“But I write badly. The part of my brain in charge of writing ability refuses to work.” ~ Anton Chekhov, “A Boring Story”

Writer Carson McCullers, by Leonard McCombe

“My memory has weakened, my thoughts lack consistency, and each time I set them down on paper it seems to me that I’ve lost the intuition of their organic connection . . . And, remarkably, the simpler the writing, the more excruciating is the strain.” ~ Anton Chekhov, from “A Boring Story”

Sunday evening, ice and snow, and very cold, 17 degrees.

Well, sleep eluded me again last night until after 3 a.m., which, relatively speaking, is not bad for me. There have been times when I’ve been in the midst of an insomnia bout, I’ve watched the sun rise and still couldn’t close my eyes. And yet again, I awoke with a migraine. Nevertheless, I’m going to make a true effort to write today. No promises that I’ll have anything interesting to say.

Eudora Welty Autographing a Book in 1984, by Terry James

Last night the wind whipped around the house with a sound resembling a freight train. I worried about the horses as they still don’t have a shelter. Corey assures me that as long as they have enough hay that they will be able to produce sufficient body heat. They still manage to get out of the pasture each night, and the ringleader, Napoleon, leads them to the front porch.

He’s a beautiful horse, but he’s already spoiled. When he hears me at the front door calling the dogs, he lumbers over and waits for me to give him treats, and often when I do, he comes all of the way to the door after I go inside as if he wants to come inside. Yesterday, both he and the mare Sassy stood at the side window looking in at us as if to let us know, in case we had forgotten, that they were out there.

I no longer wonder if it’s possible to spoil a horse.

“One morning you wash your face,
look into the mirror,
find the water has eroded your features,
worn them smooth as a rock in a brook.” ~ Daniela Gioseffi, from “Some Slippery Afternoon”

So my current problem with words? Probably a myriad of reasons. I still haven’t gotten my other mood stabilizing medication because there’s presumably a shortage, at least that’s what the pharmacy says, and of course, the ongoing lack of my pain maintenance medications doesn’t help things. Added to that the current state of my back is horrendous—it hasn’t hurt this much in years.

Dorothy Parker at Work at Her Typewriter in 1941

I know. I know. Nothing new, but between the ongoing winter depression and the recurrent pain, it’s hard to string thoughts together coherently. The physical always affects the mental, and vice versa.

And so I sit down at my little workspace (because my desk still isn’t set up), and I open YouTube and start playing news stories or true crime stories to run in the background, and then I open up a new screen for a draft, and I stare . . . that, or I work on putting quotes together for future drafts, or I spend some time on tumblr looking for more quotes or images for future posts, and then . . . after wasting more time, I go back to the draft screen, and nothing.

“. . . I hope to learn from you how things really are, why it is that around me things sink away like fallen snow, whereas for other people even a little liqueur glass stands on the table steady as a statue.” ~ Franz Kafka, from “Description of a Struggle”

The house still isn’t completely organized or painted, mostly because Corey has so much to do with all of the outside things that need to be handled, that or he ends up unwillingly wasting entire days with Dallas who always proposes projects and then never gets around to them.

Vita Sackville-West in Her Tower Study at Sissinghurst in 1939

The truth of the matter is that Dallas has a drinking problem, one that seems to be getting worse. I don’t like to be around drunks. I’ve had too much experience with drinking problems, and it really gets to me. I mean Dallas has a good heart and good intentions, but as Corey says, Dallas just cannot stay on task; his mind flits from one thing to another, and as a result, little gets done.

I don’t regret that Dallas entered our lives; the relationship is definitely beneficial on both sides: he’s a lonely man who doesn’t appear to have much of a relationship with either of his children, and I have to wonder if that is because of his drinking. But I do feel sorry for him, and I do really try to be patient with him unless he shows up three sheets to the wind. I know that Corey, too, gets frustrated, but there’s little he can do besides try to keep Dallas focused. Still, the ongoing state of the inside of the house is really starting to get to me; I wish so much that I could do some of this stuff myself.

If wishes were fishes . . .

“The place of language is the place between me
and the world of presences I have lost” ~ Marie Ponsot, from “Imagining Starry”
Writer Clarice Lispector at Home in Rio de Janeiro, ca. 1973

I’m trying very hard, even it doesn’t seem like it, trying not to let things get to me, trying not to think about how my children are far away and out of touch, trying not to think about how there’s always so much to do, trying not to worry too much about Dallas and things that are out of my hands, trying to enjoy once again the act of writing these words . . .

. . . trying hard to be present in my life, which is so much harder than it might seem . . .

. . . trying hard to be thankful for what is here and not devastated by what is not . . .

. . . but no matter how hard I try, I just seem to find myself treading water, and I despise this more than I can say.

“I just can’t live an ordinary life, I can’t pass the time. I can’t organise myself, I don’t have ordinary motives anymore. I can’t even manage my body, when I go to bed I don’t know where to put my arms.“ ~ Iris Murdoch, The Green Knight

And I wonder if I have ever truly been present in my life, wholly present. I have this memory of my first husband asking me early in our relationship why I always worried about the future, always worried about what might or might not happen. I had no answer then, and I have no answer now.

Writer Zora Neale Hurston in 1955

I wonder if part of it is being an only child who always felt that I needed to be the mediator for my parents’ disjointed relationship. If I always worried so much about what might happen between them that I just got in the habit of always worrying about what might happen and never figured out how to just be present in today.

Or perhaps this inability comes from being a teenager and always wondering why I never felt as if I belonged. I had friends, a lot of friends. But still, there was always this feeling that these friendships were tenuous, dependent on my acting a certain way, a way that was acceptable, whatever that meant, and so I fretted and worried. No one ever made me feel this way. It was purely internal, and it went back years: In London I didn’t feel as if I fit in because of my American accent and Filipino last name; In Norfolk, I didn’t feel as if I fit in because of my British accent and Filipino last name.

I cannot tell you how frustrating it is. How can a person even begin to hope to be normal (whatever that is), hope to make her way through the days in any kind of pseudo normal fashion when everything is a question and the answers never seem to be available?

Anyway, more later. Peace.


Music by Coldplay, “O (Fly On),” extended version


With a Changing Key

With a changing key
you unlock the house where
the snow of what’s silenced drifts.
Just like the blood that bursts from
your eye or mouth or ear,
so your key changes.

Changing your key changes the word
that may drift with the flakes.
Just like the wind that rebuffs you,
packed round your word is the snow.

~ Paul Celan (Trans. Nikolai Popov and Heather McHugh)

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Super Moon by Bo Rader of The Wichita Eagle

                   

“Everyone is asleep
There is nothing to come between
The moon and me.” ~ Enomoto Seifu-jo (trans. by Kenneth Rexroth)

Saturday’s Super Moon is a result of this month’s full moon coinciding with the moon’s perigee, or its closest approach to Earth, making it the year’s biggest moon. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the moon will swing in 221,802 miles (356,955 kilometers) from our planet, offering skywatchers a spectacular view of an extra-big, extra-bright moon . . . not only does the moon’s perigee coincide with full moon this month, but this perigee will be the nearest to Earth of any this year, as the distance of the moon’s close approach varies by about 3 percent, according to meteorologist Joe Rao, SPACE.com‘s skywatching columnist. This happens because the moon’s orbit is not perfectly circular.

This month’s full moon is due to be about 16 percent brighter than average. In contrast, later this year on Nov. 28, the full moon will coincide with apogee, the moon’s farthest approach, offering a particularly small and dim full moon.

                   

Of the Surface of Things

I
In my room, the world is beyond my understanding;
But when I walk I see that it consists of three or four
hills and a cloud.

II
From my balcony, I survey the yellow air,
Reading where I have written,
“The spring is like a belle undressing.”

III
The gold tree is blue,
The singer has pulled his cloak over his head.
The moon is in the folds of the cloak.

~ Wallace Stevens 

“You ask ‘What is life?’ That is the same as asking ‘What is a carrot?’ A carrot is a carrot and we know nothing more.” ~ Anton Chekhov, letter to his wife, Olga Knipper Chekhov (April 20, 1904)

"Moon Landscape" by Max Beckmann (1925)

“It is true when you are by yourself and you think about life, it is always sad. All that excitement and so on has a way of suddenly leaving you, and it’s as though, in the silence, somebody called your name, and you heard your name for the first time.” ~ Katherine Mansfield, from “At the Bay”

Tuesday, late afternoon. Sunny, hot and humid, pending thunderstorms.

So I relented and turned on the air conditioners. Hate doing that. My power bill hates me doing that, but it’s just too darned humid. Ah, the weather in Hampton Roads, formerly known as Tidewater. Old Norfolkians still refer to it as Tidewater.

Spring, spring, spring . . . SUMMER NOW . . . no wait, spring, spring . . .

I’m fairly certain that I just got a spider bite on my arm while I was outside clipping fresh Rosemary for the house. The mock orange is in bloom, and it makes a lovely spray with the Rosemary, not to mention it smells heavenly.

I’ve been wondering where Corey is, as in exactly where that ship is located in the Atlantic, as it’s been past the predicted time for him to arrive in Florida. Turns out the ship has been rerouted . . . to Norfolk. I wonder when he was going to tell me or if he was just planning to surprise me. I cannot tell you how happy this news makes me. I have a big, stupid grin on my face at the moment, and I think that my face might crack from this rare facial gesture.

Ah, well.

Oh magical text update: The ship tied up at the Norfolk yard this morning. Sneaky bugger.

Ooh, more magical text updates. He’s home until Friday!

“While I fear that we’re drawn to what abandons us, and to what seems most likely to abandon us, in the end I believe we’re defined by what embraces us.” ~ J. R. Moehringer, The Tender Bar

Bedruthan Steps by Alex37 (deviantART)

                   

“There were moments, of course. Those small spaces of time,
too soon gone, when everything seems to stand still, and existence is balanced
on a perfect point, like the moment of change between the dark and light when
both and neither surround you.” ~ Diana Gabaldon, Outlander

Broken Not Beaten II by Alex37 (deviantART)

Thursday, early evening. A lovely 60 degrees with puffy clouds.

Yesterday, it was 88 degrees and very humid. Today, 28 degrees cooler. I love the temperature change, but I awoke with a killer migraine. No surprise there. I’ve been in bed most of the day, but am feeling a bit better now, so I thought that I would take advantage of the respite.

I had wanted to post yesterday; in fact, I spent an hour collecting images for a post with different quotes, but in the end, I just didn’t have it in me. I think that I was still recovering from two more tests this week: sleep apnea and another GI test, ordered by two different doctors, of course.

The neurologist ordered the sleep apnea test as she thinks that that may be what’s causing my daily headaches (not the migraines). When I looked at the poster in the sleep disorders clinic that listed all of the symptoms of sleep apnea, I had about half. I never really thought that I might have sleep apnea; I suppose it’s because I have always associated sleep apnea with my father. Apparently, Filipinos, especially males, are predisposed to sleep apnea, a particularly dangerous type that causes death.

When I lived with my parents, I remember vividly my father’s snoring: very loud, glass-rattling, and then there would be pauses in which he didn’t seem to be breathing at all. My mother woke him up more than once because of this. I snore, not as much as I used to, but I don’t recall waking up gasping for breath afterwards, which is why I never thought I had sleep apnea. Anyway, the test involved wearing a monitor, a pulse oxymeter, and an air tube in my nose like the kind for oxygen.

When the tech gave me the test kit, she said that I needed to have six hours of uninterrupted sleep. I laughed and told her that I hadn’t had one night of uninterrupted sleep since my first child was born. Typically, I get up at least three times a night, although with the new med that the psychiatrist ordered, and I am sleeping more soundly and am able to get back to sleep pretty quickly after waking.

As for the GI test, it was another one of those that I refuse to talk about. Enough said.

“Any idiot can face a crisis—it’s day to day living that wears you out.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Devon Wildflowers by Alex37 (deviantART)

I’m pretty sure I’ve used this quote before, but it felt very apropos in this particular post. So sue me.

Strange and interesting things are happening in our household now. I need to go back a few weeks: After Corey took the job with PreCon, his Sergeant from the maritime security company told him that he should stay in touch. Then he called Corey and had a long conversation with him in which he said that Corey should really consider coming back.

Apparently, the company is on the verge of getting a major contract that will call for 11 guards, 24-hours-a-day at a shipyard. The job would also require a site supervisor. If the contract came through as described, Corey would be guaranteed 40 hours a week, and almost definitely at least eight hours of overtime. The guy in charge hinted strongly that Corey would be a supervisor if not the supervisor, which would mean more money.

His hourly wage with the security company and with Precon were within pennies of each other. Such a dilemma.Corey had to think long and hard about this, and there were a few factors at play: While he loved being back on the boat, he didn’t much care for the day-work (normally on a tug he worked six on and six off; day work was 12 hours straight). Also, his Coast Guard credentials all need to be renewed, and he wanted to take the mate’s class again since it’s been so long since he drove a boat.

We talked it over, and I think the deciding factor came from me (not intentionally). I told Corey that if he stayed with the maritime security company and had regular hours, he could finally go back to school. More than once we have talked about how if we had known he would not be on a boat for three years, he could have taken the classes to get his associate’s degree, but there was no way of predicting such a thing. The possibility of finally going back to school, one of his longtime goals, really excited him, so he went back to his old job.

The new contract doesn’t start until May, but he wanted to be positioned well so that he could get the supervisor’s job, that and he let the head guy know that he wanted to be involved in the training and hiring, which they seemed to think was a good idea.

So after years of waiting for a tug, he’s postponing going back to sea for at least a year. I think that it’s the right move, and he’s feeling very comfortable with his decision, which is not usually the case as he tends to second-guess himself entirely too much. In the meantime, he can take classes, and he can try to fit in a mate’s training class before renewing his quals with the Coast Guard.
It’s really funny how fate works sometimes.

“I must see new things and investigate them. I want to taste dark water and see crackling trees and wild winds.” ~ Egon Schiele

Wilderness Twilight by Alex37 (deviantART)

So while some things still suck out loud, one major thing is going in a bold, new direction.

I wanted to take a moment to thank those of you who commented and e-mailed me regarding the post I wrote about the situation with Alexis. Your kind words do matter, and I appreciate all of the support.

I went to see my other m-in-law at the rehab place on Tuesday after the GI test because I am a glutton for physical and emotional punishment. When I walked in the room, she was lying on her side weeping. Her glasses were on the floor. I asked her what was wrong, and she said that she just didn’t have any reason to go on.

Intense.

I told her that she did indeed have reasons to go on, that she would be coming home soon, and even though someone would need to stay with her, her garden and all of the flowers in bloom were waiting; her cat was waiting for her. I told her that being home in comfortable surroundings would surely make her feel better.

As I talked, I held her hand and rubbed her arms. She got calmer, and then we talked some more. She mentioned a few names with which I was not familiar, but I pretended to know who they were. Her roommate, who is a chatterbox, talked to me the entire time that I was trying to talk to my m-in-law, which made it hard to hear her as the roommate was talking over her. I made myself be patient and nice as the other woman was obviously lonely, too.

My m-in-law asked where Ann was, and I said that she had taken one of my nieces to North Carolina for spring break, and she said, “Must be nice,” which is the kind of thing she would have said before she got so sick. I told her that I knew the feeling, but we could have wheelchair races down the hall for fun, and she laughed.

When I left, she was asleep and seemed much calmer. I got in the car and turned the music up loud and tried not to think too much about the situation. Part of me wanted to call my ex just to talk about his mother, but there was no point. It would have been a non-conversation. Part of me wanted to call my daughter and say, “Go see your grandmother,” but that, too, would have been pointless. So I just drove home.

“Those who are willing to be vulnerable/move among mysteries.” ~ Theodore Roethke

Little Mis, Dartmoor, by Alex37 (deviantART)

We received a wedding invitation yesterday from Corey’s brother Chad. I am so happy for him that he has finally found a nice woman to be with. His first marriage ended badly, and he dated a few women who were, shall I say, not worthy? But his fiance has two kids, and Chad has a son, and they make a lovely family.

The wedding is in the middle of July, which means a trip to Ohio. The truck still isn’t fixed because we’re still waiting for Ford to come through on the buyout (don’t get me started on this). The Rodeo could make the trip, but it needs a bit of work, and besides, it belongs to Brett, who will get his license at the beginning of July.

I’ve priced flights, and if we stay over on a Saturday, they actually aren’t too expensive (well everything is expensive at this point), but compared to gas prices at nearly $4 a gallon, we really need to think about this.

Oddly enough, my uncle in Orlando called me last week. This is my dad’s older brother. He said that he had a 1999 Ford Explorer that he wanted to give me. My aunt doesn’t drive any more, and the car is just sitting there. I couldn’t believe what he was saying. He said that he knew that we needed a vehicle, and he wanted me to have it. The only problem is getting it here. I’ve begun looking into vehicle transport companies, and I think that it will cost between $500 and $700, which is still a really great price for us to pay to have another vehicle in good working order.

While it might be cheaper for both of us to fly one-way to Orlando, driving back to Norfolk is still going to take a bit of gas as it’s about 750 miles.

Ah, gas prices. We cannot complain, though. Europeans have been paying this much for gas for years. I believe the good old days of cheaper gas prices are well and truly gone.

But I digress . . .

So while the news is wonderful, it’s yet another chunk of change that we need to produce, which might be covered by the Ford buy-back money once we get the truck’s transmission, brakes, and tires done. Who knows.

Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.” ~ Alan Watts

Cleave Heather by Alex37 (deviantART)


So that’s most of the news from our household. To put my life in perspective for you, the one thing that I am most looking forward to at this moment is the new season of “Dr. Who” on BBC America, which starts this Saturday at 9. I know what my weekend plans are, and they have nothing to do with going out on the town or attending a party, and you know what? I am perfectly content with that.

I mean, in spite of everything—the health issues, the money issues, the job issues, the family issues—I still appreciate my life. I love my husband madly, and I honestly don’t think that I could have a better partner in life. My sons are doing well in college, and they make me so proud. Brett has fallen in love for the first time, and it’s so endearing.

I have a house, and while it may not be zombie proof, it’s still mine. My peonies in the front yard are absolutely heavy with buds. My dogs are adorable but a bit aggravating when they wake me up in the middle of the night.

I have this forum in which to share my thoughts and feelings, and I have my mind and all of the thoughts that course through it continuously like some kind of wild river that will not be tamed. It’s a good day, all except for the computer problems that began when I stared to insert my images . . . not going there.

More later. Peace.

Music by Joe Purdy, “Good Days”

                   

A Knocker

There are those who grow
gardens in their heads
paths lead from their hair
to sunny and white cities

it’s easy for them to write
they close their eyes
immediately schools of images
stream down their foreheads

my imagination
is a piece of board
my sole instrument
is a wood stick

I strike the board
it answers me
yes—yes
no—no

for others the green bell of a tree
the blue bell of water
I have a knocker
from unprotected gardens

I thump on the board
and it prompts me
with the moralists’ dry poem
yes—yes
no—no

~ Zbigniew Herbert

“We shall find peace. We shall hear angels. We shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Marine White Gloves, Sand from Iwo Jima and a Red Rose Atop the Casket of Lt. James Cathy, image by Todd Heisler, Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer 

“Give me love, give me peace on earth, give me light, give me life, keep me free from birth, give me hope, help me cope, with this heavy load, trying to, touch and reach you with, heart and soul” ~ George Harrison

Well, it’s been over a week since I last blogged, except for my brief Christmas message. In that time so much has happened. I’ll get to the saga of our most recent trip to Ohio in a different post, but today, I wanted to share something with you that happened this morning: 

I was on my way to the bank, and Eamonn was in the car with me. Normally, I cut through a small neighborhood to get to the bank; it’s an old neighborhood, full of smaller houses. I was driving slower as I do on neighborhood streets when I noticed a marine in full dress uniform knocking on a door. Two other marines were sitting in a car parked in front of the house. 

When I saw that young marine, my heart completely sank. I knew what was about to happen. I have seen this scene in countless movies, but never in person. I explained to Eamonn what was about to happen: The day after Christmas a family was going to be notified that someone they loved had been killed. I explained to Eamonn that notifications are always done by someone official. 

The marine on the porch paused to watch us drive past; he was young, and his face was momentarily filled with anguish, and then the façade reappeared just as quickly as it had faded. 

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs; Protestants and Catholics; Muslims, Croats, and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it; between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past; between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.” ~ William J. Clinton

I cannot tell you that I know how the family that received that notification feels because I cannot. Yes, I have known death, have watched it come, have held it, but I have never faced the death of a loved one in the military, of someone who has been killed in conflict by whatever means. Someone who was close to me has faced the horror of the knock on the door, and the pain that I felt for her was miniscule in comparison to what she felt, still feels to this day. 

But after this morning’s moment of great sadness I felt great anger, incredible indignation at what had brought this man to this family’s door. I am not naive enough to believe that we will ever truly have peace on earth. As long as human beings inhabit this planet, there will be war, conflict, evil. There is something within our species that is never content, something that always wants more—whether it be more land, more oil, more power. No matter how much millions of us clamor for it, rally for it, cry for it, there will never be lasting peace. Humanity is not capable of it. 

Don’t misunderstand. I am not saying that human beings are inherently evil or bad or malicious. I choose to believe the opposite. But I know that to erase intolerance of other religions, other races, other tribes, other beliefs, to do this is an impossibility because people with intolerance and hatred in their hearts will always exist. People with evil in their souls will always stake claims over the lives of others. This is life. This is the life that we have created over thousands of years, the life that we have accepted, will continue to accept. 

Kindness and generosity should rule, but they do not. Empathy and tolerance should be the way of the world, but it is not. And so, in spite of my great desire—a desire that is shared all over the world—not to send sons and daughters, mother and fathers, brothers and sisters to war, we will continue to do so, and families will continue to receive heart-wrenching news from someone whose unenviable duty it is to carry this message to their doorsteps. 

“The first peace, which is the most important, is that which comes within the souls of people when they realize their relationship, their oneness with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.” ~ Black Elk

Pulitzer Prize-winning Image of CACO Major Steve Beck, 2005, by Todd Heisler of Rocky Mountain News

I must pause here to acknowledge the marine CACO (Casualty Assistance Call Officer). Notifying a military family of the death of a family member must take immeasurable strength and courage of a different kind. I know that these men and women undergo rigorous training for their jobs, which includes notification, family support and assistance, as well as escort. Being a CACO becomes the primary duty of the service man or woman, and it must be a job fraught with emotional turmoil. 

I don’t think that the memory of the marine’s face will ever completely fade from my memory. If I am to retain my humanity, I pray that it does not 

However, if I am to be completely honest, I must admit that something deep within me was incredibly thankful that Eamonn was with me; perhaps he, too, will remember that moment and understand it for what all that it was: the fragility of life, the real consequences of war, the need for compassion, the ineffable sadness of loss. 

Witness creates impression in a way that all of the words spoken cannot. A hard lesson for the holidays. 

“Namaste. I honour the place in you where the entire universe resides . . . a place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honour the place in you where when you are in that place and I am in that place there is only one of us.” ~ Mohandas K. Ghandi

 More later. Peace. 

“Happy Xmas (War is Over),” by John Lennon with incredible images. 

  

 

  

For more information about CACOs and their relationships with military families, see the excellent book Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives, by Jim Sheeler. Click here for The New York Times book review.

“Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.” ~ Confucius

whooper-swan

“We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.” ~ Stephen Covey

 “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.” ~ Helen Keller

statue-of-venus-de-milo
The Epitome of Beauty: The Venus de Milo

How many times have you looked at someone you do not know and made assumptions about that person based on the way that he or she looks? How often do you see a woman in ill-fitting clothes or with a bad hairstyle and think to yourself that she should take better care of herself? Have you ever been in line at the grocery store and noticed that the person in front of you is wearing out-of-date clothes and shoes and is a little overweight? Did you make assumptions about this person, or perhaps, increase the space between yourself and the other person?

If I am going to ask you these questions, then it is only fitting that I answer them. Yes, I have made assumptions about people based upon their physical appearance. Yes, I have thought to myself, “why doesn’t she do something with her hair?” or “she would be more attractive if she lost some weight.”

But then I will catch myself and think, “who am I to judge?” I could stand to lose some extra pounds myself. I’ve run out of the house in sweatpants and an old t-shirt, my hair in a pony tail. I’ve gone into stores feeling very self-conscious because I know that I don’t look particularly great, but I needed a gallon of milk. 

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ~ Alan Alda

marilyn-monroe2
One of The Great Beauties, Marilyn Monroe, incredibly self-conscious and suffered from low self-esteem

Harsh though it may be, scientific studies have proven that physical appearance makes a difference in the amount of money you earn, how you are treated by physicians, how educators react to you, and even whether or not you make partner.

According to a CNN article by Kate Lorenz, “Do Pretty People Earn More?” the facts show that attractive students get more attention and higher evaluations from their teachers, good-looking patients get more personalized care from their doctors, and handsome criminals receive lighter sentences than less attractive convicts.”*

So what does this mean to individuals in society who do not resemble Daniel Craig or Angelina Jolie? Dr. Gordon Patzer has made it his life’s work to study attractiveness and its role in human behavior. According to Patzer,

“Human beings are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people . . . Good-looking men and women are generally judged to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts . . . People go out of their way to help attractive people—of the same and opposite sex—because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.”

This societal preference for attractiveness is called the halo effect, due to the association with the perfection of angels. The halo effect occurs when an individual is influenced by a person’s strengths, weaknesses, physical appearance, behavior, or any other single factor.

Whether or not it is fair, research shows that attractive people also have more occupational success and more dating experience than their unattractive counterparts. Attractive people tend to be more intelligent, better adjusted, and more popular—probably because they have received better treatment from their teachers, their peers, and their bosses.

*(http://www.cnn.com/2005//US/Careers/07/08/looks/)

“Perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.” ~ Angelique Arnauld

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Academy-Award Winning Director Peter Jackson

But let us pause for a moment. How many persons of note in history actually do not fall into the beautiful people category? Albert Einstein certainly wasn’t an attractive man, with his bushy eyebrows and unruly hair. Bill Gates, one of the wealthiest and most generous men in the world is what most people would describe as ordinary. Peter Jackson, a genius in the film world, resembled a hobbit when he made Lord of the Rings; but even he felt compelled to lose weight.

Is physical beauty truly necessary to be successful, to be considered extraordinary? I don’t believe so. Think about it. What about intelligence? Does anyone ever say, “Oh, her brain is so beautiful”? No. But shouldn’t they if they are really going to look at a woman or a man and judge her/him? 

“When a woman isn’t beautiful, people tell her: You have lovely eyes, you have lovely hair.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Why am I pondering this point? I was reading an article about a Scottish woman who appeared on “Britain’s Got Talent,” the UK’s version of “America’s Got Talent.” The judges for this program are the ever-snarky Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan (who also judges on the U.S. version), and Amanda Holden, an English actress who is mostly recognized for her television appearances.

A brief lesson for those of you who do not follow the show: Contestants apply from all over the country to be finalists on the show. In the initial rounds, the three judges watch the one-minute performances and then vote yes or no on whether or not the individual is talented enough to go to the next round. Once the contestants are reduced to 24, then there is a round for the semi-finals. In the finals, the viewing audience votes on who should stay and who should go. The winner is decided by audience votes.

“Beauty is about perception, not about make-up. I think the beginning of all beauty is knowing and liking oneself.” ~ Kevyn Aucion

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Contestant Susan Boyle Singing "I Dreamed A Dream"

Now picture this: an older woman (by older I mean not in her 20’s, not old for god’s sake) with bushy eyebrows and a very unfashionable dress and hairstyle walks out onto the stage. It only takes seconds before Simon Cowell begins his attack dog shtick, the raised eyebrows, the rolled eyes, the crossed arms. All of it. A pan of the audience shows that almost to a person no one is liking this woman: sneers, crossed arms, negative body language abounds.

Already, the judges and the audience have formed an opinion on this contestant based solely on her physical appearance, and that opinion is not positive.

How fair is this? Not at all fair. Has the woman had a chance to perform yet? No. Does the audience even know what she plans to do for her talent before they cross their arms? No.

The woman declares to the judges and the audience that she wants to sing, that she has always wanted to sing. You can hear the snickers from the audience. After all, how can this unfashionable, frumpy woman sing, let alone sing well enough to be on the show?

“There comes a moment when you realize that virtually anything is possible—that nothing is too good to be true.” ~ Kobi Yamoda

What happens next is positively enchanting. Susan Boyle opens her mouth, and pure beauty emanates from it. The audience jumps to its feet. Simon Cowell raises his eyebrows, and this time, it’s not in a malicious way. Piers Morgan is stupefied.

Boyle sings “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables, an incredibly difficult song to sing because of the range. As I watched the video of her performance, I got chills, and I began to tear up.

I wanted to reach through the screen and hug Susan Boyle for her performance, and I wanted to slap Simon Cowell for his disbelief that a woman who looked like Boyle could have such an angelic voice.

“Women notice details that most men don’t . . . They notice all the details, then make assumptions about every other area of your life based on these details.” ~ David DeAngelo

But it wasn’t just Cowell, was it? It was everyone. When the opening refrain of the song played, Morgan appeared to be totally uninterested, Holden had her hands over her head as if she were trying to stifle a yawn. No one was truly interested in the woman on the stage.

However, as compared to males, we females can be absolutely merciless in our criticisms of the women who are in our office, the women our friends date, the women who do our hair, or our nails. But we can be especially venomous when it comes to total strangers. Don’t pretend that you don’t know what I’m talking about: only saintly women or women who are completely self-confident do not beat down other women. And how many of those do you know?

“It matters more what’s in a woman’s face than what’s on it.” ~ Claudette Colbert

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Pursuit of Beauty Gone Horribly Wrong: Jocelyn Wildenstein

This is the very problem with assumptions. We make assumptions about people all of the time, every day, based on their looks, on what they are wearing, on how their hair looks, how scuffed their shoes are, what kind of purse they are carrying, how old their suit is, even what kind of car they are driving. And admittedly, women are worse when it comes to judging other women.

In my own experience, I have found that many beautiful women lack in self-confidence, while those who are not considered beautiful, abound in self-confidence. It’s as if they know that the world doesn’t believe in them, but they don’t care. They believe in themselves. How wonderful that is to believe in yourself, truly believe in your talent, or your goodness, or your abilities. And how pitiable it is when women abuse themselves by repeated plastic surgery in attempts to be more beautiful, look more youthful, more perfect, not stopping until they resemble caricatures of themselves.

“Although beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, the feeling of being beautiful exists solely in the mind of the beheld.” ~ Martha Beck

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The Ugly Duckling Is Not Always What It Seems

Now what I did not mention is that when Sarah Boyle came out on stage, she was obviously prepared for Cowell’s sour disposition, but it didn’t seem to affect her at all. She answered all of his questions with a smile on her face. It was as if she were challenging him: “I know that you are assuming that I have no talent, but you just wait. You’ll see.”

Boyle stood her ground, even doing a bit of a jig in her sheer delight at just being invited to the party. And when she finished, she knew that she had won the battle. She walked off the stage with her shoulders back, a broad smile on her face, and joy in her eyes.

All three judges were effusive in their praise. But the best part is this: With her talent, her incredible voice, Susan Boyle has a real shot at winning “Britain’s Got Talent.” Wouldn’t that be something? And about time, too.

But just a closing thought: Why were we so surprised that Susan Boyle could sing? That is probably the heart of the matter, and a question that we should be asking ourselves even as this incredibly talented, sincere, selfless woman stands before the world and graces us with a voice from the gods.

 And on that note, I present Susan Boyle singing “I Dreamed A Dream”

Embedding has been disabled. To see the video of Susan Boyle’s performance, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lp0IWv8QZY

More later. Peace.

Today’s Category: Gallimaufry for $1,000, Alex

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” (Rudyard Kipling)

“Words, Words, Words” (Hamlet)

I love words, and I love people who use words well. Obviously, the converse is true. I shudder when I hear people mangle the English language. Oh, not speakers of English as a second language. It really pisses me off when I get one of those sanctimonious e-mails that rails on people about how this is America, so everyone should speak English. Didn’t these people learn history in school? You know, the parts about how we were all immigrants at one time? Believe it or not, when America was founded, everyone did not speak English. Hello out there.

My father, a first generation Filipino spoke fluent English with an accent. His grammar was impeccable, but as he got older, it was harder to understand him sometimes, and it infuriated me when people at fast food places used to act as if he were speaking in a foreign language when they were speaking as if they had just finished the third grade. (I never learned Tagalog, his native dialect. I don’t know why. I wish that I had; I wish that mine had been a house that was bilingual when I was growing up, but it wasn’t.) I envy people who speak two or three languages with ease.

But what about the people who have lived in this country their whole lives and cannot speak English properly? Is it the fault of public schools? Do I just have to get over things like “me and Joe are goin down to the 7/11 to gets some beer. Hows bout you?”

I know that there are regional dialects and that there are phrases that go in and out of style, but what about basic English, like using the word an before words beginning with a vowel? Is that too much to ask? I don’t think that an expectation of basic grammar is being a snob, or that it’s “my English teacher showing” as I’ve been told. My family is used to being corrected, and I try not to do it in front of other people, but I don’t want my children going out into the world to start their careers, sounding as if they have no idea how to communicated beyond a sixth-grade level.

“Those words freedom and opportunity do not mean a license to climb upwards by pushing other people down.” (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

I have managed to put Rush Limbaugh out of my life for a number of years now. Several years ago, Limbaugh used to rile me so terribly that I just wanted to tear my hair out every time that I heard about something he had said. So I made a conscious decision to stop reading anything about Limbaugh or his show. I found that it was better for my blood pressure, and eventually, he faded from my consciousness, that is, until today.

I mentioned the interview between Limbaugh and the governator in a previous post in which I cited her quote about having “nothing to lose,” but as I was concentrating on Palin, Limbaugh did not settle into my memory cells. However, earlier today I watched a clip from MSNBC in which Andrea Mitchell references the toad croaking about how General Colin Powell’s endorsement is “totally about race.” Once again, toady boy is showing the depth of his ability to reason. If Powell were going to endorse Obama purely on race, why didn’t he do it months ago? Why did he wait until two weeks before the election? Perhaps, methinks, the man who many thought would be the first black man in the White House, was waiting to see how the two candidates reacted to the Wall Street catastrophe, how well they did in the debates, how they were doing on the campaign trail, who they chose as their running mates—all points that Powell mentioned in his “Meet the Press” appearance in a very cogent statement (as opposed to Limbaugh’s limited un-intellectual rant into the microphone). But of course, this is the same Limbaugh who told an African American caller to his talk show to “take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”

Ah Rush, I haven’t missed you at all . . .

“We are dancing on a volcano.” (Comte de Salvandy)

Last Friday, I watched one of the most frightening examples of ignorance in action on “Hardball with Chris Matthews.” Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota claimed that Barack Obama and his wife Michelle  held anti-American views and couldn’t be trusted in the White House. But she did not stop there. She called for the media to investigate other members of Congress: “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out if they are pro-America or anti-America,” she said. I don’t think this country has heard statements like this since the McCarthy era.

Senator Joseph McCarthy lent his name to that era by making a speech in 1950 in West Virginia in which he produced a piece of paper that he claimed contained the names of over 200 people who were communists who were working for the U.S. State Department. McCarthy’s strongest supporters were far right radicals. One of his most vocal opponents was the famous journalist Edward R. Murrow, who wrote in 1953,

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.

Please, do tell Representative Bachmann in all of your infinite wisdom, exactly how does one determine if someone is pro-America or anti-America?

“One can prove or refute anything at all with words.” (Anton Chekhov)

Just for grins, I thought that I’d list some of my favorite words, words that I love to roll around on my tongue but don’t often get to use in regular conversation, except perhaps in these blogs:

impinge, hoi polloi, salmagundi, impugn, verity, ignoble, alchemy, vox populi, gendarme, chasm, zeitgeist, xenophobia, pugnacious, putrid, curmudgeon, gravitas, spurious, obstreperous, fawning, kowtow, poesy, albeit, sublime, spate, predilection, soupçon, ubiquitous, reprobate, vichyssoise, apostate, propitious, precipice, burgeoning, fodder, fulcrum, obsequious, and finally apoplexy.

This is just the short list. My family is continually accusing me of using words just to confuse them. I’m just trying to broaden their horizons. After all, I think that everyone should be able to insert obstreperous and obsequious into a conversation at least once in his or her life. Don’t you?

I just wish that I could find a way to work platypus into the conversation more often . . .

More later. Peace.