Thursday, April 16, 2015

Buh dut duh duh da, we're hating it

“Maybe this world is another planet's hell.” — Aldous Huxley

PAUL AND I live exactly across the street from a McDonald's. Walk down our beautiful faux brick driveway, cross four lanes of traffic, and you'll be standing in MickyD's parking lot.

That's right boys and girls, we officially live in hell.

Ask me how many times we've been there. Once, about ten years ago when I ran out of milk in the middle of baking something and dashed across the street to buy a single serving carton for the cup of milk I needed.

In honor of our cross-the-street neighbor, please enjoy this commercial.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Frank Bruni and his father

“My father said there were two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers. The takers may eat better, but the givers sleep better.” — Marlo Thomas

I ADMIRE all of The New York Times writers. I live in a state of constant fan-itude. You may remember that I enjoy Gail Collins columns. If I had a style (which I doubt), and if I were hubristic enough to say that any NYT writer reminded me of me, it would be Gail

Gail makes me laugh, but Frank Bruni always gets me in the heart. I'm sharing his April 15 column because it's just so lovely.

Frank Bruni
My Father’s Secret
By Frank Bruni
April 15, 2015

ATLANTIC CITY — Dad had a twinkle in his eye.

“Wait until you see this trick,” he told me. “This secret. You’re guaranteed to make money. I’ll show you when we sit down at a table.”

A blackjack table, he meant. Dad loves blackjack, especially with my three siblings and me, and we’ll circle a casino floor for an hour just to find a dealer with enough empty seats for three or four or all five of us, so that we can have our own little cabal.

He inducted us into the game decades ago, in Vegas, and we continued to play over the years, because it was another excuse and another way to spend time together: our ritual, our refuge.

Before last weekend, we hadn’t played in a long while. But for his 80th birthday, he got to choose the agenda for a weekend out of town. He picked blackjack. And he picked Atlantic City, because it was closer than Vegas and good enough.

It’s funny how modest his desires can be, given what a grand life he’s lived. He’s the American dream incarnate, all pluck and luck and ferociously hard work and sweetly savored payoff.

He grew up outside New York City, the oldest child of relatively poor immigrants from southern Italy. English was his second language.

He managed to be elected president of his high school over the blond quarterback from the right side of the tracks, then won a full scholarship to college. But first he had to persuade his parents that four years in New Hampshire at a place called Dartmouth could be as beneficial as an apprenticeship in a trade.

He married a grade-school sweetheart and stayed married to her through business school, a sequence of better jobs and a succession of bigger homes until she died at 61, just months shy of his retirement and of what were supposed to be their golden years. He eventually learned how to work the dishwasher, but never how to go more than a few minutes without pining for her.

It’s the phase of his life since my mother that I find most compelling, because it’s a tribute to what people are capable of on the inside, not the outside.

They can open up, soften up and step up. When Mom was around, my father’s assigned role in the family was as the stern disciplinarian — he played the warden, so that Mom could be our friend — and he was never forced to notice our hurts or attend to them, to provide succor and counsel in matters of the heart.

Then he had to, because he was the only parent left. He held my sister’s hand through her divorce. He made sure to tell me and my partner that our place in the family was the same as any other couple’s.

And his nine grandchildren, only two of whom my mother lived to meet, came to know him as their most fervent and forgiving cheerleader, ever vigilant, ever indulgent. Their birthdays are the sturdiest part of his memory. He never fails to send a gift.

A generous man from the start, he has somehow grown even more generous still, not just with items of measurable value but with those of immeasurable worth, like his time. His gestures. His emotions.

He has figured out what makes him happiest, and it’s doing the little bit that he can to nudge the people he loves toward their own contentment. It’s letting us know how much he wants us to get there. It’s being obvious about all of that and, in the process, bringing a smile to our lips, a twinkle to our eyes.

Here’s what happened, on this milestone birthday of his, when we finally found the right blackjack table and fanned out around him and it was time for his trick:

He asked each of us — his kids, our life mates — to stretch out a hand. And into every palm he pressed two crisp hundred-dollar bills, so that our initial bets would be on him and we would start out ahead of the game.
“See?” he said. “You’re already a winner.”

That was it — his secret for blackjack, which is really his secret for life, and has nothing, obviously, to do with the money, which we’re blessed enough not to need too keenly and he’s blessed enough not to miss too badly.

It has to do with his eagerness, in this late stage of life, to make sure that we understand our primacy in his thoughts and his jubilation in our presence. It has to do with his expansiveness.

I pray I learn from his secret. I hope to steal it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A life saved

"Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in." — Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

THIS IS such a tender, beautiful story that I dare you to read it and not choke up. Originally published on the site, my special Facebook friend, Dale Bert, hipped me too it.

She Lay Lifeless On The Campground. Now Watch What A Stray Dog Does…

When Amanda heard about a lost, lonely dog at Evans Creek campground in Washington state, she and her friend Dylan decided to do the unthinkable. 

The two girls — now being hailed heroes — posted photos illustrating the great lengths they went to in order to rescue the frightened, emaciated dog known as “Bear,” who wouldn’t let any humans get close. 

For an hour, Amanda and Dylan tried to lure the dog with food, but it didn’t work. The next day when they went back, the dog was in the same spot. Again, they tried to coax him with food, but to no avail. That’s when they got creative. Very creative. 

Pretending she was injured and in need of help, Amanda laid down in fetal position on the gravel and started crawling backward toward the dog. In fact, she spent the next hour slowly inching closer and closer to Bear. When he voiced his discomfort, she’d start whimpering and yawning, which is a calming signal, and continued to inch closer until she rested directly on his side! 

For two hours, Amanda and Bear cuddled, until he finally let her slip a lead around his neck. Bear was finally safe. 

Bear is on the road to recovery thanks to these two incredible heroes. Because of his eventual friendliness, they think he got lost from his family. They’re trying to find the dog’s owners, but if no one claims him, a local rescue group will help find him a loving home. 

A frightened, starving dog nicknamed "Bear" was alone in a park, with no one to turn to.
When Amanda heard about him, she and her friend decided to do something about it. 
After trying to coax the dog with food to no avail, Amanda curled up on the gravel road right by Bear, but with her back to him. He growled a little bit, but eventually got close enough to smell her. She laid in the road like this for 20 minutes before Bear lost interest and wandered off.
But she didn't give up. Again, Amanda got down on the ground with her back to
the dog and slowly started crawling backwards.
For the next hour, she stay curled up in a ball, inching closer and closer to Bear.

Amanda knew how delicate the situation was. She made sure not to try to grab him
because she didn’t want to lose the trust she was beginning to build.
Finally, she got right up next to Bear. She made "comfort" sounds, and continued to slowly
get closer until she was rested right up against his body. Incredible!
Bear was emaciated -- his bones and ribs were sticking out. But Amanda and Dylan finally earned Bear's trust. They could have given up hours ago, but they acted with
patience and understanding.
Finally, Bear allowed the girls to place a lead around his neck. He's safe at last! 
That night, Amanda discovered Bear wanted to be carried everywhere, and she
happily obliged! The two snuggled together until they got to the vet, where
Bear is currently on the road to recovery.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Moral bucket list

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

THE BELOW opinion piece written by David Brooks of The New York Times may be the most inspiring thing I've ever read.

The Moral Bucket List
By David Brooks

ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.

When I meet such a person it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.

A few years ago I realized that I wanted to be a bit more like those people. I realized that if I wanted to do that I was going to have to work harder to save my own soul. I was going to have to have the sort of moral adventures that produce that kind of goodness. I was going to have to be better at balancing my life.

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.

If we wanted to be gimmicky, we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list, the experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life. Here, quickly, are some of them:

We live in the culture of the Big Me. The meritocracy wants you to promote yourself. Social media wants you to broadcast a highlight reel of your life. Your parents and teachers were always telling you how wonderful you were.

But all the people I’ve ever deeply admired are profoundly honest about their own weaknesses. They have identified their core sin, whether it is selfishness, the desperate need for approval, cowardice, hardheartedness or whatever. They have traced how that core sin leads to the behavior that makes them feel ashamed. They have achieved a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.

External success is achieved through competition with others. But character is built during the confrontation with your own weakness. Dwight Eisenhower, for example, realized early on that his core sin was his temper. He developed a moderate, cheerful exterior because he knew he needed to project optimism and confidence to lead. He did silly things to tame his anger. He took the names of the people he hated, wrote them down on slips of paper and tore them up and threw them in the garbage. Over a lifetime of self-confrontation, he developed a mature temperament. He made himself strong in his weakest places.

Many people give away the book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” as a graduation gift. This book suggests that life is an autonomous journey. We master certain skills and experience adventures and certain challenges on our way to individual success. This individualist worldview suggests that character is this little iron figure of willpower inside. But people on the road to character understand that no person can achieve self-mastery on his or her own. Individual will, reason and compassion are not strong enough to consistently defeat selfishness, pride and self-deception. We all need redemptive assistance from outside.

People on this road see life as a process of commitment making. Character is defined by how deeply rooted you are. Have you developed deep connections that hold you up in times of challenge and push you toward the good? In the realm of the intellect, a person of character has achieved a settled philosophy about fundamental things. In the realm of emotion, she is embedded in a web of unconditional loves. In the realm of action, she is committed to tasks that can’t be completed in a single lifetime.

Dorothy Day led a disorganized life when she was young: drinking, carousing, a suicide attempt or two, following her desires, unable to find direction. But the birth of her daughter changed her. She wrote of that birth, “If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure I could not have felt the more exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms.”

That kind of love decenters the self. It reminds you that your true riches are in another. Most of all, this love electrifies. It puts you in a state of need and makes it delightful to serve what you love. Day’s love for her daughter spilled outward and upward. As she wrote, “No human creature could receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship, to adore.”

She made unshakable commitments in all directions. She became a Catholic, started a radical newspaper, opened settlement houses for the poor and lived among the poor, embracing shared poverty as a way to build community, to not only do good, but be good. This gift of love overcame, sometimes, the natural self-centeredness all of us feel.

We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling. These experiences quiet the self. All that matters is living up to the standard of excellence inherent in their craft.

Frances Perkins was a young woman who was an activist for progressive causes at the start of the 20th century. She was polite and a bit genteel. But one day she stumbled across the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and watched dozens of garment workers hurl themselves to their deaths rather than be burned alive. That experience shamed her moral sense and purified her ambition. It was her call within a call.

After that, she turned herself into an instrument for the cause of workers’ rights. She was willing to work with anybody, compromise with anybody, push through hesitation. She even changed her appearance so she could become a more effective instrument for the movement. She became the first woman in a United States cabinet, under Franklin D. Roosevelt, and emerged as one of the great civic figures of the 20th century.

In most lives there’s a moment when people strip away all the branding and status symbols, all the prestige that goes with having gone to a certain school or been born into a certain family. They leap out beyond the utilitarian logic and crash through the barriers of their fears.

The novelist George Eliot (her real name was Mary Ann Evans) was a mess as a young woman, emotionally needy, falling for every man she met and being rejected. Finally, in her mid-30s she met a guy named George Lewes. Lewes was estranged from his wife, but legally he was married. If Eliot went with Lewes she would be labeled an adulterer by society. She’d lose her friends, be cut off by her family. It took her a week to decide, but she went with Lewes. “Light and easily broken ties are what I neither desire theoretically nor could live for practically. Women who are satisfied with such ties do not act as I have done,” she wrote.

She chose well. Her character stabilized. Her capacity for empathetic understanding expanded. She lived in a state of steady, devoted love with Lewes, the kind of second love that comes after a person is older, scarred a bit and enmeshed in responsibilities. He served her and helped her become one of the greatest novelists of any age. Together they turned neediness into constancy.

Commencement speakers are always telling young people to follow their passions. Be true to yourself. This is a vision of life that begins with self and ends with self. But people on the road to inner light do not find their vocations by asking, what do I want from life? They ask, what is life asking of me? How can I match my intrinsic talent with one of the world’s deep needs?

Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding — by keeping a journal or making art. As Paul Tillich put it, suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.

The people on this road see the moments of suffering as pieces of a larger narrative. They are not really living for happiness, as it is conventionally defined. They see life as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.

This is a philosophy for stumblers. The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance. Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.

External ambitions are never satisfied because there’s always something more to achieve. But the stumblers occasionally experience moments of joy. There’s joy in freely chosen obedience to organizations, ideas and people. There’s joy in mutual stumbling. There’s an aesthetic joy we feel when we see morally good action, when we run across someone who is quiet and humble and good, when we see that however old we are, there’s lots to do ahead.

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.

Those are the people we want to be.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The evolution of liberals

“The reactionary is always willing to take a progressive attitude on any issue that is dead.” — Theodore Roosevelt

EVER FEEL like you're obviously a more highly-evolved human being because you're politically liberal?

Well you just might be right.

John Hibbing, Foundation Regent University Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska, and his colleagues have published a paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences containing research that leads to the "virtually inescapable" conclusion that part of the reason liberals and conservatives disagree is because "they are different people at the level of personality, psychology and even traits like physiology and genetics."

Note that we're not just talking about personality here, but also physiology and genetics!

What the authors call the "negativity bias" is a fear-based reaction which was possibly "extremely useful in the Pleistocene" (2.5 million years to 12,000 years ago) when it might have helped avoid being eaten by a saber-toothed cat, but isn't necessarily helpful now.

In other words, it my be a vestigial remnant. 

So go right ahead, all my progressively liberal friends, enjoy feeling more highly evolved.

The below article originally appeared in Mother Jones and was rerun at Moyers & Company.

Scientists Are Beginning to Figure Out Why Conservatives Are… Conservative
July 17, 2014
by Chris Mooney

You could be forgiven for not having browsed through the latest issue of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. If you care about politics, though, you’ll find a punchline therein that is pretty extraordinary.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences employs a rather unique practice called “Open Peer Commentary”: An article of major significance is published, a large number of fellow scholars comment on it and then the original author responds to all of them. The approach has many virtues, one of which being that it lets you see where a community of scholars and thinkers stand with respect to a controversial or provocative scientific idea. And in the latest issue of the journal, this process reveals the following conclusion: A large body of political scientists and political psychologists now concur that liberals and conservatives disagree about politics in part because they are different people at the level of personality, psychology and even traits like physiology and genetics.

That’s a big deal. It challenges everything that we thought we knew about politics — upending the idea that we get our beliefs solely from our upbringing, from our friends and families, from our personal economic interests, and calling into question the notion that in politics, we can really change (most of us, anyway).

It is a “virtually inescapable conclusion” that the “cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different.”

The occasion of this revelation is a paper by John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and his colleagues, arguing that political conservatives have a “negativity bias,” meaning that they are physiologically more attuned to negative (threatening, disgusting) stimuli in their environments. (The paper can be read for free here.) In the process, Hibbing et al. marshal a large body of evidence, including their own experiments using eye trackers and other devices to measure the involuntary responses of political partisans to different types of images. One finding? That conservatives respond much more rapidly to threatening and aversive stimuli (for instance, images of “a very large spider on the face of a frightened person, a dazed individual with a bloody face, and an open wound with maggots in it,” as one of their papers put it).

In other words, the conservative ideology, and especially one of its major facets — centered on a strong military, tough law enforcement, resistance to immigration, widespread availability of guns — would seem well tailored for an underlying, threat-oriented biology.

The authors go on to speculate that this ultimately reflects an evolutionary imperative. “One possibility,” they write, “is that a strong negativity bias was extremely useful in the Pleistocene,” when it would have been super-helpful in preventing you from getting killed. (The Pleistocene epoch lasted from roughly 2.5 million years ago until 12,000 years ago.) We had John Hibbing on the Inquiring Minds podcast earlier this year, and he discussed these ideas in depth; you can listen here:

Hibbing and his colleagues make an intriguing argument in their latest paper, but what’s truly fascinating is what happened next. Twenty-six different scholars or groups of scholars then got an opportunity to tee off on the paper, firing off a variety of responses. But as Hibbing and colleagues note in their final reply, out of those responses, “22 or 23 accept the general idea” of a conservative negativity bias, and simply add commentary to aid in the process of “modifying it, expanding on it, specifying where it does and does not work,” and so on. Only about three scholars or groups of scholars seem to reject the idea entirely.

That’s pretty extraordinary, when you think about it. After all, one of the teams of commenters includes New York University social psychologist John Jost, who drew considerable political ire in 2003 when he and his colleagues published a synthesis of existing psychological studies on ideology, suggesting that conservatives are characterized by traits such as a need for certainty and an intolerance of ambiguity. Now, writing in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in response to Hibbing roughly a decade later, Jost and fellow scholars note that…

“There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety.”

Back in 2003, Jost and his team were blasted by Ann Coulter, George Will and National Review for saying this; congressional Republicans began probing into their research grants and they got lots of hate mail. But what’s clear is that today, they’ve more or less triumphed. They won a field of converts to their view and sparked a wave of new research, including the work of Hibbing and his team.

Granted, there are still many issues yet to be worked out in the science of ideology. Most of the commentaries on the new Hibbing paper are focused on important but not-paradigm-shifting side issues, such as the question of how conservatives can have a higher negativity bias, and yet not have neurotic personalities. (Actually, if anything, the research suggests that liberals may be the more neurotic bunch.) Indeed, conservatives tend to have a high degree of happiness and life satisfaction. But Hibbing and colleagues find no contradiction here. Instead, they paraphrase two other scholarly commentators (Matt Motyl of the University of Virginia and Ravi Iyer of the University of Southern California), who note that “successfully monitoring and attending negative features of the environment, as conservatives tend to do, may be just the sort of tractable task…that is more likely to lead to a fulfilling and happy life than is a constant search for new experience after new experience.”

All of this matters, of course, because we still operate in politics and in media as if minds can be changed by the best honed arguments, the most compelling facts. And yet if our political opponents are simply perceiving the world differently, that idea starts to crumble. Out of the rubble just might arise a better way of acting in politics that leads to less dysfunction and less gridlock…thanks to science.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Blogs and kisses

“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.” ― Henry Ward Beecher, American clergyman, social reformer and speaker known for his support of the abolition of slavery

FOUR YEARS ago last month, I wrote my first Hey Look Something Shiny post.

You may recall that for several years Paul had tried to convince me to write a blog. He even set one up for me, but I remained unmotivated. Then three Iowa Supreme Court justices were voted out for having ruled that denying gay couples the right to marry violated the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution. 

In an effort to do something constructive with my disappointment and frustration, I joined the Southern Poverty Law Center, selecting that organization based on its long history of working against discrimination and bigotry across a broad front. 

As a new member I was given the opportunity to listen to a live telephone conversation between SPLC President Richard Cohen and Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project. The topic was the sharp rise in the number of hate groups since Barack Obama was elected President.

The thought that so many people were against our freely-elected leader — not just against him, but actively hated him — because of the amount of pigmentation in his skin just made me crazy, 

And that was the tipping point. I dragged out my laptop and started typing. The fact that I've kept at it has surprised me more than anyone. 

It's been good for me in diverse ways. It's made me a clearer thinker. In order to articulate what's going on in my head, a process of organization, clarification and substantiation has to take place. It's also made me a much faster writer which, as you might suppose, is extremely useful not only in my work, but in my life overall.

Writing Hey Look has definitely been a means of self-education. I nearly always have to do some research — the biographies of, politics behind, history of, science supporting, laws governing, geography, crucial dates — and so on and so on. And since (shock and surprise registering on my face) some of you are generous enough to actually read what I write, I feel duty-bound to try to the best I can with my limited time and resources.

It's also been personally validating experience. For too many reasons to recount right now, I grew up feeling voiceless. Children who've had a lot of sad, bad things happen to them often do. Writing this blog has helped me more fully embrace who I am.

Four tangible, good things have occurred that I know of as the result of 
Hey Look: two friends reunited who'd lost touch 40 years ago, a student and a teacher reconnected after almost 50 years, and two people sought medical treatment. Modest accomplishments perhaps, but still I'm happy to have done a little good in the world.

And if I'm lucky, maybe Hey Look has been the means for someone having a laugh, learning a thing, reconsidering a position, being more tolerant, standing firm for a belief, performing a kindness, donating to a worthy cause, defending someone who needs it or being a little nicer to themselves. 

Here are a few statistics:

According to Blogspot analytics, Hey Look posts have been read just over 85,000 times. Today's post is my 758th post which would mean that on average a post is read 112 times. That seems a little high to me, considering that my most-read post was read by just 550 people, but then I'm a bit math-challenged.

The most readers by country are:
United States     47,380
Russia     19,262
Germany     2066
France     1630
Ukraine     1577
United Kingdom     1147
Canada     657
China     638
Czech Republic     599
Malaysia     427

I admit that kind of enjoy playing Pooh Sticks as I watch which country is beginning to outpace which country. (I always feel bad that my rational, intelligent neighbors to the north are so low down on the list.)

Rather than list a few of the most-read posts, I'll tell you what some of my personal favorites are and a few that have been under-read IMHO.

Here's the very first post I wrote: The beginning

I hate UPS

The Dialogues of Plato (and me)

Catnip dreams, Soot

The wonderful ice cream suit

Thanking veterans


You give me fever

Cloud eight

Spiderman minus the superpowers

Erasing hate

Happy anniversary to us

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The wonderful ice cream suit

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” — Audrey Hepburn

I CONFESS to being a clothes horse. I'm sure it has to do with growing up having little, but it's also related to being design-y. I’m the creative director of the small agency my husband and I own, and that's what my degrees are in.

When I fessed up to Paul about the guilt I feel at times, not to mention lunacy, about my overly-extensive wardrobe, Paul brushed it off. “Getting dressed is just another way you design. Plus it makes you happy.” 

It's true. I’m dazzled by all the permutations of color, shape, line, texture and contrast, and acquiring an item is like adding a new color to my box of crayons. 

I’ve accumulated a grandiose wardrobe because it makes my eyes happy, I have a black belt in extreme sale shopping, I keep my clothes pretty much forever (this week I finally gave away a little black sweater I've owned and worn for 30 years) — and my husband is an enabler. 

I say this because he is. Trying to get him to shop for himself is challenging; I have to time an expedition just right and then make it a surgical strike (it's such a guy thing) — but on the other hand, he will shop till he drops for me. 

We recently found ourselves in the near vicinity of my favorite mall, and I took a run at getting him to look for things for him. He was not in the mood. 

Since it’s a 35-minute drive from home, we don’t get to this mall often, so I thought I'd duck into a couple of shops, if he didn't mind, for a quick perusal of the clearance racks. I spied a white linen pencil skirt that fit like a dream and was drastically clearance priced. It was a keeper. 

While I'm in the dressing room, Paul often takes it upon himself to pull things he thinks I should try. I tell him he can just chill or go to the bookstore, but he says, “I know, but I like dressing you up and seeing you in nice things.” A woman could do worse.

Paul is the only man who has ever been able to pick out clothes for me. Before Paul, the previous contenders leaned heavily toward the controlling, and in response I became very oppositional. Mr. X would say, "I like your hair long" I'd cut it off. "I love it when you're tan." I'd immediately invest in high-SPF sunscreen. "I think long fingernails are sexy." I'd trim them so close I looked like a nail-biter.

When I met Paul I was deep into a long-standing no-makeup, extremely-short-hair, long-skirt, oversized-baggy-clothes phase. With him in my life, however, I started buying clothes that fit properly and were flattering not because they appealed to me so much, but because I thought he would like them — uncharacteristic behavior for me for sure. The difference between his predecessors and him was that from the beginning it was clear that Paul loved me as me however I was.

The everlasting proof was when early on in our relationship I came down with a bacterial infection and got very sick. On the drive back from the doctor's office, I was so out of it that although I knew Paul was talking to me, it was as if I were in some alternate dimension where I could hear what was going on around me but not participate or respond. Paul kept talking to me and waiting for me to reply, but . . . nothing. 

About half way home he paused, and I could almost hear him say to himself, "Right, then," and he embarked on a conversation with me as though I were "present" that he maintained all the way home. I knew then that he would love me no matter what for as long as I exist. If I were stuffed and mounted on the wall, he would still love me. 

On the day I found the white linen pencil skirt, Paul spotted the matching white linen jacket. I didn't think I wanted it, but I tried it on for him. It was a perfect fit. Still I was reluctant to purchase it because it was more money than I thought we should spend. That's when Paul said, "You're kidding me! Come on, it's The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. How could you possibly not get it?!" 

The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit is a straight-to-video movie we like written by Ray Bradbury that tells the story of a magical white suit one man wants so much that he recruits four other men to pool their money to buy and share it, and wearing the suit helps each man realize one desire. That sold me.

And what wish came true when I wore my wonderful ice cream suit? It's always Paul.

The wonderful ice cream suit.