Happy Holidays.

Wishing you and yours a merry Christmas and a hippie new year. Peace.

Wishing you and yours a merry Christmas and a hippie new year. Peace.

Hippie Santa courtesy of my dear friend, Ms. ThoughtsAppear. Thank you, Thoughtsy.

I’m not really an actress.

One of my Ally McBeal reveries involves sitting across from James Lipton, humbly relating poignant stories about my fascinating life, bemused by the fact that anyone would care to know.

James, on behalf of America’s enquiring minds, wants to know what makes me me.  I, on behalf of me, quietly share mysterious tidbits, demurely grinning at James’s curious probing.

Inside, though, I anticipate the questions that I know are coming — James Lipton’s Famous 10 Questions — with the enthusiasm of a high school senior the day yearbooks come out.  What will I say? How will I choose just the right words to convey the real me . . . for eternity? 

I know the questions, so you’d think I’d be prepared. But I also know myself.  Consistently inconsistent.

I tend to approach life the way John Gorka approaches a set list:  controlled chaos.  All the answers are there. It’s just a matter of how they arrange themselves in any particular moment.

As with most of my Ally McBeal reveries, there’s usually a That Would Never Happen clause that brings me back to the mundane reality of sitting in traffic at the intersection of workday and errands.  This particular scene comes to a close when I remember that to be seated across from James Lipton, one must be, you know, an actress.

Today I was greeted with the opportunity to answer Mr. Lipton’s questions without setting foot on a stage.

No auditions, no makeup and wardrobe. No step-and-repeats or red carpets.

No pretending that I’m not dating George Clooney just because we have a movie coming out in six months.

So, here it is. My controlled chaos approach to the ten questions James Lipton asks of his guests on Inside the Actor’s Studio.  I reserve the right to change my answers. In ten minutes.

1.What is your favorite word?  Grace. Big G, little g. Grace Kelly, Amazing Grace. As far as I know, there isn’t a sense of that word that I don’t love.

2.What is your least favorite word?  Goodbye, in any language.

3.What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?  Authenticity.  I don’t happen to believe, by the way, that everyone who puts it all out there in the name of “just being themselves” is necessarily being authentic. A lot of those who do that are just competing to be heard above a crowd of boorishness, which, granted, is an authentic endeavor. I think it takes a lot to figure out what is truly authentic about yourself and then allowing yourself to be that.

4.What turns you off?  Exactly the opposite of authenticity.  I’m a vibe-y person and sometimes I just feel it about someone. I worry about that making me a judgy kind of person, so I try to give the benefit of the doubt. Often, in fact, I’ve gone too far to give someone who didn’t deserve it the benefit of the doubt. Much of the time, my

Hell's Bells?  You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

Hell’s Bells? You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

first vibe turns out to be correct.  If you’re not for real, please don’t waste my time.

5.What is your favorite curse word?  Hell’s Bells.  Ok, that’s two, but when Richard Gere got this question, he declined because he’s a better person than I am.  So, I’m taking Richard’s word.  Both of my grandmothers were Southerners and the attic of my brain is cluttered with their expressions.  Hell’s Bells is one, but I hear it with my grandmother’s gentle frustration, not AC/DC’s screech.

6.What sound or noise do you love?  Laughter, especially children’s laughter. I loved Antonio Banderas’ answer to this question, but he already gave it.

7.What sound or noise do you hate?  That sound that styrofoam packing makes when two pieces of it rub together or when you break it. Anything to do with styrofoam packing.  *shudder*

8.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  I’m on record as wanting to be a tambourine/eggshaker girl and/or a bookstore/patisserie owner, but — and I swear I am not making this up — lately I’ve been thinking it would be interesting to be a WordPress editor, coming up with creative ideas and watching what other people do with them.  Reading all sorts of things, choosing good ones to highlight, making someone’s day.  And, in my Ally McBeal impression of that job, there’s no commute.

9.What profession would you not like to do?  Publicist, handler, spokesperson, personal manager. See “authenticity,” above.

10.If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  Well, Hell’s Bells, c’mon in. Your grandmother said you’d pull it out in the end, but I admit I had my doubts. See “grace,” above.

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Daily Prompt: Inside the Actor’s Studio. On the interview show Inside the Actors’ Studio, host James Lipton asks each of his guests the same ten questions. What are your responses?

Halloween for bloggers: how to be sexy spam

Today is October 31, All Hallow’s Eve, a day to celebrate . . .something. Death, blood, monsters, witches, chocolate, pumpkins, pretending to be someone or something you’re not, checking apples for razor blades — all wrapped up in the sexy.

This might be a good time to revisit my blanket disclaimer that if you’ve come here looking for homework answers, you should probably move along.  That definition of Halloween isn’t going to land you on the honor roll. I make stuff up.

I don’t really get Halloween. I know this doesn’t add up: I’m a big fan of chocolate. I’m a big fan of creativity.

Walking up to someone’s door and begging-slash-extorting them for candy was just never my idea of fun.  Granted, no one in my neighborhood  thought the sweet little girl in the store-bought majorette costume was going to strong-arm them if they didn’t deliver the Hershey’s. Still.

Even if you’re not a fan of the holiday, it’s hard not to be aware of it, beginning now in mid-August when the candy, decorations, and costumes hit the store shelves.  The influence has slowly seeped into my brain and I’ve been thinking about costume ideas, even though I’m a little . . . tall . . . to be trick-or-treating and I haven’t been invited to any Halloween parties.

Great costume, but he didn't get the sexy memo.

Great costume, but he didn’t get the sexy memo.

I got to thinking about a classic post I once read about sexy Halloween costumes and I challenged myself to come up with costume ideas that would be difficult to convert to sexy.

You wouldn’t believe the images NSA has seen in my Google images cache on searches of “sexy” plus oddball things such as “rock” or “plumbing fixtures.”  You also wouldn’t believe the things I can’t unsee.

While I’m sure it’s not an original idea, I’ve decided to be spam for Halloween.  But not just your run of the mill spam. It’s Halloween, after all, so I’ll sexy it up.  Plus, the best spam doesn’t come right out and TELL you it’s spam. The best spam, like the most savvy of trolls, is sexy, seductive.  Think Catherine Zeta Jones (CZJ) in a black bodysuit.

Here’s the plan:

Dressed like CZJ’s character Virginia Baker, from the movie Entrapment, I’ll wander into whatever Halloween parties I feel like wandering into. Invitations are for sexy nurses. I’m Spam! I can go anywhere!

Trick or treat!

Trick or treat!

I’ll walk up to a group of sexy vampires in conversation, maybe about the weather or politics or the latest blockbuster movies — no matter — and say, “When the music group is this : pulled off, going to be the surface skin body cells and going to be the facial/nose hair utilize them.”

They’ll probably ignore my fascinating banter at first, but I’ll press on: “But despite it being printed on the back of a Trivial Pursuit card, it’s simply not true.On Clive Hills Road a resident reports that someone entered an unlocked 2009 Buick Enclave and rummaged through the glove . Once again, the price range was WAY too high for me, so I ended up just walking around, enjoying the holiday spirit.”

Maybe they’ll turn away. Maybe they’ll ask me to leave.  Whatever.

I’ll just mosey on over to a group of sexy zombies  in the other corner, talking about their vacation plans or renovating a house, and I’ll cheerfully join in,Hi everybody, here every person is sharing these experience, thus it’s good to be at this party, and I used to pay a visit this party everyday but it’s not as good as it used to be. What happened?”

If anyone questions who I am or why I’m there, I’ll just pretend I’m not from around here: “Lub ów szczyl w autobusie, przy stadionem Legii, proazek z piętnaście lat, ogolony makówka. Wykrzykiwał z.”

Undoubtedly at some point  I’ll be filtered from the party, so I’m planning on leaving with one last poignant shout out: “Get rid of the plug by hand and be careful with the rush of scorching oil. Sporting gloves is really an excellent concept.”

While it isn’t my thing, I don’t have any major issues with Halloween. I hope those of you who love it have a wonderful time. Happy Halloween!

I mean,  “Toddler web masters!!”

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If you’re reading this after October 31, the comment references to my gravatar are to my Halloween “costume”. 

To complete the holiday spirit, I “dressed up” like Catherine Zeta Jones for the day. . .

My Halloween costume, 2013.

My Halloween costume, 2013.

Living history: when mental illness marched on Washington

For Mike.

One of my strategies for coping with the insanity of traffic is listening to music.  I rarely bother with news and traffic radio any more. There’s not much of a point. The route from my home to my office has only a few minor variations. If there’s a snarl on one route, all variant routes are affected. So I sing or think or sometimes dance.

If traffic is delayed by a major incident on the highway, the overhead signs give me that information. If I make it as far in as Capitol Hill, I know I’m in good hands. Every encounter I’ve had with US Capitol Police has been a traffic detour and based on those encounters, I find them to be courteous, helpful, and above all, professional.

So last month when I found myself up against a wall of cars and trucks and buses on one of the first rainy Monday mornings we’ve had in a stretch, I cranked up the new Eddie From Ohio cd I’d picked up at a fundraising event over the weekend, replayed the evening with friends in my mind, began the up-in-my head phase of writing about Veronicah’s heart, and settled in for the creeping pace of the ride.  After two or three turns at one traffic light, I set aside the pre-writing and shifted gears to a little driver’s seat dancing  to “Let’s Get Mesolithic.”

Hours later I recalled that the emergency vehicles screaming past were going the wrong way up a blind hill and that  I’d casually registered the thought that the traffic delay must have been due to a serious accident for them to take such a risk at that rate of speed, a thought that wandered off to a distant recollection of a statistic about traffic accidents and Monday mornings. Add a little water to the roadway and of course there would be an accident. People drive crazy in the rain.

My thoughts wandered back to topics of conversation from Saturday: potato consumption in Utah, how you open the world of fasten-ating possibilities when you teach a young boy to use a nail gun, and where I would go in the world if I suddenly found myself financially independent enough to quit my job and dedicate the rest of my life to making a difference. Crazy stuff like that occurs to me when my mind is otherwise idle.

It didn’t occur to me that I never did get to the scene of the accident, nor did I remember that my new team meets early on Mondays and there’s a $10-per-minute late fee, with proceeds donated to the happy hour fund.

I was unaware that I was buying the next round of margaritas for the team.

I also was unaware that just a few blocks away someone I once knew had been shot to death, along with 11 others, when mental illness began its series of literal attacks on Washington.

The meeting was in full swing by the time I slipped into the conference room. No one mentioned my mounting bar tab. I glanced out over the busy street, annoyed that there’d not been time to grab coffee. Just another rainy Monday.

It wasn’t until I got to my office that I saw the scene at the Navy Yard unfolding on live video feed.

At that point it was still unclear how many gunmen there were, what their motives were, whether the rest of the city should be on terror alert. I wasn’t any more alarmed than any other day. MIndful, yes. Monitoring the news, of course. But not terrified.

This city and others like it are prepared for violence perpetrated by those angry enough to make a statement against the US, its government, its values, whatever it is that in their minds justifies killing or maiming innocent people to prove a point. I’ve come to accept the troubling mantra, “If you see something, say something” and the traffic delays when streets are closed due to reports of suspicious packages.

That has become part of who we are.

Eventually, as the hours and the day went on, we were disturbingly comforted by the reports that these innocent people were not killed by terrorists. This was just a lone “crazy.”

That doesn’t change the fact that another 12 people, the gunman included, are dead because of mental illness that was not sufficiently addressed.

A week and a half later, a young woman reportedly having struggled with postpartum depression, and most definitely struggling with something unimaginable for most of us, tried to crash the gates at the White House, led police on a high-speed chase on streets not made for speed, past pedestrians and bicyclists and other cars, through one of the most secure sections of town, eventually meeting her own tragic demise.

The news that there’d been a shooting at the Capitol broke when I was just about to leave my office for another meeting. My colleagues and I took our wallets, phones, and keys, in case we were evacuated, but the meeting went on as planned. I looked out over one of the most famous streets in the world to people going about their day, maybe unaware of the drama unfolding not far away.  By the end of the meeting, someone who’d been monitoring the news on his phone, told us that it was a woman with a child in her car and that the woman had been shot dead. Someone joked about it being someone we know, someone a bit unstable. For the record, I laughed. I’m not proud of that, but it was funny. Looking back, I feel bad, but I’m admitting it because that’s my point.

Then we went back to work, secure in the knowledge that this wasn’t a terror threat. Just another crazy.

A few days after that, a man doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire over on the National Mall. It happened just before rush hour. Most people’s greatest concern, those who showed any at all, since this was clearly just another nut job, was what the traffic impact would be.

Three times in the past month, mental illness marched into Washington, leaving behind an imprint, however temporary in our memory, of tragedy and death.

Had these been intentional acts of terror, maybe they would have been thwarted. Maybe someone would have seen something and said something and something would have been done to address and prevent the dangers. Most definitely we would have rallied to make sure it wouldn’t happen again.

In a way, they were acts of terror. Each of these people must have been suffering  intensely, again with thoughts and feelings and frustrations that many of us cannot comprehend. They must have been terrified. Yet we ignore or shuffle under the rug or out-and-out laugh about mental illness.  We toss about terms like “nut case” and “whack job” because , I suppose, it pushes  the problem, something we don’t want to deal with, away from us. Maybe mental illness is scarier than terrorism. All terrorists want to  harm us. Only a certain segment of the mentally ill manifest their personal terror in outwardly destructive ways, but when they do, it’s nothing short of tragic.

With mental illness, it’s hard to know when you’re seeing something or when you should be saying something. No one wants to unnecessarily associate someone — or themselves — with a label that is so carelessly translated to “crazy,” or “nutcase,” or any of the others. The more we use those terms to describe the people, the human beings, who commit destructive acts such as these, the more we push people who are fighting demons into their own particular darkness.

I could go off in search of statistics from authoritative sources or quotes from experts, but I’m going to go with my gut on this one and say that you are more likely to be sitting on a bus or a train or standing in a crowded elevator with someone who is in need of attention for mental health issues than you are to be in those same places with a terrorist. Again, not a verified fact, just a guess.

Mental illness came to Washington and because it didn’t have a “Death to America” sign, or maybe because it didn’t have a  multi-billion dollar corporate industry sponsor or a Constitutional Amendment to wave, we paused momentarily, shook our heads at the crazies, and continued to do nothing about it.

(Photo credit: Vanessa Sink / Reuters, NY Daily News).

America, your citizens are hurting. (Photo credit: Vanessa Sink / Reuters, NY Daily News).

WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: Living History: Write about a current event from your own unique, subjective perspective.  Show us how history is something we are part of, not some external event taking place in a palace, office, or war zone far away.

Sometimes good is good enough.

A couple of weeks ago when blueberries were plentiful and inexpensive, I set out to make some blueberry muffins.  I don’t do a lot of baking these days. I was happy to have a reason to spend a morning in the kitchen.

Since it had been so long, I had to search for a recipe through the many dog-eared recipe books and magazines from back in the days when I could whip up something for the heck of it (baking is therapeutic for me) and take the final product to the faculty lounge, where it would be gone before second period.

For the past five years I’ve worked with a nice enough bunch of people who’ve been together for many, many years.  When I would bring something in to share, they were kind enough in thanking me, but always made sure to give props to Nancy, because Nancy is the real baker in the group. Nancy’s so good at baking. Have you ever had her (insert name of whatever I’d made)?

Eventually I stopped taking things to share because I was getting the message that only Nancy was allowed to bake or to receive baking props.

Teachers aren’t nearly as loyal.  If it seems edible and you leave it in the faculty lounge, they are most appreciative, if evidenced only by the fact that it will be consumed immediately and with gusto, no matter who made it. If you do something nice for teachers, they make sure you know you are more than good enough.

I’ve recently changed to working with a new group of people. Same place, new department. Among the many things I like about my new colleagues is the fact that they are young.  They don’t yet have a Nancy or any loyalty thereto. And they are in that sweet spot of their lives where metabolism and freedom from life’s bigger responsibilities allows them to eat whatever they want because if they haven’t already run 10 miles or put in a couple of hours at the gym, they will be later.

Doughnuts, cookies, home-made PopTarts, bags of candy are in constant rotation. They go on daily milkshake or Slurpee runs. . . There’s a constant stream of sugary-goodness all day long and they are all fashion-model thin.

I would resent them if I didn’t remember my own sweet spot of life so fondly.  Being around them brings those days back to mind. Despite all the time I spend at the gym, and all my will-power in avoiding a high calorie lifestyle. I’m not that which I once was. But, I’m good enough and that will just have to do.

The simplest blueberry muffin recipe I could find had nutmeg in it.  I was surprised to learn that I didn’t have nutmeg on hand.  This was when I started to realize that, although I don’t think I pay much attention to the cooking and baking competition shows on television, they have started to affect my sense of baking self-worth in the same way that every facet of media has affected every other aspect of  my self-image.

There was a time, before repeatedly being told that I’d never be Nancy, that I felt good enough about my baking abilities. I made things. People ate them with gracious approval.  I felt good about baking things and sharing them.

In those days, I’d have probably just skipped the nutmeg. Now here I stood, frozen with indecision, contemplating the possibility that these muffins would not be good enough.

Should I make the effort to go to the store to buy nutmeg or should I try to find some other substitution?  Should I use cloves or allspice or cinnamon?  What kind of baker doesn’t know which one of these is an acceptable substitution for nutmeg?

Suddenly every batch of everything, every cake, every pie, any piece of lovin’ that had come from my oven had not been good enough. It had been created by someone without the proper baking credentials. I thought about all the cakes I’ve decorated, going all the way back to my first job in a bakery, and how they wouldn’t come close to what you see on television these days. I was not

Is the cinnamon obvious?

Is the cinnamon obvious?

good enough.

It occurred to me that I’d seen enough of these shows to know that creativity counts and I’ve been told I’m creative. Sure, that’s probably a euphemism for bat-dropping crazy, but whatever. I decided I wasn’t giving up!  I challenged myself to look through the cupboards for something different, something to make these reality-show worthy blueberry muffins.

It was when I stood there seriously considering whether to go with BOTH the lemon-pepper AND the chocolate syrup that I decided sometimes a blueberry muffin should be just a blueberry muffin and that should be good enough.

But I did toss in some cinnamon, just in case.

When the muffins came out of the oven, my new inner reality-show critic piped up:

Oh, they didn’t rise consistently. They don’t look uniform. I’m going to have to take off points for presentation.

When I tasted one, it wasn’t for the joy of biting into a warm, freshly baked blueberry muffin.  It was to check the sponge. I don’t even really know what “sponge” is, but it was a big deal on The American Baking Competition, one of the few shows where I’ve sat through an entire episode.

I carefully peeled away the baking cup, watching judgmentally for how much crumbiness there was.

You might be a good enough baker if Paul Hollywood likes your sponge.  -- photo from CBS, "American Baking Competition".

You might be a good enough baker if Paul Hollywood likes your sponge. — photo from CBS, “American Baking Competition”.

I’m not sure what the standard for crumbiness is, but I figured I’d know if they were sub-standard.  I took a bite of the muffin and — I am not making this up — waited in suspense . . .for my own decision.

How was the texture? Did I get it right? Too moist, too dry? More baking powder? Less? What? WHat? WHAT???

My inner reality-show critic is brutal. These muffins were just not good enough. There was no consistency in appearance. There was nothing special about them, nothing that made my taste buds pop.

They were just muffins.

I took them to work anyway and left them in the ever-rotating snack area.  An hour later they were gone.

Despite the fact that they weren’t uniform in height. They might or might not have had the proper sponge. They didn’t have nutmeg or lemon pepper or chocolate syrup or hot sauce. They weren’t good enough.

One of my new colleagues, the tall, graceful. swan-like one, turned to see me walking past and gushed, “Did you make those muffins?!? OMG! They were SOOO good!  Did they have cinnamon in them? I thought I tasted cinnamon.  That was brilliant!!!”

Hmm.Turns out sometimes a muffin is just a muffin and that is good enough.

Bonnie’s Blueberry Muffins

– from my dog-eared copy of the April / May 1994 issue of Taste of Home Magazine. I don’t know Bonnie, but her blueberry muffins are more than good enough.
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries*
Additional butter or margarine, melted
Additional sugar 
 
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, beat eggs. Blend in milk, butter, nutmeg and vanilla; pour into dry ingredients and mix just until moistened. Fold in blueberries. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups two-thirds full. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. (*If using frozen blueberries, rinse and pat dry before adding to batter.) Yield: 1 dozen.

Unity. Liberty. Charity.

Some,  most, or possibly all of these images evoke different thoughts, feelings, values, and beliefs. That’s my point in its simplistic entirety.

I was free to walk around, to take the pictures, to think what I wanted to think, to believe what I choose to believe, to feel what I honestly feel about each of the subjects.

I also was free to disagree with those who think, believe, feel, and value different things than I do.

The last photograph is of the plaque I found on one of my after-work White House walks. This time I was able to take the picture during the light of day without risk of frostbite.  I thought it was an appropriate sentiment for this day.


A couple of weeks ago, I took an overnight trip to New York City and took these photos on my way to my hotel.

Rebuilding.

Rebuilding.

trinity church nyc2

Trinity Church, near the towers

Street view.

Street view.

wall street nyc

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Flags at Vietnam Veterans Memorial, lower Manhattan


Last week I went for a walk after work.

White House (north side)

White House (north side)

You can hear at least half a dozen languages just walking around here for a few minutes, all of them happy to be here.  On this late summer evening, I passed a woman sitting on a bench facing the White House, just as her phone rang. She told the person on the other end, “I’m just sitting here in awe.”  I knew exactly what she meant by that. I feel that way all the time. Tourists snapping photos, tour groups getting the inside scoop, a wedding party posing for portraits, impromptu vigils ranging from one person to hundreds. Even when they completely oppose the current resident, they respect the building and its history and symbolism.

???????????????????????????????

I have no idea what this person’s protest message was, but he seemed lost in whatever he was writing and he clearly passionately believed in his purpose, whatever it was.  He didn’t stop, just kept writing, listening to loud Christian radio, oblivious to people stopping to stare at him.  These people fascinate me.

I understand the point of view that there should be more monuments to peace than to war . . . but

I understand the point of view that there should be more monuments to peace than to war . . . but

 . . . I also think Andrew Jackson and his horse look pretty impressive against a clear September sky.

. . . I also think Andrew Jackson and his horse look pretty impressive against a clear September sky.

Simple enough.

Simple enough.

Where it began, I can’t begin to knowin’.

Friday, September 6, 2013, approximately 0635 U.S. Eastern:

“So, I’m in a bar in Auckland and they’re playing “Sweet Caroline.” I don’t think you’d like it any better sung in a sexy Kiwi accent.”

Thus begins the text message exchange that finally brought about détente with the song that has been the bane of my existence for decades.

July 2013:

Marc Anthony sings an anemic “God Bless America” at Major League Baseball’s annual All-Star Game.

Seriously anemic. Someone give that man a sandwich.

And then . . .

Marc Anthony  is followed by Neil Diamond.  I know what is coming. I can’t take the moral ambiguity any longer.

I text, “AUGGHHHH!” to my friend, who replies, clearly understanding my anguish: “I thought you loved that song.”

April, 2013:

The nation and the world watch as a terrible, sad thing happens in the city of Boston.

“Sweet Caroline,” a favorite at Boston Red Sox games, rises again as a symbol of strength, perseverance, and Boston pride.

I find myself once again steeped in moral ambiguity. I want to share in the expressions of sympathy and support.  But. Augh.

September 2010 to present:

In the course of a certain friendship, it becomes apparent that the number of Neil Diamond songs on my friend’s iPod is  inconceivably incongruent with his Antonio Banderas-meets-LL Cool J swag.

In a temporary lapse of judgment, I tell him of my lifelong struggle with “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum).

Bad move. Bad, bad move.

One of the pillars of our friendship is the shared inside knowledge that if I ever find myself holed up in the Vatican embassy in Panama and he is sent on the mission to dislodge me, it will take no more than the first line of the chorus of “Sweet Caroline” to elicit my immediate surrender. Mission accomplished.

Summer of 1990-something:

On a sweltering hot summer day, I find myself serving valiantly as time-keeper at a swim-meet.

In the natural course of conversation between events,  the identity of the time-keeper in the adjacent lane is revealed to me.  While he seems to be a nice, fair-and-balanced time-keeper kind of guy, he is none other than the band teacher / director from my days in  junior/senior high school,  he of the “Sweet Caroline” obsession.

I spend the rest of the day wrestling with moral ambiguity.  On the outside, I remain a calm, cool, fair-and-balanced, you might even say “sweet” time-keeper. On the inside I am running all sorts of Ally McBeal / Walter Mitty scenarios to finally exact my “Sweet Caroline” revenge. Bum-bum-bum.

Do I tell him how much I detest that song because of him?

Do I ask him what the deal was?

Do I “accidentally” trip him when no one’s looking and then hold him underwater while he struggles and gasps for his final breath?  Hands, touchin’ hands . . .reachin’ out, touchin’ me, touchin’ you. . . .(glub-glub-glub)

No. I do not.

I don’t remember how the meet turned out. I don’t remember exactly how hot it was. I don’t remember how much my feet and back hurt from standing all day. All I remember is that I won a small moral victory over my own murderous impulses.  Good times never felt so good.

Friday, September 17, 1982:

Columbia Records releases Neil Diamond’s Heartlight album, with the title track inspired by the sweet alien’s heart (bum-bum-bum).

Diamond calls the song,  “A simple musical statement that we all felt very sincerely.”

I call the song Neil Diamond’s  diabolical attempt to get around my “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) embargo. I am not falling for it. No matter how cute that little alien is. Not even if you put him on a pony.

Friday, June 11, 1982:

Universal Studios releases Steven Spielberg’s E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial, “. . .about a stranded alien and his loving relationship with a fatherless boy.”

The alien is adorable. He is sweet.

The boy is adorable. He is sweet.

Enter Neil Diamond.

Diamond, Carol Bayer Sager, and Burt Bacharach attend a screening of the film and are inspired by the story and by  the sweet little alien creature, whose heart glows a  warm, caring red.

November 1980, it ends:

The end of football season in my senior year of junior/senior high school. I vow never again to listen to “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum).

I move on.  I go to college. My roommate plays oboe but not when I’m around. If “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) is in her repertoire, I am blissfully unaware of the fact.

Life is good.

September 1976, it begins:

My sister, the newest Big Shot Seventh-Grader in our family, becomes a drummer in the marching band.  I have to wait for her to finish after-school practice before we walk home from school together. Every single day.

The band practices “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) over and over and over and over again. Every single day.

She walks around our house tapping out the rhythm over and over and over. Every. Single. Day.

She sings herself to sleep at night, in the bedroom we share: “Sweet Caroline (bum-bum-bum) . . . “.

I spend way too many sleepless nights plotting an unfortunate bunk-bed accident. Every single night.

I come to loathe the song “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) and to rue the day somebody put Caroline Kennedy up on that stupid pony, inspiring Neil Diamond, who in turn  inspired the junior/senior high school band director, whose apparent obsession with that song scarred me (musically) for life .

Some Friday Night, September 1975:

As a Big Shot Seventh-Grader at the junior/senior high school in my town, I attend my first high school football game. I only briefly wonder what “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum) has to do with football, when the marching band plays it . . .several times.

For the record, I’ve never understood what “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” has to do with baseball or Baltimore, but it’s a seventh-inning stretch tradition that I don’t question out loud. It would be un-American.

There are some facts of life you just go with. So. somehow “Sweet Caroline” has something to do with leading our team to victory.  Ok, fine.

 

Tuesday, September 16, 1969:

Neil Diamond’s single,  “Sweet Caroline” (bum-bum-bum), inspired by sweet little Caroline Kennedy, is released.

Coincidentally, if you believe in such a thing as coincidence, this is about the same time, possibly even the very same day,  that a boy named Jeff chased me around the playground with a caterpillar, eventually slipping it down the back of my favorite maxi-dress and squishing it, forever changing the way I felt about maxi-dresses and caterpillars and Jeff.

I think it’s safe to say that September 1969 profoundly shaped my destiny, not in a happy way.  Caterpillars still haunt me. As does Caroline.

Friday, September 7, 1962:

LIFE magazine’s cover photo show adorable Caroline Kennedy riding a pony.

She is adorable.

She is sweet. She is Caroline.

Can you get any sweeter than a pony called Macaroni? (LIFE magazine, September 7, 1962)

Can you get any sweeter than a pony called Macaroni? (LIFE magazine, September 7, 1962)

Friday, September 6, 2013, approximately 0635 U.S. Eastern:

“So, I’m in a bar in Auckland and they’re playing “Sweet Caroline.” I don’t think you’d like it any better sung in a sexy Kiwi accent.”

We don’t see each other as often or have the chance to catch up as frequently as we used to, which makes me appreciate these random text exchanges from anywhere at any time all the more.

In the silly banter that follows, my world-traveling friend points out that as long as this song plays on in every corner of the world, he will think of me whenever and wherever he hears it  I fire back a silly response. I begin my day. Later I come to realize that whenever I hear the song, I think of him, too, and the times we’ve laughed about this song.

I have to admit to wondering what it sounds like in ‘sexy Kiwi.’ I’m grateful for the friendship that the song now brings to mind and for my new appreciation of the song.

And I suppose I’m grateful that I didn’t drown the band teacher. Bum-bum-bum.

The diamante final exam: a lesson worth remembering

I taught middle school early in my career, at the beginning of the movement to “mainstream” students receiving special education services, moving them from a self-contained classroom environment into the general classroom population.

Jeff was a sixth grader in one of the classes I team-taught with the Special Ed department chair.  Try as we might, we couldn’t get Jeff to participate in class assignments.  We couldn’t get him to pick up a pencil, much less the curriculum-required blue or black ink pen.

We couldn’t get him to dictate a story or a response to a question.  We tried modification after modification, parent conferences, team conferences.

We worked hard to get a computer so that he could use a word processor. Even bribery (yes, it’s in the teacher bag-o’-tricks).  Nothing.

He wasn’t a bad student, or a bad kid. He just didn’t want to do anything – seemingly because we wanted him to.  We sensed he was probably fairly bright, but we were locked into a “Do it. / I Won’t” cycle that had probably been a pattern for him for years. (Apparently there had been a BIG power struggle – not just for Jeff but also for many of his peers  — with their fifth grade teacher over writing in cursive. )

We could tell by watching him that he was taking things in and had some thoughts about it all.  He just was not going to share and we couldn’t find a way to make it worth his while to do so.

I  experienced many moments of feeling like an abject failure, and if it hadn’t been for the highly skilled, seasoned professional with whom I worked, I might have arrived at that conclusion early on and given up on both Jeff and  on myself.

Although she felt the same frustration, my co-teacher had been through many similar challenges, so we didn’t give up on him. We did come to accept that we weren’t going to get much, if anything from him, but still we tried, hoping that some day something would click, even if we weren’t there when it happened.

Traditional diamante template from www.readwritethink.org

The final unit of the year included figurative writing and formulaic poetry forms.  There had also been a year-long cross-curricular initiative in learning the eight basic parts of speech.

I combined these in one “take home” element of the final exam:  students were to prepare a self-descriptive “diamante,”  a form poem so named for its diamond shape.

For assessment purposes, the final exam diamante differed from the traditional form in that it had to include a metaphor, a simile, three verbs, and a summarizing statement of fact, all describing the writer.  To achieve the diamond shape, the diamante began with the writer’s first name on line one and ended with the writer’s last name on the final line.

Exam day came, and Jeff showed up without a pen or pencil, much less a diamante.  He sat through the entire session with the Scantron (“the bubble sheet”) in front of him.  I don’t recall whether he even bothered to write his name.

He turned in a sheet with a few random bubbles filled in, left the room, and that was the end of our time together.  There wasn’t much for my co-teacher and me to do or say about it. That was that.

Then, at the end of the day, I found a crumpled up piece of paper tossed on my desk at the back of the room.  I opened it to find this diamante, which I have kept ever since in a little frame on whatever desk where I find myself.

Although I’ve altered the names for privacy’s sake, it is written in ink and was signed…in cursive. . . by someone who taught me a lesson worth remembering:

You never really know what’s going on with a person and people will surprise you in the nicest ways.

diamante-final-exam

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Diamante links:

Read. Write. Think. (An interactive diamante generator).

University of Oregon

Wikipedia

A traditional diamante begins and ends with nouns that are opposites.  The poem can be used in two ways, either comparing and contrasting two different subjects, or naming synonyms and antonyms for another subject.

The subject is named in one word in the first line. The second line consists of two adjectives describing the subject, and the third line contains three verbs ending in the suffix -ing which are related to the subject. A fourth line then has four nouns, again related to the subject, but only the first two words are related the first subject. The other two words describe the opposite subject the lines then are put in reverse, leading to and relating to either a second subject or a synonym for the first.

                              Noun
                       Adjective-Adjective
                         Verb-Verb-Verb
                      Noun-Noun/Noun-Noun
                         Verb-Verb-Verb
                       Adjective-Adjective
                              Noun

The sinkhole detour: peace.friendship.sesame chicken.

As with most things that I can’t change in life, I have come to appreciate the positive things about commuting through Washington DC five or six days a week.  To paraphrase Ferris Bueller, life moves pretty fast, but traffic doesn’t, so you might as well look around while you’re sitting in it. There’s a lot going on out there.

The most interesting things happen when I’ve forgotten to put my camera on the passenger’s seat or when it’s not safe to use it, either because of traffic safety or because the subject of my fascination might be inclined to take retributory action.

I wouldn’t blame them.  A person should be free to do whatever they want in full public view, if only to entertain the commuter population.

The sinkhole that shifted my consciousness.

Several months ago I took a different route home because of a sinkhole that had closed off several streets on my usual route.  What a gift from the universe that sinkhole was for me. It hadn’t occurred to me to drive through DC’s Chinatown neighborhood on my way out of the city.

Or maybe it had and at that point I wasn’t ready yet to deal with the tourist element.  Tourists, jaywalkers, taxi drivers willing to U-turn from the far right lane to pick up a mini-skirt wearing fare, and Metro bus drivers with felony records are a driver’s worst nightmare.  But the sinkhole detour shifted my consciousness on that view.

The Chinatown neighborhood, which is teeming with tourists and all those other traffic hazards, is my favorite place to be stuck in gridlock.  There’s so much going on there. Plus, it smells like sesame chicken. You gotta love that.

So many people from all over the world meander the streets there, many of them stopping traffic to have their picture taken in front of the Friendship Arch.  I don’t mind stopping for this because some of them, usually after an extra long happy hour, strike some interesting poses.  Every once in a while I want to ask if I can look them up on Facebook.  But I don’t because I don’t need to find myself mentioned on Facebook as “. . .some crazy lady who tried to chat me up in DC.”

A couple of weeks ago, just for fun, those of you kind enough to subject yourself to these musings and to take action voted for my theme song, which turned out to be Cat Stevens’ Peace Train.

The sit-out, like a sit-in with a view.

The very next day was the beginning of the sit-out I’ve been staging. My sit-out is the opposite of a sit-in; instead of staying in place and refusing to leave,  to get my point across I tried for a few days to leave during daylight hours, refusing to stay chained to my desk.

On my commute home, feeling free as a hippie who’d only logged 7.5 hours that day, I found myself sitting in traffic near the Friendship Arch, basking in the aroma of sesame chicken, people-watching to my heart’s content, and enjoying life in the moment, when my theme song came on the radio.

As luck, or the universe, would have it,  I had remembered to have my camera riding shotgun. I took a picture to prove to you that it really happened, although I’m not sure why you wouldn’t believe me.  I admit to a certain amount of hyperbole, but I don’t make most of this stuff up.

I forgot about that until one night this past week when the universe treated me to a traffic jam in that same spot and when I looked to my left, I saw a group admiring this way groovy car.  This is now my favorite intersection, the intersection of peace and friendship and sesame chicken.

I wish you could smell what I smelled. Mmmm...sesame chicken.

I wish you could smell what I smelled. Mmmm…sesame chicken.

I am not making this up!

I am not making this up!

~

All I can say is groovy.

All I can say is groovy.

I’m not really a hoarder.

I am a proud member of a village that has successfully raised two village people.  Somehow they managed to survive  bandaged knees and chicken pox,  lost lunch money and forgotten field trip permission slips, losing seasons, winning seasons, stage fright, mean girls, puppy love, and broken hearts.

By now we’ve been through the stages of separation necessary for them to go off on their own to do the things that young villagers do. Still, one part of the child-rearing process lingers:

The village is starting to pile up with shoeboxes.

Every time I buy new shoes, I put them neatly on the shoe rack in the closet, and start to break down the box for recycling.

Free to a good home. No, wait. Someone might need these.

Free to a good home. No, wait. Someone might need these.

Then I freeze. And a slight panic sets in.

Someone might need this box. . .

You know how that always goes. . .

 As soon as you get rid of it, someone will need a shoebox.

After a lifetime — two lifetimes, actually — of looking at shoeboxes as vessels to hold sidewalk chalk, finger paints, scissors, glue, Barbie clothes, baseball cards, rocks (not the pretty ones — the dirtiest, grungiest ones he could find), Happy Meal toys, squirreled away allowance money (we’re certain my son is already well on his way to a secure retirement) and things I’m probably better off not knowing, I can’t look at a shoebox as just a shoebox.

Nor can I reason with my more altruistic self that cutting it down and putting it in the recycling will help the box find its way into serving some other village in some other helpful way.

No, not me.

I look at a shoe box and imagine that at just about 10:30 pm, someone’s going to call to tell me they just remembered that their Social Studies diorama project is due tomorrow morning. You never know.

Maybe they’ll want to paint them and turn them into colorful “bricks” to build a living room fort. You never know.

Or maybe this year they’ll start waxing nostalgic and will want to make a gingerbread village for Christmas. You never know.

And so the boxes pile up, because once you’ve been a responsible member of a village, you understand that it takes a lot of shoeboxes to raise a child.