There Are No Small Deaths

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This post is in defense of those who have connections with other people we don’t understand. As I hope we’ve all experienced, it’s possible to meet a person and ‘get’ them, as if we are estranged best friends. Some of these bonds are stronger than those of family. It’s possible to feel closer to one’s fourth cousin than one’s grandmother. Bit players in our lives often morph into the main actors. By living in reverse, we don’t see their importance until they’ve stepped out and away from our lives.

Only the person experiencing the feelings of loss at a person’s passing knows to what depth those feelings reach. Tendrils of connection are often invisible, incomprehensible, and unknowable. It’s important that we abandon the false expectation that we understand the loss someone else is processing.

There are no small deaths.

Even with my best arsenal of words and passion, I sometimes struggle to describe the nuances of another person and their importance accurately. That’s the best-case scenario even when I’m communicating with someone who shares a great deal of humanity. It’s a fool’s errand with those who lack a common understanding.

When a person commits suicide, it’s human to question all your choices, as well as your attention to the person who has left us. Even without the shadow of self-harm, we tend to experience a depth of introspection when we lose someone.

Whether it’s fair or not, suicide strikes us an accusation. We have to give space to those who need more time to find first gear again. Implying that the loss isn’t a reason to grieve is an unacceptable reaction.

Because of the invisibility of many of these connections, one of the most traitorous acts you can do is to doubt or question whether the relationship was real when another person is suffering from the unexpected rupture and loss. “Did you know him or her very well?” or “Were you ‘friend’ friends?” both serve to undermine and accentuate the pain of the other human being you’re inadvertently demeaning.

“Only the spoon knows what is stirring in the pot” is one of my favorite clichés precisely because it reminds me that I’m not privy to all the information contained in a situation or between people. I’ve committed the error of assuming I know. Worse, I’ve judged people based on what I perceive as only imagined depth. Because I’m human and stupid at times, I fear that I’ll do it again.

A typical example of callousness is when someone says, “It was only a dog” in reaction to someone’s disabling sorrow at losing a pet. Such shallow and meaningless comments only serve to highlight the accuser’s fractured self. We should feel compassion for them, as they’ve been deprived of a pleasure in life that they’ll never understand. It was indeed ‘only’ a dog. The greater truth is that a human being had a deep love for that dog. You’re not demeaning the dog; instead, you’re demeaning another human being’s choices and authentic feelings. From the right perspective, such an attitude is monstrous.

Likewise, when people are involved, the callous person can’t know the person they doubt shared a bond with you. The connection isn’t measurable. We can’t see the swell of your heart or the yearning you wish upon the Earth to have this person inhabit your space again. Grief makes even the best of people uncomfortable. As you learn with age, it also unhinges people who have no foundation to come to terms with the helpless sorrow they see from other people.

Perhaps the person who passed once took a moment and literally reached out to let you know that you were seen, measured, and appreciated. Whether you were indeed at your rock bottom, their outstretched hand and openness pulled you out of the abyss. These moments create a bond that’s difficult to inventory – and treasured forever. Because these moments are often private and held close, those left behind are often the only witness to their measure.

As people die, it’s important to remember that grief is terrible, personal, and unknowable. Each time we’re the one experiencing the loss, if we are lucky, we suddenly remember the lesson of connection.

Time, with its caress and embrace, imperceptibly diminishes our pain, even as it prepares us for the next dark surprise.
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*…written for someone struggling with friends who don’t understand the loss…
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A Mixed Bag

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My cat Güino took umbrage with the fact that Dawn impugned his character this afternoon. Per the left picture, my wife Dawn noted on my chalkboard that I shouldn’t wake ‘the monster.’ When I opened the door this afternoon, Mr. Monster had already jumped up to warmly greet me. As you can clearly see in the right picture, Güino then proceeded to explain why Dawn’s comments were libelous. “Incredulous” best describes his level of chagrin with the mistress of the house. The cat and I had a good laugh together as he told me that he was going to leave extra litter on her side of the bed tonight.

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I now have stained hardwood floors, thanks to Incontinent Bob.

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Idea for poultry marketing: using the 80s slogan “Where’s The Beef?” I think the poultry industry should adopt my version… “Where’s The Beak?”

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“Jerk!” He yelled at me.

“Are you accusing me of identity theft?” I asked.

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*Life is like a glass of chess.

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The Huevos Rancheros tasted too authentic. I’m pretty sure I saw a clump of manure in there. Thanks for the recommendation, though.

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“…his face was a topographic and cartographic wonder…” – from the book “Write Good,” regarding polite methods of describing dermatological afflictions.

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gingivitis

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I signed my first artist to my label: Gwen Campbell. It’s an all-female country cover band.

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Some nitwit keeps placing googly eyes on the stair diagrams. I wonder when I’m going to deplete my supply of googly eyes?
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I wrote the best joke ever written a few minutes ago.
This isn’t the joke.
This is the tribute.

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I watched the horizon to the north as huge lightning bolts illuminated the towering clouds. At 4 a.m. nothing was as it seemed. A couple of hours later, I stand inside, immobile, as the sky bombs the roof. Nothing has changed. Except for everything.

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The look on the doctor’s face when he saw the phlebotomy band-aid on my neck… I asked him, “Where did the blood tech get trained? Is it safe to do blood draws from the neck?” P.S. They should be paying ME for the entertainment.

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Apparently, “Dothraki” isn’t what the doctor’s office envisioned under the ‘Preferred Language’ area of the patient data chart.

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Custom Diamond Painting

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I inadvertently ordered a custom diamond painting that is 40 X 60 cm, which is either about 16 X 20 inches or 0.0020202 X 0.00252525 furlongs, depending on how weirdly you enjoy your specifications. Dawn completed several ‘out-of-the-box’ ones, so I thought I’d surprise her with one I designed.

I should have used a cutout template, as the picture I submitted contained a mass of colors and details that I didn’t take into account. I’m sure Dawn passed out for a second when she first discovered the number of colors and noted the thousands of diamond squares required. I tried counting the squares but kept getting lost at 8,234.

Months later, she’s finished with the herculean artwork. She passed many hours at the kitchen table, hunched over with an applicator pen and a magnifying glass. If you’re searching for a hobby which will either delight or terrorize, this one is for you.

The picture is based on one I created. Dawn’s image was at an event in Fayetteville, while I am wearing one of the most handsome ensembles from the Handmaid’s Tale Collection. We already own a similar wood-panel version of the picture. It’s available for sale for $120,000 if there’s a potential lunatic buyer out there.

After Dawn finished the painting, we made our first attempt at sealing the canvas, using DecoArt triple-glaze to enclose it. Luckily, it worked fantastically, even with me doing the application. Note to those who once enjoyed eating Elmer’s glue: this stuff does not have any appetizing elements in it.

I bought a great frame from Hobby Lobotomy and placed it on the wall of honor near our bar and fairy door. (We rarely see our pixie/fairy named Crowder anymore.)

One picture is of the finished painting on the kitchen table. The other is of it hanging on the living room wall. You’ll note that I overcame my otherwise professional perfectionism and used a picture that reflects the picture window at the front of the house. At my age, it’s risky wasting precious time getting the camera just right.

 

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Note: there is a huge difference in comfort between diamond paintings using square vs. round tiles.

My wife prefers round, for a variety of reasons.

DecoArt TG01-36 Triple Thick Gloss Glaze, 8-ounce Triple Thick Gloss Glaze is what we used to seal the canvas. 8 ounces is more than enough to do a 16 X 20″ painting. You can use it on other things, too, if you’re interested.

I personally think it’s acceptable to leave many of the colors unfilled. I’m hoping my wife will do a diamond painting with the main parts finished and allow me to hand paint the gaps with either white or corresponding colors. I can imagine several creative alternatives to an intentionally finished diamond painting.

 

The Bathrobe Rule

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The Bathrobe Rule:
Some things need only to be seen once.

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Only after writing this to encompass a variety of situations did the overwhelming interpretation occur to me. A given movie: once. A particular place: once. A neighbor taking the garbage out in the assumed cover of darkness while wearing a deficient bathrobe: once

 

It Was Everything

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He sat there in the warm embrace of the relentless sun. The breeze brought a touch of cool relief but also wafted across us laden with the scent of the fast food of the golden arches. The blue sky above might as well have been a lifeless ceiling.

He wasn’t asking for anything, much less my attention. His clothes were dirty, and his posture was one of a young man who’d already done more than his share. It was palpable.

Our mornings were orphans now; his due to monotonous work and mine from the disconnect of knowing he was probably dreading a repetition of the same tomorrow.

Ignoring my fear of injury to his pride, I approached and asked if he was okay.

“Waiting to go do some more work,” he said. “My buddies went for lunch and I haven’t earned enough to eat.”

I solved his lunch problem. And probably his supper problem too, the one waiting for a solution after he’d finish working much later.

“Thanks. I never ask for anything.” He looked me in the eye, and I knew he was telling the proud truth.

I nodded, in fear I might I burst into inexplicable tears. I walked back to my car.

He went inside the store next to his perch. Moments later, he exited, tearing the package of his lunch with his teeth and inhaling half of whatever sandwich hid within. In his other hand, he had a large bottle of water. He gulped half of it as he stood there, looking up at the overcast blue sky as if it had just appeared above him.

A couple of minutes later, a beat-up small pickup truck pulled up and the young man jumped into the bed. I could see lawn equipment protruding above the edge of the bed. They drove off without exchanging a word.

I can’t help the sinister cloud enveloping my brother’s sanity. I can’t erase the past or retrieve angry words exchanged in the course of my steps.

I solved the stranger’s problem, though, even if it was not mine to approach.

It’s a nice day, I agree, even as we individually navigate the inevitable perils waiting to befall us.

The Etiquette Practicality Exception

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I still see many posts about manners and etiquette. One of them that invariably makes the lists: “Always use a person’s last name until you know them well enough or they say it is okay to use another.”

Pure manure.

One big problem with etiquette is that it’s based on past customs and behavior. Additionally, across cultures, countries, and societies, etiquette demands vary wildly.

It’s hard for some people to imagine, but there are quite a few people whose entire legal name consists of one name. Also, it is no social faux pas to have trouble attempting to remember or pronounce many of the world’s names. We should stop beating up on one another when no malice was intended, even as we botch names in our daily lives. Some names are akin to a mouthful of consonants and live crickets.

The ongoing attempt to insist that there is a single method of etiquette and politeness is absurd and almost bigoted. If you live inside a regimented or closed society, perhaps it is possible to assume that there might be one infallible way to ensure you’re behaving according to a particular imaginary list of societal demands. Otherwise, it’s a rodeo out there in the world.

Using a person’s last name requires you to know whether they’re married, male or female, and a couple of other variables. (Unless you’re a barbarian and saunter around calling people strictly by their last names, such as “Johnson!” or “Gonzalez.”) Ms., Mrs. ma’am, and Mr. are not the simple labels they once were.

Whether the older generation agrees or not, we’re changing the way we use titles and pronouns – and in ways they never imagined. It’s presumptuous to assume we know the other person’s pronoun or marital status. As I rapidly approach dinosaur status myself, I find myself needing to learn new manners and ways to extract my foot from my mouth. I strive to stop thinking that I ‘know’ the rules that are emerging in life. I don’t, precisely because the rules are a moving target.

We’re all equal. Using a person’s first name does not reveal a lack of respect or an overdeveloped sense of familiarity with the other person. It does, however, demonstrate that we are capable of unilaterally agreeing that a person’s name is, in fact, the label with which they identify. If the person in question wishes to be called an alternate name, they should politely say so. It would also help if people stopped using names as vanity devices or as ammunition in conversations. It’s worth noting that it’s bad form to call someone by a different name or label after they’ve asked you to use another one in their regard.

If we are introduced to someone as ‘Mark Hemmington,’ the only other argument to be made is that we should address them by their full name. That’s a bit unwieldy. Why not insist on using their entire legal name, even if it an absurd array of three, four, or five names? I’m one of the smart ones. I have two names, both spelled phonetically, and only have a surname from necessity. My name is the same in public, on my birth certificate, and on my identification. I don’t use nicknames, titles, or further naming devices to confound those around me. Some people indeed use some rather base nicknames in my regard; that’s another issue.

I don’t mean disrespect if I fail to use an expected title. It’s more comfortable as a society to accept a default of no harm or ill will intended.

I don’t kneel to royalty and don’t consider a senator or president to be anything other than an elected employee we collectively chose to do a job as our representative. Judges are legal experts, not demi-gods of virtue. Police aren’t officers; they are public servants whose dangerous and complicated jobs give them the authority and responsibility to keep us safe. Anyone in those professions who angrily demand conformity or obedience in regards to their title needs to remember humility as a virtue.

I have learned to distrust anyone with a reverence for titles.

I don’t call my personal physician “Doctor.” Financial transactions don’t require an element of inequality. I’m thankful that doctors are well-trained and able to help me. I’m paying for that service – and it is their job. Until the day we call all occupations by their respective vocational title, I think it’s objectionable to anyone to demand the title before their name. Carpenter Joe. Plumber Jim. Teacher Jill. All trained professionals. We need doctors desperately, but we also need people to pick up our trash, fix our vehicles, and keep us from drowning in sink water.

As always, I don’t expect my arguments to be perfect. I don’t defend these ideas with a fiery passion. I do, however, know there’s a strong element of truth running through the points I’ve made in this post.

As a person with a peculiar name and an aversion to bending a knee to titles, I watch in keen observation as society struggles with our out-dated naming conventions.

The Poppaty Prerogative

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Pictures of people, please and thank you.

“We are who, remembering when.”

Another person recently discovered the agony of finding out that the opportunity to take pictures with their departed friend has expired forever. He has only a few photos of his times with his friend. Because he’s not proud of his appearance, his ability to drop his guard and allow spontaneous capture of his image dwindled to insignificance. Even on the last trip they shared, no pictures document their overlapping joy. His memory still thrives, to be sure, but just as the recollection of a song cannot accurately measure the depth of beauty of hearing the melody, a memory pales alongside the vivid undeniability of a picture to amplify it. It explains why we can so spontaneously burst into tears or feel the literal swell of our heart when we see the presence of people who have mattered to us.

In the specific and linear moments of our lives, we easily overlook the magic and sublime nature of being alive. As time propels us, we look back and can’t help but to focus our eyes on the apparent wonder of what we didn’t appreciate when it was another backdrop in our present moment. It’s our curse. We find it impossible to perceive the zen essence of an otherwise dull moment.

As Andy from “The Office” said, “…I wish there was a way to know you’re in ‘the good old days’ before you’ve actually left them. Someone should write a song about that…”

The moments which tend to echo and call our name tend to be ordinary while we’re living them.

As people begin the ritual of finding new places to experience their lives, so many choose to photograph the static locales and places in their paths. In our data-filled lives, we have so many sources to find beautiful pictures of every single place on the globe. We can virtually drive down the streets of our favorite places without leaving the computer. We can take in the detail of any painting as it hangs on the gallery wall, no matter where that wall might be. There is both truth and beauty in such pictures. To those who say, “Aha! But those aren’t real,” I would point out that memories are only real to those who lived them. Pictures remain a testament for everyone.

We are, however, a world of people. We’ll remember places more for the moods they evoke. People grant us our identity, while places serve as our stage.

We are who, remembering when, imperfectly.

Cat Concussion

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I prepared a light meal for my wife Dawn so that she could multi-task. (Multi-tasking is a word used to conceal the fact that you’re doing many things at once – and none of them very well.)

While I was assembling the various items for eating, I gave my cat Güino the proper portion on a separate plate in the kitchen. He devoured my offering and then sat in the middle of the kitchen, licking his chops with great satisfaction, perhaps hoping gravity would prevail and drop him further morsels for satisfied consumption. We often comment that he eats more treats than cat food. It’s hard to fault him given my predilection to do the same. If the pantry were equipped with a McDonald’s french fry dispenser, I’d be in mortal peril.

I went to the office and presented the plate of food to my wife.

Under the slight chance that we wouldn’t compare notes, the cat sneaked in the office and casually made his approach, both closer and higher to Dawn’s plate. He sometimes believes himself to be invisible – or believes that we are stupidly inattentive. Dawn and I began the ritual of shooing him away like a bothersome housefly. Like a hungry hyena, he would then start a new approach, hoping we’d forgotten that he had been shooed away in the last thirty seconds.

After the third failed attempt, he turned around immediately at the door and began another stealthy saunter toward my wife’s desk. Without looking his direction, I kicked my left foot out with high velocity. There was no chance I was going to kick the cat. His reflexes, however, triggered and he turned violently to the right. I heard a loud ‘clunk’ as the cat’s head hit the door jamb and wall. Güino seemed stunned for a moment and then shakily ran out of the room and away from the hallway.

I laughed. Ever since Dawn ‘bopped’ him on the head with a spoon and made him go cross-eyed for a bit, we’ve awaited his next concussion.

As I entered the living room, I watched as Güino stepped sideways and plopped into a heap between the television monitor and the coffee table.

I jokingly started a countdown, as if a boxing match TKO was ongoing in the confines of the living room.

This round goes to the humans. He’ll get his revenge when I least expect it.