story and not necessarily my idiosyncrasies (those are called “bonuses” or “perks”).

This is about Tarot and no, it’s not about that very strange reading Anna had in Jackson Square or the tarot reader who eavesdropped on my mother as she sat on the woman’s porch (mysteriously all the made-up facts Mom shared with her friend that accompanied her appeared in that reading).  No, it’s not that.  It’s not even my reading, because if it were my reading, I would do the reading and I’m a bit of a hack reader who can make a lovely Celtic Cross, but then sits back with a book going “ok, that there represents “change” and umm… “Page of Swords” *flip**flip* hrmmm, I see.”

This is about someone else’s reading and how they shared that information.

“Beth, I had my cards read last night.”
“We decided that one bit had to do with you.”
“Really.  How so?”
“Well, the cards said that there was someone in my life who was supposed to sing my praises.”
“Uh huh.”
“And we decided that was you.”
“I’m supposed to sing your praises?”
“Yes, you know – celebrate the things I do.”
“That’s what the cards said?”
“And what are YOU going to do for ME?”
“Well, if I’m standing around clapping for you, I really want to know what YOU are going to do for ME.
“The reading wasn’t about you.”

This went back and forth for some time until I crushed this person’s dreams of having her very own happy, dancing, applauding little minion.  She really tried her hardest to make me understand that the reading was not about me, so therefore I shouldn’t be  expecting anything – well, other than the sheer joy of cheering and praise singing.  That I refused to accept the divine word of a deck of cards bossing me around completely stunned her, and this was quickly followed by a good round of sulking.  

Something about the whole exchange reminds me of Monty Python’s Holy Grail “… Oh, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you! …but if I went ’round sayin’ I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!”  Just substitute “deck of cards” or “poorly illustrated blobs of paper” wherever you see a reference to a sword.  As in:  You can’t expect me to perform like some genuflecting awe filled dancing monkey just because some watery tart threw out some poorly illustrated blobs of paper at you.

Anyway, there you have it.  This is easily in my top 10 favorite exchanges.  Sadly, I have to say that our friendship didn’t last much longer thanks to my inability to embrace my true subservient praise singing fate.  Shame on me.  I guess that part wasn’t in the cards.  (rim shot… sorry, I had to – I’m not proud)