Although I recently posted about giving people the benefit of the doubt, I admit that this practice doesn’t always work.
Most importantly, we should never explain away or excuse bigotry, violence, or abuse.
But even in more simple everyday ways, we need – when giving the benefit of the doubt – to make sure we are being generous to the right people.
Here’s a story a friend told me:
She and her husband were driving home from dinner. He was behind the wheel. They came to a four-way stop. Another car on their left got to the stop several seconds after they did. Just as her husband stepped on the gas to go, the other car jumped into the intersection and sped off, causing my friend’s husband to hit the brake hard in order to stop in time.
“Jesus H. Christ,” the husband yelled. “What an asshole!”
And my friend, trying to calm him down, said, “Maybe he just didn’t see us.”
And later, telling me this story, my friend said to me, “That was such a stupid thing for me to say.”
And I understood right away what she meant.
Why not be on your husband’s side? What would it have cost her to be on his side?
If, when he had said, “What an asshole!” – she had said:
“I KNOW! It was YOUR turn!”
Because what she really said didn’t make a single difference to the asshole driver – and it didn’t calm her husband down any either.
Believe me, I know.
I do it.
All the time.
I constantly tell people to think the best of others. I make excuses for people I do not know. And while thinking the best of others is the right thing for me to do, telling others to do so is not necessarily thinking the best of the people I am lecturing.
For as much I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, the people I love don’t always need a sermon on giving people the benefit of the doubt when they are upset. Sometimes they just want to be heard.
And have someone on their side.
So here is some advice – that you may find inconsistent with my earlier advice on giving people the benefit of the doubt. But I don’t think it is. I think maybe it’s that just a matter of choosing which person to give the benefit of the doubt to.
When you are not dealing with hatred or abuse, and when it won’t make a difference in any material way – BE ON THE SIDE OF THE PERSON YOU LOVE.
Be on the side of the person you know, even if it’s not quite love.
My boss once complained to me that the new HR directive added a ton of paperwork to her already busy day. I personally thought that the new documentation was long overdue, and I nicely said so. But it didn’t go over well with my boss. She was still angry and now she was angry with me too. What I see today is that it would not have betrayed my core values in any significant way to say, “I KNOW! What a lot of extra work this is for you!”
I could have been on her side.
I know someone who often complains about a close relative. She’s hurt because the relative never includes her in his plans. In fact, he goes out of his way to keep his activities a secret so that he doesn’t have to include her. Or at least, that’s how my friend feels. I used to say, “I don’t think he meant to exclude you. He just probably didn’t think you would be interested,” or some such ‘benefit of the doubt’ platitude. Yes, I am contradicting myself. Yes, I was practicing my philosophy, but I may have (I know I was) giving the benefit of the doubt to the wrong party. But I am learning. It happened again recently, and I said, “That’s terrible. He should be nicer to you!”
I was on her side.
I didn’t have to fix anything. I didn’t have to make it better. I just had to be on her side.
And I know that we should all teach kids to be nice. And to share. I believe there are so many moments when we can teach kids to be generous. But sometimes we can let up a little. Not long ago, I heard a kid crying to his mother that his brother took the last cookie that he wanted for himself. And I expected the mom to say something about being generous and letting his little brother have that cookie, and that would have been quite nice, but what she said was, “Well that sucks! Let me give you a hug!”
And she was right.
She was on his side.
So here is what I am trying to say:
The next time someone you love or just someone you know is bitching about something that is not an affront to humankind, instead of saying “Consider the other guy’s point of view” – or – “Oh, that’s not so bad” – both of which are the equivalent of saying “Calm down!” (and we know how well THAT works) – try saying this instead:
Give the benefit of the doubt to the person in front of you.
Choose a side.
Oh, not the kind of debt that includes credit cards and mortgages.
Of course, I have that kind of debt.
But today is another birthday, and I’m deeper in debt because of all the people and things that help me cope – that help me be happy, when sometimes in this crazy year it would have been more natural to be miserable.
This has been a stressful year – natural disasters, divisive politics, senseless violence.
And yet, although I have moments of true sadness, I have not been unrelentingly sad.
More often, I’ve been happy.
So here is my Birthday Thank You List:
My Husband. He has always been able to keep me safe and build anything and fix everything and somehow even think I am pretty. But this year, I owe him an even more special thank-you. Because he showed me this year that there is no age limit on doing something crazy if it makes you happy. He’s 72. He bought a horse.
He also taught me once again that you can be as tough as you need to be when you need to be, all the while maintaining a soft heart. He taught me this because we still have all three kittens we were supposed to foster for just 10 days, six months ago.
My sisters. My sisters are just a few years older than I. And they are more than just funny as hell and understand everything about me – and so are the perfect friends. They are also a preview of my own future. In my current book-in-progress, the teenage girl watches everything her older sister does, and then watches the result to see if it’s something she might want to do too. I did that with my own sisters, but I didn’t have to worry about whether it would be wise to be like them – it always was. And since we are so alike, in them, I can see myself just a few years down the road… which is 70, OMG. But you know, thanks to my sisters, I think it looks pretty good.
And speaking of graceful aging, that’s my precious mother in the middle of her three girls. She’s 94 now. And in the past year (as in every year), she has given me her exquisite example of intelligence, independence, optimism, and a generosity of spirit.
This year I also say thank you to my good friend Chris – truly a bonus sister. This summer she invited me to her painting class. And oh my! I rediscovered my love for painting and it has given me satisfaction and pleasure every day since.
Theo. My best friend. (That’s his portrait above.) I know I wouldn’t be half as kind without him. Because he teaches me the simple happiness in living in the moment. And most of all, he’s taught me forgiveness. Not in how easily I forgive him, but in how readily and completely he forgives me. I lose my patience with him a dozen times a day. He never loses his patience with me. He loves me anyway.
And then there are all the friends – both personal and here on my writing space – that encourage me and always make me want to try just a little harder to do or say or write something that matters.
This is the first complete year that I have been retired from my career. And it is amazing how quickly the days go by. I enjoy being lazy – truly, there is no limit to the number candies I can crush. But thanks to my family and my friends, and all my blogging buddies here, it is also amazing how much I have accomplished. I have written 70 (!) blogs in the past year. AND – I can hardly believe it – published my second novel.
I am as proud of that book as anything I have done in my life. So thank you for your steadfast support and the joy of your friendship.
Some people can accomplish wonderful things in their youth. For me, it has taken a long time. It has taken a long time to become the writer I wanted to be. And it has taken me a long time to become the person I wanted to be. And less important (but still meaningful to me), it has taken me a long time to like my outsides as well as my insides.
Every year on my birthday, I publish an unretouched photo of myself. To tell the world – and myself – that Aging isn’t so bad.
So here I am – 67 today.
Hooray for Late Bloomers.
It’s the middle of Winter, and it’s gone on way too long. Four days of Winter is probably enough for me. One day of snow, One day of Christmas, One day of sitting by the fire… oh wait, I hate the fourth day too. Make that three days.
Anyway, here’s a reprise of my Winter tale from SIX years ago… wow, that’s a long time. Almost as long as this Winter has been.
I like this oldie especially because in it I reminisce about meeting my husband… and it also has one of my all-time favorite drawings (and yes, I was a brunette back then).
I’M A FAST LEARNER
I hate the expression, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
Learning has nothing to do with age. Why just this year, I have figured out how to write and manage a blog, how to install and use a scanner, how to work my new iPhone – I’ve even downloaded two (count ’em: 2!) apps.
I drove my husband’s truck with the plow attached. (I am not claiming to have parked it.)
And I learned how to make pretzels.
(I may need a bit more practice on the shape.)
But even though I believe you can learn anything at any age, I will admit that there are some things that are better learned when you’re young.
I learned to cross-country ski at age 32, and I did pretty well. Of course, cross-country skiing is sort of like how you skated across the kitchen floor in your stocking feet when you were eight. And there’s nothing to be afraid of. If I come across a steep descent, I just snap my boots out of my skis and walk around it.
But at age 37, I met a man who ‘ski’ skied. Like downhill. Downhill skiing isn’t really downhill, it’s downmountain.
But I was game. (Actually, I was in love, and therefore insane.)
So I went to a medium-sized local mountain with this man and his son. I persuaded Boyfriend not to watch me, and so he happily went to the black diamond hill with his eleven-year-old. I rented boots, skis, and poles, and inched my way to the instruction slope.
‘Slope’ was an exaggeration. The grade was about the same as the floor of my shower, so that the water runs into the drain. But I was cool gliding down the gentle path with the rest of my class. The rest of my class were toddlers.
“Don’t feel bad,” said the teacher. “Toddlers have a very low center of gravity. You are much more tippy, so it’s harder for you.”
I was pleased by this, since I thought by ‘tippy’, he might mean ‘stacked’, and that made me like my new ski jacket quite a bit.
After about half an hour of easy practice, I graduated. I went to the bunny hill. I had to get on the little ski-lift and take a short ride. Getting off was very brave. and then I made slow, wide (almost horizontal) zig-zags down the hill.
My boyfriend showed up and I did it again with him. I was very pleased with myself. And I had that little tag on my jacket that told the world I was a skier. It was exhilarating.
We broke up the next week.
The following year I met the man who became my husband.
And unbelievably, he was another skier! But okay, I could tell him that I skied ‘a little’.
More unbelievably, he seemed to be in love with me. He planned a ski vacation, and when I told him I would rent equipment, his smitten little self took me to the local ski shop and bought me skis, boots, poles, goggles, and an even cuter ski jacket with matching pants, mittens and headband. I was a doll.
So we go to a REAL mountain in Vermont. I donned my new ensemble and we headed for a very big ski lift and a very tall mountain. Only it was called The Bunny Hill. “This can’t be the bunny hill,” I told my sweetheart.
And I got to the top and fell off the ski lift. “I’m okay,” I said cheerfully.
And we started down. DOWN.
My boots hurt, I couldn’t control my direction, and I was unable to make those big sideways swaths I had learned the previous year. I went straight downhill like a racer, only with my poles flailing like cockeyed windmills.
For about thirty feet. I managed to stop by using my face as a brake.
After I got my head out of the snow, I sat down and cried a little bit. My sweetie tried to coax me back on my feet, and I cried harder.
“Can’t I take my skis off and walk down?” I asked.
Eventually we took it little by little, and he guided me slowly down the mountain. I skied all the way down in snowplow position. Which is exhausting.
And I didn’t ski again. And he married me anyway.
But I learned to ski as an adult. So don’t be telling me you can’t teach an old dog new tricks!
P.S. – I’m no coward. Why just this morning I brushed my teeth with that lethal weapon called the Spinbrush.
I stopped for gas a few days ago at one of the busiest gas stations near my home.
So, yes, it was a Cumberland Farms. I don’t really know if these convenience stores exist all over the country or just in New England, but if you aren’t familiar with Cumby’s, let me just say that they usually have a multiplex of gas pumps, lots of junk food, lottery tickets, and relatively nonpoisonous coffee. Oh, and milk. That’s where the ‘Farm” in Cumberland Farms came from. My father always swore their milk was fresher than the supermarket but I have my doubts. (Of course, now that my father has passed away, he is conferred with absolute perfection, so it must be true.) I will say this for Cumberland Farms – their English Muffins are about the best in the world. Thick, hearty and inexpensive. I often pick up a couple of packages when I stop for gas.
As usual, Cumby’s was jammed. All twelve pumps busy – oh wait, except that one over there… I swerved over to that lane. No wait again, that pump had a yellow hoodie over the nozzle. Which is why no one was there. But I was now in that lane, so I figured I would just wait here for the person at the pump ahead of me to pull out. No swerving required.
So I sat and watched all the folks stand by their cars and pump gas.
And so, thanks to the little gas pump with the bag over its nose, I got to witness a kindness.
In the passenger seat in the car to my left was a young teenage girl. If I had to guess her age I would say probably around 14. She had long brown hair parted in the middle like most girls her age. She had glasses. In my imagination, I thought that she was deep into her phone while her mother pumped gas.
But then… she got out of the car. She walked over to the car directly in front of me. In that car, in the backseat was a very old man. And an old woman had just exited from behind the wheel as the girl approached.
As the old woman swiped her credit card, the young girl picked up the pump handle, unscrewed the gas cap from the car, and started filling the tank.
I did not see any conversation between the two. The old woman exchanged pleasantries with the man who was pumping on her right. The girl just sort of stared into space and pumped.
The pump did that little jumpy thing to shut off automatically when the tank was full. The girl replaced the nozzle in its holder and strolled back to her own car, and got in.
She still had not spoken with the old woman whose car she had just gassed up.
She just did it.
I tried to catch the young girl’s eye, and when I did, I smiled at her.
She smiled back and gave me a ‘thumbs up.’
Now it’s possible that the girl’s mother told her to go over and pump that lady’s gas. But I didn’t see that.
Or she knew the old woman and was expected to help her. Except they never even had the shortest conversation.
Or she was dreaming of getting her driver’s license and pumping gas let her fantasize that she’s taking care of her own car.
Or she was on her mother’s shitlist for some reason, and thought that she could score some points to redeem herself.
Or even – perhaps there was a boy at one of the other pumps she wanted to impress.
Yes – there are a number of rather selfish reasons the girl might have had to do an unselfish thing.
But here’s what I prefer to think:
The girl thought of her own grandmother when she saw that woman and she hoped that someone would be just as nice to her grandma.
Because isn’t that what all of life is?
Everyone is loved by someone, and we should treat everyone like we would want our own loved ones to be treated.
We are all each other’s loved ones.
I recently heard someone I love very much say,
“At my age, I am not afraid to say what I think. I’ve earned the right to express my opinion.”
And I agree.
At my age, I expect civility, kindness, and respect.
If your comment is needlessly hurtful or disrespectful – even in the smallest way – I don’t want to hear it.
Keep your unkind thoughts to yourself, please.
And by the way, let me also say this:
WHY ARE YOU EVEN HAVING THOSE THOUGHTS?
I read an article not long ago about happy marriages. One of the keys to a happy marriage is to ascribe GOOD INTENTIONS to your partner.
I think this is true not only of marriages but in all of life.
We all need to try harder to judge people more kindly. Not to assume the worst but to assume the best. Or, if you cannot assume the best, to assume at least – ‘not the worst.’
Be generous in your judgments.
A few examples:
1. You are meeting your husband after work for dinner at your favorite restaurant. He’s late. Again. And you build up a nice steaming pile of anger. You think: ‘He knows I’m waiting, but as usual, he is shooting the breeze with friends, and leaving me sitting here alone. He is so thoughtless.’ And Hubby finally shows up, forty minutes late. “I’m sorry,” he says. “Jerry called and he was feeling really down. He’s so lonely right now. He didn’t realize when he moved how much he would miss his friends.” So, yes. You were right. He was shooting the breeze with his friend.
2. A co-worker promised you the data you need for your report by 2 PM. But it’s now 3:30 and you’re still waiting. Your report will be late because, once again, your co-worker let you down. She’s so unreliable. You stomp over to her desk to let her know that you are going to have to work late because of her. And when you get to her cubicle, you see that she is just sitting there looking at the phone. And you are about to let go with your frustration, when she says, “My son is sick. And he’s home alone. I was talking to him on the phone earlier and the boss came in and he screamed at me for goofing off. The kid’s eleven. He’s just a little boy and home by himself, and now I want to call him again, but I’m afraid I’ll get fired.”
3. The car in front of you with the out-of-state plates is making you crazy. First slow and then fast, then slow again. Then the turn signal is on. But no, it’s off. Not horrible, not dangerous, just annoying. You think: ‘What an asshole. Get off the road if you don’t know how to drive.’ They finally pull over, and as you pass, you see a woman at the wheel with two kids in the backseat. Two kids and a pile of suitcases. And one kid is crying. And the other one is trying to show his mother a map.
Here’s what you could think instead:
1. Instead of ‘He’s shooting the breeze with a friend; how thoughtless to ignore me,’ you could think – ‘He’s probably listening to someone’s troubles again; he’s always a good friend when someone needs him.’
2. Instead of ‘She’s so unreliable, and now I will have to work late,’ you could think – after giving her just a little time, and yourself less time to get angry and more time to get the work done – ‘I wonder if she’s got a problem getting the data together… I’ll go ask her if there’s anything I can to do help.’
3. Instead of ‘What an asshole – get off the road,’ when the turns signal goes on and off, you could think – ‘I bet they are looking for their turn. It’s so hard to read the street signs when the traffic is moving so fast.’
When you give people the benefit of the doubt, you automatically assume that they are nice people trying their best. And your anger dissipates.
And it’s so nice not to be angry.
When you assign benevolent motives to people instead of assuming unpleasant motives, the world itself becomes a more benevolent place.
And that friend who ignored you in the supermarket just didn’t see you.
And the guy who cut in front of you in Starbucks simply thought you had already been waited on.
And the boss who snapped at you for questioning his decision had a fight this morning with his teenager who also was challenging his authority.
And the waitress who brought you the wrong order is exhausted from working a double shift because her kid needs his asthma medication and she has no health benefits.
And the friend who wrote on Facebook that she absolutely hated the movie you and other friends are raving about just wanted to be part of the conversation and didn’t go about it in the best way.
And your kids who didn’t come right away when you called them aren’t brats – they weren’t paying attention because they were having so much fun.
And that’s what you want.
For the world to be a nicer place?
Try seeing it that way.
A few days ago I misplaced something in my own house.
It was a small stack of books. Five copies of my own novel that were earmarked for a giveaway on Goodreads. I had them. They were on the kitchen counter, right near the breadbox. They were there for days. And then I picked them up because I began to worry that they might get dirty, so near the breadbox – and the fridge. And the dog treats. And the amazingly agile high-jumping cats.
So I picked them up.
And then I couldn’t find them.
Oh my God, how I looked.
I remembered picking them up to protect them. I sort of remembered that it was about the same time I put away the Christmas presents. So I checked first with every Christmas present I put away. And then I checked where we keep the gift wrap and gift bags – since I probably put the good reusable stuff back there – I’m conscientious that way. Just not conscientious about whether I had books in my hand at the same time.
I checked in the box where I keep the copies of my first novel. I checked my “office” – the extra bedroom that I have made over as an art studio. And that room was NOT in good shape. But a lot of the stuff hanging around in there hasn’t been touched in a long time. Newer shit wouldn’t be under the older shit. Would it?
I checked every bookcase in the house. I could have put books in a bookcase. That would make sense.
I checked every shelf, every windowsill. Every flat surface and every surface that is not flat but could still hold shit if you balanced it just right.
I checked every cabinet. If I was seeking cat-protection, inside a cabinet would be a good place. Or inside a closet. I checked even the hallway closet, which contains coats and boots. Because ‘boots’ is only one letter away from ‘books’, and I could have been free-associating.
I checked the pantry. Maybe I was snacking when I put the books away, and I put down the books to get a cookie. That happens.
I checked inside boxes with Christmas decorations. Which would have been interesting, since I didn’t put up any Christmas decorations this year.
I checked all my bureau drawers. Did I fold the books inside a sweater?
I checked and checked and checked.
I checked in my head when I was supposed to be sleeping.
The following morning, I told my husband I was distraught. Which I am sure he did not know. Because I had been so calm and subtle about the whole thing. Especially that fifteenth time I said that I hated myself.
And I started to tear the house apart.
Three hours later I found them. In a box. Under the stash of copies of my other book.
How in the world does new shit end up under old shit?
But here’s the thing:
I was delighted. I was happier than if I had never lost the books in the first place.
To found what was lost – it truly makes the found items so much more precious.
And of course, it made me contemplate more than just the Prodigal Son parable. Yes, that kid was pretty much of a disappointment, but Dad sure missed him when he was gone. And celebrated his return.
It made me consider how much we take for granted that we would miss if it were gone.
Years ago, my own Dad temporarily lost his senses of taste and smell. My happy-go-lucky father became a grouch. He realized how much pleasure you get from the taste and even the aroma of good food. How he celebrated the eventual return of that pleasure.
Maybe there are a few things we should “misplace” once in a while. So when we finally rediscover our lost items, their return can be even more sweet, more precious.
A few that I can think of:
Old Friends. I have misplaced an old friend or two myself. Oh, but to see them again! Someone who you giggled with over your own secret jokes, someone whose hand-me-downs you shared, someone you learned about the world with, who knows how your bravery is all pretense.
Ambition. I don’t mean, ‘I want to be a manager by the time I am 40’ type of ambition. I like to think of ambition as that unique combination of passion and perseverance. When you love something so much you’ll put any amount of time into it, willingly, in order to see, to have, to tend your desire. The rediscovery of that pure ambition invigorates your brain.
A Sense of Wonder. Life can be pretty boring when you lose your sense of wonder. But there are so many ways to rediscover it. You can take photographs with your phone, for God’s sake. How does that even happen? Watch ducklings follow their mama. Who taught them to do that? Who made the first violin? Did that inventor plan on making the most beautiful sound in the world? What makes a pineapple look so spiky and yet taste so sweet? Don’t be in such a rush. Let awe overtake you. A sense of wonder invigorates your soul. Stop and look at the ceiling at Grand Central Station. You are not too busy to look up.
Speaking of looking up –
My cousin Jim took this time-lapse photography of the stars.
And come to think of it, my cousin fits all three of the above things that are easy to misplace, but oh so sweet to rediscover.
Jim’s an old friend. My cousin my own age who celebrated every holiday and birthday with me. Who knows the awkward and earnest, fragile and spunky, silly and serious kid I was. And I know the brilliant and shy, curious and kind, athletic and happy kid he was. And he is a man in possession of the very definition of ambition that I desire – that pairing of passion and perseverance – for Astronomy. From his earliest boyhood until now. More than sixty years of looking into telescopes because he needed to know what was out there.
Wonder is out there.
Just a quick reminder that the Kindle version of my new novel, LUCINDA’S SOLUTION, is on sale this week on Amazon for just $1.99.
And we are on the home stretch, with only 1 day left to the sale. Then back to $4.99. If you have a Kindle, now is a good time to add it to your reading list.
The paperback is a great deal too, at $14.95.
LUCINDA’S SOLUTION is a historical fiction set in the aftermath of the influenza pandemic of 1918 and the end of World War I. Enormous changes were taking place in social structures and the roles of women in society.
Lucinda Benedict at seventeen has finally convinced her father that girls can go to college too. But when the influenza pandemic takes the life of her older sister, Lucinda is forced to step into her sister’s life, to become mother to two toddlers – and wife to a man overwhelmed by grief.
The story – although entirely fictional – was inspired by my own family. My great-aunt was pressured into taking on her sister’s family after the influenza epidemic – and this was not uncommon. With no social safety net, families needed to survive. And so families were rebuilt as quickly as possible.
But is love rebuilt quickly too?
Here is Lucinda on her first night in bed with her sister’s husband, now her own husband:
How would I know what intimacy he shared with my sister? Or whether he would ever share it with me?
I undressed with my back to him, in case he should waken. Given the warm night, I chose my lightest nightdress. It was plain but pretty. I loosened my hair. I laid down on the bed beside Martin, and I felt him stir.
“Goodnight, Lucinda,” Martin whispered. And he turned on his side with his back to me.
I was so relieved. I was so heartbroken.
You can find the novel at this link: LUCINDA’S SOLUTION.
P.S. If you have already read Lucinda’s Solution, thank you so much. I hope you will consider leaving a review on Amazon. (and if you were an early purchaser of the paperback edition that had deleted pages, please remind me and I will send you a new book.)
This weekend I went to a birthday celebration. The man who was being honored is a ballroom dancer, and so the party was filled with other dancers. Oh my, the dancing was so lovely, I watched like I was at the ballet. And I need to take some dance lessons this year!
But something else that was lovely also occurred.
I sat at a table with a woman I have met a few times. She is 80 years old, a classmate of the birthday “boy.”
AnnaMae is an avid reader, and she was delighted to tell me that she is currently reading my first book, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED. She said this with an embarrassed smile – just like you might approach a “real” author – the kind you might sheepishly ask for an autograph from. It was rather enjoyable to say the least – especially since I was feeling very humble about my inability to dance. But although pleasant, this was not the other lovely event.
With so many talented people in attendance, it’s readily apparent that many people are gifted. We should enjoy their gifts. And while not diminishing our own, recognize that no one is more special than anyone else.
We are all unique – in our talent, experiences, and nature.
And AnnaMae is no exception. For she told me a small fact about herself that was actually not a small thing at all. It amazed me.
AnnaMae loved to read from the time she was a very little girl. And way back then, she kept a list of every book she read.
And the habit stuck. She possesses a wondrous list – a list of every book (and they are many) she ever read. From the time she started to read until today. That must be 75 years in the making, that list. I imagine a file cabinet, paint chipped but well-dusted, just full of her list of books! Titles and authors and dates. Can you imagine?
I hope there is such a thing as reincarnation, because I would like to keep a list like that.
There are so many singular things we do – what makes us “us” – I am overwhelmed this week by the idea of Life as a list of our experiences. And there are so many! Even introverts or the very lonely (which is not the same thing) have boundless small experiences that make them who they are.
Imagine how long your list is:
Every class you ever took and every teacher who ever taught you.
Every trip to the beach. Every lake you ever visited.
Every song you ever heard.
Every dog you ever petted.
Every baby you ever held in your arms.
Every ice cream cone you ever bought.
Every movie you ever saw… and every one that made you cry.
Every person who ever said to you, “I love you.” Every person you ever said “I love you” to.
Every joke you ever heard.
Every time you signed your name. How many times in your life do you affirm who you are?
Every flower you ever planted.
Every street you ever lived on. Every town.
Every bit of clothes and shoes and furniture and beautiful things you bought.
Every car you ever owned. Every one you ever rode in.
Every wedding you ever attended.
Every walk in the snow.
I could go on and on.
The list of our awesomeness is endless.
Never tell me you’ve had a boring life.
I have reprinted this before, but it’s appropriate, I think, to do it again. Here’s a small poem I wrote after my father died. He had his own list.
About a year and a half ago, I became momentarily famous around the world.
But not in a good way.
Now I have become famous again. It is in a much much better way.
I am not directly famous.
My dog Theo is getting the credit.
But I swear – I solemnly swear – that I helped him a little. Don’t believe his denials.
First. My Infamous Fame.
Here’s my post from August 2016:
FAMOUS – BUT NOT IN A GOOD WAY
I love to write.
I love being able to create a world of my own. I love telling stories. I love the feeling when I come up with just the right word or phrase.
I love writing. I love what I’ve written. All of it. The good and the not-so-good. The words are mine and I find great pleasure in them.
And I also love being read. I love an audience. I love making someone laugh. Or touching someone with a heartfelt paragraph.
Of course, when something gives you this much satisfaction – and bliss – you do it for the sheer joy of it.
Recognition is secondary.
But oh, I will confess, I have an egocentric little piece of my brain that would love to be famous for something I have written.
And it has happened!
And not just in my little corner of Connecticut. Last week I became an international sensation.
On August 10, someone who logged on as “Your Friend” commented on my blog,
“You made it to a finnish newspaper”
And this “friend” added a link.
Oh boy, I thought…perhaps they have picked up one of my best blogs – maybe the one about visiting a nude beach (I still get hits to my blog from that one), or maybe one of the posts about my sweet puppy, or one of my pieces about being happier as I age. Or maybe the one I am most proud of – my essay on living with childlessness.
So with great anticipation, I clicked on the link.
And there it was. My tweet from a few days earlier.
Yes, my Olympic tweet.
A fortunate photographer had captured two of the German Field Hockey players standing side by side, and their names delighted the most tasteless and silly the of internet world.
And out of the probably hundreds (or maybe thousands) of the crassest of tweets, Finland chose mine!
What an honor!
I thought about the enormity of my Finnish fame for a few minutes.
Then I googled:
Nancy Roman Butt Fuchs
And OMG, my fame was everywhere!
“Kindisch” — Ja, I sure am.
And the U.K.
And dozens right here in the old U.S. of A.
Can you imagine?
Maybe I am famous all over the world right now!!!
My Dad would be so proud.
Thankfully, I did not use my maiden name.
AND NOW – My current claim to fame!. Or rather, Theo’s.
There is a Twitter person called “Thoughts of Dog” (@dog_feelings). This Tweeter has over 600,000 followers. And for good reason. His (or her?) tweets are just Perfection.
He tweets daily (sometimes more than once a day) on the thoughts of his sweet, generous, ungrammatical dog. The dog-thoughts brighten up the whole Twitter world – which is often a most depressing place.
And a month or so ago, I started tweeting back.
I always start, “Your fren Theo here.” (As Thoughts of Dog always uses the word fren – for both his real and imaginary frens.)
And since my twitter image is my dog – well, it works pretty perfectly.
And my responses are often well-liked by Thoughts of Dog’s many followers.
And two days ago I thought I hit the jackpot. Here’s the original tweet and my response.
Well, more than 100 Likes! Nowhere near Thoughts of Dog’s 40,000, of course, but pretty good! Although I was wishing that Theo could have shown a little more class.
But it turns out that was just a little taste (so to speak) of Theo’s coming fame.
For yesterday, Thoughts of Dog posted a tweet and Theo couldn’t wait to jump in and comment.
Yes. Theo crudely confessed that we have yet to have company he hasn’t peed on.
And Twitter really, really likes him. More than 600 likes and still counting.
Oh, Theo! You silly rascal you!
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What do I wish to accomplish?
Of course I want to lose weight and exercise and clean the house and take better care of my skin. And also, of course, write another book.
But on a day-to-day basis. I want to think.
And I want those thoughts to go to work. Maybe not go to work. To come out to play.
A while back I wrote about how I measure whether my day is successful. I have a checklist to ensure that I have done something good for
- My home
- My body
- My mind
- My work
- For someone else
- For sheer pleasure
That is a pretty reliable checklist.
For this new year, I am going to simplify it even more.
Every day: I want to THINK.
Think of something nice to say and say it.
I have long believed that every day we have opportunities to say nice things – to pay sincere compliments. To say, “What a good idea!” or “I love your shoes” or “You have been a great help to me.”
I saw a story on the internet of a woman who was trolled and harassed and ridiculed because she posted a photo of herself – and she is very overweight. To every person who harassed her, she answered with something nice about them. “I love that shade of lipstick on you!” “Your name is so cool!” etc. She wrote later than some people actually apologized, but many did not. And she said, “Maybe it didn’t do them any good at all… but I felt better.” Saying nice things does indeed make you feel better.
Think of something nice to do and do it.
I like to paint. But to do that I need to remind myself to do it. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of lots of nice things we can do. Because it is so easy to forget. Today, when I took the dog out, I did not also check my email, which I often do. Or even take his photo. With him being so cute, I take pictures almost every day. I can’t help myself. And although it is nice to do, something that is even nicer – is to just watch him be cute. To know that he is being cute just for me. To give him my total attention.
And tomorrow, I will bring lunch over to my mother. That’s easy. I already love doing that. But on the way, I will stop at the warming center and donate my old parka. Something nice to do. And I can.
Think of something nice to feel and feel it.
I don’t mean that in the physical sense, although that counts too. My kitten Thor is so warm and soft. Just holding him while he snuggles on my lap is a sweet sensation.
But I mean feeling a nice emotion. For New Year’s Eve, my husband came home with several pounds of king crab legs. Nice! When we put them on to boil, he commented on the old enamel stockpot. “Remember when we bought this?” he asked. And I did. We were just married and vacationing on the cheap in a small cottage in Rhode Island. We bought lobster and went to the local hardware store for this big pot. And every time we take it out, we remember our vacation. And feel that pleasure all over again.
Think of something nice to eat and eat it.
It doesn’t have to be king crab legs… though it’s pretty nice when it is. But as I just recently discovered – but should have known a long time ago – mindless eating is such a waste. After I eat something, I often don’t even remember eating it. I need to slow down. Savor.
Yesterday, I made popovers. I hadn’t made them in a very long time. I was kind of stressed, thinking about all the ways they could go wrong. And eating the first half of my popover, I was judging it and judging myself. Was it light enough? Cooked enough? Cooked too much? But I managed to stop. With the second half of my popover, I felt the airiness on my tongue, the perfect moist egginess. The popover-i-ness.
Yogurt is creamy, Peanuts are crunchy, Olives are salty. And coffee is heavenly. How lucky are we that we have such wonders to enjoy?
Think of something great to wear and wear it.
I know I am a bit of a broken record on this subject. But so many people dress in any old thing. It saddens me to think that they don’t enjoy the beauty and pleasure of clothes – a lovely color or a luxurious material. Shop with discrimination. Don’t say “good enough”. If you need a new sweater, buy one you love. If you only buy what you love, pretty soon your closet will be filled only with things you love, and you can wear something you love every single day. Even if it’s sweatpants – buy the soft ones.
Today I wore warm leggings to my yoga class. They are a crazy print of coral and jade and purple. All my other leggings are black or grey. These colorful ones were just what I needed.
I already know that tomorrow – when I visit my mother – I am going to wear the soft oversized pale pink sweater with my faded jeans. I can hardly wait. How nice is that – to be so happy thinking about a sweater? And how easy.
Think about something nice to listen to and listen to it.
With my popover (and yummy prime rib) dinner, I played my husband’s favorite – Roy Orbison. His plaintive unearthly voice broke through all the busyness and activities of the day. We had to put down our forks during “Blue Bayou” and just take it in.
Tonight while writing this, I put on Yo-Yo Ma playing Saint-Saens’ “The Swan.” And stopped typing.
Whether it’s Pit Bull or Judy Garland or La Traviata – we live in a world of music so accessible and yet so often taken for granted. Choose to listen.
Think about something nice to see and see it.
Sometimes you can plan this. Sometimes it just happens. But you have to SEE it.
When I dusted today, I picked up old brass candlesticks, a porcelain cat, a vase in the shape of a horse, a photograph of my husband as a baby, a heavy glass paperweight, a wrought-iron toy cash register that I use for a bookend. I am surrounded by beautiful things. I have joy in my house every day. It waits for me to see it.
And the unexpected beauty is just as wondrous. Be ready for it.