Imperfections are Funnier

You are probably not terribly surprised to learn that I spend a good deal of time paying attention to the statistics of this mailing every week. I worry every time my “open” rate doesn’t hit my list average, and I obsess about every unsubscription. Not that there are very many of those, but, they bother me. How dare someone report my stunningly original content that isn’t even trying to sell something as being “spam?!” The nerve of those people!

Of course, I always wonder how much people like each piece, and, of course, if they still like me.

Over the years of reviewing this data every week, I wasn’t prepared to learn that the content I thought was the *best* content was often the content where the “open” rates were much lower than average, or that people seemed to be less than impressed with the content. Worse, the content that seemed to have the best reception was content I felt was not very good.

And then I realized why.

The stories I liked the best were always the ones where I was undoubtedly the hero, defeating the forces of darkness with my extreme cleverness and astonishing talents. They were tales where I was undoubtedly the master and in charge of the situation, and my awesome powers shined like a beacon of hope to all mankind.

And the stories that got the best reactions from you, my readers, were the stories where I was much less spectacular. The ones I really didn’t want to share because I was so unremarkable.

In short, these are the stories where I was vulnerable and so very disappointingly human.

I grew up learning that showing vulnerability meant that you became the limping wildebeest at the back of the herd, the one that the lions would spot immediately and target as the “easy prey.” And even if that particular wildebeest was much beloved by the herd for her quick wit and excellent cooking skills, that limp was going to get her killed. I learned to hide anything that might be interpreted as a limp.

I really hate showing my limp.

And yet, hiding the imperfections and showing only the good stuff means that I am only succeeding in surrendering to my own fear and preventing myself from doing the real work of connecting with people.

So, I’m going to try and do a better job of exploiting the vast catalog of my failures for your amusement. I figure it’s the least I can do.

Popcorn Tree

The Popcorn Tree. A tree covered in white, fluffy flowers.
In 1898, botanist Hiram Englehardt successfully created the world’s only known Popcorn Tree. Despite many attempts, Englehardt was never able to create a second one using his controversial hybridization techniques. Many others have attempted to follow in his footsteps, but to date, no one has been successful.

The tree, standing on the grounds of the grounds of the SHUSH Museum, produces 1.5 bushels (90 pounds) of popcorn annually. The corn is suitable for popping, and is served exclusively for members at special events held on the Museum grounds.

There are some who would identify this tree as a Dogwood tree, and indeed, the main root stock was taken from a variety of Dogwood, and the popcorn, which resembles the berries of the Dogwood tree, develops over the winter, in the same fashion as Dogwood berries.

My Dad Didn’t Know Ronald

A statue of Ronald McDonaldWhen I was very young, my dad had the coolest job on the planet.

He worked for McDonald’s.

Imagine it! Surrounded by those fantastic fries and hamburgers! I figured he knew Ronald McDonald personally. He was a font of insight into all the McDonaldland denizens: Mayor McCheese, the Hamburgler and Grimace. I was pretty sure, as an insider, he knew intimate details of their lives, like their birthdates and their favorite colors.

While other kids might boast their dad was a lawyer or an accountant, if pressed, they had no clue what being an “Accountant” meant. These kids might know the word, but, that did not translate into actual insight into what their parent actually did all day. Not me. I could report with confidence. My dad made hamburgers and French fries. Every kid knew what a McDonald’s employee did.

I went to exactly one birthday party at a McDonald’s during this time; in point of fact, it was the only one I ever attended. It was not at the McDonald’s that my dad worked. It was a bigger, shinier McDonald’s. The kid whose birthday it was, is a child about whom I have no recollection, not even trivial things like the tyke’s sex or name. I do remember that the child was blithely smug about his or her own importance having a McDonald’s birthday demanded we display the appropriate reverence for his or her own lofty status.

I was unimpressed. Ronald McDonald was a personal acquaintance of my father. This child may have been able to temporarily buy usage of Ronald’s business, but she (or he) did not have the cash enough to get him to appear, whereas my dad was probably having lunch with him as we played on the freakish plastic representations of McDonald’s icons.

The party was disappointing. I had secretly held out hope that my dad might actually appear as a surprise, bringing Ronald with him to the party. Maybe it was his day to drive the clown around and Ronald had heard that his loyal employee’s child was a guest at McDonald’s birthday and he *had* to meet the irresistibly cute kid. Seriously, I was adorable.

I remember that I was thoroughly uninterested in any of the other children, they seemed unworthy of a child whose father was on a first name basis with Ronald. They were clearly not the important ones in attendance, even if one of them was celebrating a natal day. I played by myself, with only half my attention on the colorful diversions, the bulk of my attention was for a glimpse of my dad and that clown, who, at any moment, would walk in the door, walk past the celebrant and straight toward the most important four-year-old in the restaurant, if not the world.

He did not come.

This was probably my first inkling that my father did not know Ronald McDonald.  I don’t remember the moment I knew for sure, but, I know that it was more devastating than learning about Santa. If I was a more melodramatic sort of person, I might even claim that was the moment my childhood ended, crumpled in a bag of McDonaldland cookies, but, I’m not that sort of person. Instead, I’m the sort that tells you she was a pretty arrogant four-year-old.  But, you probably already knew that.

Map to Kukuanaland

Map to Kukuanaland. A torn piece of linen covered with rust colorad writing and a rough map

In 1590, a Portuguese man by the name of Jose da Silvestra, created a map on a piece of linen, and gave it to a servant who took it from his dying hands, in an obscure place in Africa. The servant took the linen, and delivered it to Silvestra’s family.  Three hundred years later, one of Silvestra’s descendants attempted to follow the map to its destination: the long lost Mines of King Solomon.

This map was later entrusted to Allan Quartermain to assist him in leading an expedition to rescue a lost brother, who  had disappeared while attempting to locate the vast riches promised by the mines.

The map, when translated into English, reads as follows “I, José da Silvestra, who am now dying of hunger in the little cave where no snow is on the north side of the nipple of the southernmost of the two mountains I have named Sheba’s Breasts, write this in the year 1590 with a cleft bone upon a remnant of my raiment, my blood being the ink. If my slave should find it when he comes, and should bring it to Delagoa, let my friend (name illegible) bring the matter to the knowledge of the king, that he may send an army which, if they live through the desert and the mountains, and can overcome the brave Kukuanes and their devilish arts, to which end many priests should be brought, will make him the richest king since Solomon. With my own eyes have I seen the countless diamonds stored in Solomon’s treasure chamber behind the white Death; but through the treachery of Gagool the witch-finder I might bring nought away, scarcely my life. Let him who comes follow the map, and climb the snow of Sheba’s left breast till he reaches the nipple, on the north side of which is the great road Solomon made, from whence three days’ journey to the King’s Palace. Let him kill Gagool. Pray for my soul. Farewell.

José da Silvestra.”

Various tests have agreed that the item is created on linen, but, have not been conclusive on the age of the artifact, nor on the substance of the ink. The item was entrusted to a prominent member of the Society, and it is with the permission of the member’s family that the item is now on display.  They will neither confirm or deny the continued existence of a place called “Kukuanaland,” nor the existence of a vast treasure in diamonds.

Birth of a Notion

Small tablet with relief profile of King Hammurabi with cuneiform signature

A few years ago, as you might (or might not) remember, a family member sent me and my sister on a fabulous trip to Ireland to do some family history research. Our dad came with us.  I wrote a series of stories on that trip.  On the day that comes after four you will see a curious comment about a glittering thing picked up from the ground outside of Dublin Castle. And that, my friends, was the Birth of a Notion.

It didn’t really sound like much, I hear you thinking. (That’s one of my superpowers. I didn’t want you to be unaware of it.  It’s a super power of limited utility, in that, I can only hear your thoughts when you are reading something I wrote. I know. It’s a stupid power. )

And, you’d be mostly pretty right. That little bit of discovery turned into an ongoing inside joke between the three of us, and by the end of the trip we were referring to this project as “The SHUSH Museum.”

I know, now you’re wondering where the heck all of this is going and wondering “What is the SHUSH Museum, and WHY do I care? “

Think back a few weeks, and you might recall I blathered on about a new project, coming to an Internet near you. That project would be a mailing on Saturdays, starting in January.  By some extreme set of coincidences, these two seemingly disparate projects are actually THE SAME PROJECT.

For more than two years, this quirky little project wouldn’t leave me alone. Between you and me, it’s been something of a bully, and it hasn’t particularly been forthcoming with comforting statements about what anyone is getting out of letting it be born. Because, this little notion required me to pull in the talents of people who were not me. I have recruited the finest photographers I know into this bully’s plans, and, on Saturday, all that work has found itself a home.

You’re kicking yourself for not signing up for this, aren’t you? Well, I mean, not literally. That’s physically beyond most people.  My superpower is picking up your internal monologue. I told you this whole SHUSH thing was kind of a bully.  Actually, I know this bit was more wishful thinking than superpower. Most of you aren’t that broken up about missing the debut posting of the SHUSH Museum.

The good news is that you can go take a look at things now. Get a better idea of what will be coming out on Saturdays.  If you still want to get it in your e-mail, you can also still sign-up.  If you want to just catch the items on the website each week, that’s also a good option, but, be warned. Each item will only be on exhibit for 5 weeks. Once they’re gone, they’re gone, and you’ll have missed the opportunity to explore the curious exhibits of the Society for Hoarders of the Unique, Significant and Historic (SHUSH).   Join us, won’t you? The surprises have just begun.

Signed Cuneiform Tablet of King Hammurabi (1810 BC -1750 BC)

Small tablet with relief profile of King Hammurabi with cuneiform signature This artifact, part of a series of cuneiform tablets produced near the end of the Sumerian civilization, depicts King Hammurabi, known primarily for his written code of laws, which defined specific punishments for specific crimes.

The code was one of the first that began with the assumption that the accused was innocent of the crime until evidence was presented and a verdict pronounced. A verdict of “guilty” would result in the specific punishment defined in the code.

This tablet was produced by the Sumerian Collectibles Company. Records are incomplete, however,  based upon the tablets that have survived, it is estimated that were 15 subjects produced. Subjects included rulers, warriors, deities and popular entertainers.

These items were produced for the wealthy elite, and are among the first items in recorded history specifically created to be collected. Often hand-numbered as a series, these items would have been displayed as marks of status.

This example, produced between 1785-1750 BC, is especially fine, as it bears the personal seal of the King himself.  The seal could only be used by the King himself, therefore this particular item is, in a sense, autographed. No other surviving examples have such a mark, so it is unclear how many were produced as “sealed” versions, but undoubtedly that number is small. This “signature” would naturally raise the value of the collectible immensely.

Visit the Gift Shop.

Too Much and Not Enough

Boyne River

The Boyne River. There’s just something about Irish rivers.

I’ve had millions of thoughts running through my head this week, which is, admittedly, pretty much normal, and probably is something everyone could easily say. Usually, I have a zillion ideas and they send me in a dozens of unproductive directions. This week the thinking has been a tad more philosophical and focused, which has been somewhat confusing to me. I am not used to it.

These threads are in the same flowing river, which I say not to be poetic, but to give an image to what I mean by “focused.” Most of the time, I have an idea in a lake in Maine, and a thought about the river in Egypt, and then I wonder about a pond in Germany, and a swimming pool in China. They are all bodies of water, but, they really, really, really don’t overlap.

Having a flow of thoughts in a single river, however, means that the ideas are all going in the same place, and I’m intrigued by this development, and I’m also finding it unnerving, because, it seems to be heading to a place I really ought to go, but, also that I am scared of it, and there is some active part of my lizard brain that keeps pulling a curtain in front of the path when I get close to glimpsing the thought’s destination. I am clearly afraid of seeing what is behind that curtain.

Several times this week I’ve had some really good thoughts in this river, and those thoughts have wanted me to sit down and write about them, to deliberately follow them to their conclusion, and I want to capture the elegant phrasing my mind churned up as I paid attention to it, and because I am in the store or not near a pen, I push it aside, and tell myself I’ll get to it shortly. I really haven’t managed to get to any of these things. I’m struggling even to recall any or all of them when I sat down to do the work. There are answers in there. I just need to have the courage to do what I know needs to be done, and I suspect, do just that will be wildly rewarding, if I get over being afraid of it all.

As I have sat down to write this, knowing that I’ve had many possible things to put here this week, and that I have largely dismissed them as being not substantive enough to sustain a full-length posting, (and yes, I know that part of that dismissal is me not wanting to face that particular topic), what I am acknowledging first and foremost is that I need to be more mindful of each of these notions and when they appear in my brain, I need to stop dismissing them. I need to give them  enough space to be scary, and to put other things aside to focus on just that one thing. I need to stop deciding that whatever it is that has re-emerged into my brain is there for a reason. Does that mean that I should ignore things with deadlines or actual urgency? No. But, it does mean that it’s not time for me to decide I’m too busy for that now, when I know that “busy” is an illusion and a way for me to dismiss something that might take real work.

It’s a step. And it might mean that I am perhaps finally doing the hard, heavy lifting I need to do to move forward with something akin to purpose. It might be another illusion, but, it might also be a valuable clue to the next steps in the path.

The Worst Part About Camp Hip Replacement

Cabin Camp 3 PRWI
A week ago, my mom got discharged from the hospital after hip replacement surgery. Since then, I’ve been living with her as she recovers. I thought I knew what to expect after Camp Cardiac a few years ago. The freezer was stocked with numerous decadent pints, a secret stash of bread, and, with work closed for the holiday, I thought I was prepared for another round of recovery.

I really didn’t expect to look back on Camp Cardiac with any sort fondness.

And yet, compared with Camp Hip Replacement, Camp Cardiac was a restful, calm, nature stroll.

All of the same basic challenges of Camp Cardiac were in play. Camp Hip Replacement added a few more wrinkles to the giant rehab elephant. First, mobility is a bigger issue, which sure, is a smack on the forehead with the “duh” stick.  I thought I had a proper appreciation for how large that truck of “duh” was, since I spent months writing about orthopedic surgeries for grants from the federal government. Turns out that my theoretical knowledge did not really translate into the practical appreciation of what all that actually means for humans who’ve undergone joint replacement. Book learnin’ loses yet another battle against reality.

Second, Camp Cardiac turns out to have been free from any of the possible complications of surgery, and Camp Hip Replacement tossed in a chapter on post-operative infection, AND an unhelpful section on the excitement of adverse drug interactions! It has been seldom a dull moment on the shores of Lake Whatsagoingtohappennextasauki.

And then the worst wrinkle, the one which has sent me to the freezer more than once, is that it’s the holiday season and my mom is addicted to the Hallmark channel.

Mom’s addiction was present in the weeks of Camp Cardiac, to be sure, but, it was not that most wonderful time of the year, and it was easily ignored. This time of year, the channel’s programming is at dialed up to maximum schmaltz. And not in the original Yiddish sense.

The Hallmark holiday recipe calls for an attractive white person to have lost a loved one/source of income/sense of purpose who then meets another attractive white person of the opposite sex who happens to have the exact solution for whatever the other person has lost. There’s usually some sort of “Christmas Magic” or “Convenient Miracle,” in which all Scrooges are reformed, the money to save the beloved and benevolent church/school/business/main character magically appears, and the attractive white people fall in love, remember the true meaning of the holiday, have all of their dreams come true and everyone has the Best. Christmas. Ever.

At the risk of being cast as the Scrooge, bah humbug.

I am tired of hearing the message that one day, someone will magically appear in your life and have the perfect solution to all your problems *and* be your own personal soul mate *and* make all your dreams come true. Nothing turns me into a cynic faster than fantasies filled with pat answers and magical solutions.  And there is not enough insulin in the world to successfully metabolize the toxic levels of glucose in my system from a week’s 24-hour a day diet of these confections.

I feel like Camp Hip Replacement is about the perfect set-up for a Hallmark movie – Long-suffering single lady comes to take care of her mom during the holidays while mom recovers from surgery. Soon she meets the guy who recognizes her hidden talents and not only gives her some time away from Camp Hip Replacement, but he has need of a talented writer to head-up a new fiction division in his large, successful publishing house. Not only does he really think she’s hilarious and enchanting and worth knowing, but, he’s brilliant and kind and he gets along with her whole family, including everyone’s dogs, so, naturally, within a few days, they’re in love and all of their problems are solved and the two of them live happily ever after.   nbsp;

That this never happened, nor is it likely to ever happen, well, that might give you some insight into my less than charitable feelings toward the Hallmark Channel. It might be time for another trip to the freezer.

An Anniversary of Gratitude

An old fashioned station calendar

 

This mailing marks the end of the fifth year of this “whatever this is,” which also means it’s the start of the six year of “whatever this is.”

You would think that after five years of “whatever this is” I would have a better name for this than “whatever this is.” You have a very good point.

I’m now wishing I’d not mentioned that this was the anniversary and we didn’t have to have this awkward conversation about “whatever this is” and I could go on pretending that I have a clue about, well, anything at all.

What is it about anniversaries that prompts introspection and reflection and all that bologna that is decidedly serious and painful and not at all conducive to punchlines? It really makes it so I’m stuck with undercutting honesty with awkward rambling. At least it increases my word count.

Where was I?

Right. I was trying to avoid schmaltzy anniversary-prompted introspection with a bunch of obfuscation.

That reminds me! This is the holiday season!

In the spirit of the holidays, I want to share with you one of the things that makes me particularly thankful.

That would be YOU.

I know, it’s a bit schmaltzy in a different way, but, that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I am grateful for all of you who have stuck beside me, through good jokes and bad, through recycled content and episodes of nonsensical rambling, you are still here.

You are still here, right? You didn’t maybe check out after the part where I confessed that I have no clue about “whatever this is” or the part where I might’ve said something about being thankful for you, and that was slightly awkward, so you stopped reading and started looking for the “unsubscribe” link…

…If you ARE still here, thank you. Without you, not only would I have given this “whatever this is” up years ago, but, a third of the content of this particular mailing would be much more pathetic than it already is. You have yourselves to thank for giving me something to not only be thankful for, but for giving me something with which to fill this space.

That means, if you’re tired of reading this, you only have yourselves to blame.

In this season of giving, however, I will let you off the hook, and go back to simply being grateful for you. I will also wish you a season of joy and laughter, and hope you are as grateful for yourselves as I am, and that you are feeling warm and happy and full of gratitude for all that you have. Maybe, just maybe, there’s still a tiny spot within your generous soul that’s also a tiny bit grateful that you are still reading this “whatever it is.”

Turning on the Drip

The last few weeks have made me really re-think the plan to increase the frequency of my postings, and I am actually starting to get a bit panicky about this rash proclamation. I had a bout of sickness two weeks ago and it really knocked me down, and then last week, there were technical issues on the site and I ended up doing some maintenance work that didn’t get resolved until Friday morning. I’m still very behind not only from the lost time, but the resultant catch-up. I’ve re-run old columns on most Sundays for many weeks, and the shame of not having written anything new makes it feel like failure. And, really, especially as I gear-up he content volume, it presages the bigger failure. It doesn’t help me that most people don’t seem to notice that they’ve read this material before.  It fills me with doubts, and makes me question whether anyone is actually reading anything, or if any of this work is worth anything to anybody.

Of course, I do know that when I failed to send a column a few weeks ago there were a few people who had missed it and were concerned for me, and I felt both good and bad. I felt bad for having caused concern and for failing to send something out.

Technically, it’s the first week in 259 that I have failed to send send something out, but, in that 259, there are probably fewer than 100 stories, sent many times. That starts the shame spiral again, and we don’t need to tread there again.

I fantasize about having stories queued up weeks in advance. I dream of being ahead by weeks, and not having to be working on an impending deadline so that I can finish — or even start working on a product to sell.  This fantasy ranks up there with a clean house and more sleep. I am starting to feel like the entirety of these projects are useless and not worth the effort, and am finding it harder and harder to argue with these thoughts.

I have been buoyed by the excitement from you, my loyal readers,  which has keep me pressing forward, and even with these excited murmurings, I am deflated and adrift, at the same time, the looming launch of the “secret project” tells me again how far I am behind. I had plans to be halfway finished with it by this time, and I’m being overly optimistic by proclaiming it 1/4 of the way done, and looking at a list of workable items at being fewer than I need. And I know that as soon as things are underway, I will find it more difficult to keep up than ever.

I guess, I needed to share with you the fears I’ve been having, and it feels a bit better to confess. It feels even better to have gotten something new posted.  And the only way forward is putting one word after another. Tiny steps. Drop by drop. Trickles to streams, streams to ponds. Ponds to lakes. Lakes to oceans. Oceans don’t come without the drops.