Wednesday, May 18, 2011
These two are related - I could probably make them one quality, but I'm getting dangerously close to the stage of "I can tell a daffodil from a dandelion" for a special quality - so I'm stretching them into two separate Special Qualities.
My first entry here is that I can readily admit when I don't know something. It doesn't puncture my ego in the least to ask for help, even of the most basic nature, or to look for information. This became most apparent when we moved to the country ten years ago.
In academia, you're expected to know the workings of your own field, and that's it - if you're in Mathematics, no one expects you to know about European History. Out here, though, it seems that you're supposed to have this vast, overarching knowledge of All Things Agricultural, from being able to identify chickens (and I don't mean like, "Look there's a chicken!" but more like, "There's a Rough-legged Joneses Matterhorn chicken!") to being able to tell if an electric fence is electrified without grabbing it to see if you get a shock *cough*
I've found that most people are willing, even eager, to demonstrate their knowledge of things, ("Me: Does this take gasoline or diesel? ..... long pause....Other person: Diesel. Most tractors take diesel..." ) and for the occasional wise-ass who insists on smirking and commenting, "You didn't know that, huh?" I've been known to reply, "No, and thank you for fixing it for me. The next time you need help with generative grammars, don't hesitate to give me a shout." Gracious, no. But with my upbringing (Northeast urban all the way) they're lucky they didn't get ... an entirely different reaction.
Part two of this is my ready willingness to admit that I was wrong about something. It can be anything from purchasing the wrong item, ("Oops. Wrong part.") to naming the wrong singer/rapper,( "Fifty cents? Fifty cents for what?") to completely misconstruing someone's intentions,( "Wow....I'm so....totally off base. I'm sorry.") I am also capable of repeating my apologies until the other person stops telling me every detail of my transgression over...and over....and over... (see above about upbringing.)
I think part of these is based on the fact that, as a voracious reader and general collector of trivia in addition to - and at the expense of - useful stuff, I know a fair number of things. But hand in hand with that is a growing awareness of just how much Stuff there is to know about, and the impossibility of knowing any but a teensy slice of that whole. The other part is a dislike of contention and wasting of time - I really *don't* want to argue about whatever it is, and if I confess immediately, then we can both get back to what we were doing.
Mostly, though, I think it's because, as I get older and see more of Life, I recognize the number of times I was absolutely certain about something and turned out to be dead wrong, sometimes with fairly disastrous results. I've learned that being right, at the expense of someone's feelings or a great deal of your own time, isn't worth it. I've realized that allowing someone to believe something inaccurate isn't always a bad thing: John's mother was sure that we'd named a baby after her - we hadn't, but what harm did it do to allow her to believe it?
We waste too much time arguing about silly stuff - who knew what, said what, meant what, where it came from, when we got it - that could better be spent on fun stuff, ("Who cares where we got It - let's weld It to that Thing! Won't that be awesome?!") and appreciating our beautiful world.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
A note on yesterday's blog:
Another thing I absolutely cannot do - and rarely admit to, because for others it's so easy they just don't understand how I can *not* do it - is tell which burner will light from looking at the diagrams on the range top. Somehow I seem to envision the diagrams as being printed on the top of a pizza box lid, so that when opened, the diagram in the upper left of the open lid would refer to the lower (or front) left quadrant when closed (imagine if the cheese stuck to the lid, where the cheese came from on the pie and then where it would be on the lid when you open the box. Complicated, isn't it? And wrong to boot. Yet as nearly as I can tell, that's how I do it. I can't seem to grasp that the lid, rather than opened away from me, is simply slid up from horizontal to vertical.
I'll leave to your imagination the disastrous meals, the scorched pans, the melted coffee carafes, the still-frozen side dishes and the times I was damned lucky I didn't burn the house down.
Two years ago, when we remodeled the kitchen, I purposely chose my stove with this problem in mind. The ceramic top is lovely, the warming drawer is nice, the self clean/steam clean is nice, all the little possibilities are probably nice (I don't use most of them because I...just don't) but the selling feature, for me, was the extra warming burner (controlled by a push-button, not a knob) in the back row. This means that each of the four control knobs has a diagram over it that has *three* circles in the top row and only *two* circles in the bottom row. I can tell left from right without difficulty, and now I can properly differentiate back from front! TRIUMPH!
As far as I can tell, I'm the only adult I know for whom this is a genuine problem. Others may chuckle and say, "Oh, yeah, I do that, too" but they don't really. They've never stood in front of the stove, pushing with the combined force of three good eastern universities, and still not been able to turn the right knob. Left/right, clockwise/counterclockwise, and lefty-loosey righty-tighty all seem to be correctly installed.
I also have a disastrous effect on toasters and doorknobs. Doorknobs which have let one in and out without difficulty for years - centuries, even - will come off in my hand (and the teensy screw invariably rolls under the radiator.) I have a huge collection of replacement doorknobs, screws, the metal piece that goes through the center, the bit that you put in the gouge in the door, all of it. When the inevitable happens, I'm always ready. Almost always, anyway. One of my interior doors still opens by means of a stout piece of string looped through where the doorknob should be.
In my world there is no such thing as an old toaster. At least not a functional old toaster, unless you count the metal rack that you put over the gas flame on the stove. That one can't help but work (unless you fail to remove the toast before it is aflame, but that's not the toaster's problem, that's yours.) I buy a toaster, take it home, plug it in, tentatively put in a slice or two of bread, and then, moments later, up pops delicious warm toast!
This happens a few times, sure. Maybe even a week or two. Then slowly, slowly, my presence seems to corrupt the integrity of the new appliance. It may now only toast on one side of the bread, or perhaps no longer allow itself to be regulated by the Light-Dark Selector. It may periodically make perfect toast, then chuck it behind the counter, so you have to remove the cabinetry to retrieve it. Or it may decide to make the perfect toast, then refuse to give it to you, watching you with its little orange glowy eyes while you frantically stab at the cancel button, watching your toast slowly incinerate. Needless to say, I eat a lot of plain bread and understand why my mother always made toast under the broiler.
My late husband had the same effect on vehicle gas gauges, but I'll save that tale for another rainy Sunday. Have a good rest-of-weekend, all. I may be back later with another Special Quality or two...we'll see how the day goes.
There's a cat snoring here somewhere. Perhaps I'll find it and force it to snuggle with me.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
My sense of direction outside is excellent. You could air lift me into the woods, point me in a direction, and I would emerge hours later right where you wanted me. This works equally well, or nearly so, in cities of any size and in cars, whether or not I'm driving. I have no explanation for this, other than the fact that, as a child, I was "encouraged" to play outside from dawn until dusk, and it was always assumed I'd find my way home when I got hungry enough. But that was true for almost every kid of my generation, some of whom now couldn't navigate their ways out of broom closets.
Sadly, this does not extend to indoor areas. I have to have special rules for parking at malls: I always park at the Macy's, outside the linens department. It doesn't matter whether I need anything at Macy's, or even anything at "this end of the mall"; I simply know where my car is, because of The Parking Rule, and I can follow the signs to the correct door. Once I'm outside again, I'm good to go, even when I take my daughter's Taurus which blends in with every other gold mid-size sedan in the parking lot. I can spot it immediately.
Indoors, even in places I know well, like my doctors' or dentist's office, I come out the door of my room and peer worriedly up and down the corridors until some kind soul steers me to the desk. At the bookstore, I walk out into the mall and turn....left. Why? I dunno. Right works equally well, which is to say, not at all. I have no explanation for this conundrum.
Which brings me to my next special quality: I am good with words. I suspect this is at least partially because I read voraciously as a child, and partially because I was an only child and was spoken to largely by grown-ups, in grown-up speech. I loved to eavesdrop on said grown-ups, being completely fascinated by this advanced life form, and developed an excellent vocabulary quite early on.
I spell extremely well, too, or did until I hit about fifty, and now, to my horror, automatically spelling things correctly is slipping away. This isn't helped by SpelChek or by my cell phone, which insists that it knows which word I meant to type in on the the teensy keyboard and so substitutes a word of its own choosing, resulting in the transmission of texts consisting of complete gibberish. But we can talk about that another day. When I was a child, I lasted so long in the regional spelling bee that I eventually threw the contest: to David Ochs, on the word "writhe", off of which I intentionally left the final "e". I didn't want to go to Washington DC anyway (and David didn't last long. So there.)
Given all that delicious accuracy with words, I cannot understand why I can't unscramble them. I'm excellent at Cryptograms and crosswords - heck, I even do them in ink until about Friday - but my ability to unscramble words was unveiled dramatically when my younger daughter was in third grade. She had to unscramble words for homework, asked me for help, and I couldn't help her. I had to get her sister to help us both. It was....pathetic.
I so envy people that play Scrabble. Such a classic game, and it looks like great fun. Everyone sitting 'round the table by the fire, drinking port, drawing little tiles and plotting ingenious ways to use Qs and Zs in particular places. Sadly, though, I won't be joining them. I'll be out in the den watching the hockey game.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Remember Columbo? Peter Falk in a trench coat, solving murders? There was one episode I remember specifically: the murderer had a habit of taking his diamond pinky ring and notching his scotch bottle, saying, "This much, and no more", and when the level dropped to the notch, he'd stop drinking for the day.
I don't do that (although perhaps I should), but I am developing a sense of "This much, and no more" emotionally.
My husband was on Hospice care briefly, and six months later, they still send me things once in a while (*wonderful* people about whom I cannot say enough good things.) I recently received one of their booklets and read through the section on Facing the Emotions of Grief. It was interesting, and I moved on to the next section, entitled Life Without the Person. I got about four sentences into it, and realized I was becoming overwhelmed - it's a very subtle but distinct slip towards The Dark Place. I immediately tossed the little booklet aside, saying, "This much, and no more."
Maybe I'll pick it up again tomorrow and read more, maybe it'll be a month, or maybe I'll no longer have any particular reaction, and then I can skip reading it and recycle the paper. That's not the point. The point is that I have come to recognize my boundaries (and they aren't limitations, they're boundaries), to discern that fine line between brave and stupid, between painful growth and purposeful self-torture. It seems like it should be easy to recognize and act accordingly, but for me, that line has always been blurry.
I've learned how to say, "I don't wish to discuss that just now" without feeling like I need to justify it. I can toss away a booklet or change the channel or break into someone's long speech about How Awful Things Must Be For You (and some people live to give those speeches - we all know a few) with a polite subject change. I don't leave the room to cry any more - I've learned how to change directions before leaving the room becomes necessary.
With my daughters (particularly the poor child who is emotionally shaped like me), we've all learned to work with one another. One minute we're happily reminiscing about something, and the next minute someone breaks in with something akin to, "Sooo, how about them Yankees?" and we respect it for what it is. One of us has hit the notch on our bottle.
I'm particularly proud, if that's the right word, of this Quality, because it was late coming and hard won.
And there's a little ruby-throated hummingbird - the first one I've seen this spring - outside, feeding from the flowering quince. My reward for climbing down off my Wise Guy stump and trying to give you something of substance.
Friday, May 13, 2011
Sorry, guys. I've been simultaneously sick and busy - never a good combo - so I'm a couple days behind. I intend to spend today and the weekend catching up on things, including What Makes Me Special. This morning's entry has to do with my being somewhat under the weather.
My maternal grandmother was an RN in Philadelphia, just after World War One. Nurses in those days - and still, for all I know - carried a good deal of their nursing paraphernalia on their persons at all times, and a good many of these objects have worked their way down to me. Some I can't identify (and probably don't want to - there's a kit with some really scary looking stuff), but one that I have always been attached to is the thermometer.
Almost everyone under a certain age - I have no idea what that age might be, but I'm guessing thirtyish - thinks of a thermometer like this:
You place it under your tongue and a few seconds later it beeps and tells you your temperature.
Before things got so veryvery small, though, human thermometers had a tube of mercury inside, just like the thermometers on the side of the house or the ones inserted into the boiling pot of whatever. They worked like this:
And now we (finally) get back to our story. My grandmother had a mercury tube oral thermometer that screws into a little aluminum case and attached to her uniform with a primitive type of safety pin. :
I keep this in my bedside drawer. It never needs batteries. It can be washed safely, so no need to worry about destroying it with water or needing to buy those nasty little shields. I shake it down (a quick wrist flex that shoves all the mercury to the cold end of the tube), I put it under my tongue, I set the timer on my cell phone (hey, I'm not a total Luddite) for two minutes, and at the end of the waiting period I read my temperature.
This little thermometer has been accurately recording people's temperatures for almost a hundred years, and I see no reason to replace it with something more complex and less reliable. I'm not sure that using this and things like it actually makes me special, but it makes me feel special. Besides, it reminds me of Grammy, and when I don't feel well, that's a nice thing.
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