Thursday, March 24, 2011

Shame on You

It's not what you call me, but what I answer to.
~ African proverb ~

So there's this blog I read, which has now split into two blogs I read. (Don't ask.) Recently the blogger posted a book review in which he used the word "insane" to describe a character's behavior, and a commenter, L, responded very politely saying she wished he hadn't used that word. The blogger subsequently edited out the word and replaced it with something else.

I asked, "What would be a good word to use instead?" Another commenter apparently took this to mean that I felt there was no good substitute, rather than meaning, "No doubt there is a good word to use instead, can you suggest one?" and said something to the effect that I ought to know better than to ask. So I said that if he remembered me well enough to know I'm a long-time poster he ought to know that I also annoy the heck out of people.

God has a bitchin' sense of humor. Somewhere in Heaven he immediately announced, "You got it, sweetheart."

A poster whom we will call Furious objected to L's post, because she felt that it was obvious the use of the word "insane" in that context had nothing to do with the modern of concept of mental illness and objecting to its use suggested it did. A brawl ensued. I try to steer clear of brawls (no, honest) so I wandered over to the other blog to see what was going on.

What was going on was commentary on the brawl, with sympathy going to D and a few others who were arguing with Furious and supporters. Furious was being referred to as a "concern troll". At some point the Magic Words, "Intent is not magic" were invoked.

I think of trolls as people who try to disrupt discussions just to disrupt discussions. It bothers me when people who advance unpopular viewpoints are reflexively dismissed as trolls. I see it as a form of poisoning the well. Whereas other people saw Furious as a troll, I saw someone who was hurting, someone for whom L's post came as a punch in the stomach just the way for L the blogger's use of "insane" came as a punch in the stomach for her.  I thought long and hard about the possible repercussions of defending Furious (see above comment about "annoying people"), and decided I would feel like a coward if I didn't at least try. I thought long and hard about the post I wrote and rewrote it several times. I expected a lot of disagreement over my saying that I did not think Furious was a troll and that she ought to at least be listened to.

What I did not expect was to be accused of attacking Furious. I was told that I was suggesting that Furious' views should not be taken seriously because she spoke of being mentally ill. When I responded by pointing out that I was in fact saying that Furious should be listened to, even if people didn't agree with her, I was told, "Shame on you". In addition, several people who were growing tired of the argument on the first blog expressed unhappiness at it having erupted on the second. So I faced a decision.

I could keep arguing to try to save my reputation but I would probably fail, and keeping the argument alive was distressing at least one person and probably more who already felt stressed to the limit. What would be the point? It was an Internet squabble, not a diplomatic mission that could potentially bring peace to Libya.  I know what I really think. I know what I really wrote. I'm not ashamed of either one. Besides, it hit me finally in a burst of merriment what had happened: my intent was to convince people to look at Furious as a person who was hurting and should be listened to instead of being dismissed as a troll, and in a back-handed, Rube Goldberg sort of way I had succeeded. Who says intent is not magic?

And that is why I say God has a bitchin' sense of humor. Sometimes I think the boy is smoking weed.

The topic of shame, however, remained salient for me because there is something I've done lately that I'm ashamed of. It happened last Friday when my BFF and I went to St. Francisville for the Audubon Pilgrimage. After buying our tickets, we had about a half hour to kill before the first attraction opened, so we decided to look for a coffee shop. We found a little cafe that was open for breakfast. They didn't have decaffeinated coffee already brewed, so the waitress brewed us a fresh pot. We each ordered a biscuit with the cafe's homemade jam. The total came to $4.42. 

Since I was doing the driving for the day, BFF offered to pick up the tab. She put a $5 bill on the table and I added a dollar for the tip. BFF was about to add another dollar for the tip. At that point, my brain started functioning in percentages instead of absolute dollars and cents and I convinced my friend that the extra dollar would be too much. After all, the $1.58 we were already leaving her was a 35% tip, pretty generous for a small country diner, right?

About a mile or two down the road the residual caffeine in my coffee kicked in and I thought about what I had done, horrified. That woman had worked as hard to get us our coffee and biscuits as she would have worked if we had ordered the full breakfast. She even offered to put the rest of the decaf in to-go cups for us. And I had responded by talking my friend out of leaving her an extra dollar. It wasn't even my dollar.

"WTF are you thinking," my better self chided, a little too late. "Are you ludicrous, absurd, mind-boggling, incomprehensible and/or asinine? Have you been smoking crack?"

I feel terrible. I feel ashamed. I'd better never do that again.

Garden at Afton Villa

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Poppy, the efficient kitty cat secretary

Poppy is very ill. Ever since her surgery two years ago, she has been losing weight, and lately she has been very listless.  Yesterday my husband took her to the vet, who drained some fluid from her lungs and kept her overnight to observe her. This morning she had fluid around her lungs again, despite medication, and refused to eat or drink. My husband brought her home for one more night, and tomorrow she will go back to the vet to be euthanized.

When she got home this afternoon, Poppy headed for the door. Although she has always been an indoor-outdoor cat, she has not gone outside for the last month, but we let her go. In her healthier days, her response whenever she thought a trip to the vet was in the offing was to curl up somewhere and hide. Once I found her hiding amid the wisteria on the pergola, in the spot where the leaves were thickest, keeping very still. Now the azaleas are in bloom, and Poppy headed straight for them. Later, I found her curled up in the chiminea, asleep. After an hour or so, she crawled back to the door and we let her in. She's sleeping on the carpet.

Truffle, our feisty Siamese, has been unusually tender with her. Earlier he walked over to her and tried to groom her. He's been very subdued most of the day, as if he realizes he is about to become an only cat and doesn't think it's such a good idea after all.

I wonder, as I always do, what the world looks like to our cats. Poppy must know that something is very wrong. She meows at us to fix it and it breaks our hearts that we can't. Truffle seems to realize that Poppy is not herself. Usually at some point during the day he chases her around or tries to pounce on her, but he has been behaving himself.

Tomorrow morning, hubby will take Poppy to the vet and in the afternoon he will bury her under the azaleas and camellias where her other buddies are. Tomorrow Truffle will be the only cat. Tomorrow is going to suck.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

For All That Her Hands Have Done

Back when my son was young and I was a single mom working outside the home, I joined St. Anonymous United Methodist Women. There was a large group of women who worked outside the home who met at night, while two or three other circles met during the day. Our group by default was known as the night circle, but the UMW leadership decided we needed to choose another name. My suggestion was "Women of Virtue" circle after the woman in Proverbs 31. After all, she ran a textile factory (verse 24), she owned a vineyard (verse 16), she got up before dawn like all of us who had to get our kids to daycare (verse 15), and she had what all of us would have loved to have, a household staff (verse  15 again).

Although to tell the truth, the real reason I wanted the name "Woman of Virtue" was because I figured we could get T-shirts printed up with the words, "Woman of Virtue, St. Anonymous Church" and I could use a marker to slip a "^" mark and the word "easy" in between the "of" and the "virtue". It didn't matter, though, the circle picked another name and never did get T-shirts anyway.

Somehow in the intervening years, the Proverbs 31 woman has been co-opted by a far more traditional kind of woman than I, for reasons that escape me utterly. I mean, the woman sold hooch! Given the mores of the time she probably even sold hooch to teenagers and pregnant women, some of whom may have been the same people. Furthermore, she dressed in fine linen and purple (verse 22), and for those of us who were raised on Cecil B. DeMille Bible epics, the picture that those words conjure up are more this

 than this.

So here we have a woman who is running a sweatshop to make purple and scarlet clothes (verses 21, 22, and 24), probably for floozies, designer bed linens (verse 22) and selling wine on the side. I don't know about you, but I think "Martha Stewart" before I think "Nancy Campbell". Is this really the woman we want to be our role model? "Hell, yeah" if you're me, but what about if you're one of those Godly types?

On second thought, "Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." Maybe she and her wine can get those people to chill, if no one else can.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Wave of Sorrow

Last Friday I was driving to a doctor appointment when I was suddenly hit by a feeling of depression. It was a mix of sadness, hopelessness and pointlessness that seemed totally unconnected to anything going on in my life. The appointment was a routine one for a Boneva infusion, not for illness. After the appointment I was going on to meet friends for lunch at a favorite restaurant and then to pick up my badly-missed laptop from the Apple Store and hang around to buy an iPad2. So why were my feelings so out of line with the day I had planned?

At that point my unconscious, which had been frantically trying to get my attention for a few minutes, broke in and reminded me what had happened earlier that morning. I had awoken to the radio and heard something about tsunami warnings in Hawaii. I found my husband, up early doing his laundry, and asked if he knew what had caused the worry about tsunamis in Hawaii, and that's when I found out about the earthquake that had hit Japan. Unlike most people, I was not glued to the news that morning while I organized the details of my day, but it wasn't hard to figure out that large dense population plus island location plus earthquake equals disaster. I wasn't prepared for the scope of that disaster, but I don't think anyone stateside was at that point.

Later that morning when I saw my sister's one word Facebook post, "CRAP!", I remembered that my nephew, who is in the Army, had just been sent to Hawaii. (Later that day he texted that he was okay.)

The incident reminded me of the last time I had sensed a disturbance in the force.  On June 11, 2001, two days before my 54th birthday, I woke up with that same feeling of sadness, hopelessness and pointlessness, and again, there didn't seem to be any reason for it. I was looking forward to my birthday. It was Monday, but I generally didn't take Mondays that badly. Only later, driving to work and hearing that Timothy McVeigh had been executed earlier that morning did I understand what had hit me. Not only was the sorrow and outrage of the Oklahoma City bombing brought back to me, but also sorrow for McVeigh.

Let me explain that. Despite my reservations about capital punishment in general, I can't dispute McVeigh's execution. If anyone is going to get the death penalty for a crime, a mass murderer of 168 people, nineteen of them children, should be the one. My thoughts about McVeigh do not run along the lines of "the poor baby". My sorrow was more a generalized sorrow for any young person who makes choices that ultimately force society to protect itself from him. I wonder if there was some point at which he could have been put on a better path, some person who could have intervened, some set of circumstances that would have averted the entire tragedy and spared all those lives. You can't reason with or influence tectonic plates. I would hate to think that people are ultimately just as driven by fate and impersonal forces. 

The empty chairs, Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial

Monday, March 14, 2011


This morning I  ran errands. On my way home from the two major errands I remembered I needed bay leaves and chicken stock for tonight's dinner. Oddly enough, the US highway that I was driving along has only one grocery on a five mile stretch, one that used to be Albertsons and is now known as something else, and which is not one I'd shop in given a choice. So I consulted my internal map of the area and decided my two choices were Walmart and Target, which meant traversing acres of parking lot and store to find what I needed, not something I wanted to do for two items. Alas, Walmart and Target have pretty much driven out the smaller stores that were so handy for quick errands.

But wait, I thought to myself, isn't there a Winn-Dixie along the way? I'll go to the Winn-Dixie. At the Winn-Dixie I was able to park a few slots from the door, cruise down one aisle, and find what I needed all in the time it would have taken to find a parking spot at Walmart.

Which left me with time to ponder, why on earth do I call it "the Winn-Dixie"? I don't say "the Target" or "the Walmart", unless I'm saying "the Walmart over on Perkins". We used to have an A&P within walking distance of us that changed its name to Superfresh. I used to shop at "the A&P", but then I shopped at Superfresh, not "the Superfresh". It's closed now, because Walmart opened across the street, a big busy street that no one out of their teens crosses on foot. I miss that store, because you don't run into Walmart for a few quick items. It's more like a forced march.

So some groceries are "the": the Winn-Dixie, the A&P, the Piggly Wiggly, and some are not, and there is no rhyme or reason as far as I can tell. I wonder if maybe those stores started in small towns where they were the only grocery in town, but at the moment there are 10 Winn-Dixies that I know of  in our city and only 2 Targets. I used to wonder why I said "the Home Depot" and not "the Lowe's" until one day I looked at the sign outside the Home Depot and realized that's what it says, "The Home Depot". So there's one accounted for, but the rest? I've heard other people say "the Winn-Dixie", "the A&P", "the Piggly Wiggly" as opposed to "Albertsons", "Walmart" and "Target", so it's not just me.

All this musing got me home, where I realized I had forgotten the crimini mushrooms I also needed. I decided  to replace them with plain old canned mushrooms. I didn't want to run out to Walmart, and by time I got home, I was too far from the Winn-Dixie to go back.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In the Abstract

The closest I come to taking an abstract photograph

I have a FlickrPro account, and I love looking at the many photographs in the many groups on Flickr. I especially love looking at abstract photographs, and have frequently tried to take abstract photographs, but mine are a dismal failure. They usually wind up looking as if I dropped the camera just as it was clicking.

One of the people whose abstracts I particularly admired I encountered on a Flickr group called "Visual Echo". The members of the group comment on photos by posting photos of their own that echo the first photo in some way: subject, color, shape, lighting. One of the most prolific commenters, whom I will call by her initials, km, takes beautiful abstract photos. I remember thinking, when I was in Antarctica, that if km had only been there she would have taken some of the most beautiful abstracts in the history of photography, and that when she was done, you would have had no idea where she had just been.

Somebody could have taken a nice abstract picture of this.

I finally had to admit to myself that I am just not cut out to take abstract photographs, because I am drawn to pictures that tell a story. This picture is an example. The man in it is a bow maker, plying his craft at the Rural Life Museum on one of their special event days. He looks like he's taking a break, or trying to decide what to do next, or wishing that the woman with the camera would get out of his face. Part of what draws me to a story is not knowing all of the story. You know there is a story there, and that you won't ever know the ending.

The cooler in the picture also tells a story - the photographer's story. The cooler was there, and it spoiled the shot, but there was no way around it. If I'd  kicked it out of the way, I'd no doubt have another story to tell. If I asked the man if I could move his cooler, the moment I wanted to capture would have been over. So there is the cooler, telling its story of  imperfection and striving.

Behind all abstractions is a story. The jobless rate of as February was 8.9%. That one figure reflects stories of people in trouble, stories of people who have given up looking, stories of manager who have been emboldened to start hiring again,  stories of people looking at their first paycheck in who knows how long. 

Fifty-two percent of parents are concerned about the safety of vaccines for children, although seventy-six percent (76%) are concerned that unvaccinated children will cause health problems for other children. Now there's a story. Worried parent concerned about hurting a child by having her vaccinated or hurting her by not having her vaccinated. There's a story of how our mind's tendency to think in stories makes it hard for us to evaluate hard data. There's a story you could read etched in a worried face.

Even my abstract picture above has a story. It's not really a picture of abstract art, it's a picture of an artifact. I took the picture at one of our summer art camps. In one of our classes, children were doing multi-media, and that particular day, they were choosing colors for wood blocks. The artist's assistants were wiping off rollers on the piece of glass shown above.  The artist teaching the class was a professor of art from a nearby university. Earlier in the week, the children were painting with oils, and the artist went to each one, looked at the art, and told each child, "You are painting in the style of so-and-so." Then he would show them a painting in an art book done by the artist and make a suggestion based on that artist's style. 

At first, I thought the artist was so used to teaching college students that he had no clue what would work with our younger and atypically-developing population. But as I watched him go around the room, I realized that the children were looking and listening, and if they never remembered a thing about Jackson Pollock and Mary Cassatt, they were seeing and hearing respect for them and their work and its place in the world of artists. That kind of respect cannot be faked, and isn't usually present in the kinds of bright, cheery voices of adults (mine among them) saying, "Did you do that yourself? It's so pretty!" to children. I'm sure it has its own story. I'll probably never know the ending.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Saga of My Quilt

Once upon a time I needed an inspiration for my tired looking bedroom. I found a picture from an ad for an expensive interior designer. It was the only ad of theirs I ever liked, but since I have a four poster bed like the one in the designer room, it was a start. 

(The bed has a story. I bought it at an estate sale silent auction. The woman who owned it was in jail for shooting her husband, and the bank was selling the furniture to help settle the estate. Other people acquire furniture in furniture stores. Someday I might try that.)
Rather than using high-priced designer fabrics, I used quilt fabrics in pinks and greens, with a purchased matelasse bedspread like the one in the designer room. I made a lovely pink bedskirt which you can see below. My husband said he learned a whole bunch of new words while I was sewing.

Then my SIL bought us this beautiful quilt in the Amish country, thinking it would go with our bedding. Alas, the greens and pinks were too blue, but that was okay, because I wanted a winter look. As you can see, it needed accessories.

 It needed new window treatments, too. The New Orleans bordello look valances don't quite go with the Amish look.

With the help of the brilliant and fabulous Cookie Martin of Batiks Plus, I found the perfect match for 6 of 9 of the quilt fabrics, and 3 more that harmonize. I made pillows to go with the quilt.
 Where is the quilt, you ask? Well, in the meantime I acquired Truffle, the demon spawn, and Poppy lost her leg. So when Truffle isn't bouncing across the bed, Poppy is hanging on to the bedspread to keep her balance as she climbs on. I put the old bedding back on the bed until I got a new duvet and decided the new pillows might spruce it up.
See the beautiful en pointe patches? It was fun figuring out how to do this (easier than it looks) and how big to make the squares to cut the pillows out on the diagonal. Geometry, it's not just for high school anymore.
 The purchased bedskirt now has trim that matches the quilt. The quilt that is sitting in the armoire.
 Alas, the valances came out too long. I have 3 possible solutions to the problem. My favorite is moving to a new house with the same size windows but 9 foot ceilings.

Those poor pillows look lost in a sea of cream. I'd hang the quilt on the wall behind the bed, but Truffle could still use it as a scratching post. Maybe I could shield it with Plexiglass like in a museum?

I guess given a choice between beautiful inanimate objects, like the quilt, and obstreperous living things, like Truffle, Satan's minion, I choose the obstreperous but amusing ones.

Update, November 2014: I have found a solution for the quilt problem. Last winter, inspired by the use of multiple coverlets in Country Curtains catalogs, I began using the quilt as a blanket, with the duvet on top. The pointed border of the quilt showed all around, but the top was protected from kitty claws. This past summer, my husband bought a new coverlet for the guest bed that proved to be a little too big. I noticed it has an embroidered pattern in the same colors as the quilt, plus a bound edge in the same color family as the binding on the quilt and bedskirt, so now it sits on top of the quilt. Less of the quilt's pointed edge shows, unfortunately, but otherwise I love the look.

I cheated the coverlet toward the right, so the quilt could be seen under it in the next picture.

The edge of the quilt visible under the coverlet.

The colors of the embroidery are a better match than it looks like from this picture.

The two borders don't match, but have similar colors, so they work well together.