Let’s Get Scary

scary-guy-with-abe

Sometimes, come Halloween, I ask myself: Who would I dress up as if right now today they announced an actual Halloween for grownups?

Back in the old days, little girls went out dressed as princesses or kitty-cats on Halloween; as witches or ghosts, if they could stretch far enough toward the dark side.

Little boys seemed to resist the whole dress-up thing somehow, maybe because they got stuffed into jackets and ties a lot more back then. Maybe it felt to them like yet another conspiracy on the part of the females in their lives to deck them out like fools – then go taking their pictures even. So I guess they went out dressed as hobos, most of them, borrowing outsized cast-offs from a handy male grownup, smearing their faces with charcoal.

My sister Nan and I went out as hobos ourselves, come to think of it. Nan set the whole tone for my whole childhood, with her nose for the slightly ‘transgressive’ as the saying goes. For one particularly instructive period during a certain autumn, a dead cat came to our attention in an alley we then began visiting the way pilgrims visit a shrine. “A corpse!” we exulted on first discovering it, giddy with that blended jolt of joy and revulsion. We’d have gone out that Halloween CARRYING the dead cat if we’d dared to. If we hadn’t by then taken the common childhood pledge to shelter our grownups, innocents that they were, from life’s spicier side.

Today of course males of every age are far more “plumed” than they once were, and less fixed on the need to seem macho too. It’s my sense that these days little boys’ costumes are as elaborate as little girls.  This year they will once again going out dressed to the nines, in masks portraying horror-movie villains: Jason. Chucky and the rest. Every now and then you sometimes even see old Tricky-Dick Nixon, who still enjoys a strange afterlife in the Rogue’s Gallery of your standard costume shop.

And the point will be what it’s always been: To startle. To counter expectation.

We had a good friend back in the 80’s. Didn’t smoke. Didn’t drink. Took old bikes from the dump, fixed them up good as new and gave them to kids who didn’t have bikes. On the Halloween immediately following one lunatic’s murder of several people by slipping poison into random Tylenol bottles, our friend took his kids around for Trick or Treat, himself dressed as a giant Tylenol capsule – and was actually surprised when another dad offered to punch his lights out. THAT escapade countered all our expectations.

By partying indoors on Halloween, you can cut down on offers of violence (depending on who you friends are of course) and have fun too – by seeing the dedicated beer guzzler come dressed as a Mormon elder, say, or the biggest Don Juan in the group come decked out as the Pope.

I don’t go in for much in the way of girlie stuff as a kid; never even wore makeup til I got to be 50. But one year at an adult Halloween party I dressed as Early Cher, in heavy mascara and spangly bathing suit top and hip huggers, and of course a giant wig exploding in cascades of inky curls.

I looked ridiculous. It was awesome. And my mate, Sonny to my Cher, looked even better, in the 70’s-era peasant shirt our kids found for him, and some baggy bohemian pants and a Prince Valiant wig.

Of course with his wire-rimmed glasses, he looked more like early John Denver, or actually with the wig more like Moe of the Three Stooges than either of those two, but still – he SEEMED like Sonny Bono.

That’s the fun of Halloween: getting to seem like someone else for the night.

So whatever you might be up to tonight, just be careful, like my old cat Abe here. ‘Cause you just never do know who you’re going to meet.

Acting Your Age

baby-dressed-in-granny-wig“Act your age” grownups were always saying to us when we were kids. I recall vividly one time I heard it. It was the time my big sister Nan flipped me onto my back, straddled me, pinned my arms out to either side and began ever so slowly lowering a long string of spit down from her mouth toward my screaming face.

That’s when our mom suddenly loomed in the doorway and boy, did Nan get it then. “Here you are almost 20 and acting like this!” she shouted by way of winding up her tirade.

In fact Nan was all of 12 at the time. And she was acting her age. Sort of. Certainly the 12-year-old boys we knew were doing this kind of thing to each other all the time

Whether or not Nan ever did heed the command to act her age, I know I could never quite seem to. I say this because when I was 14 I acted like I was 40, probably as direct result of the sad thing happened in our family that year. All I really know is that within a month of this terrible detonation I had changed completely from a carefree self-involved 9th grader to someone who had committing herself to a habit of over-functioning that lasted for more than 50 years.

Give you an example: Every Thursday night in my early 30s I would leave the house to tutor some young people in English. I would get them started on their essays, tear over to choir practice at the church just across the street, then tear 90 minutes later to work with the young people for another 90 minutes. I thought I could add in anything, help anyone, transport some ride-needing youth clear across the state and still be back in time to make the supper. Of course I could! I’d just need to get up a little earlier in the morning.

I might have gone on like this indefinitely if the year 2016 had not offered me some surprises.

First, I broke a bone in my back by running around the edge of the swimming pool to get to a shivering grandchild. Then, six months later, I tore my biceps tendon by lunging for the ladder of a dock while attempting to leap jauntily from a moving swim raft. And just last week I twisted my fists into my eyes, causing one of my contact lens to fold in two and shoot up into my head, where it remained for four excruciating days and causing a painful infection that had me just about blinded for almost week.
But what did I expect, knuckling my eyes so childishly? And trying to stretch like Gumby between a moving swim raft and a stationary ladder? What did I think would happen when I ran around an indoor pool past no fewer than four big signs that read “NO RUNNING“?

It’s a mystery to me. At 14 and all through my teen years I behaved as if I were 40. Now in my 60s I’ve been behaving as if I were ten. Will I ever come to understand how old I really am and start acting accordingly? Check in on me when I’m 90. If you find me in long sable curls and my bell-bottoms from the 70s, take me aside and counsel a wiser course.

PS. Of course I did also fall into the lake when I practically yanked my arm out of its socket reaching for that ladder – and that reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from On Golden Pond. Enjoy!

 

 

 

I’ve Stopped

planning the prom at Somerville High School

A couple of weeks ago I stopped writing the column I have been producing every week since the fall of 1980.

This is what I looked like when I started. I’m the one in the puffed sleeves, I should say, the one with the post growing out of her head.

in  those 35+  years, I never once missed a deadline.

I leaned in, you might say.

I wrote it recovering from an early miscarriage and the fierce spinal headache that put me back in the hospital two days after the D & C.

Two years later, I wrote it as labor began and finished it in the hospital the morning after the birth of our third child.

That time, my husband took the copy home, typed in the final two paragraphs I had composed there in the hospital, photocopied it and put it in the mail to all my subscribing papers. (Transmitting a thing electronically to a newspaper was almost unheard of infancy then – heck,  faxing seemed to us all like a literal miracle – and for years there, filing the column meant quite mailing two fat handfuls of envelopes.)

But this past summer, for the first time ever, I did take a little time off, only because the media group who was my biggest customer needed to cut its freelance budget,  and knew for first time what it felt like to be on  vacation. I enjoyed the break, though I felt kind of floaty as week after week passed and I stayed silent.

But slowly, slowly over that time, I began to realize that for quite a while now, Change has been knocking at my own personal door. And so, a couple of weeks ago, I notified all my various editors to say that I was quitting.

The Winchester Star’s Melissa Russell who is among the most talented editors I have ever worked with, did this piece about my stepdown.

In the next little while I’ll come back to the topic of what it has felt like to stop doing a thing I have long been doing, and maybe I can ask you others what that experience has felt like to you.

No longer the girl in the puffed sleeves with the wannabe Farrah Fawcett hair  I am content to be  just Terry,  just another blogger, peeping away in that vast blogger meadow.

 

 

You’re Doing That Wrong

you're doing that wrong.jpgIn  my post of a few days ago, I did all this bragging about how competent women are; about how we women GET THE JOB DONE.

This  Harry Bliss cartoon shows the flip side of that in that it illustrates our need to control and/or comment upon just about every aspect of life around the house.

Maybe that’s a human thing more than s a gender thing though, because in truth we all have our domains.

My husband’s domain is Pantry Management. Every three or four months he takes every single item off the pantry shelves and lines them all up on the kitchen counter according to category. That way, when I note an absence of, say, cornstarch, and go to the store and buy some, he can do what he always does: With neither fanfare or remark, he walks over to those many shelves  and take out all three, or four, or five of the boxes of cornstarch that I somehow didn’t see.

Come to think of it, I guess I should count myself lucky that he never, in our many years together, has said I was doing the shopping wrong. (It’s true he never buys the food or helps me bring  it in from the car – “I have no shoes on!” – but he does put it all away God bless him, and that’s a job I hate even more than. emptying the dishwasher!

 

 

My Classic Nightmare

the-emperors-new-clothes-1My recurring nightmare isn’t the one where you’re naked in public on the subway platform  with only the odd stray animal there to help cover you up – though I have had versions of this nightmare.

I’ve also had the one where I’m 15 again and walking toward my 10th grade locker, only to look down and see that I’ve forgotten my top and – darn it – my real-life bras just never look like the bras you see on the Victoria’s Secret cuties.

But the phantasm scenarios that really haunt me are the dreams like the one I had last night. These dreams , which I have had a million times, involve being unprepared:

  • Unprepared to give that speech I am slated to give, with not a notion in the world  about what I’m expected to speak about, as I stand  before an  audience of 1,000 people.
  • Unprepared to talk off the top of my head while being videotaped for a news site.
  • Unprepared as a teacher to give a math lesson in front of the principal because I didn’t even know I was teaching math this year….and there  are a dozen others.

Last night’s bad dream had an education  theme like that third  one. It took  place at a school completely new to me  so I didn’t know my way around the building. Worse yet, I was a student yet and it was a Spanish II class I enrolled in and  was expected to attend , only I had apparently skipped all of Spanish I, skipped it for whole months at a time over the previous school year.

This is the kind of thing that really makes my vision wobble and pulse in any bad  dreams: the idea that I didn’t just fail to prepare for one single event, but that for  dating back who knows how long , I had been derelict. I had failed to do the work.

I’m a woman, so  you can see why this would terrify me. Because women do DO the work. Women do the reading. Women wouldn’t dare  close their eyes on a school night without knowing just what clothes the kids will be able to put on in the morning and just what food they’ll be able to eat before they get  home from school again tomorrow.

Women get the job done –  not unlike the more than 300 years of immigrants to these shores have done. Take a minute now and listen to this cut from the runaway Broadway hit Hamilton. It’s about the embryonic nation and Washington’s victory at Yorktown. To me it’s very inspiring and illustrates the truth of what the hitherto marginalized can accomplish.  Plus the music! Ah, that music ….!