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 firstname.lastname@example.org
My favorite subject!
Write me for details: email@example.com
( 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.
There’s an old joke my father used to tell.
A guy goes to the doctor and lifts his left arm over his head and says, “It hurts when I do this.” The doctor replies: “Don’t do that.”
I thought of this today as I was making coffee this morning. I cannot understand why someone hasn’t invented a coffee pot that doesn’t drip water down the pot when you are trying to pour it into the coffeemaker.
Anyway, I am pouring the water into the coffeemaker and the water is dripping down the side and onto the floor.
And, just like yesterday and the day before, there is a cat Niko, standing right below me, getting wet as the water drips on his head. He’s giving me a nasty look – the kind that says, “WTF??? Why is it raining in here???”
And I said to the complaining cat – “Why don’t you just stand someplace else?”
Like the doctor in the joke, if it hurts when you do that, don’t do that.
If it is raining on your head, get out of the rain.
Of course, there are times when you can’t avoid the rain.
Sometimes the nasty raindrops are coming from a family member you usually love, or from a boss at a job you can’t afford to give up right now.
And sometimes the rain is better than the tornado.
But there are times when you can easily just get out of the rain.
– You could read an infuriating tweet and just continue to scroll past.
– You could listen to a good audiobook when the traffic is bad.
– You could shut the TV off when the program is obnoxious.
– You can try a different hobby or sport if you aren’t having fun anymore.
And, easiest of all, you could just get our your umbrella.
Yes, there is rain that is unavoidable, but you still don’t have to get wet.
A lot of rain is that slow drip of criticism. You can take a drop or two, shake it off. But if you stand out in the criticism drizzle, eventually it will soak you through.
So get out your umbrella, your raincoat, your boots, and a hat.
The holidays are here. And along with all the love they bring, the festivities are bound to have their share of drizzles.
The kind of drizzles that say:
– Why aren’t you married yet?
– You shouldn’t let your children get away with that.
– You spend too much money.
– You’ve put on a little weight.
And my personal favorite (meaning just the opposite) – criticism of my taste.
– You liked that movie? I thought it was awful.
– Writing fiction is just a waste of time.
– I would never shop there.
– That’s not what I would call authentic Thai food.
You need a really big umbrella to keep those raindrops from spoiling your parade.
Your umbrella in this case is called self-assurance. Self-worth. The confidence to like what you like.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
And that other great philosopher – my dog Theo – last week tweeted this:
You can get out of the rain.
PS… This week, Amazon is offering the Kindle Edition of my novel, LUCINDA’S SOLUTION, for 99 cents. Click here.
A Thankgiving rerun from a few years ago….
Just skimming through the New York Times, and I saw a review for the new movie, “La La Land.”
From the review and the trailer – I really want to see it.
Not that I see a lot of movies anymore. But, when I was a kid, and up through my twenties, I saw just EVERYTHING.
So here, for Thanksgiving, I’d like to say thank you to all my movie-going friends:
My sister Christine, who often had to take me when I was really little, and I know she didn’t want to, but always did, and showed me how to pay attention in the theater.
My sister Claudia. It was with her, when we were in our twenties,that we saw EVERYTHING. Every movie released, I think, between 1969 and 1975. She would drive anywhere to see a movie. I remember going to see “The Sting” with Claudia and my little brother Tommy, and Claudia drove all the way to Canton, and when we got there it was sold out. We were walking back to the car, all disappointed, when the theater manager called out to us and said he would set up a couple of folding chairs in the back if we were willing. We loved our special seats and the manager even gave us free popcorn to make up for the uncomfortable chairs.
My mother, who loved the movies just as much as we did. She saw all the dreamy musicals back in the 30s and 40s, and thought that all of Life should be that romantic. She scoured the sofa cushion for dimes so that we could go to the Saturday afternoon matinee.
My father too – who liked to go to the drive-in and see John Wayne movies.
My brother Tom. Not only did we sit on the folding chairs for “The Sting,” he gave me one of the best laughs I had ever had at the movies besides “And don’t call me Shirley.” He was about nine when we went to see “The Sound of Music.” Back in 1965, movies like “Sound of Music” were Events, with a capital E. You dressed up and took the whole family, and afterwards you would eat at Howard Johnson’s. So we got all gussied up and went to the “Sound of Music.” During the garden scene where the Captain and Maria realize they love each other… oh, it was so romantic… and Tommy said (not in his inside voice) “Boy, they have really big hedges!”
And one more memory with my brother Tom – Claudia and I took our young teenage brother to see his first R-rated film. My mother was hesitant at first, but decided it was okay. She jokingly told me not to let him watch the “risque” parts. So during a very steamy scene, I leaned over to Tom and said (not in my inside voice) “Mom says ‘Don’t look!”
My friend Doris. Doris and I were inseparable as kids. We would go to the movies together and often stay in the theater and watch through a second time. Then we would act out the movies in Doris’ backyard: “Tammy and The Bachelor,” “Pollyanna,” “Gidget.” And she often let me play the starring role.
My friend Barbe. Sometimes with Claudia too, we saw more movies in the 70s than probably anyone in the universe. We liked Jane Fonda especially – “Coming Home” and OMG, Donald Sutherland (swoon) and Fonda in “Klute.” And Barbe liked coffee afterwards – you can’t get much better than that.
My friend Chris. Good for foreign films and obscure weird stuff – which you always need once in a while.
My college roommate Lisa. She took a film course our senior year. And if they were going to see something really great, she would run back to the dorm and get me. This was pre-cell-phone, pre-text days… she’d literally run back and all out of breath, she’d gasp, “Come NOW! ‘Jules and Jim’!” And she’d sneak me in.
My friend Tim. He liked horror movies. I have forgiven him.
So it’s Thanksgiving, and I’m saying thanks to Hollywood and thanks to my movie-going companions. We saw a lot of good (and some awful) movies together.
And by the way, I don’t just want to see “La La Land” because of the good review, or because it looks like my mother’s beloved romantic musicals.
I want to see it because my husband has always said that’s where I live.
Here’s a true story about speaking up and about listening.
Several years ago, there was a family that dealt with a serious crisis. Their two-year-old toddler was very ill, and was in the hospital for months. (It all turned out well – I am happy to reassure you… but it was touch and go for way too long.)
The father and mother spent almost all their time at the hospital. Their respective employers were kind, understanding, and generous. But even given the compassion of their families, coworkers, and managers, the situation was awful.
They faced trying to maintain some semblance of job performance, household maintenance, the commute back and forth to the hospital, trying to become instant experts on hospital policies and insurance – all the while their little son was critically ill. How could anyone think of anything but that tiny hurting child? And yet they were supposed to.
It’s a cliche, but entirely applicable – mother and father passed like ships in the night. They took turns being the hospital parent, spending every other night in a chair by the bed. They saw each other only in half-hour whispers as they shared the latest information and situation as they exchanged places.
They were exhausted and frightened and doing their best.
And all this while, there was someone else in the picture.
They had another son, only four years old, waiting at home.
The mother and father were there for him as much as possible – in turn with the hospital shifts. And they had loving babysitters (I was one).
But mostly, everyone’s mind was elsewhere. We were consumed – who would not be? – with the small two-year-old fighting for his life.
One day, when the mother returned from her hospital shift, and the babysitter said her goodbyes and departed, the mother was standing in the kitchen, wondering if she had the energy to make any kind of supper for herself and her four-year-old.
The little boy watched his mother from the doorway as she took food from the fridge and starting her meal prep.
“Mommy,” the boy said.
“What?” said the mother, half-heartedly and without pausing from her task.
There was silence. The boy waited for the mother to stop her work and look at him. She finally realized this and turned to him.
He looked at her with all the hope and wisdom and patience that he possessed.
“I could really use some attention,” he said.
She put aside the food and took her boy by the hand. She brought him into the dining room and took out the Candyland board game. They sat at the stable and played Candyland. She could have played distractedly. She could have just gone through the motions, as she had gone through the motions a hundred time.
But she truly played. She watched him take his turns and move his token around the board. She laughed when he got lucky and she groaned when she drew poor moves.
They played like they had never played before.
She put all her attention into the game and into her little boy. It was twenty minutes of respite.
They both needed it.
Everyone was a hero in this whole story – mom and dad and sick little boy who recovered and big brother and grandparents and aunts and uncles and the doctors and nurses and babysitters and employers. But that day there were also two small heroic acts.
The little boy who was honest enough to say simply and directly what he needed: just some attention.
And the mom who gave him for a little while exactly what he needed.
Dinner could wait.
There is a moral here. No matter how tough things are, ASK for what you need. And if someone else is doing the asking, LISTEN.
A few days ago I was feeling sad.
There was no particular source of my sadness – no single or series of events to make me unhappy or bring the tears to my eyes.
Just that general overall feeling of Sadness.
I probably could not explain it if I had to, and I probably don’t need to – because I am sure every human being has those moments or days – or even years – of vague heartache.
I am normally a cheerful person.
So I considered all the things I could count on to cheer myself:
Play with the dog.
Have some ice cream.
Go out for gourmet coffee.
Read a book.
Go makeup shopping.
Talk to my mother.
Take a walk.
Listen to music.
Take a warm lavender-scented bath.
All those things are beautiful activities that always elevate my mood.
So what did I do?
Something so subversive, so revolutionary it didn’t even feel like me.
I gave myself permission to be sad.
Not forever. Just for the day.
I am at heart a happy person.
But sometimes us happy people are under a lot of pressure (self-imposed, usually) to always be happy. To be happy every minute. To look happy. To make others happy.
To be bright and optimist and funny.
Well, just for the day, I said,
I was sad.
Now I can’t say that it felt ‘good’ – I was sad and that is not good.
But if we have an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, can we, just once in a while, claim the right to not pursue it – just for a day?
I felt a respite.
A relaxation of my face in letting go of my smile.
A solace in allowing myself the right to be sad.
“I’ll be fine,” I told myself.
“I’ll be fine. Tomorrow.”
And I was.
In my first novel, JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED, the main character, Cynthia, is considering making a momentous change in her life. She’s frightened of course, and she turns to her sister, Angela, for advice. Angela responds with a question:
“Why do you think there were so many empty lifeboats on the Titanic?” she asked.
I smiled. “Because it seemed safer to stay with the big boat.”
“You’re getting good at this,” she said. She stood and looked down at me. “Sometimes staying where you are is the most dangerous thing you can do. Only the dangerous choice can save you.”
I am thinking of that scene today because I am remembering the event from my own life that caused me to write it.
Way, way back at the beginning of my career, I had a good job with a company that put itself of the auction block the week I was hired.
I did wonder at the time whether I was insane not to immediately beg my old company to take me back, but starting a new job with an organization that was for sale was not even the risk-taking part of this story.
It took about a year for the company to find a buyer, and the buyer was in the business of takeovers, not actually in the business of running a business. So things hardly changed at all (except for the massive debt they added to the balance sheet).
But eventually, this takeover company did what they had a history of doing – they broke up the company and sold off the pieces.
So I had to live through another acquisition.
The corporation buying the piece that included me was concerned that during the interim between the announcement and the closing of the purchase, the old management would jump ship – find new jobs and leave the company in poor shape – thus leaving less of an asset than they were paying for.
This situation is not uncommon in takeover land. The purchaser wants the management in place while the sale is in progress (during ‘due diligence’). But the executives of the company being bought are well aware that management often loses their jobs once the acquisition is final. Because, after all, consolidation means cost-savings and the elimination of any management duplication is an easy way to achieve it.
Corporations often handle this dilemma by offering what is called a “sticking bonus.” They will often certain managers of the target company a generous bonus if they are still on staff when the sale closes. That way, the acquiring corporation can better assure that the target is not going down the tubes from lack of management, and the executives of the target company are compensated for the risk they are taking by not rushing out immediately to secure another position. They risk being unemployed but they will have the cash to defray their expenses.
Okay, The boring technical stuff is behind us (I promise) – and we can get on with the story.
The firm acquiring my company offered a sizeable sticking bonus – 50% of one’s annual salary on the date the sale closed. They offered this to all management with one exception.
The buyer called me to their corporate headquarters and offered me a job. They said they had looked at the all the management staff, and I was the only manager they were sure they wanted. I would not be offered a sticking bonus because I would be guaranteed a good job instead.
I was a single woman who had just recently bought a condo. I had a mortgage. The economy was not in the best shape. And this corporation was well run and well respected – I was flattered they wanted me. I accepted the job. I was told to keep it confidential because they did not want any other employees to know that anyone had been offered a job yet.
Months later, the sale was finalized. All the other managers got their huge bonuses.
And guess how many of them were offered jobs in the parent company?
All of them.
Every manager but me received a big bonus AND a job.
I got just the job.
I called my old boss (who got his sticking bonus and kept his job) and his new boss. I stated furiously that if I was the only employee that they had been sure they wanted, why had they treated me so badly?
Because I had a sure thing and the others took a risk that could have come out poorly for them.
But they knew – they knew – that I had been wronged.
And so they offered me a promotion. I got a big new job with a raise and a company car and a trip to Bermuda. All this did not add up to the 50% bonus I would have received, but it was a start. And I still had a mortgage. I accepted.
And I hated the job.
My promotion was to the general manager position of the worst-run location in the area. I had no clue as to how to make conditions better. My life became one huge complaint. My staff was never happy. My customers were never happy. I was never happy.
And I finally took the risk.
I went on that very enjoyable trip to Bermuda, and came back and quit the job.
Without another job lined up. No bonus, no severance, no savings. With my mortgage to pay.
I put my condo on the market, sold it for considerably less than it was worth, got a cheap rent, took a temp position to pay said rent, and started my career all over again.
And was much happier.
The moral of the story is this:
I felt lucky to take the safe choice at first.
When I found that the riskier choice would have paid off after all, I was angry – with others and with myself. But I was compensated with another safe choice.
And all these safe choices would have been okay – would have been absolutely fine – had I been happy.
There’s nothing wrong with being safe until it makes you miserable.
Don’t stay with the Titanic when it’s sinking.
Last year on this date, I wrote about a little girl who made me feel a little better about myself at a time I was hurt and vulnerable. (A Lesson In Shame)
So today, I thought it would be appropriate to write about another childhood friend.
When I was fifteen, my family moved across town.
Although we hadn’t even changed zip codes, it was still a big move for me. I would be switching to the rival cross-town high school. I figured I might know a kid or two once I got there, since I had been to a parochial elementary school with kids from all over town. But it was still a big change.
In a way, I was looking forward to it. I hadn’t exactly got off on the right foot as a freshman at my old school. For the really dumbest of reasons (I know that now). I had been on a couple of dates with a boy that everyone made fun of. And so they made fun of me too. Which was a shame. Looking back on it, I think he was a pretty nice kid. But I was awkward and immature and I cringed at the snickers. It may have been unkind of me, but I was just a dumb kid, and I felt humiliated. So I was glad to get a fresh start in my sophomore year.
It was summer when we moved. You’d think it would be easy to meet kids in the summer. Everyone home and the weather is nice. And that’s true for little kids. My brother was nine, and as soon as we moved in, he met every boy in the neighborhood, and was happily off and running and playing. (Or at least it appeared that way to me – he may have been terrified too. And if so, I’m sorry, little brother.)
And my sisters were in college. And they could drive. And their friends could drive. I’m not saying that they or any of their friends had cars and money of their own. But it certainly did seem easier for them, and not much a transition. Their independence and mobility made continuing their friendships that much easier. (Or at least it appeared that way to me – they may have been terrified too. And if so, I’m sorry, big sisters.)
But fifteen. I didn’t drive. My friends didn’t drive. We had working parents who had to leave us to our own devices in the summer. We had no money. There was no summer camp. There was no school for meeting friends. There was no school bus with gangs of hollering kids. It was very quiet. And neighborhood teenagers don’t exactly come knocking on your door to ask if Nancy can come out to play.
I felt there were either no teenagers in the neighborhood at all, or that they had some secret meeting place that I could not uncover. I also thought they might have somehow got the word that I was an idiot.
Still, the new neighborhood seemed nice. The house was lovely – I had my own room. And I had a chance to reinvent myself, once school started.
The weather was good that summer, and I was a bookworm. So I often sat on my front steps and read.
And so that’s what I did – just like I had done at my old house.
And not long after we moved in, a little girl walked by and stared at me.
And she walked past me a number of times.
And then she walked over to me.
“I’m Amy,” she said. “Do you want to play cards?”
Amy was a tall little girl, but still a little girl. But hey, I played cards with my little brother all the time. So I agreed.
And I grabbed a pack of cards and we sat on the steps and played.
It turned out that Amy was eleven years old. She chattered about everything and anything while we played. I learned all about her family and her school and the neighborhood. She told me about all the other kids – and it turned out that there were not a lot of teenagers in the neighborhood after all. One boy who lived just a few houses down – “Very cute but very conceited”, confided Amy. And a few others she saw around but didn’t really know. After all, she was eleven. What teenager would hang around with an eleven-year-old?
Me, that’s who. I hung around with an eleven-year-old.
All summer. We played cards and board games and we took walks. We listened to music. She had a great record collection for an eleven-year-old. And she was smart… really smart. I have to admit I was a little embarrassed sometimes to be seen with such a little kid – but really, who was there to see me? I was alone and lonely. Overwhelmingly I was just happy to have a friend.
School finally started. I did meet teenagers who lived near me. And I recognized a few faces from my old grammar school. And I made friends in my classes. Quite a few are still my friends more than fifty years later.
Amy went back to her grammar school too. And played with kids her own age.
But every once in a while, for the next year or two, we hung out. Mostly in the summer. I remember playing the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album over and over in Amy’s room when I was 16 and Amy was 12.
If Amy’s mother thought it was weird – or even unhealthy – for a teenager to hang out with her little girl, she never said a word. She and Amy’s dad and her whole family were never anything but kind and welcoming.
My own mother was kind about it – she knew I was lonely. She just cautioned me not to push Amy to grow up before her time.
Of course with that age difference, it wasn’t long before I was off to college while Amy was just starting high school. It was inevitable that eventually we lost touch.
Skip ahead a short 52 years.
I was looking at the Facebook page from my hometown, and there was a name that looked familiar.
I jumped right on and re-introduced myself.
And Amy was just as happy to re-meet me and be friends as she was when she was eleven.
All those sweet memories are revived.
She has moved away from Connecticut. But one of the pleasures of social media is that friendships are so easily resumed. And now that we are both in our sixties, well, it turns out there isn’t an age difference after all.
How lucky I was that Amy wanted to be my friend – just when I needed one.
I don’t handle criticism well.
I can pretend to shrug it off, but truthfully, it’s hard. It’s hard to have someone say you’re wrong. It’s harder for someone to say you’re dumb. And it is downright scary for someone to say vicious, even threatening, things about you.
Two years ago, I tweeted often about my political stance, which is decidedly liberal – and always has been. (But bear with me, if you are more conservative: this really isn’t a liberal or political post). I often engaged with other political tweeters, commenting frequently with like-minded posts and sometimes, not often, arguing with the other side.
And then – inevitably, I suppose – I was attacked. I got sucked into a conversation that I should have avoided, since it is highly partisan and emotional, and it escalated. I should probably say that I sucked myself into that conversation, since no one forced me to add my two cents.
But regardless, we went back and forth with heated arguments that of course would never convince the other side – our relative positions were cast in concrete. And then, a third party jumped in and threatened me. I’m not exaggerating – an outside voice came in and threatened my life. And said she would laugh when I was killed.
Looking back on this incident, I am not even sure it was a human being. Bots were and probably still are rampant, but this attack was really vicious.
I totally freaked out. I believe in my cause and I’ve attended a rally or two. I even marched against two wars.
But I have never felt threatened. I have never been threatened. I always felt safe to express my opinion. And felt that others could do the same, by the way.
But I found out that I am not brave. I am astounded at the political figures on both sides who shrug off attacks. I wanted to change my name and go into hiding.
And in a way, I did.
First, though, I reported the threat to Twitter, who responded that the threat was somehow mysteriously “within their guidelines.” (Update: I believe they have improved upon this ridiculously low standard. I recently reported someone who I thought was threatening someone else, and they agreed and suspended the offender.)
Then I went through all my posts back to the beginning and deleted EVERY tweet that was even slightly political.
And I changed my Twitter handle from my own name, which I was using since I wanted to promote my books, to Not Quite Old, just like here on this blog. Of course, I am still promoting my books both here and on Twitter, so it’s easy enough to find out my name, but that one tiny extra layer of security is reassuring.
And I started to post only nice or funny tweets. Sweet and kind, like I try to do here.
And I no longer rise to the temptation of commenting on political or issue-related posts. There are enough comments. They don’t need me.
And lately, as you know if you are a regular reader here, I’ve taken to writing sweet little snippets of advice, from my dog Theo.
I like it. It works. I feel good.
And the best promotion for my tweets, and my blog, and my books is to also comment as Theo on one of Twitter’s most popular sites, Thoughts of Dog. When I comment there, I tend to use the same strange grammar, punctuation, and invented words that the author of Thoughts of Dog uses. He gets tons of traffic, and many people like my silly quips, and come over to my Twitter site. And from there, sometimes to my blog and even my books. But if they don’t, there is no harm done. I’m having fun and so is the audience.
But here’s where we loop around to criticism again.
Recently, I wrote a cute, dumb comment on Thoughts of Dog, and some guy retweeted it, commenting “imagine writing something this inane and thinking it is good.”
It hit a nerve.
And I immediately rattled off, “I have 3.500 followers. Have you reached 200 yet?”
I mean, really?
I’m not exactly screaming obscenities, and yet, it shows that I haven’t learned a whole lot.
I’m an ass. (and by the way, 3,500 followers is not exactly a big deal either.)
I can let criticism get under my skin. For no reason. Truly, the guy has under 200 followers. He wasn’t exactly dissing me to a mass audience. And even if he was – why did I have to take the bait?
Within fifteen minutes, I was sorry. (Probably 15 seconds, but I needed to get my blood pressure down first.)
I could have just deleted my tweet. But what does that say about me? That I can write something nasty and then just pretend that I didn’t?
So instead, I posted again. I said, “I’m sorry for my snide comment. It was mean and I am not a mean person. And so I apologize.”
The guy did not respond. But I felt better.
The next day I posted Theo’s Tip of the Day:
I know why I reacted. Especially now, after a few days have passed. The guy hit a nerve because I KNOW what I wrote was dumb and silly. I want to be respected as a serious writer and I am writing things like “i have to proteck the house from turkeys an hellocoppers.”
But I also know – now that a few days have passed – that being sweet and silly doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
These are stressful times. The news has us angry and fragile. That’s true from both sides of the aisle.
Sure, I am a serious writer. Sometimes.
But I know that if I can make someone smile once in a while, how bad could that be?
I’m not sorry about that.