Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Stand on Your Head or Get Off to Bed

Hub and I have both heard the hushed whispers behind cupped hands among family members. Muffled speech that sounds like “..mumble, mumble… get off to bed.” Hub disagrees. He says he overheard something totally foolish like, “Why don’t he stand on his head?” or “His face is so red!”

Still, either way, how can we ask? When people speak behind cupped hands just out of reach of your hearing, with eyes shifting furtively from the confidant’s ear to the one sidelined from the discussion, we know of whom they speak. And so how can we, meaning Hub and I, graciously suggest that the secret be shared with us, knowing that it is a secret about us?

But as it happens, an incident outside of all this revealed to both Hub and I the secret so often said behind cupped hands, that we puzzled over. The understanding came as a result of three small mice living on our back deck.

Now D.O.G. Dog ( first name pronounced Dee-oo-gee; second name pronounced ‘dog’) always insists on eating his meal outside on the deck late evening. And when he’s done and comes back inside, the tiny mice that live on the deck come to collect scraps in, and around, the bowl. Then, if we turn on the deck light they scamper into the shadows of a chair leg, a rail, or even the dog dish. But luckily for us, with a tiny solar light on the opposite end of the deck they are still visible.

Or what often happens, as they freeze in a shadow, they forget to tuck their tails in and those wee tails make their location easy to spot. It is too cute how they hide and then take quick peeks over, above, or to the side to see if the humans are gone, and all is clear.

The mice are very small, although they do have fur, but Hub and I have come to the conclusion they are orphans. We never see adult mice only the three wee ones. They work hard. They briskly gather up every wee scrap in and around D.O.G. dog’s dish and rush it away to their cache for the long winter ahead.

Now with a move from outside to inside only inches away, Hub thought the wise thing to do was put the live-mouse-trap out on the deck. He caught one mouse a couple of days ago but when he opened the tin box, he was so overwhelmed with guilt at splitting up motherless babes, that he immediately let it go.

But despite that, we solidly agree, the tiny and timorous plan is to ultimately move inside, and to prevent that, drastic action must be taken. So after that first catch and release, Hub left the trap on the deck while he debated for a few more days how to resolve the problem, in the kindliest way.

Tonight he caught another wee mouse. He peeked into the trap while the mouse peeked out. Again remorse overcame him, but not enough to let the little rodent go. Instead he cut a nice piece of cheese to tuck in the trap until morning. The plan now was to release the mouse in the woods, come morning.

Later that evening as we relaxed in the livingroom, I said to Hub, “Poor little fellow. He’s probably so scared, so lonely, so choked, that he can’t even eat his cheese. Maybe I should get some lint from the basket beside the dryer in the basement, so that he will at least have a soft warm nest to relax in, in that cold tin box until morning.”

Hub said, “Don’t talk to me about that. Don’t go there.”

He watched TV in silence for a few minutes then said, “Roberta, you should have seen him, looking out of the narrow openings in the trap box and begging me to let him go. He had his little paws on the bars and his little nose pressed out through a slot.”

Hub left the room and shortly after I heard the back door open and close and in a few minutes he came back to watch TV. “What were you doing, just now?” I asked.

“Oh,” he said, “I just took that little mouse out in the woods and turned him loose.”

‘Yeh, sure he did, and probably made a wee path of cheese crumbs so he could find his way back to the deck and his other siblings!’

So now Hub and I have suddenly realized that when you’re hiding food (so the birds won’t steal it) in a pit every afternoon for a fox, and you’re keeping the bird feeder topped up because of the painful guilt you suffer if you don’t. And if you’re cooking gourmet and variety meals for the puppies, and tracking the comings and goings of three orphaned mice, and keeping dryer lint and shop shavings in separate containers so they can be dispersed in the woods for those in need – review these actions and it quickly becomes clear what secret is being shared behind cupped hands.

Not ‘stand on your head’ or ‘get off to bed’ or ‘his face is red’ – what they’re really saying is….

“They’ve gone soft in the head!”

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Of Liars and Loves

Liars, all of them. All of those strong-minded women who always proclaim they did the right thing. They married the right man and chose the right career. And that they chose every path in life through wise choice.

They smugly consider themselves as the pinnacle of wise choices and wise intelligence. They pretend even failures happened by choice. And although that much might be believable, they go way too far when they adamantly insist that they are never haunted, in their minds, by any ‘what ifs?’ over ex-loves.

They are dismayed that I would even ask them if they have regrets about any events in their lives. What a stupid question when every choice was made with such intelligence and forethought?

Well, they can deny it as adamantly as they like. But I don’t believe it, not for a minute.

I tell a different story. Yes, I have never regretted the life I’ve led, the husband I wed, but I have to tell you, if we’re going to be totally honest, I have engaged in ‘what ifs’. And those what-ifs have led to more than forty years of a haunting of my reality, my night-dreams, and my day-dreams. And what’s more, the haunting is the conjured up image of an ex-love and I hesitate to admit it, but it is true – an ongoing love.

He might have been my first love. I’m not certain now. It was so long ago. But, I tell you true, I have never before or since had such a crush. This man took up permanent residence in my soul the very first time I saw him and nothing could chase away his image from my dreams, mind, or imagination. Hub is a maniac driver, but so was he. Still no matter how fast he drove, he could not drive himself out of my mind or affection.

When Michael J. went from black to white, I could not help but ponder for a time if Hub could have a face-transplant to make him look like my lover-haunt.

I want to describe my dearest love but words fail me. All I can say is that each time I saw an image of him, I felt so warmed by the presence I perceived. The first explosion of affection was sparked by incredibly soft, oh so sensual lips.

Where are the words? I can’t find the words. Maybe there just aren’t any for this circumstance. It sounds so dumb and inadequate to say that his lips radiated a pull like a powerful magnet. No matter whether his lips were compressed with rage, hurt, or fear, it was impossible for those lips to successfully hide their strength and beauty and softness and warmth.

Eyes, blue eyes, with the same attributes as his lips. The same magnetism, and intensity. Tiny pools set within that handsome face, small and crystal blue, but so overwhelming to me that I was swept away in them as if by a monster flood. It was as if, between the sensuous lips and the blue eyes – as soft, meaningful, caring, and loving as those lips – that the sight of him set off a pressurized tension that tugged at every fiber of my flesh, bone, and soul, and every cell and follicle of my being.

And although that swagger when he walked, was a wee tiny bit less endearing than those eyes or lips, still it could not be ignored.

And although I love Hub dearly, although I’m appreciative, although he’s special, I still must confess that my reality, and my daydreams and nightdreams, are haunted by ‘Hud’, more often than Hub. And that, dear friends, was not a spelling error.

Those women I spoke of earlier in this rant, who so quickly say they have never made a regrettable choice would probably call these admissions immoral, uncharitable, sinful, deceitful, and a host of other malicious names. They would call my honesty vain pettiness and my admission of such pettiness, crude and sinful betrayal within the context of a monogamous relationship.

But what they need to understand, if they have the withal to understand it, is that Hub and I do not have what is termed an ‘open-relationship’ in today’s modern-speak lexicon. We have an ‘open relationship’ in the context of what those words originally meant. In our archaic configuration, an ‘open relationship’ means brutal honesty about all things.

So with that philosophy in place, Hub does not need to say, “I know in your past you have loved others, but do you still love someone more than me?”

He’s always known without asking. He knew when we were courting, he knew the day we got married, and he knew last week, last year, last month. He has always and forever known that I have loved someone more.

But for your edification, if he were to ask, I would be compelled to say with brutal honesty –

“Yes”. You know that. You know that I always have, and always will, love Paul more than you!”


Paul Newman passed away on Friday. I cannot help but weep. I am sad, but so is Hub. Hub is sad for me because he knows how much I’ll feel the loss for today and for all time…

Friday, September 19, 2008

Shopping Lists & Minor Agitations

This morning started out with minor agitations. First off, I poured Hub a lukewarm cup of coffee, because when I made it, I forgot to switch the pot-warmer on. And then I clumsily broke the yoke on both of his breakfast eggs and scorched the toast.

And then, when Hub mentioned he needed to go into town, I started in. Hub never makes a list of what he needs. But lately, all too often, Hub goes to town for three items and comes home with two, one, and sometimes even none. Then he mutters and grumps for the rest of the day because he forgot to get much-needed items.

I understand his irritation with himself because he hates going to town as fully, utterly, and completely as I do. So, with this in mind, and although I pride myself on not being a nag, I just had to say as I went to get paper and pencil. “If you need more than two items, here’s a paper, here’s a pencil – make a list.”

And then he said, “I don’t need a list” and I said, “Yes, you need a list” and he said, “I can remember what I need” and I said, “better safe than sorry – just make a list”. And then he shoved the note paper toward me and I shoved it back to him, and it went forth and back (cause it couldn’t go back without going forth first) until he eventually gave in.

So he quickly scribbled a list and as I watched him scribble line after line, I was thinking. “Silly fool, if he needed that many items, he certainly would never remember them without that list.” Quite proud I was, of myself, that I had been so insistent.

So now as I busied myself tidying up the kitchen, Hub got his shoes and hat and left for town. As I turned to wipe the table, guess what? There was his list. I skimmed through it and this is what was written in clear evenly spaced script (Hub has excellent handwriting).

2” nails
water-softener salt
jet boat
new electric car
aircraft (jet)
new girlfriend

I wonder if I should call him on his cell just to make sure he doesn’t forget anything on his list.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Spinning Jenny Stimulus - Conclusion 3.

Crafting in Quietness

How silly old women with bleary minds. Jesters of nostalgic reflection. Always wanting to turn the clock back to a recall their youth and how things once were.

And the most extreme is some silly old fool wanting us to stop what we are doing and re-install the Sabbath? And all the yap and yawing about some pre-historic thing like a spinning jenny that is older than dirt? Expecting us to read all that blither?

I know, I know. Perhaps I have led you to think I don’t understand the impossibilities of some of the things I rant about. But to a large extent I do. I realize that technology is well past the stage where it can be halted, slowed, or stopped.

I also fully understand why the Sabbath cannot be re-instated. It’s not because it is so hard to celebrate a day with peace and calm and quietness if that is what one chooses to do. But still it won’t happen, because this generation’s expectations won’t allow it.

Because every non-school or non-working day is expected to hold a wealth of leisure-pleasure. These are days for fast food treats, material procurements, new wonders, new sights, new sounds, new colors. And so, with that, how can anyone in today’s spinning- jenny-world envision delight or value in a day of hushed, household quietness? It goes without saying, the leisure pleasure the Sabbath originally provided is no longer understood or even wanted.

And that is the problem. How do you define a day of quietness to a generation so embedded in technology?

What do you say when they ask for the fiftieth time, “But what are we supposed to do with this absurd day? Cooped up without cell phones and with electronics locked up in the closet?”

And the day becomes more meaningless and unreasonable when you say, “This day is to provide you with time for self-reflection.”

What meaning in that statement for a generation that has never ventured inside their own mind since birth – and they’re supposed to understand what the term ‘self-reflection’ is?

And so, when we try to explain the peace and comfort found in quiet time, many will say ‘What about sleepless nights? We all have them. So why re-install the Sabbath? Why not use sleepless nights for self-reflection?’

Well, we could. But we don’t.

Instead we lie awake in bed and contemplate what sleeping pill to try next. And we couple that with a truckload of mental commiseration about needing rest so that we can be on the ball for all the technological tasks that will rule the morrow? There is too much fret about ‘sleep’ to ‘reflect’ on anything. And then, if a state of sleeplessness persists, the inhabitants of this spinning-jenny-world, crawl out of bed in the middle of night and focus their bleary eyes on more flashers and beepers while they play mindless computer-video games.

That’s what we do, and why shouldn’t we? Works for us and since God is dead anyway, there is no need for self-reflection in this generation. All those endless evenings and Sabbath hours that past generations used to formulate plans to be a better person for salvation sake are no longer applicable. With God dead, with no fear of heaven or hell, what need for self-reflective plans for packing, into one lifetime, a mountain of charity and good deeds? If we aren’t going anywhere, we don’t need the luggage.

But wait. I think, despite all that, we still need time for self-reflection. We still need to understand what self-reflection is and how to get there. And our children need to understand it too.

And this is why. You can explain to a child how behavior affects their lives and relationships with others. How ill behavior can limit friendships. Or invite teasing, or bullying, or shunning.

But that isn’t good enough. All that talk isn’t very effective. It is no more effective than trying to cure an addict who doesn’t recognize that he or she has a problem. First rule of any addiction counseling is that the individual wanting help must first recognize they have a problem.

And that, dear readers, is what self-reflection does if we make time for it. Not in the first five or ten minutes, but later, many hours later, self-reflection starts to lead down a path of realization of what is at the root and core of life’s successes vs failures. Later much later, it starts to reveal understanding of all that is possible with concerted effort and cooperative strategies.

Self-reflection ends up leading one into the more difficult questions that side-step the instantaneous and skewed emotions that first come to mind in circumstances of difficulty (or success). First quick-thinks often go like this:

‘They don’t like me cause their jealous.’ ‘He does so care about me, he bought me chocolates.’ And, ‘I can afford to buy that new car, I just need to borrow some shekels from me old dad.’ And of course, in a pre-teen or teen, the thinking is likely to be. ‘I’ll show them, they can’t treat me like this.’ Too often the quick-think of a life-situation bypasses all else and snaps into retaliation mode. Or moody despair. And there it stalls in a disciplinary 10 or 20 minute time-out.

The better considerations take extended time. Maybe a whole day. Maybe a whole day (once a week). Quiet time. Hushed household time.

Time enough to fully understand self-reflection.

And now the bad news. Yeh, a bit of a slump happens when the fullness of self-reflection eventually takes place. Because when it does, that is when one begins to empathize with others, who at first glance seemed so foolish, square, or just bloody nags. And when the fullness of self-reflection kicks in, one begins to pick battles with care. And when the fullness of self-reflection kicks in, this is when the slump happens and one begins to ask themselves the ultimate humiliating question.
‘What can I do to make things better?’ …rather than concentrating on long laundry lists of changes others need to make. (Psst…Laundry lists may work, but man, they are a pain.)

In our modern world, self-reflection no longer is, as it was. It moved from a biological inheritance to a new art-form. It is now a craft that one must learn through sincere endeavor. In a spinning-jenny world, it doesn’t happen at sunrise or sunset. It only happens to those who set aside sufficient quiet time for it.


That’s my reflective spin for now. Hopefully somewhere in the fabric of it all you may find something that stirs you into a quiet bit of self-reflection.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Spinning Jenny Stimulus - Part II


Now even if we ignore my previous dramatization of restricted literature and spinning-jenny hyperbole, and consider my childhood in a more general way, the lack of stimulus that I’ve been muttering about becomes fairly evident.

Think about it. How much stimuli does a child get from direct instruction by “one” teacher? In a wee school that houses grades 1-9 for a grand total of 23 students? How much stimuli with no visual media players, very few books, no musical instruments, and no playground equipment outside of a bat, a ball, and a swing?

And, how much stimuli with only eight colors in the crayon box? And no field trips, library, music-room, gym, cafeteria, or study hall?

Sparse, compared to today’s children who are bombarded on all sides by stimuli in every possible format. Endless books and stories. Endless paraphernalia, including talking books, boxes of 156 colors, games, puzzles, computer-assisted learning, field trips, gyms with great honkin’ boxes under the gymnasium stage of sports equipment of every description. And a large outdoor playground with ball diamonds, football fields, hockey arenas, etc. and indoor space for volleyball, basketball and gymnastics.

But that’s not all. My grandson is six months old and his world is already alive with stimuli. He is already entrenched in a world swirling like a spinning jenny with visuals, sound, and motion.

His toys are a rainbow of things that move, and sing, and bleep, and pop. The floor jumper he sits in has artificial palm leaves overhead. And spirals, beepers, and spinners that leave him virtually unseen and unheard when he is in there. So much motion and sound that he can’t think or even concentrate on his own sweet esoteric language. Or enough quietness for him to practice parsing a gentle “coo”.

His play pen has another equally intricate conglomerate for him to kick with his feet. And his highchair has interchangeable place mats wildly colored with letters and cartoon animals. His soft toys play surf and bird-sounds. His other toys beep and spin and blink lights. His potty-chair talks and sings. His quilts and sheets are a dizzying array of more colors with textured critters designed to look three-dimensional.

And I can see already that with each passing year it will get worse as he reaches the age of e-pods and video games and interactive television. God, where and when will it stop?

Grandson is little but as little as he is, already his mom notices a special calmness when he is here. He plays in an old ancient walker (I know they’re illegal because of safety concerns but with the wheels missing, this one ain’t going anywhere).

The walker has a plain, dull beige, tray. He strokes it with his little hands affectionately. And when I put him in there, he is absolutely content with his sucky and a small plastic bowl from my kitchen cupboard to rattle against it. It takes time but he is clever enough to eventually get the soother tucked in the bowl. And already he knows that if you can’t dig it out, you tip the bowl and it falls out.

He loves that game. He holds up the little bowl to proudly show me how he has melded the two into one conglomerate. And then again to show me how skillfully he has separated them.

And he settles down for naps on a plain bed with a plain blanket without blinkers and tooters. And he lies on a thick folded quilt on the floor near the window and giggles with glee at the shadows cast by swaying leaves against the curtains and the glass. And he chuckles out loud at the puppy strolling past his locale.

So then, in my bleary mind I start thinking about the ever-escalating rise in child-behavioral problems. Children are more anxious and more and more unable to focus for the slightest extension of time on one thing. So I have to ask, “Why do we worry so much about the psychological damage of corporal discipline while ignoring this toxic soup of stimuli that might be equally, or even more damaging?”

We’ve simplified our ideologies to what suits us. Sterilize everything, stop spanking, and stimulate children with flash-cards, Bach or Mozart, travel, visuals, and gizmos, and they can’t help but grow up healthy, independent, and stable-minded.

Yet childhood behavioral problems continue to rapidly escalate. And among the host of possible causes, no one considers that maybe our modern-day spinning-jenny stimulus is just too much. Maybe the enigma of all that research and no fixed conclusion is because at the root of it all is something that was never considered. And truthfully, don’t researchers in childhood behavior have a hand in propagating more noise, color, and motion?

In this bleary mind of mine, with the solace and peace and repair that I get from quiet times—alone and undisturbed—I wonder if maybe the real cause of child behavioral diseases is simply too much stimulation.

As a child, in our home, Sunday was set aside as a special day. Don’t laugh. Just because God is dead doesn’t mean we can’t discuss other aspects of the Sabbath.

Sunday was today’s equivalent of ‘time-out’. There were no spinning jennies on the Sabbath. No sports. No work. No active frolic. Just resting, reading, and relaxing, and time for self-reflection. Sunday was a day that demanded hushed household quietness.

So maybe, just maybe, in the midst of all the paraphernalia of today’s world, we would be well to return to that kind of time-out. (But can we do that without our children interpreting it as a disciplinary move? As something to feel pained about? Even dejected and hurt?)

NEXT POST: Conclusion

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Spinning Jenny Stimulus


I was sitting at the kitchen table in that bland, mindless state, that I so hate, and so often lately find myself in. Unable to focus, hearing sounds, seeing sights, but still absorbing no more than a vacuum that is being pushed about the room with no filter bag or power source.

In this bleary state, I found myself recalling how starved I was for stimulation when I was a child. There were never enough books, never enough stories, never enough poems, or sonnets, or songs, or colors, or words, or new ideas to ease my hunger for the stimulus of something new. This was back there in that long-ago-time when children were responsible for their own good time minus gizmos.

And so, if you can imagine a child’s longing for a bike, or a youth’s longing for a truck, or a transient’s longing for a home, then you can understand the ache I had for books with words arranged with the soundness of reverence, emotion, and seduction that words deserve.

One year, with nothing in the house I hadn’t read, I remember spending a big chunk of my summer break reading a book I found in the attic about ‘the spinning jenny’. It was a very old water-stained hard-cover book about the inventor of the spinning jenny, the purpose of the spinning jenny, and how it worked. Looking at the pic of that jenny now, I am amazed that someone could write a book on nothing more than the history of the spinning jenny.

One must indeed admire the dedication of such a writer. That kind of author, could, without a doubt, write with equal ease 125 pages about a paper lunch bag.

The year that I read the spinning jenny book, I was still too young to question why I was doing what I was doing, but I remember distinctly thinking to myself, ‘what could it be that is driving me to read this stupid, stupid book?’ And despite careful reading, did I retain any of what I read? Not an iota.

But I so loved words back then. And poems, and stories. I could never get enough of them. It was as if I was on a quest for a kindred spirit – someone, anyone, who loved them as much as I did. And if I couldn’t find that someone in the school yard, perhaps I could find that sweet spirit between the pages of a book -- if only I could find the right book. It would need to be a book thick enough to allow me time to revel in the author's appreciation for words and all that they can portray.

I expected good luck in the school library. But all I found in the book shelves were books of trite fiction or boring facts. For some reason, each time I took a book from there it was far removed from what I sought.

And so, in another act of desperation in my quest for literary stimulation, I read my English text from cover to cover, every page and every word. Twice.

Surely here I would find what I was looking for. Obviously the original creator of an English text book had to be someone as passionate about language as I. And then, of course, with this common interest sustaining us, and this common force compelling us, and this common passion within us, certainly we, the writer and I, could form a comforting, albeit dream-state-relationship based on our mutual appreciation for language.

It seemed totally sensible to assume that the writer was as ardently dedicated to the function and beauty of words, as that other writer was to the qualities and marvels of the spinning jenny.

But to my dismay, that was not what happened. After not just one, but two careful readings, I came to the harsh realization that, to the voice-and-speaker of that English Text, language was just another spinning jenny. And the rules laid out for language too serious to promote a warm relationship.

The two books could have been written by blood relatives because the text in one so heavily paralleled the content of the other. Both identified and illustrated, with equal detail, the respective parts of language and the spinning jenny. And so like unto the spinning jenny book, the language text elaborated all the rules for the rigid and restricted operation of verbs, and nouns, and adjectives to make them fit the manufacture of phrases as cold and passionless as the workings and production of a spinning jenny.

Neither was a book that I would every recommend. But this story doesn't end here. There is more to the saga of "The Spinning Jenny".


NEXT POST: “Too Much Stimuli”, goes beyond my own experiences to question in a general way how much stimulus children need.