Woohoo! My edition of Green Mountain Stories–28 short stories by acclaimed writer Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, published originally in 1887 under the title A Humble Romance and Other Stories–was released officially on May 23 by Onion River Press located in Burlington, VT.
I was in Burlington last Thursday evening, May 25, for the inaugural book launch, hosted by Phoenix Books.
This week, I’m in Brattleboro, VT, where Freeman started her career as a writer. I am honored beyond measure to be here. Brattleboro has held a special place in my heart since I started my Freeman research in 1973, and my love grows deeper and deeper with every return visit. This time, I feel as if I am bringing Freeman back home to the Green Mountain State.
Freeman spoke about her love for Brattleboro, over and over again, right up to the very end of her life. Just a few months before her death on March 13, 1930, she wrote to a close friend from her Brattleboro years:
“Oh how wonderfully beautiful it was in Brattleboro. I used to walk to the head of High Street, and stand and look at the mountain in winter. The beauty in Brattleboro made a great difference in my life.
“And summer nights, when the moon rose over the mountain and the whipperwills sang on the river bank, and the river sang! Joy of youth outside that beauty–so I made the most of it, and I think it became a part of myself that remains young and defiestime.” (Letter 509 to Allie Morse, The Infant Sphinx: Collected Letters of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Edited with Biographical/Critical Introductions and Annotations by Brent L. Kendrick. Scarecrow Press, 1985, pp. 431-32.)
The publication of Green Mountain Stories is a watershed moment in Freeman studies. From this point forward, Freeman will be anchored forever to her literary home, Vermont: the Green Mountain State. From this point forward, Freeman scholars will be compelled to give Freeman’s formative Brattleboro years in-depth exploration.
You can read all about Brattleboro’s celebration of Vermont’s most famous writer by clicking on any part of the image below.
Thanks for reading and for helping me bring Mary E. Wilkins Freeman back home to her Green Mountain State!
Last night for dinner, I had a hankering for something. I didn’t know quite what. I wanted something light but rich. Is that a contradiction or what? I guess it depends on how you look at it. To me, the two extremes seemed not only desirable but also possible.
Beyond that, all that I knew about my hankering was that I wanted it to be maybe just a little lemony and maybe just a little grassy and with maybe just a hint of anise or licorice. In that instant of maybe’s, I knew that my hankering needed to honor dill. Fresh dill. Fragrant dill.
Simply put, my stomach was growling me to pursue an entrée that was light, rich, lemony and dilly.
I cannot help but pause here and ask:
“Within those parameters, what entrée would you have plated for yourself?”
And, of course, you have every right to pause here and ask the same of me:
“Within those parameters, what entrée did you plate for yourself?”
And, as you know fully well, I will answer your question fully.
I’m always telling friends about my dinners, often sending them photos, whereupon they invariably message me that I need to feature my food on Instagram, whereupon I always ask:
“Does that mean that I have achieved the culinary level of Food Porn?”
I’m still waiting for answers.
But I won’t keep you waiting. I will tell you what I made.
As I drove to the grocery store to get some fresh ingredients–the essence of everything that I plate up–I started thinking about pasta in vodka sauce, but a red sauce seemed too heavy. How about pasta in a white vodka sauce? Perfect. Butter and cream equal richness. I could add marinated artichoke hearts for a subtle tang. The focal point could be ruffle-edged ravioli, domed with ground chicken. Stir in some freshly squeezed lemon juice. Top with an abundance of fresh dill. My. Perfect. Plate. And it was my perfect plate for that night’s dinner. Light. Rich. Lemony. Dilly.
As I sat at my table, feeling ever so satisfied with the luscious entrée that I created without benefit of recipe, I floated suddenly out of my mountain-top dining room. I floated out of the Shenandoah Valley where I live. I floated out of 2023.
I landed in 1957. I landed in my West Virginia boyhood hometown. I landed in the yard where I had played so often with Stevie, a childhood friend.
I went right past the galvanized tubs, always there in his yard, always with one or more catfish swimming around in fresh clean water to soften the muddiness inherent in their taste.
I went right past the foldable, aluminum-frame, green-and-white webbed lawn chairs, circling a ribbed, split-oak basket filled with corn, hands of all ages rhythmically shucking, tossing the shucks and silks into brown paper sacks getting fuller and fuller.
I went right past the two side-by-side mulberry trees–umbrellas above us–as we sat beneath, competing with the darting black-capped, gray catbirds for the ripest, thumb-sized mulberries certain to stain our clothes as much as they purpled our teeth and tongues.
I went right past the stone granary–stifling hot inside from the sun outside, blazing down on the uninsulated tin roof. On the lower floor, corn drying in chicken-wire bins; on the upper, walnuts blackening on thick, chestnut floors.
I went right past Stevie’s aproned mother, flinging rainbows of dishwater into the kitchen-stoop air.
I went right past all of those things.
Instead, I floated to a warm, misty summer rain falling on a large patch of dill, large beyond the need to measure, but at least 30 feet by 30 feet–large enough for two young boys to lose themselves.
Stevie and I would strip down to our skivvies and run with wild, barefoot abandon through the patch of dill, as mindless of our innocence as we were mindful of the heady fragrance scenting the air and our bodies as we rubbed against the dill on those summer days when misty rain fell.
And so, it was. My impromptu dinner–built around little more than a hankering that begged for fulfillment–took me back to that self-same patch of dill. It took me back with such vibrant and vivid certainty that if I had a patch of dill right here on my mountain and if the warm summer rain fell upon it now as it fell upon it then, I vow that I would–in this, my 75th summer–strip down to my skivvies and run barefoot through the enchanted patch, confident that my rubbings against the dill would burst wide open those magical days of childhood innocence, as fragrant as ever again.
When I started my research on acclaimed American short story writer Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, in the mid-1970s, I made many research trips to the towns where she lived. Randolph, Massachusetts, where she was born in 1852. Brattleboro, Vermont, where she moved with her family in 1867, where she launched her distinguished literary career, and where she remained until the death of her mother (1880) and her father (1883). A year or so later, she returned to Randolph. Metuchen, New Jersey, where she moved after her marriage to Charles Manning Freeman in 1902 and where she remained until her death in 1930.
Without fail, during those research trips, I would stop people on the street:
“Hi, I’m doing research on Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and …”
Since those early days of my research, several major contributions to Freeman studies have been published, including my The Infant Sphinx: Collected Letters of Mary of Wilkins Freeman (Scarecrow, 1985), praised by The Journal of Modern Literature as “the most complete record to date of Freeman’s life as writer and woman.” More recent is the noteworthy collection of scholarly essays New Perspectives on Mary E. Wilkins Freeman: Reading with and against the Grain. Eds. Stephanie Palmer, Myrto Drizou, and Cécile Roudeau (Edinburgh University Press, 2023).
Since those early days of my research, Freeman has regained her status as a significant nineteenth century writer, especially among lovers of the American short story tradition. More and more people understand why she was the first recipient of the William Dean Howells Gold Medal for Distinguished Work in Fiction:
Also, more and more people understand why the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters dedicated its bronze doors to “The Memory of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and the Women Writers of America”:
Even so, Freeman is still not the household name that she was at the turn of the 20th century when she and Mark Twain were America’s most beloved writers.
But that’s about to change, especially in Vermont.
On May 23, a book will be released that will anchor her to Vermont, now and forever.
I’m the author, and I’ll be headed to Burlington, Vermont, for the official May 25 book launch, hosted by Onion River Press and Phoenix Books.
The book is a short story collection by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. It was originally published under the title A Humble Romance and Other Stories (1887). But it was supposed to be published as Green Mountain Stories. Now, 136 years later, the collection is being published under its intended title, Green Mountain Stories, with an extensive critical commentary providing the intriguing backstory. This publication anchors Freeman solidly, unequivocally, and forever to Vermont—The Green Mountain State—where she launched her acclaimed literary career. Vermont can now claim Freeman as its own, just as exclusively as Freeman claimed Vermont as her own, from the start of her career until the end. The publication marks the beginning of Freeman’s long journey back home to Vermont.
I hope that you can join me at the book launch–especially if you are a Vermonter–so that you can hear all about it in person!
You can preorder your copy of the book now, using the link below:
That’s how many readers I’ve had since my blog went weekly on December 28, 2021. That’s how many countries my readers represent. That’s how long I spent writing the blog posts. That’s the bed where I wrote them. And I’m the writer. No foolin’.
NOW, 57 of those essays, reflecting the best of the best, have been published in a book that is exquisite from cover to cover and every page of the 346 pages in between. It’s available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or you can order it from your favorite local bookstore! (Note: if you are ordering a hardcover–my recommendation–from Amazon, ignore the “Temporarily out of Stock” statement. The hardcover version is “print on demand” but well worth the several days’ delay.)
TAKE A LOOK AT THE BRILLIANT COVER!
Surely you recognize ME! I’m smackdab in the middle of my bed writing a blog post about foolin’ around with some well-known writers. Mark Twain and Truman Capote are on the floor at the foot of the bed, blowing smoke rings at one another. Imagine! They’ve got some nerve! Acclaimed artist/illustrator Mike Caplanis gets credit for the caricature based on one of the book’s essays, “Foolin’ Around in Bed with Famous (and Not-So-Famous) Writers” (249-53).
WHAT’S THE BOOK ALL ABOUT? See for yourself.
“Fresh and refreshing through and through.” I love it! Other ADVANCE PRAISES grace the dust jacket of the hardcover book.
“A MUST READ” impresses me so much that I just repeated it and made it all caps and all bold! Dayumn! I like it so much that I want to shout it again: “A MUST READ.” (Thank you, Cheryl Thompson-Stacy!)
IN BED: MY YEAR OF FOOLIN’ AROUND is available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle. I recommend the hardcover. It costs a little more, but it feels so much better than the paperback. What can I say other than there’s something extraordinarily extraordinary about a book that has its own dust jacket!
The publication of this book is an historic and timely solution for every gift-giving occasion that might be coming your way for the rest of the year, if not for the rest of your life. And let me add: may your life be long, healthy, and prosperous and may you keep right on buying copy after copy of IN BED.It’s the perfect gift. Right here. Right now. You do not need to look any further. And while you’re buying multiple copies for gift-giving, remember that IN BED is also the perfect gift for all of your friends … and enemies.
Thank you, DEAR READERS, for all of your support. I have no idea how you found your way into my life, but knowing that you are out there reading my posts strengthens me and uplifts me whenever I need to be strengthened and uplifted.
Time’s a wastin’. ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Or you can or order it from your favorite local bookstore!
The rain was steady and heavy all night. I say “all night,” but I’m not really certain when it started. It’s not as if it awakened me, and I looked at the clock and whispered to my sleeping self, “Ah, it’s raining.” But I could hear it, even as it lulled me into a deeper and more restful slumber.
When I awakened, the raindrops were pearling their way down the window panes. As I lay in bed–looking and listening–I knew that Plan B would govern my day.
Plan A had been to continue my yard work. This year, my focus is more on “taking out” than on “putting in.” I have lots and lots of shrubs–especially rhododendrons–that have outgrown the spaces where I planted them. For some, a heavy pruning will restore their vitality and their appearance. For others, pruning will neither restore their vitality nor their beauty. They have to be removed. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Pruning. Removing. Hauling truckload after truckload to the landfill. That was my Plan A.
But I had checked the weather forecast before going to bed and knew the strong likelihood of rain.
That was when I came up with Plan B. I could spend the day doing some extra indoor biking. Then, I could start rearranging the artwork in my office–a task that I have needed to tackle for months, but one that I have managed to avoid doing with full success. And betwixt and between, I could make Ukrainian Sauerkraut Soup–perfect for a chilly, rainy-day dinner–and I could bake Jumbo Sourdough Banana Nut Muffins–a perfect way to use up this week’s sourdough discard.
It was settled. Plan B, it would be.
But before I started to execute that plan, I perused my smartphone news. As I did, I was ever aware of the rain, still falling hypnotically. For a second, I considered stopping the pendulum on my grandfather clock so that the only sound would be the rhythm of the falling rain. Then, in the next second, I looked out the window onto my deck. I could see the raindrops dropping one by one off the scalloped edges of my Asian patio umbrella–all wet with green bamboo, red sun, pink blossoms, and blue happiness. And for another second, I considered trying to count the drops as they fell, starting at the 6:30 position on the umbrella, proceeding clockwise, counting every sliding raindrop, working my way back home, and then beginning anew.
Somehow, I was brought back to the reality of my grandfather clock still ticking. I had not stopped the clock as I had considered doing. I was brought back to the reality of the raindrops still falling off the scalloped edges of my Asian patio umbrella. I had not counted the raindrops as I had considered doing.
I was brought back to the haunting reality that my day was wasting away.
I still needed to meditate so that I could get started with my Plan B. Meditation does not come easy for me, even after years of daily practice. I’m finding, though, that I can sit with myself for longer and longer periods of time without my mind being pulled in the direction of all the other things that I could be doing.
But on this day, when the “all” of the day seemed to be wrapped up in the “all” of the rain, I decided to sit for a shorter-than-usual spell. Ten minutes. No more. I had things to do on my Plan B.
I was drawn to an 11-minute mindfulness session. Surely, I could spare an extra minute, especially since the title tugged at me: “Human Being, Not Human Doing.”
“If you’re like most people, you probably feel like you have to be constantly doing something.”
I was stunned. How on earth did acclaimed meditation coach Lynne Goldberg know so perfectly how I was feeling? How I feel so often?
In her meditation session, she explores the roots of our obsession with doing, tracing the origins all the way back to our childhoods when others praised us for doing things that we were good at doing. Art. Dance. Music. Sports. Wordplay. She continues her exploration–even into relationships–noting that the praise we receive for the things that we do begins to validate us and our self-worth.
And then she drives home her point. Validation through doing is external, controlled by others. It leaves us with the feeling that we have to continue to do–to perform–in order to get those accolades. To feel loved. To maintain that sense of self-worth. Interestingly enough, we’re not even aware that it’s happening.
“At your essence, you are a human being, not a human doing. You are loved and worthy and enough exactly as you are. The only approval that you need is that of your own.”
“Well, of course,” I say to myself. The notion of loving yourself–of approving yourself–goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks even if it did not enter mainstream psyche and pop culture until the Beat Generation of the 1950s and the Hippies of the 1960s.
More, I’m not quite certain that I agree with Goldberg’s tack of tracing our emphasis on doing to the praise that we received from doing things well as long ago as our infancy. It seems to me that we need to consider other possibilities. The joy and love of work. The joy and love of doing. The joy and love of creating. The internal, self-validation that doing things well brings us even when others are totally unaware that we’re doing them.
But I’m not going to quibble over any of those possible disagreements right now.
For now, I’m just glad that I stumbled upon Goldberg’s meditation.
For now, I think that I will revisit King’s recommended reading lists and start to read–or reread–one of the books that I find there.
For now, I think that I will count the raindrops as they fall off the scalloped edges of my Asian patio umbrella.
For now, I think that I will stop the pendulum on my grandfather clock.
For now, I think that I will continue lounging in my azure blue linen bathrobe as noon approaches and as rain continues.
For now, I think that scrambled eggs on toast might be perfect for dinner.
For now, I think that I’m really enjoying doing nothing more than just being.
Well, I don’t know about you, but this past week has been quite a week for me. I daresay that it would have been for you, too, if you had disclosed as much about yourself–for the whole world to see–as I did last week in my “M & M’s: Mishaps and Memories.”
I mean, it wasn’t too bad that I fessed up to not remembering the mishap that prompted the post in the first place, and it wasn’t too bad that I shared two foot-in-mouth mishaps. But what on earth possessed me–at the end of the post–to mention my IQ test.
Without a doubt, I did not need to bring up my IQ. Even now, after considerable reflection, I don’t know why I did. It’s not as if I don’t have an IQ. I do. But–brace yourself–I had to take my IQ test twice to find out my score.
Right now, the foot in my mouth is getting harder and harder to swallow, so I had just as well tell you all about my IQ test mishap so that I can gulp–and you can gasp–and we can all be done with it.
I was in the third grade. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the test directions. I don’t remember. I just thought that it was one more fun thing to do on one more fun-filled school day. And everything was going along just fine until I got to the third test question. It was a math question, and it must have been a real challenge. I kept working away on it, and just when I figured out the answer, the exam time was up.
I flunked my IQ test.
“What do you mean? Of course, Brentford Lee has an IQ.”
“But it can’t be determined because he only answered three questions. He didn’t finish the test.”
“Well, give it to him again and make sure he knows that he has to answer all the questions.”
The whole mishap was more embarrassing for my parents than it was for me. It didn’t bother me too much because, in my mind, I blamed them. After all, they were the ones who had taught me:
If a job is once begun
Never leave until it’s done.
Be it’s labor great or small,
Do it well or not at all.
Naturally, when I was challenged by that math question, it became my job. I kept working on it all the way to the end of the exam time. In my mind, that question became my great labor. I was fiercely determined to figure it out. Until I did–and I did, eventually–I couldn’t begin to think about all those other questions. In my mind, they didn’t even exist.
Well, like I said, I had to take the test again to establish for someone’s benefit that I had an IQ. I guess I showed them a thing or two because I didn’t have to take it a third time.
But don’t ask me to tell you my IQ score. I can no more remember it than I can remember my Myers-Briggs personality type. I always have to have Jenni remind me. (Dear Readers, you do remember Jenni, right? She’s my dear colleague, who set me up for this mishaps-and-memories nonsense in the first place.) Anyway, I’m 75% certain that I’m an ENFJ. It’s the 25% J part that always causes me to ask Jenny. Unlike me, she remembers everything.
Here. I’ll prove it. I just sent her a text message:
What is my Myers Briggs type?
If I recall correctly, aren’t you ENFP?
I know the E and P for sure. The other two I think are right…
See. I told you. Jenni remembered. I am ENFP, and I’m sticking with it for now.
Wow! I’m glad that I told you all about my IQ mishap.
Now I can move on.
I mentioned last week that the mishap that sparked last week’s post might have had something to do with cooking or baking.
Now, however, I don’t think that it had anything to do with baking. I have shared my one memorable baking mishap already in my “Baking Up My Past.” Remember? In my first childhood baking adventure, I measured the baking powder incorrectly. Neither I nor my mother knew until batter oozed out the door of our South Bend, woodburning-cookstove, onto the kitchen floor.
Obviously, I have had other baking mishaps down through the years. But I have my reputation to protect–in my own mind, at least, even if nowhere else–so I’ll keep those to myself.
As for cooking mishaps, I do have one that always makes me laugh. It proves, once again, how naive and innocent and unschooled I am in the ways of the world.
I’m not certain, however, that it can be considered cooking. Is popping popcorn cooking? And it involves a microwave. I’m fairly certain that preparing anything in a microwave can not be considered cooking.
Nonetheless, here’s the laughable mishap that might have been related to cooking, depending on your culinary views.
For years, I would have nothing to do with microwaves. But the time came when my oldest sister Audrey talked me into letting her gift me with a microwave. As near as I can remember, it would have been around 1994 when my now full-time home in the Shenandoah Valley was then just a weekend getaway. She thought that I could use the microwave, if for nothing else, for popping popcorn. I mean, who doesn’t like popcorn? So I accepted her gift, not realizing how big the microwave was nor how much it weighed. It was, after all, 1994, and by then microwaves had advanced a lot, and they were much smaller than the commercial refrigerator-sized RadarRanges that Raytheon brought out in the 1940s. I assumed that my gift would be modern and small, too.
Small? Not. It was huge. It took up nearly all of the island counter space in what was then my super-small, weekend kitchen.
But, hey. I’m always up for a popping good time. So I bought a box of Jolly Time popcorn packets.
I put a pack in my clunker microwave and stood there in full anticipation.
Nothing. No popping sounds. No popcorn aromas.
I tried again. Nothing. As my IQ test mishap demonstrates, I don’t give up. I went through the entire damn box and my entire damn evening. Nothing.
The next day, I took the box and all of the unpopped packets back to the store.
“I want to get my Jolly Time money back. This popcorn must be old. None of it would pop.”
I walked away with a refund.
A few weeks later, my sister called to see how I was enjoying the microwave.
I told her about my disappointing popcorn experience.
“What cooking mode did you have it on?”
“Say whaat? Cooking mode?”
She explained the controls and the various options.
“Run into the kitchen and check. I’ll stay on the line.”
I was back in a sec.
“It’s on … Defrost.”
Dang. Defrost. Needless to say, I felt like an idiot. For some reason, I never did like that microwave after that memorable mishap.
At last, I remember the mishap that started all of these confessions. It was decidedly a technological mishap, even more embarrassing than the microwave one.
This mishap happened in the late 1980s or early 1990s when Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone introduced Caller ID to its subscribers in Washington, DC. I had just launched my own side gig–Potomac Research Organization (PRO)–and I felt a compelling need to monitor my incoming calls.
Instanter I went downtown and bought myself new phones so that I would know who was calling me.
As soon as I installed them, I called my sister in Richmond:
“Hey. I just bought these new Caller ID phones. Call me so I can see who’s calling.”
She did. Her name and number did not show up on my phone.
I did the same thing with my oldest sister in West Virginia.
She called me. Again, her name and number did not show up on my phone.
I unplugged my phones, boxed them up, and on Monday, I marched in the store, asking that my defective phones be replaced.
What do you mean by defective?
I explained in detail my two “test” experiments with my two sisters.
The salesperson looked at me with a smirky smile that still makes me cringe:
“Have you enrolled in Caller ID with Chesapeake and Potomac?”
“Say whaaaaat? Do you mean to tell me that I have to buy new phones AND enroll in Caller ID? Well, I have never.”
I got my money back, and I was perfectly happy living my life exactly as I had been living it: answering my phone without knowing who was calling. Or not answering it at all.
Yes, indeed! Caller ID was the mishap that sparked the idea for last week’s post and for this one, too.
I wish that I could say that I have learned a lot from my mishaps. I haven’t. And I wish that I could say that I won’t have any more mishaps. But I will. And I will keep right on laughing through all the memories.
Memory of an elephant. Yep. That’s exactly what I’ve got, and you–My Dear Readers–can vouch for me. As you know, I can drone on and on about many things, especially about my elephant memory. I did so just week before last in “Dating after Twenty-Three.” Remember? Of course, you do.
But here’s the thing. For this week’s post, I’m in a bit of a pickle. I’m having a memory lapse.
Don’t worry. I’m sure that it’s minor, and I’m sure that it’s momentary. But for the life of me, I can’t remember what the hell this post is supposed to be about. I don’t mean in the broadest sense of its content. Of course, I know that fully well: mishaps and memories.
The idea sparked as miraculously as spontaneous combustion one day last fall when a dear colleague and I were exchanging lighthearted banter, and I ended up fessing up to one of the many mishaps that I’ve suffered down through the years that ended up as memories.
As soon as I shared it with her, she quipped:
“That would be an excellent angle for one of your blog posts.”
I agreed. Almost immediately, I started a draft and made it as far as the preliminary title: “Mishaps and Memories.” In an instant, the two M’s seemed sweet enough to melt in my mouth, so the working title became the final title of today’s delectable treat: “M & M’s: Mishaps & Memories.”
Immediately, I loved the quadruple alliteration as well as the double ampersand. I still love them. Plus, in high school, I learned that every good title has a main title and a subtitle, separated with a colon. Can you believe that I remembered that little rule after all these years and used it here with a full measure of success?
But I sure wish that I could remember the memorable mishap that sparked this idea the day that my colleague and I were having such frivolous merriment on paid college time. (Oops! Did I just say that? Well, so be it. It’s not a problem for me anyway because I’m no longer on the college’s payroll. I’m reinventing myself at my own expense. It’s no problem for my colleague either because I have not disclosed her identity.)
Let’s see. What can I do to jog my memory? I know. I’ll use my alphabet technique for remembering things. Starting with the letter A, I’ll slowly work my way through the alphabet, lingering on each letter for a bit. When I get to the letter of whatever it is that I’m trying to remember, the entire word will flash apocalyptically across my mind.
Well, I’ve been from A to Z and back. Not once. Not twice. But three times. No apocalypse.
Well, duh. Why don’t I just text Jenny? I’m sure that she would remember our conversation. On the other hand, doing that would give me a ready answer and spoil all my fun and yours, too.
If I keep at it, I’m sure that I’ll remember. Aside from my foolproof alphabet technique, I have another technique for remembering things. But right now, I can’t remember it either.
So where was I? Oh, yes. I remember. I was trying to remember my memorable mishaps.
Well, let me just start sharing some, and as I share, maybe–just maybe–I’ll remember the one that Jenny thought was so riveting.
The mishap that I am about to share was the result of my naivete and innocence coupled with my polite and courteous outspokenness, for which I am so well known.
When I started my Federal career, I was part of a large editorial team. One of my co-workers was Ed-–h B-l-–r. After a year or so, I transferred to another editorial position in the same Federal agency, but in a different building.
On my first day in my new position, I was introduced to one of my fellow editors, H-l-n B-l—r.
Since their last names were the same, I assumed that they were related, and I was so delighted with myself that I had a perfect way to get into a perfect conversation with her.
“It’s an honor to meet you. Are you related to Ed–h B-l—r?”
“Do you mean the bitch who stole my husband?”
What an embarrassing mishap. Now, though, it’s a funny memory.
Okay. Let’s try another mishap confirming that I am naive, innocent, and downright dumb when it comes to being politely and courteously outspoken.
Fast-forward, if you will, a good number of years. Same Federal agency. Different position. Different building.
In that position, I had to review everything that the staff ghostwrote for my boss, the director.
One memo caused me to have some major concerns, and I called them to B-n’s attention.
“Go down there right now and tell N-r- that this is nothing but a piece of sh-t.”
I did as directed.
“Good morning, N-r-.” I flashed my widest smile as I handed her the document. “B-n told me to tell you that this memo is nothing but a piece of sh-t.”
N-r- stormed out, taking the stairs to B-n’s office on the sixth floor. I took the elevator, hoping to warn B-n. Fury must have wings. She beat me to his office where I found her giving him a piece of … her mind.
Sadly, these two foot-in-mouth mishaps haven’t taken me any closer to the mishap that I’m struggling to remember.
Maybe it had something to do with technology?
Maybe it had something to do with cooking or baking?
Maybe it had something to do with both?
Surely, it didn’t have anything to do with my IQ test. I don’t think that I have ever disclosed that mishap to one single solitary living soul. No, not one.
And, please, please, please, Dear Colleague who was with me when the idea combusted originally: do NOT reveal your identity by commenting on this post to tell me the memorable mishap that I can’t remember. You must remember that I have done everything in my power to keep it concealed.
Also, doing so would make me look really dumb. Work with me. Give me a little more time. By next week’s post, I’ll surely remember the memorable mishap that I can’t remember right now.
Ask those who know me, and they will tell you that I’m a hugger. Ask those who didn’t know me once upon a time, and they’ll tell you that they weren’t strangers for long: I hugged them, too. I can’t help myself. I was born hugging, and I was born smiling. Seventy-five years later, I’m still smiling and still hugging. Go figure.
It’s fair to say, I suppose, that this hugging-and-smiling-thing that I’ve got going is part of my nature. I was born with that genetic disposition. But it’s equally fair to say, I suppose, that it’s part of my nurture. I grew up in an environment that encouraged everyone to embrace everyone, figuratively and literally.
For me, the nurturing environment was the coalfields of Southern West Virginia, sprinkled with veins of coal that ran out too soon and with rays of hope that would not fade. Hardship has a magical way of bringing people together. Of getting folks to wrap their arms around one another to show acceptance. Of getting folks to wrap their arms around one another to affirm goodness. Of getting folks to wrap their arms around one another to claim better.
Coal-camp kids know the love language of hugs, probably far better than adults, because they hug daily at the flour-sack-apron level and at the tarnished-belt-buckle level.
They hug weekly at the worn-hymnal level. I remember one song in particular that still reverberates in my ears:
Jesus loves the little children, All the children of the world; Red and yellow, black and white, They are precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.
As I sang, I was convinced that the “little children” in the song were me and my friends, mingling together the many colors of our ethnicities. Blacks. Greeks. Hispanics. Hungarians. Italians. Puerto Ricans. Whites. And I was equally convinced that “the world” in the song had to be my coal-camp world where I stood in church singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children.”
It would be easy for me to say that from that point forward in my life I would hug everyone. Accept everyone. Embrace everyone. Automatically. Without even thinking.
But it’s not that easy. Celebrating diversity and inclusivity is not an autonomic function like breathing. It requires conscious choices. It requires conscious vigilance. It requires conscious mindfulness.
I didn’t realize that it involved choices until I was seven, and my family moved away from our one-road-in, one-road-out coal camp.
My new world was still in Southern West Virginia. It was still in an area where coal mining was an occupation. But it was a middle-class world, one not faced with the same economic challenges that had brought ethnicities together in the coal camp where I lived before. My new friends’ dads weren’t miners like mine. They were grocers and teachers and electricians and car dealers and tire distributors and band directors. More significant, perhaps, the “little children” in this new town were mainly one ethnicity. White. Like me. We had no Black families. We had no Greek families. We had no Hungarian families. We had one Hispanic family. We had one Italian family.
My new circle of friends included White kids, and I wrapped my arms of friendship around them. But I consciously chose to wrap my arms of friendship around the Hispanic and the Italian, both my age, not only because I liked them but also because I was mindful that we faced similar challenges: mine, economic; theirs, ethnicity.
My world changed again when I went to college. There, my classmates’ parents were from all walks of life. There, I had a few classmates from various parts of the world. But, truth be told, it was largely a White-like-me world. I consciously chose to wrap my arms of friendship around other ethnicities whenever I could. My roommate one year was Black. Another year, Hindu. When I joined a fraternity, my Big Brother was Hispanic. One of my Black friends was crowned Homecoming Queen. On chilly evenings, I often draped my fraternity jacket over her shoulders, walking back to her dorm after an evening together in the Student Union.
After college, my world changed again when I moved to the Nation’s Capital and discovered the full depth and breadth of diversity: race and ethnicity, economic status, religion, age, disability, gender identity and expression, and sexual orientation.
At the same time, I continued to be aware that celebrating diversity and inclusivity requires choices and mindfulness. When I started going to church on Capitol Hill, for example, I walked into the nave and was stunned to see one Black man sitting all alone in the middle of an otherwise entirely White congregation. I could have sat anywhere, but I made a conscious and mindful choice to sit next to him. A few months later, I went to Joe’s regular church. I found myself sitting in the middle of an otherwise entirely Black congregation. When Joe came in, he could have sat anywhere, but he made a conscious and mindful choice to sit next to me.
Those examples are just that. Examples. They’re not profound. They’re not extraordinary. They’re simply intended to show that if we are to celebrate and embrace diversity and inclusivity, we must do so through conscious and mindful choices.
I would add as well that we must be vigilant. Let me share something that took me off guard a few weeks ago. My behavior surprised me. Actually, it shocked me.
I was scrolling through options for my morning meditation. Each option had a visual. I was drawn to the image of a tall thin man standing by the ocean’s edge, facing a glorious sun spreading its rays over the waters. It looked inviting.
“Perfect,” I thought.
I hit PLAY AUDIO. The soft background music began. Then, the meditation coach began talking. In an instant, the voice grated on my ears and irritated me. I hit QUIT and selected another meditation.
I did the exact same thing for the next several days.
Then, one morning I realized how judgmental I was being. I was hitting QUIT based on nothing more than voice. I didn’t give the meditation coach a chance. I didn’t give myself the opportunity to listen to the message. I didn’t give the message the opportunity to speak to my heart and uplift my soul.
When I had that realization, I made a conscious choice to listen to the meditation. I made a conscious choice to accept the voice.
It didn’t take long for me to be carried forward as the meditation coach emphasized some key points that can never be emphasized enough:
● Let go of yesterday and the past.
● Be present with yourself and those around you.
● Forgive yourself and others.
● Be aware of the sun rising, spreading its light everywhere and across everyone without any judgment.
Without any judgment.
Those three words stirred in me a profound sense of self-condemnation, for I had judged the meditation initially based on nothing more than the voice.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to course correct. Fortunately, I made a choice to listen.
I’m awfully glad that I did, for the meditation ended with a powerful message:
Wrap your arms around your body and feel the warmth of your hug and say to yourself, “Have a very good morning, me.”
The meditation made me aware that I need to be ever vigilant so that I don’t let unintentional biases slip in, skew my perspective, and deprive me of the awesome riches that await me when I wrap my arms around all.
Trust me. I wish that I could write a blog post that focuses on the ins and outs and ups and downs of dating after the age of twenty-three. Unfortunately, that is so long ago for me that I probably can’t remember. On the other hand, I have the memory of an elephant, and I remember everything–literally everything–so I am sure that I could conjure it all up. But relax. I will spare you the torrid and sultry details.
But that’s neither here nor there because this post is not about dating after the age of twenty-three. This post is about dating when you haven’t dated for twenty-three years. (Not to worry. The operative word in the preceding sentence is haven’t. Equal to my elephant memory is my vivid imagination. Once again, relax. I will spare you the details of what is yet to happen, but trust me, those imaginings are getting hotter and steamier by the second, and they can’t happen soon enough. I think.)
The operative sentence in the preceding paragraph is “I think.”
Let’s face it, if you haven’t been on the dating circuit–Is that what it’s called these days? Circuit? Market? Game? Scene?–well, whatever it’s called, I haven’t been on it for twenty-three years. That’s a helluva a long time, and believe me: I’ve got plenty to think about before I throw myself into whatever it’s called.
The last time that I threw myself into whatever it was called back then, I was young. All right. I know. I can do my own math just as well as you can do it for me: 75 – 23 = 52. So. Fine. Being young is relative. Let’s try this wording: I was younger then than I am now. So, for Pete’s sake, can we just move on?
In those days, dateables–or whatever you want to call ’em–seemed to be everywhere. In front of me. Behind me. On both sides of me. They were just everywhere. But in the interest of being totally transparent, I will tell you this. It’s not like I was fighting them off, but I sure had lots of options to think about. After all, a good man is hard to find.
These days, dateables don’t seem to be anywhere. They’re not in front of me. They not behind me. They’re not on either side of me. They are nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. I know because I’ve looked everywhere. I wouldn’t want the world at large to know, but I’ve even looked in the trees all around my house, thinking, wishing, hoping, longing that maybe–just maybe–I would find one there. You know, just hanging out all casual and relaxed and friendly like, waiting for me. Waiting to see if I was looking back to see if… But I haven’t found one–not one–which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt: dateables do NOT grow on trees in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
So that you can check out my assertions for yourself, let me give you the exact location in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where I have determined that dateables do not grow on trees. Doubt no longer. Check out the latitude and longitude coordinates and know that I speak truth and kid you not: 31.771959, 35.217018.
For now, this much is obvious to me. If I am to continue this post–and, having made it this far, I have every intention of making it all the way through to the end–I will just have to shift my focus from real dates to imaginary ones. In that sense, then, it would be similar to “My Imaginary Guests.” Actually, I like that comparison so much that I’m tempted to change the title of this post from “Dating after Twenty-Three” to “My Imaginary Dates after Twenty-Three.” Thankfully, that temptation–unlike some others–did not last long. I wouldn’t want a Potentially Dateable Person (PDP) to be turned off by perceived fickleness. I stand by mine just as surely as Tammy Wynette stands by hers.
All right, then, where were we. Don’t you just love my use, just now, of the royal “we.” I do. I’ll bet you’re wondering–just as I much as I am–when we first used we so royally. Let me check.
Be Right Back.
Well, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the pronoun “we” (used in place of “I” by a monarch or other person in power) goes back to 1801 when Buonaparte appointed his brother-in-law, Leclerc, to St. Domingo.
Isn’t that riveting? I wonder what other words I could look up right quick? Hmmm. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that I’m doing everything in my power to avoid getting into all the nitty gritty details of all that’s involved in dating–real or imaginary–after twenty-three years.
I assure you that I am not. This really isn’t a big deal after all. I’ll do what I do best: face it head on.
So work with me while I pretend that I have, in fact, found a real, live, breathing, walking, talking date.
What’s for certain is that I didn’t find one in a tree. Ahhh…now I remember. My imaginary friend lined me up with a Blind Date.
Be Right Back.
Sometimes my imaginary friend is a prankster, so I had to confirm that Blind Date was still used these days to mean “a date with someone whom the datee does not know but which is arranged by a third person.” The OED assures me that the phrase is still used, though mainly colloquially, and that it is still politically correct.
We’re good to go with both, so I suppose that I’m good to go with this phone number of a PDP. My imaginary friend thinks that we might click. Is that what it’s called? Might be in harmony? (Nope. We’re not singing.) Might go hand in hand? (Nope. In public? In the Shenandoah Valley? Come on.) Mightharmonize? (Nope. Again, we’re not singing.) Jibe? (Say whaat?) So much for a thesaurus. I’ll stick with click.
Let me get this over with right now. If I don’t, I’m going to look bad, and that might make my imaginary friend look bad. All that I have to do is make the call, pop the question, and hear what happens. Hang on.
Be right back.
Well, dayum. That went better than I thought. Far better. I loved the voice that I heard. Confident but not too assertive. Raspy but not enough to make me suspect a cold. Loud but not enough to make me suspect the use of a hearing aid or, worse, the need for a hearing aid paired with a refusal to admit it or a cheapness to buy it. So far, so good. I got a resounding “Yes” to the question that I popped.
We’re going to meet for coffee at our local Starbucks. Isn’t that a great idea? It was mine. You’re probably thinking that Starbucks is a dumb first-date idea. You’re wrong. Actually, it’s the perfect spot for a first date. Here’s why. Multiple studies–each one referencing the other for validation–have determined beyond any scientific doubt–thereby eliminating any need whatsoever for a third study to validate the first or the second–that we should size up people not on the basis of their shoes, not on the basis of their cars but rather on the basis of the drink they choose at Starbucks.
So my date’s beverage choice will be the first reveal. Is that caffeine in my cup or what?
I don’t mind telling you that I’ll order my usual Latte or Cappuccino. OMG. Here’s how the research sizes me up, based on my preference:
… perfect blend of the drip coffee folks and the chai latte people. Sometimes shy, sometimes outgoing … so balanced, well adjusted, and free of common neurosis you wonder if a magical fairy raised this magical unicorn. … Date this person ASAP. [Emphasis supplied for any PDPs who might be reading. Just saying. You know how to find me.]
I’m hoping that my date might order a Chai Latte. Would I be one lucky dude or what, if what the research has established is true:
The Chai Latte … person is at their core a humble introvert. … they’ve probably traveled to some remote untamed parts of the earth, have a double PHD in astrophysics … Navigating through life with a Buddhist mentality the Chai Tea person is the opposite of an open book. Mysterious like a mythical creature, you watch them trot off to yoga class and feel your heart squeeze. You might be in love.
Say whaat? Might be in love? I haven’t even swallowed the first sip of my Latte or Cappuccino. Slow down. Let’s enjoy this.
But if my date orders a Java Chip Frappuccino, that will pretty much be a deal breaker for me:
Always full of spice and sass … rocket-balls of energy. Do NOT stand in their way. The frappuccino person is the one driving the car with the ridiculously oversized rims and the dude wearing the blinding bright red jewel encrusted Giuseppe Zanotti sneakers.
Those rocket-balls of energy sound intriguing, but if my date orders a Java Chip Frappuccino, I’ll drink my Latte or Cappuccino as rapidly as possible so that I can get out of Starbucks with my “This was so ……” echoing as I wave goodbye.
While Starbucks was my idea, meeting there at 7:30am was not. I mean. Come on. I’m a morning person, but that’s a bit early, it seems to me, for a first date.
But I’ll get over it, and, actually, it might have real advantages. At that time of day, a handshake will do. Maybe a light hug. But it’s certainly too early in the day–and certainly too early in the dating game–to even think about a kiss. After all, meeting a date for the first time is stressful enough without all the worry about morning breath–the kiss of death when it comes to dating. And, therefore, Dear Readers, you can rest assured: if I should sense even the slightest body movement suggesting that my date is leaning in for a kiss, I’ll just bend over right quick to retrieve my napkin that fell mysteriously to the floor.
Well, as I am sure you can tell, I am not the least bit worried about this first date. If all goes well, it might be the first of many dates that get earlier and earlier. Who’s to say when dawn slides back to midnight and midnight slides back to evening and …
But now I’m wondering what’s supposed to happen with that second date that’s sure to come. I just know that it will. After all, no one in the Shenandoah Valley–absolutely no one–wears blinding bright red jewel encrusted Giuseppe Zanotti sneakers, so I am certain that my date will not have ordered a Java Chip Frappuccino at Starbucks.
So let me see. What comes after that first date? Good God. On my last first date, time stopped and the world stood still for twenty-three years.
Be Right Back.
Thanks for your patience. I had to do some quick research to find out the stages of dating. My sources boldly plagiarized one another, so they are pretty much in agreement. I would document my sources, but I can’t tell which one started it all, so I will share the common threads, paraphrased freely to suit the pitter-patter of my amorous heart.
1.INFATUATION AND ROMANCE. CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU.Say whaat? My concern, Dear PDP, is whether I can live with you.
2.ACCOMMODATION. GETTING TO KNOW LIKES AND DISLIKES AND WARTS.Well, that’s fair enough, I guess. However, just because I’m agreeing does not mean that I have warts. I don’t. Not even one. But I do have one or more wrinkles. But don’t worry. They are not problematic whatsoever. They all disappear every time that I take off my glasses.
3. POWER STRUGGLE.OMG. Please say it ain’t so. At this stage of my life, am I arm-wrestling with my father again?
4. COMPLETE TRUST.This stage is really funny. As I was reading about it, I was looking through the wrong part of my trifocals. Instead of seeing Complete Trust, I saw Complete RUST. At my age, probably.
5. SEXUAL EXPLORATION. Well, it’s about time. I’m going back to Stage 4 and redact RUST. For this stage, it’s all about TRUST.
6. YOU’RE MEETING EXPECTATIONS AND DEALING WITH CHALLENGES. Hello. Didn’t we just deal with this in Stages 3, 4, and 5?
7. SURRENDER TO COMMITMENT AND THE RELATIONSHIP. I’m good with commitment, but surrender? Arewe about to wage war?
8. MOVING TOGETHER AS A TEAM.Moving? Where the hell to? Nobody said anything to me about moving. Where are we going? Where I go, my gardens go, too. Where I go, my loft goes, too. Where I go, Ruby goes. (Not to worry: she’s my dog.)Maybe this moving together stage isn’t a good idea.
Actually, the more that I write about it–the more that I think about it–maybe this whole dating thing isn’t such a good idea after all, especially after twenty-three.
How many times have you said to yourself or to someone else, “I can’t wait until [this evening? this weekend? this summer? my vacation? my retirement?] so that I will have time to [read? connect with family? do more writing? start blogging? exercise? meditate? finish some projects? have some me time? sleep in? try that new restaurant?].
My “can’t-wait” list might go like this.
● I can’t wait until this evening so that I’ll have time to sit out by the Koi Pond.
● I can’t wait until this weekend so that I’ll have time to start cleaning up the garden beds.
● I can’t wait until this summer so that I will have time to focus more on my Mary E. Wilkins Freeman research.
● I can’t wait until my vacation so that I will have time to bike new Rails-to-Trails.
● I can’t wait to see where reinvention leads me.
Then, this evening arrives. Then, this weekend arrives. Then, this summer arrives. Then, this vacation arrives. And, finally, reinvention arrives.
And, somehow, every time “the time” rolls around that I had waited for, had longed for, had sometimes even wished small measures of my life away for, all of it–every sweet nanosecond of it–seems to fall through my fingers just as quickly and with as much certainty as fine sand falling through the throat of an hourglass.
And then that prized, precious time is up, and I realize that I didn’t have time to get it all done. Sit by the Koi Pond. Clean the garden beds. Do more Mary E. Wilkins Freeman research. Explore new Rails-to-Trails. Reinvent myself.
Can you relate? If you are being honest with yourself, of course you can relate.
Somehow, it seems that we just don’t have enough time.
I could say that it’s a matter of being mortal. And it is.
I could say that it’s a matter of managing time more wisely. And it is.
I could say that it’s a matter of scheduling time better. And it is.
But here’s the thing.
In reality, all that we have is time.
In reality, we all waste an awful lot of time waiting for the right time and dreaming about the right time.
It seems to me that a far better use of our time might be to make the time to do it right then and right there, assuming that we can do it right then and right there.
It seems to me, just as an example, that a far better use of my time might well be to take the time to write my blog post at the very time the idea floats home to me.
That’s exactly what I did on March 12, the Sunday morning when Daylight Savings Time sprang ahead and stripped away an entire hour, and my to-do list was too long to get it done in the time that I had allotted and that I had left.
It was then that this wacky idea softly settled on my brainscape. It was then that I said to myself:
Take time to make time.
And that’s exactly what I did with this post. I took the time that morning to write most of what you’re reading now. Mind you: that was the same day when I had been robbed of an hour.
Writing it–right then, right there–made me feel awfully stoked. Plus, it freed up my bedtime-time to work on other blog post ideas.
I did a couple of other wacky things after I had my Daylight-Savings-Time realization about taking time to make time.
One day, I took time to make time to sit by my Koi Pond not once, not twice, but three times–all in one day.
Another day, I took time to make time to take a long, luxurious tub soak, smackdab in the middle of the day for no reason at all other than I thought that it was time to let the fragrance of Thyme’s Olive Leaf bath salts bathe my memory and let its softness spill over me as I lowered myself lower and lower into the tub, watching my chest disappear beneath the silky smooth waters.
On still another day– and as nothing more than an out-of-the-blue lark–I took time to make time to create from memory–nothing more than scraps of this and that stored away in time’s shapeless storehouse–a calendar of the milestones in Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s life.
And here’s the thing. Every time that I took time to make time, I didn’t run short on time. I still had time to do everything that I had planned to do.
And here’s the really sweet thing about it all. I didn’t have to wait for this evening. I didn’t have to wait for this weekend. I didn’t have to wait for this summer. I didn’t have to wait for my vacation. I didn’t have to wait at all.
It’s as if the far-away stars and the far-away moons of my wishes, my longings, and my can’t-wait-untils fell down all around me, glowed upon me, and gave me joy as soon as I took the time to make time.