Be Wary of the Next Great Thing

I tend to be skeptical about praising the Next Great Thing. Maybe that’s because I’m a fan of proven great things like public libraries, holding hands, and peace accords. Or maybe it’s because our house is falling apart.

It seems that back in the late 70’s when the house was built the U.S. began to notice something called an energy crisis. The price of gas had gone from 36 cents to 86 cents (yes, a gallon) in just a few years. Heating oil, natural gas, and electricity cost more. People realized their homes were leaking lots of nice warm air all winter long and suddenly everyone wanted insulation.  The newer the product the better.  Some advertisements practically guaranteed their insulation would seal homeowners in all winter with nothing but each other’s exhale for air. Every product was the Next Great Thing.

I can imagine what happened when the contractor slapped our house together. Surely he (statistically speaking it was a he) promoted the house as featuring the very newest extra thick rigid insulation. But construction workers performing the actual hands-on work didn’t have longer nails or an interest in compensating for that thickness.

Fast forward a few decades. After years of repairing foundation cracks, water damage, and worse we realize that our front and back porches are ready to fall off the house. That’s because in some areas, the beams holding up the porch rails, supports, and roof are only NAILED INTO THE INSULATION. Many nails never quite made it into the actual wood meant to connect porch to house. In fact, the Next Great Thing insulation was applied to the exterior of the house in such a way that it trapped rainwater and rotted the wood. That these porches held up many feet of snow and ice winter after winter is some kind of scientific marvel. That they remained attached to the house at all, another marvel.

So next time you flip past one of those home repair shows, all of which should be subtitled “Look What Money Can Do,” notice that they’re often designed around new products promoted as the Next Great Thing. (You’re basically watching a program-length advertisement.) Composite countertops made from dust epoxied together by hype. Lighting bouncing off reflectors that look like aluminum foil hats worn by the UFO-wary. Heated floorboards with inaccessible heating units. These products may be great. They may not. I think any hairspray host with a tool belt could convince awed homeowners that toilets constructed from celery trimmings are the Next Great Thing and they’d spend thousands on them. Happily.

Fortunately we discovered the porch problem in time. Added to the known blessings of public libraries, holding hands, and peace accords we now add the security that comes with newly sturdy porches.

Throwback post from our farm site, Bit of Earth Farm

Dangerous Accessories

I’m all about buying handmade things. I like the idea that my money supports people who pursue their passions. It’s a feel-good way to buy lovely gifts and grab some loot for myself. I’ve always been happy with my purchases. That is, until I came across the Scarf From Hell for sale at an urban pop-up craft fair. Its softness was devilishly enticing and it came in all sorts of lush colors, with a hand-written tag noting the yarns were spun from reclaimed silk saris. Definitely my kind of thing. I bought two, one to give as a gift and one for me.

I mailed one scarf to a friend as a birthday present. She got back to me with effusive thanks, no hint that the scarf had yet wreaked havoc in her life.*

I didn’t break out the other one until I was leaving for a weekend conference. As I put on my black wool jacket I thought, in a last minute inspiration, I’d wear my new scarf.

After a few hours of travel time I got to the conference. I talked to a keynote presenter and greeted fellow attendees. I may have registered a few what’s-wrong-with-her glances but attributed them to my own insecurity. Before the first workshop started I dashed off to the restroom. I gasped in horror as the mirror revealed the depths of my scarf’s treachery.

The yarn was deconstructing. Hundreds of tiny, vividly colored bits had pulled away from the scarf and were clinging to my coat like burrs. As I leaned over the sink more yarn confetti fell. These shreds were also in my hair and clinging with static determination to my neck. Picking them off successfully meant grabbing one strand at a time. I did what I could to clean up, then folded my jacket over my arm hoping I’d have time later to de-fuzz it. When I left the bathroom, scarf tucked into my tote bag, I noticed that a trail of yarn detritus marked every step I’d taken. The conference hallway looked like a knitter’s Hansel and Gretel re-enactment.

It was a long weekend. The cold weather meant I couldn’t go without my yarn-spangled jacket. Every time I thought I’d nearly picked it clean I found more lurking under the collar, inside my pockets, clinging in strands to the lining. The yarn invasion was so drastic that fibers were even evident when I blew my nose.

Strangely, I haven’t thrown the scarf out. It still lurks in my yarn-wrecked tote bag. This is fair warning. I may be a pacifist, but if riled I might just pull Scarf From Hell out of hiding as my secret weapon

*My friend insists her scarf is fine. I’m guessing she either suffers from a serious case of politeness or she’s so traumatized by her own Scarf From Hell experience that she’s repressed all memory of it.

The Dread Experience

dreadlocks, old people reactions,

image: pixabay

Kirby, who is now 15, is probably the most serene of my four kids. Completely without guile, he’s not even vain about his beautiful hair. It is dark blonde and wavy, coarse enough to fluff up into a temporary Afro, and so thick that balding men comment on it jealously.

Mostly it is an irritation to him because it grows so quickly. When he was 10 years old he decided he wouldn’t comb it again. He still doesn’t, yet it looks charmingly tousled with nary a tangle.

At his birthday party last year he got rid of his hair. It was quite an event — Kirby in the bathroom, his tall buddies crowding around the mirror, shaver cutting down to the scalp. He left a wide swath of hair all along the top. While this is popularly called a Mohawk, he informed us that members of the Mohawk tribe traditionally did not go about sporting that hairstyle. They actually used a kind of toupee. Only Kirby would bother to learn these details.

He kept the mistakenly-named Mohawk hairstyle only a few days before quickly realizing it wasn’t worth the trouble of shaving and putting on goop to keep the central path of hair standing. He didn’t get much of a reaction. Our liberal friends just gave him a thumbs up or asked if he was into punk music. Our more conservative friends just chuckled with a glad-it’s-not-my-kid look. The only extreme comment came from his grandmother, who asked, “Why do you want to change your personality?” (The assumption that appearance dictates character explains the strictures of my own upbringing.)

This year our musician son has grown taller and his hair, longer and longer.  At some stages his hair looked like yearbook pictures from the 70s, then like a movie poster for Jesus Christ Superstar. Finally it got to the length he deemed right for developing some dreadlocks. Yes, white-boy dreads. Not being blessed with the right hair for them to form naturally, he had to print out 20 pages of instructions he’d researched (some contradictory) and order $36 worth of specialty products including pure bar soap and chunks of beeswax with tea tree oil. He cleans out horse stalls for spending money so this is no minor expenditure.

When the dreading day arrived, Kirby’s girlfriend and I set up for the procedure in a festive mood. He looked pretty serious. We sectioned off his hair using an array of clips and held it back with a tortoise shell headband we called his tiara. I think we teased it enough. His hair that is. His tiara kept slipping and based on the number of times he said ‘ouch’ it was apparent we were hurting his scalp with all the tugging and fussing.  I’m pretty sure we used too much beeswax. By the time we were done he looked the way our dog’s belly does when he’s been outside after the rain, a dangling chandelier of mud.

Kirby was convinced the hair would eventually ‘dread’ around the beeswax spikes. He washed it with his pricey soap and smiled sweetly from under all those hair candles. He laughed when his dad danced around singing reggae tunes with made up lyrics. He adhered to the theory behind his hair research for at least a month.

Still, his hair looked more dreadful than dreadlocked.

We all missed his formerly beautiful hair. The faux dreads looked particularly out of place when, as a bagpiper, he dressed in his kilt to march with his highland band — a serious band made of mostly of formal older gentlemen. Kirby finally got the idea his rebel coiffure wasn’t appreciated when the band’s Scottish Pipe Master warned, in his thick brogue, “We dress as one man, we look as one man.”

So, Kirby decided the dread experiment was over. Being a person who doesn’t go halfway, he didn’t just cut his hair. He shaved it off completely.

His grandmother doesn’t adjust quickly to surprises. She was alarmed when he entered her door at our next visit sporting his new Mr. Clean look. She blurted out what should never be said to a teenaged male, especially by a grandmother, “Kirby, what a boner!”

I couldn’t explain to him right then that the term meant blunder to her generation.

No matter. He smiled at her calmly. His bald head shone.

Throwback post, first published by Errant Parent

Smart Pants: High Tech Trousers For Every Contingency

I was called “Smarty Pants” a few too many times in my childhood. A little girl who can’t keep sarcastic asides to herself isn’t silenced by a nonsense term, especially when the invective is hurled by underpaid math teachers who wear terribly unflattering polyester slacks. The ultimate not-smart pants.

Now I’m well into adulthood and still too smart for my pants, thank you. I’m also not living up to my potential, just as my teachers predicted. Perhaps inventing trousers that qualify as truly smart could be my lucky break. Futuristic technology must be out there just waiting to be applied to legs and backsides in a fashionable manner.

What features would my Smarty Pants offer the savvy wearer?

  1. Zapper to halt verbal or physical forms of stupidity. Imitating the irritating way your boss smacks her lips for emphasis after every third word? Smarty Pants will helpfully jolt you with a mild electric shock if your boss is in range. Tempted to accept a drink with whoever is waving from the shadows of the airport bar?  Your pants will know if that’s the pilot. Zap again.
  1. A memory chip. This technology will mobilize at the first sign of perplexity. Forgotten names, numbers, and directions will appear on a Post-It in the Smarty Pants pocket for discreet retrieval. This could come in handy as the decades roll by.
  1. Low dose laser to melt fat in preselected areas even while the pants wearer is noshing on a post-lunch snack.  Disclaimer: noticeable steam generated by the device must be dissipated by walking briskly or swiveling in one’s chair.
  1. Seat belt tightener for those situations where the Smarty Pants wearer is sharing the road with idiots. Or is driving like an idiot. It happens.
  1. Anti-skid device. Not that kind. The kind that helps the wearer remain upright and avoid slipping on ice, tripping over curbs, skidding on banana peels, you know, equilibrium cruise control. Graceful strolling guaranteed, even for the chronic klutzes.
  1. A clever anti-erection device, useful in situations when this state unwelcome. It will activate when needed anywhere within range of the wearer. Never fear, the feature causes no permanent disability.
  1. Warming and cooling agents. Hot wait on a plastic seat at the DMV?  Smarty Pants will provide a zone of frosty coolness from waistband to ankles.  Tobogganing on a sudden whim? Smarty Pants will make sure you are a hottie.  But not so toasty that you melt the ice.
  1. Wrinkle-free, stain-proof and fade-free fabric. What’s more, these exceptional trousers will also be fireproof, inflate as emergency flotation devices, deflect bullets, and sport James Bond-like gadgets which are so top secret that each pair of pants will be unique. Figuring out the instruction manual may require tech support.
  1. Auxiliary wit, of course. Smarty Pants will telepathically transmit clever banter and droll remarks for every occasion. Unfortunately, this may become habitual.  Human smarty pants rarely know when to keep comments to themselves. It isn’t likely that the trousers model will be any more discerning.

Originally appeared in Poor Mojo’s Almanac(k)

Not My Real Name


We learn early on that our names are serious business.

  • One of the main questions we’re asked as toddlers when out in public is “What’s your name?”
  • As we grow up, our parents tend to address us with nicknames or endearments, unless we’re in trouble. Then, full name at top volume.
  • Once we go to school we put our names on assignments and tests day after day. Sometimes classmates use our names to taunt us too.
  • Our names are right there for the world to see on diplomas and resumes and emails.
  • The names we’re given can affect the way people perceive us and even our career success.

Sometimes I feel as if the potential our parents saw when they breathed our names aloud for the first time is diluted by sheer overuse.

So I play with my name. If I don’t absolutely have to give my real name I use any other name that occurs to me, entirely on an inspiration basis.

When leaving a name for reservations at a restaurant, I usually make one up. It adds a little levity to my life. It’s also a decent short term memory exercise. If I’ve given the name “Snape,” I have to remember they’re talking about us when they call, “Snape, party of six.” Not as easy as it sounds. Try it some time. My default name for restaurant reservations is Ferdinand, in honor of the classic children’s book about a peaceful bull. It’s a quiet homage to the book and, of course, a secret acknowledgment that the name I’ve given is technically bull.

I use alternate names for mail order items, too.  Sometimes I give myself a new first or last name, sometimes an item comes addressed to one of our farm animals or dogs, sometimes I use a name I’ve made up. A magazine subscription comes addressed to Sarcasm Collective, Netflix envelopes arrive for Angelic Presence, and catalogs arrive under all sorts of use a pseudonyms such as Canning Whoop Ass and Ms. Procrastinator. It’s a remarkably effective way to track who is selling your information. For example, when ordering a piece of camping gear for one of my kids, I gave myself the first name “Spelunker.” The next few months I got camping gear advertisements addressed to that name, as expected, but also advertisements for motocross racing, yoga supplies, and silk underwear.

I bestow my love of alternative names on others too. My friends and family are accustomed to getting a card, package, or voice mail with something added to their names. At last month’s food co-op, the treasurer complained that her kitchen drawers seem to be taken over by twist ties.  When I sent in the check for my order, the envelope was addressed to her in care of Institute For Twist Tie Preservation. Not the best example, but the most recent. I’ve sent packages to my son’s college mailbox with odd name changes as well. (You may want to avoid this if your loved ones aren’t likely to appreciate or at least tolerate it.)

I also find it provides a moment’s amusement to use nonsensical names, fictional names, or the names of long-dead luminaries when writing something non-essential. I’ve recently signed for packages as A. Earhart, Scout Finch,  and Hubert J. Farnsworth. I filled out a farmer’s market poll as Susan B. Anthony. I added myself to a mailing list for local arts events as V. Woolf. The name I most recently put a waiting list was Ima Wench.

Maybe my name games are a reaction to the stress we all face in an uncertain world. Or maybe I simply find that a little silliness keeps me more gruntled than disgruntled.

Just remember, if you’re meeting me for dinner I’ve probably given the name “Ferdinand.”

Growing Up Sarcastic & Self-Sufficient On The Farm

homeschooling self-sufficiency, homeschooled siblings, diverse siblings, happy sibling rivalry,

Isabelle the cow. (Image: Claire Weldon)

“Come here Slug Weasel,” my daughter commands. Obediently her youngest brother does as she bids, helping her carry 50 pound bags of chicken feed to the barn on our little farm. They chat pleasantly on the way.

By pleasantly I mean he doesn’t just point out that her flip-flop clad feet are dirty. He says that they are festering toxic bacteria unknown to science and should be classified as biological weapons.

She doesn’t just notice he’s squinting, she pretends to worry about his sudden exposure to sunlight and insists that swiveling in a computer chair probably doesn’t afford him the musculature to carry more than the weight of his own hair. They laugh and talk all the way to the barn.  I smile in adoration.

I was raised to be quiet and deferential to others. (Fist-shake at outdated values.) Perhaps as a direct result, I wanted to insure that my own children felt free to be themselves. Homeschooling has given us that freedom. Natural learning and all sorts of friends serves as an antidote to cultural factors relentlessly trying to pressure young people into sameness.

There’s not much sameness going on here. My four offspring can fix old tractors, diagnose a chicken in respiratory distress, compose a bagpipe tune, design custom air cooling systems for computers, discuss the chytrid fungus currently decimating amphibian populations, randomly quote from old Futurama episodes, weld sculptures, and roast fantastically spicy potatoes. They get science on everything. They don’t, however, pay attention to fashion trends or celebrity gossip.

We’re all still in headlong pursuit of our interests. But now that everyone is older I’m left with wonderful memories of early learning, the kind that shifted easily between relaxation and adventure. We read for hours together sprawled on couches, managing to get out of pajamas and into clothes before lunch if we had places to go. My kids launched into ambitious projects, from building a trebuchet that propelled pumpkins across the pond to entering a national science contest that landed them prizes including a visit with an astronaut. Other equally ambitious ideas, like making a hovercraft, were more notable for their humorous failures. We gave homemade gifts that stemmed from woodworking, sewing and soldering projects. Other gifts, like a handmade theremin, were not as well received. We called exploding experiments “science,” invited everyone we knew for large-scale projects, threw strangely amusing parties, jaunted all over for concerts and plays, maxed out our library cards each week, hosted an international guest for six summers, and whenever possible learned directly from people who thrived on work they loved.

It’s not all in the realm of memory. My grown and nearly grown kids seek each other out for hours long discussions as well as weeks long backpacking trips. Conversation around the dinner table is a gallery of fervent opinions, esoteric interests, and very dry wit. I’m still smiling in adoration. Well, I’m also smiling because someone else carries all that chicken feed.

farm homeschooling, teen homeschooling,

Fowl demonstrating free ranging. (Image: Claire Weldon)

This post originally appeared on Radio Free School

When Toys Attack

toys hate us, scared by toys, playthings attack,

Be afraid, be very afraid. (Image: puuikibeach’s photostream)

Not long ago, I wrote about a child who is growing up without any purchased toys. His childhood is remarkably rich. I’ve never been all that high-minded myself. The sheer volume of Lego bricks contained in my home is proof. I also take a childlike delight in ridiculous toys. In fact, I still glow with pride at finding a bagpipe figure to give my bagpipe-playing son. It’s decked out with authentic looking kilt, sporran, and pipes but the real thrill is the button that makes it emit a better-than-whoopie-cushion sounding fart.

But when I look at it from a toy’s point of view, being a plaything probably isn’t all fun and games. First the strain of adoration in the form of grabby little hands and screams of “mine” followed, inevitably, by weeks or months of inattention. Not every toy ends up as The Velveteen Rabbit. No wonder toys have a tendency to get back at us.

You’ve experienced this. A Barbie turns up on the passenger seat in an awkward naked pose just when you offer to give your boss a ride. Lego bricks are suddenly underfoot when you have bare feet. The stuffed animal with Velcro paws that no longer hold what they’re supposed to somehow snags your one good silk shirt. Who among us hasn’t been a victim of toy retaliation?

Here are a few of my Revenge of the Toy tales and where they attacked.


I’m easily startled. That’s an understatement. I’ve been known to push a cart at the market, lost in my own reverie, only to leap up gasping in alarm when I’m surprised in the aisle by nothing more than another shopper passing by. (My reaction is pretty alarming to the other person too.) So it’s probably natural that I do everything I can to keep myself from being startled.

Anyway, one evening not long after we’d moved to our rural home, there was an extended clattering in our attached garage. It sounded distinctly like a team of burglars, maybe kidnappers, heading toward our interior door. The door with no lock on it. My sleeping husband wasn’t concerned. “Go see what made the noise if you’re worried,” he said in response to being shaken awake. A man who gets up to defend his wife against intruders is one of the basic bargains of marriage, I thought bitterly as I crept through the house, turning on lights as I always do to keep myself from being startled.

Then I stood by the garage door listening, wondering if bad guys were on the other side, also listening. No sound. It took me a few moments to work up the courage to open the door and survey the garage, phone ready to dial 911 in hand. Over the sound of my pounding heart I could see what had happened. The giant rack with hooks we’d put up to hang outdoor toys was halfway off the wall and toys had dropped onto the floor. Seconds after I opened the door, the rest of the rack gave way. The sound of plummeting toys was nothing compared to my startled shriek. I slammed the door and made my way back through the house, zigzagging to turn off lights. I tripped on a cluster of plastic dinosaurs as I passed the kitchen and suddenly our cat leaped full-bodied onto the screen with a yowl. I shrieked again. Last light finally off, I made it back to bed realizing no one had investigated my cries of alarm.

We never hung the rack back up. I was pretty sure the toys considered it a method of torture.


We had a toy called The Insultinator which, as you might imagine, spewed mild insults such as, “You’re a gross slimy weasel” at the press of a button. Yes, I bought it. I’m so easily amused that I bought another and gave it to friends as a perfectly relevant wedding anniversary gift. Their son discovered it a few years later and couldn’t be parted with it, which explains why it was in his carry-on as the family went through airport security.

When he put the bag on the conveyor, the thing went off. Suddenly the guards could hear someone saying, “You’re a giant ugly obnoxious jerk.” With stern faces they pulled the bag off the conveyor. That joggled the toy again, and it said, “You’re the ultimate big sloppy loser.” It took several explanations just to get permission to take The Insultinator out of the bag. The whole line behind them backed up as various security officials kept pushing the buttons to make each other laugh.

Sadly, this toy went out of production some time in the 90’s.


My husband and I were lying in bed one night after I’d just nursed our baby to sleep. We heard a faint and intermittent scratching sound on, or was it in, the wall under our window. Because the baby was sleeping in a bassinette right next to our bed we kept asking, “Did you hear that?” in the quietest whispers we could manage. After we confirmed that we weren’t imagining it, we couldn’t sleep. As you know, once you attune to an annoyance it becomes vastly more annoying. We eliminated possible causes like tree branches (weren’t any) and heating system (wasn’t on). My husband and I both slipped out of bed in the dark room, crawling along the floor with our ears to the wall. Whenever we did, there was no sound. Once back in bed it started up again. We decided it had to be a mouse or squirrel trapped in the wall. That made it worse.

I couldn’t help but imagine those desperate scrabbling little paws, the frantic black beads of the small creature’s eyes. “Back up,” I said to it with my sleep-addled mind, as if I could send it thought-messages. “Breathe out to make yourself small.”

The man I loved next to me clearly wasn’t on the same page. “It’s trapped,” he whispered. “It’s going to die in the wall and stink up the place. I should kill it now.” He discussed various methods of death and extraction while I, in a heightened emotional state of postpartum exhaustion, decided I’d married the wrong man. It was suddenly obvious I’d vowed to spend my life with some kind of monster. Using poor judgment, I shared that thought with him. Then we lay awake, me weeping with sorrow in the quietest way possible and he fuming.

In the morning we discovered the real source of the sound. Our son’s remote control car was under a rocking chair in our room, right next to the window. Intermittently it picked up enough random radio signal to scoot back and forth slightly, scraping the antennae against the wooden chair seat. The creature that threatened our marriage didn’t exist.

Yeah, we felt silly.

You know I want to hear your stories.

Peace Meeting Disrupted By Vegetation Attack

bad behavior at restaurant, eating fail, FML meeting, peace meeting screw-up, gagging in front of people,


I once worked for a peace organization headed by a man I regard as close to sainthood. I have no saintly aspirations of my own, but when I was anywhere near John I wanted to live up to his example or, at least behave myself.

John and I met at an eco-conscious lunch spot to discuss a new project. There I drank coffee stronger than I’d ever tasted in a mug larger than I’d ever seen. Too late I remembered that caffeine gives me the jitters.

A third person joined us for the meeting. John was effusive in his praise for my accomplishments as he introduced me to this older gentleman.  Way too effusive. It’s hard to live up to such superlatives, especially while trying to keep one’s hands from caffeine-related jitters.

The men ordered soup and sandwiches. I quickly ordered the first salad listed and turned my attention back to the meeting. When my meal arrived I was alarmed. Dark, unfamiliar vegetation loomed over the plate. The leaves looked quite a bit like invasive weeds. I dug in bravely, hoping that once I’d gotten some nourishment the coffee shakes would wear off.

My tablemates had charming manners. They took small bites, wiped their mouths carefully, and added wonderful insights to the conversation only after swallowing. In the meantime I discovered the giant plants on my plate couldn’t be cut in pieces with ordinary tableware. Instead I had to bend them in half with my fork and hope that dressing didn’t dribble on the table, my clothes, or chin as I drove each bite resolutely into my mouth. To cope, I listened intently and kept my comments to a minimum.

Just as I was inserting a neatly folded plant leaf in my mouth John addressed a question to me. A serious, lengthy reply sort of question. I was in trouble. Not because I had no response. No, because the process of shoveling in a huge bent leaf took longer than a sip of soup or bite of sandwich ever could.

Worse yet, the leaf was larger than my coffee-addled brain anticipated. As it headed toward my lips it seemed to grow. Because the food was already partway in my mouth it was too late to throw the whole action in reverse. So I shoved the rest of it in, afraid that I looked like one of those mulching machines grinding a tree branch.

A conversational pause developed around the table as my lunch companions politely waited for me to answer. I hurried, hoping after a few quick chewing motions I’d be able to respond.

No such luck. As I pulled the fork out of my mouth the unexpected happened.

That hulking leaf unfolded. Like an angry vegetable on a rampage it sprung fully open and leaped to the back of my throat, instantly triggering a gag reflex.

There was nothing I could do.  Reflexes do not respect politeness nor honor the presence of a saint. My eyes widened in horror as my mouth involuntarily flung open. The entire lettuce leaf emerged at top speed from my gaping maw right onto the plate.  Gag related tears sprung to my eyes and gag related saliva hovered with great drool potential on my lower lip.

It is a testament to the training of those involved in the peace movement that my companions didn’t bolt from the table.  They didn’t even blink.

John looked at me kindly. As if his wording had caused me some discomfort, he said without a hint of irony, “Let me rephrase the question.”

Healing Power of a Good Snort

end despair now, silly cure for bad mood, cure depression,

"Nimm dich selbst bei der Nase" ("take yourself by your nose")

 No one is upbeat all the time. Well, there are a few people but clearly they are NOT paying much attention to what’s going on around them. And admit it, none of us like their ridiculously peppy good cheer. I realize I have a lot to say about  listeningappreciating the dark stuff, the influence of our perceptions, the curative power of smiling, and dealing with life’s crap. But even the most dedicated optimist falls into a pit of despair occasionally. I’m assuming this is normal. After all, the human experience is all about contrast. Joy/pain. Elation/dread. Hope/trepidation. And we don’t come equipped with mood jumper cables to recharge us.

Or do we? Because I’ve discovered a cure for this common malaise. 

Don’t get me wrong. I know a positive attitude takes work. But sometimes all the saintly effort in the world can’t ease melancholy. And just past melancholy lurks despair. I don’t know about you, but I fall into that dreaded Pit of Futility on occasion. My efforts seem useless, my energy sapped, the meaning of life comes up for serious questioning.  I was there recently.  This was not a chuckhole of depression.  This was a pit. Until I was cured in an instant. Let me explain.

I was sliding down a precipice without the resolve to help myself.  I went on for days wearing a fake smile and false enthusiasm to cover my wretchedness.  I was so weary that I accomplished little.  I longed for a dark cave to crawl into, but found myself dragging the cave along as I went through the day’s tasks.

Then it happened.

I was out to do errands on a Tuesday in my usual hurry. The streets near our home were clogged with workers spreading that toxic stench known as asphalt. While waiting for the flagman to wave me on I developed an asphalt-related headache. I dragged through my stops without my usual energy, mentally lashing myself for not being more efficient. To top it off I forgot something on the way home and had to stop at one of those Waystations of Overpayment, the convenience store. Another confirmation that I couldn’t get my sh*t together. Great. At the convenience store I grabbed what I needed. Yes, it was toilet paper. Of course I’d forgot to order from the co-op, forcing me to buy the evil non-recycled version in a multi-pack appropriately giant sized to deal with our large household.

After my purchase was completed I began to walk out of the door. I was carrying my overstuffed purse plus the large bag with my purchase. As I stepped to cross the threshold an older gentleman hustled up in a hurry to do a kindness. He stopped directly in the doorway, awkwardly attempting to hold the door open for me from within the entranceway. That left his body in the way of my body which was already encumbered by aforementioned purse and large shopping bag.

Stepping past him involved a bit of reconfiguring. Instead of the normal space between strangers, this doorway maneuver placed our faces a few short inches apart from one another. I composed a grateful expression and prepared to deliver my depressed person’s falsely perky “thank you” when he said something.

It was a sentence, but I didn’t catch a word of it. Maybe it was garbled, maybe accented, maybe my hearing was addled by a crinkling 12 pack of toilet paper.

So I overcompensated.

I nodded and tried to look grateful while adding a cheery but short laugh to my intended “thank you.” (That cheery laugh was supposed to indicate comprehension.) I was also simultaneously turning sideways to accommodate him, my bag, my purse and myself in the door.

Somehow this was all too complicated in my low ebb state. I was performing too many exhale efforts without inhaling at the right moment. My words and my laugh got tangled. Saliva threatened to roll out. I made an effort to keep from drooling while smiling, still attempting to toss that “thank you” out.

While my facial and verbal contortions were getting mixed up, my body insisted on breathing. That inhale was unexpectedly violent.

Inches away from this elderly man’s kindly face I SNORTED. Not a delicate snort. It was a huge unintended nasal vibration with the typical horse-y sort of snort-related facial expression. It was so loud it seemed everything around me shuddered. If there were a Richter scale for vocalizations, this sound was at least a 6.9 in the scale of damage potential.

Shocked, I skittered away to my car without seeing his reaction to my nose-related doorway thuggery. I barely got the car door closed before I let loose with hysterical laughter. Tears burst out and sprung over my smile-stretched cheeks. I imagined snort echoes still reverberating in the small store. I pictured the cashier shaking her head in consternation. I practically heard this gentleman return home saying, “Mavis, the strangest thing happened…”

Urged by my imperiled continence I started the car and headed home.  I drove past the construction site braying with laughter.  The flagman waved me on with a curious look at my wide-mouthed glee.

Strangely, I felt great. The weight of angst had completely lifted. Everyone I told the story of my depression-curing snort felt great too, probably out of relief that they weren’t along on that fateful Tuesday.

It’s absurd.   Sure we grow in strength and character from our crises, but sometimes we have to shed our pretensions of strength and act like a character.  I’m telling you, there are untapped healing powers in a finely tuned snort.

Naked With My Editor

I’m not well-behaved or well-dressed enough for most careers. That may be what led me to cobble together enough freelance gigs to call myself a writer. It doesn’t pay quickly or pay well. In fact, I earn less than in my former occupation, social work, and that’s saying something.  But freelancing suits me.

Well, except for that episode of nudity with my editor.

Perhaps I should explain.

Years ago I secured a job writing a column for a newspaper. I worked after the kids were in bed and I e-mailed the first piece just before the midnight deadline in a sleepy haze.

The next morning was typical. I unloaded the dishwasher, explained long division, feigned patience while listening to a child’s original knock knock jokes, discussed the ethics of phone screening with my eight-year-old (who considered it a politeness violation to let it ring), and took photographs of my daughter dissecting a sheep eyeball for a biology project.

It was mid-morning before I had time to shower.  Because I’m efficient (lazy) I wear whatever comes out of the dryer.  It spares me the effort of putting away my own laundry.  I don’t mind monotonous outfits in the service of convenience.

When I got out of the shower I grabbed a towel for my usual mad dash to the dryer and on the way was handed the phone by my eight-year-old.  It was the newspaper editor. He wanted me to add a few sentences to my column.  He expected me to do this off the top of my head, over the phone, immediately.

While he was telling me this I realized my 11-year-old son had opened the front door, inviting in his pubescent pals.  They were chatting eagerly as they headed toward me on their way to the kitchen.  There was no way I could get to our dryer, handily located on the first floor, unless I ran directly into these youths and knocked them over like baggy-pants’d bowling pins.  I didn’t want to expose these poor youngsters to my not-supermodel flesh at their impressionable ages so I took the kindest course of action possible. I retreated down the basement steps, towel clutched in one hand and phone in the other.

Although I had no chance of sounding professional on the phone, I went on talking to my editor, giving him the lines he needed. He asked if he could edit them to fit.  “Sure,” I told him. He’s a writer too, I thought, it’ll be fine. He chatted away as if we were old friends—-he surely sitting in a comfortable chair at his desk, me a semi-naked freelancer huddled in the basement.

I stayed trapped in that basement long enough to meditate on the beauty of cobwebs and the interconnection of all life.  Long enough to get really cold in my small wet towel.

When my column was published, I saw that my editor had rearranged my few sentences into a nonsensical word soup.  It took a lot of self control to keep myself from going into a  sheep eyeball tossing snit. But just then my check arrived in the mail. It was larger than I’d expected. I felt like dancing right out the door to celebrate, but I couldn’t. That’s because I’m a freelance writer and of course, I wasn’t dressed yet.