All posts by X Teri

The Odd Brick

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I stood in the living room of the history-packed house, feeling Jackie’s presence around me. It was the first time I’d been in the house without her. She died recently, leaving a trail of family and friends behind after almost eighty years of an adventurous life. Her husband Jerry stood nearby, his eyes full of loss, yet contradicting the slight smile across his face. Both of them possessed a confident air of optimism. They are the sort of people who convince you that you’ve recharged something essential in yourself after you’ve been around them.

On the coffee table near us, in front of Jackie’s favorite perch on the couch, was a big 1000-piece custom puzzle. I had it made for my friends in April of 2018. I worked for hours on the design, incorporating countless family photos of theirs into a patchwork of multi-directional and polychromatic designs, each chosen and placed to accentuate the pictures while also increasing the complexity of the puzzle. We animatedly passed a couple of minutes noting the pictures, comparing favorites, and laughing. On the bottom row of the puzzle was the strange picture of an even stranger man. I included it in the puzzle because I  thought his picture was an enigma and out of place. As it turns out, it was. No one knew who it was, or remembered that the picture was in the thousands of photos and albums shared with me to digitize. Now, the stranger remains frozen forever in the family puzzle, immortal, and sharing space with some amazing people. We all laughed about Jerry and Jackie thinking I put the picture there as a prank, a one-off kick in the pants for my friends.

“No, I promise I thought the man was someone you knew. He was, and still is, in one of the albums of photos  I scanned. I didn’t include him as a joke. Jackie undoubtedly still thought I was pranking her,” I told Jerry.

“Yes, we thought you were the odd brick, X.” Jerry paused. “When the brickwork and wall were built years ago out back, out of all the thousands of bricks used, the bricklayer used a single yellow brick toward the outer end. I don’t know if it’s true, but they said that the odd color brick used to be placed to break the monotony of the eyeline. Jackie and both were convinced you put that stranger in the puzzle to be the odd brick. You are the odd brick.”

I laughed, thinking that Jackie left the world thinking I designed such a complex and heartfelt puzzle for her, only to prank her with a single discordant note. Though it wasn’t true, I liked the idea. I had purposefully pulled her chain on several occasions. To be perfectly honest, I sometimes held back because Jackie was one of those people whose smile and warmth were contagious, yet simultaneously held the promise of a swift reckoning under the right circumstances.  I say that with fondness.

Tomorrow, the house will be overfilled with friends and family. Foregoing a funeral, Jackie instead requested a celebration of life among friends. I came over to share the slideshow I’d made for Jerry, one chronicling the envious life Jackie lived. I stayed longer than I should have, though, perched on another couch opposite Jackie’s favorite seat. I’m clumsy and ill-at-ease when I try to comfort people with words. I learned the hard way that each of us cringes and contains our own version of hell and that wide swaths of unpredictable time are often the only consoling force in the universe. In this case, I could sense that seeing pictures of a life well-lived and shared was a salve for the soul. We watched the entire 44-minute video. Surprisingly, I recalled many of the stories attached to some of the pictures. Jackie was meticulous in sharing with me the memories attached to the pictures.

One of the best photo projects I ever did spanned a few thousand pictures. I came to it accidentally and as a result of being volunteered to help with another project. It was the doorway that allowed me to get to know a couple of fascinating and endearing people. Because of the pictures and the stories that accompanied them, I got to live a little slice of their long and worthwhile lives. It was a privilege, a learning experience, and something I’ll always remember as an honor.

My life didn’t meaningfully intersect with theirs until they were both older and retired. Both had full lives and careers and yet I only knew them as a couple, both engaged and artfully overlapping their stories to my delighted ears. Jerry was a medical doctor in life. It was plainly evident that his best role was that of a husband to Jackie.

I look back on the swath of pictures I was trusted with and get to bear testimony to the extraordinary life Jackie trailed behind her.

It would be an exercise in bravado to ask for a better life.

And so, with the gentlest and most affectionate gaze, I peer backward through her timeline: a laugh, a smile, a masterfully-executed bit of snark, and a twinkle in her eyes.

To be able to view the long curve of her life by way of hundreds of pictures has all but demolished the sadness that would have accompanied the knowledge she’ll never again shake her head at me as I played the fool for her. I can’t imagine the hollow void in the hearts of those who were lucky enough to stand in her aura in her daily life. There were a few moments while making the slideshow that almost capsized me.

I reduced her life from thousands of pictures to 240 and could distill them no further. A life like Jackie’s deserves a herculean accounting. I gave the photos the reverence that they deserved.

And, as it turns out, I am not the odd brick.

Jackie was.

X

 

 

 

 

A Note About a Good Burn

Due to the political nonsense from Trump of late, an evangelical commented that no one could say what really happened behind closed doors and that if we were discussing it, we were bearing false witness, because only eyewitnesses can talk.

Someone replied, “Well, that eliminates literally all of the Gospels, then, doesn’t it, duh?”

And I felt like no truer truth that burns had ever been written.
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P.S. This isn’t an anti-religion post. It’s an anti-stupidity post. As an expert on stupidity in the first-person, I’m allowed to discuss these things.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

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Apparently, many Facebook users are unaware that they can easily block messages from a person WITHOUT also blocking them on Facebook.

Think of it as being able to go out and meet a friend without worrying about them calling you at midnight – or when their cat needs a taxi. Because they can’t. That’s how blocking on Messenger works. You choose. You don’t have to rip your phone out of the wall if you’re not giving people your phone number to call you.

Let’s face it, we all have a few friends who can’t resist sending the modern equivalent of chain emails via Messenger. They probably need to read the directions for a box of toothpicks. They just can’t help it. You can’t change them. Others, for whatever reason, seem to be prone to sending viruses to us, or getting hacked/cloned and sending malicious links with titles such as “Video Of You I Found!” or something politically charged like “Obama Killed Your Grandfather” to grab our attention and make us click the link before we turn on our brains.

Sidenote: for those of you who don’t know, it is always wise to start a new Messenger chat by using personal words that inform the recipient that it is from a ‘real’ person, rather than a bot or hacker. Something like, “Hey, this is X. I really like the idea of you wearing a sweater made of pink insulation” will do nicely.

There’s no reason you can’t use Messenger safely. It’s no different than being friends with crazy people. You don’t just yank open your mailbox without listening for a timer in there. Instead of throwing the baby out with the rose-scented bathwater, I suggest a more reasonable approach: block each offender as they send you nonsense, instead of punishing yourself and all your other friends. Get a suspicious message? Get 2,652 gifs that would give anyone a migraine or cause convulsions upon viewing them? Block the person who sent it.

I don’t know how many crazy and clueless friends you have, but I think it would take less time to block each person as they behave stupidly than it would to misuse the incredible communication platform that works on almost any platform or device, from anywhere in the world. We have our problems with social media, to be sure, but most of the consequences are our own fault, precisely because we aren’t using them as intended.

I could be wrong – but it seems like you might be over-reacting or not thinking clearly about how you’re dealing with this.

If you post “Stop sending me stupid messages on Messenger!” the idiots are not going to realize it is them you are referring to. That’s what being stupid does to us. It explains voting, comb-overs, and wearing tight clothing. They don’t get it. Stop preaching to everyone. Target each offender when they send you a message. It only takes once, and you’re done.

P.S. You can use Facebook to private message someone without using Messenger. All you need to do is post and set the privacy control to that specific person. Only that person will be able to see.

And if you’re going to say something ridiculous like, “But something could go wrong!” you’re already using the wrong platform. Something did go wrong. You’re making it hard for the rest of us to contact you when you should be only making it hard for the idiots to do so.

Signed, An Idiot

The Curtains Must Open

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Absent pedigree collapse, which occurs when the same genetics overlap in one tree due to noodling between relatives, I have 126 5th great-grandparents. Pedigree collapse is why our family tree pyramids are amazingly flatter than we would conventionally expect. Historically, about 80% of all marriages involved 2nd cousins or closer, due to geographical limitations. Most children resulted from people living inside a 5-mile radius. Modern people cringe at the idea, but proximity inevitably leads to relationships.

Life will find a way, as Malcolm said, whether it’s dinosaurs or people.

Because of the thousands of people in my main family tree and the fact that I’ve been using DNA for many years to trace my lineage, my DNA trail is remarkably old for some of my family tree branches. (And demonstrably absent for other alleged branches.) Occasionally, I encounter tree owners who hide or keep their ancestry tree private, which might be useful or warranted for current generations to protect their privacy. Still, it is 100% pointless to do it past one’s grandparents. Even if you’re not willing to pull the curtain back, the statistical likelihood that another descendant will do so approaches 100%.

The number of people using DNA results exponentially grows past three generations. Whereas paper trails and family history can be manipulated, expunged, or hidden, DNA is the math that draws a map directly to one’s ancestors. As more participants share their DNA, the tapestry of everyone’s relationships becomes incredibly detailed. Our ability to use algorithms and computers has rendered secrecy to be moot.

In the case of the example pictured, my DNA and family tree draw me through 7-8 generations, with multiple confirmations across hundreds of people. For whatever reason, I have a gap with my 4th great-grandfather Murphy, thanks to those who think hiding the identity of the person to be valuable.

Due to DNA, however, I can easily ‘ignore’ the missing 4th great-grandfather and jump up to the next generation with my 5th great-grandfather Murphy. This happens because of many people related to the cousins and siblings of my unidentified 4th great-grandfather having shared their DNA results. Using census, marriage, and other records, it is straightforward to use the process of elimination to identify the ‘secret’ ancestor. If it is someone unexpected, such as the mailman, it is likely that multiple DNA sources from other family lines have identified their overlap.

Given a large enough sample, no one currently alive escapes multiple points of intersection with our living DNA map. In case you’re wondering, it takes only a small percentage of people to finish a complete DNA map for every person alive today.

In other words, as I’ve said many times before, DNA will always ‘out’ a person’s intention to keep their family secrets hidden. People might not talk, but DNA is the hidden voice that lies in plain sight.

Unlike many, I find this to be a comfort. It’s probably a good thing, too, if for no other reason than I am powerless to do anything about it, regardless of my opinion.

DNA, in combination with my insistence on personal transparency, led me to discover a new sister. It didn’t allow me to force my search onto her; it allowed her to make the same choice and meet in the middle. Using my example, it is possible that one of her children or family members eventually would have come forward anyway, resulting in a similar discovery of new siblings. It just would have happened later or after my death. Whether we are comfortable with the idea, our DNA roadmaps are subject to the whims of those we’re related to, as the Golden State Killer famously discovered.

Yes, of course, DNA information can be abused. Using the possible negative consequences to justify a knee-jerk reaction is more a symptom of our inability to be responsible citizens and govern ourselves maturely than it is of a warning against using DNA at all. You leave DNA everywhere you go. Even now, your body is shedding your entire genetic structure into the air, on the floor, and on almost everything you touch.

My DNA experience also confirmed that some of my aunts and uncles had reason to be fearful of my dedication. Though most of them are now departed, their harsh demands about the silence of some of our family history are soon dispelled. Some of the secrets seem tame now. Others belie something unsettling. Their demands actually created a stronger desire to find out what all the fuss was about. Thanks to them, I have a specific list of questions that strike directly into their concerns.

People with nothing to hide also tend to welcome sunlight. If someone seems overly concerned, you should always assume it’s a sign you’re looking in the right direction. It’s not always the case. It is, however, logical.

Regardless of how we interpret uncovered facts, they don’t alter the truth they reveal. It’s an ongoing fascination of mine to observe the reluctance of some people to see their stories mapped and visited by other eyes.

For me, for now, forever, I embrace the universal nature of DNA.

May the curtains be forever opened.

Post-Holiday Ritual of Ornaments

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These are actually two-sided porcelain ornaments. The colors are rich for the size. I bought these from Snapfish. One of my favorite rituals after the holidays is to take advantage of using last year’s photos to make a few new Xmas ornaments. I have ornaments made frequently, regardless of being on sale; having the ornaments available for what I would call a pittance certainly doesn’t hurt my feelings though. I’m especially proud of catching 3 ̶v̶i̶c̶t̶i̶m̶s̶ people in one picture to make an ornament. Having my stepson smile for a picture almost caused a natural disaster.

Wordless Eulogy

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I would not dare utter a single syllable in a vain attempt to express the breadth, depth, or width of a life well-lived. If you were lucky enough to have shared her presence, look inward, to find that memory, and embrace it. Our days are numbered, our friends but few.

 

Jackie Lou Dorman

Only 8 Pictures

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I have only 8 authentic images of my grandpa Cook. About half are pictures of pictures, taken at opportune moments. I’m lucky to have any. Many people escape their childhoods with no pictures. Given the number of times my family moved, in conjunction with my mother’s proclivity to burn residences to the ground, it’s a miracle any pictures fell into my hands.

My life only overlapped with my grandpa’s life for ten years, seven months, and one day.

Every picture I have of grandpa is on Ancestry to view and keep for anyone who wants them. Evidently, a lot of people have. Likewise, almost every picture I have of my dad and mom is on there, too. I’ve never once shared pictures without someone finding value in them – even people I’ve never met, and especially people who discover they are related.

For many of the family members who’ve departed, I have hundreds of pictures online, so that they can be experienced easily, and probably preserved for several lifetimes. It might be overkill, but experience has taught me that someone will find real joy when they see the photos.

I routinely get a private message along the lines of “Holy cow! I’ve never seen such a complete variety before. Do you have others?” I politely write back, saying, “Sorry, I’ve put every image I have of him or her on here. There are others, locked away in books, in basements, or in dusty boxes – but I don’t have access to them.”

This was recently true after I uploaded hundreds of pictures to an aunt, uncle, and cousin who passed away in the last decade. The response was overwhelming. It was a bit of an effort to organize and upload them all, but I know that my pictures will, at times, be the only pictures of these people that will be passed on and survive.

At times, I get messages from people who have locked down their accounts so that all pictures are private and secretly unviewable. Sometimes, these same people ‘borrow’ mine and lock their copies away from everyone else. Shame. I try to remind myself that someone at least saw the pictures and found them valuable enough to swipe. For the same reason, I leave all my family discoveries open to those who are related. There’s no real point in forcing people to do the same work over and over.

I don’t understand the inclination to put a picture in a box, closet, or hidden place. They are no more accessible than those who ‘borrow’ mine and lock them away digitally. They might as well be on the moon.

Countless times, people have reached out to me to tell me their families assumed no pictures existed of their loved ones. More than once, someone has told me that they’d never seen a picture of their family until they found my pictures. I can’t imagine that bittersweet moment. I work to ensure that I’m not part of the problem.

I don’t own a picture that I don’t have digitized, shared, and available for everyone to enjoy. Not only so that they can never be truly lost forever when calamity strikes, but so that they can be shared, even with unknown future generations, as they look back in the past.

A picture in a box, album, or closet is lost forever.

You just don’t know it.

Where The Crawdads Sing

“Writing a book demands so much specificity, in disagreement with the obvious truth that our most profound moments and memories call to us from inside the gauzy shrines of cheap childhood blankets, our tiny, unlearned hands clutching portals to the world disguised as books. We remember the creeping heat of a wood stove in the middle of a room, the silence before grandmother could shout at us for slamming the screendoor, or the interval between day and night when the fields slowly darkened as lightning bugs began to dance, granting us momentary amnesia from the remembered itch of an army of mosquitoes. And yet, we ran outside to greet them, no matter how hot the air or tired our bones. Another moment awaited, even if the moment drummed its fateful fingers to get to us. If you find a book that effortlessly draws you into another state of feeling, you should add it to your list of gratitude. If it does so while not shying away from the lesser of our human failings, it is okay to weep for the time when the book will be finished and its last page revealed.” – X

I see no need to mention the plot of the confines of the book I’ve mentioned.

These words speak, as did the words of the book.