Oatmeal Rules



Most mornings, I make myself a big, bracing bowl of oatmeal for breakfast because, as a former exercise instructor advised, no matter what else you do during the day, oatmeal for breakfast makes you think you’re taking care of yourself.

I’ve perfected the recipe:  one-half cup old-fashioned oats, 1 teas. brown sugar, soymilk, dried or fresh fruit, and several generous shavings of fresh nutmeg.  I cook it for two minutes in the microwave and then let it sit so those little oats expand and it gets a chewy texture that’s somehow silky as well.  Yesterday, I thought I’d go wild and add some cinnamon so I absently reached towards the “C” spices (yes, they’re alphabetized), grabbed the big container and gave a decisive shake into the bowl.  The “cinnamon” had a peculiar red tint that was my first clue that I’d grabbed the chili powder and not the cinnamon.  But, being the adventurous eater I flatter myself I am, I thought I’d try it – skimmed off most of the spicy stuff that was floating on the milk, left some of the chili powder, cooked it, let it sit, and then tasted.  I like chocolate with pepper and I thought this might succeed by the same principal of heat and sweet.  I was wrong.  Fortunately, the distinctive granules of chili powder were easy to avoid.  I ate my oatmeal.  I started my day right.

We believe that food accidents can have positive outcomes as in the Reese’s Cup commercial that had us believe that someone fell into a jar of peanut butter while holding a chocolate bar and the Reese’s Cup was born.  Or, that breaking the rules of cooking can turn out to be good, i.e., the peanut butter, cheddar cheese, brown mustard and alfalfa sprouts on whole wheat sandwich that is so delicious.  But in this Great Oatmeal Experiment, I created a new rule from my negative outcome: “Hot spice in a sweet dish for breakfast confuses and shocks –not in a good way- a sleepy palate.”

There’s no doubt that rules can make life, especially, breakfast, easier.  My grandfather whom we called “Nani” a very spiritual and loving man with a mischievous twinkle in his eye, was a big believer that there was black and there was white – a premise that probably kept him and his siblings grounded when his mother, a widow, left Italy with them when Nani was four years-old, to start a new life in the United States.  You got the feeling that Nani had earned the right to be rigid because my guess is that he had broken more than a few rules in his time and, quite possibly, learned that rules were important when everything else was topsy-turvy.   His after-dinner pontificating, especially as the 1960’s unfolded and many Really Big Rules were being challenged (for example, “You can only sleep with one person at a time and only if you’re married to that person,”) was the stuff of family legend.  The day he brought his fist down soundly on the table, rattling the dishes that remained of our meal, and yelled, “Those people who say swearing is acceptable are full of bullshit!!” was a day that made me love him even more than I had before.

But there’s also no doubt that there’s room for creative thinking, coloring outside the lines, thinking outside the box, whatever you want to call it.  We wouldn’t even know the word “impressionist” if that group of painters had followed the rules.  The same can be said of the poets Emily Dickinson and e.e. cummings who turned punctuation on its head, or the composer Phillip Glass whose compositions are challenging to the ear, the intellect, and the emotions.  We give artists a break on breaking the rules.

John Irving’s novel Cider House Rules examines this idea and concludes that, not only do rules sometimes need to be broken, but it’s the individual’s duty to discern which rules have meaning for his or her life.

The newspaper is replete with stories that reflect conflict about rules.  Are high school, college, and professional athletes exempt from rules? Haven’t civilized societies concluded that men have no right to take advantage of women – just because they can? Is it okay to call someone names if you’re a member of Congress? Is it okay to show disrespect for the President of the United States?  I’ve always been happy that I grew up in a generation that allowed for personal freedoms, for an individual’s right to interpret the rules, but I fear we’ve gone way…way overboard and that our culture may drown in its own ego because, of course, this kind of personal rule-breaking is, at its base, ego-driven, i.e., I know/feel/see better than everyone else, so I get to make up my own boundaries, no matter how it affects others – as opposed to reflective, conscientious rule decisions, based on who you know yourself to be and how you can co-exist in society.

There was one recent news story, however, that gives me hope.  According to The Huffington Post, two gay men were holding hands as they waited in line at a food truck in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus (yeah, Ohio!!) when someone started yelling at them to “cut your gay shit out.” Not only did the people in line stand up for the gay couple, the food truck workers refused to serve the bigoted man: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joel-diaz/lgbt-tolerance_b_2397363.html.

In this case, the rules would appear to be changing for the better – a small yet poignant victory.

As for the rest of the world – sigh – watch out for the chili powder in your oatmeal.

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Change as We Know It

I recently read about a study that seems to show that most people think they won’t change as much in the next ten years as they have in the past ten years: http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2013/01/your-elusive-future-self.html.

It’s certainly hard to gauge how many changes you’ve made, but anticipating change is something I’m pretty bad at.   The stylish Mrs. Poirier, my tenth grade English teacher posed this enigma, “The more things change, the more they remain the same” (a paraphrase of the original quote) and it took me until I was about 45 to get a handle on that one.  So, apparently, not only can’t I anticipate change, I can’t talk about it very well either.  But that’s what this posting is about.

I also read an amusing interview with Shirley MacLaine who is described as fumbling with her iphone and having trouble believing she’s 78 years old which raises the question of how can we possibly know what we’ll be like in the future when the warp speed of technology has so much to do with our daily lives and when we may grow physically old, but emotionally feel very young.

The study suggests that most people feel as if they’ve reached their peaks of judgment, preferences, etc., at whatever age they are, so the best way to predict who you’ll be in the future is to “ imagine yourself in the future, … to look at other people who are in the very future you’re imagining,” says Daniel T. Gilbert one of the authors of the study.

Personally, imagining my future self seems to be unsporting and, quite frankly, something I’d rather avoid.  Of course, I look forward to another generation, to weddings, to real retirement (not this fake one I’ve got going on now). It’s the being old that I suppose is the big bump on this downward plunge.

But I couldn’t help but think of all this the other night when we were out at a little diner.  Even though it was a respectable 6:30 and there were no early bird specials to be found, the place was filled with white-hairs.  Although there were some conversations afoot – I overheard one man recounting his WWII experiences – the couple across from us each stared out, past his/her spouse, no words for the other.  I felt so sad watching them, hoping, waiting for them to connect, but they continued to sit, their respective hands folded on opposite sides of the table, waiting for their food.  I remembered my little 80-something friend Syd whom I knew the summer my husband and I started dating.  She told me how she envied Bill and my lively discussions, our passionate words, while she and her husband had nothing left to say to one another.  Even though she took dance classes several times a week and more than made up for her tiny frame with her spunky style, her husband who was younger, but still in his 70’s, must have seen her age and not her.

Back to the diner – the food still hadn’t come and the man got up to use the bathroom.  Of course, “got up” makes it sound simple – it wasn’t simple.  It took him several minutes to extricate himself from the booth, then more time to straighten up, and only then did he begin the laborious trek to the loo.  The whole scene was depressing me rather a lot.

Will Bill and I run out of words?  Will one or both of us be almost crippled?  Will life just be too much?

I was distracted by our waitress and then, miraculously, when I looked up again, husband and wife were talking and smiling and laughing.  He even had a dimple.  I felt much better especially when I realized how stupid I was to underestimate the power of their, most likely, many years together.   I was projecting all along – when/if I imagine my future self, I think I can deal with aches and slowing down and a multitude of sagging body parts, but I don’t think I’ll deal well with losing a connection with the one I love, with those I love.

So does any of talk about change matter?  Well, not if you realize that all any of us can do is tell the children you love them, call your friends, and take advantage of every opportunity to be with the one you love. But that, when you think about it, is a lot and I’ll take it any day.


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Ten Great Things to Do In Cleveland In Winter


Bill’s photo of the Cleveland skyline from Huntington Beach – February, 2012 .

Post-holidays in Cleveland, when the white world seems to close in on you, sometimes it’s hard to venture out of the cozy warmth of the house and seek out entertainment (I recently heard this time referenced as “The Christmas Cliff.”).  Even though I meant to be a skier, I’m not, so am always looking for entertainment that either incorporates the cold and snow or ignores the cold and snow.

So, I offer this list of things to do in Cleveland that will keep you inspired.  I’ve tried to limit it to events that are free or relatively inexpensive and to those that I’ve actually experienced.  What I haven’t even begun to mine is the plethora of theatre opportunities in Cleveland and I’ve only touched on the museum scene in this town (Did you know we have a Money Museum??).

1.  Sunday Classics at the Capital Theatre: http://www.clevelandcinemas.com/promo.asp?ID=29#classics.  For $5 you can watch a classic film on the big screen and then go to brunch at one of the great nearby restaurants in Gordon Square Arts District.

2.  Cleveland Museum of Art – at night – the Museum is open late on Wednesdays and Fridays and even have a happy hour on Friday:  http://www.clevelandart.org/visit.  With darkness, the exhibits take on a different glow that feeds your soul.

3.  Market Garden Brewery Brews and Prose series: http://marketgardenbrewery.com/news-and-events/ where once a month you can get good beer, good food, and hear local writers do their thing.

4.  Gallucci’s “cooking” classes: http://tasteitaly.com – these aren’t really classes, but you do get recipes and where else can you go to sit in the aisles of a grocery store and get served multiple courses of interesting Italian food on Styrofoam plates while drinking all the wine you can handle – usually, for $50.00.

5.  A variety of film series – for the west-siders, at LCCC’s Stocker Center: https://www.lorainccc.edu/Stocker+Arts+Center/fss.htm or for east-siders, at the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cinematheque: http://www.cia.edu/cinematheque/film-schedule, both of which usually have a short introduction or post-screening discussion.

6.  Okay, so I’m biased, but the Lakewood High School Lakewood Project’s winter concert http://www.lakewoodcityschools.org/content_page.aspx?cid=798 is always a blast.  It’s a high school rock orchestra that will reaffirm your hope in the future when you see these young people work their magic on their electric strings and other instruments.

7.  So, you put the bike and golf clubs away for the winter, but that shouldn’t stop you from bundling up and taking on a few of the wonderful hikes within spitting distance of Cleveland.  The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a good place to start: http://www.nps.gov/cuva/planyourvisit/recommended-hikes.htm.  If it really gets cold, do what my husband used to do with the kids and hike a stream that gives you a totally different perspective on whatever area you choose.

8.  Visit a beach.  Talk about a different perspective, seeing the ice monster that is Lake Erie in winter is worth getting chilled – check out the sculptural qualities of frozen waves.  See what happens to sand.  It gives a new meaning to “cool”.

9.  Of course, there’s the Cleveland Orchestra, but go see Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra:  http://www.apollosfire.org.  Their Christmas concert Sacrum Mysterium, a blend of Celtic song and dance was totally energizing and spiritual in a way I couldn’t have imagined.  We hope to get to the Intimate Vivaldi program in January or February.  The group performs all over the Cleveland and Akron area, but on limited dates.

10.  Throw a party – the planning, shopping, and executing of a party is a fun, creative project.  Try a dinner-and-a -movie party or my friend Karen’s shop-at-the-Westside Market-in-the-afternoon–and-cook-what-you-bought-in-the-evening party.  Game night.  And people are more open – and available – in the winter when, those who haven’t read this list, think there isn’t a lot to do in Cleveland in the winter.

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Words Under the Tree

I was first seduced by words in eighth grade, in Sister Margareta’s class.  She challenged us to pick our favorite word.


At that point in life I probably had a favorite color, a favorite dessert, and, certainly, a favorite boy, but word??

But as it turns out, I did have a favorite word and it was “delicious.”  And I give my eighth-grade self credit for choosing it – “delicious” is almost an onomatopoeia where the feeling you get when something is delicious feels like, sounds like “delicious.”  The word rolls around on your tongue; it’s luxurious; it’s luscious.  Ah, delicious!

The concept of words kept cropping up; in later adolescence – those lazy days of lolling about, peeking under stones for clues as to the meaning of life – who couldn’t be struck by the fact that words for everything were so seemingly arbitrary – “arm,” “car,” “cookie.” Say any word over and over and it loses meaning; it’s just sound. So, at some basic level, I realized that we yearn for symbols to define the universe and that words without meaning are useless.

Then, there’s one of my favorite of the myriad children’s books I memorized in mom-dom – “Frederick,” by Leo Lionni, where Frederick the Buddha-like mouse ostensibly contributes little to the winter hibernation until he reveals the colors of the sun and then, words, that delight and warm his fellow mice as much, if not more, than the practical rations of grain and wheat.   In an essential way, the artist and poet Frederick feeds his fellow furry creatures’ souls.

This is all in counterpoint to what we hear in the news where the evidence that words are cheap and hollow is overwhelming.   For example, Tea Party Spokeswoman Amy Kremer accuses President Obama of not loving the United States http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/09/04/cnns-soledad-obrien-confronts-tea-party-express-spokeswoman/.   Or, NRA President Wayne LaPierre who says that “The only thing that’ll stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/12/21/16069016-disbelief-in-some-quarters-after-nra-calls-for-armed-guards-at-every-school-blames-movies?lite as he advocates for armed guards in our nation’s schools – a nice turn of phrase, but he clearly has no idea what he’s saying.  Steve LaTourette, the Ohio Republican who is leaving the House of Representatives because of Tea Party “chuckleheads” http://foxnewsinsider.com/2012/12/21/rep-latourette-tea-party-chuckleheads-are-to-blame-for-plan-b-tax-vote-being-canceled/ may be the only one using words accurately.

I’ve been thinking about the classic carol “Silent Night, Holy Night, “ (according to Wikipedia, knower of all things) written in 1816, and Josef Mohr’s specific use of the word “silent.”  It seems obvious that the night Jesus was born would be holy and it’s night so it’s quiet, but why silent? I offer you this theory i.e., that if you consciously deflect the noise, the news, and confusion of your life, in the silence that ensues, you have a chance of hearing the beating of your heart where goodness resides, where love can blossom and be magnified.  So, in silence, love enters the world.

So, for this Christmas, or whatever holiday you celebrate, I humbly, and for whatever it’s worth, offer you words.  But words without meaning are empty, so I hope you’ll click on this link of my favorite rendition of “Silent Night” (yes, I’m a big Barbra fan)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1SiEbjEKHU, close your eyes, listen, and breathe.  You may be amazed by what you hear in the silence.

Peace at Christmas and always.

p.s.  Ironic, isn’t it, that the title of my blog is misspelled.  I’m aware and will get to it in the new year.

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Paradigm Shift

She knew something about fashion.  After all, she had sat through The Devil Wears Prada three times when her kids were young and was witnessing what high-priced fashion could do for a real woman like Michelle Obama.  Heck, she knew what an “after” was on “What Not to Wear.” So, when she saw the dress, in the tiny store that shown with sparkly fabrics and muted shades of pink, where you felt cozy as if in a big pale powder puff, where the smell of expensive perfume that she’d never wear enveloped you when you walked in, she was instantly mesmerized.

“Look at this one, Sally,” she called to her youngest child, their only child still living at home, when she saw it on the rack in the small boutique that she would never have entered but for Sally.  It was a va-va-va-boom dress, a deep cobalt blue – a “saturated” color she had learned from her home magazines, that would be perfect with her very deep black hair with only hints of grey.  It was clearly made for a woman her age – one who, despite working out five to six times a week and watching what she ate – except the ice cream that kept dragging her down  – one who woke up one day with bones that ached and high blood pressure, who had borne three children and whose stomach wouldn’t let her forget it – to make that woman forget, for just a moment, that mortality was keeping its steady forward march.

It had tiny feathery pieces of fabric sown horizontally in half-inch repetition.  It was “form-fitting” as they would say, and had multiple straps that repeated the pattern of the dress on the shoulders.  She lifted it off the rack and felt its excessive weight.  “Feel this,” she told Sally and watched as her daughter realized how heavy the thing was.  “It must take a heck of a lot of elastic to keep fat in,” and she would have referenced a girdle, her grandmother suffering through the dog days of August in those stupid things so that her body would conform to the male idea of beauty – but it would take too long to explain to Sally.

“Wow,” was all Sally said, obviously impressed.

Regardless of its weight, the woman could see herself in that dress for a wedding perhaps – her older daughter did have a steady boyfriend –she had a image of herself walking down the aisle on her handsome son’s arm, or dancing in an elegant restaurant (they must exist somewhere) her husband glowing with affection as he held her and she, before she knew it, said to Sally, in a very cocky tone, “I’d look great in that dress.”

“How much is it?” Sally asked and fingered the multiple tags.  In fact, her mother had already looked and couldn’t find a price, “It’s must be too expensive; they don’t tell you.”  Her mother was proud she had taught her daughter to be frugal.

“No, here it is – it’s $295.00. Wow,” Sally said and walked away.  The woman was surprised it wasn’t more.  It would be a luxury to be purchased for a special event, but on the other hand, she did bring home a decent salary.

She couldn’t believe she was thinking these things.

The woman continued around the store, noting a t-shirt that was cute, but no cuter than the one she’d seen at Target for $9.99.  This one was $59.99.  She supposed it was an original design and had to admit that an artist should be compensated.  She hadn’t forgotten Meryl Streeps’ drawl speech in the film where she charted the origins of fashion, supporting its role as art form.  There was a very elegant-in-a-Morticia-Adams sort of way black silk jacket with a red lining that was on sale.  She tried to picture herself in it – nope, too severe.  Or, a green cardigan that she certainly would wear that was at least two steps up from the Lands End brand she usually wore – it had glass buttons, some kind of mohair in the fabric, and three-quarter length sleeves. A bit Audrey Hepburn, she supposed.  It was lovely.  Or, there were those wispy long cardigans with sort of wings coming off them that looked great on her friend Betsy who was tall, but would probably look foolish on her short frame.   And there was a coat made of material that looked like newspaper, but felt like cotton.  “If it doesn’t have a sports section, forget it,” commented a husband accompanied by his runway-ready wife to the saleswoman.  All the nicely lacquered women around him tittered at the sentiment that any man in their own lives would have been thinking as well as this handsome young man, but this guy had the guts to enter their world and speak it directly.  Plus, he was really cute.

She went back to the dress.  She looked at the other two dresses next to it.  Another cobalt blue with a criss-cross bodice and the other, a deep red with a square neckline, always flattering to her, she knew.  Periodically, Sally entered her sphere to seek her opinion on variations of the $10.00 Vera Bradley wallet she was choosing.  How did her daughter know about Vera Bradley?  More to the point, why did she care about Vera Bradley?  She had to stop that subscription to Seventeen, she thought and realized she was worrying for the tenth time that day about something she couldn’t control.

This was an issue she was working on in her yoga practice and her “midlife tune-up” as she referred to it.  She’d been thinking a lot lately about the young woman she had been in her twenties – independent, cool, optimistic.  She wasn’t sure where or when she’d changed into this somewhat compulsive control freak, but there’d definitely been a paradigm shift, as they liked to say at work.  In fact, in her twenties, she hadn’t thought about material things or style at all.  She wore jeans, got a great long wool jacket on sale at Goodwill, and lived in a run-down train-car apartment with wonderful woodwork, but absolutely nothing else.  She ate green beans out of the can instead of cooking and once or twice a year, one friend or another would try to tame her thick dark mass of hair with thinning shears.  She had had enough of the sixties in her to consciously seek equality for whatever group needed it.   She walked in whatever walk was necessary to raise money for a cause she believed in.  These forays into activism weren’t just hobbies, but true, reliable markers as to where her heart and soul had been – there had been no middle ground, simply good, bad, just, unjust.  To say that she had been oblivious to style was an understatement.  Things were a lot easier.

And then, one day, she blinked and her focus had switched from what kind of fool had voted for Reagan to making sure her home and children and meals coordinated.   Just at the point in her life when she had seriously considered giving away everything she didn’t use, poof – there was the Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, Gymboree culture she’d never been aware of before.  Had the scales been lifted or added to?  Now, she wasn’t sure.  She still recycled, even the cardboard that you had to haul to the dump yourself, sometimes rode her bike to run errands, and worked at the hunger center on occasion, but that yearning to make it all better had subsided.  She cared in general, but lusted rarely.  Was this what was meant by complacency?  Once, she had felt that the things you crave defined you, and when you stopped lusting, craving, daydreaming, you were screwed because it was a sign that your spirit had died.  She hoped she was wrong.

But now, she reminded herself, at least she had been telling herself, she lusted for a balanced spiritual life for chakra as the yogis said, for centering, for focus on what was important.  Which was why she’d agreed to come with Sally. To spend time with her last child who’d be leaving for college soon who’d go off and “find herself.”  She wasn’t sure where the relationships with your children fit into yoga.  She wasn’t that far in her practice.

In any event, she wondered why she was walking back to the dress.  Why was she picking it and its two sister dresses off the rack and asking the saleswoman if it was okay if she tried them on? She was out-of-body surprised at what she was doing.

But she was and she did and she found herself in the tastefully decorated dressing room in front of a full-length mirror, taking off her clothes.  As much as she was trying to embrace her “new” body, the previously mentioned one with fat around the middle and high blood pressure, blah, blah, blah, she wasn’t very successful.  So, she tried not to look at her own reflection, as if it were a separate person, and she was being mindful of its modesty, and, with her back to the mirror, she slipped on the first beautiful, heavy, cobalt blue dress.  She panicked for a moment when she realized that she might have trouble getting the zipper up – a brief moment where she fantasized Cary Grant coming into the room and glibly, seductively saying, “Let me get that, dear” and finishing the job.  In fact, the saleswoman was back at the door, “Everything all right in there?” as if she’d fallen down a toilet or broken a bone, or something.

The woman let Sally into the dressing room instead. The woman’s underpants made a line, so she adjusted them and pretended she was wearing a thong or whatever they do and stood on her toes, as if she were wearing heels.  The dress certainly was form-fitting and she wished she had more curve, but the shoulders – always the last to go as some fashionista had said – were great in the multiple straps that could be pulled down a bit to hide the top flabby part of her arms.  Her chest was flattened a bit, but otherwise… Sally said nothing.  “Well, I guess it doesn’t really work,” her mother prodded.

“Are you kidding?  You look great, Mom.”  Sally’s brown eyes got wide in the way they did when she was excited.  She was sincere.  Her mother was so surprised, so touched by her daughter’s complement that she realized she was tearing up a bit and looked at herself again.

For a brief moment, she allowed herself to feel joy, even astonishment in her own image.  Maybe if she sucked in her stomach and had makeup on, if, if… no. No ifs.  She was fine the way she was.  She could be the mother of the bride, or be the well-kept middle age wife, or the “after” on “What Not to Wear”…she could be…was… herself. The woman kept the dress on another minute or two, tried on the other two without the same success, and took the dresses to re-hang them on the rack.

“Did those work?” the saleswoman wondered as if she could sell all the dresses together, like adopting all the girls of one family.

“Well, yes,” she had to admit, “but I really don’t have anywhere to wear it.”

Too late she realized she was now the center of attention, that she was the “cause” on which the gaggle of women in the store was focused.

“But,” the saleswoman said,” If you don’t buy it now, you won’t have it when you do have someplace to wear it.”

And a dark, chubby woman somewhere in her forties, mischievously advised, “Or, you have to buy it and find someplace to wear it,” leaving out only the wink in her statement.

     And for a brief moment, the woman went through her catalogue of fantasies, even going so far as to envision the dress hanging in her closet in its, she was sure, elegant packaging, where she could take it out periodically, try it on -a beacon to an alternate universe.


Two days later in her yoga class, the image of herself in the heavy, cobalt blue dress with the sexy neckline, reappeared. She choked on a small morsel of guilt that this was the extent of her spiritual self and yet, delighted in the focus and joy that that thought brought her.


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Molly and Mary

Molly Bloom’s soliloquy:  

Don’t tell Professor Stonum, but I never finished reading Ulysses. I’m not proud to say that I got an “A” in the class, a fact that has haunted me especially in my last 29 years as an English teacher.

To protect my students from my wanton ways of faking knowledge of texts they haven’t/partially read, I created a metaphor – that is, that someone can describe the experience of eating a warm, gooey brownie right out of the oven (using Sparknotes, enotes, etc.)  but you still miss out on the actual experience of eating a warm, gooey brownie right out of the oven (reading a book).

But, I know enough about James Joyce’s character, the very physical Mollly Bloom and the New Testament’s very pure Virgin Mary to see parallels between the two women.  At the risk of being sacrilegious,let me show you what I mean.

Joyce’s masterpiece ends (so I’m told) with Molly’s possible reminiscence about falling in love – with whom is not clear:  “… and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”  The power of this language is clear.  It’s a quote I had run into, not knowing that I’d missed it in the context of Joyce’s masterpiece. I’ve also heard it parodied.  But, like much great literature, its meaning may take many forms.  Regardless of whether or not you know exactly what the quote means in the context of the book, its repetition, lack of punctuation, and stream of consciousness, is moving and certainly nails what I think is the feeling when you passionately, enthusiastically, commit to something or someone.

What we don’t have in Molly Bloom’s story is what she is responding to. And her energy is not necessarily the norm.

With the Virgin Mary, we know exactly what she’s responding to.

Imagine that you’re Mary.  First of all, an angel shows up.  Then he speaks.  He knows you’re a virgin.  He tells you you’re going to have a baby.  He tells you what to name the baby.  And when Mary collects herself enough to ask how this dandy little plan will all come about, he says that the Holy Spirit has it covered.  And then, the best part of all, is when Mary says, ”May it be to me as you have said.” May it be to me as you have said.”!!!

Huh??  What if Mary had said, “Not on your life, bub!” or “Go get yourself another girl!” or “No way you’ll have THIS virgin to kick around!” Imagine – Christianity would have come to a screeching halt.  Millions of people would have nothing to do on Sunday morning.  December would not be a spot of joy in a sluggish economy.

We can’t really imagine what would have happened in Ulysses had Molly said “No way Jose! (or Leopold, or whomever)” – and for most people, the fact that they’re at the end of a 700-page book, that’s probably a good thing.

The point is that Molly Bloom and the Virgin Mary both said, “yes.”

Being an FOT, I realize that if I don’t say “yes” now, I never will. So, I’ve recently said “yes” to something that I’m pretty unsure about. I’m kind of on Mary’s enthusiasm level on this one. It’s a job that is something I’ve never done before, but hope that my accumulation of skills is enough to allow me to do well.

As in life, in fiction, the moment when we say “yes” propels the action forward – Hamlet learns that his father has been murdered and after much hand-wringing, causes him to seek revenge; in Great Expectations, Pip meets a terrifying convict in the graveyard to whom Pip says “yes” out of fear, but the convict never forgets the little guy and secures Pip’s fortune; in It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey’s father has a heart attack just as George is about to fulfill his lifelong dream of leaving Bedford Falls, causing George to stay and become a banker instead of a world traveler.  Even though those tales didn’t necessarily end smoothly, the story goes on.

So, my story is moving forward.  I’ll keep you posted.

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I Challenge You To…To…




For a Front-of-the-Tobogganer (FOT), there are many ways to challenge oneself.  Try a sport that involves a ball that can fit into the palm of your hand, read Anna Karenina before going to see the movie, or learn the language of an obscure African country through Rosetta Stone.  But, if you really

want a challenge, try dining at a new upscale chain restaurant.

Try new things; take a chance; carpe diem; these are the mantras of successful FOT’s, so when my husband decided that he wanted to go to a new place in an upscale “shopping community” near our house, I was onboard.  I’ll admit that going to this shopping area is one of my guilty pleasures and I’m pretty sure I know why.  All your decisions are made for you.  All you have to do is pick a formula you want to follow.  For example, if you go into Ann Taylor, you know you’ll find overpriced professional outfits.  If you go to The Gap, you’ll find overpriced jeans and tops.  If you go to the chain Italian place, you’ll get over-salted ersatz Italian food that you can’t help but eat anyway.   You can even depend on the steroid-like blossoms of the over-fertilized potted plants that are unlike anything you’d see in the natural world.  You can depend on the excess and half believe you’re one of the beautiful people who lives an excessive life.  So, into this Disneyland of modern culture we went to find a little grub.

Of course, arriving at the restaurant right around seven o’clock wasn’t the brightest idea, and we ran into a couple of our son’s 25-year old friends who warned us that there was an hour wait for a table.   A clue that we should turn on our heels, but my husband was determined to take his idea to fruition.   And then there was the thump, thump, thump of the bass from the sound system that seemed to be at jiggle-your-pacemaker level.  As usual, the two hostesses appeared to be about 16 and I felt sorry for their undesirable role of herding all these wild cats – many in heat, apparently – to tables.  It would appear that the restaurant is too cheap to spend money on those small spaceship-like things that light up when your table is ready, so she took my mobile number to contact us when they could seat us.

I was surprised there were barstools available, but after sitting there for five minutes, I figured out why.   Although I am an average-sized person, I felt like a child sitting there.  Suddenly, everyone around me was tall and very loud.  For some reason, the preferred avenue for ordering drinks seemed to just above my head, so just as we’d begin a discussion, someone would yell, “Do you have Heineken’s?” or “Give me two Cosmopolitans” and lean into my shoulder just enough to invade my space.   Thump, thump, thump.  “How much?”  Thump, thump, thump.  Lean.  Thump, thump, thump.  Lean.  We got a glass of wine at Happy Hour prices, however.

Surprisingly, the age of the clientele was fairly diverse.  An equal opportunity pick-up spot.  When the leaning and yelling over my head got to be too much, I suggested we move and realized that there were four empty seats at the end of a banquet-like elevated bar table.  On the other end were about eight young women who said they were waiting for more friends but we were welcome to sit down until they came.  It was pleasant enough at the end of the table and as the wine sunk in, I may have been imagining that I fit in to the environment or that we were in Europe, sharing a table with interesting European natives.  The thump, thump was almost melodic for a second or two until I ventured some small talk with the young women at our table.  And then the zinger – “People probably think you’re our parents and we’re ignoring you!” one of them gushed.  Ha.  Ha.  Oh yes, we’re old.  How could I forget?  But thanks for reminding me, toots.

Their friends came and we were displaced again.  There were big comfy chairs in one corner where we took our third seat with no dinner table seating in sight.  But it was good people watching that included a group of four young people, two male, two female.  The two males were clueless that the females were dressed for “success,” i.e., short, short skirts, good haircuts, boots, while the two males were in their hoodies and saggy pants.  They might as well have been at a middle school dance.  Another couple in our seating area was our age.  And dressed in sweatshirts, advertising their travels, apparently.  The women’s said,  “Nantucket” and the man’s was “South Park City” which, according to their website is “an amazingly authentic restoration of a Colorado boom town.”  The man topped his outfit off with a baseball cap that, ironically, I thought, said, “London” – are you allowed to wear baseball caps in staid ol’ London?   They were both on their iphones.  The man was bobbing his head in time to the thump-thumps.  We were running out of ways to entertain ourselves when we checked the time and realized that we’d been waiting an hour.

My temper has been compared to a fast-moving storm cloud that cracks open, dumps rain and scares the dogs, and then continues on.  Well, the weather was about to change.

The wee-little hostesses were apologetic, but pointed out that there were still five parties in front of us.  Of course, these poor restaurant employees were spending all their time calling mobiles and leaving messages because no one could hear or feel his or her phone vibrate with the thump-thump, people shouting for drinks, or the loud blast of libidos run amuck in this place.   And for some reason, the hostesses were the last ones to realize that there were empty seats all over the place.  So we sat down again at the end of a long bar table, got menus and ordered some food.

By this time, my appetite had gone away, but ate mediocre food anyway…thump, thump, thump…and watched as two forty-somethings did a little mating dance at the bar in front of us.  It was like watching TV – I felt sorry for the woman’s girlfriend who was being ignored and finally left.  If I go back, will I learn if the man and woman stayed together?  Will her friend forgive her?  Will her friend find love?

So, will I go back?  Not anytime soon.  The formula of the dance club with so-so food, and some attractive people is not one I’ll look to for comfort anytime soon.  And I don’t have to challenge myself to count that as a blessing.

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