Life in These Yewnited States

IMG_0855Sometimes you come too close for comfort. For sure I did that day I picked up a can of Comet and started shaking its contents onto my oatmeal. You know that creepy all-over tingle you get when you almost fall down a flight of stairs? It felt like that.

And it felt like that again the very next day, when I gunned my car in the driveway and nearly backed into the spanking new vehicle parked directly behind me, a vehicle that visiting friends had just two minutes before proudly pointed out to me from my kitchen window.

That time I actually started hearing things: a kind of tinny high-pitched taunting tune, like the one the maddening little monsters in the film Gremlins sing outside poor Mrs. Deagle’s house.

gremlins sing Mrs deagle. jpg

So I do have to ask myself: What makes people like me lose their bearings this way?

I don’t think it’s the “task” in multitasking that does it. It isn’t so much what we’re actually doing with the many spider-arms we seem to think we possess, but rather what we’re thinking. So many of us get trapped on that to-do-list carousel, going round and round, reaching for that brass ring that keeps reappearing with every circuit.

I think of Sisyphus, fated by the gods to push the same giant boulder up the same hill every day, only to see it roll back down again.


I think of Prometheus, chained to a rock while an eagle plucked his liver out every day – only to have it grow back again, only to have it plucked out again, etc.


But it’s not just the repetitiveness of our daily chores that has us sprinkling powdered poison onto our cereal or backing our cars into other people’s cars. It’s the assault from outside of us.

Once it was just TV commercials, radio ads and billboard messages that we had to tune out. Now, the busy chatter is coming at us from a place far closer.

I’m talking about the place inside our pockets. I’m talking about the spot right next to us, while we sleep. I’m talking about the smart phone and all those chimes and dings and hiccups it keeps emitting unless we reach deep into its “Settings” belly and gag it entirely.

I myself, for example, am instantly notified by my college every time the place does something it thinks is cool. I’m notified by NOAA every time there’s a storm brewing three states away.

I’m notified about any and all criminal trials deemed to be of such interest to the public that bulletins go out every time the Defense rests, every time the members of the Prosecution, prepare to question the witness, rising and buttoning their suit jackets the way everyone is always doing on The Good Wife. 

I know it’s my fault. I did, after all, sign up for these notifications, so it’s on me if I get overwhelmed by the unstoppably pouring spout of them. Still, I can’t help thinking of that first phone call in history call made by Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant several rooms away. “Mr. Watson, Come Here, I Want You!” he shouted into the mouthpiece.

These days everybody wants us. The challenge is to remember that with the exception of the good safety-minded people at NOAA, really, they only want us so they can sell us stuff.







Cheer Up, Jeeze

happy ants march togetherCheer UP, Jeeze! That’s what I said to myself yesterday after realizing what I wrote on the two days before  this.

I swear, you’d just be crazy all the time if you didn’t have other people to pull you back into Normal. I picture the lone ant blundering off without a mission, feeble feelers waving as his companions march along together cheerfully, bending now and then to lift the dead ones off for burial. Solidarity!

The point is, I felt pretty bleak Monday morning and so wrote that dismal limerick.

Even on Tuesday I had little to offer but mopey sheets of ‘sensitive wallpaper’ as Garrison Keillor calls most  introspective writing.

Hmmm, well OK maybe it wasn’t ALL  mopey. There were those high school girls hoisting their skirts up and me telling myself that sure, I worked out every day when in truth what I mostly did was sitting OUTSIDE the health club in y car reading and looking at the sky.

But mostly, it was like this: Two days, two downer posts.

Then in came a comment to the blog written by a reader named Chris N. plucked out 15 words from that 50 word limerick to show me what I had done. Here’s what he said:

Motivation and discipline are interesting. I’m starting to realize that a big part of both of them is visualizing the positive future benefits of the discipline in the here and now, and putting aside the visualization of the negative experiences of the discipline itself. So put the “dark”, “chill”, “summon the will”, “quit”, “bleak”, “rock”, “push it on back up the hill” and all those other downers in a tidy pile on the side of the road, say goodbye to them, and write a limerick full of positive images of where you will be after you got up early, did what needed to get done, and then are enjoying where it got you!

He was so right . My spirits shot up  like mercury in a dog days’ thermometer from that point on.

I couldn’t call up the wit to write the cheery limerick he suggested, but here’s one by my old student Bill, someone I haven’t seen since Jimmy Carter took office, but who feels to me now as if the two of us are still in each other’s daily lives, every Fourth Period in a that sunny top-floor  classroom with its big old windows that rattled in the wind.

Yes it’s true, it’s a morning to shiver,
Time to rise and to stand and deliver,
Pushing boulders up hill
May be wearisome, still,
It beats eagles consuming your liver.

“It could always be worse, he added. “You could be Prometheus,” he added.

Prometheus! Who stole not cookies but fire from the gods and got punished every day by having his liver plucked out by crows – only then it regenerated itself every night! A good one! So now I feel much better.

I-Pad for Dummies

Half way through the day when you realize you’re probably NOT going to do all you’d hoped to do it’s good to drop back and make a list – because it helps. I  was ready to throw myself out the window for all I couldn’t seem to get started on – until my gaze fell on my mate’s bureau and this dumb jokey gift I got for him, just because I’m a typical American and easily beguiled.

They call it a Boogie Board™ (lame name. Brookstone!) and it’s little more than an Etch-a-sketch only not as hardy. It has an LED that sort of illuminates the writing surface but not all that well. And it says right on it when the battery runs out you just throw the whole thing away, but still: it did help me raise my spirits.

First I took pictures of myself holding it, then I wrote on it and took pictures of what I wrote.

Here you will see my food intake for the day. (It’s a thing we Weight Watchers people are doomed to do 24/7. It’s WORSE than watching your liver get plucked out by birds every day and having it grow back every night.)  Then I made that comforting list and just look at all I was going to do, calling carpenters and eye doctors and massage therapists; putting a walnut stain one old piece of furniture and applying the finish to another; making the homemade soup and going to buy more firewood;  running on the goddam TREADMILL and blogging and all that before dinner because I know I’m no good after dinner.

I did some of this I guess though nobody got any homemade soup, that’s for sure. And for the first time in a long time I didn’t get the old blog post thought up in timely fashion.

But just making this list –  here seen at an artsy angle like the Prologue of Star Wars – made me feel better and there’s the real distinction between us and the animals: not the ability to accessorize as that Clairee says in Steel Magnolias but the ability to do very little actual work in a day, then sit down and draw up a list to that makes you feel that very, very soon you really WILL do it all.