“The Wedding is the Easy Part”

Seeing the prompt today — “Wedding” — I realized that the only weddings I’ve attended have been my own. I’ve been part of some pre-wedding stuff for my cousins, but otherwise? No. The only person saying “I do” in my life has been me, and as we know, I don’t. I should have said, “I might” not “I do.”

My first wedding was the whole shebang with expensive white dress, people in the church, reception, all of it. I was 22 and had known my husband since 9th grade. Our meeting in Mr. Morland’s biology class was one of those movie things — eyes meet, sparks fly but it was years (four) before we went out together. We’re in some classes together throughout high school. Various girlfriends and boyfriends and finally we find each other. I seriously think this might have been made into a Hollywood movie… Hmmm. ANYHOO it lasted 6 pretty miserable and scary years.

No, I wasn’t that innocent but nice photo…

Looking back I don’t know if it was a mistake or not. Back then, marriage was one of the “easiest” ways for a girl to get out of the family house.

The second wedding was a lot simpler. It happened in my mom’s backyard. I guess I shredded the photos of that in the great Purge of the Evidence of the Examined Life. BUT I had a GREAT dress and everyone had a good time. The only downside is that the man I probably SHOULD have married showed up a couple days before the wedding. I hadn’t seen him in years. He lived in Europe. He’d just packed up, crossed the “pond,” got a job delivering a new car across the US so he could get to me economically. Long story… Anyway, the Good X and I got home from ordering the wedding cake and found him on the steps to our apartment building. The day of my wedding, even my mom said, “So who IS the groom?”

When the universe speaks to me, even shouting isn’t loud enough.

The Good X and I had 12 mostly OK years together. We’re still friends and a kind of family.

There was a third wedding, and it was my favorite. Extremely low-key. It even had a reason beyond “luv'”. In fact the witness — my good friend — took me aside and said, “This doesn’t have anything to do with ‘luv’ does it?”

“No, god no.”

“OK. Then I’ll do it. Let’s go.”

Destiny designs rollercoasters for each of us and these were some of the “thrills” on mine.

Some weddings lead to happy, if complex, lives together. I admire that. Here are two that I know of. ❤

The featured photo is a car in Guangzhou decorated for a wedding back in 1983.

Cleaning the Garage

The Good X was a packrat. Not a rodent, but a guy who collected things because, you know, someday. He couldn’t throw things out. He would decide to clear things up and just end up carefully and artistically rearranging tiny bits of everything, wires, cables, old magazines. The house was filled with small neat piles of things. It was pretty frustrating for me as the designated house cleaner but worst when the garage — a two car+ garage — was full from front to back, side to side, with stuff he’d accumulated at yard sales and swap meets. Boxes of old magazines (no, not those we’d subscribed to) bike parts he might need someday, clothes no one wore, the list would read like an epic catalog. When we split, amicably, I was left with the job of cleaning out the garage.

It took four years and several garage sales. And then, as fate would have it, on the very LAST day, with a small pile of trash and ONE trip remaining to the Goodwill, a tall, slim, gray haired man came walking up my driveway. He looked familiar, did I know him?

“I came back to help you clean up the garage.”

The other thing about the Good X is that he had a leisurely perception of time. So, together we made that final trip to the Goodwill and went to In-n-Out for burgers.

Later, I’ll Get to it Later


“Hey, Fred. Why is it you never finish anything you start?”

“I thought about that.”

(He THOUGHT about that???)

“Yeah, and?” I’m looking at ungrouted tile in a corner of our kitchen. It’s been that way for two years.

“Well, I like to know I always have something to do.”

The Good X was NOT like the other kids. Or not like me anyway. I hate unfinished projects hanging over my head which is either why I’m great or crap as a team player, I guess depending on who’s looking. 🙂

I used to ask my students, “How many of you put off your essays until the night before they’re due?”

Masses of hands reach for the sky.

“Why?”

Invariably they would say, “I do my best work under pressure.”

I answered, “If you always do your essays the night before they’re due, that doesn’t mean you do your BEST work under pressure. It means you ONLY work under pressure!”

Sometimes there was a lilt of laughter; usually not. “Tell you what. If you get your work done early, and show me, or take it to the writing tutorial center, you’ll get a better grade.”

Because no one ever understands anything anyone says, especially what the teacher says, most of them thought they’d get extra points for doing that, not that they would have feedback and the chance for revision before they turned in their paper for a grade.

Cracked me up. Students tend to think their teachers are out to get them, but students are out to get themselves. They are masterful self-saboteurs. Someone would always ask, “Can I revise it after you grade it? Isn’t that the same thing?” They just thought I was teaching them writing. Ha.

“No, dude, sorry.”

“Well, why not? It’s the same thing.”

“Uh, no. It’s not the same thing.”

“Well, yeah, it is. I write it, I turn it in, you help me with it and I revise it for a better grade. What difference does it make whether it’s before or on the day it’s due?”

“Here’s the difference. You bring it to me early, it’s the ONLY paper I have to look at and YOU get my undivided, unpressured attention and you inspire me to respect you for doing your work early. How’s that for benefits, dude?”

“Whatever. You’re the professor.” The charming resigned hostility of the 20 year old male who, out in the hall, would very likely mutter, “bitch.”

They were lucky I liked them all so much — I did! They were who they had to be for the moment in their lives…

But…

I often wonder what the purpose of language is, anyway. Bear communicates to me in complete dog sentences with absolute clarity. There are three different ways to say, ‘I want a cookie.’ There is coming to where I am, looking at me and then moving her head toward the kitchen. If I ask, “Do you want a cookie?” by way of confirming that I understand she nods toward the kitchen again. Another is to ask to go out knowing that when she comes in, she’ll get a cookie — but only at night (she used to be reluctant to come back inside since livestock guardian dogs are nocturnal by nature and think they should guard during the night). Then there’s the moment when I KNOW she wants a cookie, but I offer her something else and she shakes her head. Sometimes I wonder when a completely NON-verbal animal can communicate relatively complicated things like this just with her head and eyes, and I do what she tells me, why didn’t my students see that procrastination bit them in the ass?

In the featured photo Teddy is saying, clearly,”Can I have your coffee cup?”

“That’s a lot of money, Martha Ann.”

Thanks to the miracle of the inter webs, I listen to a Chicago radio station. Through the winter they play REAL albums on Fridays which is great. They also introduced me to my second favorite song , “Home of the Brave” by the Nails.

Today?

“It’s 1983 on XRT Saturday morning flashbacks.”

The song comes up. Ouch. Sometimes Mohammed’s Radio hits a nerve.

In my list of worst years of my life, 1983 is right up there. I came back from a year teaching in China late that August — about now (yeah yeah I know it’s September. Split hairs will you…) and tried to negotiate a place for myself in the Great American West which I had left in the first place because I hadn’t found a place for myself in the aforementioned Great American West. Whether or not you can go home again remains an open question, but I know for sure you can absolutely return to alienation.

I loved China and didn’t want to come back, but my marriage seemed important. It wasn’t. It wasn’t working, remained not working for the ensuing decade, and staying in China would have been an easier way out than the one that happened ten years later. My brother’s life went rapidly south soon after we returned to Colorado (no cause and effect there). It was a real nightmare and even my little niece was in danger. I came back to that. The ONLY good thing about that winter was Denver got an absurd amount of snow. The next summer saw us moving to California. Serenity remained elusive. I continued yearning for China for a long long long long time, I think until a few years ago I googled my Chinese home town and saw that it was gone and there was no way to go back.

So here I am in Monte Vista, Colorado, YEARS later. A few of my heart and brain cells are still missing China, but a whole lifetime has filled the interval. I’m sitting at my table finishing my coffee. Bear’s chewing a rawhide pencil. I give Teddy my empty coffee cup to clean. I’m trying to write this blog post and feeling intimidated at the reality that I’ve paid $100 to write this blog every day. Tracy (Untidy Mind) suggested I think of it as $2/day and that’s a good idea, but seriously, I’m not saying much here. I have 1900 blog posts up. I’ve deleted hundreds. How am I NOT saying the same thing over and over????

The last two posts I wrote, I deleted. They didn’t seem worth $100/year.

I guess I’ll see how it goes until next year…

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/05/rdp-saturday-serenity/

Surreality…

I was laid off in 1974. That was one crazy year in my life ANYWAY but the night the layoffs took effect was the pinnacle of craziness.

I was fresh out of university with the highly desirable BA in English. After months of searching I found a job on the line at Head Ski. I didn’t realize it was seasonal work (nothing about that in the newspaper ad). I worked swing shift (which I ended up liking) cleaning the edges of finished skis. After a while, because I was talented, I got promoted to measuring flex and camber, pairing skis, burning serial numbers on the sides and bagging them in the cotton fish net (oh baby) in which they were shipped. It was a raise in pay, too, which was good, because I was supporting the First X who was still in school.

This went on a couple of months then the pink slips were passed out during break at 6 pm. “We’ll hire you back as openings become available.”

That last day started early. My mom came to get me in Boulder, all the way from Denver, to take me and my grandmother to Loveland for my great-uncle’s funeral. I was dressed up in a skirt my mom had made me and a nice sweater. After the funeral there was lunch and then hanging around. My mom dropped me off at the factory at 3, and I was still wearing my fancy clothes. I had jeans to change into, but no other top.

Factory work is physical work and there were some pretty extreme chemicals in there. My polyester sweater was soaking it all in, believe me. At “lunch” the plan was we would all — all of us being laid off and those in solidarity with us — were going in the parking lot to get high. Afterwards? Well, we stood for the next four hours filing the throats of the tennis rackets to baby-bottomed smoothness. At 11 we were set free. We were all going to a bar on Pearl Street.

I didn’t have a car, but that’s when I learned that Jeff — the CUTEST guy on the line — was interested in me. He took me to the bar in his red VW, treated me like a date, bought me tequila sunrise after tequila sunrise and ignored everyone else. At 2, the bar closed.

Pearl Street was then just a street in a small city. We got to the car and Jeff opened the door. As he was closing it, four guys who were engaged in a fight, came roiling by. Jeff — who was a little stringy dude — chased two of them away but the other two were still fighting by the car. I sat there in a semi-drunken, exhausted, chemical fazed stupor as one guy smashed the face of the other guy into the window behind which I sat.

“Assholes,” said Jeff, after chasing the guy away and getting in the car.

I thought I should have been horrified by what I’d seen, but I couldn’t summon up horror. I was too tired, too high and too drunk to really care that there was blood all over the window.

We got to the parking lot of my apartment and that’s when Jeff made his move. “I don’t know how things are between you and your husband, but, you know, anyway here’s my phone number.”

And he kissed me.

Fact is, life with the First X was pretty awful, and I didn’t know how to contend with that. Still, I didn’t imagine cheating on him with Jeff or anyone. I went upstairs, took off my clothes and crawled into bed. 3 am. Without meaning to, I woke up my husband.

“Good God!” said the soon to be X, “You stink. Go take a shower!”

The next day I started looking for a job. A couple of days later, I called Jeff.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/rdp-friday-layoff/

Intensity

The protests against the police brutality that killed George Floyd have gone on for 9 days? 10 days? Yesterday I found myself wondering what the goal is. When will protestors know they are finished or is it a thing now that will go on and on and on and on?

Last night is the first night I’ve slept since the protests started. If their goal was to make white people think about things they haven’t thought about before, it worked here. I wrote one blog post about (now set to private) and a letter to Obama (never sent).

There are things related to it that I haven’t thought of for decades, one of which is Louis Farrakhan. It’s a fact that not all white people are racist and not all black people are NOT racist. Farrakhan, who is an extremely angry man — has claimed that it’s impossible for black people to be racists. Any anger they feel toward the white oppressor is justified and any action taken against whites is legitimate. The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies Farrakhan — and his organization — as black nationalist and black supremacist.

He spoke once at the university where I was teaching. It was a hate fueled speech. It made the work of ordinary people — I’ll say ordinary white people — seem hopeless. The next day, when I got to school, I found the ground littered with 4 x 5 inch black and white flyers, printed with swastikas and the words, “White men built this country.”

One extreme brought out the other.

I picked up a couple of those flyers and took them home and stuck them in a drawer imagining a future collage that never happened. “It’s never going to work,” I remember thinking, “as long as entire groups of people categorically hate each other.”

~~~

In other news, the hike I’d planned with my friends yesterday didn’t happen. I texted everyone at 5 am yesterday and said, “I haven’t been sleeping. I’m going to keep trying.” or something. I finally went to sleep and woke up at 8:30 to see their texts. They answered immediately planning between them an alternative way that we could get together. It turned out to be a “Bring your own cuppa'” tea party in Elizabeth’s beautiful back yard.

The other thing on my phone when I woke up was a voicemail from the Good-X. I listened and then I screamed. He’d had a major heart attack and was in the hospital but he said, “They fixed me up.” I called him back after I’d had some coffee and got the whole story and answered some questions he had for me. As we were saying goodbye, I had to hold myself back from saying, “I love you.” How would he understand those words? Two people can have a terrible marriage and yet form a functional and mostly happy life together. We did for 12 years. His younger son is “my” son and between his family and me all the “I love you’s” are said often. In the “I love you” that I did not say are all the experiences we shared — China being one of them. Part of it, also, is “I get who you are now.” Instead of “I love you,” I said, “Come back and visit me. That was fun last time.” He and his step-grandson came through Monte Vista a few years ago on their way to Durango to meet his wife who was at a dahlia conference.

“I will. That was fun,” he said.

I told my friends about it at the tea party later. When I told them about wanting to tell my ex “I love you,” they understood. We talked about C-19, our encounters with people during this time, the weirdness, the beauty.. We laughed and did all the things that make friendships and, I think, for all of us, it was an incredible relief. None of us has been sleeping and as we talked about it, it seemed that our sleep was taking the same trajectory. Going to sleep, waking up thinking and then either getting up ungodly early or going to sleep a few hours later. I asked if they’d like to go on a evening hike to the Refuge with me when the skies and light are beautiful and the breeze is calm and fresh. Now we sort of have a plan.

Elizabeth’s husband, Bob, came out of the garage where he’s building a 1957 T-bird. I like talking to Bob and he likes telling me stories, so as my friends went off to cut rhubarb (some for me) Bob told me stories about airplanes. I don’t know that he always has a willing listener and the words just poured out of him. Later he came over and installed a new pneumatic spring on my storm door.

The day went on with curious intensity, culminating in a 1 1/2 hour phone call with my formerly lost cousin, Linda. We’re catching up on each others entire adult lives. She wanted to know about how my brother’s death affected me. That’s a long story. We talked about the deaths of the people we loved, a strange coda to my morning.

I was struck again that all we really have in this life are dreams, memories and the love we bear for others. That’s it.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/06/05/rdp-friday-protest/

Relationship Advice

I had a pretty incredible Christmas all in all. But last night was probably the strangest, most incredible experience of the whole season.

My ex-husband, the one with whom I went to China, called to tell me he loved the China book. We got married and went to China after only knowing each other 4 months. We agreed last night that that was crazy. We also agreed it was crazy to have taken our skis. Then he said that I’d accurately captured the fear he felt when we arrived in Guangzhou and there was no one to meet our plane. “But,” he said, “you didn’t write about the other times I was afraid.”

“What other times?” I asked him.

“Well, there was the time the giant spider came out of the bathroom drain. I was terrified.”

“What giant spider? I don’t remember that at all.”

“Yeah. You took me for a walk around the campus and when we got back it was gone. That was good. I felt better after that.”

“Wow. I don’t remember that.”

“Then there the was time, you know, we’d just gotten into our apartment and set it up. we had our beds in that big room, and you wanted to cuddle, but I was still too freaked out. I didn’t want to. I couldn’t.”

A light bulb went on. I said, “I had no idea,” I said and thought, “What if you’d TOLD me that? Why DIDN’T you tell me that?”

Jim and I were not compatible. We tried for 12 years to make something work. My mom loved him, his kids loved me. We liked (still like) each other. We had a lot going for us. We both liked to ski. We came from similar backgrounds, a lot of stuff, but…

We talked on the phone for about an hour. I heard his wife say, in the background, “Are you still on the phone?” He didn’t answer her. Inside myself I nodded and smiled at that. I believe that conversation was the longest Jim and I have ever had.

In the years since, I have quietly diagnosed Jim as being somewhere on the Asperger’s Spectrum.

When you meet someone who has Asperger’s syndrome, you might notice two things right off. He’s just as smart as other folks, but he has more trouble with social skills. He also tends to have an obsessive focus on one topic or perform the same behaviors again and again.”

(https://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/mental-health-aspergers-syndrome#1)

That little Dr. Google definition of Asperger’s describes Jim. During our marriage, Jim struggled hard to improve his social skills. He really likes people. He joined and became very involved in Toastmaster’s. He knew where he had a glitch. When Jim DID express himself, it was always — to me — a little obscure. Sometimes I felt that I was just supposed to understand things without getting any information from him at all. If I confronted him, it never went well. He had problems even making eye-contact with me. I could present objective facts such as, “If you don’t get a job, we’re fucked,” that just pushed him into wherever he went in his head. He was impossible to communicate with. Impossible for ME to communicate with. I got frustrated, took things personally — but now I get that. None of the skills I had worked at all, and my skills weren’t that great.

A reminder of how Jim’s mind works came when he said he had found 20 small mistakes in the China book. He gently asked if I would like him to put them on a spreadsheet so I can correct them.

“With the page numbers?” I asked.

“Page numbers and line numbers,” he answered. I felt a little twinge of affection hearing that. It’s SO Jim. His profession — at which he succeeded incredibly so — was writing code, programming. He wrote code for the Space Shuttle simulator. Most people would just say, “There are errors on page 10, 23, 40, 100,” etc.

Last night was an epiphany for me. In China, those two times he mentioned last night, he seems to have thought I KNEW he was afraid. How many other times in the 12 years we shared did he think I KNEW what he was feeling? What would our marriage have been like if he had been able to say, in words, “I need to be alone right now,” or “I’m frightened”?

It was obvious in that phone call last night that he is proud of me, that he’s proud of having gone to China with me, that he’s proud of what I’ve accomplished and that he — NOW — feels he can open up to me. I’m not sure 20 years ago I would have understood, and maybe he couldn’t have said, “You didn’t write about the other times I was afraid.”

“I was afraid.” A very powerful admission.

I wanted to wrap my arms around him last night, but that might not have been welcome even if we’d been within 20 feet of each other instead of some 1000 miles. That would have been my instinct, my nature. Instead I said, “We did well over there, Jim. We were just two nice people.”

“That’s true. We were just there being nice to people.”

“Yep. We can be proud of that. We’ve sure lived through a lot.”

“And we’re still here,” he said.

Failure

One of my favorite blogs is The Dihedral. It’s a group of young(er than me) climbers who individually and collectively post from time to time. Today Casen, one of the writers, gave five steps for dealing with utter failure. While I’m sure he’s failed at something sometime, based on my experience a lot of what he offers as examples are just bad luck. BUT, his five steps are right on.

I commented that I am a great success at failure. He said he’d like to be in a failing contest with me. I mentioned I have a head start…

The post made me think about failure in my life and how I’ve dealt with it. I started failing subjects in school in third grade (arithmetic). I failed spelling (“belief” was a bitch of a word for me then…) Later in my life I failed courses in my major (Shakespeare, Critical Writing), courses outside my major (20th Century Philosophy — the failure there was that I didn’t DROP it before the deadline), Attic Greek (I thought when the prof called us “dolts” after the midterm he was talking to me; he wasn’t) French (I accidentally wrote the dictation in Spanish though the teacher spoke French; she threw me out)… I’ve failed at two marriages and numerous (basically all of my) significant romantic relationships. I failed at getting any of my books published conventionally. I fail constantly at proofreading. I failed ever to get tenure, even after several attempts and everything “going for me.” I failed the oral Foreign Service Exam (couldn’t think of an American film when asked; came up with a French one). I failed to make the right choice between marriage and remaining in China. I chose the marriage; see above. This isn’t even the complete list.

Looking back on all this failure it seems to me that REAL failure is not trying (when you want to try) and giving up without all the facts. Those are the failures. That’s failing. That’s utter failure. In those events in my life, I can find no redemption. My Greek prof collared me a year after I failed his class and said, “What happened to you?”

I said, “I figured if I failed the midterm, I wouldn’t pass the class anyway. So I…”

“Quit? You shouldn’t have. You were one of the two who passed that exam.”

Kick in the groin, that one. That’s failure.

I love this song, BTW

Accept this Simple Toad

I love P.G. Wodehouse. One winter — 1981/82 — I went through all his novels and short stories like a starving person on a desert island. Later that same year, I ended up getting married to my second husband. It wasn’t meant to be a serious marriage. It was supposed to last a year and allow him to go with me to China. I took everything lightheartedly, flippantly, even, and P.G. Wodehouse influenced the design of my wedding ring.

In one of the stories, the protagonist — we’ll call him Bertie, but he wasn’t Bertie — and his best friend — go out drinking because the friend has a broken heart. At the end of the evening, they end up several sheets to the wind. They say their goodbyes and go their separate ways. In the wee hours of the morning, Bertie falls into a pond. He manages to haul himself out and he staggers home, soaking wet, covered with weeds.

As the friend staggers home, he meets his girlfriend coming out of a cab. They make up, and set a date for their wedding.

As fate (and P. G. Wodehouse) would have it, the two friends run into each other. Bertie hears all the good news but finds it difficult to care. He’s cold, wet and drunk, but he still realizes this is an important moment in the life of his friend. He decides (in his inebriated state) to give his friend something to mark the happy moment. He fishes (haha) around in his pocket and finds a toad. He hands it to his friend saying, “Please, accept this simple toad as a symbol of my feelings on this special moment.”

I wanted that to be my wedding vow. I wanted my new husband to say, “Please, accept this simple toad…” It didn’t happen that way.

The ring is my design. It’s sterling with a toad carved onto it. Its eye was a tiny emerald that fell out when I was trying to help some people push their camper out of deep sand in the Anza Borrego Desert.

image_561220836747415

The marriage didn’t work out and, sadly, was not the hilarious, flippant, short-term affair I’d dreamed of. I’ve learned over the years that people don’t take my sense of humor seriously.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/rdp-sunday-ring/

“Damned kids!!”

Sometimes when I start up my car the music is so loud that I have to yell, “Damned kids!!!”

But it’s just me. There are no kids.

Some songs — by their nature — need to be listened to at full blast. “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. ” “Anarchy in the UK” by the Sex Pistols (or anything else by the Sex Pistols, but “Holidays in the Sun” I find makes me so happy that I might endanger my car’s speakers). Anything by the Ramones or Dead Kennedys. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” “Master of Puppets” by Metallica. My list of loud songs is long and spans decades. And I sing along which adds a dimension of volume and horror you don’t want to imagine.

I’ve been married a few times. My first husband — whom I married when I was 20 — and I didn’t get along very well. We couldn’t communicate with each other, a combination of not knowing how and not knowing why. One day I came home to find he’d thrown all my Steppenwolf albums in the dumpster. “There’s more to life,” he said, “than a 20 minute drum solo.”

“Yeah? Well, what, for example?” He had no answer and I dug out my albums, but the nails were being rapidly pounded into the coffin of a very bad marriage.

It’s an interesting (true) fact that I paid for my divorce from him with my collection of Rolling Stones albums which was, apparently, staggeringly good. The lawyer who represented me in my divorce was the assistant dean of the University of Denver College of Law. I got that as a bonus for working there, I guess.

You might be thinking this loud music made it hard for me and my various spouses to talk to each other but that wasn’t the case. This is a CAR thing. I drove on bad brakes for months without knowing it because the music was so loud I didn’t hear them squealing.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/volume/