Wondering Why Tom Won’t Sit Down

Community living has exposed me to a wide array of interesting individuals. The woman who told me her entire life history the first time I saw her at the mailboxes. And repeated the story the next time I saw her. The man who can talk of nothing but his rigid political views. Both the men and women who pride themselves on knowing the latest, juicy gossip. The thoughtful, the helpful, the cranky, the characters. We have them all.

There’s a small group who gather nearly every day in the Hawthorne Terrace library. We kibitz as we wait for the mail. It’s usually the same people. And since we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well, there’s plenty of laughter and teasing going around.

Lately, curiosity was expressed about another resident, Tom, who isn’t part of the library group. Dave says when he sat outside near the resident garden to read, he’d see Tom checking on his tomato plants. Dave says it took two or three hellos to get a response from Tom. And then it was just a quick nod.

My first recollection of Tom was our frequent passing in the hallway. At first, nothing which is odd in a building where everyone is greeted, often by name. Then a slight nod. Finally, one day he spoke to me about an article in a magazine I’d left on the magazine table. From there he began to be sure I was aware of an interesting article in his latest Harper’s magazine. And he offered to pass his New Yorker’s on to me.

He’d sometimes stop in the library, just hover in the doorway and make a few comments. Then off he’d go to get his mail. Recently, Tom left the safety of the doorway and actually stepped into the library. He spoke at length about his recent fall in the exercise room; he was wearing a sling and told of his rehab adventures. This was the most I’d ever heard him say.

There was an empty chair. I said to Tom: why don’t you sit down. Oh no, he said. He had to get supper ready. Even though it was only 3:00 in the afternoon. The same thing happened a week later and my invitation was repeated with the same reply. After that, I wondered if I was possibly being intrusive or disrespectful.  I’ll no longer ask Tom to sit down. I’ll just let it be.

The library group agrees, Tom is a puzzle. Is he shy or uncomfortable in social situations or what? He seems to enjoy the small talk.  But only to a degree. And as is human nature, some group members wondered if he just doesn’t like us.

I’ve decided the lesson is people can be whoever they want to be and socialize any way they wish. I’ll probably never have an answer to our query and maybe I don’t need one. I’ll just let it be. Paul McCartney would approve.

Why He Doesn’t Change

One of the team anchoring a TV newscast recently asked: why doesn’t he change? It’s like children who do something wrong, are reprimanded and then change. Why doesn’t he change? I said out loud to the TV: because he can’t.

First, a disclaimer. Neither I nor anyone else can ethically give someone a diagnosis unless the person enters treatment and gets a complete assessment. That’s why the psychiatric community has remained silent.  But I have an opinion based only on my observations of public statements and news reports.

I believe there are two undiagnosed personality disorders in play here. I’m using the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). It describes a personality disorder as: “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time, and leads to distress or impairment.”

In laymen’s language, this means the individual relies on established patterns of behavior that are imbedded into their personality; when under stress they continue to fall back onto these familiar patterns even when they don’t seem to work. They have nothing else. I believe the diagnostic criteria shows the truth.

Narcissist personality disorder involves one with a grandiose sense of self-importance; an expectation to be recognized as superior; is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success  and brilliance; believes they are “special” and should associate only with other special people; requires excessive admiration; has a sense of entitlement; is inter-personally exploitive; lacks empathy; is envious of others;  shows arrogant and haughty behaviors and attitude.

Antisocial personality disorder involves failure to conform to social norms with respect to unlawful behaviors; repeated lying, use of aliases or conning; impulsivity or failure to plan ahead; irritability and aggressiveness; reckless disregard for safety of self and others; consistent irresponsibility in work behavior or in honoring financial obligations; lack of remorse by being indifferent or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated or stolen from someone.

Not all of these traits need apply. For narcissistic disorder it is five out of the nine and for antisocial disorder it is three out of the seven. People with personality disorders can be treated. But it takes their commitment to change and entering and remaining in treatment with the same therapist for an extended period of time.

On one level, a person with a personality disorder is to be pitied. They are trapped in a maelstrom of repetitive, inflexible behavior that often leads to the loss of friends, support and acceptance. Their lives are filled with failed relationships and dubious business ventures. Humans are creatures of habit we all agree and when someone is afflicted in this way, those habits work against them in self-destructive and sometimes tragic ways.

Here’s that disclaimer again. There is no assurance that what motivates him are these personality disorders. But for me, I’m exercising my first amendment right to express an opinion; this is a reasonable explanation for the queries and concerns that have been asked for the last three years. Why doesn’t he change? Because he can’t. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

Pictures on the Wall

Pictures on the wall make it comfy.
But change approaches
with a sense of uncertainty.

Once the pictures are off the wall
packing becomes easier.
Coziness departs.

A barrage of boxes in
a strange new place.
Unpack a little each day.

Last thing,
put the pictures on the wall.
Warmth returns

A New Decade

It’s January 1, 2020. I just finished reading People Magazine’s Special Double Issue, documenting the previous year. What was best was that it made absolutely no mention of the occupant of the white house. How refreshing. What it did have was a look at the lives of celebrities, marriages, divorces, babies, and of course, the year’s losses. This made me nostalgic.

It’s common around now for people to ask: what are your resolutions for the coming year? Here’s a shock. I have none. Life is quite full and interesting. I’m going for more of the same. Lunch, yoga, lunch, reading, writing, lunch, movies, lunch, writing. Why mess with success.

In 2020, I will begin my 7th year adding to my blog. I recall in 2014 when I contemplated setting it up. My goal had been to have a place to share the many decades of my writing that languished in my computer. I’d also found it time intensive, the submitting and waiting for replies and often rejections from overly busy editors. I just wanted to write and share. The blog fit the bill.

I broke a record in 2019, posting 52 pieces of writing. Actually, I have posted a total of 248 pieces since the blog started; and I have had 4,687 views of my work.  I’m declaring this amateur experiment a success. One I plan to continue.

I have to credit my writing group with some of my success. Every Tuesday I have a captured audience who listen as a read my current piece and give me helpful advice. And support.  Meeting weekly is a built-in deadline which is probably why I was so productive last year. But I don’t have to feel pressure. Some members don’t read each week.  And accepting critique is always up to the writer. It is their work after all.

So, I’m looking to the new decade with few expectations of drastic change. Just more of the same. I’m following the Buddha’s great advice: IT IS BETTER TO TRAVEL WELL THAN TO ARRIVE.

 

 

 

Orphan Christmas

December, 2019. Traditions have changed over time as families have become more distant both in miles and emotions. For the last three years I’ve spent Christmas Day at my friend Betty’s, celebrating Orphan Christmas. Since long distance and freeway driving are a thing of the past, I’m fortunate to have this option.

Our Orphan Christmas group has grown to seven. Several of us, Betty, Kathy and me, are childless. Jim and Bonnie have lots of kids and grandkids. Their family has their annual get together sometime in January, which leaves them free on Christmas Day. Margaret and Richard leave the day after Christmas to visit their son and family down south. So here we are, the magnificent seven.

The day is very simple. We meet up around 1:00pm and after chatting and catching up we have dinner. Sitting down at the table turned into a gargantuan affair as Betty wanted a certain chair due to her height. After playing a few rounds of what felt like musical chairs we were finally seated.

Betty gave a short tour of her Christmas decorations. She highlighted her baseball shelf. Also featured for the first time was her this-is-my-life tree. With pride she pointed out the barn ornament (she is a farm girl from Peshtigo), a chicken ornament, denoting her many blue ribbons for showing at the county fair, various baseball and many Door County ornaments including pink flamingos.

Kathy had brought a mystery gift. Her basket had a candy bar for each of us and a tool in a clear plastic covering; we each got one. Our task was to guess what this tool was used for. After many silly guesses and some shady comments, Kathy revealed it could be attached to the head rest of the front seat of a car. Then a purse could hang from it. Kathy admitted she’d seen it on an internet home shopping site. Some thought it was quite ingenious

So, on to dinner. Betty’s gourmet sloppy joes served as the pias de resistance. This special recipe came from Pattie, another friend, and it was so delicious. No comparison to Manwich, we all agreed. And the enhancement of brioche buns only added to the presentation.

Betty had also made jello with shredded carrots and it was universally decided there were too many carrots. It was more like shredded carrots with jello instead of the other way around. We swapped childhood memories of holiday meals that featured this treat. Kathy recalled green jello with carrots, apples and celery. This was followed by a group ugh. The menu was filled out with chips and dip and two kinds of pickles.

Wanting to give our tummies a rest, we decided to put off dessert and begin what Bonnie had mysteriously hinted at: a new activity. Last year we’d attempted to build gingerbread houses out of graham crackers. Lots of work and then they all fell down.

Betty’s legacy is a new trivia or memory game, shades of our Door County days. So, what is this new secret activity Bonnie is hinting about? Bonnie had purchased a box that, according to the picture on the front, showed four kinds of figures could be built.  The body was stuffed and pieces of felt-like material made up the eyes, feet, the hat and scarf.

Though the package said it was for children 3-6 we struggled to build our reindeer, snowman, elf or Santa. We each took a small plastic bag that contained all the needed materials. Since there were no directions someone passed out glue and we began construction. It was deja vu of our gingerbread house debacle. We joked that this is what it would be like to audition for the TV show, Making It.

It took until the very end to figure out that the long thin white piece of paper could be peeled and used as a two-sided sicky adhesive. This could have been so easy! Everyone had sort of finished their piece and they were lined up on the table for pictures. Jim’s figure was distinctive.  He’s used some left-over felt to attach an appendage that clearly designated gender specificity.

After all that hard work, we were ready for dessert. Margaret, who loves to make desserts, did not disappoint with her Oreo cream-filled extravaganza. That was perfect with a glass of Bonnie’s home-made Bailey’s Irish Cream.

A few went out Christmas caroling. Only a half block or so. But they had good intentions. The day ended as it had begun with more talk, laughter and fun. I feel so fortunate to be part of this group and have this very special way to celebrate the holiday. Can’t wait until next year!

 

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Poetry Breakfast Gypsies

Poetry breakfast.
That sounds so simple.
Our search for that perfect place,
to have a nice breakfast
then read and critique our newest poems.

All we need is a semi-quiet,
semi-private setting.
George Webb worked until it didn’t.
Too much noise,
too many kids.

Then a coffee shop in Elm Grove
where we had to beg for a fork
and were scolded for
not ordering enough muffins.
It’s deservedly now closed.

Next, we tried a coffee shop
whose name is lost through time;
that’s now morphed into a specialty cake shop.
Too small and too long a wait,
overwhelmed by our group six or eight.

Then the Crown Plaza Hotel.
A nice round table,
they had a buffet.
More than we wanted to eat.
So expensive.

Finally, Baker’s Square.
Pat’s figured how to get around
their no reservation policy.
Always say seven though it might be less.
We have a little nook in the back room.

But we often muse of other places.
Wherever we go, we look around.
What about this place or that?
Perhaps we’ll always be searching.
Our bohemian spirit reigns.

 

Fifty Days of Gray

Mass of cumulus clouds
Blocks the brightness of the sun
Dreary thoughts
Nothing’s fun

It’s that time of year
We all say
That doesn’t help
Even if we pray

Frigid weather brings out the sun
It’s the price we have to pay
If we didn’t have those clouds around
We’d never appreciate that sunny day

 

 

All the World’s a Tavern

Just look around. It’s everywhere. I began noticing this phenomenon and now I can’t help but see another example wherever I go and wherever I look.

The first one I noticed was at my Metro Market grocery store; when they finished their major remodeling, suddenly there was a bar next to the Starbucks. I usually shop in the late morning and there are always customers sitting at the bar.

I even saw someone with a beer tucked into the cup holder on his shopping cart. Yes, shopping carts have cup holders.  And yes, some people can’t handle a trip to the grocery store without a beer.

Then, when going to lunch at Whole Foods at Mayfair Collection, there was a bar. Again, there were customers sitting at the bar in broad daylight. From there it’s been an avalanche.

My hairdresser informed me that some hair dressers in her salon provide drinks to their customers.  I’ve heard of a nail salon that does the same. My niece tells me a bike shop near her home has installed a small bar and sells beer. Nordstrom’s has a martini bar. I guess husbands need to do something while waiting for the wife to finish shopping.

Somewhere in America, there is a 93-year-old retiree who was bored. So, he opened a cupcake shop. It’s called Boozy Cupcakes featuring such delicacies as Pina Colata cupcakes. Business is so good he’s often sold out; he’s decided to buy the empty store next door and will soon be putting out ice cream. Alcohol infused of course

I heard Marcus was opening a multi-plex theater at Brookfield Square. And sure enough, there it was. But the sign, in very large letters said: MARCUS TAVERN.  And that’s what it really is. They feature a full-service bar, a well-rounded menu and, oh yes, I almost forgot, movies.

And that’s only the beginning. The country seems to be marijuana crazy. There’s even a move to allow football players to use cannabis. It will improve their performance some experts say.  Then there’s the latest Thanksgiving treat: cannabis infused gravy.

It’s only a hop, skip and a jump from alcohol to marijuana to CBD, essential oils and vaping. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not being a judgmental fuddy-duddy. I enjoy a cocktail as much as anyone. Most evenings I indulge in a wonderful brandy Manhattan as I watch the evening news.

But let’s get real here. In what other ways will we figure out how to inhale, infuse, ingest or rub on us, something to make us feel good. And that’s the crux of it all. The quick fix. Kind of sad.

A Domestic Political Errand

November, 2019: She said it in a calm and measured voice. Fiona Hull outlined the whole thing in just a few words. National security has been subverted to perform a domestic political errand for the president. Yet, half the room refused to take seriously what she was saying.

I’ve watched every hearing of the last two weeks. This is history and I want to witness it. As I watch, I wonder if I’m missing something. What do the critics see that I don’t; what makes them so steadfast in defending this person instead of what’s in the best interest of the country.

Their feeble defense is mostly based on already proven falsehoods and innuendo. Several times I’d say out loud to the TV, that’s not true, that’s already been investigated, that’s only part of the story.

What is being demonstrated by the detractors is the length they are willing to go to serve their own needs. Suddenly its okay to put their own interests before the oath they swore to.

I have a niece who is married to a State Department diplomat. Andrew has served in various places around the world. His first assignment was Yemen when it was at its most dangerous.

Since his return and marriage to my niece, they have been posted to Switzerland and then Australia. Andrew is presently in DC learning Mandarin to prepare for their next assignment to China.

Personally, I am so proud of him and these diplomats and public servants who have stepped forward to testify. Some are doing so at the cost of their professional life and career.

These courageous public servants are giving the public a tutorial in foreign policy and how our democracy is supposed to work. I hope everyone is listening and learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insecurities

I have many insecurities. Wondering daily if I’ve done enough. Been a good enough friend, a good enough person. A good enough writer or citizen. Then, in a short period of time I became aware that I’m not alone. Some very accomplished people share my concern.

In her best-selling book Becoming, Michelle Obama, an accomplished attorney and former First Lady, tells the story of her life. Here’s a woman who can fill large auditoriums who is wondering if she’s good enough. Has she done enough, she wonders throughout and right up to the end of her book.

On a late-night talk show, Paul McCartney, wonders if his newest album, the first in many years, will be received positively. Here’s a musician with a massive body of work, a string of unparalleled successes, wondering if he’s good enough. Will people like it, he wonders.

In a documentary done by her son, Anderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt, an accomplished designer and artist recounts her life. The sadness of being known world-wide as the “poor little rich girl” does little to diminish her accomplishments. Still, she wonders if she’s good enough.

In her memoir, The Moment of Lift, Melinda Gates shares her story of the establishment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Due to her hard work and determination, Warren Buffet has made their foundation the recipient of most of his fortune. Still, she wonders if she is doing enough good.

What each of these very accomplished people share is humility. Humility is defined as the freedom from pride or arrogance and a modest view of one’s own importance. Each of these accomplished super-stars is not averse to admitting their inferior feelings. I’m in good company, I see.

We live in a world today where being strong is paramount. Our leaders seem obsessed with doing things their way and admitting no mistakes. When being strong is carried too far it can be interpreted as being thoughtless or mean. Humility which leads to civility is seen as a flaw and that’s unfortunate.

Trends in all societies shift and the pendulum swings from one extreme to another. I’ll be ready when it swings the other way and humility is no longer a sign of weakness but of strength.

 

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