Friday, September 25, 2009

Never Could Say Goodbye

Some goodbyes are poignant. Some are with relief. Some can be with a hearty “good riddance” or “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”. Some are reluctant, others welcomed, yet others engender a curious combination of emotions that can hit you like a pineapple anchovy pizza. The goodbyes I think about the most are the ones never said; the times when circumstance or misunderstanding did not allow for it, or when the opportunity was simply denied.

I never got to say goodbye to my father. Not really. He died in March of this year. The week before he died, I had called him to thank him for my birthday present. Never a man given to talking a lot, he was even less gregarious than usual. He said he had a cold, and he did sound terrible. I probably should have known, as Dad was always Mr. Impervious to discomfort or pain. Something that would put mere mortals out of commission would be brushed off by my dad (he once went to work in steel-toed boots the day after having ingrown toenails removed). My brother remarked once that Dad could be standing on the moon in his shirtsleeves and not think it was cold. I myself am not made of such strong stuff.

Technically, I never got to say goodbye to my mother either, but at least I was able to make it home to be with her briefly. I was sick myself when my dad passed, so I was unable to travel. It makes a difference.

When I was in graduate school some odd years ago, my dad had a heart bypass operation. I was unable to get home, but it scared me pretty thoroughly. I wrote him a letter telling him that I wanted him to know how much I loved him. I was surprised to get a letter back telling me that it was harder for him to express feelings than it was for “you girls”, but he told me he loved my mother, and me, and my brothers very much. Whenever we talked on the phone (which wasn’t often or long, him being not very talkative as I mentioned), I always told him I loved him and he always said “I love you too, kid.” It always made me feel good, because I knew it was true. Just like I knew he was proud of me overall, even though I managed to make some monumentally stupid moves down the years.

Being an orphan stinks, to put it plainly. However it has had one effect that I did not anticipate or suspect: I find that I try even harder to accomplish my goals because things truly are up to me now. There’s no mommy or daddy to run to even when I have times (as I still do) when I would like to. No place to go, nowhere to hide when the Masters of the Universe engage in a cosmic smack-down.

I would say this to him if I could: I still can’t say goodbye, Dad. I’m still working and trying to keep you and Mom proud of me, and I won’t quit.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rude New World

Is it just me, or does it seem like people have gotten really rude in the last few years? Have civility and manners become outmoded fashion? Does expecting people to behave themselves with at least a modicum of respect for others make me a relic? Ok, I know that there have always been badly behaved people. But seriously. Lately it seems to be epidemic. I’m not talking about Emily Post and which utensil one uses with the aspic. I don’t really care about that. I know it might drive some people up the proverbial wall, but if someone uses the inside fork for the first course, it doesn’t cause the fabric of my cosmos to tear. However, people running off at the mouth when they ought to use their brain first, does bug me.

I’ve been noticing this less than attractive trend for a while now. It happens everywhere. When did people decide that their loud cell phone conversations everywhere from a restaurant to a coffee house to sometimes even outside in close proximity were at all interesting to anyone else? When did people decide that sitting in a legitimate theatre or a movie theatre and talking like it was their living room is acceptable? Are people shopping at the local supermarket so myopic that they can’t see that their conversation with their neighbor while blocking the access to one or more aisles is incredibly annoying? Do the parents of overly active and under-restrained children honestly think that everyone finds their little darling jumping up and down on seats or screaming in the store endearing? If I hear “now, now” one more time… I may throw my own tantrum.

This last week the trend was highlighted publicly and embarrassingly by the actions of both Serena Williams and Congressman Joe Wilson. Now, I of course, don’t personally know either of these people. And let me say right here right now: I’m not discussing politics. Politics are not the point. Neither is race. What I know about Ms. Williams is that she is a phenomenally gifted athlete. What I know about Mr. Wilson is that he is need of a serious hair stylist. That’s pretty much it. What I saw through the magical medium of television, since I was not privileged to attend either the U.S. Open or the joint session of Congress, was, however, appalling. What was even worse was the lukewarm “My emotions got the better of me” statement from both of them. I’m not saying that their apologies were not sincere, because I have no way to know that. I can say what it looked like was two people just going through the motion of an apology.

I suppose I ought to be grateful that much was said, since most of the time people respond to being even gently confronted about their rudeness with a mixture of: 1) disbelief that anyone could find their behavior objectionable, 2) anger that anyone would dare to even mention it and 3) a defensive posture that would serve them well in the WWF. I’m all for assertiveness and standing up for oneself, but acting like an arse just because one has a constitutionally guaranteed right to isn’t the most attractive option that can be taken.

I’d like to think that manners still count. That manners are still taught. That manners are still a concept. That civil behavior is not just something from an old movie. I could just be harboring this na├»ve hope in the face of the Rude New World. I hope not.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friends, Orbital Rings and the Masters of the Universe

It seems to me that the subject the Masters of the Universe have been nudging me to think on this summer has been friends and friendship. I’ve been reunited with friends after circumstances either technological or just plain idiotic separated us for long periods of time. This has been wonderful, and I value these people in my life. Now that summer is sliding gracefully into autumn, I am looking at some other friendships that have not and are likely not to be renewed. There is a curious mix of feelings that accompany this: some confusion still, as the circumstances were such that I never had any say in anything. I was, for reasons still unknown to me, suddenly persona non-grata. There is a memory of fondness for these people. Surprisingly, there is little sadness and no anger at all. I have an amazing capacity to compartmentalize, and these folks have been shut securely away in the box I guess I need to keep them in. Mostly I don’t care. That is where what little sadness I feel comes from. I would like to feel more bereft, but I don’t really.

When I was growing up, I was never one of those girls who participated in the mean girls’ game of backstabbing and gossiping about my friends. My mother taught me very early how important friendships were. Some would just happen, but still it was important to choose carefully, and important to maintain them. She told me it wasn’t ever a good idea to have a falling out with a girlfriend over a boy. Eventually the boy would be yesterday’s news and another would come along (she was right, you know). True friends are much more rare and valuable. She taught me a very specific definition of friendship: one that counted honesty, loyalty and honor to be highly valued. Consequentially, I never had a huge “entourage”, or gang of friends, but the friends I did have were truly my friends. I was, however, quite guilty of slipshod maintenance, mainly because as a creative person, I tend to get lost in time. I could blink and realize that weeks or months have gone by. Not everyone understands or has the patience for that.

In later years, I came to think of non-romantic relationships in terms of “orbital rings”. Not because I have such an inflated opinion of myself that I think I am the sun or a nucleus or anything, but because the image makes sense for how I think of things. Those who are closest to me occupy the innermost ring; those slightly less close, the next outer ring and so on until the “acquaintance ring”. Everyone else is just out there in the space somewhere. Most of the time trouble would come from someone on a more outer ring competing with someone on an inner ring. The oddity of it was that every time, the inner ring dweller didn’t engage with the one trying to compete. For myself, I could never understand what was so great about me that would make someone want to compete in the first place, but it happened several times.

I know that this orbital competition happens for other people too. This last year, someone from a mid-way ring for both my best friend and I and whom both of us have known and been fond of for a very long time caused chaos in the universe when they decided that they could no longer abide my being on my best friend’s inner orbital ring because it was their rightful place. It was ugly. It was unnecessary. It caused a lot of people a lot of pain. In the end, the person who attempted ring-jumping was jettisoned out into the deepest reaches of space. A lot of years gone up in smoke.

When I think on the actions of this now former friend, and on the actions of the former friends who exiled me, something else my mother taught me comes to mind. She used to say “don’t expect people to sink to certain levels, but don’t be surprised when they do”. I try to keep that in mind, but sometimes I am still surprised. Maybe because I have tried to choose carefully when it comes to friends and so when things like this happen it makes me question my judgment. Maybe because despite all the evidence to the contrary in so many walks of life, I want to believe that other people have the same definitions of friendship and code that I do. I don’t know.

What I do know is this: I have reached a point in my life now where my inner orbital ring is stable. Time and experience have taught me much, and I do not take for granted those I care about and who care about me. I force myself out of the creative universe and onto terra firma to ensure that I feed and water the friendships I have. As for stability in the more outer rings? Tell the Masters of the Universe that I’m working on it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Benevolent Monarch

A sure sign of the seasons beginning to change has come to my house this week. His Royal Catness Prince Mabon has begun consuming food in mass quantities. He is “bulking up” for winter, even though he has already got plenty of bulk at eighteen pounds. Winter ought to be in quotation marks as well, as his entire experience of winter consists of sitting by the window in cozy warmth and gazing out upon the snowy domain. While, I, human serf to the Royal One, risk freezing eyelids, frosted lung lining and potential Bambi-on-ice displays of grace all in the name of working to keep him in The Style To Which He Has Become Accustomed. You would think he would be grateful. Appreciative, maybe. You would be wrong.

The cat world view is quite simple: humans exist to serve their superior furry feline overlords. Humans are tolerated as long as and only as long as they fulfill this function to perfection. Any failure is responded to with a display of disdain as only a cat can manage: what I like to call the “kitty finger”. Cats are adept at showmanship, and the kitty finger is no exception. They turn their back to the disgraced human with a flourish of tail, then sit, studiously ignoring, flicking the tail back and forth. The length of tail, velocity and interval of repetition of said tail flick indicates the level of displeasure one is under. No amount of sweet-talking, cajoling, suggesting of things to play moves them. The human must undergo the punishment for as long as deemed appropriate. Or until you go out into the kitchen and open a can. A can of anything will do. Suddenly, all is forgiven! As with any fickle and capricious monarch, a person’s fortunes rise and fall with astonishing rapidity.

This is not to say that we serfs receive nothing in return. They have an uncanny sense of when we feel sick or depressed, and so they sit with you (or more often on you) to comfort you. Or so you think. Actually they are continuing to exert their domination by deigning to show what passes for affection. This is the cat version of “bread and circuses” known as “snuggling and purring”. You can choose whether or not you wish to be fooled. I choose to be. I actually buy into the happy chirpy greeting I get when I come home.

HRC Prince Mabon is a benevolent monarch, even if he does eat through the equivalent of the GNP of several small nations.

Winter approacheth.