Somebody Is Talking about You

We all go through life telling stories. We talk about past experiences. We tell someone what we had for lunch. We recommend books, restaurants,  colleges, and potential mates based upon what we know. We discuss our plans, hopes, and dreams for the future. We give advice.

If these stories are compelling enough, they get repeated. How many times in the past week have you said something like, “I know a guy who…” or “I just heard…” or “Mary told me…”

Yes, gossip can be included under this overarching umbrella of communication. We humans love to gossip and speculate and draw conclusions. We all do it. Heaven knows I’m not immune. Fortunately, that is only one way to tell a story. I hope most of us spend more time on the high road than on the many other ones.

Either way, this propensity for storytelling is why I can say with certainty that somebody is talking about you. Because talking about one another is just what we do.

I recently learned that a friend sometimes uses my blog posts to help her clients improve their English language skills. I know another person who reads portions of my book to her Alzheimer’s patients and then asks them to discuss similar experiences, to help spark their memories. Both of these things make me smile.

Trust me, you’re being talked about. One can only hope that most of the things that are said about you are good. It sure does make me want to improve my odds by living a virtuous life.

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What’s in a Name?

I have always felt as though I was given the wrong name. I don’t feel like a Barbara. I never have.

I think we should all have naming ceremonies as adults, and we should get to pick our own. You should have a birth name and a real name. Mine would be Serenity. But the way the culture is at present, if I tried to change it now, I’d be laughed at by everyone who knows me. I am resigned to my name.

Even better, our names should be our story. They should be added to with each passing year based on our traits and experiences. By the time we are 80, our full names should take hours to recite.

For example, You would have “Mary, who danced before she walked, who loves dogs, who shocked everyone by spelling O U T at age 2, who was Rudolph in her Christmas pageant…”  And so on, and so forth.

In a world like that, if someone said, “Tell me your name,” they would be indicating that they really wanted to know you well, and they’d settle in for the duration with a nice cup of tea. And telling your name would be a gift that you would only bestow upon those who you felt deserved to know the very core of you.

And after telling your story, you could say something like, “But call me Serenity, for short.”

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Your Eighth Decade

More and more of my friends are in their 80’s now. The older I get, the more that will happen. I see them as precious gifts.

I have no idea what life must be like in one’s 8th decade. I hope to find out myself one day. But as it stands, I have a great deal of admiration for all of these people.

Making it to 80 is no small accomplishment. It means you are overflowing with life experience. You are a survivor. You have seen and done things that most of us can only dream of. You have lived and loved and laughed and cried and fought and struggled. And here you are. Did you imagine you’d reach this mountain top? What a triumph!

You have watched the world unfold, and have been an active part in its unfolding. You have been there and you have done that. You know what it’s like to live at a time that was less comfortable and convenient. But because of that, you know that it’s possible to live without a cell phone and a microwave and 257 TV channels. Does our dependency on such foibles make you inwardly laugh?

You have most likely not been appreciated nearly as much as you deserve to be. People think they’ve heard all your stories, but they’ve barely scratched the surface. They probably aren’t asking the right questions. Shame on them.

When I see these friends, I know I’m gazing into untapped depths, and I wonder what I’m missing. People in their 80’s are diamonds walking amongst us, and should be cherished as such. The rest of us can only hope to travel that many times around the sun, and do it with such style!

Diamond

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I Miss Afterschool Specials

When I was growing up, about once every 5 or 6 weeks during the school year, late on a weekday afternoon (hence the name), ABC would air an Afterschool Special. Oh, how I looked forward to those shows! They really were special. They made me feel like someone was actually thinking about me and wanting to tell me what I needed to know.

They could be about just about anything. Divorce, girls in sports, bullying, blended families, stuttering, alcoholism, reproduction, death, foster parents, weight, secrets, popularity, puberty, friendship, teen pregnancy, drugs, STDs, child abuse, suicide… you name it.

And in retrospect, an amazing cast of stars popped up in these little stories. Actors included Will Smith, Adam Sandler, William H. Macy, Wil Wheaton, Michael Jackson, Marisa Tomei, Michael York, Beau Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patty Duke, Rob Lowe, Kristy McNichol, and Jodie Foster. You just never knew who was going to show up in your living room. It was really kind of exciting.

Nowadays an ABC Afterschool Special wouldn’t work. Kids don’t watch live, network TV anymore. They aren’t bound by viewing schedules. They probably don’t even have to consult the TV Guide. They watch what they want, when they want.

It kind of makes me happy that I grew up when I did. I’d have hated to miss out on all those age-appropriate life lessons, courtesy of ABC.

Oooh, but I just discovered a bunch of them are on Youtube now! I may have to take a walk down memory lane!

Afterschool Special

It’s Ornamental, My Dear Christmas!

In case you haven’t heard me lament this fact before: I’m single. At this time of year, that means I don’t bother putting up a Christmas tree. It just seems like too much effort when no one but me will appreciate it.

But I can’t seem to give up one tradition: I buy myself a Christmas ornament every single year. I do this, knowing full well they’ll rarely see the light of day. I do this despite the fact that I really am trying not to accumulate stuff. (If moving across the continent taught me nothing else, I am now painfully aware that every possession I add to my pile is that much more weight I’ll have to haul from pillar to post, and I’m not getting any younger or stronger.)

The reason I can’t kick my ornament habit is that I don’t buy just a boring, featureless, round orb. My ornaments have to be unique. They have to invoke something I experienced that particular year. My ornaments have to be a part of my story.

I have ornaments I made in childhood. I have ones my grandmother brought from Denmark. I have some my mother sewed on her singer sewing machine. (I also still have the sewing machine.)

Many of my ornaments relate to my travels. There’s the tiny Navajo pot I got while traveling through the west. And, oh, look! There’s the blown glass Santa on his sleigh that I got in Venice, Italy. And there’s the colorful articulated fish that I bought the time I took my favorite aunt to Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. And the greyhound in the Santa hat kind of brings tears to my eyes, now that my greyhound has gone to rainbow bridge.

I have never understood people who insist that their Christmas decorations be all color coordinated and follow a theme. I prefer my mad jumble of random baubles that takes me down memory lane. If I ever do put up a tree again, the person that inspired me to do so will be treated to my life story as we decorate.

This year, I bought what I consider to be the quintessential Seattle ornament. First of all, I bought it at the annual Yulefest, which is put on by the Nordic Heritage Museum here in town. Since I’m half Danish, this fest is rapidly becoming another Christmas tradition for me. And this particular ornament is a gnome, which is very Danish, indeed (although they call them Nisse in Denmark. Read my post about that here).

But this isn’t just any gnome. This one is dressed in the bright green and blue of the Seattle Seahawks, and he’s called the “twelfth gnome” just as Seahawks fans are called the twelfth man. Even though I am not a sports fan, how could anyone resist the twelfth gnome?

Merry Christmas, dear readers!

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Leggo My Ego

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve always had piss-poor self-esteem. I’ve always felt kind of weird. Different from everyone else. Like I don’t fit in.

Because of that, I leave myself rather vulnerable to criticism. Any hint of censure from someone else causes me to think, “Maybe THAT’S it! That’s what has always been wrong with me!” I’ve spent most of my life searching for that puzzle piece that will make the picture complete, the problem solvable, and allow me, finally, to be like everyone else.

So when the moderator of a local storytelling group kicked me out and said, among many, many other things, “Your ego has been growing exponentially for months… Your need for more and more recognition has been tiring for me to deal with,” it caused me to place myself under a very harsh microscope.

Am I egotistical? To me that means being selfish and uncaring about others. It means being vain and conceited. It means feeling like I’m better than those around me.

That doesn’t feel like me at all. But that’s the trap, isn’t it? If I am egotistical, would I be capable of seeing that?

Is that the image I project? I asked a friend of mine who is a counselor, and she said, “If anything, you’re the most understated person I have ever met.” That was a relief, because I truly, genuinely don’t feel superior to those around me. If anything, it’s just the opposite.

And I try really hard to use my blog to highlight causes that need help. I’ve also volunteered and donated, and lent my writing skills to people and groups that need to spread the word about their organizations. I vote. I recycle. I try to comfort people when they’re hurting. I ask for help even when it makes me uncomfortable. I compliment those whom I admire. I try to give people credit, especially when I feel like their efforts have been overlooked. Are those selfish acts?

But egotism also means talking about oneself, being opinionated, being boastful. I do have to own that. My blog is mainly about the things that rattle around in this head of mine. It’s about the way I see the world. Is that bad? Is it wrong? How could I write every day about anything other than my own experiences? And 99 percent of my entries are, in fact, opinion pieces. Everyone has opinions, don’t they? As far as I know, I don’t try to force anyone to agree with me.

I asked my counselor friend if it is wrong to be proud of my blog and my book. She told me I should be proud of both. I worked hard on both of them. There’s no shame in feeling good about things that have taken so much effort. There’s also nothing wrong with gaining confidence from their success.

It occurred to me that this critical man only knows me from the stories I’ve told in his group. Well, one of his rules is that the stories you tell have to be about yourself. It seems to me, then, that talking about oneself in that context isn’t egotistical. It’s what’s required. But it did cause me to look back at all my stories. Most of them have been recorded and are on line, if you’d like to hear them.

The first story I told was for the theme Who Do I Think I Am? I told the story of Chuck, the love of my life, who died unexpectedly, and how that sent me 3100 miles across the country to start over. I think this was my best story of all of them.

The next theme was Personal Mountaintops. This was a story about moving from Florida to Seattle, and comparing and contrasting the two places. I’m a little bit embarrassed about this one, because it sounds like my attempt at stand up comedy in retrospect. But that wasn’t what I intended, and it came from a sincere place. I was trying to bring across the profound changes I was experiencing.

My third story was on the theme of Comfort Zone. I told the story that I had told years before for StoryCorps, which they decided to include in their anthology. It was about being the last person to see someone alive. Supposedly. And then learning that my reality wasn’t the only reality.

The theme he gave us for my fourth story was Change of Heart. I talked about my insecurities about my looks as opposed to my confidence in my intelligence. And basically I was trying to say that beauty comes from within.

Story five was on the theme The Hardest Thing to Say.  So I talked about the nightmare that is internet dating. I thought this one was pretty good. Several other people have used that topic as well.

In January, 2016, the theme was Starting Over. I told the story of having a gypsy give me the evil eye, and how that kind of gives me an out of jail free card. In other words, if something goes wrong, blame it on the evil eye.

Mistakes was my 7th story. Now, this one may be why that guy began to think I’m egotistical, because I told a story about all the amazing things that had been happening to me recently. I talked about the StoryCorps anthology that I’m in, and all the media publicity I was getting, and the fact that I was about to publish a book. But the story was mainly about my shock that all this great stuff was happening, and how I really felt that I had done nothing to deserve it. Still I have to admit it was shameless self-promotion. But, hey, you can’t make this stuff up.

My next to last story was about the theme Say Yes. This was about desperately wanting my sister’s approval, and how hard I tried to fulfill her dying wish, and how devastating it was that I couldn’t do so. And it was also about how amazing my nephew is.

My very last story didn’t get recorded, unfortunately. The theme was You Can’t Always Get What You Want, so I told the story of my recent vacation all alone on the romantic Oregon coast, and how in the end it turned out to be a wonderful time regardless of my being all by myself. It’s still a beautiful place, after all.

Do any of those (well, except that one) seem egotistical to you, given the requirement that stories are to be true and about yourself?

So after a week of soul searching, and trying to determine the health of my ego, and picking my stories apart with a fine-toothed comb, I tend to agree with my counselor friend’s ultimate conclusion. Apparently I represent something to this guy that pushes some button or other, and causes him to be hostile and have a low opinion of me, but this is through no fault of my own.

Maybe he has a book in him that’s dying to come out, and somehow my pride in my own book has triggered him more than my many compliments of his writing ever did. If so, that makes me sad. But this is pure speculation. I’m quite sure I’ll never know.

Yes, I’ll continue to write about myself, because I’m pretty much the only frame of reference that I have. But I’ll also continue to be fascinated with the world and all the people therein. I’ll continue to want to learn from others, and about others. I’ll continue to delight in those who get me and support me, and be confused by and try to figure out those who don’t. I’ll continue to be glad that I’m just a tiny part of a big, amazing universe, and I’ll always, always enjoy observing bits and pieces thereof in this blog and getting your feedback.

And maybe instead of trying to figure out what’s wrong with me, I should just work on getting a thicker skin. There’s a thought. Sigh.

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The Bloody Big Head by Katiesparrow1

At the risk of sounding egotistical, I hope you like my book. http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu

 

Seattle Speaks

So many of us are in a state of shock, trying to adjust to this new world we’re living in. We are wondering how we’ll fit in now if we’re women, minorities, immigrants, or part of the LGBT community. I know I’ve really been struggling with this.

Fortunately, there’s a place that I have been going once a month to tell stories, and I thought that this month, in particular, this group, full of so many people that I love so much, would be a source of solace for me. I expected it to be a sort of life raft in a storm-tossed sea. Surely in this place, if no place else on earth, my voice would be heard. And I planned to tell an amazing story, one that I thought would be healing for many people.

But to my shock, I was not allowed to tell my story. Politics were declared to be off limits. The moderator doesn’t seem to have caught on to this new world of ours, where we will need a place where all of us can be heard and still accepted. This wasn’t your grandmother’s election. This was more like a political 9/11, whether the person you voted for won or not, and people need a chance to process that.

Instead, the restrictions mount in this group with each passing month, but they’re unequally applied. It’s kind of like our new country in microcosm, and because of that, more and more people are discontented. In his desperate attempt to please everyone, he’s pleasing no one. He doesn’t trust us enough to loosen his grip. Boundaries are required, yes, but they should be equal and not so heavy handed. It breaks my heart.

So I had to leave. I couldn’t stand the thought that I could only speak there if I fit within an ever-narrowing set of criteria. This was the one place in this city that I didn’t feel like an outsider, but my foothold is increasingly precarious.

I now have to decide whether I can take that feeling. There are a lot of people I would miss. But I can feel like a freak and an outsider just about anywhere, without having to lose a day of work and drive in rush hour traffic.

Did I overreact? Yeah, probably. But in this political climate, it feels like all the nerves are on the surface of my skin. I need embracing, not restricting. So instead of having my monthly invigorating dive into my pool of friends, I came home and felt sorry for myself and may as well have applied the pint of gelato I consumed directly to my waistline. Only time and a cooler head will tell if I’ll be back.

Who knows. I may not be welcome. I may not be generic enough. It’s nearly impossible to avoid stepping on toes in a room that is that tightly packed with people. Perhaps the moderator needs to have faith in people’s resilience. Just a thought.

So, without further ado, here’s the story I intended to tell last night. I ask you, is it so controversial that a group of people, who have always struck me as being extremely supportive, would have found it intolerable? You decide.

____________________________

Yesterday I was at work, trying to figure out how to live in this new world of ours. Everything looked the same, but everything felt different. I was afraid and confused. I was in despair. I couldn’t even figure out how to write my daily blog, in a place where my voice suddenly feels like it’s being discounted by society at large. So I just sort of sat there, stunned.

My shift was going by really slowly. Not a single boat asked for an opening of my drawbridge for several hours. It kind of felt like everyone was hunkering down, trying not to draw attention to themselves until they figured things out. It was eerily quiet.

Then the radio crackled to life, and it was the Boeing corporate yacht requesting passage. I opened the bridge for him, and he passed through. But something surreal happened as I closed the bridge. When I opened it, the street had been deserted, but upon closing three minutes later, I saw that the street was now filled with dozens of flashing red and blue police strobes. And behind them was a massive crowd of hundreds of people. It was like they had appeared out of nowhere.

I finished closing the bridge and then climbed out on the catwalk that is suspended over the street to get a better view. As the crowd drew near, I could hear them shouting, “Bridge! Bridge!” My heart settled into my throat. What was going on? Were they going to occupy the bridge? It happened once before when the occupy movement was in full force. Suddenly I was feeling very isolated and vulnerable. And they were getting closer.

But as they approached I began to hear more of their chants. “Build a bridge, not a wall!” “This is what democracy looks like!” “Refugees are welcome here!”

Voices of inclusion. Voices of unity. Students reaching out and speaking their truth in a non-violent way. The true essence of America at its best. Freedom of speech.

And there were so many of them. The procession lasted a long time and I got to witness it all from my perch. I was gazing down at hope for the future.

And just like that, the ice melted around my heart and I got tears in my eyes. We still have voices, every one of us. We don’t necessarily have to agree, but we all can speak in this country. And the majority of us aren’t going anywhere. We’re here. Together. And somehow we’ll all work this out. These students reminded me of that.

Speaking your truth is a little gift of kindness you give to those who are worried that they may not be able to speak their own. And when your truth is combined with the truths of others, it is very powerful.

Witnessing this piece of history inspired me. Yes, I can live in this world. There’s room for all of us. There’s just a lot of work to be done. I have to say I’m really proud to be a part of Seattle right now.

We still have a lot to be grateful for. Read more about it in my book!  http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu

Do You Feel Like You’re Being Watched?

As anyone who regularly reads my blog knows, I spend a great deal of time on my drawbridge, watching the world in minute detail. I know the routines of hundreds of people. I know who owns what dog. I know the cycles of the seasons, the migration patterns, and the angles of the sun at different times of the year. These things inspire this blog and my book.

Until today it never occurred to me that there are other people who do this—watch the world closely and quietly. I came across this article about a guy who just got a job at Target, and he writes about the things he observed on his first few days. He looks at his customers and describes them with humor and delight. I suspect that most people don’t even realize he’s observing them as he rings up their purchases.

Come to think of it, I bet there are a lot of watchers in this world besides bridgetenders. Bus drivers, security guards, waiters, cashiers, taxi drivers… Watching the world and thinking deeply about it is the best way on earth to avoid going insane with boredom. It’s also a wonderful way to learn and grow.

It makes me wonder how often I’m being scrutinized without my even being aware of it. No doubt it happens frequently. I don’t mind being studied in this benevolent fashion. How could I, when I do it all the time myself? But it makes me wonder what these observers are thinking, and what stories they write about me in their heads. It kind of makes me sad that I’m oblivious (mostly due to time constraints and shyness), because I suspect these people have some fascinating stories to tell.

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Through the Magnifying Glass by LuzTapia

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Another Story–About Saying Yes

I told yet another story at my local storytelling group, Fresh Ground Stories here in Seattle, Washington. I’m becoming addicted to this group and all the wonderful people in it. I never would have imagined that I’d take to standing in front of a group of 150 people and exposing my soft underbelly, but there you have it.

The theme this particular month was “Say Yes”.

Here’s the recording of the story, but if you are unable or unwilling to hear a sound file, I’ll put the story below it. Let me know what you think!

Quite often I call myself an only child with siblings. There were three girls in my family, and I love my sisters very much, but one was 10 years older than me and the other was 9 years older, so by the time I stopped being a self-absorbed little brat, they had already left home.

We had different upbringings. Their childhood was spent with my abusive, alcoholic father and my still hopeful mother in Connecticut, mine was spent with my abusive stepfather and my by now despairing mother in Florida. Our politics and spiritual beliefs and accents were completely different.

I kind of looked at them as more mature pseudo-mothers who were rarely there. I spent half my life desperately trying to get their approval and never quite feeling as though I had. In fact, when my oldest sister had my nephew, even though I wasn’t present for the birth, I called her up and said, “It’s really strange. I’ve never even seen him face to face, but I already love him anyway, so I want you to know that if anything ever happens to you, I will be there for him.”

She responded, “I think we both know that’s a bad idea.” Among other things, I lived in sin with someone for 16 years. Scandalous.

As my nephew grew, I visited him as often as I possibly could. I took pride in being the cool aunt. The one he could ride roller coasters with, despite my white-knuckled terror. The one who would listen. Someone who would love him no matter what.  I also wanted to sort of sneak other points of view into his life. Which went well as long as I didn’t get caught.

Then one day in 2007 I got a phone call from my sister to tell me that she had pretty advanced cancer. My nephew was 18 at the time. Too young. Too young.

A year went by. Toward the end, she said to me, “I need you to do something for me. I need you to promise me that you’ll be here for the funeral. Ryan is going to need you.”

Of course I said yes. This was the first time that she had really trusted me with anything. Ever. This was huge.

Two months later, she was gone. I bought my plane ticket so I’d be there in plenty of time for the funeral. I was going to fulfil her dying wish.

Unfortunately I had to change planes in Memphis. And there was going to be a delay. A 5 hour delay. A 5 hour, funeral-missing delay. They were gluing a new antenna on the plane, and it would take 5 hours for the glue to dry. And of course there was no other flight available. Oh, no. “Sorry, but here’s a 6 dollar lunch voucher…”

Have you ever had one of those soul-tearing, chest-heaving cries that leave you completely exhausted and Incapable of functioning? Well, I had one, all alone, right in the middle of the airport, with an audience of hundreds. For all the good it did me.

There was a tiny bit of good news, though. Her husband called me and said that his employer had missed the same flight, so when the two of us finally made it to Kansas City, we could share a rental car for the hour drive to his house. So that’s what we did.

When I met this total stranger, I must have looked horrible. Red, puffy, snotty, my hair all tangled. Depleted. Needless to say, he drove. As we got on the highway, he said to me, “So, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

Are you kiddin/g me right now? Can we all agree that there’s a time and place for that type of conversation? I:?t took every fiber of my being not to jump out of the moving car. I took a deep breath and said, “Look, I know you mean well, but I can’t have this conversation right now.” The rest of the trip was in awkward silence.

And when I got to the house, it was filled up with in-laws whom I had never met. I walked in and everyone stopped talking and just stared at me. Finally, my brother-in-law’s father said, “Well. Glad you could finally make it.”

I felt like I had been struck by lightning. So I just turned, went upstairs, and closed myself into the guestroom. I sat in there feeling like an utter failure. The one thing my sister had asked me to do, the one thing, and I couldn’t do it.

Eventually, my nephew got back to the house. He hugged me while I cried. He comforted me. This 19 year old young man who had just lost his mother comforted me. He calmed me down. He told me to take a shower and try to get some rest.

Later that night, I lay in the dark in that house that already felt empty of my sister, a house I knew I’d never return to. I began to accept the fact that some things are just going to be out of my control, and any approval I need has got to come from within.

I looked at the ceiling and I said, “You know, you have nothing to worry about. He’s going to turn out just fine. Just like I did.”

Since then, I’ve watched my nephew grow into an amazing man with my politics! Yay! And he also has integrity, compassion, conviction and decency. He happens to be visiting me, and he’s here tonight, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.

A Story About Reframing Misfortune

This month, the theme for the monthly storytelling group I attend was “Starting Over”. I’m the poster child for that, but I didn’t feel like being too intense this time, so I thought about a blog post I did a while back on the Evil Eye. That’s the story I told, with some modification. If you have the ability to listen to the audio below, let me know what you think. And if you have a chance to join a storytelling group in your area, like Fresh Ground Stories here in Seattle, I highly recommend it!