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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

January 7, 2014

Sometimes, for what seem like the very best of reasons, I keep doing things I don’t want to do, and perhaps should not be doing.

Perhaps a good friend thinks it best I continue. Perhaps she would think less of me for discontinuing.

Or perhaps she is involved in the activity I’d love to drop, and it has become a social thing. If I stop, that may impact her, push her to take an action she otherwise would not. Is that fair?

Perhaps someone involved might have hurt feelings if I stop.

Perhaps I’m so accustomed to the unwanted activity that I might find myself at loose ends should I no longer have it as part of my routine.

Or, perhaps, it’s perfectly fine if a friend thinks I’ve made a poor choice on a certain issue.

Perhaps it’s more than reasonable to choose to make a change, to treat one’s friends and associates as competent beings free to make their own choices too, and to thrive whether or not I’m involved in all the same activities as they are.

Perhaps an action I take, here or there, may inadvertently result in someone taking it personally and having hurt feelings. And perhaps we could survive nonetheless.

And just perhaps I would relish the opportunity of finding myself at loose ends and charting a new course.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

January 4, 2014

Taking the dog out when there are five or six inches of snow on the ground is an interesting exercise. We humans in her pack are so attentive to her possible need to eliminate, cheerfully encouraging her to tend to that business. Gracie, however, is more zen-like. She sniffs the snow, licks at it, stops at the crunching sound of slow-moving tires over icy road, and watches with interest until the vehicle has turned into a driveway and come to a stop. She forsakes the patch of snow she'd been occupying, chooses an area where the snow is more shallow, stands and watches some more. Sits and watches. Listens and watches. We both hear it before we can see -- a rhythmic huff sound - huff, slap, slap, slap, huff, slap, slap slap -- and then the jogger comes into view, heavy jacket, thin legs, gloved hands, knit cap pulled over ears, small cloud on exhale, one breath for every four steps.

My right hand feels cold, and I switch the leash to my left, look at the long contrails left by passing aircraft, making diagonals across the sky, wide above, narrowing down to point toward the horizon. There's a slivver of moon above, pale in the late afternoon sky. There's a blaze of setting sun behind a neighbor's house, the tulip tree branches silhouetted. I imagine someone's happy little brush, or happy little pen, scratching the image on a surface whiter than the snow; whiter, because the snow itself looks startlingly white in places, and in other places, blue-toned.

I was reading earlier this afternoon about the many benefits of mindfulness, about starting a mindfulness practice, of the neurological changes associated with mindfulness. I contemplate.

It may be that happiness lies in developing the worldview of the dog. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

I was not a shy child. From an early age, I’d walk up to another child I didn’t know, introduce myself, and suggest playing together. I talked readily to adults, and was always interested in hearing their stories and having a conversation with them about one thing or another. In school, I frequently had my hand in the air, ready to give an answer, which I generally knew, although on occasion I was wrong. I didn’t mind terribly if I wasn’t called upon to give an answer, because I well knew that we had to take turns, and everyone else deserved a chance too. But I minded terribly if I had a question, and was not given the chance to pose it. Some of my questions, I now realize, were philosophical in nature, although at the time I asked them, I expected that there was a clear factual answer. In fourth grade, I asked Sister Kenneth how it was that if we had committed a mortal sin and died without going to Confession, we were consigned to Hell forever, but Jesus said that if we believed in him, we would never die, which meant we’d get to go to Heaven. I wanted to know, which was true – Heaven or Hell? It was a great disappointment to me when she said that it was a divine mystery. But I was not deterred from asking further odd questions. 

I didn’t have stage fright either. I was quite comfortable on the stage during our dance recitals when I was taking tap dancing lessons during my kindergarten year. I was particularly pleased to get more stage time when my cousin and I were chosen to hold either side of a tissue paper-covered hoop which a ballerina from the big kids’ ballet class would jump through to begin her performance. And in school, I was happy to be in the talent show, during which I wore a red, white and blue cardboard top hat, and sang, all by myself on the big stage, “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.” I liked singing, and was much better at it than at tap dancing, which I stopped right after kindergarten. And I always hoped to be cast in a play. Alas, in my school years, they always passed me over, although I knew I would do quite well interpreting a character’s emotions.

But although I was not shy, I was quiet. I was as comfortable listening as I was talking, but when I spoke, I spoke quietly. I didn’t learn how quiet I was until I started school, and a succession of teachers admonished me, “Speak up, Kathleen!” And when I did make an effort to speak up, I frequently found that a teacher would say, “We still can’t hear you.” It was an ongoing struggle, and I still tend to speak quietly as my default. Being louder generally takes a conscious effort.

So perhaps it is surprising, although it wasn’t so to me, that in eighth grade, I wanted to be a singer when I grew up. My family sang a lot when I was little. When we needed to drive a distance to get anywhere, we always sang in the car, and I knew lots of songs – “ That Old Gang of Mine,” “Pack up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag,” “Me and My Shadow,” “My Darling Clementine,” “We Ain’t Got a Barrel of Money.” By eighth grade, I had moved on to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Barbara Streisand, Roy Orbison, the Dave Clark Five. But that year, I decided I wanted to be an opera singer.  I hadn’t had a piano lesson since fifth grade, but I still tried to teach myself new songs, and had found in one of our piano books at home a simplified version of “Mon Coeur Ouvre a Ton Voix” from the opera “Samson and Delilah.” Ah, yes! That was worth whatever years of study it would take, and I’d been studying French  since third grade, so everything would work out well. Although I was still being encouraged to speak up at school, when I was at home alone and no one else could hear me, I sang really loud. So it could work for me to be an opera singer. Maybe.

But different dreams intervened, and I put the opera singer ideas aside for 38 years, until 2002, when I talked my husband into going with me so we could audition for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Chester County to be in the chorus of a production of “Trial by Jury.” When they said yes – to both of us – my youthful grandiosity returned, and I became, however belatedly, a chorus girl.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January 1, 2014

On the last day of 2013, Tom and I traveled to Haddonfield, New Jersey, to participate in their First Night celebration, performing in the Chester County Gilbert and Sullivan Society's production of "Trial by Jury." What a way to top off a year!

For those of you not familiar with "Trial by Jury," it's the story of a fair maid, Angelina, wronged by a cad, Edwin. As this piece predates television by decades, Jerry Springer and Maury Povich do not help them sort out their differences. Instead, Angelina sues Edwin for breach of promise, with the audience sitting in on the resultant trial. A ruffian, a bully, and a sot, all rolled into one package, Edwin takes a practical view of life, and points out that when one is finished with the beef, it seems quite reasonable to, for instance, tackle the mutton. The jury, free from bias of every kind, is against him from the start, although, in all fairness, in recalling the days of their own wild youth, the jury members almost sympathize with him. 


The judge too has a past, but there's scant evidence that he has developed any scruples along the way.

And then there's the betrayed would-be bride, who comes to court along with her bridesmaids, some of whom are pretty keen on Edwin. The jury members, all of whom seem prone to falling in love with any pretty face which comes into view, are alternately lovesick and outraged. The townspeople in attendance also seem prone to extreme emotions of any kind in response to most anything that happens. 

A rousing time is had by all, and there's even a happy ending, depending on your point of view, I guess. 

Well, the audience seemed to have a good time.

And so did we, the players.

There is something ever so wonderful about finding out that, apparently, it's never too late to become a chorus girl, singing and laughing are not incompatible, and the best way to finish off one year just may be singing with friends old and new at the First Baptist Church in one of the prettiest towns in the Garden State of New Jersey.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Poem for a day that began foggy, but turned brilliant

Time Travel with Ruth

More than forty years since we first met
almost thirty years since we last met
now tucked into a corner table
way in the back of the restaurant
at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
which we willfully ignore
talking, talking, talking
catching up –
a bit about the men we met and married
nothing about the men we met and didn’t
a bit of what we once believed career meant
nothing of what the job turned out to be
a smidgeon about the children
but more of labor
no longer a nightmare story, now full of laughs
but mostly we talk of the times we shared together.
Weren’t we unhappy that first year of college!
And what was the first name of our landlord’s wife –
the one we had to make the check out to –
Priscilla, or Cinderella?
Did the commune upstairs
live on more than one floor?
Remember the break-in, or, wait –
weren’t there two?
And why did we move out of 76 Birch?
Remember that plumber who warned us, get out?
What kind of car did your boyfriend have,
Cadillac or Chevy?
And that guy with his yearbook picture nude,
kittens in his lap –
what was his name?
So many memories make us both laugh,
as if we never went our separate ways!
And isn’t it amazing we look so much the same as we did then?
But here’s the shocker:
the photo we asked the waitress to take
turns out to feature two beaming
tastefully attired women, appearing –
how shall I say it –
somewhat mature!
Some jokester played a prank on us, I’m sure.
You and I are ageless.

~ Kate Lydon

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Does this happen to everyone, or is it just me?

I swear, real life is constantly intruding on my virtual life! It gets tiresome. I had to actually walk to the refrigerator to discover we need milk; no app for that. And I will have to go to the store -- physically move to the car and drive there -- to get a fresh gallon -- can't find anyplace where one click will restock us on milk. I imagine that at the supermarket, I'll encounter real groceries, and an assortment of non-virtual people who aren't even FB friends of mine.

By the time I get back home, I will have missed hundreds of tweets.Why don't I just read them on my cell while I'm standing in the physical line at the physical supermarket? Because of another intrusion into my virtual life -- I need to recharge my cell. It doesn't have enough real power left to work, and virtual power won't do -- there's no power surge app that handles cell phones. Sure, I'll still be able to read those hundreds of tweets, but not in real time. Real time? Hey, what's up with that? Wouldn't it be better to read them in virtual time?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Three-Legged Blue Toad on a Friday Night, flash fiction

We had Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for supper that night.


Because we’d moved into the apartment exactly one month before, the baby was fussy, my mother didn’t have time to cook, Dad wasn’t going to be home until later, six eleven year old kids in Halloween costumes were due to arrive in an hour and a half for the party, and we still had to wash the apples for bobbing before putting them into the big plastic container of water.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of stuff was already done. Mom and I had made placemats for the party from bright red and yellow maple leaves we stuck between pieces of wax paper and ironed. The orange soda was cold in the refrigerator, and Mom had made pumpkin-shaped butter cookies she covered with orange frosting, but I was the one who made jack-o-lantern faces on them with mini chocolate chips.

Everything was going to be perfect, and boys were coming to my party too. All the girls at my new school invited boys to parties. Some of the girls said they danced with boys, and even made out with them. Or talked about it anyway. My old school was all girls, and we never talked about making out, so I didn’t know much to say about it.

I had a crush on a boy in my class named Kenny. My first day in the new school, I sat next to him, and he had me laughing in no time. He had to sit right in front of the teacher, because he was always making jokes and talking, so she was always yelling at him, but he was funny and pretty cute. We even talked on the playground sometimes. I invited him to my party, and he said he couldn’t come. But Jimmy and Eddy were coming, , and Sharon and Heidi, who both lived across the street, and Nancy and Penny, who lived closer to school.

Anyway, my mother was rushing around getting things ready, and my brothers and I were sitting at the kitchen table eating our chicken noodle soup, all of us with our costumes on, but not the masks, when the doorbell rang.

My chair was closest to the door, so I got there first. It was already dark out, and we didn’t have the porch light on, so it was hard to make out who the kid in the costume was, especially since he had his mask on, except for that voice. “I’m here for your party,” he said. “I found out I could come.” Kenny! Maybe he couldn’t wait to see me. Maybe he was in love with me!

“It doesn’t start until 7:30,” I told him. “We’re not finished getting ready.”

“My Dad sent me now,” he said.

“Ask your friend in,” my mother called.

“Come in,” I said.

He pulled off his mask and followed me to the kitchen.

“This is Kenny,” I told my mother.

“Kenny, we’re just sitting down to a light supper. Have you eaten your dinner?” my mother asked.

“I’m going to eat when I got home,” he mumbled.

“Have a bowl of soup with us in the meantime,” she said. “Kathy, set a place for Kenny.”

I got him a napkin and spoon.

“How come your Dad sent you early?” It was my brother Tim; he always said whatever he wanted, even if it was rude.

“I don’t know,” Kenny said.

“That’s weird,” Tim said.

“I’m glad Kenny could come early,” my mother said. “After we eat, he can help us get everything ready for the party. We are so behind schedule! Here, you sit across from Kathy.” She ushered him into a seat and put a bowl of soup in front of him.

“Thanks,” he said.

“I’m making peanut butter toast for everyone,” she announced.

“Thanks,” Kenny said.

“Kathy, pour some milk for your friend!”

“Hey,” Tim said, “aren’t you Danny Mackey’s brother?”

“Yeah,” Kenny said.

“I heard your Mom ran away,” Timmy said. “Did she come back yet?”

“My Mom never ran away! Did my brother Danny tell you that?” Kenny said. “You can’t pay no attention to him. My family, we all hope he grows out of it, but he lies more than a three-legged blue toad on a Friday night!”

We all laughed. Kenny was always saying something funny. He was the funniest boy I ever met.

It turned out he was good at stringing donuts too, and after we ate, he climbed up on the step stool and taped all the strings to the top of the doorway into the living room for my Mom, while she and I filled the party bags.

Just before the rest of guests arrived, with Tim still pestering us, Kenny was helping me tie little black ribbon bows around the party bags. At the sound of the doorbell, Tim ran for the front door. Kenny looked me straight in the face. “Do you like me?” he said.


“Do you like me like me?”

I could feel my ears turning red, and I looked down at the party bags. “I guess I do.”

“Then let’s go steady,” he said.

“What do you do to go steady?” I asked.

“You don’t go steady with anybody else!”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll just go steady with you.” Wow! I guessed I was pretty lucky, because I was only eleven, and already I’d found the boy I was going to marry.
We didn’t have time to kiss each other, because Jimmy from up the street came in, and the two of them began fooling around and laughing and making ghost noises.

Later, my Dad ended up driving Kenny home, because no one came to pick him up.

It was the next day Kenny’s Dad was arrested. Kenny’s Mom never came back, and his grandmother from Indiana came and took him and his brother away.

I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

~ written in response to Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge on the subject of an unexpected guest ~