Fleas by Ogden Nash

Had ’em.

A little levity for tax day eve when you discover you haven’t written down either your password or the answers to your security questions. Thanks to my uncle for reminding me of this fine function of poetry.

Note: This is one in a series of poems selected to demonstrate that poetry need not be complicated to be beautiful and meaningful–and funny. Happy National Poetry Month!

Painting Lessons

If you thought that painting your house was not the activity most likely to produce profound philosophical insights, you were right. Here are some mostly not-so-deep but potentially useful lessons learned from my recent painting adventure:

  • Before you pick up the cat that’s been locked in the garage for five hours, make doubly sure the paint on your hands is actually dry.
  • Abba is good painting music. Wait to start dancing until your roller has made contact with the wall.
  • If you know it’s going to take two days to paint your bedroom and you’ve put your bed in the middle of a pile of furniture covered by plastic, don’t put the air mattress you’ll need to sleep on under the plastic with everything else.
  • If you forget the advice above, have the good sense to look in the garage to see if by any chance you put the air mattress there instead of under the plastic as you thought you did.
  • Invite lots of friends. Some of them will come, and they will make your life so much more fun. Plus, a lot more paint will get on the walls in a shorter amount of time.
  • Tall people have amazing super powers that allow them to reach high ceilings in a single bound. Ok, there was no bounding, but there was also no ladder.
  • The back swing of someone using the long handle for the paint roller is dangerous. Use the skills you learned playing Mario Brothers to time your crossings on the upswing.
  • Plan some time to put things away. Otherwise it will be Thursday and all your stuff will still be shoved together in the middle of the room. Or at least so I imagine. Clearly I wouldn’t do anything like that.

Uct (no, that’s not a hairball)

I call my car Uct for multiple reasons.

  1. That’s what the letters on the license plate spell.
  2. It’s nicely non-gender specific.
  3. I kind of like the way it sounds.

Uct was in the shop for a week, and I had a rental car, a shiny new Jetta. (Uct came into the world in 2006.) The Jetta had many features Uct does not: remote keyless entry, electronic windows, a really comfortable seat. (Uct would like the record to show that it has reasonably comfortable seats, just not really comfortable seats.) I also liked the way the Jetta felt on the road.

Since the Jetta and I spent a week together, I began to feel unfaithful to Uct, so when I went to pick up my faithful vehicle, I was relieved to discover that I was happy to have it back. The Jetta might have been new and shiny, but Uct is familiar. I know exactly how it rounds the corner into the parking lot when I’m late to work; I know where its edges are when I pull into my narrow garage.

Another way of putting this is that Uct belongs to me in much the same way we belong to our family members and friends. There will always be someone shinier than we are, someone with better clothes, more money, more success, a flatter stomach, or a cooler car, but those who love us don’t really care. They love us, the whole package—they don’t measure us by our various attributes.

The idea of belonging to another person can bring to mind a controlling relationship, which is certainly unhealthy, but I mean here a deep and intimate knowing that leads to acceptance of all the parts of another person and a consequent ability to treasure him or her. So to all those to whom I belong, thank you for loving me, manual locks and all.

Lessons Not Learned

I’m beginning to suspect that there are lessons I will never learn in this lifetime. Such as empty the compost bucket you forgot about before leaving for vacation as soon as you discover it rather than after writing a blog post. Or don’t plan a lunch date for every day the week you return from vacation because it might just stress you out.

Seeing that these changes may never happen is a little like the time I realized I wasn’t going to read everything of consequence that had ever been written or see the whole world or learn to speak three more languages. That happened in my late twenties, and I was pretty upset about it.

I am not so upset this time around, which feels like progress. My own recalcitrance and resistance to change still puzzle me, but most days they no longer appear to be faults that might knock the world off its axis. (There are, of course, days when a lot of chocolate is required to achieve this perspective.)

Also with age has come the ability to recognize incremental improvements. For example, I had the good sense to leave myself a free day between travel and returning to work, which is a rare accomplishment for me. Of course I spent much of it watching Arrested Development, but we mustn’t rush progress.

Note: I apologize for the inconsistency of blog posts this summer. With any luck, this post should mark a return to a more regular publishing schedule.

In Praise of Leftovers

Last week I enjoyed a large bounty of one of those simple wonders of modern living: leftovers. They are often unappreciated and sometimes even maligned, but I think whoever invented leftovers was brilliant.

Maybe leftovers got a bad rap back in the day when humans were killing wooly mammoths and the tribe ate the same meal for months at a time. That whole lack of refrigeration problem meant that each day the remaining mammoth meat tasted a little worse or else you had to go through the effort of drying and salting and, let’s be honest, it was a bit tough after that.

But now, leftovers are brilliant. Here are just a few good things about them.

Thing #1: You don’t have to cook. Or dry and salt. I like to cook, but I also like not cooking every day. It’s a treat to have a little extra time to accomplish something worthwhile, like checking Facebook.

Thing #2: You don’t have to figure out what to cook.

Thing #3: Leftovers are kind of like loaves and fishes. If you put some into a separate Tupperware, you suddenly have a whole other meal called lunch.

Thing #4: They taste good—usually.

Thing #5: They are free. OK, not really, but they are already paid for as opposed to almost any other option available on nights when you don’t want to cook.

Thing #6: You don’t have to cook. Did I mention this already?

Thing #7: You can freeze them and then you don’t have to cook some other day. You can even freeze them in individual containers and eat them now and again rather than five days in a row. Or so I hear. I have never been organized enough to take advantage of this particular benefit.

Reading this list might lead you to believe that the essence of what makes leftovers fabulous is that you can be lazy. That might be true. Let’s make it Thing #8.

Resisting Finite

My lesson for the week: when the curried tomato coconut soup explodes all over the kitchen at 10:30 p.m. on Sunday night, it’s time to admit there’s no way you’re also making bulgur pilaf for a Monday night dinner gathering.

Here’s one of the things I don’t understand about myself: why does it take exploding soup to get me to realize this? Simple addition would do the trick. Number of hours between present time and guest arrival: 20.5. Hours that should be spent sleeping, working, or getting to and from work: 19. Time it takes to make bulgur pilaf: too much. After all, there is now a big mess of soup to clean up.

Needless to say, I ordered pizza. And poured everyone large glasses of wine.

Earlier that very day my mom and I had discussed the radical concept of accepting our limitations. We spend a lot of time in this culture pretending we can overcome any shortcoming with hard work and will power, but that’s just silly.

I am never going to be an Olympic high jumper, for example, or win the Nobel Prize in Physics. I’ve pretty much gotten over both of those. For some reason, it’s harder to accept that I’m never going to approach Martha Stewart-ish, even though I don’t actually want to make matching, spring green, baby-duck napkins, placemats, and table runners out of recycled aprons for Easter brunch.

Other difficult ones: I will never be the uber-productive, uber-efficient, uber-thrifty member of any randomly selected sample of American women aged 27-45. Or any other age for that matter. I will almost never get anything much done after 9 p.m., except this blog. I will probably never succeed at any diet that includes less than a lot of chocolate. I feel I ought to be able to make myself have these capabilities, but I don’t.

It’s possible I’ll once again be cleaning soup off the butter, the counter, the floor, the cookbook, the real estate papers before remembering any of this. At that point, I hope I also remember to laugh and order pizza.

Words to Live By

It’s National Poetry Month! Some of you may object to that exclamation mark and think that National Poetry Month is not far removed from National Root Canal Month, but I beg a couple paragraphs’ worth of your indulgence to convince you otherwise.

National Poetry Month April 2018, poets.orgSometime before we were taught that only English teachers can understand poetry, I believe that everyone loved poetry. “Humpty Dumpty,” after all, is a poem.

In grade school, poetry is often taught first as if it were mainly a question of counting syllables and later as if it were written in a different language. Shakespeare and Chaucer wrote some amazing verses, but here are the first two lines of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales:

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote.

In the midst of your years of teenage angst, unless you were a future Middle English scholar, that might not have spoken to your soul. Imagine how different your relationship to poetry might be if, instead, you’d gotten a few lines of Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Poetry is as close as we get to saying the unsayable. It’s the language to use when you most desperately need to be understood, when your heart is broken seven different ways and in the middle you find either unending despair or astonishing hope, when the beauty of a rain drop on a blade of grass has taken your breath away or reminded you of your own mortality or both.

If you like music, you like poetry. If you like the psalms, you like poetry. If you like Paul Simon, you like hard poetry. Here are a few lines from “Obvious Child” whose meaning is far from obvious (punctuation is mine):

I’m accustomed to a smooth ride,
Or maybe I’m a dog who’s lost its bite.
I don’t expect to be treated like a fool no more.
I don’t expect to sleep through the night.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, give me a month. I’ll post a beautiful and accessible poem every few days in addition to the regular Tuesday night entries. Here’s one of my favorites to start:

The Magical Eraser
By Shel Silverstein

She wouldn’t believe
This pencil has
A magical eraser.
She said I was a silly moo,
She said I was a liar too,
She dared me prove that it was true,
And so what could I do—
I erased her!