Messy Drawers

This is a terrifying time of year for me. In order to get ‘the holiday thing’ done, I now find myself faced with bedroom, kitchen, and office drawers that make me want to throw up. They symbolize my disorganization by distraction as I dart to the next task without closure on the last.

During the year when I have a moment, I’ll madly clean out a drawer and either throw things away or whisk them to their proper place. Afterward, I am smug and smitten with my new pristine storage area, and beam every time I open the drawer to experience its emptiness, discipline, and minimalism. I glow with excitement as I make a solemn vow to keep the drawer in exactly this state forevermore. A few weeks go by, and the next thing I know, I’m staring into this same drawer­― I swear, it’s the same drawer—and there’s other stuff in it. Mostly, it’s lots of stuff that shouldn’t be there. Damn!

It’s quite clear what happens. A friend is coming over, or my in-laws, or a co-worker and I rush to straighten things up. Or I’m up against a deadline, and rather than taking an offending, non-conforming item to its proper place, I thrash it into the nearest drawer.

My local office supply store manager perks up when he sees me walk in his front door. For me, it’s worse than a candy store and I always over spend. I like the systems, the boxes, the dividers, and the color-coded doo-dads to help keep things in their categories. I usually seek his counsel after having spent thirty minutes looking for something I never found, and I’m gung ho for the newest system.

However, I don’t know if all the organization schemes in the world will help. Messy drawers are a symptom. My closet gets out of control, too. And the garage, and the trunk of my car, and the kitchen cabinets. I KNOW where everything goes, but sometimes, it’s across the room or across the house, and there just isn’t time!

Am I being anal? Obsessive-compulsive? Maybe conflicted. I like things neat, but I also like the idea of having an existence that keeps me on the run, making me feel like I have a life. What kind of person has so much time on their hands that every drawer is always perfect? I sometimes think that when my drawers are too neat, I am not letting my creative side out. Busy, productive people, I say to myself, have messy drawers and sometimes messy rooms. But that makes me crazy! I stress over this, but I have learned that some people work well in chaos, and others, like me, don’t. It’s whatever you can stand, I guess.

In sum, I guess I just have to be more vigilant about keeping my drawers the way I like them. Or on the other hand, I have to decide that in the long run, it really doesn’t matter. On my deathbed, as they say, I’m not likely to be wishing I’d spent more time cleaning out my drawers.

Exclamation Points!!!

Has anyone noticed besides me? When I first started writing professionally, the rule was “only one exclamation point on a page.” What happened? The little devils sneak into so many places, they’re like ants, crawling through paragraphs carrying their dead and dropping them here and there, I guess. I don’t know. Exclamation pointDefining Your Projects are everywhere. (I had to restrain from an exclamation point on that last sentence because it’s all too easy to fall in the trap, the habit of it.)

The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.” Do not use even one of these marks unless you’re convinced it is justified. Here’s the problem:

If everything is important, nothing is important.

In business writing and journalism, the exclamation point is not appropriate. So…what do you do? Make your writing provocative without the use of the little buggers. Using great verbs helps.

What else? Use exclamation points sparingly, one per page (like they said in the old days) so that when the mark appears, it means something.  Whatever the subject, the single mark on the page will stand out… not shout, but  speak loudly for readers that are paying attention. Even for those that aren’t aware of it consciously, they will sense it.

In writing as in many endeavors, it’s the little things that make a difference. The professional writer knows. We share. People grow. It’s good.

More to the point (pun intended) what does it say about society that we have to make everything astonishing? It says we have too much content and everyone wants theirs to be the best, the newest, the “mostest.” So we rely on this lowly mark, this unassuming line/dot that has suddenly found its way into the limelight, like the people who have recently died (Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, et al) who have become even more famous from a Social Media blitz that elevates these two, albeit already-famous personae, to demigoddesses. Over the top. Trop. Excess. It’s a way of life, and the exclamation point is but a symptom of the malaise. It seems we simply can’t leave things alone to stand on their own two feet. I am contributing content here, but at least I am not going to try to escalate the importance of this rant by inserting an exclamation mark somewhere to prove the point, so to speak. For the record, it seems that more exclamation points would be the next step… as in the title. But when does it stop?????

I’m done now. I think.





Con El Alma Dance Recital

The night before a recital. tumblr_ltxpemhhsj1qkx2rdo1_500
Flamenco practice done.
The dancers are ready.
Their hair in buns.

Their feet are sore
From practicing every night.
Excited and happy,
Their goal is to delight.

Filled with elation.
Full of anticipation.
Feeling exhilaration.
There’s never a temptation
To back away.
No way, no way.
Attack. Stay.
Dance. Sway.
Sweat ‘til you’re wet.
Don’t forget. Don’t forget!

Keep the beat.
More heart. More heart.
Feel the passion!
Meet your art.

The newbies in awe
Watch the seasoned dancers dance.
With hope, with work,
We may have a tiny chance
To be half as good some day.
We sigh, as we say,
“Look. Just look.
They’re lovely to behold.
We’ll be there one day
Before we’re old!”

Flamenco is hard—much harder than it looks.
It cannot be learned from reading books.
Our teacher, dear Sarah
Works tirelessly, but has fun.
Thanks. Sarah. We’re excited.
Break a leg everyone!

© Kathryn Atkins 2016

Author’s note: Whatever you do, you’re bound to face the fear of failure when you’re first starting out. Flamenco so inspires me, I’m willing to face that fear.  Eventually I’d like to dance with abandon and revel in the beauty, sensuousness and passion of this historically significant, culturally rich dance form. Until then, I’m willing to learn, practice, and embarrass myself, even, to reach my goal. Olé!


A Necessary Convenience

Q: What 20th century “convenience” is most taken for granted?

A: 69% voted for TOILET PAPER; 42% say the zipper; 38% say frozen foods

Q: If stranded on a desert island with only one “necessity,” what would you choose?

A: 49% of people surveyed chose toilet paper as their greatest island necessity ahead of food.

(From surveys.)

History and Invention

Most of us alive in the United States today think that toilet paper has been around forever. Not so. Toilet paper as we know it today was not invented until 1857, and at that time it sold for fifty cents for a package of 500 sheets. This is not to be confused with a product that was used as toilet paper somewhere between AD 857 and 1391 wherein Chinese Emperors commissioned a product that measured two feet wide by three feet long. Because of its size, it is not a bona fide precursor to the product we use today.

In 1857, then, an American Joseph Gayetty invented what we know today as toilet paper. Mr. Gayetty was so proud of his invention that he had his name printed on each sheet before packaging it. Either the product cost too much, or the public wasn’t ready for it. The invention failed. Walter Alcock (of Great Britain) later developed toilet paper on a roll instead of in flat sheets. His creation also failed.

scott-toilet-paperFinally in 1867, Thomas, Edward, and Clarence Scott (brothers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA) successfully marketed toilet paper that consisted of a small roll of perforated paper, which they sold from a pushcart along the streets. The product had come into its time, the pushcart had a certain allure, and the commercial success attracted venture capital to give birth to the Scott Paper Company. By 1890, Scott Paper became the nation’s leading producer of bathroom tissue; but even with that realization, toilet paper rolls were not used widely until after the First World War around 1918. There was a taboo or an embarrassment about such things and thus it was that my grandmother, who was born in 1889, probably didn’t use toilet paper until after she was twenty-eight years old at the earliest!

It’s hard to imagine what people used before toilet paper, and what clearly some peoples of the world use to this day. According to history, my aforementioned grandmother growing up in California may have used one of the following: newsprint, Sears Roebuck catalogue pages, corn cobs, mussel shells, newspaper, leaves, or sand, although we never talked about. In the Middle Ages, they may have used hay balls, or a scraper thing-y called a gompf stick that was kept in a container by the privy. Other historical “T-Precursors” included discarded sheep’s wool in the Viking Age in England; a frayed end of an old anchor cable by sailing crews of Spain and Portugal; straw, hay, grass, and the pre-described gompf stick in Medieval Europe; and water and your left hand, in India.

British Lords used pages from a book; early Hawaiians used coconut shells; and French royalty employed lace and hemp, as did other upper class peoples of the world at the time. Sponges soaked in salt water on the end of a stick served the common folk in ancient Rome while the wealthy folks in that same city at the time used wool and rosewater. With this list of uncomfortable-sounding accouterments, it’s no wonder that toilet paper was such an important invention.

To put the invention of toilet paper in historical perspective, here are some other events and inventions around the same time:

Events & Inventions

1829 First Railroad built in the U.S.
1834 McCormick reaper invented
1844 Telegraph invented
1857 Toilet paper invented
1860 Lincoln elected president
1861-5 Civil War
1865 Lincoln assassinated
1867 Dynamite invented by Nobel
1876 Telephone invented
1903 First airplane flight

In the scheme of things, toilet paper rates as one of the major inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Indeed, it is hard to think that Abraham Lincoln, one of our greatest presidents, did not use toilet paper. Nor did he have a telephone, not to mention a smart phone.

* * * *

Truths and Particulars about TP

How many sheets are on a roll?

Some rolls are two ply and have

500 sheets of the two-ply, others have 1000 sheets of one-ply—so, basically 1000 sheets, either way.

  • The people at Charmin say a roll of toilet tissue will last about five days in a family-of-four American household bathroom. They base these figures on surveys indicating users average 8.6 sheets per trip over a family total of 23 trips. That’s 200 sheets per day or that magical 1000 sheets (one roll) in five days (and I say it depends on how many women are in the house, and how many bathrooms.)
  • How much TP is sold in the U.S. annually. What’s the TP per capita? How does this usage relate to other countries? And finally:

Q: Do most people hang the toilet paper roll with the sheet over or under?

A: 68% like to hang toilet paper with the first sheet going over the top, as in hotel rooms.

Why is Toilet Paper important? Because life without toilet paper would be certainly less pleasant, and one only has to remember the great TP shortage precipitated by Johnny Carson in 1973. The slightest mention of a possible shortage left shelves empty, the pipeline gutted, and people fighting in the stores. What a waste of time! Keep the cupboards full of TP, and try to imagine another invention that helped our civilization flourish by reducing discomfort and preventing the spread of disease all at the same time.


Overcoming My Fear of Growing Old

It’s so natural, so inevitable—yet why does it scare me so much? It’s because I’m afraid of being trapped in the body of an old person.

I’ll let you see what it’s like by having you hold my hand as we walk together in an uncooperative body.

It’s frustrating.  To walk I think, “move your hip, leg, and foot,” and it is a small lifetime before those muscles respond.  At the same time, I shudder with the anticipation of the aches and pains associated with this once simple act. As I move, I have no confidence in my ability to keep my balance. I tread slowly: I may fall and break something and end up bedridden, forgotten, and alone in a convalescent home. Damn, I hate this feeling.

I have big, ugly hearing aids; yet I still I can’t hear very well. “What’d you say?” My poor eyes weaken with every passing year. Oh, by the way, I’ve lost my sense of smell, and as a result I can’t taste anything but sweet and sour with no distinctions in between. I am hungry only for being able to taste. I wear funny thick shoes. Maybe I’m drooling, or making funky movements with my mouth. I can’t tell.


    I’ll let go of your hand, now. Did you feel it?

My mom was 91 when I first wrote this. She passed away this year, 2016, at 104! Near the end, she moved so slowly that I wondered if she’d ever get there, wherever it was. She required a walker all the time, and a wheelchair when she attended church, which was almost never as time passed. She did not go to the grocery store any more. Even so, she tired quickly. I miss her.

My dear friend, Frannie, was 85 when I first penned this. She is gone now. She also used a walker. Without the walker, she toddled gingerly, steadying herself against every chair, wall, doorway or table in her path. She feared falling and not being able to rise… for days, until they would find her. And then they did; but not fallen. Just gone. It’s not very chic, being old. Frannie always said, “Growing old isn’t for sissies.” No, I don’t think it is. I miss Frannie, too.

As a working mom, I sometimes longed to sit still for a half hour, or even ten minutes. So why does the prospect of being sedentary scare me? Because my choices have been torn from me: the choice to play tennis or to go to the gym or to take a walk. I don’t like giving up my freedoms. I don’t ever want to see myself in fear of myself and for myself. I guess I am that sissy Frannie spoke about.

My son sees old people as being “calmer.” Well, how in the heck can you be calm if you’re unsure that you’ll wake up the next morning? How in the heck can you be calm if the next thing you know, you can’t feed yourself or wipe yourself? That doesn’t calm me at all. It scares me, undoes me. Are you still there? How about you?

I keep thinking, maybe it won’t happen to me. But it probably will, and I think of the likelihood of strangers giving me a bath. Worse yet, I dread the prospect of my family caring for me like a helpless, overgrown, flaccid-skinned baby in big diapers. I’d rather have strangers do all that, wouldn’t you?

Alternative? I wonder if I could do it—pull the plug, that is, like Edward G. Robinson in Soylent Green. In the movie, his character turns himself in to the government “clinic” where he signs in, is processed, and falls asleep listening to classical music playing as a gentle deer nibbles grass in the verdant forest. Nature’s beauty juxtaposed against the future dystopia in which he lives reminds me of the contrast of youth and age. He never wakes up again. Could I do that?

If I fight growing old, is it better or worse? They say, “Keep your brain young. Stay flexible. Eat well.” Hah! My mom never exercised and drank almost a bottle of wine every day. (Maybe I should take up drinking again?) My mom kept saying she didn’t want to “give in” to the cane, or “give in” to the walker, but when she finally did, she was somehow okay with it. Is that what being calmer is? Giving in? I think old people aren’t calmer; they’re just very, very tired—tired of fighting the fight—and they finally throw in the towel. Maybe they are too tired to be upset about it and finally, they shrug it off, let out a deep sigh, and move on.

Here’s the answer:  My mom and Frannie were both hysterically funny with great senses of humor. Oscar Wilde said it best:

“Life is too important to be taken seriously.”

That’s obviously the answer!

A Little Science to the Rescue

Below is my list of a few things for which I would just as soon have someone or something come to me in the middle of the night and handle, so I don’t have to make an appointment for it, panic myself with the anticipation of it, suffer the pain of it, or take the time for it.

1.     Pap Smears

2.     Mammograms

3.     Colonoscopies

4.     Teeth cleaning

5.     Bikini waxing

6.     Shaving

7.     Manicures

8.     Pedicures

9.     Eyebrow tweezing

10.  Mustache bleaching

11.  Chin hair plucking

12.  Eye appointments

13.  Breast reduction

14.  Breast enhancement

15.  Liposuction

16.  Dental work

17.  Haircuts

18.  Wrinkle Removal

19.  Lasik Eye Surgery

20.  Nose jobs

21.  Appendectomies


For men we can add:

1.     Face Shaving

2.     Vasectomies

3.     Prostate exams


My idea is to have a work crew of nanobots who get off their collective tiny little asses and take care of this stuff for me. So what is a nanobot? The prefix “nano” means one billionth. When referring to size, a nanometer, then, is one billionth of a meter. Still need help? A human hair is 50,000 nanometers in diameter. The smallest thing one can see with the unaided human eye is 10,000 nanometers across. The measurement of the dot above the letter “i” in this sentence is approximately one million nanometers.

Hopefully you have heard of the serious field of study called nanoscience, which researches the fundamental principles of molecules and structures with a size of between one and one hundred nanometers. The nanobot falls more under the related field of microelectromechanical (cool word, huh?!) systems, which we can thankfully shorten to MEMS. The scientists (they’re full-sized people by the way) who are developing this phase of the research strive to manufacture tiny robots that can flow through the bloodstream, delivering drugs and repairing tissue. These structures are usually between 1,000 and 1,000,000 nanometers in size. This is not science fiction. To wit, L’Oréal and Lancôme are already using nanoparticles in skin creams and hair conditioners. IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Lucent (they’re out of business today) were using nanotechnology in their computers. AND WHO HASN’T HEARD OF THE NANOPOD – a very small IPOD that holds 1000 tunes? (How cool to see “nano” was so forward-thinking back when this was penned.)

magnifying-glassOne of the goals of the MEMS scientists is to teach the robots to build more robots! This may present problems if the robots get out of control (as in the novel PREY by Michael Crichton), but novels aside, there is genuine science already proceeding with nanotechnology, nanostructures, and MEMS. This little science lesson is now over. If you’re interested, here are two of many references on the subject: The Next Big Thing is Really Small (© 2003) by Jack Uldrich with Deb Newberry, and Nanotechnology, A Gentle Introduction to the Next Big Idea (© 2003) by Mark and Daniel Ratner.

Now, back to my list. I know there are people out there who actually LIKE to have some of these things done. However, as I look at the bulk of the items on my list, I’d have to assume the nanobot idea will take hold, and some entrepreneur with very tiny offices and very good eyesight will figure out how to rally these miniature non-unionized workers and make a million dollars in the first few weeks of business.

In general, these tasks are things that I would just as soon not be there for at all, and in fact, if a nanobot did it VERY QUIETLY and VERY GENTLY whilst I was sleeping VERY DEEPLY, it would be awesome. They could do it all at once, as far as I am concerned. I’d wake up in the morning and it would be handled. It’s tantamount to the pure joy of coming in from working all day; the house is clean and spotless, dinner is made, candles are lit throughout the house, soft music is playing, and a well-toned, mute, scantily clad person of choice is waiting to pass out foot rubs and bring beverages of any variety, perfectly made, quickly without nagging, begging, or bickering.

Does this sound outlandish? The idea of a washing machine for women in the old days sounded impossible to them, didn’t it? Well, why can’t we expect to have a future that holds really cool stuff for us? I haven’t figured out a way to leave my head at the hairdresser’s, my hands and feet at the manicurist’s, and other body parts at other places to be poked, probed and handled, as it were. More importantly, I don’t like being awake to feel some of these invasions.

Don’t get me wrong. There are sometimes, many times, when having manicures and pedicures, as an example, are just delightful. They are a break in the action. They let us feel pampered, fawned over, and special. It’s when there really is no time, deadlines loom heavy, the “fit has hit the shan,” and you’re just not able to fit it in. Your nails look like crap, your hair badly needs a cut or color, your teeth need cleaning because your breath catches fire when near a heat source, and you wish the twenty-four hour day would expand to thirty, and your need-for-sleep factor would reduce to zero. We’ve all been there.

MY idea of nanobots are those that would be fitted with little microchips and trained to roam the body eating cuticles, handling your pap smear, ridding your teeth of plaque, checking for cavities, and dragging huge (for them) razors across body parts, like ants carrying a hot dog bun, to rid you of unwanted hair. But, until the next huge, or should I say tiny, breakthrough in nanotechnology, I guess I’ll have to continue to do all of my icky things by and to myself and with myself present.

At the moment, though, my clothes are washing themselves in the washing machine.


© Kathryn Atkins, 2005


While I’m showering, I’m thinking about my workday.

While I’m working, I’m preoccupied with dinner.

RestaurantWhile I’m eating dinner, I’m hoping to avoid doing dishes.

While I’m doing dishes, I ponder how I can escape the laundry.

While I’m folding laundry, I’m musing about shopping.

While shopping the next day, I review my to-do list for the weekend.

While shtupping on the weekend, I think about the movie I saw on Tuesday.

While watching the movie, I was comparing it to the book.

While reading the book I was thinking about dying.

While I’m dying, I’ll be wondering what it was like to live.


I missed it.



© 2003