Punctuation Matters

typewriter Andre Govia

This clever Dear John letter perfectly illustrates why punctuation matters.  Exact same words, only the punctuation has changed from one version to the next.

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Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior.

You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy – will you let me be yours?

Gloria

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Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior.

You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Gloria

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Rhea’s Rules

Dandelion

No matter how old a woman is, no matter what kind of relationship she had with her parents, there are certain life events that compel her to call her mother. Sometimes, it’s to celebrate. Sometimes, it’s to complain. Sometimes it’s simply to say, “Ha! I told you so.”

My own mother has been dead for almost twenty years now. Even so, I still catch myself reaching for the phone when something fabulous or funny happens, thinking “Mama will get such a kick out of this.” When I touch the phone, I get jolted back to the here and now from the there and then. I don’t know what number to dial anymore.

Shortly after my mom died, I met Rhea Thomas. Rhea became my surrogate mom and dear friend until last month when she too passed away. Rhea had a certain set of life rules and in her honor I am going to share them with you now.

Ask for what you want. Rhea developed this into an art form. I’ve been with her in a restaurant and she somehow got the waitress to give her not one but two of the tea pots they used in their service. And here’s the kicker, the waitress apologized that they had not gone through the dishwasher, but she assured Rhea that she had personally rinsed and dried them. I was paying for lunch and all I got was a lousy receipt. Though I’m only sharing a couple of examples, it happened all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Rhea was not pushy and did not act entitled. She didn’t beg. She often didn’t even ask for something, just commented how much she would love to find one just like it for herself. Boom! Gifts falling out of the sky from total strangers. Have mercy on your soul if you owned something with the Galo de Barcelos (the lucky Portuguese rooster) on it. She adored the lucky black roosters. Absolutely had to have them.

We were both realtors and one day on Tuesday Tour (the day realtors look at all the new listings) we went into a house that had a Portuguese rooster table cloth. (Awww Jeez. Here we go.)  Rhea started complimenting the home owner on her table cloth and reminiscing about Portugal. We left, finished touring houses that day, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. The homeowner took that table cloth, washed and pressed it, and told her listing agent to make sure that Rhea got it. Asking for things without actually asking was definitely one of Rhea’s superpowers.

If you didn’t get what you wanted the first time, ask again. Persistence pays and Miss Rhea was nothing if not persistent. I knew her well enough so that if she asked where I’d gotten something, I would just hand the item to her. It saved us both a lot of time and I did not mind.

It’s in the basket. Rhea made things pretty in her home. She loved baskets. We had a running gag. Whenever I asked her where something was, she’d reply that it was in the basket. Which basket? There were dozens. She had baskets for shoes, for paperwork, for reading material, for make up, for lap blankets. Her refrigerator was organized with wicker baskets, condiments in one, leftovers in their own, canned beverages in another. She wrapped her spare rolls of toilet paper in pretty wrapping paper and stored those in a basket. The lesson here is that you deserve to live in beauty and it’s not expensive to do that. Live with what pleases you and your home will be a happy sanctuary.

Pick your team. Surround yourself with calm, competent, trustworthy people. If you need help, drama queens will not do. Choose your friends, your doctors, everyone who enters your life by invitation, very carefully. Surround yourself with people who lift you, appreciate you, and will be there for you when you need help most.

If you were not designated as a member of Rhea’s team, you could talk until you were blue and she’d just nod occasionally. Unless you were fond of watching her nod, you might as well have been speaking to a cinder block for all the attention your words were going to get. Go buy yourself a bobble-head doll. The lesson? Save yourself confusion and heartache. Only listen to the people who truly have your best interest at heart. Everyone else can go pound sand.

Show up for life. Some days it’s hard to get motivated. You feel like hiding under the blankets. Let’s be honest, perky rarely happens naturally. But Rhea believed that you had a contract to fulfill. You had to show up for life. You didn’t have to do much once you got there, but a basic effort to participate was required. You’d be surprised how much goodness can happen when you leave the house.

We had a friend and co-worker, Barbara Tinsley, who had cancer. Twice. It ended up killing her, but not before cancer took her teen-aged daughter. So if anyone had earned the right to curl into a fetal position, it was Barbara. I visited her one day and she told me that many a day she’d be lying in bed feeling defeated, and she’d remember Rhea’s rule, “You’ve got to show up for life.” Barbara would drag herself out of bed, get dressed, and show up at the office. Once there, she’d feel better. It helped.

So if you don’t take any other rule of Rhea’s to heart, follow this last one. It will make a difference. It will improve your circumstances. Good things will happen. While you still can, make sure you show up for life.

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(You may be wondering why I chose a photo of a dandelion to illustrate this piece. Rhea was a dandelion. She was bright, cheerful, dependable, strong-willed, and she bloomed wherever she landed. A dandelion is a fine thing to be. It’s a compliment.)

Steak and Fries

steakfrites

This week is my sweet Gruff’s birthday. I will take him out to dinner and I already know exactly what he’ll order for his celebration meal. He’ll get steak and fries. How do I know? He is very fond of red meat in any form so steak is a definite and I have seen him order — for his two side dishes — fries and fries. I did not have to muster psychic powers to figure this one out. I can even picture his face when he sees the plate headed his way.

I have a console table in my upstairs hall where I have a collection of framed quotations. I’m kind of a type font nut and love meaningful sayings as a decorative item. I sneak them in all over the house but most of them are upstairs on this table. One of my most favorite says, “Marry the person that makes you feel like you do when you see food coming in a restaurant.”

I only hope that after all these years, I can still match a sizzling plate of steak and fries in Gruff’s heart. Happy birthday and best wishes for many, many more to you, my love.

Fifty Shades of Grunt

handcuffs

SAFETY NOTE TO PARTNERS OF PEOPLE WHO READ/WATCHED/LIKED 50 SHADES: (added 11 Feb 15)  Even if your partner found this book — and now movie — titillating, it is not guaranteed that they will accept having these same things done to them. If you know that they would indeed enjoy this type of play, do not cheap out and get your toys from a hardware store. Zip ties are off limits as well as scratchy ropes no matter what the movie did. Do not improvise. Do not buy sex toys that are labeled “For novelty use.” They are not safe and have not been tested to be used in the way you are planning. For your relationship’s sake your goal must be, “A good time was had by all.”

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(Article originally appeared on my old blog in 2013.)

Does your sex life need a kick in the pants? Well America, I know that when I want to read something titillating to get me into a romantic mood, I always look for sophomoric prose and insipid innuendo. Pitiful editing and lame dialogue gets me so hot. That’s why I’m a huge fan of the uber-blockbuster, Fifty Shades of Grey.

E. L. James, yep that’s a pseudonym, wrote a humdinger of a trashy trilogy after she read Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight trilogy. I haven’t read Meyers’ work, but I think it involves sparkly vampires, hunky werewolves, and one pale, angst-ridden teenage girl. I also heard that it has sold a gazillion copies worldwide and launched the careers of several nubile actors. In other words, it’s a monster money machine.

Ms. James’ homage to Twilight is well on its way to mega-profitability, too. This sexy stunner is set in Washington state, a steamy locale if ever there were one. (What was wrong with Aruba?) The motherland of flannel shirts, fog, and frappuccinos makes the perfect setting for a fresh college girl to meet a billionaire, that’s with a “B” folks, a billionaire who is fairly fresh himself at only 27 years old. He’s mysterious, he’s attractive, he’s young, he’s brooding, he’s a billionaire, so of course virginal Susie Sorority is going to get a slick case of the thigh-sweats for this guy.

Well, why shouldn’t she fall for the incredibly wealthy, but emotionally bruised man? What woman among us hasn’t let our sympathies sweep us into dating the misunderstood bad boy? Young women have a soft spot for a stray dog of a man. We have that weakness for men that don’t pull up in a limo, so think how vulnerable this baby girl is. Thankfully we grow out of this need to nurture once we learn that there’s always mange, fleas, and possibly rabies included in the package. Men who are stray dogs have attained that status because smarter women have already kicked them to the curb. Lesson learned.

Unfortunately Miss Anastasia Steele (I’m not kidding you) has not learned the wily ways of the world yet. Mr. Christian Grey (once again, I am not making this up) preys on her innocence and entices her to his Red Room (where’s Fellini when you need him) of lightweight BDSM pleasures.

Okay, this could be romping good fun. This could get the juices flowing in a marabou feather boa kind of way. But it doesn’t. Why? Apparently old E. L. programmed certain phrases into the function keys on her keyboard and randomly hit them every so often, you know, like a coke-addicted chimpanzee would. The repetition in this short book is without precedent. Ms. James’ word choices becomes distractingly fascinating in themselves.

If my Kindle search engine is to be believed, and it’s as good as anything else in this story, our little flower about to be deflowered, Anastasia says, “Jeez” 81 times and “oh my” 72 times. There are variations on the word “crap” such as “oh crap,” “double crap,” “holy crap,” and my personal favorite, “triple crap” combined for almost 100 occurrences.

Ana blushes like she’s having a stroke, approximately 125 times. She also rolls her eyes every five minutes or so, making you want to climb through the pages and bitch-slap her like the immature brat she is. In the brief interludes between eye-rolls, she raises her eyebrows. Jim Henson would not ask one of his Muppets do this much facial manipulation to convey emotions. It would have been overacting, even for Miss Piggy.

There are a combined 128 “frowns” between Ana and Christian and 125 “grins.” Schizophrenia is not pretty, people. Ana no longer has a bottom lip, having bitten it a whopping 35 times. Maybe that’s why she can’t speak articulately any more as evidenced by the staggering number of times that she and Christian “whisper” (195 times) or “murmur” (200 times) or “mutter” (50 times). Obviously this book is not for the hard-of-hearing, what with all the whispering going on.

Whatever hotness may have been achieved within these pages, whatever sensual pleasures unfolded, whatever tingle were to transpire are completely obliterated by the repetitive, lazy language.   When you can turn reading into a drinking game, “Ahhh, she’s blushing again, take another shot,” then there’s no story. There’s no connection to the reader. The book is the literary version of a cheap Chinese knock off of a designer hand bag. From a distance, it looks like a book. But once you start reading it, the handle falls off and the seams split.

It’s shoddy work about a young man who could legally be classified as a stalker and a girl too naive to leave her house alone and it has made E. L. James money hand over fist. The movie rights were bid up in the multiple million dollar range and the book has squatted on the venerable New York Times bestseller list for an abysmally long time.

So, congratulations to E. L. James for her burgeoning bank account. Congratulations on her chutzpah to throw this manuscript out and see what the public thought. Congratulations to her for so thoroughly taking to heart that old P. T. Barnum quote, “No one ever went broke underestimating public taste.”

No P.T, they most certainly did not. In fact they made buckets of cash while they whispered, blushed, holy crapped, and rolled their eyes all the way to the bank.

 

Love and Whoop Ass

Keep Calm & Aim

Kind Readers:  I have been working under a deadline — okay, I procrastinated for weeks and now I’m panicking — and therefore am posting an oldie but goodie from my old blog.  Thank you for your patience.  I will get back to a more regular posting schedule very soon.


 

I’ve been thinking a lot about love recently. I’ve been holed up in the house due to frigid weather and when you’re locked up with another human being, you’d best be thinking about love. Otherwise, it could get all stabby.

Don’t act shocked, you know what I mean. When cabin fever intersects with quirky personal habits to make a Venn diagram of whoop ass, you’d better be concentrating on sweetness and light. It’s a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet. Just saying.

Any adult relationship is a complex dance, passion waxing and waning, irritation peaking and ebbing, human frailty exposing its messy self at every pas de deux. Were it not so perplexing, we’d have never gotten great blues music. If love were easy and constant, all songs would sound like they were written by Barney. Life is messy. Messy surprises which makes it interesting. Interesting is appealing, compelling, and fires up our juices.

Please note that I am advocating the authenticity of a messy, true, human bond. I did not say one word about sticking around for a relationship that is difficult. Don’t confuse drama for depth of feeling.

If your partner tests you, takes without giving, doesn’t recognize your needs are just as legitimate as theirs, you have my permission — no, my encouragement — to leave. We don’t reward relentless selfishness. Weigh your options. Being alone is a gift if you’ve spent any time in a bad relationship. Don’t be afraid to do what is best for you. As I said before, it’s a lot of work to get blood out of the carpet.

I think I’ve made it abundantly clear that in comprehending lessons on love, I’m a thick-skulled heifer. I’ve been in many substandard relationships. Hell, I’ve been engaged what, five times? Learning curve flat as a pancake. I’m a relationship idiot. My first marriage was lopsided. It sucked the life out of me and stomped my confidence into a puddle of fetid road kill. Starter was many things, but compassionate, supportive, and loving were not in the mix. After much careful thought, I shared with a dear friend that I was planning to leave Starter. Her response stunned me.

“But you’re diabetic. You’re going to need help as your illness progresses.”

My response was, “I’d rather crawl around a tiny apartment completely blind than rely on him for anything.”

“Well if that’s how you really feel, let’s get to packing.”

Pack we did. I was so happy after I moved out that I threw a party every six weeks for a year. I had a blast. I felt lighter and I positively bubbled with glee. I was champagne personified, all celebration and sparklers. I danced with joy every day. Best thing I ever did. I became me again, not the crust of a person who had to tiptoe through the house on eggshells because of Starter’s temper tantrums.

A surprising side effect of being a giddy-level of happy is that you attract a better kind of mate. Happy attracts happy. Stability attracts stability. Remember, Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Who knew the skinny goober was talking about dating? Be the kind of person you want to meet and — poof! — that person will appear in your life.

Now I am with someone who puts my happiness before his own. He thinks of my comfort. He supports me in any endeavor I choose to undertake, no matter how weird. He doesn’t just say he loves me, he shows me. I really appreciate it because I know what it’s like to find yourself mired up to your belly button in a sucky relationship. This is not bad. This is messy, this is real, this is human, but this is also pretty damn good.

So on Gruff’s birthday this March, just like I have done every year since I met him, I will send a thank you gift to his mother. I thank her for giving birth to him. I thank her for training him properly. I thank her for letting him go. I thank her for getting him all ready for me. Well done, Jean.   I appreciate it.

Because as you know, it’s not easy to get blood stains out of carpet.

 

 

 

 

Codeword: Watermelon

Watermelon

 

Note to Readers:  I don’t know what is in the air recently, but long time followers of mine have been mentioning this post from my old blog and asking me to put it up again.  If it is helpful to you, I’m happy to oblige.  Good luck.

 

I am blessed. Gruff and I hardly ever argue. We are truly compatible and it makes for an easy life. Trust me, I know what I’ve got and I appreciate it. I’ve been married before and when it is wrong, it is painful on a daily basis.

Gruff and I are both ultra-mellow types and it takes a boatload of aggravation to get us riled up. There are occasions when one of us reaches our boiling point, what we call our “that’s it” moment. These volcanoes of vitriol happen maybe once every two years, always when we’re physically exhausted and emotionally stressed and are usually over in just a few minutes.

What triggers our moments of mayhem? Some magical combination of irritants will slowly mass into a top-popping gusher of profanity. Now — and I can not stress this strongly enough — it’s really important to keep our “that’s it” moments from becoming synchronized events.

If one of us is having a frustration fit, the other can calmly guide the irritated back down to earth and express heartfelt commiseration over the unjust situation that set off the outburst.

If we synchronize our fits, no sane person is left to ground us because we’re both twirling off into the toxic ether and gaining speed. With no one left to drive the bus, we are both hell-bent on ditching it into a fiery ball of destruction. If our “that’s it” moments are reached simultaneously, we just may turn on each other. That is just not good.

You see, Gruff and I are both mud fighters. We are creative combatants and aim to annihilate. If I’m pissed at you I’m not only going after you, I want to destroy your entire genealogy. I don’t box, I fight. There are no rules and there’s no referee I recognize. In arguments, my goal is to scorch the earth. Once again, Gruff and I are extremely compatible. He fights dirty, too.

Out of love for each other, and possibly a teensy bit of fear, we have devised a system if we find ourselves locking horns in a fight to the death. We have a codeword. If one of us thinks that we are about to hurl some poison arrow that will hurt the other irreparably, or if one of us has just been wounded to the core, we stop and yell our codeword instead. Watermelon.

Once the watermelon card has been played, we can not speak of our disagreement or the event that triggered it for at least three hours. Three hours is an eternity and that’s the whole point. It is physically impossible to stay white hot angry during a waiting period of three full hours.

Sometimes I have been so blind with fury that I have set the stove timer for three hours, fully intent on whipping into Gruff as soon as it went off. Inevitably, when the buzzer rings I don’t have it in me to argue anymore and we both end up apologizing for any pain we may have inflicted. We lick each other’s wounds and speak of love instead.

It doesn’t matter what word is used, but I think the word watermelon is comical. It conjures up instant images of happy times. Who associates depression with watermelon? You can’t. You remember eating watermelon on the porch when you were a child. You remember happy summers catching lightning bugs. You remember being carefree. You remember being handed a slice of watermelon larger than your head and getting sticky with juice and seeds. Watermelon is a happy, funny word from light-hearted times.

Do what you need to do, but don’t hurt the one person who loves you the most. Love is hard enough to find in this world, treat it tenderly. If you think it would help, you have my blessing to hijack our codeword. Watermelon.

It’s On the List

“I’ll put it on the list” Gruff purred into my ear.

I melted. My heart fluttered. I thought, “Oh, it is so wonderful to finally be with a guy who can do useful things, like fix busted appliances, build stuff, and replace the old mailbox.”

I was in heaven. I was elated. I was so naive. This was way back in the year 2000, when Gruff and I were all fresh and fluffy and playing footsie in our brand new relationship. Now I have learned what the phrase “I’ll put it on the list” actually means. What Gruff is really saying is, “Your request has been heard and is duly registered on the Majestic Master of Home Repair’s Magnanimous To-Do list.   Your item is number 27,383. We are now servicing number 5.”

I have lived with three men in my life. My dad, my starter husband, and now Gruff. Neither my dad nor Starter could screw in a light bulb without supervision. Thankfully, both of them had learned not to attempt home repairs. If anything broke, or even flickered, you called The Man. There was a plumbing Man, an electrical Man, an appliance Man, and so on comprising an army of Men who could fix things, awaiting your phone call to leap into action, for just a $75 minimum charge.

Then I married The Man. Gruff’s an engineer.  He can fix anything. That means that I can not call another Man because that would be a waste of money when Gruff has the skills to do it himself. This is a dilemma for me. On the one hand, it’s nice to have someone handy that is handy. On the other hand, Gruff’s schedule is so overbooked that I end up waiting until all other home, greenhouse, or office fires have been extinguished before he turns his attention to my requests.

Case in point. I bought a beautiful, grandly large, sparkling white mailbox to replace our small, plastic, spider-infested one in 2003. I had our name put on both sides in purple lettering, making us an official family. Yeah, I know. It was a little bit out of The Jerk (The new phone books are here, the new phone books are here! . . . . I’m somebody now!). Anyway, I was very pleased with my gorgeous new mailbox and just knew that it was going to be the envy of all who drove by.

It’s 2014. That mailbox still sits in the corner of the living room beside the television, becoming encrusted with dust, looking pitiful. It mocks me. Every time I look at the thing, it says, “All your mail and packages could easily fit within my sturdy steel constructed maw, comfortably safe from harm and elements. Good luck with that broke-down Rubbermaid thing that your mailman balances Amazon boxes on top of. You have noticed that the lumber trucks rattling by send your precious goodie boxes tumbling into puddles, or worse, the middle of the road, haven’t you?”

I pushed a chair in front of the mailbox so it doesn’t glare at me while I’m watching TV. It doesn’t help. I can still hear it weeping. It’s bored and unfulfilled, prevented from doing its life’s work. Hence, I have started referring to it as the “Motive Mailbox.” If ever I snap and smother Gruff in his sleep, the homicide detectives will look at that miserable mailbox in the corner of the living room with a receipt dated July 2003 on it and declare, “Chief, I believe we’ve found a motive for the murder. Book her, Danno.”