Saturday, December 24, 2016

How to Feel All Christmasy on an "I Quit My Job" Budget

There are pros and cons when it comes to quitting your job in the hopes of carving out a different kind of life for yourself. Until you've got your new career nicely settled, the holiday season, with the expectations it can bring of spending, splurging and indulging in special treats, can definitely accentuate the cons. I have had to find new ways to enjoy the festive mood of the holidays even though I'm not rolling in the dough.

To help others who might be in my same or a similar position, I've compiled a short list of short-on-cash methods for stretching those Christmasy feelings.

1. Have an annoying cat. 

Nothing says "It's Christmas time" like decorating the tree. You can relive that moment again and again when you have an annoying cat in the house. In fact, you can relive that moment sixteen times a day, every time you stoop down to replace the tree skirt that has been dragged across the floor and left in a wadded, wrinkled heap in the hallway or every time you detach your cat and her clinging razor claws from the top wire branches of your fake tree. Just be sure to leave your Nat King Cole Christmas cd playing on a constant loop to drown out your wicked thoughts of dropping the cat off at a local shelter.

2. Refuse to turn on the heat.

I live in the desert. This time of year, I can still soften the butter by leaving it out on the counter, even without the use of central heating. Yeah, yeah, we've got some beautiful winter weather here in Phoenix but it's not very festive nor reminiscent of my beloved, snowy childhood Christmases in Indiana. For now, an airline ticket to snow country is out of the question. That is why each day I look forward to evening when the sun will go down and take those beautiful temperatures with it! At night, it gets chilly enough to at least pretend that there's a risk the water pipes might freeze overnight or on the morrow a voice on the radio might issue a stern warning against driving to work. For a few brief hours it's not too hot to wear a pair of socks. I can even break out my long-sleeved pajamas. 

Now, there are certain people residing in my home who might prefer that I turn the heat on at night and, yes, I can afford to do so. However, sleeping in long-sleeved pajamas and turning on the heat would mean that covering up with a simple bedsheet would be sufficient. In December? That's ludicrous! I deserve to snuggle up under a cozy quilt and pretend that I live in a snow-drifted wood one lousy month out of the year!

In addition, I relish the thought of next month's air-conditioner and heater free electric bill.

Whenever someone in my house comments, "It's cold in here," I walk by shivering, draped in a blanket, and say, "I know! And I love it!"

**Extra tip - If you have hardwood floors or tile, you can further immerse yourself in the "snowed in" fantasy. Just remove any rugs from beside your bed. Force yourself, first thing in the morning, to walk barefooted across the chilled floor and imagine you're Christmasing at a Swiss ski chalet.

3. Listen to the audiobook version of Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native read by Alan Rickman.

I'm barely on the fourth cd of thirteen, so no spoilers from me. I will say, though, that I have already learned the hard way of Hardy's cruel penchant for torturing readers with heartrending conclusions to his novels. However -- trust me on this one -- it matters not.

If there existed a Youtube channel that 
featured him reading tax documents...
I would subscribe to such a channel.
Even when Hardy rambles on for paragraphs about the topography of the English heath with long, confusing sentences filled with antiquated vocabulary until I feel I must have the comprehension of a two-year-old --
it matters not.

It's read by Alan Rickman, for Pete's sake! Rickman's voice IS a blazing yule fire! Warm, compelling, dangerous -- basically, hot stuff.

Uttered in his British pronunciation, words leap like surprising, bright sparks -- issue becomes issyoo, figure becomes figga -- from the already spellbinding flames of his seductive tones.

And it's free at the Scottsdale library! 

If Rickman isn't your cup of steamy Earl Grey, see your doctor immediately. Then try this Christmasy alternative: a fake fireplace.

Andrea's Two-Step Method For Creating a Yuletide Blaze  

4. Watch Facebook videos on how to spoil your cats.

You may not have the money to spoil yourself or your human loved ones but all it takes to spoil your cats are a couple of crummy old packing boxes from the garage. Add last year's wrapping paper scraps, apply some strategic planning and you will have a fun, exciting Christmas project for yourself that's entertaining enough to risk being late for your new job. Once it's put together, you'll have hours of enjoyment thinking about how much the cats would've loved crawling up in there if they weren't overfed and, thus, too fat for the little holes you made.

Apparently, this little stinker, Rey, is the only one who fits.

5. Read Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift.

Right now, all I gotta' do is read the news to realize I'm living like a member of some sort of aristocracy. But feeling rich isn't the same as knowing I'm loved. Ann Voskamp's book, The Greatest Gift, reminds us of how much we're loved by God in a way that makes me feel like it's a cozy, gift-filled Christmas Day every day of the year. 

In her gentle, poetic style, she encourages us to be like the Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, saying, 

     Though the fig tree does not bud

          and there are no grapes on the vines,
     though the olive crop fails
         and the fields produce no food,
     though there are no sheep in the pen
         and no cattle in the stalls,
18      yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
         I will be joyful in God my Savior.
                      (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

This is a bible verse I sometimes repeat to myself, paraphrased just a little and often through clenched teeth.

     Though the gas tank is on empty

       and there ain't nothing good in the pantry,
     though the wine cellar is...
       well, heck, there ain't no wine cellar!

That kind of thing, usually. But Ann reminds us that we don't need to make anything, do anything, have any material Christmas thing to be dazzled by the ever-present gift of God's love. I definitely could use that reminder when I'm trying for the eighteenth time with mounting fury to wrench a frenzied feline from the branches of my artificial Christmas tree. This book takes my focus off the eye-candy of a yummy Pinterest Christmas and puts it on the more satisfying Prince of Peace. 

I hope these tips will serve you well as you enjoy your holidays with friends and family. I am being called away to attend to a reported Christmas tree calamity. My adult children are saying the lower branches look broken. I wonder why.  

   Here's wishing you all a 
  cozy Christmas filled with 
         love and peace!  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Welcome to New View Apartments

     Here's a short fiction I wrote for a class and just found buried in the files of my laptop. Perhaps it will serve as a brief respite from the stresses of the current presidential camPAIgNs.

“There are two creepy guys at my apartment complex.”  
It was a slow morning at the office.  Lyndsay figured her coworkers would appreciate hearing about her adventures as a nineteen-year-old in her first apartment.  The other two women were pretty old...early thirties with babies to diaper and lawns to mow...obviously in need of a little excitement in their lives.
“You found them already?” Janice said, “I’m impressed.”  She winked at the hygienist, Isabel, who was handing a file over the counter.
“You can’t miss them!” Lyndsay insisted, “One of them constantly hangs out at the pool fully dressed even in August.  He actually looks kind of normal.  Like, he’s cute and stuff, even though he’s kind of old.”
“Ew, gross,” teased Isabel, “like twenty-eight?”
“You know what I mean.  Older than me.”
“So what makes him creepy?”
“He just stares at me all the time when I’m at the pool.  It’s so unnerving!”
Janice winked at Isabel again.
“You like it.”
“What?  No, I don’t!”
“Then why are you blushing?”
“I’m not!”
Lyndsay swiveled back to her computer, clacking away violently on the keyboard.   Janice stifled a laugh and tried to make amends.
“You said there were two creeps?”
Lyndsay whirled back around.
“Yeah, the other one lives below me.  With his mom.  I think his name is Manuel.  He seems to be, like, my age but I think he’s retarded or something.”
Isabel frowned.  
“You mean he has Down syndrome?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“What’s he done that’s creepy?”
“Well, hello, he’s just weird.  And every time I come home, he runs out to tell me about a new video game or his karate class or blah, blah, blah.  AND he smiles constantly.  It’s annoying.”
Janice rolled her eyes but Isabel spoke up.
“He sounds sweet.  You’d better be nice to him, Lyndsay, or I’m going to kick your butt.”
“Whatever!” Lyndsay laughed, “I’m always nice.  I I hurry past.”

Lyndsay made it up the stairs to her small apartment undetected by that kid, Manuel.  Maybe he was at his little karate lessons, she thought as she struggled to turn the key in the lock.  The stupid thing was getting harder to open in this humidity.  Once inside she pushed against the door, trying to turn the deadbolt.  The door was too swollen.  Drained by the heat, she gave up, tossing her keys and shoulder bag onto the breakfast bar by the entryway.  
She would call the office about the door after she peeled off her sweaty scrubs.   Just inside the threshold of her bedroom, she kicked off her shoes.  Before she could even pull off her socks, a strange feeling prickled across her skin.  Not a throw pillow was out of place, not a hairbrush was askew but she knew someone had been there.  She turned around.  On the wall,  beside the light switch was a note, penciled right onto the dingy paint, “I like you.”
Fighting down the sick, scared feeling that churned in her gut, she decided to be furious instead. She would march straight to the office.  Who cared if that creep did have Down syndrome? He should know better than to invade someone’s home.  
Pounding across the floor into the living room, she stopped short. The tall, narrow window beside the front door was filled with a figure silhouetted by the late afternoon sun.  Her immediate instinct was to yell that she had seen his sick, little note and that he was in big trouble.  Then she realized the shape in the window was not the short, round figure of the boy from downstairs.  The silhouette shifted its weight, blocking the sun.  In the second it took her eyes to adjust, she realized the man from the pool was peering in, his hands cupped around his eyes, forehead pressed to the glass.  
She remembered that the door was unlocked.  He probably just wanted to ask her out but she slipped quickly to the door and, pushing against it, fought to turn the deadbolt.  To her horror, the door began to slowly push back.  She tried to plant her feet on the tile entryway but as he pushed harder, her socks slid across the smooth surface.  
“Hey, stop!” she heard herself yelling.
With a final thrust, the door was thrown open and she was knocked against the breakfast bar.  He took one step in and leaned back against the doorframe, smiling.
“Hi.  Are you busy?”
“What do you think you’re doing?” she shrieked, “Get out of here or I’m calling the cops!”  She grabbed her purse from the breakfast bar and began to dig for her cell phone.  He gripped her wrist with one hand and wrenched the purse away with the other.  He tossed it out the door.  He had her by both wrists now and dragged her closer.  Her eyes were at the same level of the red stitching on his sky-blue work shirt, New View Apartments.
“Didn’t you read my note?  I said I like you,” he breathed.  
She could smell his words, minty fresh but vile.  She turned her face away but not before noticing his perfectly straight, white teeth.  It occurred to her to knee him in the groin but her shaking legs were too weak to hold up her own body let alone inflict pain on a grown man.  
Lyndsay suddenly saw her own purse swinging into view, catching the man in the temple, knocking him off balance and revealing behind him the boy from downstairs.  Manuel went through a series of whistling-sharp arm movements before he flew at Lyndsay’s assailant with pummeling fists and a few precisely aimed kicks.  When the man fell unconscious to the ground, Lyndsay and Manuel stared at each other.  
She grabbed her phone from her bag and dialed 911.
“Please, don’t leave until they get here.  Um... you’re, like, my hero.  Thank goodness you take those karate lessons.”
“I teach them, too.” he beamed, “You should come to my class.”
“Sign me up.”

Friday, September 30, 2016

True Reparations Begin in the Heart

 My brother and I were discussing reparations for slavery the other day. He was saying he believed that maybe, yes, in theory the U.S. should pay reparations for slavery but went on to name all the difficulties. "Who is going to pay for it?" he asked. The taxpayers? Did any of today's taxpayers own slaves? Who is going to receive the money? He felt that only black Americans whose families can be traced back to ancestors who were enslaved should be paid. While I tried to splutter out a response, I had no answer for overcoming all these sticky issues.

I do think reparations are important and shouldn't be entirely dismissed. Ultimately though, they will do nothing toward really healing our nation's racial divide. I believe that true healing will start with white Americans deeply examining our past and feeling real regret. I don't mean flippantly tossing out, "hey, I'm sorry black people were enslaved, I really am, but that was over 150 years ago. We need to move on."

Yes, absolutely, we need to move on but we can't until we white Americans truly, deeply feel remorse for our country's past injustices, even though we weren't there and are not responsible for what happened.

Everyone wants to point out how far we've come and it's true on one level. In the 150 years since slavery, we have come a long, long way from literally treating human beings worse than we treated our farm animals. But the progress has happened slowly, slowly, inch by inch. Somehow, over this long span of time, the magnitude of the horror and degradation black Americans have dealt with in past decades has faded in the minds of white Americans to the point that many want to dismiss it as irrelevant to our lives today. I don't believe this reaction is necessarily out of meanness. I believe that many of us, myself included, have just lost touch with other people's reality.

Not too long ago, I listened to a super informative podcast that spoke about the misunderstanding held by white people who had grown up in the 70's, 80's and 90's. It said that those people had grown up with a few black kids in their neighborhood. They saw their black friends with the same quality of house and car as themselves and believed African Americans lived that way all over the country, completely unaware that there were pockets of extreme poverty.

I recognized myself with some shock. In the 1970's, as a kid in Muncie, Indiana, living with my family on a college campus in married student housing, every one of the many black adults I knew either attended college or worked as college staff. By the time I became an adult, I had come to believe that we all have truly equal opportunities. But the truth is, policies and practices put in place decades ago, such as redlining for just one example, have made it harder for many black Americans to gain equal footing.

I'm harping on Facebook comments again but I am reading things like, "Yeah, but what about black on black crime? What about the violent, hateful lyrics of hip hop? What about black people who abuse the welfare system?" (By the by, white people abuse the welfare system, too.) Of course, these are all issues that need to be addressed. But are we really going to repair society's problems with angry retorts of, "Yeah, but what about YOUR flaws?"

I'm not a sociologist but my guess would be no.

I believe we each have to start with ourselves. Don't wait for "the other side" to go first (in my mind, much of the other side has already gone first by continuing to be cordial to us.) We white Americans need to really come to grips with our nation's past.

I feel like we have this protective wall built around our hearts. I don't know why. It's like we think that if we really realize the magnitude of the damage our country has wreaked on the lives of African Americans through slavery and Jim Crow, and we say, "my god, what have we done?" it's tantamount to taking the blame, to being personally responsible for the atrocities that occurred. Of course, we today are not responsible for the actions of people who came before us. No, I did not sell or buy human beings. You did not scream threats at black children seeking an education at your neighborhood school. We do not need to sit around feeling guilty. Yet, I do believe we need to be responsible enough to face full on what happened in the past and cry, "my god, what have we done?

Somewhere in the Bible, maybe I'll look it up before I'm finished here, but somewhere in the Bible it says the sins of the father are visited upon the sons for generations. I always thought, "Well, that's not fair, God. Why would you punish kids for what their parents did???" But I think what it really means is the natural consequences of one generation's sin will have repercussions that will negatively affect future generations. If I choose to go around lying and stealing in front of my young children, that's certainly going to negatively affect them and, depending on their response, their children as well. As a friend said to me the other day, our nation is currently suffering from the repercussions of the sins of our predecessors. We can be the generation that takes responsibility and really makes progress.

I say really because, think about it, all those slow, inch-by-inch steps toward progress were tolerated begrudgingly by most white Americans. Black Americans, with the help of some white Americans, had to fight and fight and fight for each tiny step. What if they didn't have to fight for it any more? What if love and understanding flowed freely from our hearts?

But love and understanding aren't going to flow when the heart is encased in a wall built to keep out the discomfort of any sense of responsibility. For me, tearing down that wall and taking on responsibility means giving up my conviction that I can't be any more enlightened. I need to swallow my pride and stop thinking, "but not me. I don't benefit from white privilege." I need to take a moment, maybe repeatedly, to really let the shame and horror of what our ancestors did to Africans and to African Americans soak into my heart. I need to feel terrible about it. Maybe let myself cry about it. I need to be ashamed of not noticing that systemic racism is still affecting people all around me today. Although I do need to recognize that the media is manipulating us and playing us for fools, I also need to stop reducing a large group of individual human beings to statistics that I see plastered on Facebook memes as proof that the other side is wrong and dismissible, proof that I don't need to do an ounce of changing myself. I need to stop being so quick to judge and take either side over the other.

I know my life is far too full of Facebook but I have to mention another meme I've seen. This meme is very well-intentioned, featuring kids of different skin colors and text saying something like "love is natural; hate has to be taught." I do appreciate the sentiment but I think I disagree. I think hate and fear tend to be our go-to responses toward people who seem different from ourselves. I think love and understanding and empathy have to be carefully modeled, taught and encouraged. Here's our chance.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Our Country Needs You to Show That You Care

Oh, I know! I went twenty-four hours without yammering on about something on Facebook! You probably worried (or perhaps hoped) that Mark Zuckerman himself had barred me from posting anything anywhere near your newsfeed ever again. That is not the case. The truth is, I've been busy here under The Crooked Clothesline, tryin' to untangle my knotted underdrawers which have been snappin' and flappin' in the gale-force winds of social injustice.

Yes, I said social injustice. This is not going to be my funniest blog post ever. But it will be my most passionate one.

I have been saddened, frustrated and even outraged by some of the posts and comments I've come across out on the Internet, dismissing, shaming or blasting anything to do with the slogan "Black lives matter" or Colin Kaepernick or anyone voicing the need for change in our country. The sentiments that confuse me the most are the ones that come across my newsfeed from people I know to be fellow Christians.

I have read more than one comment posted by African-Americans saying, "Stop trying to explain to white people what we're going through. It's not that they don't understand. It's that they just don't care."

Can this be true? Some of us don't care that black Americans are hurting? From what I have seen on the Internet, I am scared to death that it is true.

First, I want to say that it is a little difficult for me to speak up on any subject. I am sometimes embarrassed by the fact that I appear to be a bit of a "yes-man." However, my bad habit of readily yielding to another person's opinion is not as much from a desire to win his or her approval as it is due to a lack of confidence. I will back down in any conversation, disagreement, debate, etc. because I assume EVERYONE is wiser and more knowledgeable than I. But on this one subject I feel extremely confident in my opinion: Black Americans still have many reasons to be dissatisfied with the way they are treated in this country and white Christians are failing them.

I am speaking to white Christians because, for the most part, it's only my non-Christian white friends that I see supporting black Americans on any issue. I've known many of my non-Christian friends for a long time so I am not at all surprised to see this proof of their love and concern for people. What surprises me is the heated anger I see out on the Internet coming from people who also post memes about following Jesus Christ.

I hope that the anger and dismissal I see from white Christians is not from a lack of concern for the unequal treatment black Americans receive but rather from a lack of understanding that such treatment is still happening. And, in addition, maybe from a lack of understanding that the consequences of past injustices still reach through the generations to affect us all still today.

I commonly read comments on the Internet written by white people saying things like, "I am sick to death of hearing about slavery. The first slave owner in America was black!"


"Oh, yeah, blame whitey for all your problems. Africans sold their own people into slavery."

Let me be clear! None of my personal Facebook friends have said anything insensitive like this. But I wonder if my friends realize that people are out there saying these crazy things about and to our brothers and sisters. If we do know, then being silently disgusted by it is not enough. We need to speak up!

It needs to be said that while most cultures in the world have at some point sold and/or enslaved other human beings, this fact serves to back up the Bible's claim that all men fall short of the glory of God, rather than to excuse our country's past or current sins with a shrug of the shoulders.

Another comment I recently lifted directly from a stranger on Facebook read, "I refuse to feel guilty about slavery. It happened over a hundred years ago."

First of all, 150-some years isn't all that much time! We need to acknowledge that recovering from over 200 years of something as traumatic as slavery is going to take more than a couple handfuls of generations -- even if racism had been magically eradicated the minute Abe Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. And we all know that didn't happen. Recovery has been seriously impeded by Jim Crow laws, lynchings, denial of education, and general unwarranted hatred.

Secondly, maybe none of us today need to feel guilty about our nation's history of slavery. Sitting around feeling guilty isn't productive. (Although, personally, I think if you haven't thought about slavery and Jim Crow until you feel a little bit sick, you haven't thought about it enough.) Maybe, though, we need to consider that we are all sort of victims of slavery in a way. Frederick Douglass said in his autobiography that slavery was harmful to both the enslaved person and the slaveholder. I believe that the repercussions of slavery still affect our nation today; it still affects the hearts of white Christians today.

If you still have the lingering thought anywhere in the back of your mind that, in general, black people tend to be less intelligent, less capable, less trustworthy, less productive, you are still being influenced by the lies of white supremacy perpetuated by the legislators of Jim Crow laws.

And if you can point to a particular case in which this thought appears to be true, I would again point to slavery and Jim Crow laws as contributing factors. This isn't an excuse for bad behavior but when people are consistently held back and denied job opportunities, denied education, denied basic dignity for generations, there will be some who are not going to behave, who were maybe not set up to behave, in the same ways as white people who've been told, either overtly or subliminally, that white people are smarter, harder-working, more law-abiding, etc.

Additionally, I believe it is important to stop and think about what our personal attitudes would've been had we been a part of American society sixty years ago or 160 years ago. Today, I like to think I have just the right attitude regarding race relations and that I'm always on the right side of an issue. But then I wonder what my opinions would've been if I'd been a young person in the 1950's living in a neighborhood being forced to integrate. Would I have been adamant that expecting white kids to sit side by side with black kids was just too much? Quite possibly. So, if I could've been on the wrong side of an issue back then, what makes me think I am unfailingly on the right side today? It is my opinion that all of us who call ourselves by the name of Jesus Christ need to stop measuring ourselves against our embarrassing ancestors, thinking we're much more enlightened than they were, and start measuring ourselves against the Creator of all human beings. Would he be pleased with the scathing comment we posted on Facebook today belittling Colin Kaepernick for attempting to support people who don't have the blessings he has and who are suffering from discrimination?

The Bible tells us to weep with those who weep. It doesn't say to post snarky memes insisting that they have neither the right nor a reason to weep.

Along those same lines -- and this is just my opinion but -- posting Tomi Lahren's angry, arrogant, foam-flecked video rant on Facebook is a surefire way to advertise to any of your African-American friends that you don't think their complaints are worth considering, that you believe they should just be grateful they aren't in chains anymore, and that you think just saying we believe in justice for all is plenty good enough so there's no need to back the idea up with, say, equitable jail sentences.

I am not suggesting that black Americans are always right on every single issue. They are just as riddled with flaws and weaknesses as the rest of us. I'm not trying to promote political correctness. I'm not saying that we shouldn't state on Facebook what we perceive to be the truth for fear we might appear racist or might offend people of color. I'm just saying that as representatives of Christ, as Americans who claim to be patriotic and proud of our nation's strides in Civil Rights, when we state our truth, we should do so with a little more respect for the experiences of people from a different background, with a little more effort to understand their point of view and with a little less anger. I know what you're thinking...because I've thought it myself:  of course I have respect for my black friends; of course I understand, I'm not a racist. But we need to move beyond just convincing ourselves that we respect all lives and actually demonstrate that respect by listening to what black Americans have to say about their experiences, by acknowledging that we can't possibly understand what it's like to be black in America and by offering sincere love, concern and support instead of posting a video by that ONE black guy whose rant supports our position.

We also need to remember that our black friends or even the black people we encounter on the Internet don't have control over every other African-American person in the country. One black woman had added a comment on a thread about police brutality and a livid white guy retorted, "What about all the black on black killings in Chicago and Detroit? Guess black lives don't matter unless they're being killed by whites!" The logistical problem I see here is that this woman he was answering probably isn't running around a Chicago neighborhood with an illegal firearm stuffed in her waistband. More than likely she had just kicked off her shoes after teaching third-graders or treating patients all day. She has no more control over the bad behaviors of gang members in the inner city than I do over the bad behaviors of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. So is she not allowed to have an opinion on police brutality until she singlehandedly gets gang violence under control? How was it productive for this livid white guy to throw Chicago and Detroit in her face? He has no idea how much pain these shooting statistics might cause her.

Ultimately, as followers of Christ, the pain experienced by our African-American brothers and sisters should be of far more concern to us than our traditions or our pride or our desire to see ourselves as guilt-free or our perceived position at the top of the totem pole. Are we really as concerned about the suffering of our fellow human beings as we are called to be or are we more bent on being right? We need to take a good, long look at ourselves. God already knows every ugly, secret ethnocentric thought in our hearts and he still loves us. So we don't have to be afraid of discovering those ugly thoughts for ourselves, examining them, confessing them to him and asking him to change us where he sees fit. If you are a follower of Christ, you know he will bless you and make you more like him in the process. And we all have room for more of that! The presence of people who humble themselves and ask God for listening, loving, Christ-like hearts is what will make our divided country truly great.

My son said that it would be helpful if white people could enter a simulator to experience how a person with dark skin is treated on a daily basis. I think that would be a great benefit to our entire nation! But until such a simulator exists, there are books! Below are a few of the books that have shaped my understanding. If you have read any books concerning the black American experience that have influenced you, I would love it if you'd post about them in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Leading Authority Issues Warning: Middle-Aged Women Exposed to Wit and Charm May Exhibit Foolishness

I have recently become well educated regarding brief, meaningless flirtation and the middle-aged lady brain. That's right, I am the "leading authority" referenced in the catchy headline above. As such, I assure you this post will be 100% scientific with empirical evidence based on my own highly-charged emotions.

My emotions and I became involved in a scientific research project quite by accident. It began when a cute guy started paying me some dubious compliments. Curious scientific thinker that I am, I posed a question – ‘What will happen if…?” Turned out, I got a big ol’ kick out of Cute Guy’s attention. A kick in the head, seems like. I discovered, through my own trial and error after error after error, that meaningless flirtation has powerful effects on the brain. Sure, some of the effects were actually great and had me wondering, “How can I get a lifetime supply of this?” Others had me wishing that lobotomies were still in vogue with mental health experts.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that middle-aged ladies put a permanent ban on harmless flirting from relative strangers. That wouldn’t be any fun. Just know that clever and entertaining innuendo, when left unchecked, will wreak havoc on your brain and, subsequently, your body.

In this dissertation, I will calmly and without passion, state the unbiased facts so that you, the thinking reader, may decide for yourself how to proceed should you encounter unexpected charm.

Pros or “Does This Come in Time-Release Capsules?”

Scientific Fact: You will burn more fat and crave less.

That's some hot stuff right there.
Wondering when you’re going to get that next fix of flattery will make you antsy. No need to force yourself to get up and exercise - you won’t be able to sit still with all that dopamine ricocheting through your veins. With that new spring in your step, the walk around the neighborhood that previously took you an hour to complete will suddenly take only 40 minutes. Your favorite fattening treats will be entirely unappealing. You will require only your romantic daydreams to sustain you.

Some of you might be thinking, “Sounds great! Who can I get to send me flirty, inappropriate text messages while I’m at work?” Well, I’m with you! This is what we all need to keep the unwanted pounds at bay! That’s why I’m offering a new motivational service called FlirtFit. For a low price of $30 a month - that’s just one measly dollar a day to look amazing - I’ll send you a daily text message that will make you giggle like a schoolgirl and occasionally blush. I’m going to send some to myself, too.

Scientific Fact: Money concerns will magically “disappear.”

If your bills are piling up and life is starting to depress you, the company of a man exuding boyish charm may be just the thing to take your mind off your worries. The laughs will transport you back to your high school days of hilarious boys and few responsibilities.  There, your frazzled brain will enjoy an impromptu vacation from the pressures of life. In fact, your brain may never want to return to the drudgery of adulthood.  I must caution you, however. A holiday from financial responsibility sounds great but those carefree days are gone, sister! Such feelings of nostalgia are to be indulged only in brief, bite-sized moments. Snap out of it and pay the darn bills before your water gets shut off!

Scientific Fact: You will care more about your appearance.

While engaging in witty repartee, you will want to look your best! Your typical attitude of “This is how I look, world. If you don’t like it, you can stuff it” will suddenly dissipate. Every morning, you will perform an elaborate new toilette, plucking and exfoliating and conditioning, as if you were one of Solomon’s wives anticipating a rare summons to appear before the king. Your application of lotion will become downright maniacal. And you’ll feel fabulous!

Cons or “Does My Insurance Plan Cover Shock Therapy?”
Scientific Fact: You will REEEALLY care more about your appearance.
Previously, as a mature woman who knows her worth, you were too spiritually in tune to concern yourself with signs of aging and other imperfections. However, at the indication someone is looking in your direction, some haggard old crone you’ve never laid eyes on will barge uninvited into your bathroom mirror.  You will enter a mourning period, grieving the loss of your skin’s elasticity. You will be particularly distressed at the state of your eyelids which are so creased they look like they spent the last seven months squashed at the bottom of a full laundry hamper. You might even be tempted to spend an irresponsible amount of money on some fancy lotion and you’ll have to talk yourself off that ledge by reminding yourself that you have all those wrinkles because you’ve led a very happy life and have enjoyed maybe more than your fair share of belly-laughing with friends and family.

Scientific Fact: You will become a mindless idiot.   

Just kidding. These aren't mine.
You know how you typically keep a stack of books beside your bed? And how you read a little bit from a couple of them every night, enjoying a wide variety of genres? Well, if you choose to encourage a little flirtation rather than shutting that operation right down, be prepared to completely lose your ability to decipher those strange, black symbols strewn across the pages of a novel. They will become meaningless despite your repeated attempts to trudge through the same lousy paragraph. Nothing, nothing in print will be within your realm of understanding. Even celebrity bios will suddenly be far too high-brow for you to ingest. So, you will lower your expectations, “just for now,” and open that children’s book you’ve been wanting to read only to see nothing but gibberish printed on every page.

This phenomenon may be related to the myth of multi-tasking. It may actually be impossible to read while entertaining unwholesome thoughts. Studies are inconclusive at this time.

Scientific Fact: You will become delusional.
It’s not your fault, though. It’s all because your traitorous brain is spewing dopamine unabated.  Again with the dopamine! In case you didn’t know, that stuff is the most dangerous chemical known to Man. It will lie right in your face without blinking. It will tell you that you are a kid again. It will convince you that you are as supple and springy as you were at seventeen. While you are preparing for your Storytime duties at the library, it will slyly whisper real close in your ear, “look how big and spacious this empty Storytime room is. Someone should do a cartwheel in all this glorious, wide open space! It should be YOU. You’re just as cool and fun as you ever were. Go ahead! Do it!”
And because dopamine is a sociopathic manipulator, you will fall for its load of hooey. Two months later, while working on your blog, you will still be nursing that sprained butt muscle.

PhD - Worthy Conclusion

Are all middle-aged ladies susceptible to this descent into foolishness when tempted by a brief dalliance? Heck, I don’t know. This study didn’t allow for differences in intellect, personality or past experiences. The important thing is to ask yourself, “is the risk of actin’ a fool worth the brief moments of fun?”  I conferred with my emotions and I have to confess that we all waffled back and forth on the subject.  Sure, the distraction from literary pursuits, the sheepish journal entries about how dumb we were, the literal pain in the butt after that ill-advised cartwheel were all very disconcerting at fifty-two years of age. Ultimately, however, we have decided that we deserved a brief vacation from money woes, we needed that extra slathering of lotion and, yes, we do “look good in those pants.” So, although Cute Guy and I both realized that neither one of us is what the other wants, I appreciated the fun. Additionally, I will be taking my elaborate new toilette into the future with me. Thanks, Cute Guy. I wish you all the best.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

It Was Foretold in Legend: Whether In Middle Ages or Middle Age, Encouraging Flirtation Brings Consequences

About eight years or so ago, I decided I didn’t want to date anymore. I made that choice for a few reasons. For practically a decade, I have been super happy with this decision. It has been a very pleasant and drama-free era in my life. However, there was an unfortunate side-effect to my self-imposed isolation.

Remember how Guinevere hid out in a convent because she was afraid of Mordred and too ashamed to face King Arthur? Well, if avoiding men was the lady's goal, she could just as easily have fled to an elementary school. Sequestered amongst six-year-olds and exhausted teachers, she would have pretty much been guaranteed to never see another man again. Unfortunately, after a few years of being hidden away, she would've also eventually lost the will to shave her legs, grooming herself only two or three times a year for parent/teacher conferences. As time crept on, it would have one day made sense to try cutting her own hair rather than pay good money for someone else to do it because, “hey, it ain’t like Lancelot’s gonna’ see me!”
 Medieval Groomin' (for optimum comic effect, 
                  imagine Jeff Lynne singing.)

I know that this would have happened to Guinevere because it happened to me…and I’m pretty sure she was an Aries, too.

So there I was, not giving much of a doo-doo about my appearance. Then I got a job at a library. In this new setting, I felt I should dress as if I were no longer spending half of my day sitting or kneeling on a classroom floor. And there were guys around. That was a bit of a shock to my system. Yet, a strange compulsion came over me, like the natural instinct of a cockatiel to preen its feathers – “Oh, yeah, ladies shave their legs.”

Then something completely unexpected happened. Maybe this little bit of sprucing up was an improvement or maybe my inner confidence in who I am was shining through. Or maybe my poor eyesight serves me well…’cause here’s an embarrassing fact: no matter how fat, old or worn out I get, I still see my 20-year-old self in the mirror and I walk around as if that’s exactly how I look. That’s why I’m never going to get Lasik surgery, thank you very much. 

Whatever the reason, I was shocked to find myself the subject of some male attention. Now, don’t get all excited, Reader. It was fun but after a few hilarious, potentially blog-worthy “dates”, he and I have both already moved on. The only reason that I am sharing this experience of unexpected attention is that during my bout of reckless, mid-life flirtation, I noted both benefits and drawbacks to the subsequent romantic high that affected my day-to-day behaviors. As a blogger, I felt it my duty to share these pros and cons with my more mature, single, female readers so they can carefully weigh the positive and negative consequences of shaving their legs and not suppressing their charming personality. 

If you feel you are in danger of inadvertently attracting the attentions of a shamelessly flirtatious man, meet me here at The Crooked Clothesline next Thursday. You might learn a thing or two from my pile of dirty laundry that needs a good airing.