Along With Me: A Long Married Life

My husband and I just celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary. I suppose I’m obligated now to lay some wisdom on you about how to stay married a long time, so here goes.

  • Step 1: Choosing someone you’re compatible with. Not only on big things, like global politics, but even more on small things. Is it OK to watch ahead on the Netflix queue when your partner is busy? How important is it to keep the dining room table cleared off? WHICH WAY DOES THE TOILET PAPER ROLL GO??
  • Step 2: Really caring about each other, taking your partner’s concerns, thoughts, wishes, and dreams seriously, even if you think they’re silly. Being able to say, “I don’t get why you care about this, but you do, so it’s important.” Being able to say, “I know you don’t agree on this, but it matters to me, so pay attention.”
  • Step 3: Being determined to stick with this relationship even if it’s not fun anymore, as long as there’s fundamental respect for each other as people. (But if it’s abusive, then get help and get out. Now.)

When I think of our long and (mostly) happy relationship, I think of a poem by Robert Browning called Rabbi Ben Ezra. Most of it is a long and convoluted ode to the wisdom of age, but the first three lines resonate with my experience:

Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made.

It inspired this John Lennon song, on the Lennon/Ono album Milk and Honey.

I’m blessed by this strong marriage and my whole family. I hope you are blessed as well with good relationships in your life. Share some of the things you count as blessings in the comments.

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The Long Cord: Threads Joining Mothers and Daughters

Today is Mothers Day in the US, so I’m going to talk about mothers and daughters.

First, a disclaimer: Our mothers don’t define us. If your relationship with your mother or your child is one of pain and turmoil instead of rainbows and hugs, or a bewildering stew of both, you are still a whole and complete person who deserves peace and happiness. I’m going to talk about my own relationship with my mother, which was just fine, if too short, but you should feel free to turn Mothers Day off and do whatever brings you joy.

Now for my story. This is my mother, in a photo taken about the time she married my father back in 1949. She was college educated, like her mother and grandmother before her, and worked for several years before and after marriage as a school librarian, stopping when I was born. She raised me and my sister as a stay-at-home mom and she was not much of a cook or housekeeper, but she had a rich life in the arts. My house is filled with paintings, crafts, and needlework she created.

Her health started to deteriorate while I was in middle school. Her energy was low and she had trouble catching her breath. She quit smoking, a habit she had picked up as a defiant young woman, but it didn’t seem to help. I was in high school when the cause was discovered: alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency disease, a genetic inability to produce an enzyme that protects the lungs and liver from damage. Her immune system had run amok and was eating up her lung capacity. By the time I went to college she was bedridden and on oxygen. She died at age 48 of the simple inability to breathe about a month after I graduated college and married. I’m sure she held on long enough to see the pictures from my wedding.

As much as her death saddened me, I missed her even more deeply eight years later, when my son was born. I would have loved to talk with her about pregnancy and babies, sharing in that ancient story. I felt like motherhood should be something handed down from woman to woman, but my thread had been broken. As a new mother I cried about a lot of things: overwhelming love for this tiny bundle of needs, joy at the expansion of our family, bone-deep exhaustion. One thing I cried about was the desire to show my son to my mother, something that would never be.

Two years ago, my daughter married a wonderful man. The threads of life and love continue forward into the future, and the ceremony moved me to tears. A few of them were because my mother couldn’t be there to see her granddaughter wed. She couldn’t hold on long enough for those pictures.

Here’s another photo. This cedar chest was my grandmother’s originally. When it came to me I was still living at home. This was the late 1960s when the craft of macramé, or knotted twine, was huge. My mother and I worked together to create the elaborate macramé cover for the chest. It’s held up very well over the years, and it reminds me every day of the strong threads tying me to my mother and my grandmother. Though macramé is no longer a big thing, the love of art has passed through to my daughter, who majored in art in college and creates art for roll-playing games. Here’s one of her character designs.

The thread continues.

I invite you to share your own stories of your mother or children. How do you see yourself in the long cord of family?

A-Z Reflection #atozchallenge

Another year, another set of haiku puzzles for the A-Z Blog Challenge! I had a lot of fun, as usual, and was delighted to be able to participate in the challenge’s 10th year anniversary. First, some stats from my posts for the challenge. (If you want to see all my puzzle poems from the beginning of the challenge, click here to go back to the Letter A on April 1.)

  • The haiku with the most likes was for the letter F, at 18. I guess the idea of family really resonates with people, which is no surprise at all.
  • The haiku that generated the most comments was for the letter B, at 19. Who doesn’t love birds!

In honor of the 10th anniversary, this year’s reflections can include answers to 10 questions, so here goes:

  1. What did you love about the challenge this year? The same thing I love every year. I love writing the poems and creating the puzzles, and I really love the interaction with those who visit and comment.
  2. What would you change about it? I can’t think of anything to change. It worked really well for me, as a blogger and a reader.
  3. What was the best moment for you during this year’s challenge? My best moment happened every day, when I went to my blog and found likes and comments from my readers. My other best moment was visiting another blog and finding something that made my day. Shout out to Dena Pauling, who also based her challenge on puzzles, and included some of my geek favorites and taught me I’m really bad with plants.
  4. What is the best comment your blog got during the challenge, and who left the comment? So many to choose from! I loved it when people responded to my puzzles with creative sideways answers. Here’s an example. The answer to my haiku for the letter G was Guest, and Sue of Sue’s Trifles responded, “I guessed that one quickly!”
  5. Will you do the challenge again? Absolutely!
  6. Was it well organized and were the hosts helpful? (Did you fill out the after survey?) Yes, the whole operation is organized very well. I enjoyed the posts the hosts created on the A-Z blog, and loved that they played along with the challenge. Yes, I filled out the survey.
  7. How did you and your blog grow, change, or improve as a result of this challenge? Did you find new blogs out there to enjoy? I can’t say I broke any new ground, since this was my fourth time through the challenge. I grew my readership, though, gaining 34 new followers (Hi, everyone!). This year was crazier than usual due to some personal things in my life, I didn’t get to visit as many other blogs as I would have liked. That’s definitely a goal I’ll work harder on next time.
  8. Were you on the Master List? (If you did the challenge last year, was it better this time without the daily lists?) Yes, I was on the Master List, and used it to find new blogs to check out. I can’t say I ever really used the daily lists before, so I didn’t miss them. The Master List worked out well for me.
  9. Any suggestions for our future? Just keep it up. I would miss this challenge if it weren’t there
  10. Any notes to the co-host team? A word of thanks to Jeremy for all his hard work on the graphics? Here’s what I have to say: Whoo hooo! Great job. *loud clapping*. Thanks so much for doing this. The graphics look great and the hosts do a wonderful job. Thanks.

We’ve come to the end
Of the A to Z Challenge
For another year

Thanks to everyone
Who worked to make it happen
And those who stopped by

It’s been fun for me
I hope you’ve had fun as well
See you all next year!

Get Back Up: Captain Marvel and Human Superpowers

This week, the tulips bloomed at my house, as they’ve done every year since we moved here in 1994. I’ve written about this tulip plant before. We are not good gardeners. The only tulips on the property were planted by the previous owners. Tulips, gardener friends tell me, need some care. You’re supposed to lift them and divide them and whatnot. We’ve never done anything like that. This particular plant is inches away from a new addition, where the ground was dug up by heavy equipment to put in the foundation. Yet, every year, the tulip plant comes back. It’s my superhero.

Also this week, I finally managed to see Captain Marvel. As a fan of superheroes and a feminist, I loved it, of course. There are so many things I could point to that were wonderful about it, but I’m going to focus on just one small bit, and tie it to the tulips and to a larger meditation on evolution and what makes humans special.

If you haven’t seen Captain Marvel yet, no worries. The moment in the movie I’m going to talk about comes toward the end, but it’s not really a spoiler, since they put it in the trailer. Go ahead and watch the clip. I’ll wait.

In the trailer, we see the hero do a bunch of heroic things. She jumps on a moving train and zaps somebody with her magic fists. She punches an old lady in the face (trust me, she had it coming). She floats in her super-suit, wreathed in electricity, eyes glowing. But when the music reaches a climax, what do we see? A girl, a woman, doing one heroic thing over and over: She gets back up.

I loved her character throughout the movie. She was smart and brave and snarky. She struggled to understand where she came from and her role in the war she had landed in. She had amazing superpowers. But for me, that moment, when we watched her get up, and get up, and get up—that’s when I really fell in love.

One thing about us humans is that we often don’t have enough respect for the things we’re really good at. Another day I’ll rant about our mental processes, and how we’ve only recently realized how extraordinary they are. For today, I’m going to talk about persistence. We idolize the heroes that are super fast, or super strong, or can do magic, or have psychic powers. We don’t have any jogging heroes, but maybe we should. In truth, that’s our superpower.

Look at early humans and our prehuman ancestors. They weren’t especially fast or strong. They didn’t have fangs or claws or tough hides. You might wonder how we managed to avoid extinction, competing with the deadly predators in the savannas of Africa for the region’s nimble prey. It turns out that our earliest hunting strategy was probably persistence hunting. Daniel Lieberman, Harvard professor of anthropology and international expert on running, eloquently describes the many physical adaptations humans have that explain how humans can run greater distances than any other animal. Some gazelles can run at 60 mph for up to 10 miles, but then they will have to slow down or they will overheat and collapse. The human, meanwhile, trots along at maybe 5 mph, but can keep it up all day. When the gazelle has staggered to a halt and fallen, gasping, to its knees, the human can jog up and club it over the head. That’s what enabled us to become fearsome predators and eventually to rule the earth.

I remember when I first learned of this underrated human ability. Back in 1986, Analog published an essay by fantasy author Rick Cook called “The Long Stern Chase: A Speculative Exercise” in which he quotes an African proverb:

A lion wakes up each morning thinking, “All I’ve got to do today is run faster than the slowest antelope.”
An antelope wakes up thinking, “All I’ve got to do today is run faster than the fastest lion.”

Cook then added his own twist:

A human wakes up thinking, “To hell with who’s fastest, I’ll outlast the bastards.”

Cook says that since endurance running was crucial in human evolution, it should be important to writers, particularly speculative fiction writers. There’s a science fiction trope about scrappy humans defeating alien invaders through cleverness (everything from Alien to Independence Day to Galaxy Quest), but not enough about simply wearing them down through persistence. If we do run into scary alien enemies out there, Cook says, what’s going to save us is that we Just. Don’t. Stop.

So to me, that’s what made Captain Marvel a superhero. She reminds me of the tulips that just keep coming back, no matter what. Sure, the magic fists and super suit are awesome, but the real deal is that she just kept getting back up.

That’s a superpower we can all understand.

Z Haiku #atozchallenge

Start going one way
Then take a new direction
Just go back and forth

Here we are at the end of the A to Z Blog Challenge, with the haiku puzzle for the letter Z. One last time, try to guess the word that starts with Z that is suggested by the poem. Figure it out? Let us know by posting your answer in the comments.

After today, the challenge is over for another year. If you want to see all of this year’s puzzle poems from the beginning of the challenge, click here to go back to the Letter A on April 1. Hungry for even more? You can also look back at my first set of haiku puzzles from 2016, my scifi/fantasy haiku puzzles from 2017, and the haiku puzzles from last year.

Thanks for taking this journey through the alphabet with me. We now return to our regularly-scheduled programming of photography, writing, reviews, and general commentary on life. I hope to see you around again soon!

Y Haiku #atozchallenge

Let’s be positive
Stop saying NO all the time
We’ll say this instead

We’re back for the letter Y on the A to Z Blog Challenge, and here’s my haiku puzzle of the day. Can you figure out the word that starts with Y that this haiku suggests? Once you get the answer, tell us in the comments.

If you want to see all my puzzle poems from the beginning of the challenge, click here to go back to the Letter A on April 1.