Thursday, December 27, 2007

Relationships in One Paragraph

As with many of my favorite things on the interweb, Sheila started this. Other bloggers have done their own versions - like Megan at From the Archives. I had to pare this down. I've dated a fair bit over the years and I think every one of them added something to the tapestry of my life. Even the unpleasant ones. I loved the idea of these brief windows into what love and loss and relationships have been in a person's life (EDIT: each paragraph represents a different relationship). All you'll really learn about ME from this exercise is that I know nothing about drug use, I'm crazy about Tom Waits and I'm very much in love.

Together, these pieces of my past are a journey that helped bring me to the man I am with today, which is a very good place to be.

He was the first everything. We listened to Robyn Hitchcock and Neil Young. He introduced me to Tom Waits. He taught me that I was beautiful. I thought he was the Ginsberg of my generation, I’m not certain he isn’t. Eventually I realized that I, along with his endless chain of cigarettes, had become a replacement drug, a compulsion for the recovered addict. So I ended it. For him and for me. I thought about him when I saw Waits in concert 15 years later and cried the whole time because it was beautiful and because he wasn’t with me to share it.

I was working the drive-through at my second job at the dry cleaner's. The air was greenish and bright and thick with spring rain. Hearing the bell, I looked up to see a red pickup truck pull in, but it didn't stop until the bed was even with the window. I saw raggedy jeans legs and then he leaned down and looked in at me, one arm bulging with two dozen roses and the other holding an enormous umbrella aloft. I stared, speechless, while he grinned and asked if he could walk me home. My friends didn't understand what I saw in him.

The Stone Temple Pilot’s “Big Empty” was playing on the radio while he drove me home. I wouldn’t let myself cry anymore until he was gone. Bruises showed up the next day. Around my neck, across my shoulders. I never spoke to him again. He was the gentlest man I ever met, until he wasn’t.

We went to see the Violent Femmes in concert and screamed the lyrics into each other’s faces for the whole show. Every day was joyous. I knew he would always be smart and handsome and kind, but I was some kind of goddess to him and the pedestal began to make me dizzy.

The first thing he said to me was, “Yer english shur is good.” but he looked like Matthew McConaughey so I tried not to notice.

I was so naive, I really thought he was just naturally thin and twitchy. Then one day he said he was sorry, but hiding his drug use from me was getting in the way of his habit. I couldn’t compete with Cocaine, but then I really didn’t want to.

I wore my velvet pants and he chased me all over the apartment trying to rub my butt and yelling “FUZZY!” with reckless, childlike glee. He sent me a letter once, written in crayon when he was too drunk to find anything else, telling me he loved me. I got a second letter the next day telling me not to open the first letter. I told him I hadn't.

Until he referred to "when we were dating," I had never called it that. I remember it as knocks on my door at 2am and listening to Bright Eyes and The Get Up Kids on my living room floor and standing on a wooden bridge at night talking about things that must have seemed important at the time but have since faded into a haze of angst and poetry and silly banter. He was younger than I and had a halo of blonde curls and a face like some sort of greek sculpture. Always sad, but he made me laugh. Out loud laugh.

His shirts matched his ties matched his suspenders matched his hankerchief. You could eat off his kitchen floor. One night he told me my half of the Chinese takeout was eight dollars and thirty-two cents. I gave him eight dollars and he hesitated a moment before saying that I could give him the rest of it later. I'm not sure what I was thinking.

My first day there we climbed a mountain. Hiking up the side, we could look out into the mist at the ocean and see peaks jutting into the air, speckling the water with islands. It had been four years apart, four years of recovering from something all-consuming. When I lost my footing on the way back down and began to fall, he rushed forward and caught me. It started again.

We walked into the party and everyone hollered and he did that half-hug, back-smacking thing with three different guys before making a beeline for the fridge to get a beer. Our friends started making bets as to how long he was going to keep his shirt on and I wanted to hide in embarrassment. They were literally laying odds and handing over bills. He always took off his shirt. He was a volunteer fireman and the most unabashedly sweet natured human being. His face lit up like a Christmas tree when he laughed. I have a photograph of him wearing furry white bunny ears on a roadtrip we took to Tampa. He isn’t wearing a shirt.

I had been struggling not to but eventually I couldn’t help it. The tears started rolling down my cheeks and then I was choking back little hiccup sobs while I watched him get quieter and quieter. His face became stiff and cold when he was angry. I tried to explain why I was upset and I talked a mile a minute like I always do and he finally shouted, “SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” without looking at my weepy face. He got mad when I cried but he didn't usually yell, so that stung. There was so much more and so much of it was good, but after five years with him all anyone really needs to know is that my tears made him angry.

I was new in the office and I was going to be his contact at our company, so he called to introduce himself. When he started quizzing me about my qualifications I tried to be polite but eventually couldn't take it anymore. I told him I'd been in the business for a decade, was the art director at my last place of employment and that I was fairly certain there was NOTHING he knew that I didn't. I got off the phone and stormed into my boss' office. I declared that someone else was going to have to work with this client because I had no intention of EVER talking to That Man again. It's been three years since that conversation. I think I'm going to spend the rest of my life with him.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies

© Never Bashful with Butter - click the photo to visit her blog!

I'm not EVEN kidding. Since I have recently talked about finger foods and their importance to the holiday, I MUST share this link found via Dave Barry's blog (which tends to ROCK). Never Bashful With Butter created these wacky Bacon Chocolate chip cookies on sort of a dare from her husband and she swears that they are actually very good. So... who's brave enough to try it?

I bet my brother in law would LOVE these. He says bacon is "The King of Meats."

We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Holiday Cheer

“Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.”
- Dave Barry

I love Dave Barry. In fact, he's just about the only person whose quotes I use on here who isn't a woman. I like him THAT much. Like he's an honorary woman on here. In spite of being almost as much unlike a woman as it's possible to be.

Teen Pregnancy, In General

Excellent holiday topic, RIGHT??

Honestly I have no interest in the Spears family specifically, I just think this is an excellent example of a double standard we have in our society. We would prefer that teenagers, but more specifically GIRLS, do not have sex before they are married or at least legally an adult. But we know it will happen anyway, there is little parents can do to prevent it and in a lot of ways sex between teenagers has become socially acceptable. They don't even bother hiding it anymore (when I was a teenager, you HID the fact that you were having sex. Which I was. You didn't talk to everyone about it, dammit. And you didn't let your ass hang out of your jeans! Or your THONG! And we had to walk ten miles in the snow to get to school! Ok, not really. But you get the point.).

So we know this is happening. So some of them are going to get pregnant. Either they don't take proper precautions or they can't figure out how to put the condom on correctly, I DON'T KNOW (hello? Do schools no longer use the bannana method?). But if unplanned pregnancies can happen to adults, then you KNOW it's going to happen to crazed horny teenagers who are way too hormone addled to think straight.

When my mother was young, these girls would be sent away to "stay with a relative" or - if the family had money - "travel abroad" while they had their babies and were then forced to give them up. OR, if they lived in fear of angry parents, they would try to obtain an illegal abortion and possibly die in the process. I'm glad that we don't have that system of shame and danger any longer. The world is a better place for it. I just don't know how you get teenagers to take pregnancy seriously without it. They are old enough to only be scared by real and horrific consequences, they are also at an age when practical consequences like raising a child are less frightening than more abstract consequences like massive public humiliation. But I think the Fire and Brimstone, hide-the-girl-once-she-starts-"showing" approach is wrong. I just don't know what the alternative is.

There is still a lot of shame associated with abortion. I get that and don't really think that's wholly a bad thing (while maybe a sense of gravity might be more appropriate than actual shame). It's a horrific, ugly thing to have to do. I just personally acknowledge that for some people it is the right choice and I prefer to live in a country where it is legal and therefore REGULATED. But I don't think teenage girls should feel like that is what they have to do. I personally know women who had abortions as teenagers that their parents pushed them into. While that may have been better and easier for their parents, it was not necessarily better for them. One woman in particular is still upset over her loss, and it was 20 years ago. Clearly it was not the right choice for her and she should have had options.

But the other option is to have a child when you are yourself a child. That's a difficult road. Some of these girls choose adoption, which I think can be an excellent way to go, but some of them cannot bear to give up their child. That makes sense to me. Were I in those shoes, I don't know if I could do that. How difficult to let go of your child, even if you know it may be best for them. How can you ask that of anyone? It has to be a personal choice.

I know women who look particularly young for their age who find they are given unpleasant looks by strangers when in public with their young children. Because that is the double standard we live with. People look down on the teenage mother who chooses the most difficult road - to keep and raise the child herself. You don't have to BE young to feel that, you just have to LOOK young to know firsthand how poorly people react to it.

We try to teach our children to learn to take responsibility and accept the consequences of their actions.

Then, as a society, we teach teenagers that sex is fun and sells cars and Trojan condoms (or whatever brand has a slick ad right now) are cool and everyone's doing it.

But don't get pregnant.

If you do get pregnant, don't let anyone know.

Hide it, get rid of it, WHATEVER. We, as a society DO NOT want to talk about it. We don't want to know.

If you get rid of it, we REALLY don't want to know about that. If you let it slip that you did THAT, we will hate you for it. For doing what we secretly prefer but forcing us to be AWARE of it.

If you don't hide it or get rid of it, we will treat you differently. We will act like you are beneath us, for the same thing which we would celebrate if you were five years older.... and preferrably married.

We will not acknowledge that you chose to take responsibility and accept the consequences of your actions - like your parents tried to teach you when you were little. Partially because this doesn't fit in with our idea of how the world should be, partially because we're afraid you are contagious and other teenagers wil catch the baby bug and think it is ok.

We will crucify you in order to preserve the sanctity of the teenagers who are not yet pregnant.

We will not acknowledge that this could have happened to any of us when we were 16 or 17 because we were probably having sex at that age, too (we just didn't talk about it so much which, frankly, pisses us off about your generation).

It's a big hypocrisy. It's no win. Once the baby is on the way you have to step back and realize that this girl needs support and the whole world is going to be against her and each and every one of us who smiles reassuringly instead of looking down in judgement is making the world a slightly nicer place (every time you are pleasant to a teenager who is preggers or has babies a fluffy angel kitten gets it's wings, ok?)

Pregnancy is just as hot button an issue as abortion itself, it's just people are more ashamed to admit all the massive issues we have with it. How confused we are about it. Women who want to get pregnant often cannot. Women who don't want to get pregnant often do. You're bad if you get pregnant when you're young or if you're not married, but you're a saint and everyone flutters around you in joyful anticipation if it happens to you when you are older and married. If you do it when you are too old people think you are a freak. If you are too old without ever having done it, people act like something is wrong with you.

Everyone wants to talk about sex and no one wants to talk about unplanned pregnancy. These two topics have more than a little to do with each other so we should probably all start talking about one subject with a little less abandon and the other subject with a little more understanding.

That's all I'm saying.

(Ok. It's out of my system now, I SWEAR.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Spears Pregnancy Media Circus

I'm not going to go on about this, and I rarely address issues in gossip media here at dame. But I'm tired of the hypocrisy.

To be clear, certainly I am saddened that another woman is pregnant before reaching adulthood. It is disturbing that her family allowed her to live with a man who is legally an adult when she is still only 16. I know parents are in a panic as to what they are going to tell their children and I am sympathetic to their discomfort. All over the internet gossip blogs are having a field day. Angry parents are vilifying her for "glamorizing" teen pregnancy. Some people are commending her for making a difficult decision. I think an important point is being missed.

The Spears family have significant rescources. If she had chosen to, young Ms. Spears could have obtained an abortion with complete anonymity. She could have gone on being the popular star of a children's television program and maintained her reputation. A fair number of the same parents who are furious with her for making teen pregnancy seem acceptable would be horrified if she had an abortion. But then, they would never know.

I happen to be Pro-Choice. That does not alter my feeling respect for someone willing to make such a difficult choice. This is unheard of in Hollywood, right? 16 year old television stars do not get pregnant. I think we should be asking ourselves, however, if Ms. Spears is the first particularly young woman in Hollywood to ever have an unplanned pregnancy - or is she simply the first not to choose to take the easy way out?

I don't think this is the first time this has happened. I just think it's the first time I have heard of a young woman in her position putting her personal beliefs ahead of her fame.

EDIT: My friend Larken made a very important point and I wanted to address it - It is difficult to know how accurate these reports are. Although OK magazine was the original source, the information has been confirmed by Nickelodeon via a public statement. If the information IS inaccurate, it is being disseminated by the Spears family. While there has been a lot of negative publicity for Britney, I cannot imagine them conciously countering that with a teen pregnancy scandal. It DOES take the spotlight off of big sis - but that would SERIOUSLY be "taking one for the team."

Based on the information at hand I would have to assume the reports are accurate. If they are not, then Jamie Lynn Spears may be in for a lawsuit from Nickelodeon.

Completely unrelated and irrelevant but I cannot stand that girl's name.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Important Holiday Tradition: Finger Foods

Totally stole this photo from Kraft, but you know what? I use their cheese to make this recipe. ALWAYS. So I think we're even.

Why is it festive to eat food with your fingers? Because people do it at cocktail parties? Because nothing says wild and crazy fun like eschewing silverware? I don't know. But it's TRUE. Finger food = holiday fun

In my family, the particular favorite that just says Oodles of Holiday Joy to us are Sausage Cheese Balls. People have been making these since the invention of Bisquick (a.k.a. "all-purpose baking mix"). Perhaps even before then when housewives everywhere had to use - gasp! - ORDINARY FLOUR (and other stuff). Seriously. The Sausage Cheese ball recipe has been around a LONG time. These "easy party favorites" have been touted in Betty Crocker cookbooks and on the backs of baking mix boxes. Don't make them if you're trying to set up an impressive looking spread because they just aren't pretty. They are ugly, unsophisticated balls of cheesy, spicy joy. My family loves them.

Google Sausage Cheese Balls and you will see 100 variations on the same basic theme insofar as the recipe goes, the main argument being over ratio of cheese to sausage to baking mix.

My Family's Sausage Cheese Balls
are as follows:

1lb. sausage (one of those plastic wrapped logs o' meat)
16 oz. Kraft sharp cheddar cheese (if the recipe is too oily, try switching some of the cheese to the 2% lowfat variety)
2 cups Bisquick or your fave baking mix

(you rocket scientists out there will notice that this is essentially a 1-1-1 ratio. 1lb. = 16 oz. = 2 cups. Yay, MATH!)

Optional additions: chopped onions, French's crispy fried onion thingies or - what I use - a dash of cayenne pepper
If you do not eat pork, you can use Turkey sausage. This recipe is very forgiving in regards to subsitutions, just make sure you have enough whole fat cheese and meat for the recipe to work!

Traditionally recipes tell you to just mix it all together. Don't do that. Mix all the cheese and baking mix (along with any other additions) together as evenly as possible - you're going to need to use your hands, ladies - and THEN work in the sausage. Don't overwork it once the sausage is in, just knead it enough for the sausage fat to spread around a bit and help hold the mixture together. This way, some chunks of sausage stay intact, making the end result much tastier and the cheese and sausage flavors more distinguishable. Personally, I usually cut out a little of the baking mix. I put in 1.5 cups and then add a little of that last half cup later if it seems necessary.

Roll the dough into roughly 1" balls, place on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake at 350ยบ for about 20 minutes or until they are turning golden brown but not actually burning. You may want to let them sit on paper towels for a bit before serving, which is what I do.

For the uninitiated, this is going to sound WIERD. No liquids to make the baking mix stick together? NO. NO additional liquids. Trust me. Once the sausage and cheese begin to cook, they release a lot of oil which bonds the mixture together and provides the "liquid" component of this dough. Sounds awful, but tastes like ooey-gooey heaven.

They are good cold. They are good the next day. My family has always had them for breakast on Christmas day (and Thanksgiving day). My mother makes enough for an army (the recipe as listed above makes A LOT) and then we all snack on them non-stop for days.

Speaking of classic old-time holiday finger foods (drumroll please) this recipe for Holiday Bacon Appetizers appeared on The Pioneer Woman Cooks - source of brilliant artery cloggin' goodness - and I am making these bacon bites along with the sausage cheese balls for some guests this holiday season. They're all going to look at the spread and ask if I'm trying to kill them with premature heart attacks. Then they will eat every sausage and bacon laden bite... And swear undying fealty to me. Just you watch and see.

Friday, December 14, 2007

My Sister is Hilarious

We were just talking about someone we know being pregnant and my sister suddenly blurts out:
"All I know about having babies I learned from ER."

Advice From Someone Who Knows

I know I have previously mentioned having a family member who was severely mentally ill. I also, however, have other family members who struggle with issues like chronic depression, borderline personality disorder and being bipolar (oddly enough, due to my blended family, none of the people dealing with these issues are biologcally related to the family member who was hospitalized and heavily medicated for much of his life due to severe mental illness). Because of my acute awareness of this issue, I wanted to share this post from Dooce.

It absolutely had me in tears, and not because it is in any way sad. It was just wonderful to hear from the perspective of someone on the inside of this situation. It was familiar. I have watched this. My relative who is bipolar went through so much when she was younger and had a long period of just not being the person I knew and loved. She has been on medication now for almost her entire adult life and, while I know she went through some years of struggling with insecurity over "needing" to take it, I think she is at home with it now. She embraces it because she is MORE "her" when she is taking it than when she is not. Proper medication and periodic counseling gave her back to us, and to herself.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Woman Behind the Man in the Red Suit

Mr. and Mrs. Claus, © 2005-2007 Susan Comish Gallery

I would first like to say, that in the course of trying to learn about the origins of Mrs. Claus, I have seen WAY TOO MANY "Deluxe ADULT Mrs. Claus" costumes. Is there an entire section of the population with some wierd fetish I don't know about? Is it really that sexy for a young woman to dress up as a naughty version of what is essentially an iconic, sweet-natured grandmother? Ladies, if you want to dress up all hardcore for the holidays, you don't have to spend $34.95 on a short red tutu and tiny white apron. Save some money. Buy a few yards of 3" thick ribbon at the craft store. Tie a bow around your ass. VOILA! A festive bedroom getup your man is perfectly happy with. Seriously. There's no need to go dragging Mrs. Claus into this.

There were differing reports as to the origins of Mrs. Claus. One account was called "I am Mrs. Claus hear me roar" written by Lisa Bondy for The McGill Tribune. Her assessment boiled down to: "The sad truth is she was created by Thomas Nash in the late 1860s, in a series of illustrations for Harper's magazine, and later embellished by Haddon Sundblom in his billboards for Coca-Cola." The Thomas Nash illustrations DO come up often when searching for Mrs. Claus, but another source was mentioned again and again.

"Mrs. Claus, Santa's wife, was first introduced to the world in 1889 in the book Goody Santa Claus On A Sleigh Ride by the poet Katherine Lee Bates. In this story, Mrs. Claus pleads with Santa to take her along on the annual Christmas Eve sleigh ride to deliver toys to all the good little boys and girls." This account was found at and is corroborated by myriad other online sources.

Bates is best known as the author of America the Beautiful and was apparently the first to feel it was important to put in print the idea of Santa having a wife. There was also a song released in 1956 by George Melachrino, "Mrs. Santa Claus," which helped establish Mrs. Claus and her role in the popular imagination. Today, I am pleased to say, we clearly have reached a point where Mrs. Claus is widely accepted. In spite of any fancy magical abilites he may have due to being the anthropomorphic embodiment of a major holiday, no one would begin to suggest the jolly fat man gets all that work done on his own.

The term goody, by the way, is an out of use "polite term of address for a woman of humble social standing." I looked up the poem and had to share it here. In this version of the story, Mrs. Claus is apparently responsible for tending trees that grow the toys and treats instead of them being built by elves. There are also references to turkeys for Thanksgiving and chickens that lay Easter eggs being her responsibility. So she's a very busy lady. All this makes her "acknowledgement" that stuffing stockings "takes brains" and that she's only fit to hold the reindeer pretty barbed and sarcastic. I'm kind of loving how saucy this version of Mrs. Claus is for a woman in 1889 (particularly considering the last line).

Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh-Ride

By Katharine Lee Bates, Published in 1889

Santa, must I tease in vain, dear? Let me go and hold the reindeer,
While you clamber down the chimneys. Don’t give me that sour smirk!
Why should you have all the glory of the joyous Christmas story,
And poor little Goody Santa Claus have nothing but the work?

It would be so very cozy, you and I, all round and rosy,
Looking like two loving snowballs in our fuzzy Artic furs,
Tucked in warm and snug together, whisking through the winter weather
Where the tinkle of the sleigh-bells is the only sound that stirs.

You just sit here and grow chubby off the goodies in my cubby
From December to December, till your white beard sweeps your knees;
For you must allow, my Goodman, that you’re but a lazy woodman
And rely on me to foster all our fruitful Christmas trees.

While your Saintship waxes holy, year by year, and roly-poly,
Blessed by all the lads and lassies in the limits of the land.
While your toes at home you’re toasting, then poor Goody must go posting
Out to plant and prune and garner, where our fir-tree forests stand.

Oh! But when the toil is sorest how I love our fir-tree forest.
Heart of light and heart of beauty in the Northland cold and dim,
All with gifts and candles laden to delight a boy or maiden,
And its dark-green branches ever murmuring the Christmas hymn.

Yet ask young Jack Frost, our neighbor, who but Goody has the labor,
Feeding roots with milk and honey that the bonbons may be sweet!
Who but Goody knows the reason why the playthings bloom in season
And the ripened toys and trinkets rattle gaily to her feet!

From the time the dollies budded, wiry-boned and saw-dust blooded,
With their waxen eyelids winking when the wind the tree-tops plied,
Have I rested for a minute, until now your pack has in it
All the bright, abundant harvest of the merry Christmastide?

Santa, wouldn’t it be pleasant to surprise me with a present?
And this ride behind the reindeer is the boon your Goody begs;
Think how hard my extra work is, tending the Thanksgiving turkeys
And our flocks of rainbow chickens – those that lay the Easter eggs.

Jump in quick then? That’s my bonny. Hey down derry! Nonny nonny!
While I tie your fur cap closer, I will kiss your ruddy chin.
I’m so pleased I fall to singing, just as sleigh bells take to ringing!
Are the cloud-spun lap robes ready? Tirra-lira! Tuck me in

Off across the starlight Norland, where no plant adorns the moorland
Save the ruby-berried holly and the frolic mistletoe!
Oh, but this is Christmas revel! Off across the frosted level
Where the reindeers’ hoofs strike sparkles from the crispy, crackling snow!

Now we pass through dusky portals to the drowsy land of mortals;
Snow-enfolded, silent cities stretch about us dim and far.
Oh! How sound the world is sleeping, midnight watch no shepherd keeping,
Though an angel-face shines gladly down from every golden star.

Here’s a roof. I’ll hold the reindeer. I suppose this weathervane, Dear,
Some one set here just on purpose for our team to fasten to.
There’s its gilded cock, - the gaby! – wants to crow and tell the baby
We are come. Be careful, Santa! Don’t get smothered in the flue.

Back so soon? No chimney-swallow dives but where his mate can follow.
Bend your cold ear, Sweetheart Santa, down to catch my whisper faint:
Would it be so very shocking if your Goody filled a stocking
Just for once? Oh, dear! Forgive me. Frowns do not become a Saint.

I will peep in at the skylights, where the moon sheds tender twilights
Equally down silken chambers and down attics bare and bleak.
Let me shower with hailstone candies these two dreaming boys – the dandies
In their frilled and fluted nighties, rosy cheek to rosy cheek.

So our sprightly reindeer clamber, with their fairy sleigh of amber,
On from roof to roof, the woven shades of night about us drawn.
On from roof to roof we twinkle, all the silver bells a-tinkle,
Till blooms in yonder blessed East the rose of Christmas dawn.

Now the pack is fairly rifled, and poor Santa’s well nigh stifled;
Yet you would not let your Goody fill a single baby sock;
Yes, I know the task takes brains, Dear. I can only hold the reindeer
And to see me climb down chimney – it would give your nerves a shock.

Santa, don’t pass by that urchin! Shake the pack, and deeply search in
All your pockets. There is always one toy more. I told you so.
Up again? Why, what’s the trouble? On your eyelash winks the bubble
Mortals call a tear, I fancy. Holes in stocking, heel and toe?

Goodman, though your speech is crusty now and then, there’s nothing rusty
In your heart. A child’s least sorrow makes your wet eyes glisten, too;
But I’ll mend that sock so neatly it shall hold your gifts completely.
Take the reins and let me show you what a woman’s wit can do.

Puff! I’m up again, my Deary, flushed a bit and somewhat weary,
With my wedding snow-flake bonnet worse for many a sooty knock;
But be glad you let me wheedle, since, an icicle for needle,
Threaded with the last pale moonbeam, I have darned the laddie’s sock.

Then I tucked a paint-box in it (‘twas no easy task to win it
From the artist of the Autumn leaves) and frost-fruits white and sweet,
With toys your pocket misses – oh! And kisses upon kisses
To cherish safe from evil paths the motherless small feet.

Chirrup! Chirrup! There’s a patter of soft footsteps and a clatter
Of child voices. Speed it, reindeer, up the sparkling Artic Hill!
Merry Christmas, little people! Joy-bells ring in every steeple,
And Goody’s gladdest of the glad. I’ve had my own sweet will.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Being a Better Human

Arthur is my local theater community's resident crackpot old guy. He shows up to any and all auditions that have a male role. He volunteers for set building. If there is a theater holding auditions anywhere in town, you will see him walking down the side of the road in grubby slacks, a disheveled plaid shirt and maybe an old cardigan, his head looking cold with it's sparse covering of wispy white hair as he plods along, determined to attend the audition.

Basically, Arthur is a crazy old man. I don't think he's literally "crazy." I suspect that he has some psychological issues which have been compounded by old age, a difficult personality and many years of lonliness. I do not know his "story." I think he lives in a place downtown that houses low income elderly people. I have never seen him with anyone when he is out walking. He has never mentioned friends or family, but he does not usually talk about himself.

He is not an easy person to talk to or to be around. Arthur communicates in an awkward, stilted manner. His readings are typically a monotone drone interspersed with brief glimspes of warmth. In a show, he has to be watched for backstage directing - he will go up to your lead and tell her she skipped a line. His "directions" are obnoxious and misguided, but closer examination reveals them to be genuinely well intended. There are stories about directors casting him and then having huge problems. You have to provide him with specific and clear directions and appear to be taking his concerns seriously or he becomes mule-like in his refusal to cooperate. It's inconvenient and unprofessional, but it's also community theater. Although Arthur rarely gets cast, there IS a higher level of tolerance than would exist in a professional setting.

This weekend Arthur turned up - two hours late - to an audition I was at. Everyone froze as if a violent escaped mental patient had just wandered in. He has had some sort of surgery on his ear recently so he had bandages on one side of his head which added to his disconcerting appearance. In place of a headshot and resume he handed the director a sheet of paper. When I leaned to the side to catch a glimpse of it, I saw that he had handwritten a resume - covering the entire front and back of a worn page in uneven lines of blue ink.

We were essentially done with the auditions by the time he arrived. The few lingering actors looked around nervously and then rushed the door like rats jumping ship. The director and stage manager stood there uncertain what to do. I could see that if they allowed him to read at all it would be him reading alone on the stage. Arthur was going to be left feeling it was mere formality. Which I am fairly certain it was... But he had walked roughly 2 miles to get there and his intentions were earnest and I hadn't left yet. So I asked the director (who appeared willing to accomodate him, just unsure how do accomplish that) what she would like us to read. We read one of the selections together and when we were done Arthur packed up his things (he always carries a little bundle of papers and a book or two with him) and headed out. He seemed satisfied.

If any other actor had shown up at the last minute, a couple of the young women who were desperately vying for the lead would have leaped at the chance for another read. Another shot to show what they could do. No one wants to help when that last minute actor is Arthur.

We all encounter people like Arthur now and then. Perhaps I would be less inclined to look past Arthur's difficulties if I had not grown up with a close relative who was severely mentally ill. But I know first hand that just because someone behaves oddly or has difficulty communicating does not mean they are a bad person. Functioning in this world is more difficult for the elderly and alone and can be a great deal harder for the mentally ill. But Arthur is still trying. He wants to contribute. He wants to be a part of the community. He doesn't appear to have anyone and he knows how most of the world sees him. He still shows up and shrugs off the whispers and the nervous giggles and he tries.

I wish that when people ran into someone like Arthur, they wouldn't just run the other way. The mentally ill or impaired typically KNOW when they're being dismissed. So many other people have done the same to them. It doesn't take a lot of effort to interact with them in a respectful way. The difficult thing that it requires is overcoming your own fear and awkwardness about interacting with someone who is different and who may have trouble communicating constructively. Most of the time, I think they appreciate just being talked to instead of ignored or overlooked. I know Arthur does.

At first I thought to myself that it was unfortunate that this in no way related to the holiday season which is upon us - and on which I typically focus my posts at this time of year. Then I realized this does relate to the season. Quite sharply, now that I think about it. In this season of giving, what greater gift is there than to give someone a little bit of their dignity back?

Friday, December 07, 2007

It's That Time Again

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it 'Christmas' and went to church; the Jews called it 'Hanukka' and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say 'Merry Christmas!' or 'Happy Hanukka!' or (to the atheists) 'Look out for the wall!'”
- Dave Barry