Babbling Bucket of Bad Interview

This Lent I got a much-needed (I am sure) lesson in Humility. It’s just the most recent in a lifetime of them; they keep coming since clearly I Don’t Get It.

There was a job posting for which I was eminently qualified. The first interview, with a panel of three professional women I would be supporting if I were the successful candidate, went swimmingly. While the lead of the group was hard-ish to read, the other two were warm and welcoming and in about three minutes I made them all laugh. They were on my side. I knew I’d get the second interview, with The Boss, and about a week later, I did.

That is where it all fell apart.

After an awkward handshake (setting off my inner alarm bells), she led me back to a pleasant but impersonal office which told me absolutely nothing about her. I’d have to work with what she gave me verbally to establish a connection. Foolishly, I wasn’t worried yet because I like people, generally, and can usually find common ground with almost anyone.

As had the three before her, she worked from an HR-provided sheet of questions. I answered honestly while still hoping to imbue each with a little sparkle, a little something that said, “I understand your industry and the pressures of it; let me make your work life better”. There was eye-contact. She was cordial, intelligent, polite, and absolutely impossible to read.

As an introverted child who moved a lot, I learned at an early age to make people laugh, but I couldn’t make this woman laugh. I wasn’t quite sure she was even smiling at me so much as with sympathy for me, because when I can’t find a connection with someone, one of two things happens: I shut down entirely (this is very rare – I am GREAT in an emergency) or, more common and what happened on this particular day with this particular woman, The Babbling. When The Babbling happens, words come out of my mouth in response to the conversation, a great many words, but I have no real idea if they are relative to the other party’s words. They just come, dozens at a time. It’s like a shotgun, really, and sometimes I get lucky and one of those words hits the target, say, if “efficient” or “detail-oriented” happens to elbow past all the other words and accidentally fly out of my face.

Job Interview

I was a Lector (reader of lessons) in an Episcopal church, and told I was a good one. This came as a huge relief because no matter how prepared I was, every time I stood at the lectern in front of literally God and everyone, I was certain that not Scripture but rather an endless stream of profanity was exiting my mouth, and my Episcopalian brethren were simply too polite to tell me. About half way through the interview, I found myself wondering if she was Episcopalian, and exactly how many incarnations of the “F” word I’d dropped.

This is why Pride always, always goeth before the Fall: I saw a job for which I was qualified and assumed that once they got a load of my wonderful resume, not to mention razzling, dazzling Moi, the only question would be: how soon could I start? I never considered that I’d blow it, or that maybe they’d just like someone else better than me.

When she walked me out she thanked me for my time, which told me all I needed to know. She’d made her decision, at least regarding me, and I cannot fault her. With only a brief time to make an important decision about the team around her, a team which will largely determine her success or failure, she can’t afford to gamble. Presented with a good resume offered by a babbling idiot, she made the only possible decision.

 

It’s certainly not the first interview I’ve had that hasn’t gone well; it is surprising how much it stings, but I imagine that is flavored with other recent, more personal rejections.

Have you ever completely blown an interview or presentation you should have aced? What throws you off your game? What helps you dust yourself off and carry on?

(Be the) Candle

img_5389-2My daughter earned her degrees from the great University of Texas, Austin and one is a Bachelors in Women’s and Gender Studies. I love our conversations, even when her clear-headed feminism dispels my own long and closely-held bullshit. Maybe especially when she dispels my culturally ingrained, but ultimately diminishing, bullshit.

I was raised to expect praise, get validation for being pretty, skinny, funny, and amenable. Don’t make waves. Don’t call attention to myself. Don’t be a tattletale. Don’t be a party-pooper. Go along to get along. Don’t take abuse, but understand that if I dressed too provocatively, or was in the wrong place, abuse might find me and it would be my own damn fault.

My daughter and some years of counseling have been as candles illuminating the unintentionally sick thinking my mother instilled. I don’t blame my mother and have long since forgiven her, for how can one blame another for being a creation of his or her culture? How can I blame her for dying young and never having an opportunity to understand the myriad ways we institutionally blame women for the sins of a male-dominated society?

Now a harsh candle shines brightly on one of the most odious men to walk the planet, a man so entitled and privileged he claims his wealth and celebrity enable him to do anything without permission to any woman he deems attractive. I’ve listened, stomach churning, to the bile generated throughout this caustic campaign cycle but along with the far more eloquent Michelle Obama, something the Republican nominee for President said yesterday shook me to the core. It was when Donald Trump said of People Magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff, who in company with several other women has accused him of sexual assault or at the very least, unwanted sexual advances, “Look at her. Look at her words. I don’t think so.” No woman could mistake his inference.

It was all in the tone, and I think most women have known that guy. The guy who flirts with you constantly but never in public, never out in the open, because you’re just not fine enough for him, for who he believes he is: better than you, cooler than you, more popular than you. He wants you, but is almost embarrassed by the wanting, because you’re less-than. This usually happens in Middle or High school. The vast majority of men outgrow it; the ones who don’t become predators.

My first was in Middle school. He was tall and blonde, one of the popular boys. While pretty, I was unmistakably Uncool. But he flirted with me all the time when no one else was around and one day, when we’d stayed after school to work on a theater set, he shoved me up against a wall where no one could see and without my consent, felt me up. And of course I never said anything because who would believe me? Who would believe the handsome Lothario of Stacy Junior High School would want to be with plump and terminally uncool me? And what was she doing alone with him between buildings anyway?

The second happened on a Friday night during High school, at a party I should not have attended. A guy who held me down tickling and groping me until I screamed, until I managed to plant my feet in his chest and hurl him against a wall. And everyone laughed. “Oh look, she’s maaaaad!” Like it was funny. Like it was ok for a male to continue touching a female who has said, in no uncertain terms, STOP. I couldn’t count on my sister females to support me any more than I could tell him to go fuck himself for doing that to me, lest they as well as I be forever consigned to the Mortally Uncool. Because the most important thing was being seen by Male Dominance Culture as Cool, no matter how skeevy it made you feel, no matter how much in that moment you desperately need a brain-bleaching. You see, this is where it starts, this is the foundation of women keeping their mouths shut because to Say Something might ruin their chances of promotion, of being able to support themselves or their families. This is the start of culturally gaslighting women, perpetuating the sickness and imbalance of power in male-female relationships of all kinds.

 

Donald Trump is simply rich male privilege writ large. This stuff has been happening forever, and women haven’t spoken out about it in the decades since they gained the right to vote because we worked too hard to gain a foothold in the workplace and in the voting booths to risk it by calling out men on their bullshit. (And yes, I know it’s not all men, not even most, but it is still a too-large proportion.)

What kind of bullshit? The bullshit that results in light sentences for male athletes when they assault incapacitated women behind dumpsters after frat house parties. The bullshit that silences young women on our college campuses, giving male athletes a free pass to use them for their own gratification. The bullshit that a male celebrity can portray himself as America’s Daddy while drugging and raping women. The bullshit that says “She was asking for it” because she wore a short skirt. The bullshit of school dress codes that send girls home from school for wearing tank tops and somehow makes them responsible for the thoughts of boys. The bullshit that confers upon women the moral responsibility for society while constraining their rights of control over their own reproductive systems, and charges them more for maintaining their health.

So this is my rallying cry: Sister Women, the bullshit stops now. Let us be candles for each other, casting our flames upon the slime wherever and whenever we see it, making it shrivel, dry up, and blow away. Let us compete with each other less and bond with each other more. Let us be the reflector of each other’s candlelight. Let us be each other’s safe place in the train car or sidewalk to and from work, in the workplace, at the clubs. Let us teach our daughters and sons to respect women as equal human beings. Let us sing the praises of the legions of parents, male and female, who have raised respectful men who call out the lie of “locker room talk”. Above all, let us speak up, speak out and let our candlelight shine on the bullshit wherever we find it.

I am here for you. I have your back, and I’m counting on you to have mine and most especially our daughter’s and granddaughter’s backs. The bullshit stops here, replaced by the warm glow of our collective candlelight shining on a more just world where all God’s children may flourish, where no girl or woman need stay silent out of fear of reprisal in all it’s nasty, diminishing, bullshit ways.

Women, we are the candles. If we won’t light the way, who will? Stand up, speak out, and shine, shine, shine!

Fork/Daily Post

Anyone who knows me would be forgiven thinking that given the writing prompt “Fork” I would offer recipes. But that’s not what I thought of. Here is what I thought of: a long time ago when I was very young, I attended the wedding of two good friends. Many years later I learned one came to a fork in the road, a stop sign actually, on the way to the wedding. And the thought process was, I turn one way and I’m free, but I hurt my fiancee and royally piss off my parents. Turn the other way, and I’m marrying the wrong person. Self-awareness chose a might inconvenient moment to rear it’s head.  The path chosen of that particular fork was the path of least resistance, and as it almost always is, it was the most painful.

It didn’t last long. They went their separate ways, hurting, a few years older but somewhat wiser.

We all have our forks, and the easiest way to think of them is that one way is right and the other wrong; advancing age has made many of my closely held, black and white truths look like old sweatshirts, once black or white, now washed so many times they are all varying shades of gray.

Once I came to a fork, standing in the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant. It wasn’t visible when I pulled into the parking lot. By the time I left it was a huge freaking chasm, and the next few years were the most difficult of my life. But now I am here, and I wouldn’t be if I hadn’t stepped into the chasm, learned what lay in the depths, and faced down some dragons I thought I’d slain, but hadn’t. Every day I spend with Paul, every time the cat wakes me up to get him a treat, every morning spent wrestling with a photography class assignment, reminds me I am exactly where I never imagined being, but wouldn’t change for the world.

If we Christians believe all things work towards good under God, why do we persist in always thinking in black and white terms? Yes/No. Black/White. On/Off. Right/Wrong.

Maybe it’s just my own twisted mental image of Life, but I see us all more as beings traveling along in our own personal amorphous blob moving through the Universe, ahead of us opportunities and lessons, and each step left, right, backwards, forwards moving us along, with doors or whole roads closing or changing behind us, and entirely new, previously unseen ones opening before us.

Of course while we’re going through something horrible it’s hard to think, Oh Boy! I wonder were all this pain and agony are taking me? What new truths about myself or my loved ones will be revealed? I can hardly wait to find out! No, in the weeks, months, and years following my Chinese restaurant experience I went to bed every night begging God to give me an immediate answer, fix it, make all the hurt end, most especially the hurt I caused. In retrospect, I see that not only was it essential for me to take that fork in the road, but also for all the others affected. The learning didn’t begin and end with me, because we’re all connected, and all of our individual amorphous blobs bump into each other’s and merge, and sometimes merged ones split, like cell division. And the forks keep appearing, disappearing, or changing direction ahead of us, yet the ultimate destiny is the same, and always forward, closer to God.

Fork

Grief Waves

It’s probably normal for a coastal-raised child to liken many things to the sea. Currents and tides have been a useful metaphor for me and many writers better than I, but I think the reasons why became clearer for me Saturday while grocery shopping.

Eddy 2 (2)Grief is sneaky, unlike ocean tides and waves which while sometimes dangerous, are at least predictable. But like ocean waves, the waves of grief become manageable through time and experience, losing much of their power over us, even sneaky little ones like the one that unexpectedly caught me on the Personal Care aisle of Publix supermarket on Saturday.

When as a small child and full of small child hubris, one raised by the ocean decides one is big and strong enough to take the waves alone, without the helpful, steadying hand of a parent, one learns the true power of the ocean for the first time. It goes down something like this: you run out on the firm, wet sand wiped clean by the last wave, farther than you ever have before, believing you can stand firm in the next one, like the Big People do, because you’ve known the ocean longer than you can remember. The waves turn from retreat to advance in their endless cycle and some part of your primitive brain, even though very young and probably because you are 90% water yourself, recognizes that it’s much bigger than you thought it would be, it’s certainly bigger out here, farther than you’ve ever run out alone, than it was when viewed from the safety of the beach towels and your father’s cooler full of Coors. And you scramble backwards a bit but it’s too late and that wave hits you with all the terrible, timeless force of oceans that knew the dinosaurs, toppling you like a breath on a house of cards. Tumbling disoriented under the water, through flashes of sunlight you glimpse the bubbles of the wave mixed with those of the breath knocked out of you, and the previously unknown bottom covered in things only the soles of your feet might have known before: kelp polyps and seaweed, pebbles not yet ground into sand, bits of shell, and the random gossamer jellyfish tentacle you know from experience still stings even when detached from the animal. Sand has now filled your bathing suit and the extra weight makes righting yourself harder. Now, either a parent or friend will haul you up and out of the water or you’ll follow the light, bobbing to the surface coughing, sputtering, gasping for breath and glad of the salt water running out of your hair disguising the tears of shock and fear, the salty acknowledgement of having seriously misjudged the situation and your own strength.

If you’re a clever child, you learn to accept help; not all of us are or were clever children.

Children grow up and get bigger and stronger, and this is the lesson of grief: in the early days of it we are children and it knocks us flat, showing us all kinds of stuff under the surface we never knew existed, the things we didn’t expect to hurt so damn badly. Time heals because we get stronger, grow in unanticipated ways, become more capable of withstanding the waves when they hit. We may stumble when they impact, but they do not flatten us. They may even teach us. If only grief waves were predictable, if only we saw them coming!  The lie of grief is that it goes away, when it’s more like a dissipating storm which eventually loses the power to knock us down. The blessing of grief is that we have a degree of control over how long it holds us under the water, if only we are brave enough to look at the debris-strewn bottom.

Eventually, if one does the work of grieving, they become gentle waves and if unpredictable, more bittersweet than dangerous, like the soft wave that hit me at Publix on Saturday. This wave took the form of an older man in a motorized wheelchair on the Personal Care aisle. He had a service dog, who elicited attention both clearly relished. He looked nothing like my lost friend, Jeff, but embodied all his charm and chattiness, scooting around town in his motorized wheelchair, making connections with everyone he met because he never knew a stranger. The wave hit, but did not topple me. There was a catch in the throat as it receded, but as I gave a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of friendship, I almost heard Jeff whispering, “Dudette, I’m still and always here, and I’ll see you on the other side.”

Viola

Maybe it was the production of Working – A Musical I saw yesterday that had me noticing people today, or maybe it was the absence of my plump, grandmotherly strawberry stand lady. Isn’t it odd how quickly we become accustomed to people and places? I only discovered the strawberry stand maybe four weeks ago, but every time I’ve been the same sweet lady with thick, white and silver curls sells me my fruit and honey. Today  in her place was a whippet-thin man who could have been 50 or 70, his graying ponytail and whiskers, weathered complexion, and sunken cheeks made determining his age difficult.

Even fruit stands take debit cards these days and the hands that deftly swiped mine through the iPhone card reader showed the small scars of hard work and maybe a couple of burns, thick chipped nails, and one homeboy tattoo. He bore only one other tattoo, home made, on his right arm. But across his left bicep one beautiful, clearly professional, scripted name: Viola.

Viola was faded; she’s been with him many years I think. It makes me wonder who Viola is or was, if she is still with him in human form?

His has been a hard life if shabby, over-sized clothes, the sunken cheeks indicative of missing teeth, and a body likely worn down before its time are any indication. Was Viola a sweetheart, someone who broke his heart, perhaps setting his feet on a self-destructive path? Or is she a memory of better times, when he was loved and his future lay solid and secure before him? Maybe Viola is his mother, or a beloved sister? A daughter?

Does Viola know there is a thin, breaking-down man with her name on his arm, selling strawberries and tomatoes to suburban housewives? Does she have his name on her left arm, too?

Viola will remain a mystery to me, part of a life not mine, part of the life of another human being I met by accident when I stopped for strawberries. Viola is a reminder that all the people we encounter in our everyday lives also have lives and memories as rich as our own, full of heartbreak and joy, loved ones present and lost, the various incidents and accidents and sometimes purposeful inkings of Life accumulating on our bodies, marking time and telling our stories.

Semantics: Because Words Matter

My friend Cynde had a genius Facebook status the other day, one which sparked good conversation and got me thinking – she really helped crystallize something in my head which has been swirling around for a long time, specifically, what we call something, the words we use, make a difference in how we feel about them.

Cynde declared war on “tolerance,” likening tolerating human beings as taking the same attitude as tolerating lima beans in her soup, or nuts in brownies, that tolerance of fellow humans was akin to holding one’s nose and eating the spinach, but complaining about it later. Her brilliant, simple assessment flipped on the light in my head, and I realized what’s been troubling me about tolerance: it’s not the same as respect, not by a long shot. I told you – she’s a genius!

It was the lima bean reference that put the point on it for me. Flash back a million years or so when I was a child and eating a big bowl of my mother’s chili (which I loved, by the by). It was thick and rich and yes, it had beans but it also had squishy stewed tomatoes, which I loathed. As a child I disliked all tomatoes on principle because the seeds look vaguely larval, and never mind that tomatoes were the basis of so many things I loved, like spaghetti, pizza, and Campbell’s tomato soup (with grilled cheese sandwiches, of course). So I’d bitch and moan and ceremoniously fish those stewed-tomato particles out of my chili, depositing them with a great deal of attitude and flair, into my mother’s bowl. She could eat them if she liked them so much. As a teenager, the rough side of my mother’s tongue and wicked-fast backhand taught me to shut up and tolerate them, so I no longer fished them out of my bowl but rather pointedly left them there after all else was eaten, or gagged them back with a grimace and undoubtedly some vigorous eye-rolling.

But a funny thing happened on the way to maturity: somewhere down the line I gave tomatoes a chance, probably when I encountered a farm-fresh or home-grown one, ripe and juicy and delicious all on its own. I moved from tolerating them, with the underlying resentment of their very presence, into respecting them, and finally liking them a whole bunch.

What Cynde helped me realize is that when we say we tolerate a person or people whom we deem “other,” what we’re really doing is holding our noses and deigning to permit their co-existence in our sphere without bitching about it to their faces. And that’s kind of condescending and icky, really, because of the implicit, if not explicit resentment that comes with it. Respect is different; respect carries no resentment, respect says “You’re different than me but that’s ok because we both bring gifts and value to this thing called Life, and that’s cool.” It’s my opinion that if we stop tolerating the folks who are “other” in our minds and work towards respecting them, we’ll flush out and banish a lot of hidden resentment and anger in our collective life.

There are other words and phrases grating on me, and which I believe make our lives unnecessarily difficult or sometimes purposefully obfuscated, like Human Resources. Once upon a time large businesses had a Personnel Department, and it dealt with People. Somewhere down the corporate road, I suspect hand-in-hand with lay-offs and outsourcing and maximizing efficiencies, humans became commodities, just like copper, pork bellies, or frozen concentrated orange juice futures. It’s so much easier to lay off 20,000 faceless human resources in order to maximize efficencies and guarantee stockholders a fat dividend check, than 20,000 actual personnel with faces, families, and lives.

Lately I hear the term “Food Insecurity” being bandied about. Meaning hunger, right? Children living with food insecurity are hungry. I know this, because I’ve actually met them, the kids who don’t qualify for Free and Reduced lunch, but who’s cafeteria account runs dry about three days before their mom gets paid. When they came into my office looking for snacks, those children were hungry. Saying children are food insecure is somehow less scary than saying, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, that they are hungry. What I’d like to hear someone say is why the hell are they hungry? followed closely by, how do we immediately ensure they are no longer hungry?

Perhaps it is part of whatever societal infection has everyone insulted all the time. We’ve become such delicate little flowers we can’t stand to hear something called by it’s name. It’s like political rhetoric, how they string together a lot of nice-sounding words that, when analyzed, really have no meaning. “Make America Great Again” –  what the actual fuck does that even mean? But the crowd roars and applauds, never questioning, buoyed by their collective anger and turning it on anyone who appears “other”. I find it all extremely worrying.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been told I could have phrased something better, made some ugly truth somehow more palatable to the ear. But I was the kid who ripped the band-aid off quick, who jumped into the water all at once rather than bit by bit. At times of crisis in my family, I was the truth teller to my mother’s fantasy-spinner. She hid from the horrible reality of things, while I preferred to look the enemy in the eye, stand and fight, but I’ve always hated the judgment of others when I do. I guess at my advanced age it’s just time to own being the person who calls ’em likes I sees ’em, and stop being so worried about what others think of me.

Cynde, loins girded and sword drawn, I will fight by your side any day, challenging all purveyors of obfuscation, bullshit, and meaningless rhetoric, beginning with myself because I’m sure I’m full of tolerance where respect would serve better.

 

I Sing a Song of Secretaries

It’s great we have a day to recognize “Administrative Professionals” or, as they used to be known, Secretaries, and I always appreciated the efforts made to acknowledge my contributions as one. But just as one “aw shit” eradicates a thousand “atta girls”, I will never forget how much it hurt the couple of times those I supported “forgot” or worse, the year I was told, “You’re an Office Manager; we didn’t want to insult you by calling you a Secretary”. Oh, OK, I’ll stop answering your phones then. But I didn’t say that, because I needed the job. Instead I cried in the bathroom, then dried my tears and went back to work, like all good secretaries do.

secretaryAdministrative Professionals Day is one of the more Hallmarky of the Hallmark Occasions, but for me (who is admittedly rather close to it) it’s an important one, because those stalwarts bearing the title, well, they hold up the work-a-day Universe.

Think of the secretaries you know: the ones who do exactly their job, no more, no less, they answer phones, do their clerical stuff, and nothing else. They don’t last long, do they? But the other ones…. the ones who do a great job and always have an aspirin or Tylenol when you need it; the ones with a band-aid, mending kit, tissue, or snack when your head hurts, your body hurts, you lost a button, or your blood sugar is low – they’re the ones we depend on. They are the ones who remember the customer’s birthday, children’s names, whether the customer is going through a divorce, or just bought a new car and what color it is. They remember where the client used to work and for whom, and whose name you might invoke at just the right time. Do I have to even go into secretaries being the first one to bear the brunt of a customer or parent’s rage when things go badly? No, no I don’t, because if you have a secretary, you already know you get the blunted edge of that particular knife.

We depend on their skill, efficiency, memories, attention to detail, loyalty and reliability. We depend on their ability to juggle metaphorical balls and bricks and flaming torches, something not taught in college, without ever breaking a sweat.

And most of the time they do it all so quietly and calmly, you never notice. They are easy to take for granted, because they’re always so remarkable you become accustomed to their remarkableness. Until that terrible day they get sick, too sick to work or worse, they leave you and go somewhere where they will be appreciated. Then comes the lesson, too late.

If you haven’t bought him or her flowers yet, or lunch, or gotten a nice gift you still have time. Better yet, maybe make a point of getting out of your own head once in awhile (say maybe, monthly?) to notice all the things they do and remind them how much you appreciate them. Maybe even let them go home early. Or better, give them an unplanned day off with pay – I will guarantee they have busy home lives demanding the balance of energy you’re not sucking out of them, and they could use the break as much as your recognition but, if you can do only one, choose recognition, and choose it more than once per year.

To all my former secretarial colleagues, I wish you a happy Administrative Professionals Day, and I hope your bosses bought you lunch and flowers and told you how awesome you are. You’re the ones who taught, supported, listened to me and kept me sane when I was about to break, because we know a thing or two about trench warfare and being brothers/sisters in arms, don’t we? I hope I did the same for you. I send you my love and deepest respect.

 

National Siblings Day, Ambiguously

For two days my Facebook feed has been awash with friends posting pictures of their siblings, coupled with loving shout-outs to the brothers and sisters who irritated, annoyed, helped with, and shared their youth and parents. It’s sweet. And normal, because I guess it’s more the norm than being like me, an Only Child. And an Orphan, youngish.

Except, not really. It’s technically not true I have no siblings. And I think it’s not true I have no living parents, but I don’t know for sure. All of which has made the previously unknown (to me) National Sibling Day kind of bittersweet and weird.

I actually have three older half-siblings I didn’t find out about until I was 18.

Somewhere, there is a tall old man from whom I inherited blond hair, blue eyes, and a nose with a propensity to go arrow-like when smiling.

It was a thing for me, once, finding my older siblings. Making stabs at it a long time ago, maybe I thought having some sisters and a brother would make me feel less alone in the world. They were the product of my mother’s first marriage, which she denied existed until denial was no longer an option. Then she simply stonewalled, steadfastly refusing to answer questions until her death three years later.

She was married at barely 18, probably marrying away from her own abusive father as her older sisters had before her, and her younger ones after. She popped out three babies in the late 1950’s, then was divorced and lost custody of the children to her ex-husband in 1960. Nineteen-sixty. Custody awarded to a father – kind of unheard of unless a mother was proven “unfit”. Having experienced my mother’s unstable temperament and later having it confirmed she had some sort of a breakdown around the time of the divorce, I eventually realized how hard all of that must have been for my unknown, elder siblings. Picturing myself showing up on one of their doorsteps saying, “Hey, it’s me, your little sister! You know, the one she kept,” seemed like pouring salt in a wound and I understood at last why “discretion is the better part of valor”. Better they stay as they are. I also knew that sharing DNA was no guarantee of having one damn thing in common and it would be a shame to revisit pain on strangers, then sit in awkward silence, to satisfy my idle curiosity.

But seeing in my friend’s photos the similar smiles, the matching eyebrow patterns or hair colors, it would be a big lie if I didn’t say I’ve always wondered what they look like. Do they share an ability to cock one eyebrow? A love of reading? Biting sarcasm? Do they tear up at Hallmark commercials (especially the old one where the little girl gives her great-great-grandma a birthday card for her 100th birthday)? Would it help them if I explained my mother remained unstable and difficult all her short, unhappy life? Probably not. But it’s my prayer they long ago made peace with her absence. Maybe they had a lovely step-mother, just as I eventually won the step-dad lottery with my mother’s third marriage.

I’ll never know the answer to those or any other questions and I’m at peace with that; it’s part of adulting to let go of that which is not helpful. But seeing all the pictures with their wry, touching, humorous, and teasing comments I can’t help wondering what it might be like to have a person with whom I shared early history, had the wonderful sort of shorthand siblings have, the inside jokes and common gestures. Maybe that is just narcissism, and better put to rest.

I wish you all a happy National Siblings Day, and encourage you to hold them, your last links to your parents and early history, close.

If We Were Having Coffee…. Farmer’s Market Edition

IMG_5099 (2)If we were having coffee I’d totally get to make up for being such a downer last weekend, by telling you I got to have coffee this morning with this guy, who actually has today off, and it’s a special day for us – we exchanged emails for the first time on April 9th, five years ago. And who knew then that these years later would find us in South Carolina, walking the Farmer’s Market? But here we are.

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It was cool and breezy at first, but warm in the sun. If you’re not a Southerner, I would explain there is a thing about boiled peanuts here in the Deep South. And look how happy the vendors are! There is truth in their advertising. For those who love them, each boiled peanut is a tiny happiness bomb.

IMG_5080 (2)One can buy all manner of things at the Farmer’s Market – fresh fruit and veggies of course, but also artisan cheeses, like these. We picked up a brie infused with chipotle pepper called The Spice Must Flow, both because it is delicious and also because no self-respecting nerds could resist the name. (And we’re nothing if not self-respecting.)

I might suggest this vendor needs to rethink their notions of supply and demand. I love granola, but it doesn’t go all that well with coffee, or at least not as well as the cinnamon rolls would. IMG_5060 (2)

IMG_5030 (2)Ah…. Belgian waffles. They go with most things, and especially coffee. We had the croque-monsieur, though I missed the bechamel.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you we saw every manner of dog there: tiny yapper dogs, large, dignified Boxers, Great Danes, and what looked like a giant Scottish Terrier, quite tall and 85 pounds at least.

I wonder if he’s looking forward to the new season of Outlander tonight; I know I am.

Maybe we’d agree it’s always nice to see some friendly cops, hopefully earning some welcome OT pulling easy duty. Here’s another sign you have to be a long-term Southerner to appreciate.

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If we were having coffee I’d tell you about all the original, one-of-a-kind artsy things one can buy, like this pelican, from a gentleman who paints on reclaimed lumber and sports a luxuriant beard almost a work of art in itself. I’d tell you I am glad to get one of the pelicans as he says it’s been a year of desks, lately, old battered desks he and his partner keep finding on the side of the road and with which he’s creating whole new pieces of art.

I’d tell you I wish I was artistic, but I’m not. Instead I cook, or take pictures of other people’s art.IMG_5094 (2)
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I’d tell you about the street musicians, all serious concentration and talent in the middle of the Greek olive oil and pastry sellers, the Korean barbecue, and fancy soap, and how I wished I hadn’t quit guitar lessons when I was twelve.

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I would ask what you thought of someone’s idea of Lovely Rita the Meter Maid. Paul and I agreed she was nothing like either of us pictured. I might wonder if you’ve ever met someone first over the phone and formed a solid mental picture of him or her, then were completely surprised by the reality. I’ve been on both ends of that, myself.IMG_5106 (2)

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I would definitely tell you, with unabashed glee, about this tiny, free-standing library stuffed with books for the taking. Best. Idea. Ever. I hope you would agree with me we need tons more of them everywhere immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we’d walked the whole thing twice and our step-counters were delirious with joy, IMG_5121 (2)we headed back to the car which took us to a magical place where Beer Goddesses bring pints and Rocket Tots.

 

I’d tell you this day was a good day and offer you another cup, with a Greek pastry or a slice of artisan baguette and cheese.

 

Dam Hearts

Our house is a five-minute drive from the largest man-made lake in South Carolina, Lake Murray, a reservoir fed by the Saluda River and across which is the Saluda Dam/Dreher Shoals Dam. A dream since the turn of the last century, the lake is named for the engineer, William S. Murray, who made it come true.

IMG_2358It’s a beautiful lake, surrounded by the ubiquitous pines of the region and it provides ample recreation for the locals and summer visitors.

For two people who grew up by the coast and are thus intimately acquainted with big water, it is somehow comforting to have the lake so near.

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IMG_2325The dam has a footpath across the mile and a half expanse and it is busy on all but the worst weather days with folks seeking some exercise, a nice breeze, a look at the sailboats tacking across: flirty young couples and hipsters with babies strapped to their chests, strolling; mums with strollers power-walking off baby-weight; athletes with earbuds calling out, “Excuse me!” and sprinting past old farts like me and Paul, testing out my new camera lens.

The dam has also become a Love Lock place, if not on the grand scale of the one in Paris, it is perhaps aspirational. I have hopes for it, anyway.

For Paul and me, this is our first home together. There was my tiny, lonely apartment, witness to many tears and finally, healing; Paul’s house, with the sadness of his first wife’s illness and death and the detritus of a child’s addictive issues lurking behind every battered cupboard door; the two generic, temporary apartments we had together on our way here, though exactly where here was, was a mystery at the time.

But now, finally, we are here: signed on the dotted line, sans storage units, all our stuff in one place. Locked in, pray God, for a long time to come.IMG_2373 (3)