Oh, she totally does!

I recently started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, What the Dog Saw. One of the book’s essays is about the first ad campaigns for at-home hair color, and how those campaigns represent a significant shift in advertising to women.

As we all know, marketing to women used to be generally about shame.

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“My whorish painted lips are such a turnoff for Pete! If only I could find a color never before seen in nature, with the alluring texture of spackle…”

 

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“If my plane loses both engines, it’s important to me that a fetching young lass with a voice like a melody be the one screaming ‘Assume the crash position.'”
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“You unhappy, ugly, infertile women better resign yourselves to beating your laundry on rocks, because you’re not getting a damn thing.”

In the book, Gladwell tells the story of Shirley Polykoff, a junior copywriter in New York. Polykoff’s hairdresser had been lightening her hair since she was 15, and by the time Polykoff reached working age, she was fully blonde. She went to a Passover meal at the home of her boyfriend, and while the boyfriend’s father was warm and friendly, Polykoff received an icier reception from her boyfriend’s mother. Safely back in the car, Polykoff asked her boyfriend why his mother didn’t seem to like her.

Polykoff’s boyfriend told her that his mother thought Polykoff “painted” her hair — something no nice girl did! He repeated the question his mother had posed in Yiddish, which, translated, was: “Does she or doesn’t she?”

 

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“WHAT? No they don’t.”

You may recognize that as the tagline of the first campaign. To overcome the idea that only harlots and starlets colored their hair, the ad company went out of their way to use wholesome looking women to sell their product.

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“A mother and child on a bed of flowers? Gee, Bob. Maybe we ought to reconsider our stance that only whores use hair color?”

Some years later, L’Oreal was coming to America, and knew that gaining market share from Clairol wasn’t going to be easy. They needed a tagline that would elevate a woman’s decision to color her hair into something more than just a desire to look better. In a stroke of brilliance, their ad company decided to tie haircolor to self worth, and the “Because I’m worth it” campaign was born.

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“I will use anything — ANYTHING — as long as it’s expensive. Because I’m a superficial, shallow woman.”

If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that here at What’s Left Undone, we are firm believers in dousing ourselves in Lysol every day in order to keep our hair smelling fresh. Furthermore, we fret all day long about our dishpan hands, and how they’re keeping romance at bay.  (Advertising our worries)

But Gladwell’s point — that at-home hair color marked a dramatic shift in how products were marketed to women — really came home to roost when I saw, for the first time, the new Dove campaign for deodorant.

 

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Have you seen these ads? Have you heard them?!  The voice over for the TV spots goes something like this:

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“Arm pits are amazing! Stupendous! Absolutely brilliant! In fact, armpits are the only reason to get up in the morning. And you, lucky consumer, you have TWO of them! Wow! You should be CELEBRATING your armpits EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY, because they are truly the very best things ON THE PLANET!”

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ERMAHGERD!! ERMPITS!!

Really, Dove? Let’s dial it back a notch, shall we? 

There are plenty of things to celebrate about the human body. Like how it gets out of bed in the morning, even after you’ve thoroughly abused it with way too much beer and Indian food. Like how it allows some of us (not me) to run marathons and climb mountains. Like how you can give a kidney to a friend, and carry on living with only one, like you never wanted that other one in the first place. Like how you would rather stab a fork in your eye than go to an Aerobics class, but think nothing of jumping up and down for four and a half hours at a rock concert.

But armpits?

I thought I might be missing something, so I decided to do some research.

I asked myself that critical question: Should I be celebrating my armpits? And then I asked the corollary question: Are other people celebrating their armpits, and if so, how?

Herewith, my findings:

  1. My friends are not celebrating their armpits. They are working, raising children, and actively making the world a better place, but not one of them is celebrating her (or his) armpits.
  2. Taylor Swift occasionally celebrates her armpits.    images-11.jpg
  3. There is a website called Arab Armpit Lovers. I do not recommend it.
  4. There are numerous websites celebrating hairy female armpits. You do you, honey.
  5. Armpit tattoos are a major thing. I don’t know how I missed that.

 

I’m glad advertisers are no longer shaming women (for the most part), but I do think the whole ‘celebrate your pits’ campaign is a bit odd. What’s next? Celebrate that rough patch between your toes that doesn’t respond to any sort of cream, even the expensive, prescription-only steroid ones?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that even Dove realized it went too far, when the decision was made to pull the following piece of the current campaign:

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Maybe the good people of New Jersey were just too busy celebrating their own, personal armpits to appreciate the goodwill of this statewide ad celebration! That’s the only thing I can think of.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to tend to these hideous dishpan hands…

 

Feed your neighbor, or your ego?

It’s hard to feel happy these days, isn’t it?

The world seems to be in disarray, hatred and violence are the rule, and everyone on the planet seems to wake up feeling brittle and prickly and exhausted. We’re all stuck in our own little corners of certitude, demanding recognition out of one corner of our mouths, and lobbing verbal grenades out of the other. The connectedness and community that we all need has been replaced by individual silos constructed entirely of disdain, fear, and generalized derision.

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“Here comes my opinion! If you don’t agree with it, you’re obviously an idiot.”

I’ve been a silent observer to at least twenty different conversations in the past few weeks with people who cannot fathom, much less tolerate, that others might have legitimate and considered reasons for thinking differently than they themselves do. They’re willing to end friendships, isolate themselves from neighbors, and go to great lengths to avoid interacting with anyone they suspect — or know — might have a different way of seeing the world, possess a different set of values, or hold a different set of priorities.

Guess what, folks?

This isn’t a sustainable position, if we actually want to see things improve. We’re going to need to scoot over and make room for other people at the table.

And, furthermore, we’re going to need to check ourselves on what we’re putting out into the world. If we spend all day believing, and promulgating, the notion that people who hold different views than ours are idiots, or crazy, or unenlightened, or subhuman, or a**holes…well, we should anticipate a good bit of return on the investment we’ve made in being hateful. 

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Not all of these people agree with me, but yet they still find the will to live. Crazy, huh?

 

I’m not advocating in the least that we give up our desire to see change in the world. God knows, we need change, in about a hundred different venues.  

But the way to work for positive change doesn’t begin, or end, with taking potshots at people who don’t share our perspective. When we lob insults, pick and choose the facts that support our positions while ignoring anything that might add nuance to the context, and assume the worst of anyone who sees things differently than we do, we’re not actually working for change. We’re working for our own egos. 

 

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So, maybe we should come out of our bunkers, and acknowledge that other people exist. Admit that the universe didn’t begin in your birth or mine, and won’t end with either of our deaths. That you have a right to be here, no less than the trees and the stars, as Max Ehrmann wrote in the Desiderata, but so do I, and so does everyone else — even the people who don’t agree with you or me.

There are battles that are 100% worth being fought right now, but these fights cannot be won without finding common ground, and using that commonality as the foundation of further growth.

How do we find common ground?

Well, first we stop lobbing grenades. And then we focus our energy on positive engagement with our fellow man, which requires that we stop seeing the world as a zero-sum game, in which I win and you lose, or you win and I lose. When we value our neighbor — who is as flawed and scared and scarred as we are —  as much as we value ourselves, we all win.

History has taught us that progress requires connection, not isolation. Social progress requires mutual respect, acknowledgment of our interconnectedness, and open communication — not respect limited only to those who fall in line with our thinking, and connectedness only with those who echo our own beliefs, and communication only with those who see the world as we do. 

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Are you contributing to a solution, or exacerbating the problem? In other words, are you feeding your neighbor, or feeding your ego? 

But maybe you’re really bogged down, and have stock-piled so many grenades that you can’t imagine leaving them unused.

If that’s true — if you can’t, or won’t, see that your own dignity, not the recipient’s, is being actively compromised by hateful rhetoric or snide remarks or pejorative online commentary, then reconsider your contribution to the current toxic fog for selfish reasons:

Every day you spend in hate and anger is one less you spend in joy and love.

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Thankfully, today is a new day. A day when we can resolve to actively seek the good in others. A day when we can listen, rather than speak. A day when we can step out into the world without fear that our neighbor’s differing perspective makes ours any less worthwhile. A day when we can lower our defenses, and reach out to someone in compassion. A day when we can disassemble our silo, and re-establish community.

Give the Desiderata a read; there’s some good advice in it. And for God’s sake, put the grenades away. They’re not helping.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Read it. Heed it.

“It’s not enough to read the writing on the wall. You also have to heed it.” 

This is the phrase that’s been running through my head lately. I’d like to tell you that it was said by someone great — a poet or statesman or Robert Duvall or at the very least Oprah — but I said it. (However, if Bob Duvall wants to take credit, that’s fine by me. Call me, Bob.)

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Sometimes the writing on the wall is complicated, and requires a stepstool.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because, in the last week, I had to make a difficult decision to cut myself loose from more than one thing I’d thought was going to be great.

Deciding to change course is a painful process, isn’t it? We put so much hope in a particular job or opportunity or place or relationship, and then… things just don’t work out. The writing on the wall — those words that say, “This isn’t going to end the way you wanted it to” — become clearer and clearer, until, finally, the message is unavoidable. We can’t help but read it. 

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Sometimes the writing is large. And terrifying.

“The writing on the wall” comes to us from the Old Testament’s Book of Daniel. In Daniel 5, Belshatzar the king is giving a huge banquet using the golden goblets and plates and chalices his father stole from the Temple in Jerusalem. 

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Here’s how Frans Francken painted Belshatzar’s feast. So sumptuous! (Editor’s note: Frans Francken would make a great band name.)

 

In the middle of the feast, a hand appears out of the ether and begins writing on the wall of the banquet room. Belshatzar, understandably, is a bit taken aback. Check out his face, as Rembrandt painted it:

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“What the what?”

He freaks out, and, knees knocking, calls in his soothsayers and magicians to interpret the writing. But they can’t make anything of it. Belshatzar freaks out a bit more, and then he queen comes in, all reasonable and calm. She tells Belshatzar to be cool, because she knows a guy.

Daniel, captured by Belshatzar’s father in Judah (along with the plates), is a prisoner.  The king orders him to come in, and Daniel interprets the writing to mean that the king’s reign is coming to an end:  “This is the interpretation of the matter: mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; tekel, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” (Dan.5:26-28)

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Here’s an icon of Daniel. Please admire his righteous mullet.

None of this was good news for Belshatzar, and thus, “the writing on the wall” has been handed down to us to mean signs and omens that don’t bode well for a successful outcome. 

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MENE, MENE,  TEKEL, UFARSIN. In other words, pack your bags, Belshatzar.

How many times have you seen the writing on the wall, but dithered about heeding it?  “Well,” we tell ourselves, “If I overlook the first and third words, and move the fifth in front of the fourth and reverse the letters in the ninth, maybe things won’t be so bad.”

That’s the wrong way to go about it, because you inevitably end up looking back from a place of regret, wishing you’d pulled the plug earlier, or changed course, or seen things as they really were, and not as you wished them to be.

When the writing’s on the wall, the trick is to read it, and heed it.

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Another representation of Daniel. I like the cherry on top of his head sundae.

If what you are giving your time, or money, or love, or life to isn’t working, it’s time to re-evaluate. And as you do, remember this story from Australia, and “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying:”

Bronnie Ware, the book’s author, worked in palliative care, where the primary aim is relieving the pain and stress of dying. Based on the experiences of her patients at the end of their lives, Ware compiled the five biggest regrets her patients admitted:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. According to an interview Ware, this was the most common regret. Ware said, “Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. “This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship,” Ware said. “All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Ware said, “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. “There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved,” Ware said.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice,” Ware said. “They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

 

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Is the writing on the wall warning you away from any of these regrets? If so, it’s time to take heed!

Lizard Lessons.

I just re-watched The Night of the Iguana, a film based on a Tennessee Williams play. The first time I saw this film, I had pneumonia (the walking kind, which is nice, since I like my illnesses to be mobile).

Minus the fever, I like the film even more. There are mariachi-wielding, hot-blooded Latin men, lovely scenery, great actors, a superb script, and yes, an iguana.

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Oh, look! There he is!

 

Richard Burton plays an Episcopal priest who is in serious trouble for having an affair with a teenager. He’s recently been released from a psychiatric hospital and found employment leading a tour group. He’s a pretty awful tour guide.

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Before, when he was still a man of the cloth. You can tell he’s teetering on the edge, can’t you? 

Suffice to say, the tour group doesn’t think much of Burton, and Burton himself is having a bit of a mental breakdown. What’s nice is that he’s made his way to his old friend Ava Gardner’s seaside hotel in Mexico, which turns out to be a good place to fall apart.

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Palm trees make a lovely backdrop for a personal unraveling.

Due to his outlandish behavior, and for his own safety, in one scene Burton gets trussed to a hammock. He’s whining, playing the victim, lamenting how heavy his burdens and how tough his life are, but Deborah Kerr, who’s a guest at the hotel, is having none of it.

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That’s Richard tied up like a Turducken. Deborah Kerr is in the flowing dress with the fetching bow at the neck.

Deborah Kerr obviously likes Burton, but he can’t imagine why she does, since he’s such a mess. He says something to the effect of, “I’m broke, spooked, and unemployed; what could you possibly see that’s good in me?”

(Here’s where it gets profound.)

Deborah Kerr answers,”Why, those are just your circumstances — not who you are.”

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Her words are kind, but her face says,”Snap out of it before I flip this hammock!” Never mistake a Peter Pan collar for weakness.

Let that sink in: Those are just your circumstances, not who you are.

 

 

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Ava Gardner’s character is in dire straits. She’s a widow, her hotel is falling apart, she loves Richard Burton’s character, and her house band plays aggressively sexual mariachi. Although, come to think of it, that’s last one’s not much of a problem for her…

It’s often so difficult to see beyond our circumstances, and to remember that they don’t define us. Illness, divorce, un/underemployment, natural disasters, financial concerns, accidents, betrayal, family woes, spiritual poverty, legal troubles….these things get us in their merciless grip, and make it hard to remember that we are more than whatever is going ass-end-up at the moment.

When I was in elementary school, my best buddy’s mom had cancer. She lost the fight, and her funeral, the first I ever attended, was gut-wrenching.  I visited her grave years later, and this is what’s written on the center of her headstone:

I am this, and I am more.

It took me thirty years to understand what I think she was trying to say: that none of the circumstances of her life — including the horrible cancer that ended her time on Earth — were who she was. They were just her circumstances, and they didn’t define her. 

It’s discouraging to hear so many young people today defining themselves by their various ailments and woes. Yes, some of them have been through seriously trying times…but wouldn’t it be better to rejoice in the fact of survival, rather than dwell on the difficulties?

Wouldn’t it be better to realize you are more than the worst thing that’s happened to you — and that nothing that happens in your life, not even the very worst thing, defines who you are, or how you should interact with the world?

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Rejoicing that you are strong, resilient, and ALIVE may involve mariachis. You do you, sweetie.

Deborah Kerr and Richard Burton and Ava Gardner are all long gone, as is Tennessee Williams. But take it from them, and spare yourself being tied to a hammock: You are not defined by the circumstances of your life.

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Ava Gardner making the best of her  mariachi band burden.

Yes, life can be unfair. Unkind. Unbelievably difficult. 

But this is your one go-round here, and none of that crap makes you YOU.

You are this, and you are more.

And that’s something to celebrate!

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I swear to God, Frank, when I find the mariachi-playing idiot who tied me up like this…

Grace, Redux.

This morning, a flight notification popped up on my calendar, informing me that I’m heading to Kansas in a few weeks. I wish! It’s actually a holdover from last year at this time; apparently I inadvertently set it up as a repeating event.

I wrote parts of the post below sitting at a formica table in the Wichita Airport, long before Hurricane Harvey. I am revisiting it today because, in a world that’s been fairly bleak for the last few months, there are so many examples of grace at work in the world right now, especially in Houston.

Take, for instance, the furniture seller who opened his stores to people displaced by the storm. “Mattress Mack,” by any assessment, is an instrument of grace.

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Not only is he providing shelter, Mattress Mack is using the stores’ kitchens to feed everyone three times a day.

The people rescuing residents and pets by boat, driving tractor-trailers full of supplies, opening their hearts and homes and wallets to care for strangers: they are grace at work in the world. 

Grace, you see, has a habit of appearing suddenly, when we are at our wit’s end and desperately need a helping hand.

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What took me to Kansas last year was the chance to meet with people from an organization that works to improve the lives of children and families. One facet of what they provide is a residential treatment facility for children whose suffering precludes their remaining at home — suffering that, unfortunately, takes many, many shapes and forms, and has a mind-boggling variety of root causes.

The facility is a masterpiece of forward-thinking. The staff are highly-trained, committed, and resilient. But submitting to any kind of authority is difficult for many of these children, who’ve had little to no structure in their lives. Redirecting the instinct to act out is a big part of the program, since living in community with others and learning to accept help and abide by rules is key to a productive, happy future.

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So, the kids are given behavioral assessments and assigned a color. If you’ve had a difficult morning and are on red, for example, there are coping and positive behavior skills that you must model before you can earn back the privileges that go with being on green.

There are over a hundred and sixty positive behaviors that a resident may do to return to good standing. The behaviors are drawn from a deck of cards.

But here are two things that I found amazing:
1. The behavioral assessments are done at every shift change
— not at the end of every day, or every week. This is critical, because it means that if a child has had a bad morning or afternoon, the afternoon or evening provides a means of turning the day around.

 

As the gentleman leading the tour explained, even going an entire day without the chance to return to a positive state is too long. “Because the kids know another assessment is coming, soon, they have hope. They know that they have the ability to change their behavior, and see the results. Hope is essential.

2. The deck of cards — the 160+ positive behaviors that a child can use to turn their day around — holds some special cards that may be drawn at random by any child, at any time. When one of them is drawn, the child no longer has to perform the skill that would return them to a positive behavior assessment; they get returned to green status just by virtue of drawing the special card.

These are the Grace Cards.

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In Italian, sunflowers are called girasole – literally, “turn to the sun.”

 

Grace Cards! What a wonderfully visible, tangible reminder that grace comes to each of us undeserved, unbidden, and unearned, to give us hope and, like the sunflowers that grow all across Kansas, reorient us towards the light.

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Anne Lamott explains grace this way:

“It is unearned love–the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate … Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.” (Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith)

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My hope is that we all learn to look at the cards that we’ve been dealt — as bleak as they may seem in the moment — and see the Grace Cards that have been, are now, and will ever be, in our deck.

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Let us remember that grace takes many forms, and doesn’t play favorites. God’s grace doesn’t care what faith tradition, church, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, or socio-economic status you claim. It is given, freely, by a God who sees us only as his beloved children, and asks only that we care for one another.

images-1May our eyes be open to recognize grace…

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And may we let grace reorient us towards light, and hope.

If you haven’t seen this video yet, take two minutes to watch grace take the form of a beautiful voice!

 

Gospel Singers in Houston shelter

Thanks for the Memories

I was 4 when the song Rhinestone Cowboy was released, and it caught my imagination in a big way. We had a car with a fold-down booster-seat type thing, and I clearly remember riding between my parents, in those heady days before seat belts and car seats, and singing along.

[Take a minute to imagine, if you will, how much my brother must have enjoyed my singing. Who wouldn’t want an incessant concert, featuring such classics as the entire “Free to Be You and Me” soundtrack and Captain & Tennille’s classic “Muskrat Love,” delivered by their little sister at top volume? You’re welcome, Snarky Assbadger!]*

As soon as I heard the opening notes, I was no longer a tangle-haired, skinned-knee kid, but rather the Rhinestone Cowboy (cowgirl? cowperson?) himself, riding out on my horse in a star-spangled rodeo to wild applause and tremendous personal satisfaction.  

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Swap out the cactus for some Florida swamp scrub, the horse for a Toyota, and Glen Campbell for a kid who roller skated 6 hours a day, and this is exactly what it looked like.

As you already know, Glen Campbell died earlier this week. He didn’t write Rhinestone Cowboy –  a gentleman named Larry Weiss did – but he certainly brought it to life.

Fast forward some decades later, and Wichita Lineman replaced Rhinestone Cowboy as my personal Glen Campbell favorite, largely for its line, “And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time.” Was there ever a more sweeping and poignant statement of love? 

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I hear you singing in the wire. I can hear you through the whine. 

Jimmy Webb, who wrote Lineman, summed up his intentions with the song in an interview with American Songwriter: “What I was really trying to say was, you can see someone working in construction or working in a field, a migrant worker or a truck driver, and you may think you know what’s going on inside him, but you don’t. You can’t assume that just because someone’s in a menial job that they don’t have dreams … or extraordinary concepts going around in their head, like ‘I need you more than want you; and I want you for all time.’ You can’t assume that a man isn’t a poet. And that’s really what the song is about.”

I like that — “you can’t assume that a man isn’t a poet.” I think there’s a poet inside all of us, and by that I don’t mean an actual poet (although maybe that is your bent, and if so, by all means, go for it), but an urge towards something bigger, something that marks the world in a way that says to future generations, “I was here. My life mattered.” Maybe it’s that divine spark that Rabbi Nachman was always on about. [Schechinah & Pointe du Hoc]

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The problem is, on the way to making your mark, there is (as the Rhinestone Cowboy so aptly laments) “a load of compromising.” The poetry of your life, in whatever form it takes, can get lost in quotidian concerns. Or swallowed up by fear. Or sacrificed to other people’s agendas. 

Or, in my case, lost to hours sitting in the ER waiting room. 

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Anyone who brings Chik Fil A to an ER waiting room better have enough to share. Those two women in the corner are getting ready to square up over some Chik’n Minis, I can tell.

In the past two weeks, I managed to use a carpet-tacking hammer thing (I don’t know what it’s called, but you slam it down into the carpet to tack the edges) to drive the surgical pins into my finger sideways, got hit by a tree so hard across the head that I actually saw stars, and — just about an hour ago — slid on a wet cobblestone and landed on landscape edging with my right knee. (If you’re in the area and would like to see an exposed human patella, come by! But bring drinks. And call first, since I decided that getting back into a nightgown was the best plan for today).  

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Surgical pins, pre-tacking accident.

In my defense, the carpet tacking incident was a one-off error that could have happened to anyone with surgical pins in her hand crawling around an outdoor deck laying astroturf for the first time ever.

And the tree slap was because we were using a chipper, and to amuse myself, I’d named it “Igor” and was pretending to feed it. As I slid a holly tree into Igor’s steel maw, Igor got so excited that he twisted the trunk like an oversized toothpick, and caught me square across the left-side of my face. Igor’s fault, obviously, but you can’t really blame him, seeing as how he’s a machine and all that.

And this morning’s fall was due to rain and having my hands full, and I take pride in the fact that, while everything in my hands went flying, nothing broke. Talent, yes?!

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Would you look at that? This guy’s wearing protective gear! Note to self…

In any event, whatever poetry I might have had inside me this morning was severely compromised by my need to address my latest injury. This is all that was left:

Gauze and Neosporin,

Peroxide to pour in,

Is that my kneecap

Shining through the blood?

Where are all the Bandaids?

I sure hope this scar fades.

Is it wrong of me

To just go back to bed?

A shower and a cold drink

Will help, I do think.

Plus a suit made of Bubblewrap,

and a helmet for my head.

You’re welcome.

Back to the point.

Alzheimer’s, which Glen Campbell had, is an insidious disease. It steals everything from its victims: life skills, relationships, memories.  As Nancy Reagan said, it’s “the long, long goodbye.” When someone who’s had an extraordinarily life, like Glen Campbell or Ronald Reagan — full of memorable events, the likes of which most of us will never know — gets an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, you realize what a truly cruel thief this disease is.

But there are currently over 5 million Americans with this disease, and over 40 million people worldwide.

And as Jimmy Webb so beautifully expressed, each of those people has dreams, and moments of poetry in their lives — all 40 million of them, not just the people whose lives are lived in the spotlight. All 40 million of them want to matter, and no doubt do, to the people who loved them.

So I’ll take the memories of all these ridiculous injuries, and of all the heartbreaks, loss, and anguish in life that accompany the good times. And I’ll keep battling to make a mark on the world somehow, even though far too much of my time is spent rifling through the medicine cabinet.

Because the alternative — having no memories at all, and allowing this one trip through life to be wholly absent the poetry — is simply unimaginable. 

RIP, Glen Campbell. Thanks for the memories. I’m still on the wire. I can still hear you through the whine.

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*The Snarky Assbadger and I recently took a road trip and, after 8 hours in the car, realized we’d had the radio on the Sirius Preview channel the entire time. Either we talk too much, or we’re both going deaf.

Here’s a link to the interview with Jimmy Webb, if you’re interested:  American Songwriter/Jimmy Webb

And, if you’re like me and you’re still loving the Lineman, here’s Glen Campbell on The Smothers Brothers Hour: The Wichita Lineman

Goldens for Oldies

With all the graduations and weddings that took place this summer, many of us are feeling a little long in the tooth.  We used to go to our friends’ weddings and graduations — now we go to our friends’ children’s weddings and graduations. (Weren’t those kids just in diapers?) And to add insult to injury, our own alumni associations send out reunion announcements with ridiculously high numbers on them, as if it could possibly be true that 25 years or more have passed since college.

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Champ graduated the same year I did.

Aging is an insidious process, and the physical changes that come with it are undeniable. Huffington Post published an article recently claiming that, in addition to the myriad physical changes, our personalities change as we age, too. I’m sure that’s true. Certainly our tastes do — in food, people, and entertainment.

Our taste in books changes, too. As my friend Kelly said to me recently, “The main thing I look for now is a plot I can nap with.”

That’s exactly my standard, as well. If I fall asleep on page 83, am I going to have to re-read twenty pages to remember what was going on? If so, I’m not interested. This is not the time of life for convoluted plots with multiple characters and overlapping narrative arcs. That’s what college is for.

So, with our collective napping needs in mind, I’ve put together a list of Reading for the Rapidly Aging, or as we like to call it here at What’s Left Undone, Goldens for Oldies

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Bob is resting his eyes between chapters 2 and 3.
  1. At Dawn We Rose .. But at 5 pm We SleptA follow-up to At Dawn We Slept, this novel follows Pearl Harbor Vets on a typical day in Peaceful Palms Retirement Village. Multiple first-person accounts allow the reader to experience the terror of an unwelcome interruption — in the form of a visit from Jehovah’s Witnesses — to their highly regimented schedule of wake at 0430, nap at 0900, lunch at 1000, nap at 1400, supper at 1600, bedtime at 1700. “Few books have made me appreciate the benefits of gated communities, and fiber regularity, quite as much as this one.” — General Buck McQuaid (US Army, Ret.)

download-12. Love in the Time of Cataracts. The cholera epidemic is over, but a lifetime of relentless sunshine has left the inhabitants of this Colombian village with a pandemic of occular opacity in this sequel to Love in the Time of Cholera. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s look at life through the lens of wrap-around blackout glasses, which he receives from his opthamologist following a diagnosis of bilateral cataractous lenses, will thrill you from its innocent beginnings to its titillating end. Sample chapter: “Mami Chula: Are My Pupils Dilated, Or Has My Neighbor’s Wife Never Looked So Good?” 

download-43. Travails for Mister Whiskers. John Steinbeck has ditched his standard poodle for this follow-up to Travels with Charley. While the first trip took Steinbeck and his dog across America, this novel traces the author’s journey from the pharmacy waiting area to the checkout counter at Walgreen’s, where the author realizes he’s forgotten to buy treats for his aged Persian. The novel chronicles Steinbeck’s tortuous return to the rear of the store, including an encounter with a former neighbor in the greeting card aisle, and a narrowly missed interaction with an ex-lover next to the endcap of home tooth whitening kits. “I could relate to Steinbeck’s frustration, having made this trip many times myself. I reckon they could stand to move the pharmacy closer to the front, if you ask me.” – Gladys Sampson of Milledgeville, GA.

download-54. The Things They Forgot to Bring. Tim O’Brien’s sequel to The Things They Carriedthis book explores a VietNam veteran’s quest to pack for a visit to his daughter’s house in Akron, Ohio. Already on edge at the prospect of spending a weekend in the company of his ne’er-do-well son in law, disaster strikes for the protagonist when he settles into his seat near the lavatory and realizes that he has mistakenly packed Viagra instead of Lipitor. *Audiobook narrated by Ted Nugent is accompanied by a free sample of Viagra. Limit one per customer.

the_things_they_carried5. Lunch is Elsewhere. This is Milan Kundera’s follow up to Life is Elsewhere, which told the story of Jaromil, a Czech poet in World War II. Kundera’s riveting sequel follows Jaromil, now in his late 70s, in his epic struggle to recall where he placed his pastrami sandwich before going to the bathroom. “I laughed, I cried, I ordered in a Reuben from the deli downstairs.” — Bob James, US News & World Report

download-26. Is That a G*ddamn Mockingbird? This little-known forerunner to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird asks a question that demands an answer: What in the name of all that is holy is making that god-awful racket outside the bedroom window when I’m trying to sleep at 8:00 pm? As the protagonist deliberates over her course of action, the reader is forced to examine his own stance on both gun control and noise pollution. From the book jacket: “Beloved of both ornithologists and the NRA, if you’ve ever wished to pop a cap in the feathers of one of God’s squawking creatures, you’ll love this novel by first-time author Harper Lee.”  

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7. The Grandfather. Long retired from controlling the narcotics trade and gambling operations of the Five Families, Mario Puzo’s beloved Godfather, Vito Corleone, now oversees the distribution of lint-covered licorice candies from the pockets of his wool cardigan, which he wears year-round. “Redolent of the marinara and torta della nonna of our youth, Puzo’s The Grandfather is a feast for the soul.” – Marina della Piace, Italian-American Book Review. 

godather8. Alice’s Adventures in Walmart. Aged 83 years young, and still wearing her delightfully youthful hairband, Lewis Carroll’s Alice nervously ventures into her local Walmart, “just to pick up a shower chair.” Two days later, Alice regains consciousness, badly dehydrated, in the Car Care section, having become hopelessly lost somewhere between Housewares and Lawn & Garden. Summarily ignored by everyone who works in the store, Alice turns for help to a fellow shopper: a large man with sleeve tattoos, a pink wig, rainbow unitard, and spiked heels. Alice soon wishes to be back in Wonderland where everything made sense. *Publisher’s Note: This book is not available in Walmart.

download-89. A Floater in My Eye. Holden Caulfield is now 78, and has been kicked out of his third nursing facility. As he makes his way home to Sarasota, he purchases a cell phone and attempts to place numerous enraged calls to his ophthalmologist, a huge phony who can’t figure out why Holden experiences odd floating orbs when he’s watching Family Feud with his sister, Phoebe. “A mixture of angst, anger, and rage against artifice, Holden Caulfield is still going strong at 78. You’ll root for him as he wrestles with technology and attempts to find a doctor who’ll accept Medicare Part B.” — AARP Newsletter.

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10. Am I Dying? In this sequel to As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner again employs multiple narrators to relate the saga of Addie Bundren who, as it turns out, wasn’t actually dead in the first novel, but rather simply rendered comatose by gluten-induced intestinal distress. As Addie treks from specialist to specialist, her unrelenting hypochondria and insistence on micro-managing her own funeral preparations compel her family to seek help in the form of an appearance on The Dr. Phil Show. “I put Addie and her family in the Dr. Phil House, and monitored them with thirty-seven cameras for twelve days. You won’t believe what happens when Addie’s daughter says there’s nothing but ‘normal’ pasta in the cupboard.” – Dr. Phil McGraw

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I think you’ll agree that all of these books contain just the right level of excitement to provide you with the perfect reading/napping combination.

Happy Reading, Everyone!

 

Fishing Gone Wild

 

Fishing, my friends, has gone totally BADASS.


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This is a tiny slice of a normal selection. You may want to pack a lunch.

Fishing lures, too, have gone badass. A trip to your local hardware store will reveal that lures now fall into one of two categories:

  1. Sexy
  2. Destructive

The Sexy Lures have names like:

The Spinning Seductress (“A Slutty Shine No Fish Can Resist”),

Jezebel the Jig (“This Little Devil’s Got a Bucktail Skirt”)

The Whirling Whore (“Her Side to Side Brings Fish to the Hook”),

and

Naughty Trixie the Trolling Spoon (Drag ‘er Fast in Rough Water”). 

You can even buy a Badonk a Donk Lure. I’m not kidding.

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You thought she’d have a little more junk in the trunk, didn’t you?

The Destructive Lures are even better. They have names like:
The BASS ASSASSIN.  

The CAJUN KILLER.  

The AMBERJACK ANNIHILATOR.  

The ROCKFISH WRECKER.  

The FLOUNDER FLAYER.  

And, our favorite, the DEADLY DICK.

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Honestly, based on those names, you’d expect any fish you caught to emerge from the water in tiny pieces, blasted to bits by the sheer force of the lure.

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“What was that, Bob?”

“Well, hell, Frank. I think it was a beautiful rockfish, but it’s hard to tell from the bloody shrapnel. It’s a damn shame, too, ’cause I promised the wife a fish for dinner.”

“What lure were you using there, Bob?”

“It was the Deadly Dick. Tore that fish to bits. Basically blew her out of the water.”

“Ahh. Well, it happens. Try my Piscine Prostitute. The fish come out of the water a little

dirty and ashamed, but fairly intact.”

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Even fishing tattoos have gone badass. Above is a lovely memorial to Gramps and his cane pole, circa 1989.

Below is a more recent memorial, ostensibly to the awesome destructive power of the lure.

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So the moral of this story is, if your buddy invites you fishing, don’t expect a relaxing day, putting Wonder Bread and worms on a cane pole with a hook. That is a thing of the past, a relic, like the Ball in a Cup game is to Call of Duty. 

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Modern Badass Fishing requires a bit more (like $1555 of organic, farm-raised, gluten-free, free-range bait, approximately $8500 worth of titanium rods and reels, $4,623 worth of lures, and the desire to seek and destroy anything that swims).

The good news? You can still drink Natty.

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Happy Fishing!

 

 

3 Minute Challenge

It’s been a month since we’ve chatted, and I apologize. I’ve been busy, but more importantly, my right hand is now in a cast, and typing is laborious, to say the least. I’ve been working on that last sentence, for instance, since ten o’clock last night.

One of the things I did earlier this summer was attend a writer’s conference, my first. While I was there, I challenged myself to do a public reading of my work. Each reader only got 3 – 5 minutes, and as you know, it’s much more difficult to tell a story in 5 minutes than in 10.

Because my claw hand is making typing such a bear, I decided to upload the rather rough recording (made by an iphone on a couch cushion in the back of the room) of the reading, in lieu of anything written.

Warning: rough language!! 

Enjoy.

Grace in the cracks.

Last year, I attended the ordination of a friend.  In our church, ordination comes after a long process of discernment, evaluation, and three years of seminary and field work. Many, if not most, Episcopal priests have had other careers before entering seminary. 

The sermon at the ordination was given by a priest from North Carolina. One of the things she said has stayed with me.  Speaking about what makes a priest effective, she said that — more than homiletic skills or teaching ability or a knack for crafting excellent prayers —  it’s the recognition of the futility of perfection that makes a priest most effective.

Imperfection, she said, is the prerequisite to grace. After all, light only gets in through the cracks.  

This is not an original thought, of course. But it got me thinking about the brokenness we all work so hard to conceal, and the freedom that comes with letting go of the expectation that we’re ever going to get anywhere close to perfection.

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As close to perfection as it is possible for a mere mortal to be: the Man, the Legend, Robert Duvall.

Last year, around the time of that ordination, a friend sent me a text about something inconsequential. At the end of it, she wrote, This comes at the end of a week of feeling generally inadequate.  

I was taken aback by this admission, not because I think my friend believes she’s perfect; on the contrary, she is one of the most down-to-Earth people I know, which is one of the things I like most about her. Rather, I was taken aback because, in my mind, she is Superwoman: always smiling, always juggling a million responsibilities, universally loved and admired. It never crossed my mind that she would ever feel inadequate in any way!

The funny thing is, though, her admission made me love and respect her even more.  It was as if she’d made a bit more room for me, and for our friendship, by pointing out that little crack in her life, that little bit of herself that wasn’t perfect.

There was a TED talk a few years ago that got a lot of traction after it went viral. Oprah brought the woman who gave it onto her show, and into the pages of her magazine. You’ve probably heard of it.  

The talk was called The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown.

Brown explains her research by saying, “I started with connection. Because, by the time you’re a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice and mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is — neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired — it’s why we’re here.”

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Brown further explains that her research showed that “[t]here was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.”

That sounds simple, right? Just believe you’re worthy of love and belonging, and connection — and happiness — will follow! 

But it’s not that easy, because fear and shame get in the way. 

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“Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” Brown says. This is a problem, because “[i]n order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”

So how did the connected people — those happy, fulfilled, loved people — get that way? How did they get past the fear and shame we all carry?

This is they key.

Brown says that the people who are happiest:

“fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating… They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.”

But this is difficult, and it’s uncomfortable, and it’s why we all let fear rule!  We don’t take risks, we don’t put ourselves out there, we don’t take the leaps of faith that could lead to greatness — because we are afraid.

But if we weren’t afraid, what would we do?  What changes would we make in our lives? What challenges would we take on?  What rewards would we reap? 

Imagine how brightly we would shine, if we replaced fear and shame with joy and love? Imagine who we could be, if we weren’t ruled by fear…and what we might gain, if we let go of the fear of loss?

I think that’s exactly what the priest from North Carolina meant, in her sermon.  

Grace — the favor of God that we’ve been given, undeserved and unearned — comes through in the moments we are less than perfect.  Grace comes to us in our weakness, our brokenness, our vulnerability.

It remind us that while we were not created to be perfect, we were also not put here to be ruled by fear.  

There’s grace in the cracks.

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In the words of Leonard Cohen,

Ring the bells that still can ring. 
Forget your perfect offering. 
There is a crack, a crack in everything. 
That’s how the light gets in.

You can watch Brene Brown On Vulnerability here. Listen to Leonard Cohen, Anthem here.