it’s a no-win. the classic rock-and-a-hard-place. a lose-lose. a pickle. a crunch. a conundrum. a double-bind. a dilemma.
yup. there is no truly right response here for that man.
i have learned to preface things i talk about – for instance, “i just want to tell you this. i want to go on and on. i want to _________ (choose: rant/think/ponder/ruminate) aloud. please do not try to solve this. please just listen.”
but sometimes, yes, indeedy, sometimes i just talk. with no preface. and then, in the way of conversation, especially in the middle of the night pillow-talking, he talks after i talk. and – whammo! – that’s where he makes his mistake.
the first time i walked by i was a misunderstander, a glancer, a critic.
i thought – and spoke aloud – that it seemed elementary to display canvasses with the primary colors…large canvasses at that, lots of wall space, valuable real estate for an art museum.
it only seems right that ellsworth kelly, in a conversation with john cage (i mean, who gets to talk to john cage!!) said, “i am not interested in painting as it has been accepted for so long – to hang on the walls of houses as pictures. To hell with pictures – they should be the wall.” and so, ellsworth created big multiple panel paintings – murals – to cover walls. they are stunning and i have been enlightened – by sheer experience of his work. you need just stand there a few extra moments and it hits you. his “austin” temple of light is on our list of places to visit. minimalism. color. breath.
we visited the milwaukee art museum and the two of us, ellsworth, richard diebenkorn and mark rothko all hung out together. their notoriety far surpasses anything we could dream of – yes, yes – by miles and miles. but they love hanging out with people who get it and we were happy for their company.
we talked about art and music and simplicity and air and light. we talked about the ocean park series and rectangular color fields and bigness. we talked about communicating basic human emotions in our work. we talked about journeys and life and times of passage, evolution. we rued the difficulty of transitions and obstacles. and then, though sans museum ticket but clearly listening in, john cage stopped by and reminded us, once again, to “begin anywhere.”
and then it was time for us to leave, to go sip wine at the public market and to talk about the magic of getting it.
so, neither of us has any trouble with going on and on and on. nope, this is not new news to you (as you read, vehemently nodding your head in agreement, thinking that this is not rocket science.)
each day – now – suddenly – when we open our blogsites, there is a prompt at the top….as if we can’t think of anything to talk about. they are not profound prompts, existential questions, deeply probing and inventive. no…these prompts are kind of remedial…like today’s “tell us about your first day at something – school, work, as a parent, etc.”. seriously? the first one was “how do you feel about eating meat?” and there were others: “who do you envy?” and “what’s your favorite cartoon?”.
we wrote to wordpress – really expressing our dissatisfaction with these newly ever-present prompts. we pay for these sites and really just want blank space to blog. good grief. staaahhhhp it. but it was to no avail. they show up every day on the top of our screen. yada yada.
we – clearly – don’t need wordpress’ prompts to write. we seem to have plenty of words milling about in our minds and bodies, just waiting to surface and barrel out onto the page.
and then…there are the words that don’t make it to the page…that just flit about in the air. because we both tend to be thinkers, we are both often mulling things over in our heads…for me, that tends to be details and for him, well, it’s more a concepts sort of thing.
it is not unusual for one of us – or the other – to just start blahblah-ing about all that goobledegook going on – babble, folly, a few valid points thrown in for good measure. more on the verbose side of the coin than the succinct side. we are together a lot – and we love to share – so this is not a rarity. it is an accoutrement of our relationship, like a scarf in cold weather.
and, though we usually hold good discussions, have good conversation, compare viewpoints and learn tidbits from each other, there are those moments when one of us will just reach maximum input, one word over the line, just a smidge too much – like when you are filling the sink soap dispenser and reach the top and the dawn dishwashing liquid just starts spilling everywhere, which, incidentally, is not easy to clean up, though i suspect you already know that – and that one of us (more commonly me, but most definitely him too) just sort of shuts down. all hearing stops – and it kind of looks like staring into space…but it’s really just being boggled. completely and utterly boggled. time stands still for a few minutes and then, catapulting through space on the planet while standing there – frozen and boggled – it catches back up, listening resumes and the boggle un-boggles.
and we continue on our merry way, laughing at the temporary word-absorption-lull.
if my sweet momma had hung tiny signs in trees, she would have hung this one, “be the reason someone smiles today.”
the historic district of plaza midwood in charlotte is a paradise of bungalows and porches. we walked to the harris teeter slowly, admiring each one, imagining the inside. later, we searched on zillow to see interiors and prices of these gems.
the house with the huge peace sign, the word love by the front door, prayer flags hanging on the side…we knew these people could easily be our friends. an inviting neighborhood. and then, this tree, filled with wisdoms and encouragements.
we porch-sat each night in our tiny mountain town, sitting on the steps or in sling camp chairs or at our pop-up table that travels with us. our airbnb is on one of the main arteries of the little city so there is traffic to watch and there are people walking by.
sometimes the conversations would be short and sweet and we would just greet people and cheer them on their way. other times, we’d start chatting. mike and michaela walked by and ended up at the porch several nights. and the feral cat – so sweet and so very shy – stopped by for a quiet visit each night. it easily started to feel really comfortable; we settled in quickly.
there are definitely times we walk or hike and attempt a littlebittaconversation with others when we are dissed. they will say nothing. truly nothing. no reaction, no smile, nothing. but we – nevertheless – try to subscribe to my momma’s unspoken mantra. we keep on trying to make others smile. it doesn’t take a lot of energy to try and momentarily engage with another, to act goofy or silly or self-deprecating, to do something kind, say something positive or enthusiastic or complimentary.
sitting on the steps of the porch one night, we said hi to a guy walking past. he was carrying his hot-out-of-the-pizza-oven pizza from the gas-station-triangle-stop-shop that oddly “offers growler taps and on-premise beer and wine”. he seemed surprised and then called over, “you wanna piece? i can share.” we laughed, tempted, and told him thank you.
we declined a slice of pizza, but my sweet momma’s eyes were sparkling.
much like the teacher in the peanuts cartoon (do not pass go until you watch this!), sometimes when people around us speak – even people we love dearly and eternally, even people who are wise and whose opinions and advice matter, even people who are thinking of our and their best interest, even people who are well-intentioned, even people who want to have thoughtful shared-planning-the-future discussions – we hear “wah-wah-woh-wah-wah-wah”.
we are the victims. we are the perpetrators.
the blah-dee-blah-dee-blah. the eye-rolling moments. the oh-geez-good-grief-criminy. the if-i-sigh-will-they-hear-me-and-stop. the maybe-yawning-would-work. the what-can-i-say-to-bring-this-overkill-conversation-to-a-screeching-halt. the distract-distract-distract. the load-up-the-cleverly-snide-remark-and-shoot.
ahhh yes. and then there’s the faux-innocent-smug-comeback.
and no thanks to cervantes here. clearly, he was full of double-talk.
there is never a time that is not the right time to be reminded and to remind others: “you are worth so much”. in these times – fraught with all sorts of difficulties – any and all positive outreach to each other is of value.
never should we take another for granted. never should we undermine another. never should we dismiss that others are in need. never should we forget that others are hurting. no matter their age, their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their ethnicity, their religion, their socioeconomic ladder rung, their anything.
we spotted the first sign after hiking. on the side of highway 64, we passed a driveway and i exclaimed, “did you see that sign?” i pointed it out the next time past. and then we saw more. transylvania county in north carolina was responding to crisis they had experienced. three teenagers committed suicide since august and the community is reeling. but they are not just jolted into grief; they are jolted into action.
a retired physician with seven children, four of whom are still in the community’s secondary schools said, “the conspiracy of silence has to end, both in our community and elsewhere. the evidence is clear — talking helps and silence hurts. what we’re doing with this sign campaign is a love letter from our community to our kids. this is just a small expression of the depth of our concern…”.
organizations in the community are addressing needs and are trying to sort ways to raise awareness. people are mobilized. much like the way dontgiveupsigns became a thing, transylvania county has started a thing. because every person counts, every person matters. and without aligned action, mission is void of truth.
we didn’t get a photograph of the yard signs. you can see them in an article in the transylvania times. but when we decided to use this as our quote for this first merely-a-thought monday of the new year, it seemed right to pair it with this silhouette of a chandelier, crystals – a symbol of wealth, success, status.
for each of us is worth so much. each of us – rich in possibility, in ways we contribute to the whole, in interaction with the world, in love of each other.
and there is never a time to forget that.
as amy wolff, the co-founder of don’tgiveup said, “life is messy but we’re in this together.”
keeping the late late summer cherry tomatoes together will stimulate their ripening, i read. the ethylene emitted by them will urge them from green to pale yellow to orange to red. putting them in a brown paper bag with a banana or an apple would speed things along. right now, they are on the counter in a plastic, hopefully bpa-free, container, lidless, soaking up the sun. somehow, these tiny little tomatoes, regardless of size or shape or green innocence or red wokeness know all about impact on each other and a banana or an apple entering their tomato-only-zone would only help them.
that’s the kind of community we should all live in, work in, play in. because as barry manilow, yes, the guy who writes the songs, said, “everything you say and do is having an impact on others.”
it’s not like we are not aware of that. simple kindnesses as we go about our day make a huge difference – the concentric circles ever-widening, cherry-tomato-land goodness spreading, stimulating ripening, encouraging more goodness. it’s not as pollyannaish as it sounds. in every interaction we have a choice. the expression “there are a hundred ways you could have answered that/handled that” is worthy of our attention.
i’m from new york. growing up on long island is different than growing up in the midwest or the south or even the west coast. there is a rat-a-tat kind of rhythm to conversation there. lots of questions, lots of words. it seems aggressive, but it’s really not. it is, however, easy to interpret it that way. if you want to know about something, you ask. it’s a kind of pummeling with questions; you don’t ask one gentle question and patiently wait.
take the cherry tomatoes, for example. you could ask, what kind of cherry tomatoes are those? (and then wait.) or you could ask: what kind of cherry tomatoes are those?where did you get them?were they from seeds or tiny plants?how did you plant them?did you have to use topsoil?how much water did you give them?how often?do you have to fertilize them?what about sun?do they need to be in the sun?how long did it take before they bore fruit?do they only produce one set of tomatoes or do they keep producing?are they sweet?did you pick them before they were ripened?what about when it got cold?when did you pick the green tomatoes?how did you know what to do with them?can you still eat them?will they ripen?
i’ve had to tone down the newyork in me, slow down the question-pummeling (this is not as easy as it sounds), soften the edges of speech a little. the accent has mostly disappeared, but the rhythm is ever at-the-ready, prepared to garner answers or information or directions, not willing to miss the details. and those details…ever-important. my big brother could tell a story with more words than you can imagine; his details were picture-painting and precise and i loved every minute of his newyork style of storytelling.
we were on long island with my dear friend crunch when he was ordering a pizza. he said: “do you want gahhlic knots with the pizza?whatdyathink, gahhlic knots too?yes or no?are you hungry for gahhlic knots?they make great gahhlic knots at luigis. do you want some?tell me, i gotta awwduh. hello?” and then, in the car on the way to get the pizza and the garlic knots: “ya gotta turn up here.yeah, turn left.yeah after the driveway, turn left.here.left.ok.in about two blahhcks you’ll turn right.right.yeah, about a block now.right.uh-huh.right.yeah.hee-uhh.right.turn.ya gotta turn!”
david was losing it in the backseat. i had jumped right in. suddenly the impressionable pattern returned and i was also speaking, stepping all over crunch narrating where i was to turn. allowing no time for him to keep talking or answer anything i was saying – and vice-versa – we both just kept tawwwking and tawwwking, over each other. david’s laughter was contagious.
there had been (and have been, who am i kidding?) times – admittedly – when, in the middle of a more shall-we-say “heated” discussion d has looked at me and said, “let me finish.” hanging out on long island in the middle of pummeling vocal patterns has helped him realize i mean no harm. and i have adopted his “there are a hundred ways you could have answered that”. because it has an impact – the way we answer, the way we handle stuff.
we both try to be aware, in this still-covid time of much-togetherness and less-time-with-others, of our interactions, knowing that even the slightest acidity can affect things and will ripple outward in our day. instead of leeching negativity into each other, in the most intimate and the most community of interactions, i would rather encourage ripening, blossoming, flourishing.
so the end of the day is not a good time for me to have a profoundly meaningful planning-goals-and-plotting conversation.
i have found that it has been necessary for me to learn sensitive ways to say a resounding “no!”. not wanting to totally shut him-who-shall-remain-nameless down, still wanting to honor (at a later date and time to be announced) his desire for discussion, and understanding the need for review and reflection and visioning and all that stuff, i try valiantly to gently re-direct, delicately postpone, waggle carrots of tangent.
it’s all about balancing – relationship – isn’t it? i’m feelin’ quiet and he’s about to launch into profundity. he’s feelin’ silently meditative and i’m chattering boisterously with the accent on verbose.
it’s not a not-listening thing. it’s not even a not-paying-attention thing. it’s just that sometimes we are simply on two different planes thinking about two different things – entirely. we can have whole conversations during which we both think we are communicating and, yet, we are talking about different stuff. i have learned to preamble my questions or statements with a little background, kind of painting the picture, so to speak – no pun intended – so that we might stand a better chance of being on the same page subject-wise.
we rarely disagree. when we do it is with gusto. but there are those really strange moments we gusto ourselves out and suddenly realize that we were talking about the same thing, the same opinion, in agreement. all that bluster for nothing.
and then there’s always the bemused reality check “wait! what are we talking about again?”
yet, in these times, calm is elusive. it is the floating dust glistening in sunlight. it is the golden ray through the cloud. it is the snowflakes silently falling in the woods. it is the sound of soft laughter, the sound of the dog’s feet running in dreams and the cat snoring in slumber. it is hard to hold onto, hard to touch; it is hard to find.
in these times, with coffee in our hands, we start the new day. we wake, wishes and burdens on our minds, both. the things that kept us awake in the middle of the night, the things that pushed us into sleep: exhausting, worrisome, celebratory, quietly reassuring, sleep-depriving, sleep-inducing. we start the morning, on the roller coaster, one of us holding the “calm” mug.
we have found that – the conversations over-morning-coffee, the conversations over evening-wine, the conversations on the trail, in the sunroom, at the kitchen counter – these conversations need a little help, a little preface, a tiny guideline. for him, a guy, though not a-macho-guy-type-still-a-guy-nonetheless, he is looking to solve. for me, a girl, well, i am looking to just talk, to just go on, to be redundant, to vent. we discovered early on that any talk-talk could easily dissolve into ugly if we didn’t clarify a few things, well, really one thing, first. was this a conversation where i wanted comfort or solutions? was this a conversation where i wanted him to listen or problem-solve?
i honestly can say these two questions – just this simple strategy – could have saved many a relationship moment dating back decades and decades. it took me way too long to realize this glaringly obvious simplicity – that men and women, women and women, men and men – any two people in relationship – approach from vastly disparate directions. i am riding my feisty mare in from the rising sun in the east and he is galloping on a sassy stallion from the setting sun in the west. meeting in the middle ground requires a little gps-ing, dispensing of the drawn word-swords and negotiating some clarity shortcuts. that simple. that makes all the difference.
in these times, though calm is illusory, we find that we can be in this world of unknowns mostly by just being. solutions are hiding with the calm, behind puzzling shadows.
but comfort, listening, empathy are right out in the open, in that field of possibility between the rising sun and the setting sun, riding a steady quarter horse, bareback and honest.