Adolescence. Again.

“. . . I’m the bear standing in the woods with a bullseye on his chest . . .”

My late sixties present me with the most ridiculous angst I’ve felt since I was sixteen. I am no longer a child of forty, and I am not an adult of eighty. Thus, I am an “adolescent” again. Why does it come up now? It dawned on me (after my 50th—there, I said it—high school reunion, for God’s sake) that at this age, we are older, but we are fighting oldness. Gray hair is dyed, colored, and maybe highlighted; straightened and softened to disguise the crinkly, wiry, dry mass that passes for hair. Why don’t I have the soft, pretty kind like my mom did? Dunno. I’m sure it’s because my hair, an enemy of over six decades, does this because it has its own devious mind. My hair knows exactly what irks me.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI have a target on my forehead. I feel like I’m the bear standing in the woods with a bullseye on his chest if you’ve ever seen that cartoon. It’s the target for anti-aging marketers to spot me from 10,000 feet. They don’t need for me to wear the target, though. It’s written in the sneaky wrinkles around my eyes and mouth, and the other ill-mannered houseguests with stupid sunglasses that appeared on my neck and cheeks one day when I wasn’t paying attention. They didn’t have the courtesy to leave.

So, it’s not just the cosmetics products folks; it’s also the dermatologists and estheticians that swear their methods for finding the fountain of youth surpass the others’. For all the Botox treatments, eyelifts, ear-lifts (yes, they have those), and nose jobs, there are face creams and treatments to use between or instead of the unnerving, daunting “cures.” (I would share my chemical peel photos with you, but you’d probably run screaming for the Halloween bar. Yes, I had one. Why? Because I’m still in my adolescence, of course, experimenting as adolescents do.)

Since we’re talking, I thought I might share more nice perspectives to cheer you up. You may be happily getting Botox, chemical peels, and other fine facial procedures to try to fool the calendar, but I’m going to burst your bubble. Are you sitting down? Here goes: There are some telltale signs of advancing age that cannot be removed. As one of my “good” friends said, “You just have to look at someone’s hands to see if they’re old.” Thanks. Thanks so much. I needed that. I have tried to hold my hands above my elbows during pictures to keep from having those lovely blue veins pop out on the back of my hands. Sometimes, though, this is not a good strategy. As in when you’re playing the piano. Or maybe you’re doing a cooking demonstration or giving a knitting lesson. (People still knit. By hand. They do.)

More perspectives: (Spoiler alert.) Hanging, crinkly skin. Yes. Even though we go to the gym, do our due-diligence with weights, on machines, and at endless classes, we are stuck with crinkly skin that hangs off our healthy, osteoporosis-free skeletons if we’re lucky. Yes, we put on lotion. Yes, we tone and stretch. We are limber from yoga. Our lungs are aerobically healthy. Our butts are holding their own underneath. However, the skin that keeps the rest of us in has an un-ironed look about it.

So, when you’re a teenager, you’re dealing with zits, braces, and big ears. The difference is that as a teenager, the zits eventually disappear, the braces come off, and somewhere along the way you grow into your ears. As I age, my wrinkles will not disappear. In fact, they will multiply. Like rabbits. My teeth will get thinner. And my ears AND nose, longer. My hands? More gnarly. (Great word, right?)

What? Get over myself. This is a first world problem, you say? Well, yes, but it’s real to me. Adolescence. Again. Merde! I didn’t like my teen years when I was experiencing them, and I thought I was done. I’m back in them again. And I’d like to think I’m above it all! “I got this,” I say to my face in the mirror, the unrelenting mirror. “Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is that ancient person in the shawl?” The mirror is no help. No help at all. Her best advice is to turn off the lights. Would that all rooms were dark!

I look around me at the people with gray hair. I compare. Oh, that’s dumb. At least I’m not that old, I say to myself. But my next thought is: I will be there soon. I saw a young woman today. OMG. “I used to look like that,” I say. Well, that’s nonsense. I NEVER looked like THAT. Who am I kidding? She was model beautiful. Why do I make this comparison? This thing called aging —even healthy aging, where I’m dancing flamenco and walking miles and doing yoga —is taking too much of my mental energy. It robs me of creativity. It stifles my serenity.

So as with my teens, I know that eventually, the between-ness will pass. I can achieve the next stage and relax into it—gracefully, happily, peacefully. That makes sense. If we fight the force of nature, we tend to carry an aura of angry (I hear it’s a mustard color), which by itself can make us look older and feel worse. (Who wants to look like mustard?)

I suggest that you read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. It’s an homage to living well even as it describes the terminal nature of our lives. We are lucky if we get to experience old age before we die. Dr. Gawande says it better, page 141. “The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.” I’m going to embrace the idea of maintaining my integrity by defining “a good day” in my terms and attempting to attain that. Every day. I will not worry about adolescence. Terrible twos. Teens. Twenties. Middle age. They’re stages, each with their challenges. This aging thing is just another stage. Maintaining my integrity is the goal. That’s all.

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.

 

 

 

“Perfect”

You’ve heard the word: Perfect. You’ll hear people saying it everywhere as you go through your day. Trust me. Everyone is saying the word. And quite frankly, it scares me.

I thought it was just a coincidence at first. Someone at a local store said it—then someone else. A little while after that, I asked a coworker if I had done something correctly, and she said yes, “Perfect.” Then in the next breath she said, “But you forgot to do this other part.”

It struck me at that moment as I replied to her, “Then, it was NOT perfect.” And it wasn’t.

I hear my kids say the word. I started to hear their friends say it. Still, I was in my own “backyard,” so it was continuing to be a local event. The next day, I was talking to someone toll free, back East. I heard THE WORD. “Perfect,” he said. And I knew the infection had spread.

The reason I call it an infection is exactly what happened when I had clearly made a mistake at my work, but was told what I had done was perfect. It wasn’t perfect, darn it. As I look at grade inflation in our schools, and as I continue to see that our California students are becoming less and less able to read and do math, and as our tax dollars to repair this damage become higher and higher, I wonder if the casual use of this simple word has caused the problem or if rather, it is a reflection of the problem. We are expecting less because our common perception of perfection has been tainted.

Webster’s II defines the word as follows:

Perfect (pûr′fikt) adj. 1. Lacking nothing essential to the whole: complete of its nature or kind. 2. Being in a state of undiminished or highest excellence: flawless 3. Completely adept or talented in a certain field or area; 4. Completely reproducing or corresponding to a type or original: exact; 5. Thorough: complete; 6. Undiluted, pure; 7. Excellent and delightful in all respects.

Evidently, I’m a traditionalist from the looks of Webster’s continuation:

usage: Traditionalists consider perfect to be an absolute term and therefore reject its use with modifiers of degree such as more or less. Nonetheless such usage is entirely acceptable, esp. when perfect is used in the sense of excellent in all respects.. . .as in A more perfect example could not be found.”

But I feel cheated. Am I missing something or do I see from the above that even Webster’s waffles on the concept?

The problem as I see it is that we think we see perfection every day. The media has made it possible for us to hear Pavarotti, see Tiger Woods, experience a clever movie like “Toy Story” or “Monsters, Inc.,” and make us believe that the end result, perfection, is within our reach, and easy to attain. The world experiences a shortened end-result kind of view, and it seems that especially kids of today have no concept of the hours, days, weeks, months and years of discipline and practice and work that it takes to approach, much less achieve, perfection. And the schools let kids believe that:

1)     … they are becoming closer to perfect. (Why wouldn’t they think that? Their grades are higher. How is it, then, that many kids are “dumber?”)

2 )    … if the children don’t achieve perfection, they can’t enjoy an activity. At a very young age, some kids are kept from playing sports if they aren’t “good.” Equally, they are not allowed to lose. In fact, soccer games are not scored these days for little kids, because someone didn’t want their child to experience losing. WHAT? Maybe if you don’t lose, then you can pretend you’re perfect? (!)

Here’s an example. A friend of mine attended an art seminar. He’s just learning and is not an artist by profession, but he wanted to enjoy it as a thoroughly escapist experience from his normal work. He was flanked at his worktable by professional artists. His work was clearly rudimentary in comparison, but it didn’t matter. He was enjoying the experience and was not expecting perfection. No one there said his work was perfect. It wasn’t. He knew it; they knew it. But in the vernacular of the day, someone might have said. “Wow!  That’s perfect!” Further, that he was there as a non-professional surprised everyone in the room. Can we enjoy things for what they are and not even strive for perfection?

There really is no such thing as perfection. Ask any artist, musician, athlete, writer, scientist or any professional you want. They will never have reached it if they are worth their salt. The artist could have always “painted those clouds to look just a little more real.” The musician, having not even missed a note, could have “played that passage just a tiny bit better.” A scratch golfer could always have “done a little better on that last hole.”   So there is no perfection in the world. Therefore, the word perfect is only an idea, a concept, a goal, an objective, an ethereal, wonderful target to strive to reach, but not to be used lightly in a casual, offhand manner as it is today. This article, as an example, is not perfect, but it says what I want to say, and is worth writing for that reason. It’s not perfect, dammit, but I felt strongly that society’s current notion of perfection had to be explored.

Next time you hear yourself say “perfect”(and I know you’ll do it), stop yourself and ask if it really is or not. Obviously, it can’t be, as there is no perfection. Instead substitute “That’s fine,” or “That’s sufficient, okay, adequate, or passable.” Or try:

“That works.”

“That’ll do.” (as in “That’ll do, Pig” from the movie Babe)

“That makes sense.”

“That works for me.”

“That’s good.”

Any of these makes the other person feel that although it (whatever “it” is) might be great, there is room for just a little bit more. Because there always is.

March, April, and May

“It’s not what you think.”

“Oh yeah? I saw you two together!”

April sighed, put on her new spring coat, the shiny pink one with black polka dots and matching pink and black rain hat, and started for the door. May wouldn’t let her alone.

“You and March were at the mall. I saw you.”

“April spun around, glared at May and said, “You have to ruin everything.”

“Yes, I guess I do. You two go have fun.  I’ll leave tonight after work at the calendar factory,” May said.

“You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?”

“It’s a surprise party. It WAS a surprise party.  All the months were meeting to make your birthday cake, and then we were going to invite Mom and Pop Time to the park for hot dogs and hamburgers.  March and I were buying decorations.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah. Oh.”