Forgive… and Forget If You Can

Traveling with my mother across Wyoming toward Salt Lake City, I droned on and on about a recent embarrassment, dissecting every disastrous detail, even though the poor woman was present when I humiliated myself.

contentA month before, as a student speaker at my junior college graduation, I had astonished both the audience and myself: During the random minutes not obligated to finals or my boyfriend — the current love of my life and thus quite distracting — I outlined, practiced, and memorized my speech. Then I misjudged my mental capacity and carried no notes with me to the podium.

Halfway through my memorized words, I ran out of them. Like a discordant music box winding down, I lurched between blurted phrases and agonizing silences, then died: “My fellow graduates and I have…my fellow graduates and… My-y-y-…………..”

What an impressive sight: eyes bulged, mouth agape, mind blank. Mom looked horrified; Dad hung his head until his forehead rested on his knees; and my siblings tried to appear unrelated. Twenty seconds of absolute silence crawled by while I stood mute, trying to reconnect with my brain.

Four weeks later, as Mom and I passed Evanston, I continued to obsess about the sea of eyeballs riveted on my stricken face as I searched for my AWOL words — until Mom abruptly interrupted my monologue.

“Janet, let it go,” she said with rather more force than I thought appropriate. “Learn what you can from the experience, forgive yourself, and move on. Dwelling on it does no one any good. Least of all me.”

I sat in offended silence for several miles, but over the years I remembered my mother’s words. Eventually, I realized I could readily forgive my friends and loved ones when they hurt my feelings, dropped cherry pie on my new carpet, forgot a commitment, or wore out their welcome, but I didn’t extend the same courtesy to myself. Finally, I began to follow Mom’s advice: to learn what I can from my foibles, then let go of them by forgiving myself.

But, forgiven though I am, I find some incidents impossible to forget.

1st year teacherAs an anxious student teacher, I gazed out the window of a classroom still echoing with the clamor of recently departed students. Below on the lawn, I could see two robins fighting over a worm; I related to the prey.

“Mrs. Phillips isn’t angry; she’s just worried about Rose’s grades,” my supervising teacher told me, “Remember to greet her, then introduce yourself, encourage her to talk, and listen carefully before you answer. You know Rose and her work well; you’ll be fine. And I’ll be here if you need me.”

Then she added, “One caution, Janet: Don’t stare at Mrs. Phillip’s nose. It’s huge, and according to rumor, she’s sensitive about it.”

As I waited for Rose’s mother to arrive, I studied the construction-paper daffodils dancing around the room and worried.

Mrs. Phillips entered. I stood and stared.

“Good afternoon, Mrs. Phillips. I’m Janet Bohart, Mrs. Miller’s student teacher. I understand you want to talk to me about your daughter’s nose.”

Forgive myself, yes; forget, never.

 

 

 

 

 

I Do Not Like Mean Words in Spam

You've Got Too Much Mail

I grew up hearing my elders fume about junk mail; then, as an adult, I felt the same irritation: “Who could possibly think I’d be interested in a free hearing test or discount coupons from a feed store?”

I discarded a letter offering a free night in a condo in Vegas for a few minutes of my time and a flyer advertising slippers that baby bunions, not knowing an eruption of something called spam would soon make supermarket flyers and circulars from used-car dealers seem inconsequential.

In the first three months of 2013, almost 100 billion spam emails were sent every day, and blog spam was increasing rapidly.

I appreciate WordPress for sniffing out spam sent to Aunt Beulah. My great-aunt — who knew Spam as a canned meat not even her skilled cooking and fresh vegetables could improve — wouldn’t have wanted to be the titular head of a blog bombarded by unsolicited messages that make no sense and are up to no good. Were she alive, she’d snort, “Ridiculous!” and probably add a bad word or two.

White conceptual keyboard - Spam (red key)

So when I read there are eleven messages in my spam queue, safely corralled, waiting for me to permanently delete them, I do so with a vengeance, snickering when senders tell me they are “reading views of all friends eager to getting known how;” that I should “read this or else, fun diptart9;” and that “asking questions are trulyy god thing if you are underfoot.”

The other day I deleted an unintentionally amusing bit of spam; but first I copied it for your enjoyment:

Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the
net the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you.
I definitely get irked while people consider worries
that they plainly do not know about nothing. You managed to hit the nail upon the
 top and defined out the whole thing without having side effect, people could take a signal. Will likely be back
to get more maybes thank you.

I was so happy to learn I had hit the nail upon the top.

If I were to reply to this convoluted inanity, my message would read, “I won’t beat around the shrub. You certainly bit upon more than you can gnaw here; and, furthermore, you’re woofing along the wrong tree.”

Never Question the Interests of Others

“Be careful what you wish for,” we’re warned. “Be careful what you ridicule,” I’d add.

Too often during my quick-to-judge life, I’ve had to retract adamant statements uttered with overtones of arrogance. These pronouncements usually began “I wouldn’t be caught dead…” and often involved the beloved pastimes of others. I hereby apologize to fans of the following interests for my misplaced smugness and scorn.

(1) Golf: “This is a sport?” I’d mutter as I sat in an easy chair, flipped through the channels, and paused on something called The Master’s where the announcers whispered to each other and the players took strolls. But because my husband enjoyed the game, I took golf lessons and learned one thing: I am poorly equipped to play a game where you’re taught a thousand things to think about before you even tee off. Then, as you walk onto the green, mind a-buzz, you’re told to forget everything and “Let ‘er rip.”

So I’d rip, watch my ball dribble ten feet from the tee, and think, “How does anyone play this incredibly complex game?”

Icono sudoku

(2) Sudoku: I’m a word person. My math career ended with high school geometry and Mr. Stone, who prowled the room with a yardstick as he had an ongoing dialogue with Arnold Edgefield, a boy with a head full of theorems, postulates, and cowlicks. If anyone appeared indifferent to their brilliant dissection of the day’s topic, Mr. Stone whacked the culprit’s desk with his yardstick. Sometimes we had to duck to avoid flying bits of yardstick, but it felt good to be involved.

I lost all control of numbers that year, so why would I want to do a puzzle filled with them?

Then, to help pass the time on an endless flight, I tackled Sudoku in the airline’s magazine. To my surprise, solving the puzzle didn’t require complex mathematical procedures, but, instead, reasoning and recognizing the numerals one to nine. That I could do; I was hooked.

(3) Refinishing antique furniture: As my mother worked at restoring a battered oak dresser, my teenaged self declared that when I had my own house, I would furnish it with chrome, glass, mirrors, and leather, not “all this old wood stuff.”

Mom smiled, kept working, and said, “Whatever you want, Toots.”

Now I fill with pleasure when relatives visit me and say my home reminds them of Mom’s. Forget the two maxims I mentioned earlier and remember only this one: “Appreciate your mother.”

Amazed explorer looking through binoculars

(4) Bird watching: Seeing a book on North American birds on a flea market table, I wondered why anyone would tip-toe around, wearing binoculars and a pith helmet, in search of a specific species of sparrow. I then resumed my search for marble eggs of a different hue than those I already had.

But after retiring, I began to notice the birds in my backyard, bought binoculars of my own, and soon experienced the rewards of watching birds: interesting creatures with unique habits, songs, and plumage that add color and melody to my world.

For someone who advises others to pursue interests, adopt hobbies, and find a passion, I used to be unbearably judgmental about the pastimes of others. But I now know better. In fact, I’ve been thinking about going to a demolition derby or maybe a tractor pull. And if I become a fan, I hope you won’t judge me as I have judged you.

Please Don’t Let It Rain for Easter

Colorful Easter eggs decorated with flowers in the grass on blue

For me, the approach to Easter weekend was marked by the smell of farmers burning out irrigation ditches, fingers stained by Easter-egg dye, hopes my Easter basket would include jelly beans with mostly black ones, and fervent wishes for good weather on Saturday.

Good weather on Sunday would be nice as well, but not essential, because it was a day of solemnity mainly spent indoors: lilies decorating the church, a flow of meaningful words, thoughts about the importance of Easter, and an appreciation of the day’s significance.

Saturday, in contrast, meant unbridled revelry as my classmates and I assembled on West Mountain near Utah Lake to shriek and throw hard-boiled eggs at one another. We asked our mothers for lots of dyed eggs. We said we wanted to race them, hide them, even eat them, and intended to do so; but year after year we yielded to temptation and hurled them at each other’s heads.

I grew up assuming children everywhere scrubbed eggshells and bits of yolk from their hair in preparation for Easter services. Now I realize that maiming one another with decorated eggs was an aberrant Lake Shore custom.

We interrupted our melee only for lunch. Baloney sandwiches and carrot sticks remained untouched while we gorged on chocolate eggs, jellybeans, and yellow marshmallow chickens—best eaten by stretching the head away from the body with your teeth until the neck snapped.

Soon a group of boys would race by, lobbing eggs at my friends and me, and the battle would begin anew. I’ve never forgotten the satisfaction of throwing a solid hit that smashed into the ape-like forehead of Billy Franks, the school bully, and then outrunning him down the mountain.

Since that glorious moment, I’ve been inordinately fond of the feel of an egg in my hand. I even collect them.

 

March Madness

adapted from a column published in 2011

Ball

Since moving to Northwest Colorado, I’ve learned a second definition for March Madness: the craziness that creeps over the populace as winter battles spring and too often wins. For most of my life, however, March Madness meant the NCAA tournament and basketball at its finest.

I grew up with the game. My older brothers scuffled a patch of packed dirt beneath a basket hanging regulation height from a telephone pole. Sometimes they created secret plays with complicated passes and elaborate feints, then enlisted Carolyn and me to stop their shot anyway we could.

We couldn’t. I sulked; Carolyn exacted revenge.

During junior high and high school, I anticipated the Friday night basketball games played in the crowded gymnasium of Spanish Fork High School all week. Filled bleachers rose from the sidelines to a thronged balcony. A band blared from the stage; and my brothers—Lawrence and then Bob—started for the Spaniards.

As I grew, people assessed my height and assumed I would play basketball; I shared their assumption—until I ran into the reality of women’s sports in the 50’s.

In junior high, we crowded around side baskets to practice shooting or passing while eying the boys at the other end of the gym. Though we never played a game, we preferred the basketball drills to the calisthenics unit.

 We played actual games in high school, but with special rules that protected our fragile bodies and stifled the flow of the game.

Not robust enough to run full court, we played in two zones: each team had three offensive players on one side of the half-court line and three defensive players on the other. A player who crossed the line risked both fouling and fatigue.

We could hold the ball only three seconds and dribble only three times. If you stole the ball from another player, you were whistled for unladylike behavior.

As center, I spent half my time wandering around the half-court line, watching the action at the other end. When my team managed to get possession, I ran for the basket, as instructed, hoping the forwards would get the ball to me, but they were usually too busy counting to three.

I scored five points in my best game—my daintiness unmarred by unsightly sweat.

Despite my unhappy experience with the game, my first exposure to the NCAA tournament on a small black-and-white TV in the sixties hooked me, and I still consider it the best sporting event on TV.

I love the language of the tournament: March Madness, N-C-double-A, Selection Sunday, top seed, underdog, Cinderella team, Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four.

I thrill to the possibility that at any time a player or a team could exceed expectations, stun the crowd with excellence, and send a higher-ranked team home.

A few years ago, Joel and I went to the western regional in Salt Lake City with friends. The field house was a jumble of crowded seating, blaring buzzers, dancing mascots, frantic coaches, and players leaping in victory or drooping in defeat with towels hiding their faces—all tied together by the constant, mesmerizing movement of the game and the steady rain of basketballs through a hoop.

And the fun is about to begin again.

The Winds of March

 

Catherine II of Russia

Catherine II of Russia

I know two things about the Russian empress, Catherine the Great: She displays impeccable posture in her royal portraits, and she said, “A great wind is blowing, and that gives one either imagination or a headache.”

I’m quite sure Catherine never visited our region during the month of March, but her comment makes me think she could have.

From December through February, I expect harsh snow-burdened gales to turn our roads into obstacle courses, pursue livestock across drifted fields, and snatch branches from whip-lashed trees.

But fierce winds in March unsettle me. Just when the world begins to stir with the promise of daily walks through a gentle spring—sun warming my face and fresh air dancing—the promising month falls prey to unpredictable winds.

A balmy breeze, which invites sauntering in the morning, freshens and becomes bothersome in the afternoon, causing me to tuck my chin and scurry. By the next day it’s surly and vindictive, slapping at my reddened face no matter which direction I turn.

Several calm days with stilled leaves and quiet follow, and I begin to believe spring is more than a myth I cling to in order to preserve my sanity. Then the next morning, I walk into a one-direction gale, its insistent, monotonous bluster unbroken by the ebb and flow of gusts.

It’s enough to make a walker paranoid.

child with kite

I became a student of March winds as a child. I had no choice: my elementary school abounded with displays of lions, lambs, and puffy-cheeked faces blowing playful breezes in which kites frolicked.

In sixth grade, Mr. Wadsen, who played the zither and had black eyebrows that grew together in a commanding line, taught us how to make kites from newspaper and weightless pieces of wood he supplied. We carefully tore strips from an old sheet to create tails for stability, attached kite string, and went outside to fly our creations.

Within minutes, a rambunctious wind grabbed our kites and either bounced them across the playground in swirls of dust or tossed them high into trees to be impaled by bare branches.

We had a glorious time.

In fourth grade, our class presented the program for the March PTA meeting. Mrs. Thomas selected a poem about the wind by Christina Rossetti and coached us in a choral reading of its lovely lines: “Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I, but when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.”

She assigned Blake and Lamont to produce pleasant wind sounds—whooshes and soft sighs—as a background to our words.

Rehearsals went well, but the night of the performance, in front of parents, teachers, and school board members, Blake and Lamont succumbed to their weakness for erratic behavior and increased the volume of the wind.

By the time we finished the second verse, they’d whipped up a nor’easter.

Encouraged by chuckles from the audience, other reprobates soon added their banshee howls to the hurricane, while those of us with more decorum laughed uncontrollably at their antics.

We didn’t get recess for a week.

 

 

 

Contrasting Work Ethics

 

an advance planner

an early planner

I once heard those who plan ahead choose long periods of nagging pain, while those who procrastinate prefer short bursts of intense agony.

a procrastinator

a procrastinator

My marriage serves as an example.

I shake my head in disbelief when Joel roars around two minutes before he has to leave: searching for his keys, finding his glasses, unearthing his cell phone, assembling his papers, and thinking I know where they are but won’t tell.

He, on the other hand, questions my need to keep the gas tank topped off, make extensive lists for everything I do, and start packing my suitcase a week before we leave for a trip. “Why,” he asks, “do you worry and work sooner than you have to?”

Conversations with friends and acquaintances about writing also illustrate the divide between the tortoise and the hare.

I know I’m talking to a procrastinator when I’m asked, “What’s it like to meet the newspaper deadline for your column and your self-imposed deadline for your blog every week, month after month, with no break? That kind of pressure would drive me crazy.”

I agree: if I were awake at midnight the day before a deadline, sitting at my computer with the word count hovering below the required minimum, and unable to think of nouns—never mind metaphors—I’d be bonkers.

But I’m the student who studied slowly and methodically for tests several days in advance rather than pulling all-nighters and the teacher who decided before going to bed what I’d wear to work the next day. I renew my prescriptions as soon as possible and note important dates on my calendar well in advance: schedule a hair appointment, spray the aphids, submit a column by 9:00.

So, in accordance with my compulsions, I write at least a month in advance and usually have two columns and four blogs ready for publication. While others are thinking about Halloween costumes, I’m polishing a piece about cooking Thanksgiving dinner or choosing Christmas presents.

I like knowing I could go to bed with inflamed tonsils, sail on a cruise ship to Antarctica, or slip into several weeks of mindless sloth without my column and blog fading into oblivion.

My habit of planning in advance and tackling my tasks in stages doesn’t allow me to feel smug, however. Over the years, I’ve learned that doing  quality work in a punctual manner matters more than whether it’s accomplished in a day of focused activity or weeks of gradual work.

Still, I wonder why the man I love can’t see the wisdom in planning several meals and shopping for them in advance, rather than deciding what to have for dinner and shopping after work with five-hundred fellow procrastinators—my idea of intense agony.

Why Have Hobbies?

In a recent Peanuts cartoon, when Lucy told Charlie Brown she was thinking of starting some new hobbies, Charlie said, “That’s a good idea, Lucy. The people who get most out of life are those who really try to accomplish something.”

Looking appalled, Lucy replied: “ACCOMPLISH something? I thought we were just supposed to keep busy.”

In the past, I thought like Lucy. Viewing hobbies as busy work to fill my idle moments, I pursued decoupage, macramé, origami, tatting, and yodeling. Each endeavor enjoyed the same success as my wish to be 5’6”.Wreath

My search for a busy-work hobby peaked when I scoured fields and ponds for nuts, pinecones, grasses, and twigs, which I used to make Christmas wreaths. I gave these creations to loved ones, who exclaimed happily and hung them in their snug homes.

I had used liberal amounts of a smelly liquid adhesive to attach my found treasures to the wreath frames. Too liberal. Over time, as the adhesive heated in warm homes, my carefully collected bits of the outdoors drooped from the wreaths and dangled like so many hapless bungee jumpers.

Looking back, I realize I also shared Charlie Brown’s notion of hobbies; my attempts to keep busy should accomplish something: impeccable cream puffs, granny-square afghans for all, a homemade wardrobe with nary a puckered sleeve or uneven hem, artistic greeting cards often made at get-togethers where participants share ideas and cut perfectly square corners.

I  thought an accomplishment was a learned skill that yielded an impressive product rather than an activity pursued for the pleasure of doing it. Though I backpacked in the Sierras every chance I had, I didn’t consider it a hobby. It was too much fun. I liked it when my legs stretched strong and my breath slid deep; I relished standing in the smell of pines to watch ridgelines march into the distance and a river tumble below. But the joyful experience yielded nothing I could enter in the country fair.

I learned that process is as rewarding as product from my mother, when she shared with me her passion for rescuing abused pieces of wooden furniture hidden under layers of paint. Working with her in the sunshine of my Nevada home, I scraped, sanded, stained, and oiled. Doing so, I realized that the smells, movements, and tactile experiences of the process pleased me as much as having a new, lovely piece of furniture.wooden chair

To this day, when I walk by something one of us refinished, I’m compelled to reach out and run my hand over it, an involuntary act of connection.

The synonyms for hobby — pastime, diversion, leisure pursuit — trivialize it. Hobbies satisfy my soul. When I’m immersed in one, I’m both Charlie Brown and Lucy: staying busy and accomplishing something — but with the added benefit of fulfillment. And I feel at one with potters, cooks, gardeners, skiers, kayakers, and photographers: all those who find completion in a process.

 

Challenge: a ballad about a hero with anaphora or epistrophe

A ballad tells a dramatic story frequently written in four-line, rhyming verses. Anaphora is repetition of the same word (or words) at the beginning of multiple lines of verse. Epistrophe is its counterpart: repeated words appear at the end of lines.

I decided to use anaphora and write about a man who only imagined he was a hero.

 

The Fall of Mr. Grossman

Mr. Grossman, a mammoth without hair,
the VIP of the junior high,
announced the news with fleshy lips,
and several girls began to cry.

The teacher of the theater class,
with drama made his call,
his favored one would play the lead.
She was the best of all.

Mr. Grossman weighed three-hundred-three
and sponsored every dance.
He lumbered the floor in challenged shoes
and his signature, belly-stretched pants.

With glutinous eyes and flesh that lapped
he watched for any two locked tight,
then stepped between, and with bad breath,
banished the duo from the site.

Mr. Grossman, who lived with his mom,
and didn’t stint her dinners,
counted the votes for everything
and decided who’d be winners.

His fall came hard; his fall came quick;
‘twas prompted by his rage,
when the teacher, in an angry snit,
tried to leap from off the stage.

onto a wooden folding chair
that shattered ‘neath his weight.
Then Mr. Grossman, a whale aground,
entered an apoplectic state.

Students stared with mouths ajar
as, wearing bits of chair,
he rose and stomped toward the door;
then giggles filled the air.

Not knowing a seam had split and gaped
he turned as laughter swelled;
then at Mr. Grossman, tyrant of teens,
a rowdy student yelled,

“Mr. Grossman, shame, shame on you —
for indecent exposure and yelling,
you’re banished forever from the gym
and your mother we’ll be telling.”

 

 

Our Incredible Bodies

Human body systems

My body has served me well for seventy-two years with little grumbling. Though I sometimes imagine it would like to say, “Whoa, there, Big Girl, how about we think this over,” it always does its best to meet my sometimes unreasonable demands.

It has survived the indignities of tight shoes, backcombed hair, and potty training; it’s been overfed, underworked, sunburned, and sleep-deprived.  Doctors prod it; mosquitoes bite it; lines age it. Yet it keeps on ticking.

At my request, it learned to walk upright, stand on its head, pluck a turkey, swim underwater, avoid electrified fences, and type 40 words a minute. It has ridden on a camel’s hump, on a harrow as ballast, and behind the wheel of a stick-shift pickup truck with faulty brakes.

In its time, it danced the mashed potato, ate armadillo, wrestled siblings, and remained in plank position — though maybe it shouldn’t have. It enjoyed buttermilk, Creedance Clearwater Revival, the smell of Magic Markers, and sleeping under the stars.

Its legs climbed a fourteener in Colorado, a Mayan temple in Belize, the 354 steps inside the Statue of Liberty, and out of bed under protest. Its ears heard waterfalls, laughter in classrooms, the muffled silence of a snowfall, and my parents’ voices in quiet conversation as I fell asleep.

Its eyes read life-altering words, beheld soul-stirring sights, and memorized the faces of loved ones so well that in dreams I see them still.

My mother nurtured my body; my father sang to it; my siblings made fun of it; and my boyfriends pursued it. It never knew the pain and joy of giving birth, but it held grandchildren close and cherished each one.

When younger, I was proud of my body’s strengths, surprised by its resilience, and embarrassed by its shortcomings. During the last decade, I grew in wisdom, and I now appreciate my body in its entirety even as its abilities fade.

What marvelous  machines we inhabit; they do so much and ask for so little: sleep, nutrition, movement, prudent use, and timely medical care.

We need to appreciate and nourish our bodies.