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So about two years ago I thought I would jump-start my mostly-dead blog by answering The 36 Questions That Lead to Love. Not for any reasons related to love, but because I needed writing prompts, and usually I enjoy answering questions about myself. Unfortunately, I have not enjoyed many of the Questions That Lead to Love. This may explain why I have historically had difficulty getting people to fall in love with me. It’s okay because I really only needed one person to fall in love with me, and he did it without me having to answer any of these pesky questions, but now I’m getting off topic. Where was I? Oh, yes. I felt like jump-starting the blog again–really, this is getting ridiculous, but I’m slowly making peace with the fact that I’m a ridiculous person–so I looked up where I left off on the 36 Questions, and I’m on #15:

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Of all the questions I have hated, I may hate this question the most. Actually, the question I hate the most is “What’s for dinner?” Something about that question just sends me into a rage spiral. I can’t explain it. Why does anyone need to know what’s for dinner? Why can’t we treat it like Christmas or your birthday? Why spoil the surprise? Do you have alternate plans? Have you received other offers? But I’m getting off topic again. Aside from “What’s for dinner?” the question I hate the most is “What is your greatest accomplishment?” Is it really fair to ask this question before one is on one’s death bed? Do I really have to contemplate at the tender age of almost-45 how puny and pathetic my accomplishments thusfar have been?

I think it’s not so bad to have to answer this question at, say, 25 (or almost-25). A 25-year-old isn’t expected to have too many accomplishments. You could say, “I graduated college” or “I got a job,” and that’d be fine. You’re just starting out in life, after all. You have plenty of time to look forward to greater accomplishments. At almost-45, your life is, let’s face it, probably more than half over. (Obviously, your life could be more than half over at any age, since death is usually unpredictable, but for the sake of argument, let’s just assume most of us will live until 70- or 80-something, at the most.) (Of course, I may well live to be 90-something. It seems to be how the ladies in my family tree roll, with the obvious exception of my mother, who only made it to 52 1/2. If I’m not destined to put up more years than my mother, I’m certainly on my last legs here, but just this once we’ll go with a more optimistic estimate.) (Someday I will tire of parenthetical asides, but today is not that day!) This is not the best time to do an assessment. It is both too early and too late. Too early to say, “Oh, well, I did my best,” and too late to say, “Dude, I really need to get going on those accomplishments!” because at 45 (or almost), you are busy with a lot of stuff that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, and far too busy to re-think your grand scheme strategy.

At church, the ladies’ auxiliary has been doing a weekly spotlight on individual ladies, to help us get to know each other better, and one of the questions, regrettably, is “What is your greatest accomplishment?” Almost everyone says, “My children” or “my family.” I think that there is nothing wrong with that answer. It just isn’t the right answer for me. For one thing, I don’t feel that I have “accomplished” my family. I mean, I gave birth to four people. That’s a thing. I don’t disparage that thing. On the other hand, pregnancies have a natural tendency to end in birth, requiring no special skills on my part. But more to the point, aside from giving birth to them and taking care of them, which is not a small thing–I don’t mean to suggest that it is small–a) they’re not finished yet, and b) even if they were, I can’t take credit for what they are. I mean, I refuse to take credit for it. (Especially since I don’t even know what they’ll end up being yet. You can’t pin this thing on me! I won’t have it!) So I can’t say that my family is my greatest accomplishment. That doesn’t mean anything to me. To say my family is my greatest joy is something different. I could say that, probably, without laughing. (Not sure I could say it without my family laughing at me, but that’s a separate issue.) Greatest “accomplishment,” no.

But what have I accomplished? In 45 years of living, what have I accomplished? I graduated from college. I got a job (that was in no way related to my college education). I gave birth to four people. I learned to tap dance. Learning to tap dance may have been my greatest accomplishment. I’m not sure what that says about me, considering that I’m not a great tap dancer. I mean, I’m fine. I’m as good as one can expect to be when one takes up tap dancing at 33 and also isn’t terribly coordinated. I enjoy my ability to tap dance. What does it mean to me that I’ve learned to tap dance? What does it mean that I’ve learned to tap dance and yet it isn’t enough?

I guess this question just seems especially cruel after Question #14: “Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” I answered that question in November. The answer hasn’t gotten less depressing. I give some version of this answer every time someone asks me if I’m “still writing.” Really, that question ought to be right up there with “Are you still married?” If you don’t know, don’t ask! It just brings up painful feelings!

It’s mainly that I had great hopes for my accomplishments, back when I was 15, 25, 35, and even as late as 40 or 41. It’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve thought I should probably make a new game plan for accomplishing stuff. I should go back to college, but this time major in something useful, and get a job that will be useful and that I will be good at. I’m not about to waste tens of thousands of dollars more on educating myself, though, until I know what it is that I would be good at that would also be useful. So far I’ve got nothing. I really have a very limited skill set. For one thing, my people skills are terrible. You’d be surprised at how many careers this eliminates right off the bat. And yes, it is too late for me to become a doctor.

I spent far too many years expecting my greatest accomplishments to be in the writing arena, but it turns out I’m not nearly as good at writing as I am at reading. I tell myself that I would be better at writing if I read less and wrote more, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Do you know how many hours I spent reading Don Quixote last month? I didn’t even enjoy it all that much (although I have an intellectual appreciation for it). The only reason I read Don Quixote instead of writing was that I knew that if I kept reading, I would eventually finish Don Quixote. I know how to keep reading. I don’t know how to keep writing, and I haven’t finished writing anything apart from posts on this blog for about five years. (I think. I don’t know. It depresses me to count. Although I know how to count. I’m just afraid to keep counting.)

At this point I am waiting for someone to say, “Don’t you see, Mad? Your greatest accomplishment is this blog!” Followed immediately by “WHICH YOU ALLOWED TO DIE!!!”

Just remember, I said it first.


Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

Isn’t that a loaded question? For a long time I’ve dreamed of writing a novel. Pretty much since I was a kid, in fact. As a kid I started many, many novels. Well, they were children’s books, but they were chapter books. I even finished a few. There weren’t any good, mind you, but I did finish them. They weren’t very long, either–more like novellas, really–but I did finish them. But the last novella/chapter book I finished was when I was about eleven years old. What happened after that? I’m not sure.

Well, as a teenager I became interested in screenplays and television writing. That lasted for several years and was probably my downfall. I didn’t start writing stories again until college, and that’s when I started thinking about writing a novel again. But I didn’t actually try to write a novel at that time. I continued writing stories, or at least trying to write stories. I wrote stories through two (failed) attempts at graduate school. And then I got married and had kids, and that was the end of everything.

Not really. When I was pregnant with my third child, I took a writing workshop class through the community college, and I wrote stories again, for the first time in…I don’t know. I should say that I actually finished stories for the first time in a very long time. Then that class ended and I gave birth and more life happened and then I started a blog. I used to blog pretty much every day, even when I wasn’t getting any other kind of writing done (and I mostly wasn’t).

About…five years ago? Six? It couldn’t be seven, could it? Or could it? Maybe six or seven years ago I started writing a novel. I wrote several chapters. There might be thirteen or so altogether. I don’t know. There are a lot of files and some of them are re-writes or alternate versions of other chapters, but I think thirteen chapters is about right. It’s not more than fifteen. I don’t know what happened to that novel. I couldn’t decide what happened next, I guess. I got stuck. Maybe I lost interest. I decided a novel was too ambitious, considering my circumstances and level of productivity, so I started writing stories again. “Started” being the operative term. How many whole stories do I have to show for that period of writing? Definitely one whole one, possibly two. I spent a lot of time re-working old stories I had written while in college or while pregnant with my third child–stuff I’d done during my productive times that wasn’t very good but at least had been completed once and could possibly be good if I completed them again.

About a year or so ago I got an idea for another novel, and that’s what I’ve been working on–“working” being a relative term, because now I’m in the same place where I was with my last novel, i.e. I don’t know what comes next, and not knowing what comes next leaves me with little to do except re-read what I’ve already done and realize that it’s crap. Last week I went back and re-read all the chapters of my old novel and realized that a) it’s actually promising and b) I shouldn’t have abandoned it but also c) I still don’t know what comes next.

It’s hard for me to move forward with either novel right now because a) I don’t know what comes next, but also b) I can’t quiet the voice in my head that says, “You’re a good writer, Mad, but you’re not that good. If you can’t figure out how to write this thing, it’s probably because you can’t. Maybe your calling in life is to be an excellent albeit obscure blogger.” I do think I’m an excellent blogger, when I actually take time to blog. I’ve tried not blogging to make more room in my life for other writing, but it seems like I don’t really need the extra room after all. Nothing’s coming.

That’s why I’ve never written a novel.

Remember several months ago, when I started answering a series of 36 questions found in this New York Times article? If so, I bet you thought I’d just given up on that. Well, I haven’t! I just decided to take a half-year-long break. Or something. But look, we’re already on question 13:

If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

This is a tricky question. I would not want to know the future. I’ve read/seen too many of those time travel books/movies; I know that nothing good can come of knowing the future. That’s the Monkey’s Paw law. Call it Monkey’s Law. Except it’s Monkey’s Paw, so you may as well call it that. I suppose there’s always the idea that you can bet on the World Series or something and make a killing, but to me that doesn’t seem very sporting. So forget the future.

As for the truth about myself and my life, well, what is there to know? I feel like I’m pretty self-aware. I suppose I would like to know what I could do with my hair to make it look better. I might ask, “Is it even possible to make my hair look better?” Or “Should I just get one of those short haircuts like Janine Turner used to have that first season of Northern Exposure, not because it will look good but because it won’t look any worse than what I already have and I’ll finally have a low-maintenance hairstyle?”

Along those same lines, I might ask it which lipstick shade is right for me. I’m having a lot of difficulty with this issue right now. I had the perfect shade of lipstick, and I ran out of it and they don’t make it anymore, and I’ve bought, like, fourteen shades of lipstick since then, and none of them is right. It’s incredibly frustrating.

I might also ask, “What do I need to do to get rid of these plantar warts?” I’ve had them since the summer of 2002, and the last time I went to the doctor to have them frozen, she basically said that it was pointless because they would just come back again. I’ve considered going to a podiatrist or something. I mean, a podiatrist wouldn’t tell me it was pointless to treat my plantar warts, right? He or she would at least try to get some money out of me. But if I had a crystal ball that would tell me the truth, I would know if I were wasting my time (and money–well, the insurance company’s money, probably).

To be honest, my plantar warts don’t bother me most of the time, possibly because I’ve gotten used to them, but the fact of them bothers me a great deal. What I’d really like to know is what is this thing growing underneath my toenail on my left foot because that is a real mystery. It’s probably a wart or something, and yes, I should probably just go to the doctor and have it looked at. At first it hurt like a melon farmer–I thought I’d bruised it somehow, maybe my clogging shoes were too tight, who knows–and I thought my toenail was going to fall off. But then it stopped hurting, and my toenail never fell off. It just got hugely misshapen and there was obviously this thing growing there that had never been there before. I know what you’d like to ask the crystal ball: Why in hell’s name has Mad not gone to the doctor yet? Is she some kind of idiot? Answer: maybe. Actually, I have nothing against going to doctors. I just have something against making appointments for going to the doctor. It’s the same reason I haven’t had a haircut in eleven months. (No, it’s not because my doctor cuts my hair. But I also have to make an appointment to get a haircut. I hate making appointments. That’s my problem.)

I did manage to make an appointment yesterday for a haircut. On Wednesday I made an appointment for a mammogram. I hope both turn out equally well. I hope I do not get the haircut equivalent of cancer, in other words. Or the breast equivalent of a bad haircut. I’m not sure what the latter would be, but it seems like something to be avoided.

Did I ever tell you about the time I had to get a breast ultrasound and the technician was a man? That was unexpected. I mean, it was okay. Having my first baby sort of destroyed any preciousness I had about the sanctity of my body, and I’d had three more babies since then, so my capacity for embarrassment had dwindled to almost nothing. But, you know, it’s unusual, isn’t it? The Breast Health Center skews pretty heavily female, like a maternity ward. I’ve never even met with a male radiologist. But this ultrasound technician was a dude, and he was a relatively young guy. I can just imagine that looking at middle-aged breasts all day had always been his dream job. Anyway, he was nice. (As one would hope anyone who touches your breast would be.)

I seem to have gotten off the topic. I can’t think of anything else I would like to ask the crystal ball. Oh, except maybe “what career should I pursue?” It doesn’t have to tell me whether or not I would be successful. As I said, I don’t want to know the future. But I could use some ideas.

If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

NOTHING. Knowing the future NEVER ENDS WELL. And I can’t imagine what else I would want to know about myself and/or my life that I don’t already know. I mean, I am myself. I’m living my life. I know a little too much about myself and my life, if you ask me. Maybe I should look into a crystal ball and forget a few things.

Now, a Magic 8 Ball that would tell me what I should do with my kids–that might be useful. But I think that’s not the same topic.

What do you kids think?

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

There are many qualities and abilities I would like to have, so it’s hard to choose just one. When I think about how I wish I were different, though, I usually wish that I were less lazy. Or, alternatively, more organized. My life is very messy, and I don’t enjoy it. I don’t mean my life is messy as in “my life is a mess, it’s just one nightmare after another,” but my life is literally messy. My house is messy, my car is messy, my work space is messy, my calendar is messy–everything that could possibly be messy is messy. I can’t tell you that I personally don’t look somewhat slovenly most of the time. There was more of an excuse for it when my children were younger. Now I think it’s just habit.

Yes, laziness seems to be at the core of all my problems. But is it laziness or pessimism? Because half of the time my attitude isn’t just “I don’t feel like doing that” but “why should I bother?” I’d say I’m a really bad example for my children, except that I still work about a hundred times harder than they do, so it’s probably more accurate to say I was a bad genetic influence on them.

So what is the opposite of laziness? Hardworkingness? I don’t think that’s a word in English, though it might be one in German. (Probably.) What is the quality that I lack? Initiative? Gumption? Perseverance? Diligence? Or is it optimism? Do I lack the belief that I can make a difference in my own life? I’m 43, closing rapidly in on 44, and I think I have spent most of the last 18 years building a case for my own incompetence. I mentioned in my last blog post that people used to compliment me on my organization and efficiency. No one who knows me now would accuse me of having either of those qualities. Was I actually more organized and efficient back in the day, or was I just better at faking it? After all, no one ever saw all the stuff I never got done.

So I think if I had to choose one quality, I would choose to be more optimistic. I wish it were as simple as just choosing. I never have been optimistic, as a personality trait. I have experienced brief periods of optimism. Some have lasted as long as a few months (but I can’t say I’ve had one of those since the mid-1990s). But generally, I’m just pessimistic. I always have been. My parents, who knew me best as a child, would tell you this. I really can’t help it. I’ve tried to. (See “brief periods of optimism” above.) But ultimately, it’s just not in my nature.

Of course, if it suddenly were in my nature, I’d probably become a completely different person. This might astonish and possibly frighten the people closest to me, but I can’t imagine any of them would complain, since it would probably make me a better person. Of course, if I were an optimist, that would mean my husband and I would both be optimists, and possibly the whole balance of our marriage would be thrown off. But that’s the pessimist in me speaking.

Anyway, it’s not possible to wake up one morning and suddenly be improved. Even optimists know that.

Take four minutes and tell your partner your life story in as much detail as possible.

I don’t know how fast you all read. Well, probably you read at varying speeds, since there are more than one of you. I took a reading speed test online, and it said I read about 450 words per minute. I don’t know how accurate this is. I tried to read carefully because I was reading for comprehension as well as speed. I don’t know if I would have had a comparable level of comprehension at a higher speed, and I don’t know if I would have gotten much farther if I hadn’t had mouse and paging-down issues. It doesn’t matter. I decided it would be more useful to look up how fast the average person reads, which is supposedly 250-300 words per minute. I think my gentle readers are above average, so let’s say you read 350-400 words per minute. Then let’s say that you don’t feel like reading very quickly today because if you only read 300 words per minute, I only have to write 1,200 words for today’s entry.

OR–you can set a timer for four minutes and see how far you get.

I was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1971. I moved around a lot as a child because my dad was in and out of school, in and out of the army (he was drafted, but served stateside), and in and out of jobs. And also, we were in and out of houses. I went to four different elementary schools, but only one middle school and one high school, although though my parents didn’t settle in one place until I was about 16. I stopped trying to make friends around age 11, which is interesting, because that’s when I finally stopped switching schools and having to leave people. I socialized with people at school and at church, but I didn’t really have actual friends–like the kind you would have over to your house–again until I was 16. It didn’t have anything to do with my parents buying a house and me feeling like it was safe to put down roots. (Actually, my new home didn’t feel very permanent, as it was a condo and there were seven of us. I got the feeling my parents were trying to squeeze us out.) It just sort of happened, like most friendships do. I’ve not had a lot of experience with friendships that were deliberately cultivated. In my observation, that sort of thing almost never works out.

As I said, there were seven of us. I was the second of five children–four girls and one baby brother. I was five years younger than my older sister and ten years older than my brother; my two younger sisters were pretty close together in age, so I was closer to them. At least we played together the most. I shared a room with each of my siblings at one point–even my brother, when he was a baby. (Not recommended, by the way, putting the baby in with a ten-year-old–he woke me up a lot, and any hope my parents had of letting him cry it out was dashed when I started crying along with him. Poor Mom.) I have fond memories of sharing a room with bythelbs–we laughed a lot. We used to get in trouble for being too loud at night, when everyone else was trying to sleep. I remember one night, Mom had already been in to warn us once or twice, and I didn’t want to get in trouble again, but bythelbs was making me laugh so hard that I couldn’t think of the words we need to be quiet or Mom will come, so I slapped her across the face. That stopped the laughter right quick. (I bet foo4luv is grateful our stint as roommates was less raucous.)

I got an inter-district transfer to finish high school where I started it. I’m not sure if I would have wanted to, had I known that the school district my new home was in only required two years of PE, whereas my high school required three. Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t know this, as I did make very good friends my junior and senior years; I stayed in touch with all of them long after high school, but not much in the last ten years. I do still talk to one of them on the phone semi-annually. I used to be a great correspondent. Ironically, this went out the window when we got internet in our home. Sad, but true.

I was a good student, and I graduated somewhere in the top 20 (you know, the part that wasn’t the top 10), but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and the thought of going to school four more years depressed me, so I decided to take a year off and see what happened. I got a temporary secretarial job at a hospital in the instrumentation department. I pretty much hated it. That’s when I decided I should probably go to college after all. I wanted to establish some independence, though, so after my temp job ended, I moved several hundred miles away to live on my own in Portland. It was about 20% fun and 80% lonely and scary. I also had difficulty finding work. I finally got a job at one of those scandalous savings and loans, but after a couple months I was let go and couldn’t find anything else, so I decided to go back home until college started that fall.

I enrolled in a small Baptist college in Virginia because they gave me a scholarship. My family was still in Southern California. One of my professors told me I’d gotten it backwards; I should have grown up in this crappy Virginia town and gone to college in California. I don’t regret my decision, though. I had a great college experience. I was the only Mormon in the place, and that’s the only time in my life I’ve ever been special. I majored in English, which was dumb, but at least I did well. Initially I planned to be a teacher, but that plan didn’t survive the first semester. When it was time to graduate, I still didn’t have a plan, although I toyed with entering a library science program. I ended up going home to California and getting another crappy temp job.

Several crappy temp jobs, actually, but at some point I decided I should get my MFA in creative writing, so I applied to graduate schools, and I got into one back east (although I can’t remember which one) and two in California. I was leaning toward one in Fresno, but at this point I had made a lot of good friends through church, and I was reluctant to pick up and leave again, so I decided to attend one that was closer to home. Unfortunately, it was impossible for me to get the classes I needed, so after spending one semester earning 3 credits and facing another semester when I could enroll in 0 credits, I decided it was time to change plans again. When one of my friends asked me to get an apartment with her, I said sure, decided that an MFA was impractical anyway and maybe it was time I became a teacher after all. I got into a certification program at a local college and lasted about two weeks before realizing that there was a reason I’d decided against teaching the first time. That’s when I got a temp job as an editorial assistant at the newspaper.

The temp job turned into a permanent job. My department produced the lifestyle section for three area newspapers; my job was about half administrative and half writing. This was when I finally learned how to talk on the phone, although I never learned to like it. In those days people were very impressed with my organization and efficiency. I was still young and childless then. I met my husband through friends at church, and six months after our first date, we were married. He had just finished his sophomore year of college. A couple months after the wedding, I discovered I was pregnant. In those days doctors were less clear about the effect anti-depressants had on birth control pills. I forgot to mention that I’d been on anti-depressants since my sophomore year of college. So I had Princess Zurg and quit my job, and thus my husband became Sugar Daddy. He worked two jobs while finishing his senior year. I didn’t see much of him until we moved to Oregon and he started graduate school. We lived on his stipend. (It wasn’t pretty.)

We lived in Eugene, Oregon, for nine months, and then SD got a paid internship at the Big Satan, so we moved to Portland for nine months, during which time I had Mister Bubby. The paid internship was a blessing because I didn’t want to say anything, but we were kind of starving. When it was over, we moved back to Eugene and settled in for the long haul, except a year later SD was offered another paid internship in Portland, this time for four months. After that, we came back to Eugene (again) and I had the most miserable pregnancy of my life starring Elvis. This was around the time Princess Zurg was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Shortly after Elvis was born, SD finished his dissertation, got his Ph.D. and was offered a permanent position at the Big Satan, so we moved up to Portland again.

And I’m at 1,500 words and eleven years ago. Suffice it to say, we bought a house six months later, and that’s when we got the internet and I started this blog, so if you want to know the rest of the story, you can consult the archives. Thank you, and goodnight.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?

This is another one of those hard questions. It’s like asking me about my regrets. I don’t like to think about my regrets because there’s nothing I can do about my regrets. Regrets make me feel guilty and/or unhappy, and I try to avoid unpleasant emotions whenever possible. Because that is the sort of weakling I am.

I can’t imagine how I should have been raised differently than I was. My parents did all right. They were about the right amount of strict vs. permissive. I think the circumstances under which they were working were fine, too. (I mean, there was indoor plumbing and everything.) I guess I am curious, though, about how I would have turned out if I’d been raised without television.

Actually, our parents tried (briefly) to raise us without television. I mean, my parents had a television, as most folks did by the 1970s, but at some point they were inspired to take the TV away and see what happened. I think maybe our cousins or some friends were TV-free, and my parents thought, “Hey, good idea,” so they decided to give it a whirl. Unfortunately, instead of getting rid of the TV, they just put it out in the garage. And my siblings and I found it and we would plug it in and watch it out there in the cold, huddled up in our blankets. So my parents decided to just bring the TV back inside.

I do have memories of watching TV out in the garage, but I didn’t know until I was much older that this was my parents’ experiment with the TV-free lifestyle. I would mock them for their efforts–if you were serious, why didn’t you just get rid of the TV?–but considering my own experiments with trying to direct my children’s free will, that would be ridiculous. So this is no slight against my parents, and I did turn out non-psychotic, if I do say so myself. But I do wonder occasionally if my desires and aspirations–not to mention my attention span–would have been different had I grown up without TV at all.

It’s not that I watched TV constantly as a kid. I had two siblings very close to my age, so we played together a lot, and unlike a lot of kids, I also enjoyed being by myself. But I did watch quite a bit of television, and the television was almost always on. We didn’t even have cable most of the time I was growing up. We had it for about a year, maybe, when I was 10, but we dropped it when my father lost his job, and we never had it again. We still watched a crapload of TV. I don’t know what would have happened if we’d had the internet in those days. Nothing good, surely.

When my husband and I got married, we lived in an area where we couldn’t get TV reception; you couldn’t watch any TV unless you had cable, and we couldn’t afford cable, so we didn’t watch TV. We had a TV, and a VCR as well, so we could watch movies, which we did most weekends. When Princess Zurg was a toddler, I let her watch Richard Scarry videos and Fantasia. I don’t think we had anything else that was suitable. But by the time Mister Bubby came along, we had a pretty good variety of children’s videos. Back in those days I was very optimistic about limiting the children’s TV time. I started off with a half-hour, but that proved to be too exhausting for me, so I bumped it up to a whole hour. Ninety minutes or two hours, tops, if I was having a hard day. I actually did pretty well most of the time. But it was a daily struggle. Not because the kids demanded TV, but because they demanded me. TV was my respite babysitter.

I would often wonder what caregivers did before there was television, and of course I know what they did–they put the children in play pens and let them cry a lot. I mean, before there was television, housewives had a lot of work to do; they couldn’t be taking all day to bond with their kids and provide them with stimulating activities and also supervise them. I suppose if I had grown up on a farm in another century or something, my character would have been a lot better and I in turn would have done a much better job raising my kids, but it’s too late for that, I guess.

The big problem with television is that it makes people addicted to visual stimulation. So while you’re plunking your kid down in front of the TV because you can’t handle entertaining them all day, you’re just encouraging their habit of being entertained and their need to be entertained. It’s really a horrible, horrible thing, television. If only it weren’t so darn entertaining.

Our family never has had cable, so we’ve never had a constant stream of television programming coming into our house, the way I did when I was growing up. This has given us a little more control over what our kids watch, and it does mean that they watch a little less television than their peers do, but as far as total screen time goes, they still have way too much. In my day (cue Grumpy Old Man voice) we didn’t have video games or the internet, so we just watched TV. Unless there was nothing good on, in which case we did something else. My kids, on the other hand, have way too many choices. If they want to watch a show, they’ve got Netflix and Amazon Instant Video offering hundreds of selections. There’s always something good on, or something good can always be turned on.

But Girlfriend’s the only one who really enjoys watching TV shows. The boys prefer video games and PZ prefers the internet. PZ is on the internet so much, I can hardly use it myself. On the one hand, it’s a problem. On the other hand, it’s one of the few social outlets she has, so who am I to begrudge her? Indeed, the internet is one of the few social outlets I have, so should understand. People often talk about how online life has become a substitute for real life, but what if your real life was non-existent before? I mean, I remember the days before the internet. They were a drag. I don’t blame my mother for watching soap operas. At least that was only two hours a day. (Two and a half hours, I guess, before The Doctors was canceled.)

I’ve gotten a little off track. I meant to talk about how my life would have been different without TV, but I guess I’m afraid to face that alternate universe. Too fraught with regret! That, or years of watching television as a kid and being on the internet as an adult has made it impossible for me to stick to the subject without getting distracted. I guess we’ll never know.

What would you change about the way you were raised?

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

It’s hard for me to choose what I feel most grateful for. Part of me thinks I should be most grateful for my family, or more specifically for my husband, or whatever. But I think what I feel most grateful for is that I’ve had a relatively easy life. I was born in an affluent, western democracy. I was raised by both my parents, who stayed married to each other until my mother died, and I didn’t want for any of life’s basic necessities. I got to go to college. I found someone I wanted to marry who also wanted to marry me, and it was not difficult for me to get pregnant and have kids. We did not have to spend many years worrying about money; our worst-case scenario never included the possibility of being thrown out on the streets. We’ve never gone through a period where both of us were unemployed. I’ve always been able to get the health care I need, and so have my children. I have a much easier life than I probably deserve.

Is it cheating to talk about all of these things as though it is just one thing to be grateful for? It’s just that I can chalk all of these things up to my own dumb luck. I am very grateful for my dumb luck, and I suppose it is the thing I’m most grateful for, because it’s the thing I’m most afraid of losing (or running out of). Because there’s nothing I can do to keep being lucky or prevent myself from being unlucky. I am grateful that I have been mostly very lucky in life–certainly luckier than about 90% or maybe even 95% of the rest of the world–because I really wouldn’t like that to change.

Possibly I shouldn’t be so grateful for my great gobs of luck. Maybe if I’d been less lucky in life, I’d have better character. But I’m not silly enough to wish for opportunities to develop greater character. I think I’ll just take them randomly, as fate wills.

But if I need to be more specific, I suppose I would say I’m most grateful for indoor plumbing. Indoor plumbing is pretty much the best thing ever. It’s hard to come up with something I like better.

Does anyone “get” the reference in this post title? Who remembers the Tom Hanks-Jackie Gleason movie Nothing in Common, let alone the Thompson Twins song that ran over the end credits of said film? I remember really liking the movie, although I also remember it being a critical failure, despite the fact that Tom Hanks is brilliant in it. This was before Tom Hanks had won any Oscars, so to say Tom Hanks was brilliant in anything back then should be considered retroactively prescient and hipster-ish. (“He was all right in Cast Away, but I preferred him in Bosom Buddies.”) The Thompson Twins song is very Thompson Twins-y. Here’s a link for your edification and bemusement.

This is a convoluted introduction into today’s question designed to make you fall in love with me: Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

Since these questions were written for people getting to know one another, I should answer as though I were talking about what I have in common with you, gentle reader, as opposed to what I have in common with my actual life partner (who’s already fallen in love with me). This poses somewhat of a problem because I can’t be sure who’s reading this blog on any given day. Some of you may be complete strangers visiting my blog for the very first time. (Question for you first-timers: Are you falling in love yet? Wait, don’t answer that.) On the other hand, what do you care what my husband and I have in common?

Here are three things Sugar Daddy and I appeared to have in common when we first met:

1. We were both Mormons.

2. We were friends with some of the same people.

3. We both played the piano.

I suppose we were also around the same height, but I wasn’t particularly aware of that, since all I noticed was that he was shorter than I was, and I was afraid that would make dating him awkward. In truth, he is only about an inch shorter than I am, when we’re both in our bare feet. (Or stockinged feet, if you want to keep it G-rated for the kids.) Of course, back then I saw him mostly at church, where I usually wore heels, which made me a few inches taller than he was. I had much more anxiety about this at the time than seems reasonable, in retrospect. But this story is boring.

Now, of course, my husband and I have lots of things in common. Kids, for example. That’s a pretty big one. We also enjoy spending obscene amounts of money eating out at restaurants. Those two things are pretty much the basis of our relationship. Just kidding. But really, it’s not a bad beginning.

So let’s move on to you, gentle readers. I know that many of you are mothers. We have that in common. Some of you are Mormons. We have that in common. Some of you are writers. We have that in common too. More specifically, most of you have blogs. Yet another thing that we have in common.

Let me tell you some other fun facts about myself and among these things, see if there are three you have in common with me.

* I hate olives.

* I love peanut butter.

* I have excellent blood pressure.

* I have Restless Leg Syndrome.

* Being outside at night kind of gives me the creeps.

* I have a low tolerance, physically, for sunlight, despite the fact that I find sunlight very cheering emotionally.

* I read a lot of books.

* Reality TV repulses me.

* I really don’t care how my home is decorated. It’s possibly because I have no taste.

* I am an alto, but I can also sing tenor sometimes, provided it doesn’t go below the E below middle C.

* I have a B.A. in English.

* I don’t have a Pinterest account.

* I have an irrational fear of Cheerios.

* I also have an irrational fear of buttons. I just barely tolerate them on clothes–one has to be practical, after all–but buttons just loose, by themselves? I have a horror of them. The smaller the button, the more horrifying it is to me. Truth be told, I’m not crazy about the word button. Too triggering.

* I prefer games of chance to games of strategy.

* I have Rick Astley on my iPod. In related news, I am not easily embarrassed.

* I love eating, but hate cooking.

* I didn’t think Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead was really such an amazing book. I thought it was a beautifully written, okay book. I kind of feel like this makes me morally deficient in some way.

* As a teenager, I had a huge crush on Sam Harris, the grand champion male vocalist of the first season of Star Search. I guess every girl has to fall in love with a gay man at least once in her life.

* When I was in the fourth grade, I was the best tetherball player at my elementary school. That was the last time I was ever the best at anything.

* I hate running.

* I love dancing, although my ability in this area is best described as “relatively competent.” But everything is relative, isn’t it?

* I have never been to Mexico.

* Part of me would like to go to Europe someday, but another part of me is afraid of feeling like an ugly American. I felt like a very ugly American when I went to Japan. I can’t say I was super comfortable during my brief stay in Canada, either. I’m pretty sensitive about my American-ness.

* But I actually really like being American, so screw all those other countries. Just kidding. (Maybe.)

* I’m a night person. I would sleep until 1 p.m. if people didn’t wake me up. But I don’t like sleeping until 1 p.m. because it makes me feel guilty. Therefore, when I sleep in, I try to be sure to get out of bed before 10 a.m. Or at least before 10:30. Or 11.

* Wind gives me a headache.

* I am allergic to bee venom, but I don’t remember what kind. I’ve only been stung once. I don’t have any other allergies.

* I have hypothyroidism.

* I’ve never had a broken bone.

* I can’t whistle.

* I can’t drive a stick shift.

* I find recycling a pain in the neck, and sometimes I feel like Mother Earth can just kiss my big toe.

This post is now long enough that I think it’s time to stop. Gentle readers, what do we have in common?

Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

Answer: Not really. I kind of assume that I will die of cancer, because that seems to me a pretty common cause of dying. It’s pretty common in my family. We don’t have any heart disease or anything like that. It’s pretty much just cancer and old age killing us. Whether I die of old age or cancer, the odds are pretty much equal, I think.

My mother died at 53 (and a half). If I live as long as she did, that means I have about 10 years left. That’s a sobering thought. Of course, I expect to live longer than my mother did. No particular reason, except that it seems like a reasonable expectation. I don’t have a “hunch” about it or anything. When I was a kid, I assumed that I would not live to see 30. I can’t really explain why I thought this, except that it was probably the perfect storm of growing up Mormon during the Cold War. Also, kids don’t know anything about reasonable expectations. I can see, in retrospect, that my belief the world would end before I did was completely unreasonable. Narcissistic, even. (But what do you expect from a kid?) Obviously, the world did not come to an end, Jesus did not show up, and I lived to see 30 and 40. I imagine I will also see 50, and I have no reason to believe I won’t see 60. Beyond 60 is a little ambitious for my sights. Even though my childish expectations turned out to be both false and somewhat ridiculous, it’s really only been within the last few years that I’ve been able to wrap my head around the possibility that I will someday have grandchildren because Armageddon won’t have happened yet. In the deep recesses of my psyche, I’m still not sure I buy it.

Of course I would rather die of old age than of cancer. I’m pretty sure. I mean, I don’t look forward to old age. As I said in my last post (what, half a month ago?), old age tends to bring with it a host of problems. Cancer, on the other hand, plainly sucks. Would I rather die of cancer than spend years slowly dying of old age? What if I spend years dying of cancer? This is why I would not want to make the choice about how I die.

But I think I would not want to die suddenly, without warning. Say, in an accident or something. I would want the chance to say goodbye to people. Unless everyone I knew was already dead, in which case a sudden accident would be fine, I guess. We can’t choose whether or not we get a warning, which is why we should always live each day to its fullest and tell people we love them now and make arrangements for our burials and write our wills and whatnot. I have not written a will yet. I don’t really have anything to bequeath, so it seems kind of pointless at this juncture. My husband and I did decide at one point who we wanted to raise our children, in the event we both died simultaneously in some horrible event, but I can’t remember now who it was. It’s probably best if we just keep living for the time being, for everyone’s sake.

I read an interview with Eddie Murphy once–the interview was with Eddie Murphy, he wasn’t reading along with me–and I guess (meaning “as best as I can recall”) he was asked how he wanted to die, and he said he’d like to die in his sleep when he was old, and then he said, “But nobody says, ‘I want to go young–dancing!'” I don’t know why that’s stuck with me all these years (because this had to have been 25 years ago, at least), except that it struck me funny. But if I keep with the clogging, maybe I’ll still be performing in my old age, and I can go old, dancing. That would be a good way to go. Except it would be unexpected. I mean, not for me–when I’m old, I’ll consider myself warned. But the audience might find it traumatic. Unless it were a gig at a retirement home, in which case it would just be Thursday. Ha ha, that was an insensitive joke. But I still think it beats cancer.


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