Friday, January 31, 2014

Something for which to strive

I could be a cliché.

I mean if I really worked at it.  I could.

But I don’t want to be just any cliché.  For example, I don’t want to be an “aging hippy.”  You don’t have to work for that.  All you have to do is stand still and chant, “Throwback!  Throwback!”

No, I’m thinking of a hard-earned meritorious sort of bona fide cliché – like “trophy wife.” 

Hey!  Don’t roll your eyes!  I could be a trophy wife!  Although I would probably have to get rid of my current loving husband and find one much older, less competent, more grasping and desperate.  A billionaire who doesn’t see very well and is impulsively clinging to anything not yet pruned up. 

So.  There’s that.

“Overnight success” would be nice.  Maybe I’ll just shoot into the stratosphere!  Out of nowhere as they say.  Clear blue.  Syndicated in 900 newspapers!  Everyone’s darling.  I’ll be the golden one sitting next to JimmyFallon sharing my dry and pithy wit with the cool late night crowd. 

Or “breath of fresh air.”  I would love being a breath of fresh air! 

Aaahhh!  Yes.  A cool breeze!  Gently on the face.  So, so, so very pleasant.  Everyone loves a cool breeze!

I confess, clichés have been on my mind because of Justin Bieber’s recent escapades.  Darn it.  I had hopes for that kid.  What a talented little sweet face. 

But alas.  He may just devolve into a sad cliché.  A cautionary tale.  A Lindsay Lohan.  Too, too bad.  That’s what a bazillion bucks’ll do for ya.

But we shan’t let that get us down!

No!  And you know why?  Because WE can handle it.  Our skills for coping with a lot o’ dough are fully developed.  All that fortune would not cause us to digress from our intended trajectory:  An overnight sort of shooting breath of fresh air!

Honestly though, I’m not sure I could do any better with fame than the Biebs.  Everyone looking all the time? I’m already prone to the faux pas.  I’m a blurter under the calmest of conditions.  Just the other day I mistook a young man for his mother…out loud.  I don’t see how a spotlight would improve that propensity.  

If I were famous – if everyone were watching me all the time?  Anticipating?  Eagerly enquiring, “What’s she going to do next?”  The pressure!  OMG.  I just could not guarantee a happy outcome. 

I’d probably crater just like Lindsay and Justin.  I’d buy too many villas and marry Kanye West.  I’d egg my neighbors’ mansion (or at least their barking dog) and drag race down the alley in my yellow Lamborghini.

Who knows?  I might even act belligerent with the authorities and resist containment.  Because somewhere in the latent depths of my clichéd self, I’ve always wanted to do those things anyway.  And everyone keeps looking!  What am I gonna do?  Behave myself now?  Surrender?  Go calmly?!!  I don’t think so.  Pretty sure I’d be thrashing around and shoutin’ “Yo mama!” or some such thing.

But my evil alter ego would not surface because of my nouveau riches, you understand.  No.  It’s not the money; it’s the magnifying glass. 

That’s it!  I could be that other caricature – the wealthy well-bred classy sort of predictably shy and demure kind of cliché.  I could be Kate Middleton, say.  Or Gwyneth Paltrow.

I have good cheekbones…

Oh well.  Let’s face it; I could do it until I blew it.  We already know the ending:  I’d drop an earring into the Queen’s consommé.  Or take the mike on karaoke night and embarrass Coldplay with my channeling of Heartbreak Hotel.

That’s the beauty of being a writer.  Wherever I go, people look me blankly in the face and figure I’m just another boomer on the downhill side of the crest.  “Can I interest you in a Pier 1 charge account, ma’am?  Thank you and have a nice day.”

Ah.  Anonymity!  No fame…No bazillions either.  Sigh.

So I may have to settle for the reclusive writer cliché.  You know, the writer whose depth and versatility are only recognized 50 years after her death when her unpublished volumes come to light and dazzle the literary world. 

Yeah.  That’s it.  They’ll be calling J. D. Salinger a “Carolyn Plath.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

Road map to Immortality

On the path to greatness now.  Found the formula. 

It is Thorsten Pattberg’s 12 Step Program: How to Live Forever.

I was skeptical at first.  Remember Steve Martin’s 2 Step plan to becoming a millionaire and never paying taxes?

Step 1:  Get a million dollars.
Step 2:  Never pay taxes.

But no.  It’s not like that.  Thorsten Pattberg is the real deal.  And we’re not talking about a zombie revolution here either.  Not that shallow, reanimated walking-the-planet, vampire-living-in-a-casket-during-daylight sort of eternal life. 

Pattberg has mapped out how to live forever in the hearts and minds of the Universal History of the World!  

That has always been a goal of mine.

Don’t know him?  Out of Peking University?  Oh Pattberg’s the guy.  He’s featured on Big Think right alongsideauthorities on brain function and meditation, predicting politics and maps ofNorth Sea bivalves.  Yeah.  So.

I figured I’d just go ahead and get started.  With the legacy thing, you know.  No time like the right now.

So, here we go.  Just gonna jump in with Step 1.  Ready…

Step 1:  Be that kind of person. 

Now I wasn’t totally clear on his concept at first, but right out of the chute, I think I can safely say I am some kind of a person.  I’ve had a lot of character building along the way.  People tell me all the time.  Or at least they ask, “What happened to you?” 

I’ve always taken that as a sign.

But let’s see what Thorsten says…  “Are you a person who has little ego or commits to selfless behavior for the betterment of the human race?”

Well yeah.  All the time.  I mean every day I’m doing something that is just so remarkably nice you wouldn’t believe it. 

And I NEVER say anything to anyone about it.  I’m just that kind of person – altruistic to the extreme.  Dazzlingly so.  And so modest that no one ever knows exactly how truly generous and self-sacrificing I am. 

That’s the beauty of it actually.  No one knows, so no one can say anything to the contrary!

So, I clearly have a leg up on Step 1.  I’m there.  Let’s move on already.

Step 2:  Have a great idea.

TP – for the sake of efficiency, that’s how I’ll refer to Thorsten Pattberg from here on out.  TP says, “You need a plan, a system, a manifesto, a mission.  Write it down.”

OK.  This one’s a little tougher.  I mean I write stuff down every week, as you well know.  And thank you, by the way, for knowing that.  It means a lot to me.  Honestly.

And Hallelujah!  TP is actually fairly lenient on this point.  He says the great idea can be in the form of a book, an unpublished manuscript, an essay, a drawing, a diary, a couple of poems, a draft for a constitution, or just a few lines of thought.

Heck, I’ll dash off a couple of poems this afternoon.  Do I have an unpublished manuscript??  Essays?!  Ha!  I am replete!  I doodle in the margins ALL the time!  Done and done. 

So, it seems I am well along the way to interminable, er, everlasting impact.

And I love this part:  He goes on to say, “Your great idea … will forever distract the critic's eye away from your over-the-top personality toward that genius.”

It’s as though he’s playing right into my hands!

So let’s just jump ahead.  Cut to the unending bottom line.

Let’s see:  Step 4:  Be a force of creation.  Check.  Step 6:  Know that followers will follow.  Check.

Step 10:  Become an exemplar person.  A hero.  OK.  In all humility, check.

Ah, here we go –
Step 12:  Carefully plan your legacy.  “Ideally,” he says, “you should have died before age 40.  If you live longer, your genius has probably left you.  [But] the shock of your death will make people say good things about you that they would never have said about a living or elderly person.”

Very funny.  Who knew TP was such a jokester?

And if, in the sense of building an eternal legacy, I’ve had the misfortune of having lived too long?  “Keep creating,” he says.  “Do saintly work.”
Gotcha Thorsten!  That’s just me all over.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Miss Manners has left the building

Judith Martin ~ aka Miss Manners ~ like Santa she knows when you've messed up!

Let me just begin by saying there is a waitress at that restaurant who is pregnant.  She’d be about seven or eight months along by now, by my calculations.

So perhaps a person can be granted the tiniest shred of empathy.

Both waitresses are young – of child-bearing age.  Both wear their hair up.  Both have names that begin with “J.”  (Not their real first initial; this thin veneer is part of my flustered, bumbling attempt to explain the explainable.)

Some days they worked together, the J’s, almost interchangeably, one coming to the table then the other.  Both with flawless skin and sweet dispositions.

Then their shifts changed, I guess.  I didn’t really note the specifics.  Obviously.  

All I know is that I was having breakfast again last week with my smart and sassy friends, all witty and urbane and full of good breeding.  I am just there trying to blend.  An Oklahoma girl through and through.

One of the J’s was working her way around the circumference of our circular table, taking our particular orders for eggs scrambled soft or hard, oatmeal with or without raisins, tea or no – just hot water, a latte, all on separate checks.

J did this with her characteristic good humor.  She has learned the names of most of the regulars and caters to our whims and eccentricities as though it is her pleasure.

Inch by inch she worked herself around toward me until she came to a spot where my neighbor’s chair cinched in close to a jutting corner of the room.  Up on her toes J stretched, drew a breath and sucked in her girth to pass between.

We smiled and chuckled and, and, and…here it comes...God help me...with the kindest most motherly affection I truly felt in my heart of hearts, I said, “You made it!”

And I patted her belly.

I know.  That in itself is so far beyond the pale that you may be swooning.  Take a moment and brace yourself.  There’s more.

“I’ve forgotten your due date,” I said.

You have probably figured out already that this was not the pregnant J.  This was the other J.  The one with her hair up and the lovely smile.  The one who is in the prime of her fertility, but alas, not with child.

That one.

“Oh, I’m not pregnant,” she said, her smile a wistful memory.  “You must be thinking of J.”

The other J.  Of course!  The other one with the hair and the smile and the bun in the oven.  The one who is probably due right about now.  That J.

I have an internal Thesaurus that began rifling through all the synonyms for “clumsy.”  I think they began to flash across the neon billboard on my forehead:  awkward; inept; inelegant; gauche.

J, though, was gracious as ever.  She accepted my apology readily.  She understood how I had mistaken her for the other J.  Ha ha ha, we laughed uncomfortably.  She went on about her duties, seemingly unfazed.

My clever well-mannered friends chatted on, having not heard my gaffe.  I glanced under the table to see if there was room for me there, but no.

So I sat slumped, wearing my self-made dunce cap.  What a ridiculous thing!  How in the world?!!

Who says that?  Who does that?  OMG.  I do.

I have no theory to explain how good intentions and affection can become entangled with ungainliness in such a way.  And why?

Normally, when I make a fool of myself this way (yes, sadly, for me this seems to be normal) it is when I am feeling especially smart and showing it off.  That is when I usually mess up.  I figure it’s the Universe thumping me on the head and keeping me in my place.  I must deserve it.  But did she?

I went to her and apologized again for hurting her feelings.  She pretended not to know what I meant.  Then, she said, “Oh!  That?!  Don’t worry about it!”

I told her I wouldn’t.  So I won’t.  Not after this anyway.  I’m done with it.  Not another thought.  So help me.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Fate in the New Year

I am become an accidental redhead.  Though some might say it was meant to be.

Some of us might be upset by such a thing, a sudden reddening of the hair. 

After all, we go to our hairdressers for the usual.  Like always, our girl slathers gobs of glop atop our crowns like licorice frosting on a vanilla cupcake.  

For the uninitiated among you (the un-vain who don’t color their gray) (oh, and the men) it is normal to sit like a super hero on hold, under fluorescent lights with your cape on backwards waiting for the gooey chemical concoction to make everything old new again.

And the gunk is never the color of the end product.  So we don’t worry if we look like we are about to tar a rooftop, right?  No!  A biological miracle is transpiring under the plastic – add asphalt to white roots and they come out blonde!

I have been through it a billion times.  Or so.  Easy peasy.  Old Carolyn in.  Young gray-free Carolyn out.

So I don’t know if some crazy New Year’s bug bit me, but this time my girl and I agreed to “create some contrast.”  To add some low-lights for depth and texture – that is hair salon speak for taking a step into the seldom-visited extremely scary realm of a teeny tiny change.

And what I now see in the sunlight is why so few boldly go where hair color is altered. 

We are not courageous.  No.  We color our gray – period.  And we live in that established safe zone.  Free parking for 50 years at the curb of the very same color we have worn since 7th grade. 

We most certainly do not go RED!

So.  When my darling girl seated me at the sink and gently massaged my scalp, rinsing the goop away with a pleasant if Stepford-ish smile, I was unconcerned.  “I think you’re going to like it,” she said.

I always say that redheads are valued in my family.  My mom was a redhead.  Both my grandmothers were redheads.  (My stepmother is a redhead too…so this may be a story about my dad, but we will get to that another time.)

My parents and grandparents dreamed of a redheaded baby girl to carry the family flame!  But alas.  Willful from birth, I did not oblige.

Not to be denied, my mom’s feisty mom devised a plan.  She offered to keep baby Carolyn overnight so the new parents could have a break from the overdose of darling I no doubt delivered, even in my blondeness. 

But when they came to pick me up next morning…what’s this?  Redheaded baby Carolyn?!!

That’s right.  Grandma Maddux dyed my baby hair red.

I have tried to imagine that morning many times over the years.  The looks on their faces.  I picture the scene as a cartoon line drawing.  Grandma Maddux beaming with pride as she passed me back to my mom. And my parents flabbergasted, tilting back on their heels.

Did Grandma believe my parents would begin covering my blonde roots from that point forward?

And phase two – after the initial disbelief – were they angry?  Did they laugh?  Cry?  They protected me from those details.  And baby hair kind of falls away, so no real harm done.  I guess.

But it was prophetic.  My fate was sealed.  From that day forward all things have conspired to bring me to this fiery point in time.

“I didn’t expect it to be so red,” I said to my girl.

“It’s not red,” she said, and we commenced a philosophical discussion in which we had to agree that carrot-top is in the eye of the beholder. 

To her my blonde is textured with brown, and therefore in her world, blonde and brown it is. 

But I see these “low lights” as bright red lights.  Not strawberry blonde.  Not auburn.  They’re red.  And there are a lot of them.  Blonde is a shy minority. 

And if it looks red to me, it is indeed red.

But here’s the thing:  I kind of like it.  I can’t claim it’s in my genes, but it is my destiny. 

This one’s for you, Grandma!  Happy New Year!