ginny: on doing laundry


Seriously, when Julie told me the topic for the week is laundry I cringed.  How in the world am I going to write a blog’s worth on laundry?  Then she told me that this blog has to include at least one photo, and I thought “Well I could make it a really BIG photo or I could include a lot of photos and then it will look like a normal length blog while not actually having to write too much about laundry.

When we were doing this writing project last year (aka The Project) we had some great topics.  We started off by writing about home – my idea, it made perfect sense to me to begin with our various places in the world.  Much of what Julie wrote was news to me because I knew only the bare bones of her life story.  I’ve always been hesitant to ask Julie questions about her life because she has always seemed to be a very private person.  If truth be told, as it should be, I was a little afraid of Julie when we first met.  She was an imposing force at the restaurant where we worked – the head waitress, assistant manager, the key go-between between the bosses and the mostly undocumented Hispanic kitchen staff, and the employee who had been with the owners for the longest period of time.  She also didn’t exactly like the waitresses that I became friends with, first one, and then another.  To her credit that never made her not like me, at least not to my knowledge.  My memories of Julie from that time are really spotty, but as other friends came and went, she was there.  She watched me leave the restaurant to join the world of office administration, then thankfully asked me to come back and saved me from that very same world.  It was during this second go-round of being co-workers that I either got to know her much better or started paying attention.  And it was during this time that she asked me a question that completely changed my world.

Have I told you about this yet?  I was 25 years old, unmarried, and pregnant by a guy I loved, but had just broken up with.  We had different goals and it just wasn’t going to work between us, so one more time for old time’s sake became the wonder that is my daughter.  I was scared and confused, so I talked to Julie about what to do.  She was an single parent and I figured she could help me sort things out.  I remember sitting at a booth in our restaurant, telling her how scared I was to tell my parents, and how I wasn’t sure that I could do this, that I could be a single mother.  She said “Of course you can.  The question is, do you want to?”

Did I want to?  What a revelation!  I usually thought in terms of should I or shouldn’t I, but once I put those away and thought about what I wanted, the answer was simple and clear.  Mind you, it wasn’t easy, but it was a simple decision and I was happy.

Julie guided me through my pregnancy.  There were other people who were as involved as Julie was, my brothers and sister-in-law who also lived in Chicago, but she was the one who could relate the most to what I was experiencing.  She collected money from our co-workers to buy me a crib.  She gave me a box of wishes for Ali: a bib from the University of Chicago so that she would be intelligent, a purple stuffed animal so that she would be creative, and a red wooden rattle so that she would appreciate the simple things.  She also had to bear the brunt of some of my, shall we say, moodiness while I was pregnant.  1988 was the hottest summer on record in Chicago, and I was pregnant through most of it.  Even now, even 24 years later, Julie still finds a way to periodically work it into the conversation about how I made her get off a bus (or two) because it was too hot and no one would let me sit down.

You’d have done the same, believe me!  It was HOT.  But then September came and Ali arrived at last and I was pretty sure I had no idea what to do.  No, that’s not true.  I didn’t always know exactly what was best, but I knew that I was doing my best and I was confident in most of my decisions.  One of those decisions – not the one that had me drunk off of Black Russians the first time I asked my oldest brother to watch Ali while I went out with a friend – one of the good decisions was to accept Julie’s offer to babysit Ali.  Julie worked during the day and I watched her five year old son, then we would swap places in the afternoon and she would watch Ali while I worked the night shift.  There were some long nights after I picked up Ali, when she had slept for just long enough to want to be awake and playing with mom when we got back to our apartment.  I would beg and plead for her to just go to sleep, which works about as well as you can imagine.  But regardless of her sleep schedule I had to be awake in time to pick up Julie’s son and take him to kindergarten, then do errands or laundry or whatever needed to be done in those couple of hours before I had to pick him up again and wait for Julie to get home so I could then go to work.  And then come back home and beg and plead with Ali to please please just go to sleep.

That went on for not quite a year before I decided to leave Chicago.  My sister back in Virginia had offered to let me live with her, her husband, and their two children while I figured out what I wanted to do.  In another “I don’t know if I can” conversation with myself and then with Julie, I didn’t know if I could raise a child in the city.  In the end, I didn’t want to.  Julie didn’t agree with my decision, and things were a little tense towards the end of my stay in Chicago, but we parted on good terms.  And then the Swiss Cheese that is my memory goes blank.  I don’t remember if Julie and I kept in touch much in the months following, but in the years following she was pretty much gone.

A decade or so later my daughter’s biological dad died.  He had been a distant part of her life, he paid child support, and there were two visits to Chicago to see him that she remembers, and that was about it.  I didn’t find out about his death until four months after it happened when, after not getting any reply to emails or phone calls to him about missed child support payments, I called the benefits department of his employer and was told that he was deceased.  He was a police officer and I had asked him to make sure that someone knew how to get in touch with me if something were to happen to him, but despite his promise apparently he never got around to it.  What he also never got around to was telling me that he had another daughter who was six months younger than mine.  The shock over his death was nothing compared to the shock of discovering he had kept that from me all those years.  Julie helped me cope with some of the fallout from that.  As is my tendency I tried to beat myself up over what I didn’t know and what things that seemed obvious in hindsight I was completely oblivious to at the time.

He had never told his family about me or our daughter, and as the pieces came together I saw that I had been The Other Woman, not in relation to a marriage but certainly to a committed relationship between him and the mother of his youngest child.  I can hear Julie now – okay maybe  not a “committed relationship”, but certainly a long term public relationship. That woman – and I don’t mean “that woman” in any sort of negative way; I just don’t want to name her here – that woman and their daughter were the only two that his parents and his sister knew about from the beginning.  He also had two children older than my daughter that I knew about, but apparently his family didn’t until the children were almost teenagers.  When you tell a story like this and truncate it down to its bare essence, so much gets lost.  He was a good man, a kind man, a funny man, and a smart man, but he was also a man of secrets.

Years passed and her son graduated college and my daughter started college and Julie was diagnosed with MS.  When she first told me I had no idea how debilitating a disease MS is.  My then daughter-in-law had been similarly diagnosed but during the infrequent visits with her she seemed just the same.  I knew that she was tired a lot, but I didn’t see any obvious indication of the MS so I assumed that Julie was experiencing something along those lines.  How wrong I was.

When I went to Chicago to discuss The Project with Julie it was the first time that I had any inclination of what MS was doing to her.  We walked around Chicago and she told me some of what life was like for her.  She made light of much of it, and told a funny story or two, but I began to realize that it was much more serious than I had previously thought.  At the end of the visit she left me for a bit to pick up something at her apartment and I was supposed to wait around the corner for her to return.  I got bored and and decided to wait on the corner instead.  When I got there I glanced down the road towards her apartment and saw a woman slowly walking towards me, uncertain of her step and looking a little confused.  I looked away, and then it registered what I had seen and I turned back.  That was Julie.

All day long she had seemed okay.  How much had it taken out of her to walk all those blocks with me?  Had she been struggling all day both to keep up and to keep up an appearance of … of what?  Of what she thought I expected her to be?  Or had I not really seen the struggle that had been there all day? 

I looked away again and pretended that I hadn’t seen her.  When she caught sight of me she called out, and once again I saw the woman I had spent the day with, the woman that I have known for 25 years.  I’ve never told her about this, about seeing her when she didn’t know I was looking.

Julie is one of the most amazing, most surprising, most resilient people I know. 

What did any of this have to do with laundry?  Absolutely nothing.  Doing laundry is what happens in the background as you go about your life, whether it is living that life or contemplating your life, your friends, your influences, while sitting on the patio on a hot summer day.


julie: on doing laundry

I picked this because it was time to get back to a topic that was a little fun and a little light and would bring a little smile as people thought about it while they had coffee on a Sunday morning.

Ginny, the picker of  “on doing dishes,” said that “on doing laundry” was “boring.”  If you ask me, Ginny doesn’t always see the possibility of challenges and adventure in the simple things that are all around her:)

Anyway.  Laundry was on my mind because I am going on a short road trip and need the things that I want to take with me all clean at the same time the morning I am leaving.  Actually, I have decided that this time I will need them all clean at least one morning before the morning I am leaving, just cuts it too close the other way.   Of course, today is Sunday and I am leaving Wednesday morning and nothing is clean yet, so there you go.  Sort of like I should have been done with this entry yesterday morning.  But once I start having more than a few things to do that aren’t done I sometimes end up spinning around with none done and then have to scramble.  The good thing is that the things I want to take, and so will need to wash, are my favorite things and what I usually wash first,  so they are on the top of the heap.  It’s exactly like doing dishes.  I do enough to not have the several hamper type things overflowing, but not so much that it doesn’t fit in the dressers and closet when I’m done.

In one of those just “don’t ask how” kind of realities, despite the fact that we sometimes ate meals bought with checks that my mother knew even as she wrote and handed to me to take to Norman the butcher and Sam at the grocery, were going to bounce, we had a washer and dryer in our kitchen.  Which is maybe why I am not good at figuring out a laundry schedule or doing it much in advance.  Either me or my mother was always doing laundry the night before we went anywhere.  But to be clear, doing laundry with regularity was something my mother did do, which always amazed me.  In the middle of chaos, the woman always drawers and a closet full of clean clothes.

I looked it up just because this year is being so weird, but really, who needs to check what the weather will be in New York during the first week of August?  Basically somewhat hot and humid.  Just a question maybe of how hot or how humid, but unless one plans to try going naked, hot and humid is hot and humid.    Even though it is really not the brightest of plans fro someone not fond of hot and humid,  I have somehow ended up visiting New York in August several times.  Among those trips were once during a garbage strike, that was not only really hot and humid but incredibly just overall nasty;  once when there was a convention of  Shriners staying in the same hotel, that was less hot and humid but incredibly annoying.

As I thought about this post this week, it came to me how I actually picked this topic. 

Because I have been told once or twice that the way my brain works can make other people crazy, I am warning you now that the next little part here I am going to tell you how that happened, how I picked this topic.   Well, how I think, after thinking about it all week, that I think is how I picked this topic.  But thinking about laundry made me first think of something about the similarity of doing the dishes and doing laundry in a broader sense: the really clean, bordering on freakishly clean person I used to live with who tried to explain to me the best way to do the dishes, he also has a system for laundry that is, well, not the one I use.  He does at least one load of laundry every Friday.  He doesn’t like for there to be a build up, more than about three really small loads is what he considers a build up.  Yeah.  I would once again point out that he now has his own apartment and can do his laundry the way he wants and no longer should worry about mine, but the truth is that he started doing his own laundry while we lived together and yet still worried about mine.

But do people who are clean like that think cleanly like that as well, is that it?  I mean, okay, certainly being organized about household chores indicates something, I don’t know, being organized?  Or maybe prioritized.  I did consider that briefly, the prioritized part, after a discussion about about whether or not doing things like washing the dishes and doing laundry and having dinner on the table at a certain time meant anything more than being organized.  Maybe eHarmony should have a really simplified quiz for people who are looking for a long term live in the same place with very few disagreements where you just do the same damn thing on the same damn day in the same damn way over and over type of relationships and there will be a lot less lonely possibly close to freakishly clean people in the world:

1.  How often do you feel the dishes and laundry should be done?

2.  How much laundry or how many dishes do you feel it is acceptable to leave for a later date?

3.  How important to you is it that there be a meal at a certain time, and about that same certain time on the same certain table or in front of the same certain tv, every evening?

4.  How important to you is it, as you plan to share your life with another person, that they either agree with you on these things or are willing to change and do things your way?

Really.  Skip all that trying to get at it with page after page of questions.  I mean, this is what is really important in life, right?

I thought of that because, and this should come as no shock,  my reasoning also seemed to sometimes give the really clean gentleman as much of a headache as the way I did the dishes;  he’s one of the people whose reaction is why I gave that warning about the fact that I was going to describe how I picked this topic.

Okay.  In no particular order, there is Ginny mentioning that children’s books seem to be on my mind, which is sort of true.  But more to the point,  I noticed after she said that that I have mentioned or thought of a book called, “Many Moons,” a couple of times.  That’s one thing.  Then there is the way I feel about this upcoming road trip.  It’s hard to explain.  Other than a quick couple of days that were planned in such a way that they almost could have been anywhere, like if you had just transported a few people and living rooms and offices to Chicago the trip could have been the same, it involved very little except getting in and out of cabs and good food that had anything to do with the fact that it was in New York, it has been a while since I have been in New York.  It suddenly occurred to me that it might be like other things that I know but can’t quite find in my brain anymore.  Which got me thinking to the times I have been in New York and that took me to the first time I was there, which took me to the hamper at my mother’s house which I was cleaning out after she died, which took me to….doing laundry.

Actually, that’s one difference between laundry and dishes, you can find all kinds of things when doing laundry.  But dishes, other than the occasional water bug,  not so much.  There are things you thought you lost, things you didn’t realize you couldn’t find, things other people may not want you to find, gum that you had no choice but to put in your pocket.  And there are the things other people might want you to find, like a book on top of a hamper with a picture of the first trip you ever took to New York that was just you and your mom and one of the best things in the world that ever happened and one of the best things in the world to ever find.

I have to go now, I have to do my laundry.  It would be bad to have to tell anyone that I missed my flight because I was waiting for the dryer to be done (which really has almost happened)…having to tell Ginny that is not something I can even contemplate.

And I’m not going to look it up, I am going to trust my brain to know which bus to take when we leave Penn Station.  Some things, really important things,  you never forget.   Even if you do forget to do your damn laundry every damn week.

ginny: on connecting the dots


If everything is okay, why do I feel like crying?

Alternately …

If I feel like crying, does that mean that everything is not okay?

When I was a child in grade school, I used to love the connect-the-dot puzzles.  I could almost always see what the picture was going to be before I started.  More than that, I was able to keep about three numbers ahead of myself, seeing where I needed to go for the next number after the next number.  I liked being ahead of the game.  It probably served as a precursor to my job as an air traffic controller, where I am behind the power curve if I am not seeing and thinking at least three steps ahead.  Making sense out of something that seems random and chaotic is easier when you have steps to follow and an end game in mind.  I am not as successful at this in other parts of my life.

Often times, I don’t know where to start.  There is no conveniently marked “1” on a page that indicates I should begin there.  For my two questions above I will get radically different pictures depending on where I  start.  For the first question, and honestly that is where I usually begin, I compile a laundry list of things in my life that could be causing me to feel like crying.  The current list would look something like this: my clothes not fitting, our finances getting a major overhaul, worry about my kids, fatigue from working ten hour days, and general despair over not seeing any of these items changing significantly any time soon.  For the second question, the answer is more straightforward.  Does how my body feel – the pressure behind the eyes, the tightness of my throat, the wail that I keep pushed down – does that mean that everything is not okay?  Or does it mean something else?  Does it mean that my physical body is stressed, my body is tired, my body is crying “enough already!” and I should just go lay the hell down?

Is my body reacting to what my brain is thinking or is my brain trying to explain how my body is feeling?

Have I mentioned recently how complicated it is to be me?  I over-think things like nobody’s business, and I still can’t come up with a finished picture.  There are layers upon layers of thoughts going on, ending up with a Rorschach picture instead of a bunny or a giraffe.

I have my moments though.  There are times, usually when I talking to someone else about something that is going on in their life, where I hear myself saying things that are relevant in my life also.  I never see something quite as clearly as I do when I am trying to help someone else figure out stuff.

When I chose this topic for the week I had just had a major revelation.  I strung together a long series of dots and came up with something that resembled an actual picture that made sense and explained some things and made me see things in a new light and I have no idea what that was.  None.  I’ve been sitting here for awhile trying to remember what my epiphany was, and I came up with nothing.  It’s frustrating, but not uncommon.  I am sure that I will access it once again when I am talking to a friend who is looking for advice or who just wants a different perspective on an issue.  Other people’s pictures are easier to see.


This was supposed to be an entirely different post.  I had an somewhat interesting beginning, and a couple of points I wanted to make along the way, but now it all seems meaningless when there are so many people dead and wounded in Aurora, Colorado.

How do you connect the dots when something like this happens?  Can you go back and draw a line from 1 to 2 to 3 and so on until you create a picture of a dozen people dead and more than fifty wounded?  What was James Holmes thinking? How did he get to the place where this was the decision he made?

One person, one lifetime of circumstances and influences, one series of decisions that culminated in an event so incomprehensible that all we can do is hold our loved ones close, and say a prayer.


  • Ginny Arata Reese

    11 hours ago
    • Are you online?

    • So what I have to say is I have been de-railed. Look at both of my posts and tell me what you think. Please.

  • Julie Levinsohn

    11 hours ago


    • Oh, okay.

  • Julie Levinsohn

    10 hours ago


    • I like the first one. the second one is an interesting quandary…after having said that it is easier to understand things as we consider what others do or say, you are saying that you have no way to even really process this or to begin to even guess at what and why. So that goes to the fact that there is nothing about what he did that you can relate to yourself and therefore have no way to begin to comprehend.

      You could tie parts of the first one with the second and create something that talks to that point: is the fact that we can in no way relate any of something or someone to our own life what makes some things incomprehensible? Or even if we can see some of it, say meticulous planning, is the intent so far from anything we could ever imagine having for an intent what makes it impossible to see any similarity? Do even basic things that another person does, going to class, going to the store, that kind of thing, just not seem like something we can imagine as something recognizable when we know what the result of all of the both bizarre and mundane parts of that person’s life culminated in?

      If the conclusion is something we can’t comprehend, does that make the dots also things we can’t comprehend? And really, from the outside looking in, as the days go by and we learn more, will it be somewhat unsettling that there are many, many things that in passing, people saw this person do that you do on a daily basis.

  • Julie Levinsohn

    10 hours ago


    • Of course there is also the question of when it went wrong. Was he in many ways similar to you or me until a moment when it changed, and what was that moment, and how close have you come to a moment like that…not to decide to do that sort of thing, but have you made decisions, set yourself on a course, that for your life, would appear just as hard to comprehend the whys of.

      Is there something, and if so, what is it, that stops the rest of the population from making the kind of decisions he made. Did he get more angry, more lost, more hurt, more in need of attention, whatever it was or all of what it was. Given the right, or wrong, set of circumstances, what are you capable of and why and why not?

  • Julie Levinsohn

    10 hours ago


    • And really, do the dots matter? Maybe nothing before six months ago had anything to do with this. Maybe he broke with all the things that he had just like you or me and left behind all the dots and became the person who committed this act.

    • done.

  • Ginny Arata Reese

    10 hours ago


    • I have often thought of that moment when things go wrong and I have decided there are no such moments, no such singular moments. It’s like a song from a band I like – the band Gary and I are going to see while you are here. The song is called “Slow Fade” and the lyric is “people never crumble in a day.” You could drive yourself crazy looking for that one moment, that one decision that changed everything. I had a friend for awhile – one of the many female friendships that ended in a big “huh?” on my part. Her daughter went from Honor Roll student to heroin addict seemingly just like that. The star of the family was married with three children by the time she was 22, with a physically abusive husband and no guts to leave him. How did Ali not turn out like that? How did Adam not turn out like that? What did my friend do or not do or allow or not allow or see or not see that started the slow fade to a life for her child that, honestly, no parent wants for their child?

  • Ginny Arata Reese

    10 hours ago


    • So then is there a Big Picture, Julie? Is there a something that this is all supposed to look like when we’re done? It is trite to question God’s existence or involvement at times like these, but *do* the dots connect into a meaningful picture?

      I have more questions than answers. I told Ali tonight that I was sorry that this is the world we are leaving her, and she said it wasn’t all my fault. But is it, in some small way, my doing? Not this shooting, of course, but the bigger picture. The Bigger Picture. If I were involved in … and I was going to write “more” but the fact is I am not involved at all in my community … but if I were involved in my community watch or local politics or food pantries or Big Sisters or outreach ministries, would something tragic somewhere down the road not happen?

  • Julie Levinsohn

    10 hours ago


    • Well, there are things that have nothing to do with parents, they are simply in the child. I wouldn’t say that was the case in your friend’s situation…there is a hint there if the “star” is involved in an abusive relationship and the other was is abusing herself.

      But the oldest family friends of my parents had three children, two daughters and one son. David was about 5 years older than me I think. He was really, really, smart. And then he was a full blown schizophrenic who had to leave school and came downstairs into the kitchen one night and stabbed his father over and over, almost to death. He was treated and later in life was able to live a very simple life, he lived in a halfway house sort of setting a few blocks from his parents and helped them as they grew older.

      One of their daughters loved to ride horses and was killed when she was thrown from a horse.

      The other daughter is married and has a very cool husband and really wonderful son. They live on the family farm in Wisconsin.

  • Ginny Arata Reese

    10 hours ago


    • No dots to connect.

  • Julie Levinsohn

    10 hours ago


    • The parents spent a great deal of time working on a Will that would make sure that David could still live and take care of himself, partly to make sure that Ally was not put in a position to have to make any of those decisions.

    • Then one night about two years ago David got sick and they took him to the hospital and he died about a year ago of colon cancer.

  • Ginny Arata Reese

    10 hours ago


    • Is any of it supposed to make sense? I have these little revelations about my little life and I think they are so fucking important, but then I get shown that none of it is as important as I think it is.

  • Julie Levinsohn

    10 hours ago


    • something tragic, big or small, will always happen, Ginny. it is the way of the world. some people say that without tragedy, we wouldn’t realize comedy.

  • Ginny Arata Reese

    10 hours ago


    • No rainbow without the rain? Is that what we are left with?

  • Julie Levinsohn

    10 hours ago


    • I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and think, “How can I be sleeping when there is so much wrong, so much that has to be righted, so much to do!”

  • Ginny Arata Reese

    10 hours ago


    • And no way to know what is happening right now that, once the dots are connected, will lead to tragedy.

  • Julie Levinsohn

    10 hours ago


    • I sometimes feel so overcome by a feeling or utter helplessness as I watch the things that happen in this country. but that doesn’t change anything.

    • You do what you can, and maybe what you are supposed to, if you think in those terms, we all have a purpose.

    • It can be as simple as that.

  • Ginny Arata Reese

    10 hours ago


    • For me it has to be as simple as that. The utter senselessness of the Big Picture overwhelms me.

  • Julie Levinsohn

    10 hours ago


    • there is your answer and there are your dots.

julie: on connecting the dots

I love connecting the dots.  It’s how I was taught to reason and how I make things that confuse me make sense; find the facts, find the best proof and the best arguments, apply applicable laws and history and experience and then, having done all of this, reach the most logical conclusion.  I do it without thinking about doing it most of the time, although every now and then, especially when in situations with one or two specific friends I will say to myself, “Okay, settle down,  think about this logically.”    It wasn’t until recently I really grasped that for many people this does not define “thinking”.  I am amazed that what seems like the normal way of looking at things  for me is considered a separate kind of thing,  “critical thinking,” and is choice that many people are comfortable rejecting in part or in its entirety.  Fascinating to me when someone takes a whole bunch of opinions, calls them  “facts,” then makes a decision and calls it “the only logical conclusion.”  Logic has very little to do with much of the connecting of the dots going on in this country today, JMO.

Which is not to say that I am not capable of not thinking critically; I have made many decisions that defy logic.  And quite frankly, those include most of my worst decisions.  But I knew going in, as I made them, that I was making them based on what I wanted to be true, or hoped would work out, and so I knew, even as I made them, that there was a good  probability they were certainly not going to lead to what I would obstinately insist was a predictable outcome.  And I also knew that the outcome of this kind of decision might not be really so good.  I knew that, I acknowledged that, I didn’t claim as I hear so many people doing, that I was actually connecting the dots.  I knew that I was hoping that somehow I could make the dots a little different and after that, that the dots would do what I wanted them to do.

The point I am making is even though I don’t always go with logic, even when I really know better,  I am usually aware that I am not being logical.  After years of watching myself go back and forth between doing logical and illogical things, I find that for me, one is basically devoid of feeling and the other mostly all feeling.  This makes me want to conclude that in my brain logic and feelings are two separate things that have nothing to do with each other and that looking at the same decision from the two vantage points will never result in similar decisions.  Yet this  isn’t entirely true; some things that are purely emotional do have a logic, it just isn’t tangible in the same way.  Emotions, and the actions we take as a result of those emotions, are a result of connecting dots, they are just totally different dots than the ones that are proven with facts and figures.   History is often very reliable when it comes to emotional dots.

I’m sure there are some that would make the argument that I learned to think one way from my father and the other from my mother, but that would not be really as clear cut some might think.  It’s true, a  huge portion of my mother’s decisions, maybe the vast majority,  were quick and emotion-filled, she absolutely made most of her decisions that way. Maybe the fact that she seemed to make some really good decisions using that method was simply due to sheer volume and the law of averages.  I don’t think that’s true but, except to my father and my little sister, I have always been willing to concede the possibility.  Unlike my father, she did at times appear to mix logical and emotional thinking really well and make an incredible decision and if you believed her, it had nothing to do with luck and was never by accident.  My father, the Yeshiva trained logician, also sometimes made emotion-filled decisions.  Those decisions, I can state with no hesitation, were some of the worst decisions I have ever known a human being to make.   I wondered sometimes if having to be so damn logical and unemotional in his thinking for so long caused him to end up being unable to make rational decisions about emotions on any level.  My father’s way of thinking and making decisions served him well in many aspects of his life, he achieved much of what he wanted.  Unfortunately,  my father also caused considerable pain along the way.  My mother’s methods didn’t do nearly as well by her which makes me sad, she played from the heart and that should have really counted for more than it seems it did.

So I learned a little about decision making of several kinds from both of them; all very interesting if you are interested in how I reach conclusions.   I am interested in that right now.  I need to make a couple of important decisions and I want to be sure I am thinking about them clearly.  I am also wondering if what I am really doing is trying not to acknowledge the variables, avoid the things that make the decisions necessary, so  I am reminding myself that’s not good and should not be confused with the sometimes good intentional not making of decisions.  The not making of decisions is something it took me a while to learn really made sense and should always be an option I consider, just sort of abdicating and removing myself and letting a situation do whatever it’s going to.  That’s actually sometimes the best decision because often what I decide doesn’t make a damn bit of difference and learning to recognize when that’s the reality of a situation is a really important part of learning to make good decisions.  Deciding that you should not make the decision, or even be a part of making a decision, is a really important decision.  Part of why it took me so long to get that concept was that I spent a lot of time trying to accept the idea that deciding it was best not to express my opinion was not the same as saying I just shouldn’t have an opinion.  I have reached the point where I do actually sometimes not have an opinion; rarely, but it does happen.

I haven’t made any changes to my decisions.  I know I said that I needed to make them, but the truth is that most of the time I make decisions at the same time I am learning I will need to make one.  (In an odd way it sort reminds me of the gravedigger starting to dig the moment we are born.)  I think many of us do that and just don’t realize it.  We are generally going to react to certain things in certain ways and that is going to influence much of what we decide about any given situation.  I think often times I make an immediate decision and then work my way back, making sure of what method I used to get there.  The reasoning my father taught me: the comparative, the relative, the culpability and the consequences,  these usually are instinctive parts of the way I look at things.  The question is how much the heart and spirit my mother gave me will temper that cool and calculating process, will the ying or the yang carry the most weight today.

Funny thing about my parents, they both were always very sure that they were right about most things, though they appeared to never agree about anything.  And they both hated to lose.  Which maybe just goes to show that there is a very fine line between the motives of emotion and logic.


Just a note here about Ginny’s post.  Some of it is a conversation between the two of us that did not start out as anything more than that, was not designed or written for the blog or with the thought that anyone else would read it.  So there are some things that I said in a much more cryptic way, to simply make a point but not with elaborate explanation of anything.  I want to just make sure that I say that the family I referred to as “my parents oldest friends,” are also my oldest friends.  I recited just a little of what has happened in those lives and with not a huge amount of emotion, but that should not mislead the reader, it breaks my heart that these wonderful people have had so many trials with their children.  I would like to also make the point about their son that over time he was able, through therapy and medication and much determination and love, to be really helpful and good to his parents.  I absolutely considered him a friend.  He and my son got along well.  It was so sad that once they all found that place, that way to live, it didn’t last.  But it’s nice that was how things were for some time.  

And then I would like to point out in general, and to Ginny in specific, the fact that this week she was the one at least as much involved, but I would say the one much more involved, with the world around her.  I have to admit that I am one of those people who is not rocked really hard by these random moments that are becoming more and more frequent when people shoot into crowds.  I feel much sadness for the victims and the survivors and the family of the perpetrator.  But it doesn’t scare me or make me stop and think twice, I don’t know, maybe I believe that life is random or that we are no more or less safe after something like this than we were before.  Or maybe I already know what evil lurks in the heart of man and am not surprised when or how it lurks in the heart of anyone.  Or maybe it is simply that there is little to be done.  If the increase in this kind of thing is the result of many things in our country, that’s just how it is, they will happen from time to time, there is nothing to do something about, no actions I can take as an individual to change anything.  So maybe that’s part of it, maybe the whole lesson of worrying less about things I can’t change and doing more about those I can is really the key here.  (Not to  make light of anything, but the truth is that approximately three people are killed every hour of every day by gun violence in this country, that is something I think I have more of a chance of doing something about.) 


ginny: on monsters

Sandy couldn’t remember when or where the monster first appeared.

When she thought about it, and she often did, the first couple of sightings blurred together.  There was that time she saw it in the coat closet in the hallway, behind the itchy wool sweater and the yellow slicker that was too hot in the summer.  But Sandy couldn’t remember if that was before or after she saw it under her bed, or rather, when she caught a glimpse of its shiny tail as it whipped out of sight when she opened her bedroom door.  She must have been seven or eight at the time, because her brother still lived in the house then and he left home when she was nine.  Both of those times that she saw the monster she had run straight to her brother’s room, knowing full well that he would tease her if she told him what she saw but wanting to be close to him just in case the monster followed her, which, of course, it didn’t.

Years later the monster began showing itself more often.  She saw bits and pieces of it ducking out of sight around corners, and in rooms with half closed doors, and behind furniture and curtains and once slinking away beside the trash can in the garage.  Each time she saw it she got startled, but then less and less so as the years went by, and she began to wonder what it was doing in her house.  As far as she knew the monster never bothered anyone, and it didn’t upend furniture or leave any telltale signs that it was there.  When Sandy was thirteen she causally asked her mother if she had ever seen anything.  Her mother, distracted as always, brushed away the question and told Sandy to ask her dad, which, of course, she didn’t.

And this, my friends, is why I don’t write fiction.  I have no idea where to go from here.  When I sat down today I didn’t have a plot outline or a point to the story, I just started writing.  This is fine when what you write is stream of consciousness and you just follow where your thoughts lead you.  My thoughts have lead me into a dead end with poor Sandy.  I don’t know why the monster is in her house, and I certainly haven’t come up with any lesson she might learn or revelation she will make.  So far what I’ve got is Sandy and her monster.  What I need is more action.

Sandy decided to trap the monster and have a chat with it.  She began keeping notes about when she saw it and where, trying to discover a pattern to its behavior. The monster definitely hung out in her room when she was at school.  She knew this because she had come home early one day and caught the monster diving for her closet when she opened her bedroom door.  By the time she got to the closet it had disappeared again, into whatever small crevice or nook it escaped to at times such as that. On Fridays it was in the garage in the mornings and in the laundry room in the evening.  It never spent much time in the kitchen; oddly enough it was only there on days when her mother made salmon cakes for dinner.  Sandy watched it watch her mother as she made them one night and she waited for her mother to turn around, which, of course, she didn’t.

After gathering the data and considering various plans Sandy finally settled on a surefire way of catching the monster: she decided to have a slumber party.  It had to be on a Saturday night because it always spent the entire day in the basement.  It was not a showy monster but she had noticed that it was becoming bolder about being visible when other people were around and certainly it would have a difficult time staying hidden with six or seven teenage girls in attendance.  So she got permission from her parents and invited her friends.  On the night before the party, when the monster was settled into the laundry room for the evening, she went about setting her trap.  Her mother had made salmon cakes the night before, so Sandy had smuggled one off of the table to use as bait.  It took awhile to make the trap because it had to be strong and it had to look like it fit right in, which, of course, it didn’t.

I could totally turn this into a children’s story.  I was thinking about that when I woke up this morning, imagining how I would make this into short sentences, a one or two on a page thing, and then I could illustrate it.  It wouldn’t be anything fancy or detailed, but surely I could come up with a drawing of the monster.

Or not.

Sandy’s friends came over as planned, and they asked her about the unusual contraption in the corner of the room, so she told them it was her younger brother’s science project.  All night long as they played games and ate pizza and giggled, Sandy watched for the monster to appear.  When the other girls finally fell asleep she thought that certainly it would show up and she struggled to stay awake, which, of course, she didn’t.

In the morning Sandy awoke to find the salmon cake gone, but no monster in the trap.  She was disappointed and sad.  Her friends stayed for awhile but since Sandy wasn’t much fun they decided to leave.  She moped around the house all day, and even her usually distracted mother asked her if something was wrong or if she was feeling sick.  Sandy said no, so her mother went back to being distracted.  There were no signs of the monster that day, not in the bathroom nor under the china cabinet in the diving room nor in the garage next to the trash can.  Sandy felt bad that she had tried to trap it.  When she went to bed that night she said out loud “Monster, I am sorry I tried to trap you.  I promise never to do it again.”  She hoped that the monster would say it was okay, which, of course, it didn’t.

So there we have a set up, a little action, and the subsequent failure of a plan.  That sounds like a story, doesn’t it?  You’re all curious now, wondering what is going to happen to Sandy and her monster.  Will the monster reappear?  Will Sandy learn a lesson about trying to cage a wild creature?  Will Sandy’s mother ever stop being distracted?  These are things that both the reader (you) and the writer (me) want to know.

The End.

Just kidding.

For the next couple of days there were no signs of the monster.  Every day Sandy waited patiently for a glimpse of it, and every night she whispered her apology.  On the third night as she was slipping off to sleep she thought she heard a voice.  She sat up in bed and looked around, but her room was empty.  Settling back under her blanket Sandy heard the voice again, but this time she stayed still, eyes shut, pretending not to have heard.  She wondered if the monster would come closer so that she could hear what it was saying, which, of course, it didn’t.

After a few minutes Sandy opened one eye, hoping to see the monster in her room.  There it was, standing next to the window, holding back the curtain, and staring out into the night.  For the first time Sandy noticed that it looked lonely.  It was speaking very softly to something that was on the other side of the window, and when Sandy moved her head a little she could see a smaller monster on the outside.  A new plan popped in her head, and she rustled around on the bed a little so that the monster would know she was waking up.  Sandy sat up, stretched a little, then got out of bed and went over the window.  She thought she saw the little monster hiding in the rose bush, but she pretended not to notice.  Sandy opened the window and went back to bed, then waited to see what would happen.  Through half closed eyes Sandy watched the monster creep over to the window, then glance back at her as if deciding whether or not leave her.  Sandy thought that it really wanted to go with the other monster, which, of course, it did.

So, not the greatest story in the world, but I’m glad that I wrote it.  I don’t like being afraid of things, and I have definitely been afraid of writing fiction and of looking like a fool on this blog.  Both fears revealed and faced right here, in this short story about Sandy and her monster.

julie: on monsters

I was looking at a picture of the characters from “Where the Wild Things Are” when I picked “monsters” as a topic.

One of my mother’s best talents was making books come to life; she lost herself in the story and she took you with her.  She used to read that book to my son and he would be there, with the fun monsters.  When it was produced as a play, she took him to see it.  A stuffed “Where the Wild Things Are” animal that she bought him sat around his room for years.  I wouldn’t say it was his favorite book, but I think it might be one of the first things he might answer if you said, “What comes to mind when you hear the word, “monsters?”  I’m not sure how well I succeeded, sometimes I see now I am so like my mother, but I tried my best to make sure that there were as few bad monsters in my wonderful son’s childhood as possible.

Ginny and I share that, bad monsters in the story book of our childhoods.  I knew that might be where her mind went when I sent the topic, and I knew that might be where she thought my mind was when I chose it.  It wasn’t.  I was looking at the friendly, cuddly monsters that surely have inhabited the good dreams of many, many children.  But then it did, my mind did go to those monsters of nightmares that, unfortunately,  weren’t just bad dreams.  I wondered if that’s part of what makes people bond as friends of a certain kind, what you think of when you hear the word, “monsters.”

People used to have loud discussions all the time in my mother’s home.  Very loud sometimes, about politics and attitudes and what to do about what and all kinds of ideas.  My mother usually prevailed in these discussions, people thought she knew what she was talking about, they would say that, “She knows what she is talking about.”  There were also arguments,  like with my father and the various boyfriends that came after him and before my step father.  If she wasn’t winning those, she would do something dramatic or drastic and that would just be that; finished with the kind of exclamation point that only something close to a serious crime could top.

But my step father could outdo my mother.  He would win.  Or if she was just determined, if he had won and she wouldn’t stop,  he would just be done.  She would get totally frustrated and though she would claim victory, it was obvious it wasn’t the same;  my mother liked to out talk you, out think you, out whatever it took to make you know that you had just been out everything’d.  I had to know how he was doing this.  I asked him just that, “How do you win with her?”  He told me there were certain things, words or ideas, that made my mother unable to think clearly ( he loved her and really thought that she did mostly think clearly).  He said it was like other things he and I had talked about, it was about giving up your power by letting a word or  suggestion make you just react rather than think.  He said that when he had had enough, he would just say one of these and she would lose steam.  I realized when I got a little older that he was sometimes being mean when he did that, but really, sometimes doing whatever it took to make my mother “lose steam” was mostly forgivable.  She forgave him after she didn’t.  I guess when she got a little older and started really thinking clearly more often.

I thought of that as I was thinking about this topic.  As I went through my mind,  opening closets and looking under the bed,  I wasn’t feeling those monsters, I was thinking about them.  I wasn’t panicked about them appearing, I was thinking about all of all of it.  Nothing happened.  So I went back with a flashlight.  I was thinking maybe they had gotten used to those cracks of light I have been shining on them for a while now and feel less threatened, maybe I would need some really new and really bright light to expose them and make them feel vulnerable enough to jump out and try to scare me.

I finally found some of them.  I found them, they didn’t find me.

I can’t count the times I have heard my step father’s lesson going through my mind.  There have been paths and places I have traveled to and through and up and down that have tried to get me to understand that lesson in a “deeper” way, make owning my power as much a tool as a weapon.  Or maybe more correctly, a tool so I don’t need a weapon.  I have had some successes, I have slain a couple of things as they blocked my path.  But as I stood there, in my mind, looking at all these monsters who now looked rather pitiful without their powers, I realized I had finally gotten it; I had become the powerful one.

I don’t expect I will ever stop thinking of a certain group of very unfriendly and decidedly not cuddly creatures when I hear the word monsters nor do I expect I will ever lose the memory of what they did,  the fear they can caused.  But I am thinking now, and I think maybe now it will all start to be just that, a memory.  These monsters will  something I have the power to think or not think of rather than a feeling with a life of its own that crushes me.

So tonight I am happy as I am writing about monsters.  I am looking at the monsters of  “Where the Wild Things Are” and hearing my mother read to my son and seeing his huge smile and hearing him laugh when she has finished and tickles him as she tucks him in to go to sleep.