Every story needs to end

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I recently read a collection of short stories and hated almost every minute of it. If they were so bad, you ask, why didn’t I just close the book and move on? That’s a question for a different post. So, I finished the collection with my hate in tact because most of the stories didn’t have a resolution.

 

Many things drive me wild, but lack of resolution in a story drives me wilder. What is it with these writers? They get to the next to the last paragraph or the next-to-the-next last one and stop. The reader (me) is left thinking – oops, maybe they accidentally printed the draft or ran out of ink. But no, it’s supposed to be that way – very cool and artsy. There is no end to the story.

 

Author, why do you feel compelled to leave me hanging? Do all these unanswered questions and possibilities reflect some kind of existential angst based on your philosophical underpinnings? Author, unpin thyself from this philosophy.

 

I just want an ending to the story all right already. Step by step (often through misplaced cow pies) the writer brings the reader (me again) up to what I think is the last door opening into a room where I will come face to face with the Resolution, who always looks taller in person. (Of course, I have to stop and clean off my shoes because of those cow pies.) Mr. or Ms. Author opens the door slightly, and then says, go down that hallway and pick another door. And every one of those doors says “Exit.” When I turn around, the author is gone. Wait, I call out, come back! Sometimes I call very loudly, which disturbs my husband.

 

Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. Remember all those cartoons we watched as kids? When the action was done, two little words appeared: The end. We learned that a story – always the same one, Sylvester the Cat or Wily Coyote being creamed, diced, or sliced in any number of satisfying ways – began, something happened, and then ended satisfactorily for Tweety Bird and the Road Runner and gloriously unsatisfactorily for the bullies.

 

Haven’t any of these writers read any fairy tales? How about Shakespeare?  Good guys don’t always win, but somebody does, or it’s a draw and it’s clear. When you get to the end of the story you know it. You may not like it, or may wish it were different, but you know it is the end.

 

That’s all, folks.

 

Mother’s Worth

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My mother smelled good.

Most of her life, she worked as a waitress and brought home the good smell of the kitchen with her. With her limited education, waiting tables was one of  the few jobs she could get. After she married my father, he started his own business as an electrical contractor and used the G.I. Bill to attend college at night. Mother’s paychecks weren’t much help, but her tips were. She made good money that way.

For a while she worked at a Mexican restaurant, and her uniform was a white blouse and a black taffeta skirt. When she would come home from work, the aroma of corn tortillas clung to her clothes. I remember hugging her around her legs when she was wearing that taffeta skirt. Those two hungers –food and love – intermingle in those memories, and I can’t eat enchiladas or tacos now without thinking of her.

Mother’s perfumes, though, are more important than the food smells, as far as my odor-evoked memories are concerned. One of her favorite scents was White Shoulders. It has always been one of my favorites, too, although it doesn’t smell the same on me as it did on her. The notes of the perfume play out differently based on each person’s body chemistry, but the melody is recognizable.

Mother’s signature scent was a perfume by Worth. It was called Je Reviens, but she always called it Worth. It launched in 1932 and was immensely popular during the 1940s.

She said that when she wore it, men would stop her on the street to ask her what perfume she was wearing. I’ve heard other women say they experienced the same thing, but I’ve always wondered about that.

In my mother’s case, one or two men may have stopped her just because of the perfume. Most, I think, just wanted to talk to the beautiful, curvaceous woman they saw walking down the street, and that fine smell gave them an excuse.

The original perfume became increasingly difficult to find over the years and was resurrected as Je Reviens Couture in 2004, the year my mother died. It has been reformulated, so it’s not the same. The original Je Reviens, like all perfumes made prior to World War II, used only natural ingredients.

Before mother died, she lived with my brother, so I spent time with him after her death. One evening he called me into his room. In his walk-in closet, he had a drawer of keepsakes, one of which was an empty bottle of Worth oil that mother had kept. He carefully opened it, we each took a whiff of the lingering scent, and then he closed it up again. I still remember that night of laughter and tears and the two of us, standing in a closet, taking hits off a perfume bottle, trying to resurrect mother from a bottle labeled Je Reviens, the French for “I will return.”

 

Blog blindness and finger tics

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Is there a blog doctor in the house?

You’ve heard of snow blindness, right? Light reflected off snow burns the cornea, causing a temporary visual impairment accompanied by tears, eyelid twitching, and pain.  It usually goes away after 24 to 48 hours.

Well, I have blog blindness. Staring at the computer screen as I write posts causes both my eyes and my brain to go temporarily blind.

Yesterday I had a bad case of it. I spent several hours writing my post, re-read it, uploaded pictures, proofread it again, previewed, and posted. A few hours later I went back to the blog. That’s when the tears, eyelid twitching, and pain began.

In all my proofreading and previewing, I forgot to check the title. Instead of “One chance, one opportunity,” I wrote, “Once chance, one opportunity.” This is what happens when you let just anybody start a blog. Are you listening, WordPress?

I tried to contact WordPress support, but they were all at home polishing off the rest of the turkey and pumpkin pie. I did a little research and discovered how to change the URL. That tidied up my blog, and I thought it solved the problem. But. Yes, there’s always a big but in the story. And usually it’s mine.

Fixing the URL did not change how my post appeared over at the WordPress topics site. I checked, and there was my blog broadcasting my idiocy to all the world. It apparently had not received the message that the URL had changed, had no idea of the words written across its forehead, and was jostling among the other blogs shouting, “Hi, world, I have just once thing to say today.”

And, as if that weren’t enough sickness for one person, I’ve also been suffering from a finger tic. After I write comments and before I can re-read them to see if they make any sense, my finger presses “reply” or “post comment.” Maybe it’s OCFD — obsessive compulsive finger disorder.

Does anyone know of a good doctor for this kind of thing?

One chance, one opportunity

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Yesterday I drank a cup of green tea while I did my Japanese calligraphy. The smell of green tea calms me so that I can focus on the ink, the brush, and the strokes. I enjoy it hot or cold, and loved drinking matcha-flavored soy milk or matcha frappacinos when I lived in Japan. Matcha is a kind of powdered green tea that is used in the tea ceremony.

I experienced the tea ceremony only twice. It is a highly ritualized event that gives meaning to the mundane. What could be more prosaic than making and drinking a cup of tea? Yet, in the tea ceremony each and every act is filled with meaning and purpose. The simplest act of stirring the tea, pulling the sleeve of the kimono away, or turning the teacup is noticed and appreciated. For a brief period of time, all that exists is this exquisite act of making and drinking tea.

When else do we make time to marvel at the ability of the body to kneel or enjoy the incredible ability of the wrist to rotate so delicately? During the tea ceremony, this moment, this bending, this pouring, this stirring becomes the sole focus of life. No thought is given to what happened before or what will happen next. What matters is what is happening now.

And it is a communal moment – the shared cup of tea, bitter but lovingly and tenderly made and offered, along with a small sweet. So like life itself. During the ceremony, time is tamed. Tea brings the participants together, and in that moment they belong to the tea and to one another.

Children understand these things so much better than adults. They love rituals. They do something over and over without tiring. The way the page is turned, the voice is modulated, the neck is kissed,  the pillow fluffed, and the last goodnight said – all to be done without variance. And loved for that very reason. The child leads the parent into the ritual – to share the moment, to be together in time, or better, outside of time as the parent usually experiences it. The parent may try to cheat, but the child will rarely allow it, or if the child does, it will be reluctantly and out of obedience or resignation. The moment will be lost.

Although I need time to look both backward and forward to understand this path I am on, I don’t want to miss this moment. There is still much I want to see, do, read, and experience, but the tea yesterday reminded me that I also need time to enter the familiar dance of ritual that brings me into the moment and gives meaning to the mundane. One of the phrases associated with the tea ceremony is “ichi go ichi e” ( 一期一会 ), which means one chance, one opportunity. That’s all we get. Now is our only chance to live, to see, to love, and to share. Let’s not lose the opportunity.

My life with servants

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I love an obedient nightlight

Glutton or prankster -- I can't decide

Later I will wipe that smile off its face -- I prefer a less self-satisfied toilet lid, but my husband likes it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m old school and consider my appliances, furniture, and gadgets to be servants. I’ve heard all the debates about furniture rights and gadget liberation, but frankly, I find it beneficial to maintain clear boundaries. And although I’m worried that the bedroom set may read this blog, I’m going to write about some of the gadgets we use that have made my life bearable.

Those motion detector lights that I wrote about yesterday; we employ some in our house. One works in the garage, and as I leave each day to go to school, it says, “Watch your step, my lovely. And have a nice day.” Cheeky, but sweet.

Another one stays in the entryway between the garage and the office. This light usually says something like, “I’m sorry I can’t open the door for you, but I do what I can do.” It does double duty because the entryway is also the landing of the stairwell to the basement. That’s where the washer and dryer wait, wondering why they only see me on the weekends. We’re on speaking terms, but barely.

We also have motion detector nightlights in each bathroom and one in the front hall. They don’t require any arm waving to turn on, and they stay lit up almost two minutes after you leave the room. I love obedience, especially in nightlights. The bathroom ones are a bit chatty, and say things like, “May I help you tonight? Not sure where to put your hiney? Let me show you. No, I’m not looking.” The one in the hallway is a bit obsequious and always calls me Madam: “Good morning, Madam. Watch your toes. Madam looks like she needs coffee. The kitchen is this way.” I suspect it would like to move to the living room to be able to watch the TV. Not going to happen. My coffee pot is mercifully silent when it offers me a cup of freshly brewed coffee. It’s one of my favorites.

I try not to speak ill of the servants, but I am uneasy about the motion-operated garbage can. I haven’t decided if it is greedy or just likes to joke around. It works fine, but half the time when I walk by, it opens it maw and asks for more. It has startled both the grandchild and me several times.

My husband has his favorites, too. One is the automatic toilet lid. I personally think it puts on airs. It’s not really automatic. When it is in the upright position, you still have to give it a small push to make it go down. But once you do, it moves along at a steady pace. Then it settles down to do the somewhat thankless job of a toilet lid. I shouldn’t complain; it carries its load.

I could go on, but it’s Saturday. All week long I’ve pushed dirty clothes down the laundry chute. Now I’ve got two resentful appliances to face.

Let there be light

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Regularly appearing on TV

At the place of instruction where I instruct on a daily basis, we have motion detector lights in most of the classrooms and offices. Some of them work better than others.In the classroom I use the most, you have to walk around a bit, wave your arms, jump up and down, and do all kinds of crazy things to get the lights to turn on.  I’m sure I look strange to all of the random people walking the halls. (I use random in the informal sense of  “odd and unpredictable in an amusing way.” This adequately describes both my colleagues and most of the students.)

 

My instructing place this semester is at a smaller campus that is a satellite of the bigger campus, so when we have staff meetings, I attend via interactive TV. While everyone else gathers in a room 30 miles away, I sit in an office staring at a TV, doodling listening and recording my thoughts pictorially. I can see all of  the instructors on my screen, so they look rather small. I’m the only one on my side, so they get a close up of me and can see every move I make.

 

Device used to mute me

The microphone is a small device that looks like the triangular-shaped weapon (shuriken) used by ninjas. It sits on the table and includes a speaker button and a mute button. Sadly, I can only mute myself; there is no “mute them” button. If I leave the speaker on and at a level my colleagues can hear me, every sound I make is amplified. They tell me that when I yawn, I sound like a very bored moose. So I mute myself and do a lot of staring during the meetings.

 

When the director of our program joins us, I try to stare intelligently, stifle my moose impressions, and write copious notes that include “blah, blah, blah” a copious number of times. Thankfully, no one ever sees this copiosity.

 

Two weeks ago, the director joined us and brought papers full of numbers and charts to share. The ITV is set up so that items can be put on a document reader and then shown on my TV screen. As you can imagine, it was mesmerizing. So fascinating that I was not only struck dumb, but struck still. Caught up in the drama and suspense of all those numbers, counting on them to come through, worried they wouldn’t, I was paralyzed with interest. (By the look in your eyes as I watch you through your computer camera, I can see you are equally mesmerized just thinking about it.*)

 

Page after page the plot unfolded. Could Test Results ever satisfy Big Government? Was he cheating on her with Client Reporting? And who was Demographics really?  Just before the exciting denouement, the lights in my room went out. I did the only thing I knew to do; I began to wave my arms wildly.

 

All I could see on my TV was the document. I couldn’t see the staff or director, so I forgot that they could see me. The director stopped in mid-sentence, it became very quiet, and and then she said to staff, “What is she doing?”

 

Did I mention that I was sort of doing jazz hands as I waved my arms around?

 

It’s one of the ways I get the lights on in my classroom. The other way is to bend at the waist and make a bowing motion like you do before a potentate. Thank goodness, I didn’t do that in the meeting.

 

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*I am totally kidding about seeing you through your computer camera. That’s ridiculous. You don’t look mesmerized. But I must say, that hairstyle suits you.

Uncle Sam wants you to give thanks

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In 1941 under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the federal government mandated that Americans give thanks on the fourth Thursday in November.

 

Yes, we are required by Uncle Sam to express gratitude today, but we can do so in any way we like. We can give bear hugs and sloppy kisses to family and friends, corner people and tell them how much we love and appreciate them, pray our thanks, call someone to show some love and then cry if we want to, get sappy counting our blessings, and spill gratitude all over the dinner table. And we can do this with impunity. All day. With food. Until both our hearts and bellies are ready to burst.

 

And pardon. We can do that. I mean if our President can pardon turkeys, why can’t we?

 

So, today, don’t forget to be a good citizen. Give thanks. It’s the law.