About a year ago, I wrote about kindness and friendship, and how I helped but ultimately failed a dear friend.
I discovered yesterday that at the time I wrote that essay, my friend had already been dead for two years.
Someone I loved – someone who had helped me and hurt me and I had helped and hurt in return – had died and I didn’t know it. This has added to my guilt and all my other mixed emotions I hold for this woman.
But in the end, I think the conclusions I drew last year concerning our friendship are still true.
Here is that essay:
Terms Of Endearment
I can easily come up with dozens of little kindnesses that I’ve experienced lately. If I go back further, I can come up with hundreds. Maybe thousands in my whole lifetime, which is about 2/3 of a century now. I’m grateful for those kindnesses and also grateful that I remember them. I’d hate to let a kindness be forgotten.
But I am now thinking of kindnesses that I myself have offered, and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, I seem to have forgotten most of them.
Maybe it is a virtue to pay a kindness and let it go.
But what if it is because I have been stingy with my own kindnesses?
I really hope not. I know I pay a lot of compliments. And not just lip service – I try to recognize excellence – to notice and call it out.
I tell people when I like their shoes, or when they have a great idea, or when their kids are fun to be around. I tell loved ones I like how they smell when I hug them – because I do.
I try to be considerate. I hold the door for people. I let people cut in line at the checkout – or change lanes on the road. I pick up trash.
And when I observe someone being nice to other people, I tell them that they made my day better too. Yesterday I was in the drug store and an old lady (probably my age) was shopping with a teenager. And the kid said, “I’ll put it back. It’s too much money for eye shadow, Grandma.” The lady said, “I don’t think it’s expensive if you like it.”So I went up to them and said to the woman, “That’s a really nice thing to say.”
So I guess I do a little to contribute to the kindness in the world.
But I think I could do better.
I need to be a little bigger in my kindness.
I’m trying. I joined my community’s preservation and beautification organization – and I helped with their website, and I planted daffodils this fall, and sorted returnables for their recycling program. Not much really, but it’s a start.
I think maybe I am a little cautious because the biggest favor I ever did someone backfired. And I was hurt.
Years ago I had a very dear friend, who I will call Anna. We met at work, and after both of us moved on to other jobs, we stayed close. We went to the movies together, and out dancing, and shopping. We had dinner once a week. We used to call our dinners, “My Dinner With Andre” dinners, since we had long, crazy, wonderful conversations. Anna drove over to my place late one night when my boyfriend broke up with me so I would have someone to cry with. And I took her to the hospital when she needed outpatient surgery.
We had been friends for about ten years when Anna called me early one Saturday and asked me to meet her for breakfast. Over coffee, she told me that she had gotten herself into serious financial difficulties, including pressure from the IRS. I loved this woman. So I bailed her out. I loaned her enough money to pay off her tax debt, her other past due bills, and the next month’s rent.
But then the worst thing happened. And it wasn’t that Anna didn’t pay me back. It was that she dropped out of my life. She made excuses why she couldn’t meet for dinner, or see a movie. After a while she didn’t even answer my phone calls.
I felt horrible. I thought at the time – and still do – that she couldn’t pay me back and that was embarrassing for her. And so she couldn’t face me.
I did finally hear from her years later. Out of the blue, she phoned me. Said she was sorry she had stayed away and wanted to see me. I met her at a diner for lunch. She was the same sweet woman I had cared so much about. She was also broke again and asked me for money. I gave her everything I had in my wallet and went home. I never saw her again.
It broke my heart.
I have been reflecting on this whole experience lately, as I have been thinking so much about Kindness and being a good human being.
But the moral of this story is not ‘Don’t lend money to a friend.’
For I would give Anna the money again.
The loss of money was not meaningful, and besides, I didn’t lose it. I used it to give respite – however short that respite may have been – to a friend when she needed it. It wasn’t the loss of money. It was the loss of friendship.
There are lots of good reasons why friendships end, but money should not be one of those reasons.
And I don’t blame Anna either. Whatever hardships – whatever demons – she was experiencing – who am I to judge?
My mistake – and it was MINE – was that I did not discuss the terms.
Not the terms of the loan.
The terms of our friendship.
The Terms of Endearment.
For here is what I should have said:
“Anna, this money is a gift to you because you are my friend and I want to help you. If someday you can return this gift to me, I would accept it with love. We will always be friends, regardless. I’ll call you and you’ll call me, and we will have breakfast and go to the movies and have great intriguing conversations. Our friendship is a gift. It is not on loan.”
Well, here it is again.
I’m now 68.
How in the world did that happen?
In some ways, being 68 is scary. But overall, it’s not so bad.
My father lived to 88. My mother is still gracing this world with her lovely presence at 95. So I figure I probably still have at least 20 years left.
My life is more than 75% done. I want to make the most of that last 25%.
But the years go by so fast as you get older. Remember how long the summers were when you were a kid? Now in June, you say, “I need to get to the beach,” and before you know it, it’s September and you didn’t make it.
So I know that a season can escape before you can catch it. And so can a year. And so can 20 years.
And that’s frightening. When you retire, you tend to do less. I remember the years I worked full time and attended graduate school at night. I don’t think I ever had more productive years. Because time was so precious, I never wasted it.
But when you are retired, there can be a devaluation of your precious time. There is always tomorrow, you think, as you sit with a second cup of coffee and a third cookie.
But my tomorrows are limited. And each day I will have less of them. I need to fill them up with things I love. I want to learn everything I don’t know.
And how much can I learn in twenty years?
Why just think of what I learned in my first twenty years!
I learned to:
Talk – Walk – Use the toilet – Handle a spoon, fork and knife – Dress myself – Open doors – Run – Take a bath – Use a toothbrush – Read and Write – Sing – Dance – Pray – Jump – Sit still – Drink through a straw – Say No – Add, subtract, multiply, divide – Ride a bike – Lace sneakers – Make friends – Tell time- Tell a lie – Borrow books from the Library – Play cards – Skip rope – Turn a somersault – Use scissors – Dig in the sand – Swim – Take a test – Fight – Throw a ball – Believe in Santa Claus – Not believe in Santa Claus – Climb stairs – Climb a ladder – Climb a tree -Vacuum – Learn history, geography, and science – Ice skate – Get on the right bus – Bowl – Swear – Play the piano – Play dumb – Draw – Write a story – Write a poem – Shoot an arrow – Grow tomatoes – Sew – Type -Speak French – Like boys – Kiss – Apply makeup – Mow the lawn – Read a map – Knit – Crochet- Solve a crossword puzzle – Solve for x – Insert a tampon – Drive a car – Cook – Get a job – Use a slide rule – Pay bills – Play tennis – Camp out – Understand football – Pretend to play chess – Apply to college – Travel alone – Make love – Survive a broken heart
Oh, and two gazillion other things: There were coloring books and cap guns and monkey bars and lincoln logs and hair spray and fountain pens and skate keys and protractors and monopoly and toboggans and chemistry labs and the hokey pokey and Shakespeare and laundry and carbon paper and gas pumps and eyelash curlers and ferris wheels and combination locks and protest marches and square roots and square dances.
If that’s only scratching the surface of what I can learn in twenty years –
Bring it on, Old Age!
I’ve got plenty of time!
As always, I am posting an unretouched, non-photoshopped birthday selfie. My purpose is always twofold – to say to you, It’s not so bad getting old, and to say to Mother Nature, Screw you, I’m Not Quite Old!
I wrote last week about my
pathological sweet need to be liked. (Validation).
I have thought about it a lot since. I’ve decided to take some very small baby steps towards coping with my insecurities.
For me – (and it could be different for you, but perhaps there is some universal truth here) – I see my constant worry about whether others like me showing up in three insecurity-based habits:
- External validation
I figure that if I can make a few tiny changes in all three habits, I might find myself moving just a little further along the continuum that runs from narcissistic insecurity to confident self-worth.
The People-Pleasing Challenge.
There’s nothing really wrong with trying to please others. I want to make the people around me happy. For the most part, I think it is kind and healthy. The challenge is not to subjugate my own needs in the process.
I have a good friend who deals with interpersonal skills on a professional level, and she recently gave me some very good advice:
Your needs do not have to be more important other people’s. They should just be ‘at least’.
At least as important.
My dislike of scary movies is at least as important as a friend’s love for horror films.
My desire to be on time is at least as important as a loved one’s chronic lateness.
My political opinions are at least as important as those of my relatives.
So how do I know when to politely insist on what I want and when to let someone else do the choosing?
I think I need to determine the most likely outcome – FOR ME.
Will I be happy that I let someone else’s desires take precedence? Or will I be resentful?
Will I enjoy making that complicated casserole because my husband likes it so much, or will I be fuming through all the dirty dishes? Will I be glad to see my friend’s pleasure attending yet another craft show, or will I be dragging my feet in barely-concealed boredom?
Most of the time, I am happy to be pleasing someone else. But once in a while, just once in a while, I need to politely say, “This is what I want.”
The Perfectionism Challenge.
Perfectionism is a little weird for me.
Because I am very easy on myself privately. I accept that I’m not good at everything. When I make a mistake, I just try again. I’m satisfied that I’m good enough.
But my public self is different.
I don’t want to show any weakness. I want my house to look perfect, my makeup and my clothes to be perfect. My pets. My marriage. My life.
Otherwise, what? That no one will like me if I fail? Well, that’s nonsense, and I know it. Friends and strangers need to see that you are human. But still. I have always hated anyone to see any part of my life being even a little bit of a mess.
I’m great. I’m fine. I’m happy. All the time. In public.
And I come from a long line of stiff upper lips. So it’s difficult for me to drop the smile. To ever let my guard down.
I have a new Yoga instructor. My beginning Yoga class (in which I have managed to remain for eighteen years) is now an intermediate class. For me, intermediate means HARD. I take easy classes because I want to look good in public, of course.
So today in class, I didn’t look so good in public. I struggled. Several times, I stopped. I rested. And guess what? It didn’t matter one bit. It was still Yoga. I didn’t get expelled. No one made fun of me. I didn’t die – even of shame. I’m going back to try and fail a little better next time.
OMG, how I love Praise.
Of course, everyone does.
But it seems that – let’s blame social media – we have increasingly become a world where we need everyone to see and approve everything we do.
As I wrote in my last post, Do you like my salad? Do you like my writing? Do you like my paintings? Do you like my hair? Do you like my dog? My cat? How about this cat? How about this cat?
It’s almost as though my experiences do not exist unless I share them.
This little facet of my personality confounds me. Because I am basically an introvert. I spend most of my day alone, and I like it. My energy does not derive from outside contact. My force is internal.
So why is my need for approval so external?
Today was a beautiful day, and I took a walk with the dog. Without taking any photos to share to prove how lovely the day was and how cute the dog and how pretty my yard. And without anyone else included – with just me – the day was still lovely, the yard was still pretty, and the dog was still cute.
Who needs to know?
My Twitter account (Theo-sophy) got controversial a week ago.
Let’s blame him, okay? Just like you can blame the dog when someone in the room farts.
Theo took over my Twitter feed a few months ago, and he has gotten himself into a bit of hot water. Specifically, an argument with one of the most popular accounts – Thoughts of Dog. (@dog_feelings)
I love Thoughts of Dog. Like Theo, Zoey the dog runs this account through a young man who also posts as WeRateDogs. Thoughts of Dog is hugely popular. WeRateDogs is astronomically popular. And both sites are successful for a really good reason. They are adorable. (and by the way, Matt, who runs both sites, raises lots of money for sick dogs through WeRateDogs.)
Theo responds to Thoughts of Dog’s tweets.
All the time.
And this was the issue.
Matt apparently became more and more annoyed with Theo’s responses. He felt that poor Theo was “hijacking” his dog account in order to build Theo’s own dog account.
And he – that is, I – was.
But as I understand Twitter, that is how it works. You find people, accounts, (and dogs) who like what you do by finding similar accounts and commenting. If folks like what you write, then maybe they check you out. And perhaps follow you.
That is how it works.
It’s how social media works. “If you like A, then you might also like B.” (I often tell folks just starting a blog and asking me for my advice to do this … find similar blogs and post thoughtful comments.)
But I guess I overdid it.
I tried it at first for the very reason above. To see if people liked what I wrote and if they did, maybe I would increase my base. And the reason why I wanted to increase my base is right here in this blog and in my novels. If people like what I write, maybe they will also check out my blog. Maybe if they really love what I write, they might even read my books.
I am a writer. I write to be read. I want people to read what I write. I think that is normal (for a writer.)
But I guess I overdid it.
Because I did it pretty well. And this was also my reason. Because it was fun. It was fun to come up with silly, ungrammatical sweet responses to Thoughts of Dog. I looked forward to it.
And so did many others, I guess. Many people started commenting that they loved seeing what I would write to Thoughts of Dog. They, like me, looked forward to it. “The best part of my day is reading Thoughts of Dog and then seeing what Theo will say,” they wrote.
My own Tweets are not only responses to Thoughts of Dog. I tweet daily on Theo-sophy with Theo’s Pup Tip of the Day – a little snippet of advice and philosophy. I work hard on those tips. They are positive and life-affirming.
Like this one:
But, unbeknownst to me, Matt was increasingly annoyed, as hundreds of folks every day “liked” my comments on his sites.
So 10 days ago, Thoughts of Dog blocked me.
If you are not familiar with Twitter, when you are blocked by someone, you can no longer see their posts. You can’t access their site. You certainly can’t comment.
I was stunned.
I thought it must be some kind of mistake.
But it was not. When I tweeted that Thoughts of Dog had blocked me, there was in the Twitterverse, a little bit of outrage.
Not a lot though. I have 5 thousand followers; Thoughts of Dog has 2 million. His average tweet gets about 150,000 “likes”, My comments on his tweets average about 800 “likes”. That is about one-half of one-percent of his response. On a really good day, I can get to one percent. Not exactly hijacking. Thoughts of Dog has nothing to fear from Theo.
But still, the tiny, though vociferous, outcry was enough to compel Matt to actually have a private discussion with me.
He was mad. I was hurt. I don’t like not being liked.
But we worked it out.
He unblocked me. I promised not to overdo it.
I truly didn’t mean to compete with him. I was not trying to be better than his sweet site. It was just plain fun.
I did, however, want people to notice me. And his audience was a great place to get noticed.
And I am sorry and a little ashamed if I was not being fair.
This social media business can be tricky, I guess.
Theo will be walking on tippy toes for a while.
What do you do when people you admire disappoint you?
In your personal life, when someone disappoints you, you either forgive them and love them despite their failings, or you say goodbye and leave them behind you.
But what about those other people you admire? Famous people – celebrities, politicians, artists.
Maybe ‘hero’ is too strong a word. But you don’t have to be starstruck, only human, to connect in some strong, personal way with someone you only know through their fame.
They write, they sing, they act – they are truly larger than life up there on the big screen. Or they are ubiquitous and cease to be strangers but instead are somehow part of your life.
And you begin to to consider them friends. Important, influential friends.
And they aren’t of course.
You don’t know them.
You know a persona that they present to the world. Sometimes this is an admirable persona whose words really do make a difference to the world and to you.
But sometimes your admiration is suddenly interrupted by reality.
They are not heroes. They are just human beings. And maybe not even particularly good human beings.
It hurts to be disillusioned by your former heroes.
It’s happened to me. And on top of being disillusioned and ashamed of my prior admiration, I also had a practical decision to make.
Because I have written two different essays on this blog that include a couple of my fallen heroes.
One is Louis CK. I truly thought he was one of the most honest comedians of the past twenty years. And I thought he showed real consonance with women. One of his monologues, for instance, was about the bravery of women, who continue take a risk every time they date – every time they get in a car with a man. And yet they do. Eternally trusting in the goodness of people.
But then. Well, you know. Not trustworthy. Not safe for women.
So what do I do with that essay?
I could delete it. I could take out the reference to Louis C.K. I could leave it.
I wondered if deleting it or taking out the reference is dishonest. Is it like saying that I was never a fan? That I always saw through the bullshit?
But on the other hand, I don’t want it to look like I still support the man.
I feel like it is important to recognize that you were duped. Too many people are ashamed to admit they were conned. I need to admit it. Believing in someone long after you should because you can’t admit you were ever wrong is rather a big problem in the world right now.
And the other issue: I think it is a relevant, maybe even important, essay. I want it to be read. I have posted it twice (once in 2016, and once in 2018) because I thought it was important.
So in the end, I have removed the reference to Louis C.K. It is still a good piece. Just as good. Here is the link if you want to read it: Vulnerable.
And the other fallen “hero”? Well it is just a rather silly dilemma.
It’s Dustin Hoffman. Who I always thought was one of the best actors ever, but now, as I understand it – he’s not such a hot person. A lot of people who are great actors are pretty lousy people, I guess.
And my dilemma is that I had a very funny dream about Hoffman. And I wrote about it. I don’t quote him as a marvelous person. It’s not like the Louis C.K. post, where I think the message was too important to erase. If I were to delete the story, it won’t make one bit of difference to the world. It’s just funny. And I love to be funny.
So I guess it is just my own vanity that wants to keep the post. Because it doesn’t matter. It’s trivial. But I like it. I want it. Is that horrible?
So maybe I will keep it around. I’m just not sure. Here’s the link: Tootsie.
Does it make you laugh? Is it just plain dumb? Is it harmful or disrespectful to allow it to exist?
What do you think?
Just a quick message –
I have a freebie for you!
The Kindle version of my first novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED, is
On Amazon for the next 24 hours! (Ends on January 3rd)
Happy New Year, everyone.
PS. I hope if you enjoy it, you will consider writing a kind review on Amazon! (Authors love reviews!)
I went to Zumba this week – how I love to dance away a few calories – although I probably need to Zumba about fifteen hours a day for the next month to make an impact on Christmas cookies.
The class is conducted as a separate entity inside a very nice and busy workout gym. But I don’t really like the gym and all those weights and machines, and the noise. And especially – the muscly men.
There’s something about these big-armed, big-thighed, big-necked men that has always disconcerted me. My husband is big and strong, and I like it, but these guys are something different.
I’m not sure why. I think perhaps I feel judged. That I have an ordinary, slightly old body. (maybe I should change the title of this blog from Not Quite Old to Slightly Old. I’m certainly getting there.)
As I was leaving my class – which is mostly all women, except for one older guy who has no sense of rhythm but is very determined, and so therefore I love him), I had to walk through the scary-guy-filled gym. And my way down the aisle was blocked by two big blocks.
Two muscle-bound tattooed, shaved-head guys. Half my age and four times my size.
And as I tiptoed around them, I heard their conversation.
Big Muscles #1: “How was your Christmas?”
Big Muscles #2: “Okay, I guess.” He paused. “This was the first Christmas since my Mom died.”
BM #1: “Oh, I know how bad that feels. I been there, too”
BM #2: “We all got through the best we could.”
And there, in this noisy, busy gym, I got teary. Teary and ashamed.
Why in the world do any of us judge each other?
I worry about these tough guys judging me. But I had judged them.
I thought they were different.
But they are just like me.
As I miss my Dad this Christmas.
Life is scary.
People are not.
When I was sixteen, my parents surprised me at Christmas by giving me oil paints, brushes, and canvasses. I could not have been more suprised – or more pleased. I was overwhelmed by the confidence my parents had in me. They thought I was good enough to paint – really paint – with the real thing!
I painted a few oils. My best one still hangs above my mother’s bed. I looked at it just yesterday. It definitely looks like a child painted it, but I am pleased to add – like a child with some talent.
Now that I am retired, and I am goofing off full time, I want to make the most of my goofing off.
Foremost, of course, there is writing. My two novels, (and one in stuttering progress), this blog, my twitter account, and even once in a while, a poem.
I will never stop writing.
But I have rediscovered painting.
I have not taken up the oils of my teenage years – although I may someday.
I am in love with Watercolor.
I always loved painting in watercolor. It’s so fresh and light and clear. I’ve never been very good at it though. I’ve taken a course or two throughout my life – mostly adult ed courses. And I liked it but I always ended up thinking that I had better stick to writing.
But last year, for some unknown reason – maybe Grace – my watercolor has come together. It works. My brain and fingers have figured it out. They must have been taking courses while I slept.
And of all crazy things – or perhaps not so crazy – what I love painting is:
I started with Theo of course.
And I showed a few people.
And someone asked me to paint their dog. And then another person. Then another.
And I ended up with a little happy business. How I love it!
My dogs look like this:
These are a few of the dozen or so I have done in the last few months. And I’ve got orders for three more for right after the Holidays. Cats too, so I am going to have to practice on my own kitties!
If you are interested in a portrait of your own dog (or perhaps cat), I am now ready to take orders.
I have been mostly painting 5 X 7 portraits done on paper that is 8 x 10. This is then really easy for the purchaser to frame – since there are a lot of standard mats and frames for that size. (Watercolor has to be matted and framed under glass – to keep it from fading and warping.)
The cost is $50 for a 5 x 7 plus $5 shipping in the US. (If you are outside the US, the shipping cost will vary).
I have a paypal account for payment.
For more details – just write me at email@example.com
My favorite subject!
Write me for details: firstname.lastname@example.org
( I will be setting up a permanent tab on the top of the page – with my samples and this email address…so you can always find it.)
Often, I read a joke or hear someone say, “Oh no, I’m becoming my mother!”
And I think… “Oh God! Oh, How I wish I were!”
Because my mother is everything I could ever hope to be.
Except short. She’s short. Only the bottom shelves of her kitchen cabinets have ever been useful to her.
Other than that… Yes. I would be exactly like her.
My mother turns 95 this week.
She has four children. She still calls us “you kids”, though two of us are in their seventies and two are in our sixties. She has six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren (so far).
She was married to my dad for 63 years. He died eight years ago and she misses him every day. But she smiles every day too. My father was a great part of her happiness, but her happiness is also her own. And it is intrinsic and unassailable.
To become my mother is to be happy.
She loves to laugh. She has a sense of the ridiculous. And she can laugh at herself. She loves to tell the story of being on vacation with my dad and sitting by the swimming pool in her bathing suit. She was already well past middle age. And a young girl walked by wearing the same swimsuit. My mother described the girl as “horrified.” “I bet she never wore that suit again,” Mom laughed.
To become my mother is to be an optimist.
My mother does not live in a bubble. She is well aware of all the ills of the world. But she also believes that most people are good and are doing the best they can. And that things tend to work out for the best. Life is sweeter when you look for the sweet things.
To become my mother is to be polite.
Years (many many years ago) I had a boyfriend that my mother did not like. But every time he walked in the door she made him a cup of tea. With honey. And put out the cookies.
To become my mother is to be fair.
My mother does not get outraged very often. But if she does, unfairness is at the root of it. “Even-Steven” is one of her favorite expressions, especially as applied to “us kids.” She counted presents under the Christmas tree. She counted jelly beans in Easter baskets. And getting to select tv shows or slices of cake. Speaking of TV, my mother even hates unfairness in fiction. She despises shows where an innocent guy gets was framed. “How could they do that! That’s not fair!” she hollers at the TV.
To become my mother is to be knowledgeable.
My mother is well-educated. She became a nurse by applying to school over her parents’ objections. And packing a suitcase and walking alone to the hospital training program. And over the years she has continued to emphasize education for herself and for us. All her children have graduate degrees. She keeps aware of current events and trends. She has seen the latest viral video – even if she sometimes calls it a virus video. She is a news junkie, even at 95. And OMG, people better be treated fairly. She may not get out much anymore, but she had her absentee ballot early.
To become my mother is have proper priorities.
My mother is a worrier – no doubt about it. But she always worried about the right things. All her worries are based on one basic issue – whether the people she loves are okay. And happy. My mother always said that if the choice is between having a clean house and having fun, the fun would always win. “Housework can wait,” she said, “and you will not remember in a few years how many times you vacuumed. You’ll remember going to the beach, though.”
To become my mother is to be easy to please.
My mother likes everything – from a sumptuous dinner to McDonalds. Diamond earrings and drugstore makeup. A heartfelt speech. A jigsaw puzzle. Photographs. Getting her hair done. Good shoes. UConn Girls Basketball. Lottery tickets. A fresh loaf of bread. What do you get her as a present? Anything!
To become my mother is to feminine.
Feminine in the best sense of the word. My mother embraces womanhood, in all its forms. She is happy to be a girl. She loves all the girly things – makeup, perfume, jewelry. But she also believes that girls can do ANYTHING. And encouraged her three daughters to try everything and expect to succeed.
All my successes in life started with her belief in me.
My greatest success would be to become my mother.